Information, help and advice for parents and families of primary-school children
In this section you will find some questions that will help you choose the most suitable school for your child, a useful booklet on the transition from pre-school to primary school, the supports that we can offer you and your child as he or she attends ‘big school’, a booklet that your child’s teacher might find useful – Supporting Children with Down Syndrome in Primary School – and more.
Some questions to think about when considering a school
Can you believe your little bundle of joy is ready for ‘big school’?
There can be a lot to think about in terms of what will work best for your child but providing him or her with the best educational opportunities is probably at the top of your list.
Mainstream or special school?
More than 90% of children with Down syndrome now attend their local primary school. For some children, this may not be an option and you may decide that your child is best suited to attend a special school. If this is the case, you can access a full list of special schools on the Dept of Education and Skills website.
Some mainstream schools have special classes, which you may feel is the best option for your child. As a parent, you know your child best.
Here is a list of questions you may find helpful when choosing a primary school.
How we can help – getting ready for big school
Like all children, children with Down syndrome have learning strengths and weaknesses. Listed below are practical supports that we can offer to help your child thrive in primary school.
Resources and booklets
We have compiled a Learning Profile which will help both you and your child’s teacher devise a teaching plan for your child.
Our booklet Supporting Children with Down Syndrome in Primary School provides both you as parents and your child’s teacher with practical advice and suggestions to ensure your child thrives at school. The booklet also provides a list of useful resources and classroom accommodations.
Down Syndrome What Is It All About is also a useful tool for schools and teachers.
Our Education Officer is at your disposal
Our Education Officer Fidelma Brady is on hand to offer you and your child’s school help, advice and support throughout your child’s educational journey, both mainstream and special.
We also run a number of education conferences for both parents and professionals on supporting your child in school. Keep an eye out for them in our newsletters and on social media.
Numicon is a multi-sensory maths teaching programme using Numicon maths shapes in a series of practical teaching activities. https://www.abcschoolsupplies.ie/numicon
Down Syndrome Ireland provides Numicon training to our branch network across the country. If you would like to avail of training in your branch, contact Annette@downsyndrome.ie or contact your local branch secretary.
Commonly asked questions – primary school
What are resource teaching hours?
Resource teaching hours are allocated to children with Down syndrome to support their extra learning needs. Some teachers in schools work specifically as resource teachers, and are now called Special Education Teachers (SET).
From September 2017, a new system of allocation of resource teaching hours is in place for children with Down syndrome in mainstream education settings. This is good news! The new system will ensure that your child will receive the resources necessary to thrive in school.
DSI has worked with the Department of Education and Skills for many years with a view to finding the best way to allocate resources to children with Down syndrome. As a result of our lobbying, Down syndrome has been included on the list of ‘complex disorders’ for the allocation of resources. Under this model, children with Down syndrome have the right to access resource teaching hours without an early assessment – lifting a huge burden of worry and anxiety for parents.
Find out everything you need to know about the new allocation here.
We consider that an allocation of 3.5 hours resource teaching hours per week is best practice.
Resource teaching hours can be administered in three different ways:
- The child is withdrawn from the mainstream classroom and works one-to-one with a resource teacher.
- The child is withdrawn from the mainstream classroom and joins a small group of children who may or may not have extra needs.
- The child remains in the mainstream classroom and the resource teacher works alongside the class teacher in what is known as team teaching.
How will my child get a Special Needs Assistant (SNA)?
Every child with Down syndrome will have access to an SNA.
You will need to apply through the school to the SENO (Special Education Needs Organiser). SENOs work under the auspices of the National Council for Special Education. You can find your local SENO here: http://ncse.ie/seno-contact-list.
In general terms, an SNA acts in a care and support role that is non-teaching in nature. The SNA works under the guidance and supervision of the school principal and/or class teacher.
Who is in charge of Special Education in my school?
The principal, Special Education Teacher and class teacher work together.
You can find further information on SNAs, their roles and responsibilities here:
Depending on the level of care need, your child will have access to an SNA for a set number of hours.
What is STRANDS?
STRANDS stands for Strategies for Teachers to Respond Actively to the Needs of children with Down Syndrome.
STRANDS has been developed by the Department of Special Education, Mary Immaculate College in collaboration with the Special Education Support Service. Drawing on current research and on the experiences of teachers working in both mainstream and special schools, it provides a wealth of practical strategies and suggestions that can be used to enhance teaching and learning for children with Down syndrome and children with general learning disabilities in primary schools and special schools.
What is a Passport?
The Education Passport materials support the transfer of your child’s information from primary to post-primary school. Your child’s primary school teacher will gather together all your child’s education needs and outcomes into what is referred to as a Passport, which will be sent on to your child’s secondary school.
You can find out more here.
Speech and language therapy
Children who have Down syndrome are visual learners and will often learn by imitating the other children, so ‘big school’, be that mainstream or special, presents many opportunities for them to develop their speech and language skills. In our Speech and Language section, Nicola Hart, our Speech and Language Advisor, goes through the various ways you and your child’s teachers can support your child in the language-rich environment of primary school.
We have recently embarked on a partnership with Celtic FC Foundation, the charitable arm of Celtic Football club, to deliver their very successful activity project for young people and adults with Down Syndrome & Autism, Ability Counts.
This programme provides activities and games on a weekly basis with the aims of developing participant’s communication, coordination and social skills through physical activity and increased interaction with peers.
Physical activity & social integration have been identified as one of the critical success factors in the overall wellbeing of our members. We have been very keen to identify a programme which can support us in helping our members achieve both.
You can read more about the Ability Counts programme and how you can get involved here.
School Age – Hints & Tips
Your child’s school may have sent homework to continue while the schools are closed at this time, your SLT may have provided ideas and activities to work on. You may be continuing with the See and Learn Programme. It is good to continue with this work if you have it, but if you do not have work from your child’s school or therapist, remember that most everyday activities are educational, not all learning comes from books – Talking, listening, singing, dancing are all great things to do, with many positive effects.
It is also important for your child to continue developing attention and concentration skills. While at school, children need to be able to sit and work on an activity for a period of time. This should be continued at home so that the child can continue to develop their ability to concentrate. The activity does not have to be academic, but one that requires the child’s attention and participation. Ensure that ‘turn-taking’ is practiced at home as this would be a very important part of school life and needs to be continued while the child is out of school.
Similarly, continue to work on developing your child’s independence. Working on areas such as putting on their own coat, hanging up their coat, putting on their shoes will be very helpful. Other ideas include encouraging your child to help around the house- setting the table, clearing the table, tidying away their books, toys, games, etc.
Read to your child, read with your child and encourage them to read themselves. Try to use a wide range of books with both words and short sentences, not just picture books. Talk to your child about what they have read – discuss any pictures and talk about who was in the story? where did it take place? what was the main event? what happened in the end? and what did the child think about the story?
This would also be an ideal opportunity to make personal books with your child about their life and interests. This activity, in addition to developing reading skills, will help to build your child’s understanding. Use photos or images and write/type sentences based on the child’s reading ability. Individual sheets can be printed and made into a book, which you can return to for reading practice over the next number of weeks.
Continue writing practice at the level the child is at in school. Practice letter formation and, depending on the child’s stage, encourage them to write words or sentences along with pictures. This activity could be linked with making personal books for reading – See reading section. Drawing, colouring and other fine motor activities are also important for the development of writing skills. Children could also start (or continue) to learn to touch type. A very good programme is ‘Dancemat’ which can be accessed as a free download from www.dancemattypingguide.com.
Practical maths using things like cooking, laying the table, counting things, pairing socks, are very valuable. Other aspects of maths and numeracy to concentrate on include talking about shape & colour words; size words; and order words. Play matching & sorting games and counting games.
Board games are an excellent ‘fun’ way of developing counting skills for children of all ages
Other practical activities to develop numeracy skills include
- Sorting and matching objects by colour, size and shape
- Match numbers 1-5 with the written words, spoken words and appropriate amounts
- Selecting up to 5 objects from a group of objects
- Matching, selecting, and sequencing numbers 1-5
- Working with the Story of 1, 2,3,4,5, using concrete materials and visual supports
eg: story of 3: 3+0=3; 0+3=3; 1+2=3; 2+1=3;
NB: The child should be able to complete all of these activities with numbers 1-5, before we progress with numbers 6-10.
Gross-motor activities involve the ability to move various parts of the body. The purpose of these activities is to develop smoother, more effective body movements and to increase the child’s sense of spatial orientation and body consciousness.
Gross-motor activities are grouped as:
- walking activities
- throwing and catching activities
- other gross-motor activities
- Forward, backward, and sideways walk. Children walk to a target on a straight or curved path marked on the floor. Children walk with arms in different positions, carrying objects, dropping objects such as balls into containers along the way, or focus eyes on various parts of the room.
- Steppingstones. Put objects on the floor for steppingstones. The child is to follow the course by placing the correct foot on the steppingstone.
Throwing and Catching Activities
- Throwing. Balloons, wet sponges, beanbags, yarn balls, and rubber balls of various sizes can be used to throw objects at targets, to another person.
- Catching. Catching is a more difficult skill than throwing. Child can practice catching the previously-mentioned objects thrown by another person.
- Ball games. Various types of ball games help develop motor coordination. Examples include rolling-ball games, bouncing balls on the ground, and throwing balls against the wall.
Other Gross-Motor Activities
- Jumping Jacks. Children jump, putting feet wide apart, while clapping the hands above the head. To vary this activity, the children can make quarter turns, half turns, and full turns, or jump to the left, right, north, or south.
- Hopping. Children hop on one foot at a time and alternate feet while hopping. Use rhythmical patterns: left, left, right, right; or left, left, right; or right, right, left.
- Bouncing. Children bounce on a trampoline if available
- Skipping. A difficult activity for children with poor motor coordination, skipping combines rhythm, balance, body movement, and coordination. Many children need help to learn to skip.
The following activities give young children experiences with fine-motor activities:
- Tracing. Students trace lines, pictures, designs, letters, or numbers or: tracing paper, plastic, or stencils. Use directional arrows, colour cues, and numbers to help children trace the figures.
- Water Control. Children carry and pour water into measured buckets from jugs .cups, mugs to specified levels. Smaller amounts and finer measurements make the task more difficult. Colouring the water makes the activity more interesting.
- Cutting with Scissors. Choose cutting activities that are appropriate for the child’s development level. The easiest activity is cutting straight lines marked near the edge of the paper. A more difficult activity is cutting a straight line across the centre of the paper. A piece of cardboard attached to the paper helps guide the scissors. Children can cut out marked geometric shapes, such as squares, rectangles, and triangles. Children can cut out curving lines and circles, then pictures, and finally patterns made with dots and faint lines.
- Stencils or Templates. Children draw outlines of geometric shapes Templates can be made from cardboard, wood or plastic. Two styles of templates are (1) a solid shape and (2) frames with the shape cut out.
- Lacing. A piece of cardboard punched with holes or a pegboard is used for this activity. A design or picture is made on the board, and the student follows the pattern by weaving or sewing through the holes with a heavy shoelace, yarn, or cord.
- Paper-and-Pencil Activities. Colouring books, readiness books, dot- to – dot books, and kindergarten books frequently provide good paper-and pencil activities to practice fine-motor and eye-hand development.
- Clipping Clothes Pegs. Clothes pegs can be clipped to a line or to a box. The child can be timed in this activity by counting the number of clothespins clipped in a specified time.
- Copying Designs. The child looks at a geometric design and copies it on paper.
Body Awareness Activities
The purpose of these activities is to help children develop accurate images of the location and function of the parts of the body:
- Pointing to Body Parts. Children point to the various parts of the body: nose, right elbow, left ankle, and so forth. This activity is more difficult with the eyes closed. The child can also lie on the floor and be asked to touch various parts of the body.
- “Simon Says.” This game can be played with the eyes open or closed.
- Puzzles. Puzzles of people, animals, objects, and so forth can be cut to show functional portions of the body.
- What is missing? Use pictures with missing body parts. Children either tell or draw what is missing.
- Life-Size Drawing. Children lie on a large sheet of paper and trace an outline around them. Next, the child fills in and colours the clothes and the details of the face and body.
- Awareness of the Body Parts through Touch. Touch various parts of the student’s body while the eyes are closed and ask which part was touched.
- Games: Games such as “Hokey-Pokey” help develop concepts of left, right, and body image.
- Pantomime. Students pantomime actions that are characteristic of a particular occupation, such as those of a bus driver driving a bus, a garda directing traffic, a postman delivering a letter, or a chef cooking.
- Following Instructions. Instruct the child to put the left hand on the right ear and the right hand on the left shoulder. Other instructions might be to put the right hand in front of the left hand or to turn right, walk two steps, and turn left.
Learning Links and App Resources
Below is a list of useful resources that parents/teachers can avail of for free online – they will help with educating and entertaining children while helping them to improve their skills in writing, reading, vocabulary and much more.
Further downloadable resources can also be found in the downloads just below this listing.
Free printable worksheets and educational activities to help to make learning fun. Resources arranged by grade or subject.
Activity Village provides thousands of colouring pages, crafts, puzzles, worksheets and more, for parents and teachers.
Free educational resources, worksheets, writing prompts, themed colouring pages, craft and snack ideas for parents, teachers & caregivers.
Colouring Nature is for children and adults. We have more than 675 FREE printable colouring pages. Our colouring categories include serious science: anatomy, animals, plants and more, plus some pure whimsy – just for fun.
Free pintables, activity sheets, colouring pages, and more!
Creative Lesson Plans, Animated Video Lessons (Parent and Student-friendly), Parent Hand-outs, Free Weekly At-Home Learning Webinars (for Parents and Teachers)
Free Maths Workbooks
Digital resources, tools, and learning materials developed by educational experts. They are useful in any type of teaching. There is no such thing as “one size fits all” in education; each educator and child has unique challenges and goals. They celebrate the diversity of users by offering differentiated resources that can meet a wide range of educational needs – and raise kids’ confidence in learning.
Thousands of free printable, games, quizzes and fun stuff
A free PDF pack of printable/activities for kids.
FREE resources (downloadable books, mazes, word searches, and more) from Heifer International’s school programmes — with topics in social studies (geography, economics), science, language arts.
Free printable Maths and Reading packets for students
Maths games and activities by grade and math strand.
Entirely free phonics and comprehension programme for Kindergarten through 2nd grade students
Headsprout is an adaptive, online reading program that is easy to implement, fun to use, and proven to help children become capable and confident readers. Using a unique scaffolded teaching approach, the programme instantly responds and personalises the learning experience to ensure that each student can master essential reading skills. Plus, kids love the cast of friendly characters, engaging activities, and built-in incentives that make learning to read fun.
Raz-Kids is an award-winning digital library of levelled eBooks and eQuizzes that students use to practice reading in school, at home, or on the go. Raz-Kids makes it easy to differentiate reading practice and monitor student progress online. In addition, the engaging student portal features interactive tools and incentives that keep kids motivated to practice and improve their reading skills.
Free resources to help you continue children’s handwriting, keyboarding, and pre-kindergarten development from a distance.
Free printables library with activities for children 0-6
Free at-home kids yoga lesson plans
Free English Learning Online games, mobile apps and printable Board games and worksheets. All ages
Free math worksheets for teachers, parents, students, and home schoolers.
Math Playground provides hundreds of math games, logic puzzles and educational resources.
Hundreds of FREE printables, games, puzzles and learning packets
Free home learning packs for ages 3-11. Low print topic and project ideas and more!
The Picture This app makes learning interactive and fun! This virtual card-matching memory game allows you to customize your own “flashcards” with educational content and exercise your memory recall skills all in one. Cover any subject from social studies to language arts, or math to science. The possibilities are endless with customizable games of Picture This. Great for parents and kids of all ages to train their brain and enjoy learning! Download for FREE on any device.
Lots of free (and some paid) printables and resources for homeschooling as well as simple living and wellness resources.
Award-winning fun learning programme for younger children
Child-friendly workouts — choose from Strength for Kids, Agility for Kids, Flexibility and Balance for Kids, Warm-Up for Kids, Cooldown for Kids, Stand Up and Move for Kids, OR create your own custom kid workout.
Assists in learning early reading skills. 3 levels
A fun and interactive education platform which allows downloads of fun maths and literacy games.
Jigsaw activities specifically for those who are just learning how to use a mouse or touch screen. Each jigsaw has only four pieces which are dragged and dropped with a large high contrast mouse pointer.
Online resources for children with Special Educational Needs who are at home as a result of the schools’ closure. Resources are available for both parents & teachers.
Down Syndrome Ireland: 01 4266500
Down Syndrome Ireland Education Officer Fidelma Brady: 01 4266500
The National Council for Special Education
The Special Education Support Service
Special Education Needs Organiser (SENO) list
National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS)
Lámh Signs Ireland | Communication Augmentation Sign System Ltd
Down Syndrome Education International is an international resource offering information and online courses for teachers of children with Down syndrome.
The Institute of Child Education and Psychology Europe provides online courses up to Master’s level in special educational needs and positive psychology.
Inclusion Ireland is the national association for people with an intellectual disability.
Health Service Executive – what you need to know
Up until this point, your child has been under the care of the HSE Early Intervention Teams. Now that your child has reached school-age, you will transition to the HSE School Age Team.
The HSE School Age Team is for those aged 5-18 years and their families. The teams vary across the country, though they usually comprise of a speech and language therapist, occupational therapist, psychologist, behavioural therapist and social workers.
Please contact your Local HSE Health Centre for information regarding your local School Age Team or Disability Services in your area.
Supporting Students with Down syndrome in Special Schools
Our Supporting students with Down syndrome in special schools booklet provides parents and educators with information and advise on how to help students with Down syndrome thrive in special education settings. It also provides suggestions for intervention for children with a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
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Getting ready for Post Primary School – My Workbook
A very useful tool to help ease the transition from primary to post primary school is preparing a ‘Getting Ready for Post Primary School – My Workbook’. Print off this workbook and personalise it with information, pictures and other useful tips and it can be used to prepare students for the move.
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Supporting Students with Down syndrome transition from primary to post primary school
The move from primary to post primary school can often be difficult for any student. For a student with Down syndrome, that bit of extra thought, planning and preparation will help ease this transition – to the benefit of both the new arrival and the school. Our Supporting Students with Down syndrome transition from primary to post primary school booklet outlines some simple initiatives and practical steps teachers and parents can take to support students.
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Upside Down, The Story of My Brother James Liadh Hanley
Here is a wonderful book called Upside Down, The Story of My Brother James written by a young girl called Liadh Hanley. In the book, Liadh shares her experiences of having a brother with Down Syndrome. The initial aim of the book is to teach siblings and children how to appreciate and respect those with Down syndrome. We think this book could help all members of families with Down Syndrome as well as prospective parents.
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‘…more than medical’
“…more than medical” provides an insight into the realities of family life with a baby, child, teenager or adult with Down syndrome in Ireland today. It’s about reality and providing balanced, complete information for new families.
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Down Syndrome – What is it all about
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Supporting children with Down syndrome in primary school
This booklet is intended to be a brief summary of likely learning issues along with practical advice and suggestions.
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2017 Allocation of resources
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Primary School App List for Learning
A useful listing of Android and ISO apps for primary school children to work on reading, sentence structure, vocab and much more.
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Transitional Primary to Secondary School App List for Learning
A useful listing of Android and ISO apps for late primary to secondary school children to work on reasoning, sentence structure, tools and much more.