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the ups of down (part 2)

One of the humongous benefits of blogging has been some of the amazing people I have met over the years–some only online, and others in real life.  Meeting people in real life is such a treat.

One of the those people is my friend Kristin.  We met here on my blog last year, and have since got together numerous times since we live in neighboring states.  Kristin is amazing, she has become such a special part of my life.  I am so thankful that God blessed me with the gift of her friendship.

So, when I got asked a question about homeschooling and how I will do it with Hailee and Harper, I figured that since I am not quite there yet with them, I would call in someone who is in the middle of homeschooling her daughter with Down syndrome, and has done it very successfully.

It is a blessing for me to introduce you to Kristin and her beautiful, totally delightful Josi.  I hope that many of you will be encouraged and may even realize that homeschooling a child with special needs is really not more difficult than any other child.

We’ve been praying about being a homeschooling family….but that was before adopting a special needs child was part of the plan! Do you plan on homeschooling Harper & Hailee like you do the rest of your children? Have you looked into curriculums that will fit their needs (if you’re even at that place yet…)? I just don’t even know what’s out there for curriculums. We have friends that homeschool 5 of their 6 kids, but their sweetheart with Ds will go to public school. Just curious, and looking for different opinions 🙂

Since I homeschool my 13yr. old daughter with Ds, Adeye asked me to answer this question which I’ll do to the best of my ability.  But first I need to give you a little background.

When Josi entered the school system at age 3, we were fortunate to have a developmental preschool placement at a church that was made up of the special needs school kids and typically developing children as well.  This was a wonderful situation for Josi since she’s very social and loves being around people.  She received all of her therapies in this setting for 2yrs. and made great progress socially and developmentally.

When it came time to transition to kindergarten at our neighborhood public school, we just assumed she’d flourish like she had  the past 2 years.  I was currently homeschooling our older son but we didn’t feel like God was leading us to homeschool Josi at this point.

Not much turned out the way we had hoped that year and by the time our year-end IEP meeting took place, we knew that God was giving CLEAR signs that Josi needed to be homeschooled.  She had various behavior issues that year (like pushing and hitting) and overall didn’t seem to be learning and thriving like she had in preschool.  I kidded with my husband that  now that she’s at home at least I’ll know who and why she’s hitting and pushing (who: her 2 brothers, why: because they can be pests). hahaha  I never was given satisfactory explanations for any of the academic or social situations the teachers wrote home about.  Needless to say it was a frustrating kindergarten year, but even so I was very nervous to bring her home for school.

Josi has been homeschooled for the past 8yrs. and here’s where I wish I could give you a nice concise list of curriculum choices that are guaranteed to bring success in your child with Ds.  The good news is there is a TON of stuff out there for our uniquely developing kids.  The bad news is there’s a lot of trial and error until you find what works for your child—because just like on the ‘typically developing’ spectrum…the Ds spectrum of abilities is wide and varied.

In the beginning I kind of picked up where they left off in kindergarten with sight words, basic math skills (we used Barbies, counting bears, etc. to make it fun), simple handwriting tasks, etc.  It was nice spending less than 2hrs. a day on school rather than sending her off at 9am and not seeing her until almost 4pm each day.  She learned a whole lot by watching her brothers and playing and sitting with me while I read books aloud.

Josi’s strengths are in Reading, writing and spelling. Part of this is how God gifted her but I also attribute it to the fact that I’ve read with her since the day she was born like I’ve done with our other children. To this day I still read aloud to my 14 and 11 yr. old sons and Josi is right there listening as well.  I can’t emphasize enough the benefit of reading A LOT—even if you think they’re not listening…they’re getting something I assure you!

Since she tends to like to use workbooks for these subjects  we’ve used the following curriculums fairly consistently with success:

1. Spelling Workout
2. Spectrum Reading
3. Explode the Code
4. A Reason for Handwriting

We also get books from the Library that are high-interest to Josi.  She still loves “Franklin” books.  The difference now is that she’s reading them to me instead of the other way around.

Math is a whole different ball of wax.  Somewhere on that extra 21st chromosome there’s got to be a math gene but so far we haven’t found it.  OK, it’s not that bad, but it amazes me that a child who can remember EVERYBODY’s birthday in our entire extended family and most of my friends and their kids, still cannot remember math facts beyond the “doubles”, “zeros”, and “plus ones”.  I’ve used most of the curriculums out there including Horizon, Saxon, Spectrum, Montessori Math, Primary Mathematics, and a few others I can’t recall.  We experienced some success in each of these texts but when it came time to move on to harder concepts I’d start over with another company.  We are currently using Spectrum Math which is a good fit for now.

I used to really stress out over not being able to move past the 2nd grade in Math texts but then I realized (through much prayer and seeking advice from others) that my goal for Josi is to make sure she can use math in such a way to be as independent as possible.  So, I figured that if she knew how to use a calculator and had a grasp on money concepts then she was good to go.  A few years back I started having her just count money (which is also a great way to learn to count by 2’s, 5’s, and 10’s).  Of course when I pull out the money bucket she groans and says, “I hate money!”.  To which I almost always reply by singing that song about money, money, money  making the world go round the world go round.  She sighs and starts counting.  Next year I plan to set up  a “store” and have her shop and pay for items around the house.  Then we’ll eventually move on to some real life shopping experiences.

No school situation is completely perfect but we have found that the homeschooling setting is just right for Josi and perhaps eventually for Nadia (our adopted daughter with Ds-3yrs. old).  We make sure she has plenty of opportunities for her social needs to be met through gymnastics, dance classes, Girl Scouts, homeschool co-ops, playdates, etc.  Do I sometimes look longingly as the bus pulls away from our corner toward the local elementary school?  Sure…especially during Math…but I know this is where God has called us to educate Josi for now, and so He provides me with the patience and creativity I need to be her teacher.

I hope that helps!

Kristin Ferguson

If any of you would like to ask Kristin questions about Josi, homeschooling, their routine, or anything else, please just go to her blog and leave a comment with your question.  She is more than happy to share her journey and her experiences with anyone interested in knowing more.

Also, Nathhan is an amazing organization that helps to equip parents who want to educate their children with special needs at home.

If you missed part 1 in this series, you can read it here. Part 3 coming soon! 

But first I’ll have to share a very exciting outing my family is going on tomorrow.  We can hardly wait.  I’ll come home and tell you all about it.