Homeschooling With Down Syndrome

To say homeschooling with special needs is to cover a wide spectrum of diagnoses.   Even within the diagnosis of Down syndrome, there can be differences.  Each child is individually different.  I can share my experiences in homeschooling our daughter with Down syndrome, but it may vary for another child with Down syndrome.  Yet there is still the common factor of the diagnosis and the implications that carries, such as the fact that it takes our kids with Down syndrome longer to learn new concepts and new lessons. Our children with Down syndrome are visual learners. They learn through repetition and imitation, which is best taught if you homeschool Down syndrome.

We've been teaching our daughter at home since Kindergarten.  We also homeschool our two older children.  It takes much discipline and consistency to teach our daughter with DS.  We need to cover a topic or concept for several weeks or months before it becomes concrete. And even then, we still need to review a few weeks later to make sure it's not forgotten. You know the term 'out of sight, out of mind'? Well, that's very true with Sam.  It could take years to learn a concept that may take a typical child months or weeks to learn. At times it can be a challenge to continually teach something when it may seem like it may never become concrete.  Teaching our daughter Sam has been more challenging than teaching our other two children, but it has also been the most rewarding.  Not to say that teaching our other children is not rewarding.  Let me explain. When we've been working for so long to teach her to tell time, for example, and I can see that she's trying and she wants to succeed, but she just cannot understand how a clock works, it can be discouraging.  With a typical child we can say, "Oh, they're not ready for this.  We'll revisit this in a few months."  We cannot do that with our daughter.  Though it seems like she's not ready, we need to persevere.  

In our culture today, clocks are rare. We've got digital clocks on our oven, our microwave, our watches and our cell phones. Yet it's still important that she not only learn to tell time, but that she learns to add time and subtract time. And this is easier to do on an analog clock. If you have to be somewhere in two hours, what time will it be? This involves problem solving and analytical thinking, which is difficult for a child with cognitive challenges or with Down syndrome. We need to consistently practice telling time, and adding and subtracting time every day until we see that glimmer of understanding.  At this point, if we miss a few days, it could mean backtracking and starting from the beginning.  For fun daily practice we use educational videos and educational games and activities until we know it’s concrete. That means that we've missed a couple of days or more and come back to it, and she still remembers it. That's when we say, "It's worth it!" It's worth the discipline and time it takes. It's worth the extra time of research for new ways to teach a concept.  It's worth the's tears.  Of course it's worth it. And it's rewarding. You see, I always tell her, "Yes, it's hard and it's going to take some time, but you CAN do it." So it's rewarding when she's been trying for so long and I finally see that big smile when she realizes she CAN do it, and she squeals, "I did it!"


My husband and I embarked on this homeschooling journey 13 years ago.  We will be graduating our first homeschooled child this year. Our two older children attended a brick and mortar school. They're in their late 20's now.  Our daughter is married with 3 young daughters, and our son is engaged to be married in the Spring.  When we started homeschooling back in 2000, I don't think I thought this far ahead to homeschooling the high school years.  I remember a few years into homeschooling, saying that I didn't know how I was going to do the high school years. It scared me to think about it.  But God called us to homeschool, and God equips us each step of the way.

Our oldest homeschooled daughter is dual enrolled, taking some college classes at our local college. This year she started working and is driving.  She wants to study elementary education and sign language interpretation. Our son has two more years of school at home, but will soon start dual enrolment with one or two college classes. This year he's attending a home-education program where he attends once a week for classes like math, science, and English,  He then does all his assignments at home the rest of the week.  I also teach him other subjects.  In previous years they have also participated in public speaking and debate among other extracurricular activities. Our youngest is our son's twin. She has Down syndrome. Because of her DS, she's learning at an early elementary grade level, but she's showing continual progress and growth. Last year she participated in a similar homeschool program where she attended once a week. This year her core curriculum is Time4Learning, which she has been doing for the last several years.  By the way, these local homeschool programs allow and encourage parents to sit in the classroom.  Parents are still the primary educator and teach or reinforce the concepts or lessons that were covered in the classroom.

It is my desire to share what we have learned and are learning from our experience in teaching our children.  Through our local homeschool support group, I met several veteran homeschoolers who taught me so much and were my support system in the early years of homeschooling.  Now I can give back in the same way.  And the neat thing is, that the internet allows me to reach more homeschoolers.  We only had one family with a child with Down syndrome in our homeschool community.  I learned a lot from other homeschoolers, but I also learned from trial and error.  If I can help you avoid errors from sharing my experiences, then the mistakes serve a purpose.

It seems that in this journey we've had times where we've felt like we were dragging our feet through the valley, climbing up mountains on our hands and knees, feeling our way around a dark forest. But there have been times where we've also felt like we were just skiing down a mountain with the cool wind hitting our face, splashing in a clear blue ocean, and running through a field of beautiful wild flowers.  Through the highs and the lows, there have been lessons. Mostly lessons that have grown us in character and drawn us closer to God and to each other.  I've picked up some treasures along this winding homeschooling road.  I'd love to share them with you.  At the same time, I'm still on this journey and would love to hear what treasures you're carrying that may be new to me.  Join me.  Let's join arms and walk this road together.
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.  ~Proverbs 27:17