One thing we quickly realized after receiving Anah is that who we thought she was and who she actually is are two different things. For example, we were told she was toilet trained. Well, to me, that meant being able to use the bathroom independently, without any help. What we realized was what that really means is that she can use the toilet when she is put on it. Either something got lost in the translation or we misunderstood what was meant (and probably both), resulting in us having to re-think a lot of how we are going to approach education for Anah. While we have been noticing that she can be a quick learner, she does not learn at all like our other children. Most children will learn something new and add to it. She seems to be able to copy something new, but quickly revert back to more primitive playing. It seems like she has reached a cap and reverts to what is comfortable instead of moving forward. The question for us has been how do we keep her moving forward when all she wants to do is stay in one spot?
Because we do not know much about her history and her past, we feel a bit at a loss at this point. But as that is not something we will ever have access to, we simply have to start with what we know of her. I feel like this year has spent simply in studying her---how she learns, what motivates her, and just as importantly, when to quit.
What we are realizing is that it is not going to be about academics for Anah---colors, shapes, and abstract concepts. This is a big change for me, even though in my mind, I know that is not a sign of failure on my part. At one time, I thought that she would be able to read, and maybe she will one day, but I need to let go of that for now. School for Anah is going to be very basic: how to take care of herself and how to be a help around the home. And I need to learn how to look at that as success.
However, at the same time, that doesn't mean that she will not be taught anything. One of our big tasks this year is helping her to learn how to focus and listen without climbing into our laps or trying to flip the pages when we are reading them. We will need to teach her the skills of learning just as much as the concepts themselves---or at least what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Establishing firm boundaries and calling her to a higher standard than what she may be accustomed to is part of laying those foundations for any future academic endeavors.
So we will also be working on teaching her how to dress herself, eat neatly, clean up, bathe herself, and yes, use the toilet on her own. Each of these things we are teaching her to do in a series of small steps, and slowly releasing her into independence as she masters them. Along with these skills is developing finger and hand strength so she can twist a washcloth, using scissors, manipulate fasteners on clothing and other tasks that require manual strength. She has enough strength to write (which is a challenge for kids with weak muscle tone) and is showing a lot of interest in writing, so I am adding handwriting to her schoolwork.
Language is another area that we will need to work on: increasing her vocabulary and her ability to communicate. She both needs to understand words as well as have a vehicle to communicate not only her needs but her thoughts. It seems like teaching her ASL will be a starting point until her speech becomes clearer. Thankfully, she is trying to speak, which is not always the case with many Down Syndrome children. We hope that by doing so, she will be able to comprehend more and therefore begin to learn more as well.
Music seems like it will be the pathway to learning for her. Of all the things that we have noticed about her, if something is put into music, she will learn it quickly and remember it the longest. We laugh and tell ourselves that we are going to have to sing as Larry the Cucumber (I'm assuming you know who this vegetable movie star is) does in Lyle the Kindly Viking: "I need to go to the bathroom!" Ya gotta do what ya gotta do---even if we sing off key!
So what I am using for Anah will include:
- Activity Bags for Preschoolers (many excellent fine motor tasks), Books 1 and 2
- The Homegrown Preschooler (here's my review of the book!), for setting up our home for her.
- Montessori at Home is another idea source I am using, particularly for practical life skills.
- Steps to Independence is also a good resource we're using to teach life skills.
- My First Book of Tracing (Kumon) for beginning handwriting, then later working our way to Handwriting Without Tears' My First School Book.
- Brightly Beaming Baby and Brightly Beaming Toddler are giving us a lot of language resources in the form of poems, book lists and music. This is a wonderful resource for us as we pretty much are starting from the ground up with Anah in language and concept development.
I am trusting that as we continue to work with Anah each day, a little at a time, we will see progress. I am continuing to look for workshops and programs that can help me to work with her. This has been the biggest challenge I've ever encountered in my homeschooling career, but the Lord has been faithful to guide and help us as we seek to help her to develop skills.
And that is the best curriculum of all.