Schools often assign students to learning groups. It doesn’t take kids long to figure out who belongs to which group. Like them, I understood who belonged to the butterfly group when I was a child (the smart kids) – and those who were caterpillars (kids who weren’t smart – like me).
Children often use these assumptions to define themselves.
I have a condition called amblyopia or “lazy eyes.” When I open a book, the letters on the pages overlap. It’s as if the pages were printed on clear sheets of plastic and placed on top of one another. I can read the words – it just takes me a little longer.
I didn’t want to be a “stupid” caterpillar when I was a child. I wanted to be a butterfly. I wanted to go to college. I worked at as many jobs I could find so I could attend a university.
I liked hanging out with smart butterflies at college. Until I took a required reading exam in my freshman rhetorical writing class. My professor pulled me aside after class one day and explained the test results showed I had the reading comprehension skills of a sixth grader. She wanted to know how long it took me to read a test.
“I have a learning disability,” I mumbled. “I’m LD.”
“Do you have any idea how smart you are?” she asked. “‘LD means ‘learns differently.’ Many students with learning disabilities have average to above average intelligence. Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein learned differently, too. And so do you.”
Words have power.
I was so inspired by her words that I felt a responsibility to pay it forward. I became a teacher. I delivered a TED talk to inspire others who learn differently.
Approximately five percent of students (and adults) are diagnosed with learning disabilities. Many more people unnecessarily struggle at work and in schools, but never receive a formal diagnosis.
There are many things you can do to encourage a child who learns differently. These tips help all children improve their organizational skills and boost homework success:
- Get organized. Require your child to empty the backpack as soon as they get home from school and put notes from teachers and schools in a designated tray. Store all books, paper, pencils, and school supplies at a desk or special place created for learning and homework.
- Involve your child in the creation of a study space. Add positive posters or decorate the space with your child’s favorite cartoon characters and heroes to make it a fun place to be! Use color to brighten the space and to color-code a system of organization for each subject (i.e.: notebooks, folders, files for homework, etc.).
- Understand everyone learns differently. Some children need quiet; others need noise (music, etc.) to concentrate. Some children review material by repeating the information out loud; some use flash cards. Many instruments such as the VARK Questionnaire define visual, auditory, and kinesthetic/physical learning styles. Use tools and provide an environment for your child that compliments his or her learning style.
- Make a schedule. Help your child learn how to effectively budget their time. Assign a start time for completing homework. Organize time into manageable chunks. Design a calendar and post due dates for assignments.
- Record assignments. Use an assignment notebook or an online app (such as MyHomework) to record all homework and projects.
- Use Online Tools. ADDitude (Inside the ADHD Mind) suggests eight useful homework and study apps. Free apps such as 30/30 and Stay On Task will help your child organize time. StudyBlue offers tools to create flashcards and many different learning resources.
- Check Your Child’s Homework. Review completed assignments with your child. Check for errors before your child gives his or her homework assignment to their teacher.
- Talk to Your Child’s Teachers. Discuss your child’s learning style and strengths with his or her teacher. Inquire how you can support learning at home. Request testing if you believe it is necessary. Ask your child’s teacher about helpful learning resources. Students experience greater success when their teachers and parents work together as a team.
You may want to enlist the help of a tutor to help your child experience specific subject-level success. Free tutoring may be available in your child’s school or in local programs. Libraries often offer tutoring services at no charge.
When I was in middle school, I was grouped with students who used the same math book for three years. I never learned how to successfully do algebra until I was an adult. I used free online tools at Khan Academy to learn how to do basic algebra.
Remember: You are not alone. LD Online offers outstanding information and many different tools for parents and primary caregivers. They offer Home-To-School Connections with effective resources, helpful articles, and a list of recommended books. They provide links to support groups and host a discussion forum.
As a parent, primary caregiver, or mentor, you are your child’s primary teacher. Show your child how reading can be fun. Visit the library and book stores. Read to your child. Point out words on billboards and traffic signs as you drive. Discuss product labels when you shop. Play word and number games. Children are more likely to enjoy reading and writing when they see their role models reading and writing.
Most importantly, we must remind children they possess amazing gifts and talents. Create positive affirmations to boost their self-esteem. Be a role model of a positive attitude. Ask them to share their ideas and listen to their opinions.
All children begin life as caterpillars. Sometimes they forget they have wings and have the capacity to fly.
Your words are often mirrors children use to see themselves. Let’s work together to ensure they see their best selves.
In what ways can you inspire a child to see their own light?
Try some of these Fun Reading Tips Your Child Will Love.
Deepen your relationship with a special child in conversations with questions from A Survey for Adults and Children They Love.
Use these suggestions from How to Be a Good Role Model to start or deepen your relationship with a child or teen.
Hear the Voices of Our Youth describes tips to invite dialogue with young people.