Children with learning challenges like ADHD, autism, dyslexia, and trauma often need specific support to be successful in school. Parents can help their children by implementing a few easy strategies at home, that support reading, sensory needs, routines, and mental and emotional health. Here are 4 ways parents and caregivers can help kids who learn differently find greater success in their learning and school.
1. Create a Sensory Bin
We all have sensory needs, and children with learning challenges might have greater or different needs. Without addressing these, it’s hard for kids to learn. A dedicated sensory bin is often appealing to children who have learning challenges because it has tools to address the way they feel and provide the specific or heightened sensory experience they desire.
Sensory bins can be filled with anything that stimulates one or more of the five senses and that your child wants to “play” with. Consider the kind of sensory experiences your child seeks out naturally, like chewing, picking, pulling, squeezing, quiet, tapping, softness, or pressure on their body. Find items in your home that can safely provide this sensory experience, and add them to your bin. An example is a bin filled with uncooked rice, pasta, beans, cottons balls, measuring cups, and small shovels. Sand is a popular sensory tool that many children love to play with, because it feels good in their hands and they can build with it.
Here’s a great podcast episode featuring an occupational therapist who talks about what sensory challenges look like in children and simple ways to address them.
You can dedicate a space in your home for your child’s sensory needs. It doesn’t have to be an entire room, but maybe a small corner in a room that feels safe for your child, with a box of sensory tools that work for them specifically. Remember to be mindful of the distractions your child might have in a certain space. For instance, light, certain colors, noise, or even a TV can provide sensory input that may not be ideal for your child. Lastly, make sure that it is their space. Think of it as your child’s space for privacy. You can even build a homemade tent, a fort, or create a hammock using household objects. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, but a simple space for your child to call theirs.
Did you know The Shadow Project installs SuperSensory Spaces in schools, to help students meet their sensory needs throughout the school day? Click here to learn more and bring us to your school!
2. Find Small Ways to Build a Routine
Children with learning challenges tend to feel more comfortable when there is a set routine at home, just like school, so they know what to expect. With kids back in school, they have a routine during the day, and incorporating a routine at home will help with their time management and sleep schedule. Visual calendars can be very helpful for your child to look at and see the schedule for the day. Here are examples of visual calendars and tips to create your own.
Try adding your child’s sensory bin or sensory space into their routine. Are there certain times of day that are particularly challenging for your child to focus or calm down? Are they overwhelmed in certain situations? At these times or throughout their day, your child could take a 5-minute break to use their sensory bin. They could push the items around, search for certain items, or even pick up small items with tweezers—allowing them to get out energy and work on fine motor skills. Or they could use noise canceling headphones or a heavy blanket for calming sensory input.
3. Practice, Practice Reading!
There are many ways that you can encourage your child to read aside from school and homework. Your child could read directions out loud for a recipe you are cooking, or read aloud street signs as you pass them. Your local library is sure to have books about special things your child is interested in at the moment. Graphic novels are often easier for struggling readers, because they contain less text and pictures that really illustrate the story to aid comprehension. Reluctant readers have a hard time reading on their own without being told to, so making reading a fun thing to do, will eventually let your child enjoy it!
Try incorporating a little bit of reading once a day to help your child maintain their skills. Children tend to love the sound of words being spoken while looking at words and pictures on a page. Even if you are reading to them, this is developing their vocabulary. Plus, reading together is proven to increase your bond with your child.
4. Communicate with Your Child
Your child wants to know they can communicate with you and feel safe, especially talking about their day in school. How you view your child and communicate with them influences how your child views themselves. For instance, when you tell your child you believe in their capabilities and they can learn new things, they will feel more confident in school and in life.
Here are some easy and specific phrases you can use:
- “How was your day at school?” Ask follow up questions to show you are genuinely interested in what happened in their day, both good and challenging.
- “Help me understand.” Try this when your child is explaining something that you can’t understand. Instead of getting mad, reassure them that you are trying.
- “Tell me about this picture you drew.” Invite your child to explain how they made something or the meaning behind it. Start a conversation about what they bring to show you.
- “How can I help you?” With this phrase, your child will understand that you are here to help them succeed but also that you believe in their ability to advocate for themselves.
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There are also lots of non-verbal ways to communicate and connect with your child. Things like music and movement can be used if your child does not verbally communicate or would rather not talk about something. Encourage them to find non-verbal, safe ways to express themselves and their emotions.
It is also important to recognize that children with learning challenges might have anxiety about school after the difficulties of distance learning. Being back at school in person might contribute to this feeling. Research also shows that children with learning disabilities often face frustration and embarrassment in school. You can help your child by validating their feelings and checking in with them. This article provides more detail about noticing and helping your child with anxiety.
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