4 Tips for Parenting the Struggling Learner
In honor of ADHD awareness month, our friend Alene is sharing some great tips for struggling learners. Check them out, and share with whoever could use the help! Thanks for the tips, Alene! xo Hi, I'm Alene! When I first became a parent, I don’t think I was truly prepared for life’s twists and turns when it came to teaching my children and helping them learn in school. Now looking back, I always think to myself, I wish I would have known then what I know now. I doubt any of you have had those same thoughts and fears (wink wink). I remember the days when kindergarten was about taking naps, painting, and playtime. In today’s world, we stress out if our child isn’t reading and spelling by the first day of Kindergarten. What pressure!
I was struggling one day in particular because I realized some of my family members were falling behind in school and had trouble behaving and attending. I was at a loss and it was beyond the teacher’s capacity to help. Then one day I stumbled over this quote: “If a child cannot learn in the way we teach, we must teach in a way the child can learn.”
Bam! That quote hit me like a ton of bricks. I suddenly realized that maybe what was being taught in school wasn’t necessarily the way my kids needed to learn. A long journey then commenced of finding new ways to help the children in my family learn and succeed in school.
In hopes that you will not go through some of the same struggles I did, I came up with a few important tips that you can do with your children to help them succeed in school. Now remember, many of these ideas may not seem like they are related to learning, but trust me they have everything to do with how a child reads, writes, comprehends, solves math problems, and attends in class. The activities you can do at home with your kids can be far more valuable to how your child learns in the classroom than what they learn in the classroom.
Tip 1: It’s Play Time!
For a child, development and learning begins they second they are born. They may sleep and eat a lot in the first year, but once they hit the rolling and crawling phases, it’s time to get to work. Between the ages of 1 and 4, it’s critical to do activities with them that will help both the right and left hemispheres of the brain. This means developing their gross and fine motor skills to prepare the brain for learning. Crawl with them on the floor, help them do activities that work both the right and left hands and legs, show them how to grasp and hold objects, teach them how to strengthen the muscles in their eyes and mouth. Here are a few examples:
- Blowing Bubbles: Believe it or not, blowing bubbles will help your child develop the muscles in the mouth used for speech. They will need this for when they start saying words with “oo” and “aw.”
- Running, Skipping, Jumping, Sports: You may think physical development is just for keeping your child healthy or for giving them something fun to do, but what your child does on the playground actually helps them behave in the classroom. This is key for children who have ADHD, Asperger’s, Autism, or any other learning disability. Any type of gross motor activity can help improve your child’s attention span. For more gross motor activity ideas, click here.
- Help from the Presidents: Gather all the spare change in your house. Draw or print circles on a blank sheet of paper and have your child put the quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies in each of the circles one at a time. This activity not only helps your child use the same fingers as they use for writing, but also helps them become familiar with the texture, sizes, and value. For more fine motor activity ideas, click here.
- Beanbag Toss: This activity falls into our gross motor category, but it is also a great way for helping your child strengthen the muscles in their eyes. Why is this important? Training and strengthening the eye muscles makes it so your child can track words and letters on the page. Have your child follow the beanbag with their eyes as they toss the bag up and down and side to side. Try not to let them move their whole head, only their eyes.
If your child is already well over the age of 4, don’t distress. Whether they struggle in school or they are at the top of their class, movement and physical activity is important for learning and cognitive development at all stages of life, or at least before they are 15 when they have almost completely finished their development.
Tip 2: Turn Up the Beat
Actually, that’s the Mozart beat, not Eminem, Kanye West, or Fall Out Boy. I like to use acoustically modified classical music that helps restore connections in the brain to improve learning and behavior issues. At your house, the classical channel on Pandora or classical music downloaded to your iPod can benefit. Pick some favorites that your child might like. Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi, and several others are great to start out with. Old fashioned you say? Yes, that is probably true, but the learning benefits music has on the brain far outweighs the unpopularity. In fact, listening to classical music 10 minutes a day can re-channel the brain and re-wire it for critical thinking, problem solving, and greater comprehension. Play the music while your children are doing their homework, to help them sleep at night, and when they are getting ready for school in the morning. These are all great opportunities to prep the brain for higher learning.
Another great idea is to take your kids to the symphony. You might be pleasantly surprised how kid-friendly they are making it these days, especially during the holidays. Many symphonies during Halloween and Christmas not only play classical music in honor of the holiday, they let the kids dress up and invite Santa too.
Tip 3: Early Intervention
If your child is struggling in school with basic subjects or is dealing with a learning disability like ADHD, Autism, has a Sensory Processing Disorder, Asperger’s, or other challenges, there is one thing I can’t stress enough. Get help for them while they are young! As the brain grows and develops, it loses its window to learn. The best and most critical time period for your child to learn is before they are 15, and in grade school. That’s when you see the best results.
If you see your child having trouble in school, do your homework. Don’t depend on the schools to do it for you or to “fix” your child. Remember, each teacher typically has between 25 to 30 students in their classroom and can’t always focus on struggling individuals. Their resources are limited and sometimes they cannot provide the specialized treatment your son or daughter needs. I know it’s difficult to find help outside the school system and money is always tight, but you can’t put a price on your child’s life and their future. If you don’t face his or her challenges now, trust me, you will face them later when it is more difficult to correct and more costly.
Tip 4: Nutrition Counts
We may not think nutrition has an impact on learning, but turns out it’s another piece to the puzzle. One of the most important nutritional tips is to give kids a good breakfast. I know, it’s hard enough to get them ready for school, but stuffing them with sugary cereal every morning can actually counteract learning in the classroom. To help attention and behavior, whip up some eggs and bacon for them or an omelet. Protein keeps kids full longer and provides more energy and nutrients. Grumbly tummies only make them more anxious and irritable, and low energy can make them sleepy.
Calcium and magnesium can calm anxiety, fidgeting, and restlessness, which are found in meats, eggs, nuts, and leafy greens. Omega-3s found in salmon and halibut, can improve mood, focus, and memory. Any type of meat that comes from animals is much easier for children to digest, which makes the body happy and clam and prevents depression and anxiety.
Now I know we have all been harped on about processed foods and hormones in our meats and poultry, but the fact is, those foods can be just as bad for children as adults. Processed foods can make it hard for the body to absorb the correct nutrients it needs, which leads to poor digestion and causes hyperactivity. This means you may have to plan your meals ahead, but in the long run, it’s better for your child then Macaroni and Cheese and Top Ramen.
Last, but not least, children with a B12 deficiency can show signs of speech delays. Incorporating foods in your child’s diet that contain B12 is a great way to prevent that from happening. Try adding ground turkey as a substitute for hamburger or grill up some fish tacos. Both are leaner and healthier with the necessary B12 nutrients your child needs. Foods high in B12 are your meats, beef, chicken, fish, pork, dairy, and eggs.
Remember, incorporating more nutritional and healthy items in your child’s diet doesn’t mean it has to be boring or gross. The body still needs things like dairy and carbohydrates, so don’t give up on the mozzarella and bread. These are still essentials for nutrition and better learning. Here are two great recipes that are healthy, yet fun for kids. If your kids won’t like goat cheese on their quesadillas, add a little mozzarella instead.
For more great recipes and nutritional tips, click here.
By following these four tips, your child will be pointed in the right direction on the road to successful learning.
Alene Villaneda is the founder of Integrated Learning Strategies in Kaysville, UT. And has helped children with learning challenges for more than 20 years. For more info about the center, go to ilslearning.com. For more resources and information about learning, follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.