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Tips for Setting up a Curriculum for the Severely Mentally Challenged Child

By Tom and Sherry Bushnell

 We are not professionals. We are, however, experts in parenting our son Jordan. Jordan has Down syndrome. He is not in the gifted Downs class— rather, he is average and maybe below average in some areas of development compared to other children with Down Syndrome. But we feel we have much to be thankful for in Jordan. He is helpful and generally has a good attitude. He is healthy and full of love for his family.

Setting up a curriculum for the mentally challenged child is not difficult. The concepts are usually still very basic. IEP’s (Individual Education Plans) are straightforward.

After assessing Jordan’s needs together as a family this summer, we have put together a homeschool curriculum we feel will meet his needs. We will share with you briefly what we saw and how we are meeting his needs to demonstrate how simple it is to "make a curriculum."

These tips could apply to a child who is around seven to twelve years of age and:

Is mostly in the two-year-old range including typical two-year-old behavior.

Does not speak clearly or well yet (a handful of words).

Is probably not potty trained.

Cannot tie his shoes.


We get a large (20" by 20") white piece of paper and cut as big a circle as we can from an 8˝" by 11" piece of colored construction paper. We then glue the circle to the middle of the big white piece. We are doing this with the colors red, yellow, green, and blue to start with. We do one a day. We review daily until speech (some facsimile) and comprehension co-exist! We also point out one color a day in his daily life (clothes, food, toys, etc.). We are using Phonics Plain & Simple, Part A.

A B C’s

We are doing three letters this year. That’s right. Only three. We are using a variety of fun ways to introduce the letters one at a time: coloring one big letter, making shapes of letters out of play dough, in the sand, with cookies, with Cheerios on a plate, lots of hand motion tracing and gesturing in the air. Once again: one letter a week—a month if needed. (Important note: we are working on the phonetic sound of "a", not on the letter names)

Know His Name by Sight

We would like Jordan to be able to "read" his name. This comes in handy with five under the age of "five." Items that look the same, yet belong to different children can be labeled and no argument will ensue. The name says it all. This is taking work, especially since we have three names that begin with the letter "J." Luckily, his is the longest. This is where choice discrimination comes in. (That is, the ability to distinguish between two similar shapes.) This is the very, very beginning foundation for reading.

Potty Training

This is a matter we try not to stress on. We know his little heart is in it, but his body just hasn’t grabbed a clue yet. We aren’t giving up, though. Some days we have success.

Our preliminary goals for Jordan in this area for this fall are:

To sit on the seat for 5-10 minutes trying after breakfast. (For him to take initiative would be great.)
To go pee-pee is great.
To go poopsy would be outstanding!!!


Jordan has lots of language…we just can’t understand all he says! We have used Straight Talk with Jordan since he was four years old. With it, we have been able to know which sounds to teach first, and which to hold off on. It is just now that he can follow simple directions (usually watching Daddy’s mouth as a cue) and learn to use his mouth and tongue in practicing sounds. The amazing thing with Jordan is that if he really tries, he can pronounce words quite well. The problem comes in his haste to communicate! We expect this to get better as he gets older and more in control of his emotions and tongue.

Character Training

These skills are actually most important to us. These affect the whole family and, given a choice, we will always work on these first. With Jordan (developmentally two or three years), we work on:

Coming when called—the first time.

Please and thank you, or gratefulness. This makes him a pleasure to be around.

Obeying the first time. He can have "selective deafness" (if you know what I mean).

Most important is our staying closely in touch with what Jordan’s needs are. This takes time and observation. The rest is easy. Happy curriculum building!