The night Kepler was born at home, his two older brothers (10 and 11 at the time) read him a book as they were getting to know him. Reading aloud has been the norm in our home since Valerie was a tiny baby 24 years ago.
Turns out, kids with Down syndrome are particularly receptive to reading personalized books. Books written about them, for them, on their level. You can imagine how this can wreak havoc, though, when they are being asked to read books about “Animal Noses and How They Smell,” and things like that. Those books have a place and I definitely want him to be able to choose to read any book he wants to read. It’s just that, and this is not an idea that is original to me, they learn best when there is some sort of context that is meaningful to them.
Oh The Humanity
One might think that having four kids who truly learned to read by being read to might clue one into the importance of reading to kid #5. Which we have, of course, but not nearly to the same extent as we did with the older four. The difference has been that we pretty much just read out loud every book we could get our hands on, and read to the older kids evening after evening after evening. All the way through the Lord of the Rings books, The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, and so many more. Books that the kids didn’t necessarily have the vocabulary for yet, but learned so much just through listening to Greg reading the books to them.
With Kepler, I have focused more on easy readers. Until this past week. I had checked a chapter book (for him) out of the library and it had sat on the table for a good three weeks. For no particular reason, I decided to read it aloud.
He loved it.
Loved it! It’s one of a series about four kids in elementary school, and I think he really appreciated the sophistication of the story after sitting through five million readings of the Spot books. Not only did he love the book, he wanted me to re-read it. We read that book four times over spring break. And I love seeing how his brain makes connections between things we read and other places he has heard a word or a name.
The Method to the Madness
Now that I understand these two facts: personalized books, and higher-level material, I am so much more prepared to teach reading skills to him.
In tomorrow’s blog I will be expanding on the concept of giving him a choice, but that has come in handy with our reading aloud as well. Sometimes he tells me the book has too many words. Truly, he is not used to reading books with 60-70 pages, so I can understand that it might feel like a lot. However, I see him attending to and comprehending a lot of the story. But I still let him choose at times whether he would like for me to read one more chapter or two more chapters, two more pages or three more pages.
Having him home during Spring Break has given me a multitude of opportunities to experiment with teaching him in different ways. What I have discovered is a child who LOVES to learn and who is quite motivated to try hard when the material is connected to his life.
Vocabulary, Spoken Words, and Reading
And maybe the rest of the crowd already knew this, but I have just been learning about the connection between having a large enough vocabulary (800 words) to make reading an option.
Sue Buckley, of Down Syndrome Education (https://www.dseinternational.org/en-us/) shares the importance of actually writing down the words a child knows. With a typical child, they learn words so quickly, writing them down would grow exponentially on a weekly basis. But with Down syndrome, the child’s vocabulary grows at a slower pace, and certainly the expressive vocabulary can lag behind the understood vocabulary. So, it’s helpful to know what words my child actually knows; the ones he can read, the ones he can say, the ones he uses spontaneously, and the ones he speaks that can be understood by someone who does not know him.
Hearkening Back to College
I remember reading a book on language acquisition in children during my Developmental Psychology class. It was FASCINATING. And though Kepler may be acquiring language in a non-typical way, I am finding his process fascinating as well. And boy, am I glad I am along for the ride.