Some children deal with learning difficulties or trouble learning new information. They may have a hard time mastering skills like throwing and catching a ball. They can get confused trying to communicate by talking and listening to other people. Unable to learn and retain key bits of information, these children struggle even more as they enter school and try to master reading, writing, and other content area skills and knowledge.
Scientists aren’t sure exactly what causes learning difficulties. Many theorize that the brains of children with learning disabilities confuse signals and have difficulty sending and receiving bits of information. Basically, as professors Gary Fisher and Rhoda Cummings of the University of Nevada-Reno explain in The survival guide for children with AD“Some kids just have a hard time learning.”
These kids are not dumb or lazy at all. They simply “learn in another way” (LD). Gary Fisher and Rhoda Cummings appropriately substitute the term “disability” in their book, useful to address the problem and not the stigma. Children with LD have normal or even above average intelligence and may actually excel in other areas. Their brains simply acquire, process, and retain information differently. As Stanley S. Lamm, MD, and Martin L. Fisch, Ph.D. learning problems explained, a child with a learning disorder simply has “a specific condition or set of conditions that interfere with the normal learning process.”
Children who learn differently can come from any ethnic or socioeconomic group. Although only about 5% of children have been formally diagnosed with AD, some doctors and educators believe that up to 20% of children have some type of interference with the way they learn in some area. The good news is that with proper diagnosis and targeted intervention, children with LD can greatly improve their ability to learn in an area of weakness.
It is especially important that parents recognize that children with LD learn differently and the means and resources that must be made available to them to help them learn. Once an LD has been identified, a team of professionals evaluates the child and uses their findings to develop an individualized education plan (IEP) for him or her. Now the child and her teachers and parents know the area where the child needs extra help and can focus on developing and improving the child’s learning skills there. Special classes and individual tutoring can help.
The same goes for the use of educational toys aimed at developing specific skills. Kids who are getting bored with dry schoolwork can find a renewed excitement in learning when that learning comes in the form of a toy. Simplifying the learning process and using unconventional methods to make learning fun can encourage children with LD to reach new levels of achievement.
Gary Fisher and Rhoda Cummings identify seven key areas where children may learn differently: speaking and listening, reading, writing, math, organization skills, social and motor skills. Here are some suggestions for toys that develop learning skills associated with each of these areas…
Talking and listening LD
Children with Speaking and Listening LD know what they want to say; they simply struggle to communicate their thoughts. They may also have difficulty understanding the meaning of words other people say to them, sometimes mistaking one meaning for another. Some good skills to foster in this area are critical thinking and the ability to make predictions, understand cause and effect, and draw conclusions. These skills can help children organize their thoughts to express them more coherently and better understand what others say to them.
Strategy and logic games like FoxMind Games’ Zoologic or Cliko games can encourage the development of such logical thinking skills. While playing these games, parents can encourage children to think out loud to guide their reasoning. Parents can also gently ask children questions about what they think will happen next in a situation, acknowledging each answer and using it as the basis for the next question.
Children with reading LD can feel overwhelmed by being exposed to too much text at once. They may have difficulty reading the alphabet or pronouncing words. They may skip lines when reading because the words seem to move on the page.
Educational toys like Melissa and Doug Opposites Puzzle Cards or See & Spell break reading down into its essential components. Travel Read Spin and Word Spin Deluxe Family Edition created by GeoSpace are also great ways to turn spelling and reading skills into a fun experience. Focusing on one word/concept at a time and breaking words down into letters prevents children from getting confused by walls of text. While using these products, encourage children to talk about what they are reading to check for understanding.
Children with LDs in writing struggle with many of the same problems as children with LDs in speaking and listening. They have great ideas in their heads, but have trouble expressing themselves in writing with clear handwriting and good grammar and spelling. This is a case where the simplest of toys can have the greatest effect. Take some of the pressure off of writing by having the kids write their thoughts on a fun board or dry erase board. Now children can erase and/or restart their sentences over and over again until everything is exactly correct.
Children with LD in Mathematics struggle with the meaning of numbers and number symbols. They have difficulty memorizing and understanding mathematical operations. At the most basic level, they struggle with the patterns that underlie mathematical concepts. Playing with pattern games, shape puzzles, and blocks can give a child the experience and confidence with patterns needed to be successful in math. For example, a toy like Logix from FoxMind Games gives a child practice with shapes and logical patterns. Once again, GeoSpace’s Travel Math Spin is a fun teaching tool for basic facts, removing what is sometimes a terrible feeling for a child of having to teach themselves math. Remember, the participation of adults in a familiar environment using educational games is important in the learning process.
ML organization skills
Kids with LD organization skills have trouble keeping track of their materials and assignments. Even keeping your rooms or desks in order can be difficult. Puzzles or other toys with pieces that can only go in one direction can subtly teach these children organizational habits. An organizer like the Melissa and Doug Magnetic Responsibility Chart can encourage good habits by helping kids keep track of their responsibilities and get rewarded for good habits and behaviors.
LD Social Skills
Children with Social Skills LD have trouble interacting with other people. They misread facial cues and gestures and make expressions and gestures that don’t convey what they really feel. Dramatic role-playing can allow children to rehearse appropriate social behaviors in a safe environment from which the stress of real-life consequences has been removed. Dolls and dollhouses, games and figurines, and dress-up clothing and accessories can be vehicles for imaginative play that practice effective social interaction.
LD motor skills
Children with LD motor skills struggle with both gross motor skills, like balancing, jumping, or even running, as well as fine motor skills, like putting string through holes or holding a pencil correctly. Toys like jump ropes, sports equipment, and the Plasma Car can build gross motor skills. Toys like lacing cards or art games like the Melissa and Doug Stamp Sets and Bead Set can develop fine motor skills. Some toys, like building blocks, develop a whole range of motor skills.
All parents can benefit from investing in educational toys
Educational toys can be a valuable resource for children with Y no LD. Children can get bored of completing dry worksheets or assignments meant to teach content area knowledge. In particular, children with LD may have difficulty understanding how to complete a worksheet. Playing with an educational toy, on the other hand, can encourage children to spend more time (and more fun!) practicing and mastering new knowledge and skills. Instead of memorizing dry math information, a child can play with an educational toy and learn firsthand how to use logic and patterns to solve a problem. In fact, any parent who wants to develop her child’s skills in one of the above areas could benefit from investing in any of the toys discussed.