Toys and Games- How Children Learn

phonemic awareness girlLearning disabilities, as most of us know have an effect on a child’s brain in the way they receive, process, store, respond to and communicate information, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities.(This means children with learning disabilities can have a hard time in areas such as coordination, motor skills, memory, information processing, speech and language development, reading and writing and math skills. While some learning disabilities may not be identified until middle grades, young children often exhibit early warning signs. If learning disabilities are addressed in the early stages, lifelong disabilities can become much more manageable. It is well documented that children learn best through play, and because of the holiday season, toys have been in my mind lately. I believe educational toys can provide opportunities for children to develop the tools they need to become successful learners despite their disabilities.

Every child is unique and it would be unfair to group a child into a category based on their specific L.D. Alone, however certain L.D categories share characteristics that can be worked on use of educational toys and play.

Dyslexia and Dysgraphia for instance affect reading, writing, spelling and composition. Items like Foam letters that a child can stick to the wall while taking a bath or magnetic ones for the fridge are perfect for early learners. Children ages 3 to 5 will learn letter recognition, spelling. also letter tracing stencils help children learn fine motor skills associated with letters and writing as well and can also be a great learning tool. Older children may benefit from family games such as ne of my childhood favorites: Scrabble Jr. Or a simple game of hangman to promote memory and letter sounds to try and figure out the missing letters. Obviously the game of toy you choose must reflect the child’s capabilities, it is essential they are optimally challenged but do not become too frustrated. this is after all supposed to be an enjoyable experience, one that will hold their attention and be rewarding in itself for it to be successful. It is important that a patient adult guides the child throughout these games and offers support and reassurance to minimize frustration.

Dyscalculia on the other hand affects grasping mathematical concepts like computation, time and money. Plastic or real money is a great tool to use for games like ” playing store” where the child wishes to buy or sell an item and the adult requires the exact change. (a fun way to make this interesting is to use real coins and allow the child to keep the profits if he or she is correct) using different denominations is also a great variation. Simple dice games (including many common board games) can be used to teach basic addition and introduce learners to odds, probability, logic and critical thinking.

People with Dyspraxia have difficulty with fine-motor skills, including coordination and manual dexterity. Toys that require assemblage can provide great learning tools with the reward of a finished toy at the end. Those toys with screws, can be put together with a manual screwdriver, learners will use their fine-motor skill to piece together these movable puzzles. To increase use of manual dexterity, let children use their fingers to turn the screws instead of the drill or screwdriver. Adult discretion is obviously implied in these activities, safety and reasonable level of challenge should be the first thing considered when choosing the appropriate activity.
I also want to add that encouragement and praise for good effort weather or not the child is fully ‘successful’ is important. The whole idea is that toys and games can make learning and practicing skills that need extra effort become fun and enjoyable for them that they motivate the learner to do them on their free time as a fun thing to do. Either way the learner is being exposed to the process and some degree of improvement is always a good possibility.

Does anyone have a favorite Game or Toy that has helped them or someone they know develop a skill?
How much does the level of enjoyment an activity provides, affect how long you stick with it?


ADHD: Approaching Discipline as a Teacher

Frustration 1
How should the teacher approach discipline?

I have to admit this subject has always been a difficult one for me as an educator. On one hand I understand the implications of ADHD and understand that behaviors that typically require some sort of discipline in a school setting stem from impulse and behavior issues that the child does not necessarily have full control over. On the other hand, how can a teacher like myself allow these behaviors to go unchecked and set a bad example for the rest of my students that I:
a) am a pushover,
b) expect and encourage disruptive behaviour, or
c) am oblivious to the environment in my own classroom.

So then how do we as educators overcome this double edge sword?

First, teachers need to understand that often, children with ADHD don’t always realize why they’re in trouble. For example, when the teacher tells Sarah not to interrupt and she says, “I didn’t,” it sounds like she’s being argumentative or making excuses. In fact, Sarah may have no idea she was interrupting. So from her point of view, she can’t understand, first, why she was accused of something she didn’t do, and second, why the teacher won’t let her defend herself.

In one study, a group of non-ADHD children and those with ADHD were given fictional scenarios of disruptive behavior and asked to explain what was going on. A significant difference emerged: Most children thought that the child in the example could have controlled his behavior if he chose to; those with ADHD thought the fictional child couldn’t control the behavior, and they identified outside forces that provoked it–for example, “His friends bug him all the time.” (source-From The Attention Deficit Answer Book: The Best Medications and Parenting Strategies for Your Child by Alan Wachtel, M.D. Copyright � 1998)

From the perspective of someone with ADHD, this view makes perfect sense. They know that in many cases they themselves can’t control their own behavior. So it’s not surprising that they feel persecuted when a teacher, parent, or peer blames them for their actions. If you got blamed because it happened to pour rain at your soccer game you’d feel persecuted too!

In the classroom, I think the teacher must walk the fine line between responsibility and blame. It’s important for the teacher to impart a sense of responsibility to the child for his actions, and to help him understand the consequences of those acts–but to do it in a way that doesn’t make the child feel persecuted.

It’s a tough challenge. One way to approach it is by acknowledging the difficulties while expressing confidence in the child’s ability to overcome them and offering a concrete strategy for doing so. For example, the teacher might tell a child, “I know it’s hard for you to sit still on the bus. I think it will be easier if you sit next to me so that I can remind you to sit down.” Even though the outcome may be the same, that approach sends a much more positive message than simply telling the child to sit next to you on the bus.

How have you approached discipline in the classroom/and or at home for undesirable behaviour? Do you feel that acknowledging your perspective has allowed you to accept disciplinary measures more readily and to learn from them and not take offense?

ADHD in the classroom, maintaining order while providing a flexible learning environment for all.

Reach for the Top 9As many of us reading this post are aware, kids with ADHD can sometimes act without thinking, can be hyperactive, and have trouble focusing. They may understand what’s expected of them but have trouble following through because they have difficulty sitting still, paying attention, or attending to details. (source

As an experienced educator working with young children for over a decade, I understand that most of the time disruptive behavior is not intentional. Never the less , it can be very distracting to the classroom learning environment. One solution would be to teach in a physically active and stimulating environment at all times. However, in addition to burning myself out doing this on a daily basis (don’t get me wrong, I would if it was the only option for the success of my students!) we also know that all students do not learn in the same way and some children require more “down-time” so they themselves do not suffer form the same ” burn-out”. Therefore, in our regular classroom where several students needs are to be met, this constant “up and moving” classroom is not feasible.

Listed below are some solutions to minimize disruption in the classroom and allow children who have ADHD and other children to have an outlet without forcing the entire classroom to partake at once.

Solutions in the Classroom

The number one thing teachers can do to help ADHD students squirm and fidget less is to provide physical outlets that let them regularly release pent-up energy and improve focus.

1)Send students with ADHD on errands. Ask your ADHD students to deliver a message to another class or take a note to the office. These tasks help kids build a sense of self-worth while providing an opportunity to stretch their legs and move around.

2)Let students stand and walk around between lessons. One teacher, for example, put a mini-trampoline in her classroom for kids who got restless. In the beginning of the school year, everyone used it frequently; but after the novelty wore off, only the ADHD students who needed to use it continued to do so. Another teacher let students use exercise balls instead of chairs so ADHD students could move around a bit, but still stay seated.

3)Provide fidget objects. These object can include worry beads, Wikki Stix, and squeeze balls—anything that can be quietly squished or handled. Not having to focus on staying absolutely still conserves the student’s energy for focusing on class lessons.
(Tip: Attach squeeze balls to the desk, so they don’t get hurled across the room!)

4)Keep lessons short and provide frequent breaks. You can even do this during tests if you sense that a student needs to move.

Does anyone have other methods, tips and tricks they have used?

In my next post I will discuss the topic of discipline for a child with ADHD from a teachers standpoint.

Teaching and ADHD- Communication is Key

Torn Post-It Notes
I cannot stress enough how essential communication is. The child is most likely to succeed when all people involved in the child’s life work towards the common goal of helping them achieve their potential together. Things such as:
• assignment books and agendas where written communication can happen on a daily basis,
• phone calls,
• meetings,
• progress reports, and
• sharing strategies that have been shown to assist the child (see my previous blog post on study skills).
These are just a few examples of what teachers and parents can do.

Another important tip about effectively communicating is to be concise and to be clear about what you wish to convey in the beginning. For example, your main goal may be to inform parents/caregivers about a specific issue, obtain information, or initiate a specific action or change in behavior from the child. People need to know in advance what you expect from your communication.

This also leads into the concept to staying on topic and trying not to digress from your common goal before the matter has been fully explored.  Make sure everything you say has to do with the desired outcome. If you have already thought through the issues and the essence of the ideas that you wish to put across, it is likely that certain main ideas will stick in your mind.  It is important to repeat these and make sure you and the other person are on the same page. This will cause less inconsistency and create a more reliable and dependable structure for the child.

How well do you communicate with the child’s teacher/parent?


English: A Student of the University of Britis...

In my last blog  on Assessment, I discussed different assessment strategies that teachers can use for all students in their classrooms.  In this post, I’ll be focusing on strategies to help develop appropriate study skills.

I have found over the years no matter what grade level there is something most students lack and that is proper study skills. This goes across the board for students of all ability levels and is something they really cannot get too much of. Simple accommodations are all important skills for both the student/ child’s academic and working career and should be taught and reinforced early on and throughout their schooling. This way it will become second nature and will no doubt help them improve.  These accommodations can be as simple as:

  • a quiet, distraction-free work environment,
  • reviewing assignment (proofreading) before handing it in,
  • time management of assignments (through an agenda or calendar),
  • organization (colour-coding, different binders for different subjects), and
  • taking good concrete notes.

Things like homework calendars for organization, understanding the particular disability and using either adaptive technology or other tools to address the specific need.  For example:

  • Comprehension – through making connections, prediction, graphic organizers, visualization, and explaining difficult words.
  • Spelling – through use of adaptive technology and computer programs designed to help.
  • Retention issues – visualization, graphic organizers, using melodies to memorize, having child recall information in a variety of modalities and often.

Another important strategy is using specific instructions and repeating them often so that it minimizes miscommunications. Having the students/ children  repeat the instructions back in their own words is also a great tool for you to assess whether or not the student/ child really understands what you are trying to explain.

In my next blog post I will discuss why communication between teachers and parents is essential for the child’s success.

Do you have any suggestions about study skills or strategies that have worked for you?

Children With Learning Disabilities: How We As Teachers and Parents Can Help Them Reach Their Goals!


As an Educator, I’ve had the opportunity to teach several students who have Learning Disabilities. I understand the importance of accommodating the student in a way where they are not set apart or centered out in front of their peers.  Youth and adolescence is hard enough without the added stress of being teased or isolated by their peers due to something that is beyond their control and already, unfortunately, has a negative stigma attached to it.

I have found that many of the strategies used to help assist and accommodate those students with Learning Disabilities are actually beneficial to the entire student population. Below I will address some of these strategies in hopes that educators and parents will not only gain some different techniques to use, but in hopes they will use these strategies for their entire classrooms or helping all siblings at home with homework. No differential treatment, yet the student/child with a Learning Disability receives the help they need to be successful… to me it’s a win/win and a confidence booster! It’s worth a try is it not?


To start, I believe it is important to explain to students:

1)      Why the material is important,

2)      What the learning goals are, and

3)      What the expectations are for each level (teachers out there will be familiar with the exemplars provided in the curriculum and there is no reason not to share these rubrics with your students).

Teachers should develop an easy to understand guide for how the children will be assessed before the task is assigned. Creating examples of Quality work yourself is a great idea. Never single out a student and show their work to the class as an example! This is a big no -no in my book, even if you are using it for praise, you do not know if the student feels embarrassed by this or whether or not his/her peers will react negatively to them  (ie: “teachers-pet”).  Some children will begin to realize who the “smart” kids in the class are and instead of assessing their own work based on the criteria and their own goals and personal improvements they could develop self defeating attitudes rooted in perceived incompetence.

In my next blog post I will discuss study skills that are essential for success.

What strategies have you used for assessment in your classroom?  What has worked for you?  What hasn’t?