Learning to Read (and a 7 yr old Camera Woman)

My motivations for rushing to post this hastily hand-crafted video were three quotes from people close to me in the last 24 hours...

My husband, "Children with special needs don't achieve extraordinary things without extraordinary levels of input, encouragement and commitment." (That's true, but the same can be said of all children.  I wanted to show how simple and fun you can make developmental exercises at home.)

A Speech and Language Therapist friend whom I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting, "For me it's all about helping people hear the important message about making the most of exploring a variety of activities, creating different materials that you child will like and celebrating every tiny communication moment.  It's about having your eyes fixed on the end goal - confident competent communicators who resourceful use everything and everyone to shout to the world around them." (She's right, and boy, can Natty shout to the world around her!)

Our birth companion, "Through your blog you are changing ingrained belief systems by being so soft, so real and so honest,  by showing such invisible vulnerability, that it becomes irresistible."  (That one brought tears to my eyes.)

So here we have a snippet of the kind of activities we do on a weekly basis at home.  You can plainly see that they are working.  I have much more exciting ones up my sleeve, but I had run out of post-it notes and glitter, and my camera woman was only 7 years old! (Didn't she do a great job!)


For those interested in the nitty gritty:
We are using 2 Jolly Phonics friezes, cut up and laminated (copyright would not allow you to photocopy them).  We accompany each sound with its action. Note Natty starts singing the "C,C, clicking castenets' song that accompanies the 'C' sound.
We then use a Jolly Phonics set of sound cards.  You could make your own. We drop the actions as the sounds are learnt.
Ask your child to identify words and sounds before you move on to asking them to produce them. ("Find...", before"what does this say?")
Note I ask her to find an 'S' which did not exist. She remained unfazed.
Then move on to whole words.  Label items, accompany with pictures, always try to use in context.  Children with Down's Syndrome are visual learners, but I think Natty is also a kinaesthetic learner - actions, texture, movement, song and movement help too.
And finally you are ready for simple reading schemes.  Pre-teach the words before you start a book.  Present the words in as many formats as you can.  Create your own silly sentences.  Point out the same words in other texts or on posters etc. Note the way Natty self-corrects when she makes a mistake.  Allow time for this.

And most importantly...DON'T GIVE UP xxx


  1. That's a great video!!!! Congratulation Mia!!!(I like the gestures she does!).
    You know this is very close to the research I'm doing. I worked on learner's profiles (I'm a kinaesthetic myself) and also on the effect of gestures and reproducing gestures on lexical acquisition by children. Did you create the gestures you're using yourself? I know there's a French method to teach children to read and write that uses gestures and it's very efficient.
    Anyway, you're doing a great job! Natty's progress is amazing!!!!
    Lot's of love.

  2. The gestures for each sound come with the Jolly Phonics system used in most schools. The other signing we use for everything else is Makaton, a simple version of BSL. Glad you liked it!

  3. Clever little girl and wonderful camera work!

  4. Huge smile on my face whilst watching that.I love how you have sequenced all the stages of learning.Just shows what can be achieved with an unshakable belief and an enthusiastic learner!
    And a big 'well done' to Mia's camera work!

  5. loved watching this :) your an inspiration. very clever girl natty. we work on this type of thing with our son. i was so impressed with the reading. such a positive video. thank you for sharing. carol x

  6. Hi Hayley, I’m really interested in this & it was great to watch. A has just finished Reception. She almost has all her alphabet sounds & is working hard on CVC words, sounding them out. However I notice you have focussed here on learning whole words - A is beginning to learn “tricky words” but it seems that the emphasis since I was teaching where it was a bit of both, is that now it’s all phonics/sounding out. Any tips or comments? Thanks as always!

    1. Natty did learn all her phonics and it is useful to be able to sound out, but there is a lot of evidence that our kids are whole word learners, looking at the shape of words. To to enable them to really soar with reading a mixed approach does work. I think the DSA and DownsEd have further info on this if you look at their sites. Hayley


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