Struggling at school

DEBORAH WARD considers the challenges facing children with learning difficulties, and the ways parents can support them.

Sending our children to school is a huge step for us as parents – almost as big a deal as it is for the kids themselves! We want our offspring to enjoy themselves as they master the basic skills and knowledge that will form the foundation for a lifetime of learning. But what happens if our kids struggle with the basics and their progress seems slower than that of their peers?

An important thing to know is that learning difficulties are very common and there is a lot that parents can do in conjunction with school in order to help children make better progress.

If the school contacts a pupil’s parents to indicate that they might have a learning difficulty, the parents should be proactive in establishing what the school can do to help and also which strategies they can implement at home.

One learning difficulty that can be identified in approximately one in ten New Zealanders is dyslexia. Described by New Zealand’s Dyslexia Foundation as an ‘alternative way of thinking’, dyslexia can cause problems with reading and writing. Rather than focusing on the negatives, parents can help their children make the most of their learning differences. Indeed, the NZ Ministry of Education guidelines suggest that the ‘emotional and practical support’ of parents is a key to children’s success.

It is easy for children with learning difficulties to suffer from diminished self-esteem, and experts encourage parents to find and acknowledge their child’s strengths, offering specific praise for achievement in their work. The Dyspraxia Support Group points out that it is important to celebrate the effort that children with dyspraxia – a condition which, broadly speaking, affects coordination and movement – put into tasks, as sometimes their efforts are ‘far greater than those of their peers’.

To reinforce the work children are doing in the classroom, parents looking to support their kids with learning difficulties can encourage some fun learning activities at home. Word games such as ‘I spy’ are an enjoyable way of encouraging children’s knowledge of letters and sounds, and understood.org offers a list of expert-approved apps that are divided into categories such as Reading and Motor Skills, which can be downloaded at home.

We, as parents, are our children’s most important advocates, which means arming ourselves with information about our kids’ learning needs. We can help foster a better understanding of our children’s needs by educating those around us. This can only serve to help our children have a more successful learning experience at school, setting them up for greater success in life.