EXPANDED VOCABULARY, LETTERS, AND SOUNDS (AGES 3 to 5)
Tea Time Is Learning Time
When the language you use is related to everyday activities, it makes learning functional and more motivating. Add on to your child's noun vocabulary by teaching action words like sitting, drinking, eating, washing, and brushing. Host a tea party or bathtime with dolls and stuffed animals (include one for your child and one for you) and then describe what the dolls are doing. Then follow your child's lead -- have her feed, wash, and dress the stuffed animals or dolls and encourage her to talk about what she is doing, using two- or three-word phrases ("Dolly is drinking" or "Mommy washes teddy").
Wow! A New Word
Build on your child's visual memory strengths by using praise to increase self-esteem and expressive language. Joe and Susan Kotlinski, parents of a daughter with Down syndrome, created Love and Learning (loveandlearning.com), a system to teach reading to children with Down syndrome. They suggest taping an 8 1/2" x 11" sheet of paper in a prominent place. Each time your child says a new word or one you haven't heard in a while, stop what you are doing and make a big show of saying, "Oh, that's a new word!" and write it on the sheet. Print the word in lowercase letters on a 5" x 7" card. Then show the card to your child and say the word at the same time. Later, when you read to your child, show her the card again and repeat the word. In time, your child will attempt to say new words to add to the list.
Write letters on the back of colored circles and place the circles face down. Have your child turn each circle over and make the sound. Prompt your child by making the correct sound, but decrease the prompts over time. Start with just a few circles, and sounds your child is already making, and slowly add new ones. "Most children with Down syndrome are likely to begin learning letter sounds between 3 1/2 and 5 years of age," Buckley says.
"Because of their visual memory strengths, children with Down syndrome can be taught to read early, when they can understand 50 to 100 words, and can match and select pictures," Buckley says. Make a game with words the child readily responds to, like family names or foods. Print two related words, like Mommy and Daddy, in large type on a piece of white paper and laminate it (use cardboard backing if you wish). Print or type each word again, separately, on small cards and laminate those. Place the big card, face up, in front of the child and have her hand you the small cards that correspond to the words on the big card, one at a time. Increase the words that appear on the big cards to three or four.
Vicki Vila, a former editor at The New York Times, is a freelance writer and editorial consultant. She blogs about raising a child with special needs at modernmessy.wordpress.com.
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