‘Education is not a race to the end, but a journey that every child embarks upon.’ Jo Aiyathurai, manager of Kent charity 21 together and their new Teach Me Too initiative, spoke to us this week about why she wants to make ‘Early Skills’ videos produced by specialist teachers and speech therapists free to access for all children with Down Syndrome in the UK and across the world. She tells us about how it all started, the inspiration behind the project and the vision for the future.
What is Teach Me Too?
Teach Me Too is a video library of short educational videos delivered directly to the children. Each stage focuses on a new stage of learning. We are ‘stage learning’ rather than ‘age’ focused. Stage one focuses on early communication and cognitive skills (for example introducing Numicon, colour, big and little). With each stage we produce we will be working our way through the key skills at each curriculum level. We have 3 year olds to 12 year olds using the programme right now.
For the younger children it is those first steps to learning, and for the more able they consolidate knowledge, build independence and frankly, they just love watching them!
Each stage has 20 videos which are 10-15 minutes long. 10 are produced and led by specialist teachers, Inclusively Down and 10 by specialist speech therapist, Key Communication. All of the videos are designed to use the strengths of learning for children with Down syndrome and to target key areas of the curriculum.
The videos can be watched independently, but work best when an adult supports them, and uses the ideas to continue learning at home or school.
Teach me too is here is for everyone.
Regardless of wealth, race, background or education.
For Christmas 2020 we would love to see this fantastic resource launched for all the children with Down syndrome in the UK and beyond to access, FREE OF CHARGE, forever.
If we come together we can show the world, that even when it’s tough, the Down syndrome community will fight to get the best support available to every child, not just their own. We hope you will join us, it’s about time 2020 showed some positivity, and together we can make that happen!
What inspired you to create Teach Me Too?
Just as Covid -19 hit our shores we were about to launch our new face-to-face early years education sessions for pre-school aged children in Kent. It became quickly apparent that this pandemic meant our children needed this input more than ever. The impact of lost learning time will be felt by a whole generation of children, but like many things, this impact is not felt equally. Our children were already struggling to find the right type of early intervention support to meet their needs.
We looked at all the other pressures families faced. Being parents ourselves we understood the pressure of home schooling whilst juggling the rest of our lives. Parents were tired. We needed an approach that not only gave unlimited access to specialist teaching and speech therapy, but lowered the pressures on families at the same time.
We approached the specialist teaching service Inclusively Down and the specialist speech therapy service Key Communication, asking them to produce us a bank of videos that children could watch with or without parents, to deliver the key early skills in cognitive and communication skills to a generation of children missing out.
But what about everyone else? We had purchased the permissions to show these to Kent families and the result had blown us away. But with every email sent back to a family out of area, having to explain why they couldn’t access the videos our determination grew; this should be open to every child in the UK and beyond.
You have done this on a local level, what has the feedback been like?
We were blown away by how positive the feedback has been. 100% of families using this resource strongly agreed that every child with Down syndrome should be able to access the video library.
One mum said; “Honestly, I wasn’t sure how she would respond to the videos, she isn’t one to engage with video calls etc, but she was transfixed, so engaged with the tasks. I was amazed. The brilliant thing about them is we can use them again and again, and we can time watching them for when she is in the mood to learn.”
Why do you think getting these videos out there for everyone, for free, is important?
For too long now, children with Down syndrome have been lost in a system that doesn’t fully understand their needs or value the huge potential for learning that exists within our community. Children with Down syndrome DO NOT have a consistent ‘global delay’. They have a specific learning profile with their own strengths and weaknesses. Research has shown us that certain approaches to teaching and learning can be very effective with our children. But still this access is restricted; generally reserved for those with the means to pay for the right support, or those who know how to survive in a complex system of education and care.
Money is no reason to deny a child the chance to learn!
No matter what your background, your parents job, their income or their education, every child deserves the chance to benefit from these resources. They can be used in schools, by professionals, social care or health workers. Anyone can introduce the child to these videos. They are accessible anytime, anywhere.
Our overwhelming aim is to stop seeing these skills as ‘Early Years’ and start seeing them as ‘Early Skills’. Skills we need to develop to move onto the next stage, not tied down to an age group or even a type of provision. As a community we have such a wide variation of needs. We could never cover every need or skill in a video. What we can do is rip away this idea of these learning stages and needs referring only to the two years before we start school! This resource makes learning accessible to those younger children taking their first steps into education without shutting out those older children who also deserve the chance to keep on learning. Education is not a race to the end, but a journey that every child embarks upon. Just like people without Down syndrome, that journey never ends. It’s a lifelong journey that twists and turns through our own experiences. What we can do is ensure that all children and young people get the support they need to go on that journey.
What do you need to get the project off the ground?
Currently the programme has received funding to launch in Kent only. To make it available for the whole of the UK, and even the world, we need to raise funds to pay to buy the videos outright, and distribute them for free to absolutely everyone. They will benefit a range of learning needs, and although they are designed with children with Down syndrome in mind they would be a fantastic resource for any child.
To do this, our fundraising targets are:
TO LAUNCH STAGE ONE – £23,700
TO LAUNCH STAGE ONE AND TWO – £46,200
What are your biggest hopes for this project going forwards?
This resource bridges the gaps between those that have and those that don’t. Those gaps don’t stop when you head to school, in fact they often get more substantial. Children who maybe don’t have access to additional support at home can benefit immensely from staff who have access to these videos; not only to work through the concepts, but to show how to differentiate topics and use techniques that support the learning profile of our children.
The long term aim is to build a bank of resources covering the key areas of numeracy, literacy and communication going through the stages up to the end of Key Stage 2 (Age 11) and beyond! They will remain based on stage and not age; all our children work at different paces and using a stage approach means we can benefit a much wider group of children and young people and ensure that no one is left behind. Sometimes it can be easier to build services that cater for the more able in our community, so often parents of older children who are working on skills considered “Early Years,” feel left behind. This resource is about helping to build those skills no matter what your age and coming together to build a future where we respect and nurture children at all levels of education.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
21 Together is entwined with every aspect of my life. I was one of those parents who found themselves lost, with no support, struggling to find a path through. I didn’t know my daughter had Down syndrome until she was five days old. I wish I had been one of those parents that just embraced it, but I didn’t, for the first few years I found it exceptionally tough and lonely. Along with three other parents, we started 21 Together to bring training and information to Kent families, it has grown from there and now provides training, support groups, direct intervention and an awareness programme.
My daughter is now twelve, she attends a local mainstream school, and makes us smile every day. Her warmth, love and character makes me so proud to be her mum. Saying that, she wasn’t that poster child for Down syndrome. She finds learning tough, speech is a huge challenge for her, and she communicates through a mixture of words, signs and a talker device. She is working at early Key Stage One levels and although she finds it really tough she keeps going.
For us the prospect of things like GCSE’s and exams are not a credible option, but you know what?? We don’t care. We just need to know that we haven’t given up and nor has she. We don’t know where her learning journey will take her, but we are determined to ensure she, and every other child in our community get the right support to make that journey as successful as it can be.
Most importantly, we want to go on that journey with her. Through 21 Together I have found a whole new family. Love I never knew I needed and as a family we need to make that happen for every child. I just can’t sit by a watch an opportunity like this slide by for so many children in the UK and about the world. No child should be left behind.
How can we help?
- DONATE DIRECT
- FUNDRAISE – from sponsored silences to marathons (Covid safe of course), anything is possible.
- SHARE – Every person involved will make a real difference. Like our Facebook and Instagram pages, share with your friends, family, networks and work colleagues. Use the hashtag #teachmetoods so we can find you! The more people that know about this project the quicker we can reach our target.
- To register your interest in the Teach Me Too resources, or if you would like to get involved in helping to make this happen – check out our website
- Take a look at our fundraising video, made by Debs, one of the champions of the project and share to spread the word!