October 7, 2008
Numicon, Part 1
Here it is. The math you've been waiting for. Listen up, parents of children with Down syndrome: This is the math your child needs. If your child is struggling with math (and not all children with Down syndrome do struggle, but most do), consider this program.
I'm a pretty analytical person. I appreciate efficiency (even if I'm not always efficient). I have been homeschooling for 15+ years, and I've looked at hundreds of approaches to academic subjects. And, for the past decade, I've been researching Trisomy 21.
Here is my verdict: Numicon is an excellent curriculum.
It brings math within reach of our concrete learners! It starts with something I love: exploratory learning. It is open-ended enough that the student can create their own solutions to problems (what other ways can you make 9?), but yet structured enough that you won't be worried that they're just playing. For years Hannah has been able to add and subtract with numbers 1-10 (and a bit higher I suppose). She always needed some sort of manipulative (abacus, number line, fingers, unifix cubes, dice, etc. We used them all).
The plain old number sentences just were a "formula" that had to be solved for no apparent reason. It meant nothing to her. She knew the rules and she applied them, but it was all busy work, with no transference to her everyday world. We tried memorizing math facts, but that too didn't get us very far (and as you've seen, we LOVE flashcards for everything else). We looked at TouchMath and at Math-U-See, and Mathematics Made Meaningful. We tried different workbooks (Singapore Math, Miquon Math, Modern Curriculum Press, etc.), we tried homemade solutions, we tried the How To Teach Math to People with Down Syndrome and Other Concrete Learners (and even went to the author's seminar: NOT WORTH IT). The book does have some good ideas, but not enough for a full curriculum. What I was searching for was a way for Hannah to understand numbers. I want them to have meaning to her, just as words have meaning.
Hannah could do word problems. In fact, she loved word problems more than just number sentences, I guess because they told a story.
Uncle Dudley found 3 flowers in the front yard and 6 more in the neighbor's yard. He picked them all. How many did he pick? Did he get in trouble for picking his neighbor's flowers?
At least there is something interesting about the numbers in the sentence, and she could build it herself. But she still needed the number line.
Yet, when she'd set the table, and only pull out three forks, she would not be able to figure out how many more she'd need for our family of five. But now she can! It's coming....slowly but surely, she is figuring out numbers. She is starting to know, innately, that 6 is made up of 1 and 5, or 2 and 4, or 3 and 3. She can actually see that 11 is not the same as 1 and 1 (which, even though she knows is 2, she'd always make the same error). She knows it's 10 and one more. Or 5 and 5 and 1. One of the slogans on the Numicon site is, "Making numbers real". It's true. Math is now Hannah's favorite subject.
It's likely that you've never heard of Numicon before. That's because it isn't sold in the United States. Yet. It is a British curriculum. It was not created specifically for the Ds population, but it seems like it is! Sue Buckley's group, DownsEd, has utilized Numicon for years and has published several articles and books about utilizing Numicon with children with Down syndrome. The Down Syndrome Foundation of Orange County's Learning Program uses Numicon, among other educational approaches based on Sue Buckley's research. (an aside: earlier this year I had the opportunity to attend a day-long seminar with Sue Buckley. She covered a lot of ground, but didn't have enough time to do much with math. She's a very interesting person.) Coming from England, the cost for the Foundation Kit, plus the additional materials for Kit 1 would run close to $400, plus shipping costs (which are considerable). It's the single most expensive homeschooling curriculum I've ever purchased. And I wish I did it years ago. Imagine where she'd be if we started this five years ago!
Fortunately, Numicon now has a new package that is called "Closing the Gap". It looks like it would be a terrific supplement for a child who attends school, and it's more affordable. Also, Numicon is working to get a US distributor, so hopefully you'll be able to buy it here and save on shipping. If you homeschool, I'd recommend going with one of the complete sets (single user). Numicon is also a perfect math curriculum for typical children from the ages of 3-7 (or, possibly older, but I haven't gotten that far to know).
I know that Hannah is able to follow the "rules" of arithmetic, and will eventually use a calculator to solve most math problems (so do I!). But I really want her to understand numbers. I want her to own them, to know them inside and out. Over the next few weeks I'll be posting more about Numicon so you can get a feel for it, and see if maybe it's what your child needs too.