Learning Differences: How to Unlock Your Child’s Hidden Potential

Learning Differences How to Unlock Your Child's Hidden Potential

Takeaway: Your child’s learning differences are a gift in disguise because they make you dig a little deeper to find her hidden potential. And with the right approach, this journey can help her become a lifelong learner who loves new challenges.

True learning is less about the lesson and more about the child. And each child learns differently.

In earlier posts, we’ve covered learning differences like dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, ADHD, dyspraxia, and more. But each child learns differently whether or not they’ve got a label for the difference. For example, some children love to learn by reading while others learn best by doing things. Some like to gather all the information upfront, while others start first and pick up the information along the way. And, some children are ‘big picture’ learners, always looking for larger patterns, while others prefer to be precise and focus on the details. There are dozens of these kinds of differences, and you’ll spot them fast when you start to really look.

So, what’s the best way to cater to learning differences? Well, there’s no single solution, but there are some basic principles.

The ideal approach is to help your child learn at her own pace, in her own way. But since that’s not always possible in the real world, here are some principles you could experiment with. Adapt them to what will actually work, given your family’s busy schedule.

Principle 1: Your child needs to be excited about learning.

Your child has to want to learn, or she won’t pay attention to the lesson. And only she knows what excites her the most. So, you’ll want to teach her how to kindle her own sense of excitement. Here are some ways:

  • Let her choose a learning path. She doesn’t get to decide what to learn, but you can let her choose how she’ll learn it. For example, for each study session, you can let her decide how much to cover and in what order, what learning tools to use (covered later), what rewards she’ll get, and so on. The more control she has, the prouder she’ll be of her effort, and the more connected she’ll feel to the learning process.
  • Show her why her lessons are relevant. You can help your child see why each lesson matters, where possible. For example, you could connect a lesson about the Pythagoras theorem to your child’s love for climbing hills. Perhaps get her to calculate the slope of a nearby hill using the theorem?
  • Connect new lessons with older ones. New information is exciting only when we see how it fits into what we already know. So, before each study session, ask your child to list what she already knows about the topic and what more she wants to learn. That process of creating anticipation can add a bit of excitement to the session.

Principle 2: Your child needs multiple learning options.

Where possible, encourage your child to do more than just read textbooks. The more routes that new information can take into her brain, the more firmly it gets embedded in there. Here are some fun alternatives to just reading.

  • Demonstrations: You could show your child how to do something rather than just telling her. Do it quickly the first time (as a brief overview) and slower — with more instructions — the second time.
  • Explainer videos: Apps like Simpleshow let you make quick videos explaining different concepts. It’s a great way to capture an explanation for reuse later.
  • Documentaries: These are perfect for subjects like history, geography, biology, etc. After watching the documentary, your child could quickly summarise what she’s learned, and you could have a discussion based on that summary.
  • Timelines: Whenever there are a series of events, it’s always helpful to map them out on timelines. That way, your child gets to see how everything relates to each other. Also, get her to add photographs and drawings to the timeline, making it double as a fun art project.
  • Audio lessons: Your child can record herself reading chapters out loud and listen to them later. Remember, the same information can trigger different parts of the brain when it’s both read and heard.

Principle 3: The more peaceful the environment, the deeper the learning.

Your child’s frame of mind is affected by both her external and internal environments.

  • The external environment: Set up an evening routine with time blocked out for study, without any other demands. Ideally, you’ll want to add buffer time before and after the session so that other activities don’t interrupt her studying. You’ll also want to make her room as sound-proof as possible and encourage her to declutter it often. (Because clutter is the perfect distraction for a wandering mind.)
  • The internal environment: Your child will go through a range of emotions while studying — e.g., frustration, anger, anxiety, boredom, etc. So, you’ll need to teach her how to manage her emotions and stay on track. Also, you can help her experiment with how long and/or often she studies, how many breaks she takes, how frequently she switches between subjects, and more. A great trick is to have her alternate periods of intense learning with periods of less demanding study, as a way of keeping to a schedule without burning out.

Principle 4: Study buddies can help your child learn better.

Learning in a carefully planned group can help your child in surprising ways. For one, it prepares her for life after school, where a lot of learning happens in teams. (And this means developing communication and collaboration skills.) But more importantly, children in a study group can help make up for their partners’ weaknesses and benefit from their strengths. So, the more diverse the learning styles, the better off the group is. For example, say one child connects with the emotions of a story more and her partner connects with the plot. By discussing the story, they see each others’ perspectives and learn things they would have missed when studying alone. If there’s a mix of learning options (a book, an audio lesson, an instructional video, etc.) for the same lesson, they can each pick one and share what they learned from it. By taking responsibility for coaching each other, they’ll engage with their reading material more thoroughly. Some children are more comfortable learning alone, though, so help your child find her ideal balance of solo and group studying.

Principle 5: Your child needs different ways of expressing what she’s learned.

Just as your child explored different learning options, have her explore different ways of expressing what she’s learned. Remember that writing out an essay happens to be the option schools favour, but it’s not the only choice. Instead, your child could make models/sculptures, shoot short films, illustrate comics or make drawings, create storyboards, perform musical pieces, set up web pages, and more. Here’s a simple way to add a bit of variety: Write a concept or theory on the left-hand side of a page and have your child summarise it on the right using illustrations, stickers, photographs, mind maps, and more. Exercises like these reinforce the idea that learning doesn’t always have to be about writing smart-sounding sentences.

Principle 6: It’s about how much she remembers, not how much she’s covered.

It’s vital that you don’t rush your child. This can be hard when she has a lot to get through and deadlines to meet. But remember that learning is about internalising ideas, not reading a lot of pages. So, focus more on assessing how much she’s learned rather than how much material she’s covered. For example, you could quiz her, ask her to give you a short presentation, roleplay a conversation, create an end-of-chapter checklist to work through, and more. You could also schedule mid-study mini feedback sessions to see if she’s on the right track. And you can also track completed lessons on a chart so she can quickly see how far she’s come and celebrate her progress.

These principles can help most children begin to unlock their hidden potential. But for more help, consider consulting a specialist.

If your child is struggling to learn, it’s never her fault. Instead, it’s about getting her the support she needs. And we can help with this. The Ed Psych Practice offers face-to-face and online assessments, consultation, advice, and problem-solving strategies for parents, nurseries, schools, and universities in London. We have psychologists, paediatricians, and therapists who can help assess your child and offer guidance and support. To consult with us or set up an appointment:

Want to see how else you can help your child? You might enjoy some of our other posts.

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