Merlin Day Academy’s Approach to Learning and Curriculum

The Merlin Approach to Learning© takes an individualized approach to support each child in their unique learning and developmental goals. Our one-of-a-kind program combines high quality special education instruction with therapeutic supports to help children in self-regulation, social-emotional learning, and peer play to set them up for success in learning and play across their daily lives. Merlin Day Academy is unique in its whole-child lens and sensory integrative, relationship-based values. Children develop across levels of skills through the application of evidence-based practices in family and team collaboration, the therapeutic relationship, and designing a supportive environment.

Key Features:

  • Team Evaluation and Treatment Planning

  • Education Rotations

  • Therapeutic Rotations

  • Individual Therapy Sessions

  • IEP Support

The Merlin Approach to Learning© is designed to support children in their education, growth, and development and set them up for success in building relationships and generalizing skills across a variety of environments. Our team of highly trained educators and therapists build supportive relationships with each child to help make learning fun!

Individualized Instruction Tailored to Each Child’s Strengths and Goals

Merlin Day Academy tailors our special education curriculum and individualized educational instruction to the unique goals of each child. We utilize two primary tracks (Academic and Functional) to outline the structure and delivery of services students receive in accordance with their individual instructional and therapeutic programs.  

Academic Track: Provides instruction for students whose IEPs follow a general education curriculum and informs type of instructional adaptation and differentiation the teacher will provide to ensure grade level milestones are maintained.

The Academic Track ensures appropriate implementation of IEP goals, use of related and supplemental services, data collection on student performance, and effective progress monitoring to support goal attainment.   

Functional Track: Provides specialized instruction for students whose IEPs follow a significantly modified curriculum that focuses more on the Essential Elements of CCSS. The Functional Track informs the type of instructional scaffolding and differentiation the teacher will provide to ensure grade level milestones are maintained. Students who follow the Functional Track receive significant visual support to facilitate comprehension of the instructional material. The Functional Track ensures appropriate implementation of IEP goals, use of related and supplemental services, data collection on student performance, and effective progress monitoring to support goal attainment. 

Theme Based Learning

The Merlin Approach to Learning© is a theme-based curriculum that aligns with the Illinois State Board of Education’s learning standards for all students. The curriculum incorporates unique, multi-disciplinary lesson plans for building students’ knowledge, skills, and competencies essential for reintegration into the traditional school setting, as well as success within the school, home, and community settings. 

Monthly themes help support learning by connecting all the moments of the day, reinforcing expressive and receptive language and improving engagement. Our themes coincide with national holidays and seasons to promote generalization across environments, as children will encounter these themes in their home and community as well as at Merlin Day Academy. Additional themes, for example, my family, my five senses, and my favorite things, are designed to promote individualized identification with these themes to promote autonomy, practice communicating preferences, and engaging children in the topics that are most meaningful to them. 

Theme based learning is incorporated into all components of Merlin Day Academy, including:

  • Academic Lesson Planning

  • Classroom and Gym Décor

  • Books

  • Visuals

  • Social Skills / Interpersonal Skills

  • Vocabulary

Merlin’s theme-based curriculum provides each child the opportunity to learn about topics meaningful and relevant to their own lives.

Each theme is incorporated into daily lesson plans, including classroom décor, toys, music, books, language, and play schemes, then individually scaffolded by our therapists and teachers to meet the child’s developmental level.

Research shows teaching skills related to a theme creates a rich and engaging learning environment.


At Merlin Day Academy, we promote functional communication throughout the day in all our educational instruction. Our literacy curriculum is targeted at developing children’s reading and writing skills including phonics, phenomic awareness, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. We utilize a variety of evidence-based programs to promote literacy and make reading fun! 

Zoo Phonics is a kinesthetic, multi-modal approach to learning all aspects of language arts, including vocabulary development and articulation, based on phonics and phonemic awareness. Zoo Phonics is primarily utilized with our younger students to help them identify a letter and the corresponding sound through interactive sounds and music.   

The Wilson program is a multisensory intensive Tier 3 language instruction program for children with word-level difficulties. Through this program, our children will learn decoding and encoding skills to the level of mastery. This program has also been modified to support our children using speech generating devices. 

Raz Kids Plus is a curriculum that is a comprehensive blended learning platform which includes leveled books, activities related to the book, and assessments. Each week a Raz Kids Plus book is selected that is related to our weekly theme and leveled to each child’s abilities and learning goals. Building vocabulary and fluency skills through short stories. 

Math Curriculum

Merlin Day Academy’s math curriculum follows the Illinois State Standards and Common Core Curriculum to ensure children are receiving the high-quality educational instruction they deserve. For neurodiverse learners, abstract math can be a frustrating subject. Our math lessons are focused on helping students concretely conceptualize numbers and better understand how math is incorporated into their daily life. We modify our lessons based on each client’s abilities and provide enough challenge to promote development without discouraging or overwhelming learners. Additionally, we utilize counting blocks, base 10 manipulatives, visuals, and other supports to make learning fun!

Our math curriculum utilizes Unique Learning System (previously Equals Math) which is a proven multisensory math curriculum for students with learning challenges at all levels of ability. Students learn foundational math and solve real-world problems as active learners. Students begin by connecting their world and what they know about math to new concepts, building their math knowledge over time.

With linked lesson objectives and vocabulary, this system provides multiple paths for our teachers to provide support for students as they learn and demonstrate what was learned. Individual needs for using math tools and manipulatives, choosing strategies, learning vocabulary, and talking about math, are met through use of the Action Dictionary with a variety of adaptations to support students’ language, motor, vision, and cognition.