Everything you need is at the tip of your fingers: 4 Tips for helping a struggling learner

As a parent with children who struggled with LD, I often felt overwhelmed and undereducated. There was so much to learn about the condition(s) that I was not sure how to help my children on a day-to-day basis.

I was not an expert on reading and writing and I HATED math. The “experts” at the school and even those I looked up online (when I finally got internet access at home) talked about all of these various programs that I could buy into. They all sounded like they could work, but most were expensive and as a full time student, employee, and mother, I had no idea where I would find the time, the energy, or the money that was required for the program to be successful.

Unfortunately, not having the ability or the means to afford programs and not having what I thought was limited time to put those programs into practice, was not going to stop my children from needing the help. I had to get motivated.

So, what does a parent do now? 

Tip 1: Get educated

Use your local library to learn about the learning disability(ies) your child(ren) are dealing with. This will help you to understand what your school and/or teachers are talking about. It will also help you to understand your child(ren)’s behavior. Are you being too harsh? Are you being too easy? Knowing the pertinent facts will help you to navigate behavior appropriately.

Tip: 2: Use simple tools

Parents always ask what the best tools are for teaching children to learn. In my opinion the best tools are a pencil and a piece of paper. I was a parent on a limited income. At my best, I could afford these two materials. At my worst, I could borrow them. They are not phenomenal tools because they are cheap. They are phenomenal tools because they teach skills that all students with LD need. That skill is writing.  I will touch on this subject in another post, but it is very important that children with LDs learn to write – they should also use a computer and type – but writing is vital – don’t fear it and please don’t allow your children to fear it.

Tip 3: Find Books you can read fluently

Having an LD myself meant that the best way to teach my children how to fluently read, was to read to them content that I was able to fluently read aloud. This presented a problem because while I was a good silent reader, I was horrible with reading aloud. Teachers were pressing me to read books that were challenging to my children, but I was growing so embarrassment from my own out loud reading that it made it hard for me to comfortably read to my children.

I happened upon a book called “How Many Spots Does a Leopard Have?” It was a series of small fables with amazing pictures by author Julius Lester (http://members.authorsguild.net/juliuslester/). I read and re-read and re-read this book until I knew it almost word for word. I then read and re-read and re-read the stories in the book to my children. It became a type of bonding tool for us. Every night before bed my children would pick a story from this book and we would all read it together. I cannot express to you how great it is to see my teenagers pick up the book and read it. They smile from ear to ear and I can see the memories flooding back to them.

I had always presumed that I needed to read longer and more dynamic books as my children grew.  It was my assumption that doing that would teach them to do the same. However, reading the stories in this book helped me to discovered that all my children actually needed was to find so much enjoyment in a book that it sparked them to want to read more.  And they did. They were trying to find more books that made them feel as happy as the stories in Mr. Lester’s fables.

Parents you may not be Albert Einstein (I sure am not), but this is something you can do. Find your favorite book. Make special voices. Read by candlelight. Set up pillows on the floor and light your children’s imaginations on fire.

Tip 4: Get creative

What does it mean to be creative when you feel overwhelmed? When I tell people that we worked with my son to write a book, we often hear statements like, “But I am not a writer.” I then laugh and explain that I am not a writer either.

I believe that our modern dictionaries have ruined this term because they have made it appear very simple. Dictionary.dom defines it as:

1. a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., especially as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist.

2. a clerk, scribe, or the like.

3. a person who commits his or her thoughts, ideas, etc., to writing: an expert letter writer.

4. (in a piece of writing) the author (used as a circumlocution for “I,” “me,” “my,” etc.): The writer wishes to state….

5. a person who writes or is able to write: a writer in script.

Now, this sounds odd to people because I published a few books of poetry. I write a blog. I taught journal writing. I attend school. I write in a journal. Etc. Etc. Etc.

I do those things. But they do not prove that I am a writer. In my opinion, doing those things shows I am practicing writing.

However, writing as a writer is much deeper then that – or it should be. A writer is someone with the skill to not only understand how to use the vernacular, they also understand how not to use it. I am a long way from that space.

As you learn to get creative with your children, don’t compare yourself to other parents or other writers. Make up things with your children and share your ideas (good or bad) with them often.

And remember creativity is not solely defined in writing. Creativity comes from using what you have around you. You can use food, blankets, toys and even dirt to teach. Remember your childhood. Remember writing with your fingers in the mud? Remember recording the clouds as they blew across the sky? Remember seeing the deep green shades of the beautiful green grass? Tag? Hopscotch? All these games are tools that can be used to teach your LD children how to read and write. Look around you and then search inside yourself, the answer is right there with you.

You can do this and you are not alone!

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