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Making Do With What Is On Hand

 By Diane Ryckman

              Special needs or not, every child is unique and created by God just the way they are for His purposes and for His glory.  It is so important that we as parents not only realize this, but that we help our children to know this, too. As parents, what an awesome responsibility is ours to first lead our children to the Savior and then to equip each one to serve Him, according to their bent and the abilities God has given them. Home schooling can provide a great opportunity for doing just that.

An important aspect of equipping our children involves teaching basic academics and life skills. Though the number of homeschool materials available for teaching children with special needs is growing, it is not always necessary that we invest in expensive curriculum and manipulative.  Our homes are often full of lessons just waiting to be discovered and passed on to our children! In order to give you a variety of ideas, I’ve asked the ladies from our e-mail support group DownHomeLearning to share some of the ways they’ve taught their children using what they have around the house.  We hope in sharing these ideas with you that they will be not only helpful in themselves, but also a springboard to more ideas for using what you have on hand to teach your child.

Understanding Numbers involves not only learning to count from memory (rote counting), but also learning to match a numeral with its name (that 5 says “five”), and learning to match both numeral and name to the number of things it represents (that “three” or “3” means three objects).  It is best to teach a child only a few small numbers at first, then once these are mastered go on to the next larger numbers.

Rote counting is the easiest skill to practice around the home.  There are so many things to count! My husband John taught Andrew to count by counting stairs.  Whenever they walked down the stairs together, John would count, "1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3" until they got to the bottom. Once Andrew was counting these numbers with John, he would then count to 4, later to 5, until they were counting all the steps together.

As Andrew was learning to count, I was thrilled with how easily he seemed to catch on to counting…until I realized that, though he could say the numbers from 1 to 10 in order, he had no idea that "3" meant three things. This was a concept that our older children had figured out on their own, as far as I could remember. I began to realize then that teaching math skills to Andrew might have its challenges! Here is a game I made to help teach number concepts to Andrew. 

Make a "game board" out of a piece of construction paper with 3 recipe card size squares glued onto it. On the squares, write the numbers 1 to 3 as well as the corresponding number of dots. Use a different color for each number. (As these numbers are learnt, expand the game board by adding another piece of construction paper with three more numbers on it.)

Make a set of number cards, with numbers on one side and corresponding dot patterns on the other. Color-code the dot patterns to match with the colors on the game board, but make the numbers on the cards black.

The games for this board are simple matching ones.  Place the number cards above the “game board”, then have your child match the numbers.  Have him match the dot patterns. As you match numbers or dot patterns, have your child name the numbers. Call the number that you want your child to match. Place the number cards in order. The purpose is to help your child to become familiar with numbers, to recognize number names, to be able to count in order.

Make a second "game board" similar to the first, but with just the dot number patterns on it - still color-coded to match the game cards (I made it on the back of the first boards).

The game for this board is to match the number cards to the dot patterns. Peeking at the colored dot pattern on the back of the card is allowed and encouraged until it is no longer necessary. Another use for the game board is to place counters (buttons, coins, lego, whatever might be fun and interesting for your child) on the dots, counting them as you do. From here you could match counters to the number cards without the dot patterns to guide, though allowing peeking on the back as necessary. The purpose of these games is to help your child recognize that numbers represent specific amounts.

Money skills can most effectively be taught using real money, and the first money skill to teach would be coin recognition.  Children need to learn the names of the coins (penny, nickel, dime, quarter, etc.) as well as their value.  This could be done as a matching game similar to the one described above, but with the child matching a coin to a card with the name of the coin, or to a card with the value of the coin on it.

Once a child learns to recognize coins, there are all sorts of ways to teach the value and use of money.  Here are a number of ideas.

From Linda: “Giving our guys (14 and 16 with Down syndrome) a quarter for doing a chore has really helped motivate them, as well as begun to teach them the value and use of money. They put the coins in a jelly jar with their name on it. Coins (pennies...) can also be given for completing a task, doing schoolwork with a good attitude...whatever needs some positive reinforcement. At the end of the week or any chosen day, count up the money together. (Separating money involves sorting, another good skill.) I outlined 4 quarters on a 4X6 card and put = dollar (drawn dollar). Like this: O O O O = (drawn dollar). They put the quarters in the spots and I trade a dollar for them. Once they've got that down, I'll make up another card for another coin. Our guys like to save their money up for pop at the movies. Whatever your child likes, he can save for it.” 

From Anne Marie: “The way we have worked on money at our house (after the initial coin recognition, of course) is to make a poster of favorite snacks and put a price on them. We keep coins in the kitchen so at snack time, the children can "buy" their item of choice. This can start out with you counting out the money with them and with practice, move on to them being able to use different combinations to make a particular amount, etc. In other words, it can grow with your child's knowledge. At our house, we try to find ways to incorporate learning into our everyday activities, as "one-on-one" time can be limited during a day. This is one way we have been able to do that.”

From Barbara: “Here is an idea for teaching money with the manipulatives from Math-u-see or I suppose other rod type manipulatives. First I get a 100 units bar and show that 100 units represents 100 pennies and 100 pennies is equal to one dollar. I put an elastic around two 10 unit bars and a five unit bar to make 25 units (one quarter). If I do that four times then I have 100 units that fit together to show how four quarters makes a dollar. One quarter added to one quarter is half of a dollar and so on. If I keep the actual coins beside the corresponding manipulatives it makes it easier for Nathan (18 with Down syndrome) to link the two together. We use the 10 bar for dimes and the 5 bar for nickels and the unit for pennies. We have also been able to use this method for making change. He can see that if something costs $.56 and he is given a dollar then he can see that there are 46 units left uncovered and that would be how much change is to be given back. It seems to make the very difficult concept of money (for Nathan anyway) much more concrete.”

Telling Time can be taught using a cheap alarm clock with hands that are easy to set.

From Judy:  “I refer to a clock in something that matters to him, such as "You can watch the video when the big hand is on the 3." I don't make it too long a time for him to wait, and have to keep on with things like, "Look, the big hand is on the 2, it's almost on the 3." At other times we point to the numbers and say what they are, discuss the big hand and little hand, etc. I bought a Judy clock to use with Simon (a treat, since he would use it for so long), but with all the other kids made one out of a paper plate. I put an inexpensive clock on his bedroom wall. With Simon’s older siblings I would say they could come out from their nap when the big hand went all the way around from the number it was on, back to the same number. In this way a lot is accomplished at one time.... learning numbers, awareness of time, back and forth conversation, teaching him how to wait patiently.

Addition and subtraction can be taught once numbers and counting are mastered.  Often memorizing addition or subtraction facts can be difficult if not impossible, but the important thing is that the concepts of addition and subtraction are understood.  Once your child knows what addition is about, teaching the use of a calculator is a practical alternative to drilling math facts.

From Annette: “One thing we’ve done that helps is using an abacus when adding and subtracting. That way the manipulatives are all in a line, and Jessica seems to count them better than a pile of little manipulative toys. (However, when she was littler, she could not have used it because she didn’t have enough dexterity to.)”

Multiplication and division ideas      From Becky“Use a muffin tin and some beans to teach multiplication and division.  Talk about multiplication by counting out "3 rows of 4 = 12" when baking chicken nuggets, muffins, cookies, etc.”

Measurement can be taught using a ruler/yardstick/tape measure to measure things around the house.

Calendar Skills can be taught by using a calendar and daily marking off each day, reviewing the day of the week and the month of the year daily as well.

Alphabet recognition can be taught by reading a simple alphabet book daily to your child.  Each time you “read” the book, read it in the same way, pointing to the letter, saying its name and sound (“A says ah, ah, ah”), pointing to a picture, naming it slowly by breaking it into syllables then repeating it normally (“a – ple, apple”).   As you read, do not expect any response from your child, but just provide lots of input.  Do this daily for as long as necessary until your child begins recognizing the letter sounds and "reading" them with you.

Reading comprehension. Choose a book and read that same book each day for a week or more.  Pre-read the book and pick out information or picture details that you would like to impress upon your child.  As you read the book together, daily point out what you’d like your child to learn.  Have your child answer questions about the story only after first giving her the answers.

This is also a great way to Teach the Bible to your children.  When Andrew was little, I was teaching a teen class on the book of Revelation.  With 8 children at home at the time, including a baby, I had very little of my own time to prepare. In preparation would I daily read out loud the chapter we were studying in order to be familiar with it.  I read out loud for my benefit, but it had lasting repercussions. Though I didn’t require the children to listen to my reading, they did, and the book of Revelation is still one of Andrew’s favorite books of the Bible, and he knows it well. 

Sight words can be taught by making your own sight word flash cards.  Choose words your child is familiar with - names of family members are a great place to start!  These can be matched to individual photos of each family member.

From Becky:  “We made our own reading sight word flash cards with index cards and markers, then put them on the things they name - chair, table, refrigerator, etc.”

From Judy:  “We are also using homemade index cards for learning sight words. We keep our flashcards handy (such as on the table where we eat meals), trying to work with them for a 15 minute session every day. We'll sit at a table or on the floor, putting down one word at a time and reading them together. The ones he knows well, he will say right away; if he hesitates I just read it and he says it along with me. The repetition helps him memorize them. If there's a word he keeps getting stuck on, I will have a couple copies of it and keep them out in the open, playing with them throughout the day, reading them together with him.

Other things to do with flashcards, I line words up to make little sentences and we act some out after reading them (like "Mom hug Simon", or "Simon tickle Caleb").

We have played a game with them, which Simon actually made up: he laid some words out on the floor and others in the room would say, "Give me _____". He'd pick up that word and hand it to the person. We, of course, would make a big deal about the words he could read.

Sight word booklets can be made of words that are similar. Some ideas are a booklet of familiar animal words, with one animal word on a page and a picture of the animal on the next page; a booklet of body parts; a booklet of familiar action words.  Pictures for the booklets are optional, and can be cut out from magazines, hand drawn, or from photographs. Again, read the booklet together without expecting a response from your child, but read it frequently.  Soon your child will begin to read it with you.  Booklets containing similar sentences repeated throughout can be helpful especially for teaching more abstract words like “this” and “is”.  “This is a cat…” Combining booklets and flashcards is a great way to reinforce learning.

From Judy:  “We began teaching sight words with family members' names and a few verbs that could make sentences, like "hug Mom" and "I see Bev". I made a little book with a photo of a family member on each page with a sentence below it..."I see ______."   I'm making his next book, about body parts...."This is my ________." It has line drawings with a marker, plain white pages stapled together.

Speech can be encouraged as well by using booklets. Often children will leave out words or form sentences incorrectly when learning to speak.  By making booklets of phrases your child is learning and reading them together, you model proper speech for your child and give him a visual reminder of the words he needs to use.  With Andrew we made an “I am…(hungry; tired; happy; etc)” booklet to correct his habit of saying “My hungry…”

Interaction/Communication.  It is important that we make time to work at developing our relationships with our children, especially if they find it difficult to communicate or tend to spend time “in their own little world”.  Here are some suggestions for relationship building. 

From Annette:  “Sometimes trying to just be silly can make a big difference in getting a child ‘on your level’. Sometimes just acting like the child can get them laughing and interact with you more. Sometimes when my daughter is in a bad mood, I just start tickling her or hug her sweetly, whichever I feel would be more effective. Children with DS love to be accepted, included, and loved just as much as any other child. Sometimes we have to initiate it more because they don’t know how or are ‘off in their own little world’ and need some intervention. The benefits of trying hard to break into that little world and show the child how much you love to spend time with them and love them – it will make all the difference in the world.”

From Linda:  “Working on taking turns is so important. If our kids don't learn how to do that, they'll have a hard time developing relationships with people. Start really slow...try imitating what your child does, wait for him to do something, and then imitate him again with either sounds or actions. That's a good way to start taking turns in a fun way. See how long you can keep him taking turns with you. Don't force him to stay with you, but try to keep him with you for one turn longer than the time before. If your child is still in a world of "now", concentrate on talking about things you and he are presently doing. Our Jonathan (14) has just started understanding tomorrow and yesterday this past year. He still has trouble talking about things of the past, but that's OK since we meet him where's he's at and focus on giving him successes as far as that goes.”

Safety signs

 From Annette: “Put safety signs around the house when teaching them to your child – like ‘no swimming’ by the bathtub (Jessi always cracked up at that one)”

Fine motor skills/pre-handwriting. 

From Diane: “Before Andrew began learning to print we had him do a lot of coloring.  Sometimes I would color with him to encourage him to get started, and later to model staying within the lines.  Andrew loved to color (still does at 13 – and does an amazing job of putting colors together!) so it was not hard to encourage this skill.  By the time he was able to keep within the lines, his fine motor skills were developed enough so that he was ready to learn to print.” 

From Annette:  “We saw a definite improvement in her fine motor skills. She can put puzzles together independently, string beads, build with Mega Bloks and various other media. She also practiced drawing almost daily to increase her fine motor tone.”

Use a black board or white erase board to practice circles (big and little ones) and later to practice letters.

Teaching responsibility.  An important aspect of preparing our children for life is teaching them to do chores.  But how do we know our child is ready for responsibility? 

From Annette:  “It depends first on the physical abilities, and then the cognitive abilities. What can seem like a daunting task for a child with DS can be taught a little at a time. For example, to teach a child to sweep, you first do everything and then have the child with DS hold the dustpan and learn the task of putting the dirt into the trashcan.  Once that skill is learned, then you teach a little bit at a time how to sweep a room until eventually the child can do it on his own with minimal assistance.  Sometimes it is really good if a child with DS can see another sibling do a chore for a year, and then they get excited when they get the job the next year. They have observed how to do it, and then you have to go along with them to help them.

You never know how much a child can do until you try.  We were totally amazed when our daughter (now 14) learned to take out the trash and put in a new liner in the can in record time. She has since taken ownership of that job and brings the garbage cans back from the street after garbage day if she sees them there when she takes out the garbage. (Of course, that wouldn’t have been ok when she was younger and not trusted to go outside of the gate.) We sometimes have to adjust too – for instance, we learned to rent one of those big garbage cans with a hinged lid so that she would always have to put the lid down when finished. Otherwise, the dogs were getting into the garbage, and she didn’t always put on the lid. In our home, we have chores that we give each child according to age that they do. As they increase in skill, they get to graduate to the next class of chores. They enjoy getting to ‘graduate’ and switch with another sibling each year.”

Judy has taught Simon to do chores by giving him a little part of a chore, having him do it alongside someone else, then gradually reducing the help and letting him do more of it.  “I tell his older siblings that if they can mentor him into a new chore, they'll be able to pass it on to him eventually...a little motivation for them!  I've been surprised at what my son is able to do. Sometimes someone expects more than I do of him in an area, and he rises to the challenge. Gotta keep trying new things, giving him opportunity to try new things. Having other people involved helps (relatives, friends), as well as my trying to think of what new we might try.”

From Sheri:How do we know our child is ready for responsibility? When they start to volunteer to do them! Beth and Ezra are visually tuned in and know the routines of our household.  Even though we don't keep a very good schedule, they do know that before we can eat, the table must be clean and set and after a meal, the dishes need to be cleared and the table cleared. They know what things we put on bread for lunch and they will get those things out without anyone asking them to do so.

From Colleen:  “Even at a very young age, I see Nate (5 with DS) desiring to be a contributing part of the family and developing many independent self-help skills. Yet, he seems to have his own priorities. There are many things I don't realize he can do, until he shows me. For example, he will not put on his own clothes, yet has started putting on other people's clothes. Maybe it is easier to put on bigger sizes?  I didn't know he could pull up his pants--I thought his little hands were weak. Then one day I tried to spank him and learned he could not only pull up his pants, but his little hands were pretty strong and good at pulling up pants when the motivation was not to get a spanking. Funny!”

Here are some examples of chores that teach responsibility – among other things!  From Annette“Our daughter with DS is 14 ½ and she takes out the garbage, sweeps the bathroom (with reminders and assistance), gives dogs water daily, empties the dishwasher (always after washing hands), makes her bed, and brushes her teeth and hair.  This routine is the same every day before breakfast, and she knows that these things need to be part of her morning routine, and then she can make herself some cereal and sit down to eat. She has gotten it down pretty well now and sometimes will even wake up before everyone else, do her chart, eat, and then have fun watching something on television before everyone else wakes up!”

 From Judy: “Working alongside Simon, we've taught him bit by bit to empty the dishwasher. He has gradually worked up to being able to do the whole job with very little prompting from us. It involves matching sizes and shapes (of plates, silverware, etc), names of the items, counting, sorting, organizing. Also "PT" as he carries an item and places it in the appropriate place--he has balance issues. I have the plates and cups in a low cupboard he can reach, and he pulls a chair over to put silverware in the drawer. He also gets to serve the family by doing this chore, and it's a life skill. As he learns to be thorough, it's preparation for having a job someday.   We've just begun having him help to set the table. This can involve counting people and getting that many plates, forks, etc. Again, this is life skill, math, service.”

What do we do if they repeatedly fail or balk?  

From Annette:  “When my daughter (14 with DS) gets real stubborn and doesn’t want to do something I’ve asked her to do, I’ve learned a valuable tool that I read about in a book on Down Syndrome. If I get her to do a small thing first (like a high-five or a hug or tell her I have a drink for her), she is more readily willing to do the next command. There is something helpful about getting her to think about cooperating, especially when she doesn’t want to. If I first ask her something simple, it’s easier for her to acknowledge that and then graduate to a more difficult task – like doing her chores.

When a child repeatedly fails at a task, it is likely best that the task be changed to something different. Sometimes it means that math doesn’t get done that day. That’s ok. You can try to make it up the next day. Sometimes it’s just best to go to the next task and tackle that one again later. If we continue to push on one particular task that the child is struggling with, it will make them hate it and become more belligerent.

Another idea for a repetitive problem is to use a reward system. When our daughter was having a tremendous difficulty with understanding a math concept without balking, we’d pull out the chocolate chips and encourage her that she could have one when one problem was completed. Chocolate chips are tiny, but they are a goal worth working for! Raisins, marshmallows, cheerios – all work well too – whatever motivates the child.”

From Linda:  “For a couple of years I've struggled with getting our 14-year-old with DS ready for the day. Some days he just doesn't want to move. Using a kitchen timer the last couple of weeks has worked wonders. I set it outside his door and set it for 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how long a task should take. (He uses a small picture album with photographs of what he is to do.) We time those activities and if he beats the timer the majority of the times, I give him a little sticker on a chart in his photo album. It's amazing how he will work for stickers, too. Changing my approach around and giving him positive rewards, along with the timer has brightened our mornings. Hopefully one day I'll be able to wean him from the timer and he'll do it on his own.”

From Annette:  “Losing one’s temper  never works. Then you lose control, and nobody wins. However, if you remain controlled and handle the situation as quickly and effectively as possible, then you can discuss or model the correct behaviors later when the child is ready to listen. We’ve noticed that when we get all upset at our daughter with DS, she will just retreat into her shell and block out whatever it is we’re trying to tell her. Instead of getting upset, we decide if she needs quick punishment, space (sent to her room), or whatever, then when time has passed restitution and talking to her about the problem helps.”

God is good, gracious and compassionate, abounding in mercy, slow to anger.  As we train our children to serve Him, may He grant us the grace to be like Him in our relationships with each of the children He’s entrusted to our care.