Today starts our official second week of Non Traditional Learning or Distance Learning, due to COVID19. This however, starts our fifth week at home and my fifth week of homeschooling Stella. Our at home classroom has progressed over the last few weeks and we are starting to get somewhat of a routine down. With NTI, officially launched, I have even received some great resources from Stella's special education teachers.
I have to be honest, I was terrified of having to teach Stella at home, not because I didn't know how. I am a certified teacher for ages 0-6 so I'm somewhat "qualified" to teach her with the right resources, though I do not have a special education degree. The problem is that Stella has been less than cooperative with me in the past. But she has really blown me away in the last few weeks with how eager she is to learn, how much she is learning and how cooperative she has been with me. It has, in no way been perfect but we have actually been having a great time together. It's been remarkable to see her growth in the last few weeks.
I know how hard it can be to suddenly become a teacher of your own child, especially a child with different needs. There are so many needs to take into consideration. Overnight I became her physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech therapist, behavior therapist, teacher and special education teacher as well as, of course, her mother. Did I mentions she has two older brothers too. Luckily for me, they are pretty independent with their distance learning. It's a lot and I know, I'm not alone! I also know that there are many of you out there that have a child with an IEP, that are not yet receiving help from your child's teachers or therapist. I believe the school systems are working diligently to find the best solutions for all children. But let's face it, it's not the same for our kiddos that need so many supports and individualized instruction. And these are unprecedented times so there's a huge learning curve.
I don't have all the answers for you. But I thought I would share a few things that have been working for us at home so far. I also wanted to share some specific activities that we have been doing successfully as well, and some strategies that may help you keep your child's focus and your sanity. I'll also share with you a few of my favorite resources for fun printables and picture schedules.
Tips for homeschooling
Make it fun!
Give them choices
Give lots of movement breaks
Work in short increments
Relax- they feel your stress
Work area set up
If possible, I recommend setting up a specific work area for your child. It doesn't have to be fancy, but something comfortable and designated just for their work. Also, try to keep it where there will be the least amount of distractions. I used an old tea party table that we had in Stella's room. I brought it down and set it up my living room. She has a little library and reading area. I also made her games and a few fine motor activities available for her to choose. I realize this may not "look pretty" in your living room but keep in mind that it is temporary.
Structured Work Systems
A few weeks before school was postponed, our IEP team began to implement structured work systems for Stella, at school. I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about the structured work systems, you're welcome to investigate more on your own. The purpose is basically to teach children to work independently. I decided it would be a good idea to try it out at home. It has been so nice and something that Stella looks forward to every day. She is even starting to go on her own and do the task independently.
Basically, what I did was to set up 3 tasks for her to do. Each task is something that is fairly easy for her to do. The point is to make her feel successful to start off her day and to teach her independence. When she completes a task, she removes the number and places it on her reward chart. When she completes all 3 tasks, she receives her reward that she had previously chosen from a list. If you're child has trouble working on her own, this maybe something you want to try.
Children often need incentives for doing non preferred activities. Stella has almost always had some type of reward chart both at home and at school. Knowing what she is working for is key to getting her to complete a task. Kid's with Down Syndrome are especially visual learners and do best with picture schedules and reward charts. I have several printed and laminated pictures of Stella's favorite things. They include: candy, snacks, music, barbies, ipad time, movies, etc. Choose something that specific to your child. First/Then boards work great also. Put a picture of what you want her to complete and then what she gets when she does complete it. These types of visual models work really well with our kiddos.
Sorting is an early math skill that we have been working on. I love to use file folder games for sorting activities. We spent the last few weeks sorting Easter Baskets and Easter eggs. One of my favorite resources for free printables is Simple Special Ed.
We've also been sorting our farm animals by color. I used colored construction paper to show her where each color goes. You could also use colored cups or bowls. You can find random things around your house to sort: Socks, shoes, plates/bowls, hair bows, etc. We have also sorted Connect four pieces- red/black. This is also a great fine motor activitity! Remember to make it fun!
We are working on counting 1:1 correspondence. We have counted marshmallows, farm animals, M&M's, blocks, etc. We count together. I have her count and use her communication device to tell me how many. We play Mini Muffin Match up which incorporates fine motor skills, number recognition and color recognition.
Number Recognition and Number Sequencing
We use index cards to right her numbers 1-20 and have her identify the correct number. We are also working on sequencing numbers 1-5, having her put the number cards in order. She loves Bingo so we also play a lot of Number Bingo.
We review sight words daily. I put them in her morning message and have her find them and circle the correct word. We use magnetic letters to spell out each word. I model it and then as she progresses through the week, she does it independently. We are starting to use them in sentences. I write out a sentence using the word and have her type it out in her communications device. I will also be working with her on putting the words in order to create a sentence.
We read daily and I ask her questions as we go, about what is happening in the book. I will also occasionally point out sight words or ask her if she recognizes any words in the story. As she progresses, I will be adding story sequencing activities.
Stay tuned for more fine and gross motor, movement and motor planning activities. Plus, I will continue to add more fun learning opportunities that you can add to your day.
Let me know if this was helpful and what other support I can give to you! We are in this together!