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We'll Make Our Own Curriculum

  • Tom Bushnell Home schooling special needs children specialist
  • 2005 21 Jan
We'll Make Our Own Curriculum
My wife and I have been happiest in homeschooling when we have taken the time to prepare a "curriculum" ourselves, geared for each child. Not only does this eliminate the need to adapt material for our special needs children, but it also allows us to tailor our childrens education to fit their interests.

Jordan, our 11-year-old son with Down syndrome, has some great interests: goats (along with animals in general), trucks, and tractors. Unfortunately, these interests are not readily found in textbooks or workbooks from a curriculum company.

Jordan has a one-track mind, so switching from one subject to another in the scope of an hour is almost impossible. He spends a lot of time just trying to orient himself to subject matter. It can take him up to 10 minutes just to settle down and focus on something. Once he's there, we can usually count on about 10 or 15 minutes of learning time.

Because of this, we have learned to incorporate learning into Jordan's everyday life, not just at "school time." When he is "into" something, we can talk about it, point out details, and discuss differences.

To get an idea of how this works practically, lets take a look at a "typical" school day for our son Jordan.

On this particular day, Jordan is having a pretty good morning. Because it is raining outside, we discuss appropriate clothing for cold rain as he gets dressed. Then Jordan helps his older brothers with animal chores and sits down to breakfast on his own initiative without a personal invitation. He has been motivated to help with dishes and it is now time for school.

This week we want to learn about weather (rain, snow, sun/hot), the number 5, and reading his name. In speech we'll work on his "r's," and for skills we want to review making his bed.

We pop a video on storms and weather into the VCR. Everybody watches. Afterward Jordan's attention is centered on weather, and we point out the rain, rain drops, rain gauge, rain coats, how cold it is today, and the possibility of snow or sun later in the day. Tomorrow we will show the video again.

To help Jordan learn to count to 5, every family member who can count remembers to help Jordan count to 5 on his fingers several times during the day. Because there are five of us in the family who can count to 10 or higher, Jordan will get to review this lesson 10-18 times daily, and each of us will only have to do it three times or less. In this way, our large family is an asset in helping the special needs children learn and review things such as the days of the week, counting, ABC's, etc. This way the burden is not so overwhelming for one person (Mommy!).

Jordans third goal for this week is to learn to read his name. We have printed Jordan's name and several other words he will be learning this month on strips of card stock. They stick on the refrigerator. Several times during the day as Jordan is passing through, we will point out the word. When he begins reading it consistently, we will introduce another word that looks very different. We will gradually reduce the print size until Jordan is reading small type, but for now he can only focus on letters 1 inch high.

Over the course of the month we will practice Jordan's "r" sound production. We do this by helping him say "eeeeeee" and then "rrrrrr," because he does not use the back of his mouth readily. The "eeeee" humps up the back of the tongue, and then the "rrrrr" slides right out. We will only use words that start with "r" first (like red) and then in the middle of the word (hungry) and then finally the end (better).

In teaching Jordan to make his bed, we rely heavily on his four brothers, who share a room with him. In addition to providing a good example, Jordans brothers will teach him to make his bed one step at a time (for example, one of the steps would be "pull the covers up"). We will also prepare Jordan's bed to make it easier for him, by making all sides accessible or tucking in the comforter on one side. A thick comforter is easier for Jordan to manage than several blankets and a sheet. The final thing we do is hold Jordan accountable for the skills we know he has already learned, with plenty of good-natured review. Learning new skills is a highlight of Jordan's week. He loves to be given responsibility and to be able to do things the older children can do.

Youll notice that Jordans learning activities dont involve "seat work" or even much structure. Although Jordan does like to color and fill pages with scribbles and circles, he does not yet have the fine motor skills to print. Transposing a letter from blackboard or book to paper is impossible. We do not attempt any seat work from a curriculum or text book. Yet Jordan does have a curriculum. It is our own design and fits Jordan's needs to a tee.

We are using a kindergarten manual for reference and supplementing as many hands-on activities as possible. In fact, Jordan's engaged learning time is almost completely spent learning new skills. He is very observant when he is concentrating. (A little too observanthe has started the truck and tractor lately!)

Free time is another important ingredient of Jordans day, as it is for all children. We really feel that for those children who can handle it, it is beneficial to allow an expression of their interests for a good measure of the day. We simply channel the interests. No free rein on the videos, or brother's tools, but we set limits and supply resources for them to explore. This is the precursor to a skilled, responsible child. And yes, special needs children can be sensible and wise by learning to be obedient!

Our second son, Josh, makes log furniture. He has found a handy and willing worker in Jordan, as Jordan is capable of using the small sander and saving Josh hours of sanding on his chairs and benches. Jordan loves to wear every piece of safety equipment that goes with the job . . . hard hat, goggles, gloves!

Organizing Jordan's day is all common sense. This is precisely what putting a curriculum together is like too. When we are setting up a curriculum, we look at interests first, then information to be learned. We have tried it the other way around, but we found that spoon-feeding facts and information is not as successful as starting with interests and tying facts around the interest.

When introducing new interests, we do so by presenting a variety of resources on a consistent basis. We have noticed that our children's interests have a direct correlation to our interests as parents. Cooking, gardening, tractor/auto repair work, goats, reading, Bible history and study are just a few everyday happenings we have seen our children personally take interest in recently. This has a good and bad side. Since we have eyes and ears ready to imitate us in word and deed, we as parents have been known to take up an interest or skill in hopes our children would also. We have also been known to put aside certain interests!

Expectations are important in character and learning, but we want to be very careful that our hopes for our children are in line with their abilities. Sometimes we have to let our hopes and dreams for our childrens accomplishments die, so that new ones can come to the front.

In designing curriculum, we know that our children have many untapped skills. Our non-disabled children are ready to soak up interesting facts about almost everything. Our disabled children need more prompting and exposure, so our expectations in a curriculum need to be really flexible as we follow the Lord's leading and our children's abilities and interests.

If youre interested in putting your own childs curriculum together, youre probably asking, "Where do I start?" My wife and I take the following steps as we prepare to design our childrens curriculum:

1. We pray for the Lord to open our eyes and to lead us in the right direction.

2. We talk together as mom and dad, finding out observations from each other. We usually discuss one child a night, observing their interests, abilities, character, safety knowledge, health issues, therapy needs, and anything else pertinent to daily living and learning.

3. We use a notebook, writing down skills and concepts we'd like to see learned in the next year, month, and then week, sketching out a rough I.E.P.

4. Getting input from brothers and sisters, we separate the soon-to-be learned skills into sections that everyone can help with, so the burden of review, review, review is not on Mommy.

5. We create a special three-ring binder that holds all of our child's pictures and papers. The notebook includes the childs name and photo. They get to design the cover.

6. We add to the curriculum books, videos, tools and other learning resources as funds allow.

7. We write out a one-month curriculum, with rough goals for three months, observing daily for adjustment.