Some children must deal with leaning difficulties, or problems with learning new information. They might struggle to master skills like throwing and catching a ball. They might grow confused trying to communicate by talking and listening to other people. Without being able to learn and retain key bits of information, these children struggle even more when 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 disability mix up signals and have difficulty sending and receiving bits of information. Basically, as University of Nevada-Reno professors Gary Fisher and Rhoda Cummings explain in The Survival Guide for Kids with LD, “some kids just have a hard time learning.”
These children are not dumb or lazy at all. They just “learn differently” (LD). Gary Fisher and Rhoda Cummings appropriately substitute the term “disability” in their book, helpful to deal with the problem not with the stigma. Children with LD have normal or even above-average intelligence and may, in fact, excel in other areas. Their brains just acquire, process, and retain information differently. As Stanley S. Lamm, M.D., and Martin L. Fisch, Ph.D. put it in Learning Disabilities Explained, a child with a learning disorder just has “a condition or a series of specific 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 an LD, some doctors and educators believe that as many as 20 percent of children have some sort 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 area.
It is paramount especially for parents to recognize that children with LD learn differently and the means and resources that they should make available to help them learn. Once an LD has been identified, a team of professionals test the child and use their findings to develop an individualized education plan (IEP) for him or her. Now the child and his or 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 there. Special classes and one-on-one tutoring can help.
So can using educational toys targeted to develop specific skills. Children who are becoming bored with dry schoolwork may find renewed excitement in learning when that learning comes in the shape of a toy. Simplifying the learning process and using unconventional methods to make learning fun can spur children with LDs to reach new levels of achievement.
Gary Fisher and Rhoda Cummings identify seven key areas in which children might learn differently: talking and listening, reading, writing, math, organizing 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 Talking and Listening LD know what they want to say; they just struggle to communicate their thoughts. They may also have difficulty understanding the meaning of the 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 so as to express them more coherently and to understand better what others are saying to them.
Strategy and logic games such as FoxMind Games’ Zoologic or Cliko games can encourage the development of such logical thinking skills. While 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 LD may be overwhelmed by being exposed to too much text at a time. They may struggle to read the alphabet or to sound out words. They may skip lines when reading because it looks to them like the words are moving around on the page.
Educational toys such as Melissa and Doug’s Opposites Puzzle Cards or the See & Spell break reading down to its essential components. Travel Read Spin and Word Spin Deluxe Family Edition made by GeoSpace are also excellent 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 keeps children from being confused by walls of text. While using such products, encourage children to talk about what they are reading to check comprehension.
Children with Writing LD struggle with many of the same problems as children with Talking and Listening LD. They have great ideas in their heads, but have trouble expressing 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 some of the pressure of writing off by having children compose their thoughts on a fun chalkboard or dry-erase board. Now children can erase and/or restart their sentences over and over until everything is exactly right.
Children with Math LD struggle with what numbers and numerical symbols mean. They have difficulty memorizing and understanding math facts. On the most basic level, they struggle with the patterns that underlie math concepts. Playing with pattern games, shape puzzles, and blocks can give a child the experience and confidence with patterns needed to succeed in math. For example, a toy such as FoxMind Games’ Logix I give a child practice with shapes and logic patterns. Again, the Travel Math Spin by GeoSpace is a fun teaching tool for basic operations, taking away what is sometimes a dreadful feeling of a child to have to learn math by him or herself. Remember, adult participation in a family setting using educational games is important in the learning process.
Organizing Skills LD
Children with Organizing Skills LD have trouble keeping track of their materials and assignments. Even keeping their rooms or desks in order can be difficult. Puzzles or other toys with pieces that can only go one way can subtly teach such children habits of organization. An organizer such as Melissa and Doug’s Magnetic Responsibility Chart can encourage good habits by helping children keep track of their responsibilities and be rewarded for good habits and behaviors.
Social Skills LD
Children with Social Skills LD have trouble interacting with other people. They misread facial clues and gestures and make expressions and gestures that do not convey what they actually feel. Dramatic role-play games can let children rehearse proper social behaviors in a safe environment from which the stress of real-life consequences has been removed. Dolls and dollhouses, play sets and figurines, and dress-up clothes and props can all be vehicles for imaginative play that practices effective social interaction.
Motor Skills LD
Children with Motor Skills LD struggle with both gross motor skills such as 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 Sets and Bead Set can develop fine motor skills. Some toys, such as 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 kids with and without LD. Children can grow bored with completing worksheets or dry assignments meant to teach content-area knowledge. In particular, children with LD may struggle just to understand how to complete a worksheet. Playing with an educational toy, on the other hand, can encourage children to spend longer (and more enjoyable!) amounts of time 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 wishing to develop his or her child’s abilities in one of the above areas could benefit from investing in any of the toys discussed.