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?

 

The Write Stuff: Handwriting Difficulty in Young Learners

Multiple-print-reversals-e1331590434434-300x286The first time I reviewed my son’s grade one assessment binder that came home from school I was overcome with worry.  Flipping through the pages, I noticed that every page had some letter or number reversal.   I got even more concerned as I read his teacher’s notes about the number of reversals he was making.  I had excused his writing because of his young age but now having a seasoned grade one teacher comment was making the gears in my head turn.  As a teacher myself who works with students with learning disabilities, letter reversals in writing is not new to me.   I knew how to help my son; I had all the right tools to help him improve his writing, tools that I regularly use with my students.  What I didn’t know was why these reversals occur and what is typical for younger children and what isn’t.  I dove right into books and articles to learn as much as I could about letter reversals in children.

frustrated writingWhat I learned from my research was that letter reversals in young children were common until about age 8 because generally, children do not develop directionality until that age.  Directionality means up/down, right/left and forward/backward.  Another issue is that some children do not learn to properly form their letters and what helps is to re-teach them how to write.  I also learned that for children who have dyslexia, 8 out of 10 will have an issue with directionality.   Younger children who have Dysgraphia will have trouble with forming letters, maintaining word spacing, and will complain about having sore hands.  These students may also have trouble forming ideas about what to write about.  Their writing may be illegible and may not fall on lines or within the page margins.

It’s a lot of information to take in and in my son’s case I’m not yet sure if the writing troubles are because of his age (he’s in the second grade now) or because there is an underlying issue affecting his handwriting.  As an educator, I know these handwriting issues will not just disappear regardless of the outcome and some work needs to be done.  While I strongly support modification and accommodation to support a student with difficulties I am an advocate for remediation in whatever capacity possible.   It’s the basis of our ABC123 Tutoring Program and it’s what I utilize with my students and my own son.

wetdrytryIn the ABC123 program, I have used the Handwriting Without Tears  program and while researching writing difficulties I came across their iPad app Wet-Dry-Try  and purchased it to try with my son.   He immediately took to the program and was willing to practice printing.  With the program he learned to properly form his letters from top to bottom, something I had tried to do with paper and a pencil, but which only frustrated him.  The app has been a game changer in our home, and my son has been learning how to form his uppercase and lowercase letters and numbers.

With students who have difficulty with writing it’s important to learn what strategies will work best for them.  For my son it was the iPad, for others it may be paper with raised lines or finding the right pen or pencil.  Practicing letter shapes through motor activities such as finger tracing in a tray of sand, or forming individual letters and numbers with play-doh are other methods that help students learn.  It’s also important to ensure that the student is using good writing hygiene, meaning that they are sitting properly, holding the paper down and have a good grip on the pencil since many of these bad habits will be harder to unlearn later on.  With many of my students, their grip is awkward which makes writing with a pencil difficult.   A strategy I learned from an occupational therapist was to have the student ball up a tissue in their hand to grip their pencil (see picture below).  For my son and many of my student’s it’s helped to find a commercial pencil grip that works for them.

kleenex grip

In the end, a wait and see approach is risky and many bad writing habits are difficult to change later on.  If you have a child or student with a writing difficulty, it’s beneficial for them (Dysgraphia or not) to try to remediate these difficulties because it’s likely that they will not improve on their own.  After remediation has been thoroughly examined accommodations such as keyboarding or Assistive Technology can be further explored.  For my son, I am taking it one day at a time and working with him to improve his printing for now.

To read more about Dysgraphia and the warning signs: http://www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities/dysgraphia/what-is-dysgraphia

Living with Dyslexia – Part One

There is so much to say when you are raising children with the gift of Dyslexia. There is truly something unique, creative and almost mystical about individuals born with this “learning disability.”

donny

I have been blessed with two beautiful boys, both of which have Dyslexia. However, Donny has faced the most challenges due to the degree with which Dyslexia has affected his life. Donny is my youngest boy and is going to be seventeen in a couple of weeks. I am very proud of him and the distance he has come, especially considering the challenges that he faces.

Donny had such difficulty learning how to read and write, yet was so bright in all other areas that it was very apparent there was an issue. I was amazed that someone so creative, bright and motivated to explore life could have such difficulty learning. He was diagnosed with Dyslexia and Dysgraphia by the school psychologist by grade four. This was mostly due to teachers that helped work to make him successful and partially from learning that advocating for your child is essential in order to help provide them with what is necessary for success in not only school, but life as well.

Part of the key is not only advocating for your child, but teaching your son or daughter how to advocate for themselves. I have always been one to hit the books when faced with an issue. Once learning my son had these challenges, I became engrossed in literature, blogs, webcasts, courses and any other piece of information that would help me to learn more about how my son’s brain functioned.

The most important part of the journey has been what my son learned. I have always kept him informed and updated on the exact challenges he was facing. We would talk about the problems he had and discussed how he could work to solve them. Donny was aware of his IEP and what it meant for his learning and has realized that he must learn to advocate for himself as he gets older. Donny does not let his learning disability get in the way or see it as a burden. He realizes that there are limitations to what he can do without some assistance, but with that knowledge he knows that he is an intelligent young man that can accomplish great things.

fish

I’ve touched only briefly on actually living with Dyslexia (and Dysgraphia) in this blog for a reason. I wanted to stress the success that Donny has experienced because he knows about his learning disability, the strategies he must use to overcome the challenges, and what steps he has to take to ensure that he has his needs met respectfully. I want to stress this because I remember the hopelessness I felt before we knew what was giving Donny a hard time. Once he was diagnosed, I again felt helpless because I wanted him to become an independent and successful individual and didn’t know the extent of his challenges. His Dyslexia is severe, yet he has persevered. I want to send that message.

The experiences Donny has acquired, due to his openness to share,  have empowered him. He now serves as the student representative for the Learning Disabilities Association- Windsor Essex and speaks openly about his challenges. Donny and I were just featured on the CBC radio program The Bridge, talking a bit about life so far. Please take a listen.

sitenavlogo-br

Click on logo to hear broadcast