Engaging Your Child with Down Syndrome

I have an email from Catherine, who writes:

Hi Barbara I came across your blog today so glad I did
I am homeschooling my son aged 10yrs who also had Down syndrome he pretty much refuses to engage and am looking for any advice thanks

I’ll answer this publicly, for the sake of parents who may find this post in the future.

Catherine, when you say your son “refuses to engage,” I’m assuming you mean he’s not interested in sitting and learning with you.

Of course, there’s a wide variety of abilities and behaviors among 10-year-olds with Down syndrome, so it’s hard to know exactly what your son is like, but I do recall that Josh, my son with Ds, was not very interested in many of the things I did with him during our years of homeschooling, even though I tried so many different things in an effort to pique his interest and get him involved in learning.

Perhaps our greatest successes were spurred on once I discovered how competitive he was. I learned this by accident. A relative gave us a gaming system, something I’d successfully kept out of our house while raising our three older children. Once this thing was in the house, it quickly became the favorite new toy of all the kids and my husband as well, and the next thing I knew, they were teaching Josh to play on it. He became very good at it; in fact, his love of video games continues to this day.

But what that showed me was that I could reach him through games. I bought some “Concentration” type memory games, and we began playing those at the end of each day after he had successfully completed his schoolwork. This gave him an incentive to get his other work done. His goal, of course, was to beat me. Given the state of my memory after raising four children, that wasn’t hard most of the time. His love of winning fed his desire to play the games.

I also used flash cards as games. I’d hold up a card, and if he got the problem or question right, he kept the card. If he got it wrong, I kept the card. Whoever ended up with the most cards, won. He just loved doing flash cards once we scored in this way. Again, his desire to win kept him engaged.

Another technique that worked for us was using his interests to make lessons easier for him. For instance, he loved doing jigsaw puzzles. Since he needed to practice his speech sounds each day, I had spent years trying to get him to repeat these sounds back to me. But once I began rewarding each successful speech sound with a puzzle piece, practicing his speech sounds became so much easier. He quickly worked through the list, amassing pieces that he could then assemble when we were through. It was amazing how much better that method worked than all my previous years of verbally coaxing him.

Ultimately, I just had to keep trying until I found things that worked with Josh. For instance, I tried for years, from the time he was tiny, to teach him the alphabet. I used every method I could think of, and more that I found in books. But after he got an “Arthur” software game for his birthday, he learned his alphabet quickly, because one of the screens on that game showed Arthur in his room with the alphabet arranged around the top of the walls. All Josh had to do was click on a letter and he would hear the name of the letter in Arthur’s voice. I couldn’t believe how quickly he picked up all the letters once he got that game. Clearly that was the way to reach him when it came to learning the alphabet. Who knew?

The bottom line, Catherine, is that you must keep trying until you find something that works. This will always be true with your son. Even now, there are times when Josh challenges us in various ways and we need to keep trying until we come up with a solution that works for him and us. This is just life with our son, so we’ve gotten used to it. You will, too.

Best wishes on your homeschooling journey, Catherine!

 

Happy 2016!

I spent much of the last part of 2015 working on two quilts that were Christmas gifts (photos to come). I managed to finish them in time but I must have been crazy to put myself under such a deadline. There were several interruptions, including emergency surgery on one of my kids (she’s OK now, thank God), the purchase of a car and a broken part on my sewing machine.

The Christmas season was full of surprises, the best of them being the announcement by our daughter and son-in-law that they’re expecting their first child this summer. We are very excited about this wonderful news! This will be our third grandchild; we were blessed to spend some time over the holidays with our first two bright and gorgeous grandchildren, and they are a delight :) We Skype with them every week and love it, but there’s nothing like being there in person.

The holidays gave me an opportunity to reconnect with some old friends, which is always nice. Some were also homeschooling parents, so we have much to talk about. I continue to find it interesting that some of their kids are doing very well as adults while others continue to find their way. I mean this in terms of their faith lives, not their work or personal lives, as all seem gainfully employed and/or busy raising their own children. These things are also true of my own children. It appears to me that homeschooling creates wonderful family lives and good educational experiences, but cannot create an adult who handles everything perfectly, no matter what the speakers at homeschool conventions may tell you! That said, it’s a privilege to watch our adult children navigate the world with all of its joys and challenges.

In 2016, I hope to update Life Prep for Homeschooled Teenagers with additional projects and information. We also have a couple of eBooks in the pipeline at Cardamom that will hopefully be published this year. And of course, there will be more quilts….and a new baby to love!

Wishing you a blessed 2016,
Barb

Blast from the Past: Using Quilts in Homeschooling

An Amish Pieced & Quilted Cotton Coverlet, Indiana or Ohio, Circa 1910
An Amish Pieced & Quilted Cotton Coverlet, Indiana or Ohio, Circa 1910

When I was in college, I bought an old sofa for my dorm room for $10. It was so ugly, it needed a covering, so I took fabric scraps left over from clothes I’d made and pieced a quilt to throw over it. After that, I was hooked on quilting.

At that time, quilting was mostly something you did with scraps. But it soon blossomed into a huge industry, with fabrics designed specifically for quilters and an explosion of shops to promote those fabrics. Since then, most quilts begin when the quilter purposely buys fabric to make a quilt. You can easily spend a few hundred dollars doing so.

But that’s the pricey way to make a quilt. Making a quilt from scraps is still an inexpensive way to have fun while making something useful. This is what our foremothers did during the Great Depression, when money was tight and re-using things was the wisest thing you could do.

For homeschoolers, learning about quilting is a way to study both history and math. The math part is best learned by doing: calculating the size of the blocks of your quilt and the most efficient way to cut each piece of fabric can challenge the math skills of adults, much less kids. Even if you use a pattern, there will be some calculations involved.

And who knew there were quilt math books for kids? Wish they’d been around when my kids were younger!

Studying the historical aspects of quilting can be a lot of fun. Quilting is an integral part of American history. The different patterns and fabrics used help researchers determine the age of an antique quilt, and quilt historians are almost like detectives as they research the background of a given quilt.

The patterns used to make quilts are a major clue to their histories. Long before there were quilt magazines, patterns were passed between quilters of a given time period. Here’s a link to many patterns popular in recent American history.

The fabrics used over time have very distinctive looks. Today, textile companies reproduce such fabrics for quilters who want to make new quilts that look historically accurate for a given time period. Looking at such fabrics give you an idea of what kind of fabrics people used for clothing in that time period. Here’s one site with a group of links for fabrics of different time periods.

The 1930s were particularly good years for quilts because the financial difficulties of the times forced people to be very creative with the materials on hand. As a result, many quilters created incredible quilts. The World’s Fair of 1933 included a quilt contest sponsored by Sears. It received thousands of entries. See some of the best of these quilts here (scroll to the very bottom of the page and click on thumbnails.

There was a resurgence of quilting in the mid-1970s as the U.S. Bicentennial approached. Bicentennial quilts became all the rage. Since then, quilting has remained quite popular.

One of the best ways to learn about history through quilts is to visit a museum that displays them. Many history museums do show a few quilts along with other artifacts, but to see a wide variety of them, you need to go to a quilt museum. Perhaps the best-known in the country is the Museum of the American Quilter’s Society in Paducah, Kentucky.

You can also “tour” quilt museums while online. Here’s a page of links to such museums. While there’s nothing like seeing a quilt in person, this is the next best thing to being there.

Ready to make a quilt with your kids as a homeschooling project? If you already know how to sew, you’ll find it to be quite easy. Quilts can be hand-sewn, machine-sewn, or made with a mix of both techniques.

There are great how-to-quilt books at your local library. You can also find a friend who can teach you or take a class at a local quilt shop. You can also learn from online tutorials. You’ll find many web pages with basic quilting information like this one. Also, here’s the first of a thirteen-part series by expertvillage on how to make a baby quilt as a first quilting project.

It’s fun to quilt with your children, and who knows? It could become a lifelong hobby for you and for them.

(Originally posted 2/9/09.)