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Take Control of Your Child’s Learning

Geoff Nixon

By Geoff Nixon

When the school’s timeline & goals differ from yours

Raising a child is challenging enough, parenting a struggling learner – including auditory processing disorder, dyslexia, and ADHD – multiplies that challenge tenfold. This post focuses on what you can do when your child is not on the same learning trajectory as the rest of the class.

Reality Checks

Your child is on a different path. First reality check. Your child is not everybody else’s child. His day is more exhausting, he comes home more likely to be irritable. Many things others find easy, he does not. There is every chance your child will go on to live a happy and productive life, but his path will be different.

The school’s timeline is different. Second reality check. While your child’s teacher cares about your child, deeply, she is is being held accountable for results this year, now. In contrast, your horizon extends longer to a time when your child is reading and learning comfortably. Meanwhile, you are about minimizing the negative association with learning along the way. You are fine with short term results until never-ending test pep, books that are too hard or busy work stress out your child.

Schools teach. Third reality check. Schools work around learning difficulties, they do not treat them. That’s not their role.They instruct. And so, while you want your child to spend as much time as she needs developing the fundamentals, the school has a lot of curriculum to get through. Often they have to move on, even if children in the class are not yet proficient readers or learners. If you want to treat a learning disability, you will have to do that after school hours.

Lobby for Less Homework

This goes back to reality #1. Your child will not find the homework as easy as others, especially after a tough day. As it is, for many children the normal load of homework is grossly unfair. For your child, overloaded homework just helps reinforce a negative relationship to learning, to the school, and to you, as the parent enforcer of this unwelcome after school work.

You could do your child a huge favor by arranging for a lighter homework load. And that includes preparing for tests that are testing rote learning, memorization – there is very little value in that kind of work for your child, who needs to focus on the building blocks of learning, the fundamentals. Most teachers will understand the bigger picture here. And let’s be honest, there is a huge question about the value of homework anyway. And so there is no real downside to this modification.

Find Confidence Builders

Part of your child’s different path will be building inner resilience and confidence. The school day is mainly about confidence erosion: humiliating events such as having to read out loud to the class or having to quickly respond to a teacher’s question.  In addition, your child likely experiences frustration at struggling with reading or math while those subjects seem to come more easily to peers.

And so, it is important to recognize activities that could help balance that eroding confidence.  Are there sports, music or other activities where your child does well, where there is the potential for achieving or at least matching peers? It is important to focus on these activities as a way to build up the confidence bank.  As time goes on, that confidence and inner resilience becomes more and more critical.

If Reading is Torture, Go Slowly

The single most important career skill is reading.  And to become a good reader, your child needs to practice, which means they need to have a positive connection to reading.  This is not easy when a child has language processing delays that impact phonological awareness. Every word is labored over – reading is exhausting, often feels torturous.

One important tool to utilize at home is “just right” books.  Never mind that your first child or the next door neighbor was reading Harry Potter in 2nd grade, your struggling learner needs to be reading books in his  zone of proximal development, his reading sweet spot. This means you need to know your child’s specific reading level, and then you need to find books at that level.  Systems like Accelerated Reader book finder can help with this.  Also, finding books on topics that interest your child can help greatly.

One thing NOT to do as the parent of a struggling learner is to force your child to read a book that is too hard. That risks shutting your child down to reading. And if the school has assigned it, you need to talk to the school.  You are playing a longer game here.  You need to protect your child’s connection to reading, and do as much as you can to keep it positive. So that at a time in the future when his processing is more mature and reading is easier, there won’t be baggage and negative feelings attached to reading. That means, showing patience in choosing books.

Fight For Accommodations

It is worth advocating for accommodations like sitting at the front of the class and more time for tests.  Mainly, these accommodations will reduce your child’s stress and help maintain a more positive connection to learning.

Similarly, if an IEP is in the cards, it is worth fighting for. With an IEP you will have a lot less trouble negotiating for less homework, easier books, and the other aspects of the school day that are currently affecting your child’s confidence and sense of self worth.

Don’t Get Distracted by Keeping Up, Focus on Fundamentals First

One of the unfortunate consequences of the pressures schools feel to meet their standardized test goals is to use word lists and other memorization techniques to get their students through the tests. While this does help with testing, it’s no help at all in the long term path to reading. That requires decoding words, reading the sounds inside words in a way that enables reading to be just like listening, automatic. Elementary school should be all about developing the fundamentals for reading.

And so any time you have a choice between working on the fundamentals – decoding, understanding, thinking — and memorizing for a test or other busy work, choose the work on fundamentals. Learning to read and think come first. If that is not happening at school, if the school work is all memorization, then seek outside reading help.

Look After Yourself

Just as the airlines say put on your own oxygen mask before attending to your child, your child is best served when you are happy and healthy. There is a lot of stress and anxiety involved in raising a child with learning difficulties. You may experience self-doubt and concern about what others think. Do people understand that if there is a difficult behavior happening in public, you sometimes need to pick your battles? And you might also wonder if there is more you could have done or should be doing.

Most parents of children with learning difficulties are superstars.  They are able to tune into their child’s needs, and be patient and understanding.  But parents also need to be strong, resilient, and energetic.  They must do their best to not to worry or be anxious. Children sense anxiety and if they recognize it’s related to them, that only adds to the internal pressure they feel.

And so treat yourself well, and maintain other interests to keep some kind of life balance. And don’t ignore your other children if you have any, which can sometimes happen when there is a struggling learner in the family.

Bottom Line – Being Proactive

To summarize, it is important to recognize that if your child has shut down or is struggling, s/he will have a different educational path to adulthood, which is perfectly okay. There are arguments about the resilience and creativity that comes out of dealing with learning challenges that serve children well as adults, such as the whole “gift of dyslexia” idea.  But beyond that there are many ways to live life happily and productively. And so the big picture here is to recognize the differences and to do your best to help your child mature with a positive attitude towards learning and reading.

As we have discussed, the school’s agenda is often different.  It is not tasked with addressing the underlying causes of difficulty, but rather instructs around them. Its interests are not long-term like yours, but focused on grades, this year. However, the time at school is short, and years of education missed because your child was grappling with learning are hard to make up.

Build a Strong Foundation – There’s Time

And so if you want to change your child’s story, the sooner the better. If you want to treat underlying difficulties, you will have to be proactive in finding an intervention, and you will have to do it after school hours.

If you go the after-school intervention route, bearing in mind the discussion above, you should enlist the school’s help and cooperation. This means requesting less homework, less testing, etc. while your child is working on a learning intervention that has the potential to set her up for life. Really, nothing is more important for a child than developing a sound grasp of reading and learning fundamentals. These are not only crucial academic skills, they are essential life skills.

Gemm Learning is one such intervention alternative. We are an online software with coaching that helps get at the root causes of learning and reading difficulties, helping get children on to a fundamentals-based, robust learning track in just a few months,  Our software accelerates learning development so that children can make the most of school while they are still there.

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