Blue, Purple and Green: How I Color Coded my Child Into Middle School

Note: October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month

Zoe – my color coded sixth grader with mosaic Down syndrome

Zoe – my color coded sixth grader with mosaic Down syndrome

By Suzanne Wingard, Director of Training, Family Connection of SC

Color has always been a part of organization in my life – from taking notes in school to sorting training handouts at work. It has visually simplified even the most complex tasks mainly because I am a visual learner. Luckily, so is my daughter.

Zoe was born with mosaic Down syndrome, a rare form of Down syndrome where not all the cells have the third copy of the 21st chromosome. She has been fully included in general education classrooms with supports in a private school since Kindergarten. We’ve put several accommodations in place and provided an aide for support. We’ve also used color to help her learn new concepts such as separating parts of a math problem or identifying new vocabulary in her reading books.

Colored Math Problems

Colored Math Problems

Over this past summer though, our anxiety started increasing – mine more than hers – about the dreaded transition to sixth grade in middle school. New buildings, higher curriculum expectation, demands for independence, peer pressure and feelings – oh, so many feelings.

I decided to tackle our anxiety with the only thing that consistently works in our lives – Organization Through Color!

We wrote down our anticipated challenges with transition to middle school:

  • Remembering a schedule of which class to go to for each class period
  • Finding each classroom within the five different campus buildings
  • Keeping up with homework, classwork, handouts and notes for the five curriculum classes as well as the five rotation enrichment classes
  • Managing study time for an increased number of tests and quizzes

All of these led to increased demands on organization and time management skills.

Middle school emphasizes a more independent way of learning with the ability to improve executive functioning skills such as organizing and prioritizing, staying on task and self-monitoring.

The Summer Scavenger Hunt Begins!

To start the color organization process, Zoe selected one color for each curriculum course: math, science, reading, writing and history.

We then found a solid color binder with dividers for each class.

Once we had the binders, the real fun began — accessories to match! It’s amazing what you can find in the back to school section of your local mass merchandise store. Pencil holders, spiral notebooks, composition books, section dividers, spiral notecards, even mechanical pencils — all in the same color scheme for each curriculum subject.

Colored Curricula Folders

5 colors were selected for the 5 curriculum classes

But it didn’t stop there. Each curriculum class required a cover for their textbooks.  It took us two months and three states, but we finally found a solid color stretchy material book cover to match all five binder colors. Of course, online shopping would have been faster, but we decided to make it a summer scavenger hunt.

Colored School Accessories

All the accessories were kept in the same five-color scheme

Identifying what binder and book was needed for each subject was now easy, and she was able to keep a set of books at home and a set of binders in the classroom. But we still had the issue of remembering which class was in each period.

Color Blocked Schedules

Once Zoe’s class schedule came out, we created a new version using the colors that correlated to her curriculum classes. We added class time blocks, teacher names and building locations. This was printed, laminated and added to each binder as well as her locker. If she was marked tardy for class, it certainly wasn’t because Zoe didn’t know where she was going!

Color Blocked Schedules

Color blocking makes information easier to find

Following the Rainbow

With the school year underway, we continue the same color scheme at home to keep everything consistent. Homework is done in each binder with the corresponding color pens or mechanical pencils. Vocabulary notecards are completed in the same color card ring as its curriculum color. This allows Zoe’s brain to keep the information in separate “folders” when learning new concepts or studying for tests.

There are so many different ways color can be used for organization. Our process has not only calmed our anxiety, but it has also created a huge amount of independence for Zoe. No more frantically flipping through one binder to find the science homework that somehow ended up in the math section.  If it is science, for Zoe, it’s going to be blue.

Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy

Flipping the Script on my Limitations

NOTE:  October is Learning Disabilities/ADHD/Dyslexia Awareness Month

Julia Kaback

This blog is written by Julia Kaback, a member of the Young Adult Leadership Council of the National Center for Learning Disabilities

When I was a child, I dreamed of working at the National Park Service and when an entry-level position became available, I applied for it immediately. After my interview, I had to start thinking about the words I would use to describe my learning disability if given a job offer.

Good news, I got the job!

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Julia Kaback
Posted by
Member, Young Adult Leadership Council, National Center for Learning Disabilities

“Voices from the Field” Interview with Theresa Jones, Director of Clinical Instruction and Speech/Language Services at Central Michigan University

May is Better Hearing & Speech Month

Jones Theresa

Theresa Jones, M.S., CCC-SLP is the Director of Clinical Instruction and Speech/Language Services at Central Michigan University (CMU). Theresa has been a speech-language pathologist (SLP) for over 20 years. She received her Master’s degree in speech-language pathology from Howard University where she specialized in infant and toddler service delivery. She received her bachelor degree from Northwestern University in speech-language pathology. Before becoming the Director of the CMU Speech-Language Pathology clinic, Theresa worked as a clinical educator for 13 years and as an SLP with individuals through the lifespan in a variety of settings.

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Theresa Jones thumbnail
Posted by
Director, Clinical Instruction and Speech/Language Services, Central Michigan University

Teaching English Learner Students with Disabilities

Erica Sommer

Erica Sommer is a special education teacher in Del Valle Independent School District, which serves students in and around Austin, Texas.

Sommer works closely with the district’s substantial English learner population, has almost 15 years of teaching experience and has been passionate about teaching for as long as she remembers. She shared with us how working with English learner students and those with disabilities has impacted her as a teacher and individual.

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Erica Sommer
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Special Education Teacher Del Valle Independent School District, Del Valle, Texas

October and Disability Awareness

ICYMI "In Case You Missed It!"

In addition to announcing OSEP’s new director, Laurie VanderPloeg, and interviewing Caryl Jaques at Little One’s University preschool, this October, we highlighted aspects of disability awareness for National Disability Employment, Dyslexia, Learning Disabilities, ADHD, and Down Syndrome!

Check out the stories below:

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Learning About My LD: Accepting My Challenges & Finding My Voice

October is Learning Disabilities/Dyslexia/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Awareness Month

Lena McKnight

Lena McKnight was born in Norfolk, Virginia and raised in Harlem, New York. She attended public school in New York City until 10th grade and later enrolled in a YouthBuild program where she achieved a High School Equivalency Diploma. Lena then went on to graduate with an associate’s degree and later a bachelor’s degree in Theatre and Sociology in May 2017. Lena has served as a Student Advocate for 10th graders through the Harlem Children Zone and remains involved with YouthBuild. She now works full time and devotes her career to serving kids in her community. Lena is committed to using her voice to have a positive impact on the field of education and on society at large.

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Public Charter School Founded to Provide Excellent Reading Instruction to All

Strong Foundations School logo

Assistant Secretary Johnny Collett and Deputy Assistant Secretary Kim Richey visited Strong Foundations Charter School during the 2018 Back-to-School Tour.

October is Learning Disabilities/Dyslexia/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Awareness Month.

Seven years ago, one of my former students came to visit me and see the school I helped to found, Strong Foundations Charter School, a public charter school formed to provide excellent reading instruction to all students.

My former student was home from college where he majored in music and also played in two successful bands nearby. As we walked through the halls, he saw the elementary students working, some of whom were in Orton-Gillingham class—a structured reading approach to help students learn to read. I remarked that if he had been in a school like this, he might not have had to struggle so much with reading when he was younger.

His reply was bittersweet to me. “If I had been to a school like this, I might have been able to be your friend sooner.”

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From Miami to New Jersey

October is Learning Disabilities/Dyslexia/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Awareness Month

Veronica and Myriam Alizo

Veronica and Myriam Alizo

When my first child was born I was a young and inexperienced new mother. My husband and I had just moved to the United States from Venezuela, and we were far away from our relatives.

I wasn’t sure if I should speak English or Spanish to our first daughter, and felt really perplexed. Everyone told us to stick to one language because children might get confused when they were spoken several languages at a time.

Once I realized my daughter had a speech delay and attention issues, I started to read everything I could about early child development. I felt very overwhelmed and isolated.

The pediatrician referred our child to an evaluation center in Miami where we lived. All our concerns and intuition were confirmed: our four-year-old child had some type of learning disability. The year was 1994, and I didn’t know anything about Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

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Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR) at the SPAN Parent Advocacy Network

Reflections on Where We’ve Been: A Mother and Son’s Journey with Dyslexia

Dylan and Nicola at the beach

October is Learning Disabilities/Dyslexia/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Awareness Month.

Nicola—a mom of three and an advocate—and her son Dylan, a college sophomore, share what has made their journey unique in hopes of inspiring others. Below, they take turns asking questions and telling their story.

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College sophomore majoring in product design and development
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Mom of three. Regional Field Manager, National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD)

It Takes a Village

NOTE: October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month

Courtney Hansen holding her two boys on their front porch.

Courtney with her twin sons on their first day of kindergarten in a new state. The boys play t-ball together, love Super Why, biking to the park, and are in the same kindergarten class.

A guest blog by Courtney Hansen. Courtney is a non-attorney special education advocate. She advocates at the local, state, and national level for disability rights, and blogs about it at

My son with Down syndrome and his typically-developing twin brother just started kindergarten. The military also just moved us across country this past summer.

There’s been a lot of change this year, and I was often overwhelmed by the idea of my first-born twins starting “real” school in a new state. I cried like a baby their first day of school, but they just marched off to school like they owned the place. I was amazed, but realized that it was the result of years of preparation and help from so many different people. Having a son with a disability has shown me the value of “the village.”

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