“You, the parent, are your child’s first teacher and his best teacher.” This quotation, from Jacquie McTaggart’s book, From the Teacher’s Desk, holds very true for the family of Madyson B. Six year old Madyson and her younger brother and sister, four year old twins, Logan and Laurell, are very lucky because their mother is not only a parent, but their teacher as well. Heather B., a former K/1 teacher, home schools the children so she can be assured that their full needs are met. She uses a Pre-K/K curriculum and lots of hands-on activities to keep her children engaged while learning.
The family home doubles as a technology-rich classroom. Madyson uses a lot of technology in her daily life, both high-tech and low-tech. Every tool that Madyson uses serves as a way to further her learning and speech skills. One of Madyson’s daily activities includes playing learning and speech games on the computer. She is very good at using the mouse independently and she really enjoys the games because she likes to imitate what she is seeing and hearing. The free computer games that Heather has her daughter play focus on curriculum that she would be learning in a public school, including reading comprehension, phonics, spelling and mathematics. A lower-tech option for learning how to read and spell is magnetic letters that Madyson can physically manipulate into words and phrases.
Heather, like all great teachers, wants her children to learn as much as they can. In order to do this, everything serves as a platform for learning. She plays music CDs with consonant sounds emphasized in the songs to enhance speech. Madyson enjoys listening to these CDs as well as watching speech DVD’s. As she does with the computer games, Madyson watches and imitates what she is seeing and hearing. Imitation is a big part of learning and the modeling she is receiving from the CDs, DVDs and computer games have proven to be very beneficial to her growth, particularly in speech.
In addition to working with Madyson on her oral skills, Heather has taught her daughter how to communicate via handwriting and using a PECS notebook and Palm Pilot. Madyson practices on a regular basis, using chalk on slates or dry erase markers on whiteboards. The PECS notebook and Palm Pilot both have pictures with verbal capabilities programmed in for easier communication with anyone she may come in contact with.
Madyson learns a lot from picture communication. It is very effective for her personal needs as a young child with Down Syndrome. Her family has posted lists of pictures all around the house. She uses these lists to help her remember the steps for daily tasks, such as going to the bathroom, washing her hands, brushing her teeth, and making her bed. As Madyson becomes familiar with each list, she becomes more independent. Technology, both low tech and high tech have really helped her achieve in ways that some people never thought her capable.
Madyson receives her education at home because her needs were not fully being met in the functional skills classroom where she had been placed. In the classroom she learned how to interact and play with other children, but no academic skills were being taught. Her boredom at school caused her to get into some trouble; the boredom being a result of not being included in the curriculum. While her family knew that technology would help, the school did not agree, saying that assistive technology would become a crutch for Madyson and would lessen her chances of being able to speak. Bringing her into the home for education was one of the best things that could have happened for Madyson. Her parents have seen major improvements in both her behavior and attitude. She giggles and laughs, interacts with peers more easily, and is willing to try just about anything without being coerced! One of the biggest joys of teaching her own child, Heather says, is to hear her yell with excitement every time she announces that it is time to “do school”, something every educator wants to hear.
In addition to having her home double as a classroom, Madyson is very lucky to live in a happy household. She lives with her parents, her younger brother and sister, and the family pet cats, Cebu and Percy. She spends her free time playing with her siblings, neighborhood friends, and cousins. She also has recently become extremely interested in ballet and basketball. There are high hopes that the Special Olympics program will become a part of the family’s future. In addition to their daily activities, the family is very involved in their church, which has organized a support group for families of children with special needs and buddies to attend each activity accompanying these children. Madyson participates in the church through Sunday School and Bible Pals every Wednesday night.
Madyson’s absolute favorite thing to do is spend time with her role model, her Grandpa. Madyson can really relate to her grandfather, as he is described as a grown-up whose inner child never went away. Everything is fun when he is around! Heather can see the joy in Madyson’s eyes when she is with her Grandpa as she watches them interact, laughing and loving each other without the need to speak. Just recently, Madyson learned to read books phonetically and sharing them with her grandfather will be a memory she can keep forever.
Madyson is only six years old and although she has Down syndrome, that doesn’t mean she is incapable of doing things everyone else does. Madyson’s mother advises other parents that they are their child’s best advocate; you need to believe in your child and in his or her ability to exceed your every expectation and those of the public! Madyson already has and will surely continue to bypass every expectation of her and achieve great things as a result of a loving, caring family and through her technology usage, which has already given her great independence.
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