Can your LD child fall in love with learning?
For most children with learning disabilities, learning is about as enthralling as a nails dragged recklessly across a dusty chalkboard. Day after day, year after year, they are forced to bare their weaknesses to the world, told to “try their best,” and work without an end in sight.
If you’re the parent of one of these children, it seems impossible that your child could grow to love the very thing that is seemingly their downfall.
It is possible however. And it isn’t something that will take years or months to accomplish, either.
Learning and school are NOT the same thing.
When many people think of learning, they think of homework, tests, and surprise quizzes. Of course many children can and do learn numerous things in school. However, it might surprise you to realize that some of the most important learning your child does is not in school.
Let’s take a look at the practical side of things. Before your child entered school, they mastered an enormous variety of skills: that Mommy and Daddy will come back if they go away, how to let you know when they want something, how to walk, talk, and feed themselves, and much more. The fact is, if our children had to rely on us to teach them all of those things in full, most of us would probably be sitting around drooling in our soggy diapers.
If you disagree, think about how much work it is for a therapist to teach your child even the smallest of subskills.
Children are born with a natural drive to learn.
Children are naturally hard-wired to learn. And not only are they hard-wired to learn more about themselves and their environment, they are driven to try over and over again until they succeed. Any parent who has tried stopping a toddler determined to take out the covers from an electrical outlet knows what I mean.
So even though a learning disabled child may have a harder time of things, until he enters school (or a school-like environment) the drive to learn is still pretty strong. In fact, it only peters out by about 3rd or 4th grade, when he and/or his parents finally realize what they’re up against. That’s the age of a large number of my clients are when they approach me for an evaluation.
Help your child see learning as a natural thing to do.
One of the most important things for your LD child to understand is that they are learning successfully all of the time. It may not be something as mundane as which three ships sailed the ocean blue, but it may be just as important.
According to http://missiontolearn.com, learning is “the lifelong process of transforming information and experience into knowledge, skills, behaviors, and attitudes.” That means that each time your child figures out how to advance to the next level in his favorite video game, that’s learning. Every time your child considers how he and his friend can get to a football game when you can’t drive them, that’s also learning.
Instead of rolling your eyes the next time your child spends an afternoon plugging away at this favorite game so he can get to the next level, use specific praise to point out an important factor in successful learning: “You are really persistent; you don’t give up! And you figured out how to beat the system too.”
Or, the next time your child argues with you about why her curfew should be extended, defuse the situation – and throw in a little specific praise about your child’s use of problem-solving skills: “Hmm, I can see you’ve been thinking about both sides of the situation pretty carefully. Let’s write down what you’ve come up with so far.”
Let your child’s natural interests fuel his learning.
You can encourage your child to develop important learning skills if it’s done in the context of a favorite hobby, or other interest. Help your child find magazines, books, websites, and specialty groups (check appropriateness for children or monitor your child) or forums.
But if your child is into dinosaurs, for example, don’t automatically go out and buy everything a kid could possibly have about dinosaurs. Half the fun is trying to acquire that elusive piece that will round out collection. And the time that your child spends drooling over the 17-inch life size model of a rex and reciting all the relevant facts about its habitat, eating habits, and strength, is time well spent.
Work around your child’s limitations.
Even if your child has significant disabilities, nowadays there’s really something for everyone out there, in nearly every format available. For children who are visual learners, there are YouTube videos on nearly every subject imaginable. And free programs like Natural Reader can be used to give a struggling reader access to material that would otherwise be beyond him.
Don’t forget audio books, podcasts, and even free powerpoint presentations at places like Scribd. Not only is it usually free, but there is often excellent content available for people on all different levels.
Don’t add “school-like” assignments, hoping to get more bang for your buck.
Sometimes parents see how deeply involved their kids are in a particular interest or hobby that they decide to “sneak in” some learning task. They mean well, imagining, “Ahh, here’s a perfect opportunity to get Justin to finally read more. I’ll just pick up a few books and maybe ask him some questions about it…” It almost seems criminal to pass up an opportunity like that when you see your child is anyway sticking his nose into a big encyclopedia anyway.
Don’t do it!
Not only do you introduce a type of learning that is instinctively unpleasant for your child, but you end up essentially taking over something that should be mostly in your child’s hands. Parents who do this will find their child suddenly display a complete lack of interest in something that used to excite them.
And even if you realize your mistake and try and woo your child back, you’ll probably be unsuccessful: your child will always be suspicious that any kind of interest on his part will just be another chance to get him to do more boring stuff.
Show interest in what your child enjoys.
I know your busy, and that sometimes hearing for the tenth time exactly how, where, and what army ants eat may lose its appeal, especially at the dinner table. But by sharing your child’s excitement, you not only fuel his interest in the subject (it’s no fun if you can’t share something you love), but you also build a stronger, closer relationship with your child.