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Choosing Educational Toys For Children With Learning Disability
Some children have learning difficulties or problems learning new information. They might struggle to master skills like throwing and catching a ball. They might get confused trying to communicate by talking and listening to other people. Without being able to learn and retain key pieces of information, these children struggle even more as they enter school and try to master reading, writing and other skills and knowledge in the content area.
Scientists don’t know exactly what causes learning difficulties. Many believe that the brains of children with learning disabilities mix up signals and struggle to send and receive information. Basically, as explained by Gary Fisher and Rhoda Cummings, professors at the University of Nevada-Reno, in The survival guide for children with LD“Some kids just have a hard time learning.”
These children are neither stupid nor lazy at all. They simply “learn differently” (LD). Gary Fisher and Rhoda Cummings appropriately replace the term “disability” in their book, useful for addressing the issue, not the stigma. Children with AD have normal or even above average intelligence and may, in fact, excel in other areas. Their brains acquire, process and retain information differently. As Stanley S. Lamm, MD, and Martin L. Fisch, Ph.D. put in Learning Disabilities Explained, a child with a learning disability just has “a specific condition or series of conditions that interferes with the normal learning process.”
Children who learn differently can belong to any ethnic or socioeconomic group. Although only about 5% of children have been officially diagnosed with LD, some doctors and educators believe that up to 20% of children have some kind 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 a weak domain.
It is essential, especially for parents, to recognize that children with LDs learn differently and the means and resources they should make available to help them learn. Once an LD has been identified, a team of professionals tests the child and uses their results to develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for them. Now the child, his/her teachers and parents know the area in which the child needs extra help and can focus on developing and improving the child’s learning skills. Special courses and individual tutoring can help.
The same goes for using targeted educational toys to develop specific skills. Children who are getting bored with dry schoolwork can find new 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 inspire children with LDs to reach new levels of achievement.
Gary Fisher and Rhoda Cummings identify seven key areas where children might learn differently: speaking and listening, reading, writing, math, organizational skills, social skills, 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 speech and listening disabilities know what they want to say; they just have trouble communicating their thoughts. They may also have difficulty understanding the meaning of words that others say to them, sometimes confusing one meaning with another. Some good skills to develop 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 so they can express them more coherently and better understand what others are telling them.
Strategy and logic games such as FoxMind Games’ Zoologic or Cliko games can encourage the development of such logical thinking skills. By playing such games, parents can encourage children to think aloud to guide their reasoning. Parents can also gently ask children questions about what they think will happen next in a situation, acknowledging each response and using it as the basis for the next question.
Children with reading disabilities can be overwhelmed by being exposed to too much text at once. They may have trouble reading the alphabet or pronouncing words. They may skip lines when reading because it seems to them that the words are moving across the page.
Educational toys like Melissa and Doug’s Opposites Puzzle Cards or See & Spell break reading down into its essential components. GeoSpace’s Travel Read Spin and Word Spin Deluxe Family Edition are also great ways to turn spelling and reading skills into a fun experience. Focusing on one word/concept at a time and breaking the words down into letters prevents children from being confused by walls of text. When using these products, encourage children to talk about what they read to check their understanding.
Children with handwriting disabilities face many of the same issues as children with speech and hearing disabilities. They have big ideas in mind, but struggle to express themselves in writing with neat handwriting and good grammar and spelling. This is a case where the simplest of toys can have the greatest effect. Take the pressure off of writing by having kids write their thoughts on a fun board or dry-erase board. Now kids can erase and/or start their sentences again and again until everything is perfect.
Children with Math LD have difficulty understanding the meaning of numbers and number symbols. They have difficulty memorizing and understanding math facts. 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 the patterns needed to succeed in math. For example, a toy such as Logix from FoxMind Games, I give a child practice with logical shapes and patterns. Once again, GeoSpace’s Travel Math Spin is a fun teaching tool for basic operations, eliminating what is sometimes a dreadful feeling for a child to have to learn math on their own. Remember that the participation of adults in a family setting using educational games is important in the learning process.
LD organization skills
Children with LD organization skills have trouble keeping up with their materials and homework. Even keeping their bedrooms or offices tidy can be difficult. Puzzles or other toys with pieces that can only go one way can subtly teach these children organizational habits. An organizer like Melissa and Doug’s Magnetic Responsibility Chart can encourage good habits by helping kids keep track of their responsibilities and be rewarded for good habits and behaviors.
LD social skills
Children with LD social skills have difficulty interacting with others. They misinterpret cues and facial gestures and make expressions and gestures that don’t convey what they are really feeling. Dramatic role-playing can allow children to practice appropriate social behaviors in a safe environment from which the stress of real-life consequences has been removed. Dolls and dollhouses, playsets and figures, and dress-up clothing and accessories can all be vehicles for imaginative play that practices effective social interaction.
Motor skills LD
Children with LD motor skills struggle with both gross motor skills like balancing, jumping or even running and fine motor skills like lacing strings through holes or holding a pencil correctly. Toys like jump ropes, sports equipment and the plasma car can develop gross motor skills. Toys like lacing cards or art sets like Melissa and Doug’s stamp and bead sets can develop fine motor skills. Some toys, like building blocks, develop a range of motor skills.
All parents can benefit from investing in educational toys
Educational toys can be a valuable resource for children and without LD. Children may become bored completing worksheets or dry assignments meant to teach content knowledge. In particular, children with AD 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 first-hand how to use logic and patterns to solve a problem. In fact, any parent who wants to develop their child’s abilities in any of the above areas could benefit from investing in one of the toys discussed.
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