Thursday, 3 June 2010


This is a tricky subject for children with Down's Syndrome - some are better at it than others, but it is quite a hard subject to teach.

Initially, number rhymes and songs are the best way to start the counting process. It may well take quite a few years before the child can count to 10, and even then it may not be consistent. Try and combine the rhymes with the written numbers to get through the connection between the symbol and the number.

Visual learning is the route to take - if you are counting, have something to count in front of you otherwise it is just meaningless words. Make sure each object is touched when counted and try to have objects in a line rather than jumbled. When teaching the written number, draw a matching number of dots next to it to reinforce it's meaning.

Numicon is a good tool with which to introduce counting. This consists of flat plastic interlocking shapes with the relevant number of holes in each piece. Each number has a different colour which remains the same. There are plastic pegs which fit into the holes for added visual impact. Depending on which kit you buy or have access to, there will be a board with raise circles over which the plastic shapes fit. There will also be a set of work sheets. The brilliant idea with Numicon is that each number has a shape to how the holes are arranged and if you interlock, say, three and one, they make the shape of four - genius! You can also get the child to draw round the holes to get that number on to paper in the same shape - also when drawing your dots, put them in the Numicon shapes initially to once again reinforce learning.

You can even go double-decker using the ten shape & pegs to then make...twenty, or thirty! Not that I have ever had cause to get that far as I only teach infant school age children!

Do NOT rely solely on Numicon however or you may be making a rod for your own back. The first child I taught with this system then became stuck in the thinking that only if numbers were in the right shape were they actually numbers! Combine the use of Numicon with counters, plastic toys, sweets, whatever you have to hand and introduce the idea that no matter what pattern these objects form on the table, they still represent the same number.

Addition - once again, visual learning is the key. Start off with two objects, put one on one side of the table, the other the other side and get the child to count them separately. Then bring them together and get the child to count them again, emphasising that you are counting them together. This can slowly be built up to more and more objects and combinations with which to make sums. Reinforce these sums by writing down the symbols as you teach so that you are getting across the whole concept.

Subtraction - the same method in reverse. Have a bunch of objects (start with only two though!), get the child to count them, then take one away and count them again. Over time this can be expanded upon.

Multiplication - tough! Don't expect this concept to be grasped that quickly - again, use objects in groups to represent what you are talking about. Sharing the objects between you and your child introduces the idea of numbers being in twos - also handy for teaching odd and even numbers.

Odd and Even numbers - you are probably best off teaching these by rote up to 10 to start with. It is quite an abstract concept when you think about it.

Money - start with pennies, pointing out the numbers on the coins. Use coins as above for adding and subtraction, playing shops etc. Slowly introduce 2p coins, then 5p, all the time stressing the fact that each coin has a different number on it and that this is what you are looking at rather than the actual number of coins. I would point out that even after mainstream school and college, my daughter still doesn't really understand the workings of money - she would willingly pay £5 for a sweet or 2p for a car.

Telling the time - also tricky! No point in starting this until the child can count up to 12 and understand what the numbers mean. Then begin with a toy clock and only the 'o'clock' times. Once these are secure in the child's mind, then move on to half past. In my experience, it was easier to buy my daughter a digital watch with the numbers written clearly until such time as she had grasped the clock face method.

Weights and measures - keep it visual. If you are weighing something, let the child hold it and see if it is heavy or light. Measuring - measure the child's height, things around the class, explaining the meaning of the numbers on a ruler or tape measure. You will have far better results using visual and hands-on methods than trying to get your message across on paper.

Above all, don't give up - this will be a lengthy process for some children but eventually you will get there. I have found in the past that the children I worked with can count to 10 confidently and do simple addition and subtraction by the time they are at the end of Year two. This is NOT a definite - each child is different.

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