Learning from individual stories - practical ideas for reading, number and bike riding

In the next section, parents and teachers share many creative ideas for teaching skills and continue to debate the early reading issues

Buckley, S. (2003) Learning from individual stories - practical ideas for reading, number and bike riding. Down Syndrome News and Update, 3(3), 83-83. doi:10.3104/dsupdate.237

Case studies

Reports of the progress of individual children have two major benefits:-

  1. All the creative ideas that succeed with particular children are shared for the benefit of many more children.
  2. The children's stories give a picture of the wide variation in rates of progress for individual children and, if we are able to print enough stories, we will build up examples of successful ways to teach those children who learn fast and those who learn more slowly - an issue that has been raised in the last issue and this one.

Variability in children's learning profiles

The first article describes the ways in which Ruth Palatnik developed reading games and activities for her daughter Rina, emphasing that she chose topics which contained important messages, as well as choosing words and sentences at an appropriate level for Rina - so she maximised the benefit of each activity. Ruth wrote to us on the issue of how parents feel when we publish articles on the children who make rapid progress with reading in their early years, and she has now shared the ideas she used to help her daughter to make progress during her primary school years. The letter from Nicola Baxter makes the same point - her daughter did not seem interested in early reading but took off in school, learning in mostly the same way as the other children in the class and using phonics like them.

Nature versus nurture plus genetic variation

The letters from Leslie Duffen and Victor Bishop both address these issues - and the message we should perhaps take from research and from readers' experiences at present is that life is complicated! Children's progress is influenced by our early input and teaching activities but it is also influenced by genetic variation - children with Down syndrome are not all the same. They have their own personalities and their own profiles of strengths and weaknesses - if we put 10 babies in the same household and gave them the same input, they would still all be different in their rates of progress. To complicate the picture further, we do know that nurture influences nature, as brain development takes place over many years and is influenced by input, learning and activity.

Value progress while offering all opportunities

The key may be to simply value progress while offering all opportunities. By this I mean, as parents, teachers and therapists, we need to encourage each child to learn and progress at their own pace, and to enjoy life. I have watched many children with Down syndrome over many years - many 'slow starters' suddenly surprise us with spurts in development while others continue at a slower pace than some of their friends but make steady progress well into adult life. However, we will not know if any child is going to benefit from any intervention - such as early reading - unless we give them the chance to try. We need to set up learning games that will make the activity fun and prevent failure and see how the child progresses. We also need to recognise that the reading games are speech and language games and that all children will benefit from us engaging in them together - just as they benefit from shared book reading - even if they are not showing that they can remember the words yet.

Giving up too soon

The article on learning with Numicon highlights this issue - making clear that at the start, Richard did not take to the activities and quickly became 'frustrated, tired and fed up'. However, his teacher and support assistant continued by setting small targets, using the same activities for short periods and focused on building his confidence. They were rewarded as he began to understand the system and take off. This pattern is seen for all children - for example - learning the first 10 words takes weeks but children suddenly realise that everything has a name and then learn new words at a much faster rate. Much patient input is often needed for a slower learning child before we suddenly see the gains. It is, therefore, very important to make the learning fun while building in lots of successful practice as emphasised in the discussion of early intervention on page 73.

Many thanks to the authors of these articles and letters - please keep sending us your stories.