I just need to be up front: I’M NOT A HUGE FAN OF MATH! Add to this the fact that students with Down syndrome often struggle with the abstract idea of numbers, and we’ve got a tough problem to solve.
But one of my recent posts “Teaching Your Child with Down Syndrome to Read,” was so popular that I thought I should share a similar approach to teaching early math concepts. All of this information is from two programs that I learned about at the National Down Syndrome Congress Convention and other conferences I’ve attended. Most of the material is free, so in the end it’s just about finding the time to incorporate this into your child’s day.
Here’s what we know about math and students with Down syndrome. There’s less research regarding this topic compared to literacy and students with T21. We do know that you can teach these students math in the same way you teach it to typical students, but it needs to include “smaller steps, more repetition, more guided practice and lots of visuals.” That’s according to Orange County Learning Program Director, Dana L. Halle.
Math sense equals INDEPENDENCE!
Just like literacy, math can open doors for individuals with Down syndrome. But unlike my typical children, who seem to just figure out how to do simple counting and patterns on their own, Troy has needed a lot more guided practice. You will likely have to consciously teach concepts like “more than” and “less than.”
There’s a benefit to starting early and often. “This doesn’t mean 3 times a day everyday. It just means often enough that it becomes part of what they expect. So they don’t forget what you’re teaching and you have to start over again,” says Halle.
So, where do you we start?
With Troy I use Sue Buckley‘s one-to-one correspondence method, which includes keeping the objects the same. This means you want to throw out those counting visuals that has 1 elephant, 2 balls, 3 flowers, etc. Buckley argues the changing objects are too confusing for beginning counters.
Related: 4 Tips to Help Teachers Include Students with Down Syndrome in the General Education Classroom
We literally started one-to-one correspondence with Troy using black dots–simple, unmistakeable. Now Troy is using Buckley’s method with his favorite food. YES, food is imperative in teaching counting in our house (LOL)!
Like Halle encourages, we try to incorporate simple math sense into our every day routine. Troy counts the stair steps, the buttons on his shirt, the number of plates at the table, while we clap to music, etc. Troy is starting to understand that counting isn’t just memorizing the words 1 through ten, but instead that each number represents a specific amount of objects. It took us 2 years of counting and lots of one-to-one correspondence practice to get to this point.
What comes next?
Other early math skills include shapes and patterning. Troy has mastered shapes names and sorting through continuous repetition, but patterns are much more difficult. Understanding what comes next is a very abstract thought. We’re starting simple. You can download free pattern worksheets like these from LP Online with a guest login.
I always forget to print new pattern sheets out, so again FOOD works better for us. Check out Troy below doing a simple ABAB pattern with his favorites: blueberries and Cheerios a.k.a O’s (disclaimer: let me apologize in advance for my 2-year-old crying in the background…REAL LIFE here people! LOL!)
With all this conscious practice, Troy will be prepared for math lessons in kindergarten. He’s still behind his typical twin brother, but he has a basic understanding of the earliest math skills. Luckily, we have one more year to continue to practice.
If your child is ready to move on to the next stage of math sense, I would start with Down Syndrome Education USA’s “Number Skills for Children with Down Syndrome (5-11 years)“. Also, I bought a Numicon system for Troy, but have yet to start this skill. It’s a great visual way to make numbers real. Check it out below and here.
How do you teach math sense to your child with Down syndrome? Tell me about your triumphs and challenges below!