Learning is eternal, it never gets over! This learning becomes more of a need than a desire when you have children who look up to you for answers and more so if they have special needs, because then you are not just teaching for testing, you are teaching for life. You are giving them important life skills which will empower them and give them confidence and self esteem.
Reading is one such skill and while many believe it is a natural process where children learn to read in schools or as they age, the reality is for our children, it takes a lot more than that. A few of our children do it naturally but many of them struggle and if they struggle, we as parents struggle to teach them the way they should be taught and not the way we have been taught. To bridge this gap of knowledge, information, perception and evidence of what really works, Two Minute Parenting in collaboration with National Trust organised a one day workshop on ‘Teaching Reading To children With Special Needs.’ We also had ‘Down Syndrome Association Of Tamilnadu’ and ‘Sensitivity early intervention centre’ as our support partners.
And it was a day well meant for learning, not just for me but for a lot of parents and professionals who were struggling on various fronts about teaching reading to children with Down syndrome and other special needs. From the eternal confusing questions about blending to phonemes, from sight words to teaching sounds and from flash cards to comprehensions, a lot of us were struggling and needed answers. And we had one of the best to answer all that we had to ask. ‘Natalie Hale!’
Natalie is a well known name in teaching reading to children with Down syndrome and other special needs. With an experience of over 25 years, she has done pioneering work on teaching reading to children with Down syndrome and other special needs. She is an author, a parent and a national speaker on the subject of teaching reading. She also shares her expertise on www.specialreads.com.
We had a full house. From enthusiastic special educators, OTs, speech pathologist, counsellors to our biggest support group of parents, we had a great workshop. The inaugural speeches by Mr. Khaitan C.E.O National Trust, Mr. Anil Joshi and Dr. Rekha were inspiring.
When Dr. Rekha Ramachandran, the president of Down Syndrome international, came on the stage to speak, she gave everybody courage, belief and faith to follow their conviction and extend the acceptance within. Her speech like her words was moving for everyone present .
The workshop covered everything from ‘why and how to teach sight words to ‘ how much phonics to be taught’ Natalie spoke about the strategies that work and the ones which needs to be stopped. From ‘teaching for content and not to just ‘decode,’ to some essential brain gym exercises we had a great time immersing in the learning that was going to be taking our children from mere spectators to readers.
Natalie helped us learn a few things and unlearn many. She helped us look at the words and the books from a child’s eyes, make visual pathway clear for our little angels and teach what matters to the child, not to the world. The enormous task of teaching reading didn’t seem that enormous anymore.
The highlight of the workshop was ‘creating personal books’ and ‘modifying trade books’ which again was extremely well received by the audience. Every one made their own personal book and modified the books that their children were interested in reading but which were beyond their level and understanding.
My series of customisable personal books ‘My Own Books’ was also introduced by Natalie. I have always been a flag bearer of customisable personal books and have known all along how much patience and time is needed to keep creating the ones that would not only cover the high frequency words but also high interest words which would sustain the interest and curiosity of a child. And I couldn’t have asked anybody better than Natalie to do the editing for me. We introduced ‘Pre-primary level’ and received a great response.
‘My own books’ series is customisable, personal book series that mainly includes the things and the people ( like family and friends) that a child is interested in. One can paste the family pictures on the space given, thus making it like a reading album for the child.
The day was concluded by Dr. Rekha’s honest and heart warming speech. Richa Kapoor, the emcee of the day and a dear friend helped in all the way she could.
The premise and the forethought behind the workshop was to make teaching interesting, being creative in the methodologies, challenging existing systems that don’t work, looking at the books from a child’s eyes, creating and modifying the material and above all keep learning to keep teaching!