I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to interview Jilly Smithson, an incredible women who has been teaching for sixteen years as well as having worked or volunteered with people with disabilities since she was eighteen. She is now the proud mother of two children, Emily and Tom with Down’s Syndrome. You may have read her inspiring and heartfelt story in the Guardian recently (I chose to adopt two babies with Down’s Syndrome as a single mother). It’s a story which summons the feelings of awe, disbelief, respect and admiration all rolled into one. I’ve always felt that with the right approach reading can benefit everyone and for me Jilly is the ideal person to give advice on the ways in which reading can add to the life of any child with Down’s Syndrome so I asked her a few questions to try and get a better insight into the reading time she has with her children.
At what age did you start reading to your children?
From babies – it has always been part of their bedtime routine and there have always been books around the house for them to look at when they want.
What has been the greatest challenge for you as a mum trying to support your children to read?
Emily has a visual impairment so it has been hard to get her interested in the written word. She has enlarged texts from the visual impairment team but still prefers to listen to stories read by others.
What are their favourite books and why?
Emily likes touchy feely books and stories with rhyming. She especially likes the Blue Kangaroo series of books at the moment.
Tom likes books that have actions or things that he can do as he reads, eg. lift the flap book, press the sound button.
In what ways has reading added value to your lives as a family?
It is something we do altogether as a special time before bed. It was one way in which I helped Emily to bond with Tom when he first came home.
What have you found to be the best way to keep them interested in reading?
Lots of different books that do different things – sound books, touchy feely books, lift the flap books, books with DVDs. Visits to the library, book bus etc. To be honest they’ve always been interested in books.
What do you think your children enjoy most about reading?
The individual time they get with me! Books are also an activity they can do independently so it is something that they can do for themselves.
What’s the funniest memory you’ve had so far of reading with your children?
We read The Gruffalo touch book. Tom was very young, about 10 months old. Both children explored the different textures etc then when we came to the wart on the end of his nose, it was a sticky spot on the page, Tom’s face after he touched it was a picture!
Having taught and worked with people with many types of disabilities over the years and now a mum of two children with Down’s Syndrome, what advice would you give to other parents with children with Down’s syndrome with regards to helping them to read?
Just read little and often, have books always available and remember that children with Down’s Syndrome find learning to read phonetically very difficult. We use a lot of symbols around the house – they have a picture and the word so that the children are being exposed to the written word all the time.
What would be the best message about life a children’s book could teach your children?
That it is ok to be different. The books by Todd Parr are perfect for this. They cover difficult topics in a simple way for young children and have wonderfully bright illustrations.
A huge thank you to Jilly for your input which clearly demonstrates that reading with children is not just about what’s in the book, it’s also about bonding, interacting and sharing time. Reading remains pleasurable when you remove any expectations of what levels you think should be attained or what you are told should be attained. Learning to read is a very individual journey for every child and this is no different for children with Down’s Syndrome. It is more about helping children to find the ways in which reading can add to their lives to give them that purpose and desire to read.
Resource links recommended by Jilly:
Down’s Syndrome Education International (DSE) – See and Learn Language and Reading.
Down’s Syndrome Education International (DSE) – A Reading and Language Intervention for Children with Down Syndrome.
Books mentioned by Jilly:
CLICK TO BUY My First Gruffalo: Touch-and-Feel book by Julia Donaldson (author) & Axel Scheffler (illustrator); Published: MacMillan Children’s Books.
Blue Kangaroo series by Emma Chichester Clark (author/illustrator); Published: Andersen Press.
CLICK TO BUY I Love You, Blue Kangaroo!
Books by Todd Parr; Published: Little, Brown Young Readers such as:
CLICK TO BUY It’s Okay to be Different
CLICK TO BUY It’s Okay To Make Mistakes
CLICK TO BUY The Feelings Book
Note: some names in this blog have been changed.
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