Transition into
Elementary School

Focus on the Curriculum

Elementary students in Ontario transition through eight grades, three divisions and multiple subjects.

A student with Down syndrome in Grades 1-3 (the Primary Division) will find many of the subjects are closer to their learning level than some of the subjects in Grades 7 and 8 (the Intermediate Division). In this circumstance, the IEP takes on great importance, as it represents an evolving plan for making school relevant and accessible for the student with Down syndrome over their eight-year elementary school experience.

Following are some important tips to improve Elementary IEPs for students with Down syndrome:

1) Consult early and often with the family

The family of the student with Down syndrome has been observing their young person’s growth and developing interests, and they are aware of their skill level. Before the IEP is finalized, teachers should consult with the family to see if they have any contributions, ideas or concerns.

2) Always Assess

Receiving teachers should base their IEP discussions on assessments of the academic skills of their new student with Down syndrome. It is not enough to read last year’s report card or ask the Educational Assistant, “So … how is her reading?”. Rather, the teacher should take the time to sit with the student with Down syndrome while they do Literacy and numeracy tasks, in order to develop a personal sense of the student’s skill profile.

3) Prioritize skill development over the memorization of content

In their future lives, students with Down syndrome will benefit more from having strong Literacy and numeracy skills and the ability to communicate and be understood, than if they have specific information that they may not find relevant, i.e., “Three types of landforms.” The best IEPs for students with Down syndrome prioritize their Literacy and numeracy, communication and Learning Skills, while promoting their natural interests and their strengths.

4) Set ambitious expectations

Families and teachers who expect that young people with Down syndrome can learn and do well in school will usually be rewarded, because ambitious expectations have an effect. Most students with Down syndrome will learn to read, some very well, and many will learn to write to express their thoughts. Most students with Down syndrome will develop content area subject preferences (some are eager to work on science topics, while others will prefer Geography or History). Many students with Down syndrome eventually develop skills (some can sing, others can act, others are exceptional athletes) that that are genuinely remarkable. Setting and maintaining high expectations, then, is appropriate because students with Down syndrome are capable of meeting ambitious goals.

5) Consult the experts on teaching students with Down syndrome

Down syndrome is a complex condition, and it is not yet fully understood by scientists or researchers. One thing is clear: common sense ideas of how to educate student with Down syndrome are insufficient for teaching students who have this diagnosis. Rather, it is important to refer to the resources that have been created by people with deep experience in the field.

There are three outstanding sources of resources on teaching speech, reading and Mathematics to children with Down syndrome.

  • Down Syndrome Education International offers resources, how-to materials and research reports which originated in the outstanding 30-year career of Professor Sue Buckley. Link
  • The Down Syndrome Research Foundation (DSRF) was established in British Columbia by Jo Mills, a physiotherapist who developed an interest in the needs of children with Down syndrome. It is now Canada’s preeminent source of research and practical resources for classroom teachers and parents of young people with Down syndrome. Link
  • The Canadian Down Syndrome Society has also developed and posted excellent resources for families and professionals at all levels of the education system. Link