Friday, November 15, 2013

Strategies to teach your young child to read (Down syndrome & typical)

By: Robin Tolliver

My background:

*  Flight medic, LPN, RN
*  Emergency Medicine Physician Assistant
*  22 years Army National Guard, retired MAJ
*  Precious Baby Ministry for children with Down Syndrome
*  I do not have a degree in education, but I have two daughters ages 2 and 4 who are reading well. I would genuinely like to share what has been successful for us and perhaps provide ideas and motivation for parents.

I implemented the following programs for Payton from 3 months old.  Looking back, it seemed so easy.  I really took it up a notch though when Presley was born.  I added much more to the program to ensure she would someday read as well as her sister.

This is Payton reading a poem the week of her 4th birthday I printed this off less than 24 hours before.  She makes it look so easy.

However, everything was different from the beginning with Presley.  When Presley was born, in our fog of mixed emotions, we heard the words "I'm sorry" many times as they told us Presley was born with an extra 21st chromosome (Down syndrome).  Next, the doctor told us all the potential health issues she may have.  Then, he began to tell us everything she would not do, such as "read, write, drive a car, or have a decent IQ".  I remember thinking "he is not talking about my child, and why is he is already placing limits on what she can do".  As I began my research, I came across a website called Einstein syndrome  (  I loved their philosophy and felt renewed.  They basically said, what if the doctor had come to you instead and said "Your daughter has Einstein syndrome. She has the potential to be brilliant, but it is up to you to expose her to a rich learning environment, teach her, show her one of everything and expect her to absorb it all".  At that moment, every parent would leave the hospital and begin this incredible educational journey with their child, believing they had unlimited potential.  This is how is should be.  No one can determine your child's future or abilities.  No one should place limitations on your child.  We need to believe in them and raise our expectations to help each child reach their maximum potential and determine their own point of success.

Here is Presley reading:

Age 19 months video #1

Age 19 months video #2

Age 25 months

This is Presley showing she knows her alphabet by choosing letters:

Age 24 months:
Age 28 months:

I think both of our girls are pretty amazing!


I believe each child gets a immune and cognitive boost through good nutrition.  Here are some of the basics to consider:

* Minimal amount of sugar - this causes inflammation throughout the body and feeds infections and bad bacteria.  Sugar is also hidden in large amounts in juices, kool aids, along with artificial colors. Read your labels.

* Avoid processed foods as possible

*  ACH study connecting “gut bacteria” with autism (  It states that children with autism possess a certain gut bacteria that thrives off of unhealthy diets and therefore increases the autistic symptoms.   It is obvious there is a gut-brain connection.  Think about how seeing something distressing causes immediate nausea or when you get "butterflies" in your stomach because you are nervous.

* 3 meals daily with healthy snacks

* Smoothies - we sneak lots of fruits and vegetables in our smoothies

* Help strengthen immune system - 80 % of our immune system is located within the gut.  Every child needs a healthy system to learn.

Recommended books for early nutrition:
  Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron. Tells you directly what food to introduce each month in the first year.  Also gives lots of healthy recipes for older children. 

  Deceptively Delicious - helps you hide all types of healthy foods (esp vegetables) in regular recipes to secretly add nutrition to your children's meals.

Laying the foundation for learning:

* First five years very important in development - I read once that most of what a child will learn will be in the first five years. Don't wait for a teacher to begin laying this foundation.  Begin early. 

* Input, input, input for receptive language.  Do not expect output yet, just repetitively continue inputting.

* Frequency, consistency – 5 minutes here and there will make a difference

* TV is not recommended before 2 years old

* No more than 2 hours total screen time age 2-5 (Per American Academy of Pediatrics)

* Good time to increase auditory skills
         -Turn on the radio
         -Children’s songs on Pandora - sing songs that encourage participation
         -Audio books
         -Work on auditory sequential processing (keep reading for further

*  Use multiple techniques to keep interested

*  Multisensory approach – involve as many senses as possible to leave a vivid mental imprint (ex apple – see the apple, touch the apple, taste the apple, smell the apple, hear the apple crunch) This is a Montessori type approach.

Determine your child’s best learning type: While most people will use a mixture of each, there should be a dominant one



Visual spatial learners

*Learning comes through imagery of the whole concept
*Visualization provides organizational construct for assimilating and processing new ideas, excellent organizer
*Astute observers
*Need more time to process information and think in pictures
*Need to see a concept in order to understand it
*Focus on ideas not details
*Often generate unusual solutions to problems and perceive the whole quickly
*Can recognize patterns easily
*Can experience difficulty with verbal instructions, sequential problem solving, and with drill and practice

Visual learners can learn best by handouts, studying alone, overhead slides, powerpoint presentations, watching videos, watching a demonstration, creating outlines, using various colors of highlighters, writing practice test, and mind mapping.

Auditory spatial learners:

*Good listeners - they recognize changes in tone easily
*Learn sequentially
*Rapid processors
*Think in words
*Well developed short term “working” memory
*Remembers what they hear, can follow complex set of oral directions and memorize easy
*Can express themselves well and fluently
*Can show their work easily b/c they took a series of steps that they can retrace, orderly, well organized which helps academic performance
*If hearing issues early in childhood, often experience language delays and difficulty with comprehension
*They typically are recognized as high achievers in school because school is geared more towards the auditory learner.  This is why auditory sequential processing is so important to help improve your child's ability to learn.

Auditory learners can learn best by working in groups or with a partner to discuss things out loud, recording their classes or lectures, reading assignments out loud, audio books, associating music with ideas/concepts, giving oral reports, mnemonics, rhythms, talking to oneself, and singing their notes,

Kinesthetic learners:

*“Tactile learners”
*Learn best by demonstrations and manipulating things
*Needs a “hands on” approach
*Usually volunteer to help with demonstrations
*May become bored trying to listen to a lecture.
*Like to experience the world and act out events
*Can remember complicated directions once they have acted them out
*Good at sports
*Typically can not sit still for very long
*Likes adventure books and movies
*Likes martial arts, dance, role playing
*Can study with loud music on
*Handwriting is usually not the best
*Likes science lab and doodling

Tactile learners can learn better with short study periods, taking lab classes, role playing, using flashcards and highlighters, having a "worry rock" in their pocket to fidget with when they have to be still and learning on the go.

If you have a child that is struggling to learn, please have his vision and hearing checked.  You can not learn if you can not see or hear the information accurately. During this presentation, we also discussed the importance of hand, eye, ear congruency.  If you are right handed, you should be right eyed and ear as well.  Information will not be processed correctly as a child.  

Increasing auditory sequential processing:

This is a way to increase their auditory learning ability.  A typical adult should be able to process a 7.  That is why phone numbers in the United States are 7 digits long.   A child should process roughly 1 for each year old.  1 year old processes a 1.  2 years old processes a 2. 

"Simply smarter" app  for the computer or IPAD/iphone by NACD takes the thinking out of it.  It does the processing and reverses it also.  You have a variety to choose from, just auditory, just visual, or combination.  You choose whether images, colors, animals, or what you would like your child to use. I highly recommend this app.

*  Stay 1+/- their processing level through out the day
*  In car (for example: sign, car, park, horn)
*  While cooking (spoon, pot, oven, sink)
*  Increase with following 1,2,3 step directions
*  Advance to reverse processing
*  Learn more:

Techniques to develop reading skills:

Your Baby Can Read
Introducing them to their world

Using variety, repetition, and frequency enhances success.

Your Baby Can Read: 

*  We began at 3 months old – no other TV
*  Similar to learning sight words
*  Same concept as Rosetta Stone with picture word combination & repetition
*  20-30 minute video twice a day
*  Flashcards 5-10 min once or twice a day
*  Books once or twice a day
*  Your Baby Can Discover as they are older
*  Youtube – videos available for free but not as good of quality
*  Sight word recognition gives the child confidence as they begin to recognize words and see the parents positive reaction.
*  As with any program, it is very successful if you follow through with it




*  Little Math, Little Musician, and Little Reader
*  Downloadable program
*  Discount to children with disabilities (50-100%)
*  Large resource for additional downloads
*  Can modify program to your child
*  One year curriculum 1-2 times a day for 5 minutes
*  Also has app for iphone
*  Both of my girls loved the books.



*  Typically cost $1-$14

*  Make your own.
*  Lamination machine: $25 at Wal Mart
*  Lamination sheets: $10 for 50 sheets (fit 4 cards on each sheet so
    approx .05 cents a card)
*  Laminate: personal photos: mom, dad, objects, actions (begin with
    immediate surroundings then expand out)
*  Store bought cards, stickers, preschool activity book pictures, magazine
    photos - just print a word label for the back and laminate
*  PSB Cubed – . Girl with Down Syndrome who prints flashcards for cost/S&H only.

*  Fast flash techniques (1-3 seconds)
*  Emphasize phonics while doing alphabet cards 2 minutes 2-3 times a day *  Stop while they are still interested and before they are bored
*  Add 10 cards each week,  Review old each day.
*  Keep moving whether they know the old or not

Other programs:  I have not used each one, but I know parents who liked each of these.

*  See &Learn
*  Love & Learning
*  How to teach your baby to read – Glenn Doman
*  Reading the Alphabet – PreK reading ciriculum that is a combination of Montessori, Handwriting w/o Tears, & word study.  I found this more than I could do with our current neurodevelopmental program too, but she gives out free printables almost daily that are extremely good.

Additional online reading resources for children:

*  Starfall
*  Clifford interactive stores and books: 
*  Owl and Mouse:
*  Reading Bear:
*  Between the Lions (PBS)
*  Readeaz:


*  Goal 5-10 each day.  These may only have 3-5 words on the page.  It is
    about exposing your child to various books and developing a love for
    reading also.
*  If too many words then just talk about the pictures, point out details (“red
*  Be very animated Picture – word books, hand over hand technique

Reading area:  This is their special place dedicated for reading and learning.  Small, comfortable, well lit and easy access to lots of books!

The following books are for beginner readers such as Presley.  These are examples of books that use color, texture, sound, and associate and image with a word.  Here is a detailed list of good learning books for children with special needs:

Starting out: contrast colors, large pictures, very simple.  I wrote the words in this book as we began to work on sight words.

Simple pictures with sound: 

See more examples at:

Lots of word books for receptive language :  shows the word with the picture  (example is by Priddy)

Little Scholastic – touch, feel, lift flaps = stimulating more senses


Brainy Baby:  colorful, interested, simple yet covers topic well

DK books – always very detailed and uses real pictures. DK also has extremely informative books and videos as children get older. Look for the videos on youtube.

Make your own book. We made this one to try to get Presley to talk more. We used words that we knew she would say as soon as she saw the word or picture. Seeing, hearing, doing, repetition.  It requires a printer and laminator.  Super easy!



*  Brainy Baby (DVR smile of a child channel for free)
*  Signing Times –early communication
*  Rock & Learn – lots of videos with music
*  Make your own videos: cheap, easy, fun. Make large print words. Display things around the home. Add clips to windows movie maker, pick transition method. Hit play! I plug the computer into our TV and they watch their home video on the TV. Watching themselves keeps them interested and they do not even realize they are learning words.

* Here is one we made just reviewing colors with the left over balloons we had from a party.  There is also a clip of the girls playing and wrestling in bed, which keeps them interested in the video.  They ask to watch this video EVERY day!  Word movie:

IPAD, Iphone, Ipod:

*  Flashcards: ABA, animated, sight words, talking cards on youtube
*  Matching shapes & colors that say it out loud
*  Little Reader, Laugh & Learn, Fisher Price
*  Phonics games Talking books
*  Videos on youtube
*  Search apps: baby reading, early learning, baby’s first words

Introduce them to their world: (yes, this is actually our house)

*  Labels through the house
*  From early age, tell them what everything is
            Walking around the house
            While shopping, especially produce section
            Walking outside, acknowledge sounds you hear

Here is a link to an extraordinary Mom whose son is an excellent reader. She shows you all the techniques she used.  She also gives links to other children with Down syndrome who are successful readers for even more inspiration.

My last advice is to remove limitations and raise your expectations.  Typical child or special needs child, we should expect more. Invest the time, you will never regret it. Continue with large amounts of input, and wait patiently on the output. It will come when they are ready. Watch them absorb the knowledge and enjoy it. Thank you for your time and interest.

Many blessings,
Robin Tolliver

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