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Christian Families Homeschooling Special Needs Children

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I'll Make My Own Curriculum!

By Tom and Sherry Bushnell

 We have been happiest in homeschooling when we have taken the time to prepare a "curriculum" ourselves, geared for each child.

9; Jordan, our 11 year old son with Down syndrome, has some great interests. Unfortunately they are not found in text or workbooks from a curriculum company.

9; His interests are: goats (animals in general), trucks and tractors. He has a one-track mind, so switching from one subject to another in the scope of an hour is almost impossible. He spends a lot of time just trying to orient himself to subject matter. It can take him up to 10 minutes just to settle down and focus on something. Once he's there, we can usually count on about 10 or 15 minutes of learning time.

9; We have learned to incorporate learning into Jordan's everyday life, not just at "school time". When he is "into" something, we can talk about it, point out details, and discuss differences.

9; To give an example:

Jordan has had a pretty good morning. It is raining. We discuss appropriate clothing for cold rain and he has gotten up and done animal chores with his older brothers. He sat down to breakfast on his own initiative without a personal invitation. He has been motivated to help with dishes and it is now time for school.

9; This week we want to learn about weather (rain, snow, sun/hot), the number 5 and reading his name. In speech we'll work on his "r's" and for skills we want to review making his bed.

9; We pop a video on storms/weather into the VCR. Everybody watches. Afterward Jordan's attention is centered on weather and we point out the rain, rain drops, rain gauge, rain coats, how cold it is today and the possibility of snow or sun later in the day. Tomorrow we will show the video again.

9; We use a manual with kindergarten concepts loosely as a suggestion book, measuring to see what Jordan is capable of and what he needs to learn next.

Counting to 5: All of us that can count (5 of us can count to 10 or more) remember to help Jordan count on his fingers to 5 several times during the day. This means that information is being reviewed 10 - 18 times daily and each of us had to do it three times or less. We use our large family to an advantage in this way helping our special needs children learn and review things such as the days of the week, counting, ABC's etc. This way the burden is not so overwhelming to one person (Mommy!).

9; We have printed Jordan's name and several other words he will be learning this month on strips of card stock. They stick on the refrigerator. Several times during the day as Jordan is passing through, we will point out the word. When he is reading it consistently, we will introduce another word that looks very different. We will gradually reduce the print size until Jordan is reading small type, but for now he can only focus on letters 1 inch high.

9; Over the course of the month we will practice Jordan's "r" sound production. We do this by helping him say "eeeeeee and then rrrrrr" because he does not use the back of his mouth readily. The "eeeee" humps up the back of the tongue and the "rrrrr" slides right out. We will only use words that start with "r" first (like red) and then in the middle of the word (hungry) and then finally the end (better).

9; Although Jordan does like to color and fill pages with scribbles and circles, he does not yet have the fine motor skills to print. Transposing a letter from blackboard or book to paper is impossible. We do not attempt any seat work from a curriculum or text book. Yet Jordan does have a curriculum. It is our own design and fits Jordan's needs to a T.

9; We are using a kindergarten manual for reference and supplementing as much hands-on activities as possible. In fact, Jordan's engaged learning time is almost all learning new skills. He is very observant when he is concentrating. (A little too observant, as he has started the truck and tractor lately!)

9; In spending time teaching Jordan to make his bed, since all 5 boys sleep in one room, we will rely on his older brothers to 1, provide example and 2, teach Jordan one step at a time such as pull covers up. We will prepare Jordan's bed to make it easy for him to make such as make all sides accessible or tuck in the comforter on one side. We will use a thick comforter instead of several blankets and a sheet. 3, we will hold Jordan accountable for the skills we know he has already learned, with plenty of good natured review. Teaching new skills is a highlight of Jordan's week. He loves to be given responsibility and be able to do things the older children can do.

9; Free time is important for all children and we really feel that expression of interests for a good measure of the day for those children who can handle it is beneficial. We simply channel the interests. No free rein on the videos, or brother's tools, but we set limits and supply resources for them to explore. This is the precursor to a skilled, responsible child. And yes, special needs children can be sensible and wise by learning to be obedient!

Our second son, Josh, makes log furniture. He has found a handy and willing worker in Jordan, as Jordan is capable of using the small sander and saving Josh hours of sanding on his chairs and benches. Jordan loves to wear every piece of safety equipment that goes with the job...hard hat, goggles, gloves!

9; Organizing Jordan's day is all common sense. This is precisely what putting a curriculum together is like too. When we are setting up a curriculum, we look at interests first, then information to be learned. We have tried it the other way around. Spoon feeding facts and info is not as successful as starting with interests and tying facts around the interest.

9; When introducing new interests we do so by presenting a variety of resources on a consistent basis. We have noticed that our children's interests have a direct correlation to our interests as parents. Cooking, gardening, tractor/auto repair work, goats, reading, bible history and study are just a few everyday happenings we have seen our children personally take interest in recently. This has a good and bad side. Since we have eyes and ears ready to imitate us in word and deed, we as parents have been known to take up an interest or skill in hopes our children would also. We have also been known to put aside interests too! Expectations are important in character and learning, but we want to really be careful that what we are hoping our children will learn, is in line with what they are able to do. Sometimes we have to let our hopes and dreams of what we wanted our children to accomplish die so new ones can come to the front.

In designing curriculum, we know that our children have so many untapped skills. Our non-disabled children are ready to soak up interesting facts about just about everything. Our disabled children need more prompting and exposure, so our expectations in a curriculum need to be really flexible as we follow the Lord's leading and our children's abilities and interests.

9; The how-to's of putting together our own curriculum is briefly numbered as followed:

A. We pray for the Lord to open our eyes and to lead us in the right direction.

B. We talk together as mom and dad, finding out observations from each other. Usually we do one child a night. We observe interests, abilities, character, safety knowledge, health issues, therapy needs, and anything else pertinent to daily living and learning.

C. We use a notebook writing down skills and concepts we'd like to see learned in the next year, month and then week, sketching out a rough I.E.P.

D. Getting input from brothers and sisters, we separate the soon-to-be learned skills into sections that everyone can help with, so the burden of review, review, review is not on Mommy.

E. We create a special 3-ring binder that holds all of our child's pictures and papers. This has a picture of the child with their name. They get to design the cover.

F. We add to the curriculum books, videos, tools and other learning resources as funds allow.

G. We write out a 1 month curriculum, with rough goals for 3 months, observing daily for adjustment.