‘Literacy is the ability to read and use written information and to write appropriately in a range of contexts.  It also involves the integration of speaking and listening and critical thinking with reading and writing.’ (DEET, (1991) Australia’s Language, the Australian Language and Literacy Policy, AGPS, Canberra).  Many children with Down syndrome develop reading skills which allow them to read at a useful and practical level.  Children with Down syndrome are strong visual learners, and the written word helps them to overcome many of the difficulties they have with learning through listening by making language visual.

Spelling and Phonics

Most students with Down syndrome will be able to achieve functional writing through the support of a structured spelling program.  They will progress in much the same way as other students through a developmental sequence of stages, but their development may be slower than their peers as many students with Down syndrome have difficulty learning the phonics skills which are necessary to decode words and their meanings. For more information on the development of spelling skills and establishing a whole word spelling program, read Spell to Write by the Down syndrome Society of South Australia.

Handwriting by Diane Brown

Many children with Down syndrome are able to learn to write in time.  It is important to be consistent, teach carefully, and establish good habits from the beginning.  Equally important is establishing a good attitiude toward handwriting time.  Make it a fun time to be together.

Readiness Activities

Any kindy or pre-primary curriculum usually lists these types of activities.  Here are a few to get you started.  Tracing can be done with the pointer finger until your child can hold a pencil:

  •  playdough – pinch,squeeze, roll, pound, poke etc
  •  forming vertical and horizontal lines and circles with fingerpaint, crayons, markers, or shaving cream/pudding on a tray
  •  using the “pincher grip” (pointer finger and thumb) to pick up small objects such as beans and place them into the opening of a bottle
  •  draw lines (waves, diagonals, curves) or simple shapes with a hihglighter marker for your child to trace
  •  use your computer to make thick dotted lines for your child to track going from left to right and from top to bottom.  Place a beginning and  ending  clip art picture to make it interesting.

Hints for Teaching Handwriting

  1. Before writing letters on paper, use different fun ways to practice: use your finger to trace in the air or on different surfaces; use a tray of shaving cream, finger paints, pudding, sand or cornmeal; use a blunt pencil in a thin amount of spread out clay; try different types of markers, crayons and coloured chalk.
  2. Remember that the main objective is legible handwriting.  Some fonts (such as Victorian Modern Cursive taught in most WA schools) have little curves at the end of the letter.  If your child does not do this curve, don’t worry.
  3. Give plenty of praise
  4. Practice writing for only about 5 minutes at a sitting. As your child gains confidence and is able to do more writing, increase to no more than 10 minutes.
  5. Teach proper pencil hold and posture from the beginning.
  6. Make letter models large to begin with, and reduce in size as your child becomes more proficient.
  7. Always model before your child writes.  Talk about what you are doing and say it the same way each time.
  8. Use different colours to show multi-stroke letters.
  9. Write letters with a highlighter for tracing.  Your child will need to trave many times before he/she is ready to copy.
  10. Use hand-over-hand assistance to help your child nave success if necessary.
  11. Move to practising on handwriting lines only when your child has mastered the basic strokes.
  12. Teach your child about handwriting lines.  Pat Oelwein’s book gives a good idea that will be fun.
  13. Use a green marker or small sticker to place beginning dots where your child is to begin each letter.
  14. Never give your child handwriting to practice and walk away.  If he makes a whole row of letters incorrectly he is learning bad habits that once established will be hard to correct.
  15. It is better to make three letters correctly and end with a child that is still smiling than it is to write a whole page of letters and end with a child that hates writing time.

Handwriting Programs

If you wish to use a handwriting program look for one that has simple pages that are not cluttered, and many letters that can be made with only one stroke.

Teaching Reading to Children with Down Syndrome by Patricia Logan Oelwein also gives ideas for teaching handwriting.

The Sensible Pencil by Linda C. Becht is a program that was developed for children with Down Syndrome

Handwriting Without Tears by Jan Z Olsen is a multi-sensory handwriting program with many one-stroke letters that is also reasonably priced.  You can learn more about it by visiting www.hwtears.com/.


Bruni, Maryanne  Fine Motor Skills in Children with Down Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Teachers

Down Syndrome Society of South Australia  Spell to Write [kit]
Developing Scissor Cutting Skills in the Child with Down Syndrome
Teaching Pre-writing Skills to the Child with Down Syndrome

Oelwein, Patricia Teaching Reading to Children with Down Syndrome

Olsen, Jan Handwriting Without Tears Teacher’s Manual (Kindergarten)
Letters and Numbers for Me Workbook

Bonsangue, Nancy J. and Susanne G Flatley Teddy Bear Express: A  Phonological Development Program


Occupational Therapy Practice which runs groups for young children such as Fiddly Fun and Busy Hands, and an Online Shop (They also have a small shop in Leeming) www.skillbuilders.com.au

Handwritng implements and programs are available to purchase from www.therapytoyshop.com

Down Syndrome Society of South Australia Purchasing Catalogue www.downssa.asn.au/resources/catalogue.php

Children with Down syndrome will vary widely in their achievement of numeracy skills, and the small amount of research in this area suggests that their numeracy achievements are at a lower level than their literacy achievements.  However, when a student is motivated, taught well and participates in errorless learning it is possible  for that child to achieve at an age-appropriate level.


Bird, Gillian and Sue Buckley  Number Skills for Individuals with Down Syndrome – An Overview

Number Skills for Individuals with Down Syndrome (5-11 years)

The Clarke Road Money Programs Kit

Horstmeier, DeAnna  Teaching Math to People with Down Syndrome and Other Hands-On Learners

Squire, Anne  Maths and Money

Articles and Information

Ten Read-Aloud Commandments by Mem Fox – http://www.memfox.com/ten-read-aloud-commandments.html

Reading and Writing for Individuals with Down Syndrome by Sue Buckley – www.down-syndrome.org/information/reading/overview/

Teaching Reading One Step at a Time – www.kootenay.com/~ryckman/DownHomeLearning5.html

Reading and Children with Down Syndrome – http://www.ereadingpro.com/reading-and-down-syndrome.htm













Oelwein, Patricia  Teaching Reading to Children with Down Syndrome

Down Syndrome Society of South Australia  Reading : Getting Started
Literacy Record
Teaching Reading Part A