Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Having Fun Doing Unit Studies

I remember when the element of Fun Unit Studies appeared on Sam's NACD program. He was 5 years old and I sunk into an area I'm not very proud of. I struggled with what a fun unit study would look like for a semi-nonverbal, hearing impaired boy with Down syndrome and a brain injury. I'll admit it...I got tied up in the labels. So Ellen, Sam's evaluator kept putting it on his program, making suggestions, very good suggestions which I kept questioning if they were feasible and she slowly pushed me along and finally told me to just do one.

Wow, I was stumped. She told me to teach to his interests. Yyeeaahhh, and those would be...????? Hmmmmm...Wait, he likes animals and tools and construction equipment. Alright, I was on to something. So, I went to the library and checked out all kinds of books on animals, I looked for the ones with the really great pictures and didn't care so much about the text or level of reading. The books that Sam really liked became part of his Christmas/Birthday wish list. I then purchased some great animal flash cards through http://www.trendenterprises.com/. We began by talking about the pictures in the books, Sam loved them. Then I started fast flashing the flash cards and Sam got excited. Within three weeks I could put 4 cards down and ask Sam, "Which one is the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail?" and he would hand it to me. That was COOL and I had to go back and tell Ellen again...she was right...he could do it...I should have known better. In a couple of months he had learned 125 species of animals. We then stepped in further...now we went through books letting Sam teach me the animals and we picked one animal to learn more about. Included at the end of this entry is Sam going through one of his many animal books and telling me about the animals. The other day he chose to learn more about a flamingo.
We drew a life size flamingo, all 5 feet of that beautiful creature. I like to draw them life size to give Sam a better visual picture of the actual animal. I guess when he chooses the elephant we'll be outside with sidewalk chalk...that will be an adventure. Now I'm no artist but it looks pretty much like a flamingo. We used the tape measure to get the right height, although Sam really just wanted to play with it instead of functionally using it. We'll work on that....keeping in mind Math is not a favorite area of study for Sam...won't that be fun??? I colored in the head and neck, Sam colored in the body. We read about the flamingo and I wrote a word bank as we read then I asked Sam for one thing he remembered about the flamingo. I asked him, "What do you know about a flamingo". Ever the visual child he remembered the flamingo was in water from the picture in the book. I asked him other questions allowing him to choose answers from the word bank and then we added these facts to his drawing. We then headed to the computer to watch a video on flamingoes which got a little too complicated so I turned off the sound and did my own narration.

The fun part was watching Sam tell his Dad, brother and sister all about the flamingo. Now as much as I would love to keep this entire zoo of animals...however my house is only so big...I have chosen to take a picture of Sam next to each of his creature creations. We then make a summary sheet using this picture and Sam and I jump back on the computer to choose his favorite photos to demonstrate the points we have noted. The flamingo sheet is at the beginning of this post. The summary sheet is laminated and put into Sam's Big Book of Animals. We have also made mini books when Sam's interest has led us to more facts than will fit on a sheet. We print these as well as save them as PowerPoint books. Sam loves to take his book and show people all he knows about animals, the written facts allow him to easily talk about the animals he has learned about without having the difficulty of pulling out the right words due to his apraxia.
Sam has learned the names of 42 tools and their uses. I still chuckle over the fact that he can say reciprocating saw or articulated dump truck but never says, "Hi, how are you?" I have learned to love fun unit studies, we often incorporate math, reading, listening, coloring, writing, memory recall and so many other important tasks in each unit.
And to think...without a little gentle pushing (okay maybe a shove or two from Ellen), some thinking outside the box and not letting the labels guide me...my little man and I have enjoyed learning together all we can about those things in life that just fascinate him.
It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.....Theodore Roosevelt


  1. I love this! I'm sort of doing the same thing with Quinn. We spent last week vacationing in North Carolina and picked up many autumn leaves and pine branches with the cones attached. We're now trying to identify them and I'm going to make a book of it. *smile* Thanks for sharing all of your wonderful ideas. Dani

  2. You've got me thinking...I love the notebook you put together. I am going to have to give some thoughts as to what interests Jessie has that we could study. Her main interest is TV!