Christine A Howard

Anyone Can Learn When Teaching for Memory and Retention

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Yes! You Can Homeschool Your Special Needs Child

One of my favorite quotes comes from a man who knows the realities of people believing he was stupid when he was actually a genius. Albert Einstien said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” The truth is, anyone can learn if given the right circumstances and tools. Here is why…

Maybe My Child Can’t Learn – The Dangerous Myth

Far too often our kids are labeled with scary diagnosis, and many of us have heard that our children will not amount to much. I know I have sat across the room from professionals with fancy degrees who told me all the reasons that my child wasn’t learning. This used to bother me. Until I realized that I have a doctorate in my child. What I know to be true, even if the professional disagree, is that my child can learn. My child will learn. Anything short of this is a myth.

Will my children become the world’s next greatest minds? Maybe not. In my opinion we have enough people in these positions already. Can my children become the best versions of themselves and have a functioning place in society? Absolutely, they can! And yours too, for that matter.

The key is educating not for the public school standards, speed, grades or anything else that seems to be important to this modern society. Instead, we need to teach our children to think and to retain the information that is necessary for them to succeed.

Anyone Can Learn When Teaching for Memory and Retention

Give Your Child The Tools For Success

You might be asking yourself what these tools are, especially since I just told you not to follow the public school standards. Let’s look back on that fish. What tools does that fish need to be successful? Surely he does not need a tree or climbing gear. To be a successful fish, he might need things like water, fins or flippers, and a way to breath or hold his breath under water.

Similarily, your child will need different tools based upon what will make him or her successful. My daughter requires a walker and a large screen monitor, while my son requires more time on tests and audio books. The key to figuring out what tools your child needs is to target their ultimate goals. Once you have a clear picture of what those are, you can begin mapping out a plan to achieve his or her destination.

Your plan should be based in strategies that support memory and retention. For a lot of special needs individuals, this is the piece that is most difficult. Simple rote memory exercises don’t really work.


Supporting Memory and Retention

If your child is not able to retain what he or she is learning due to working memory issues, it can become quite frustrating to everyone involved. Don’t panic. If your child is not retaining the information, there are some things you can do to help. You may even want to seek out the professional advice from a developmental pediatrician. He or she can help you better understand your child’s learning deficits and provide strategies to overcome them. You can also try the tips below:

Use the thing to teach the thing

Remember back to when you were learning to drive a car. First you had to sit in a class, do some reading, and then take your permit test. After you passed your permit test, did you feel confident enough in your driving skills to be able to drive independently? I am going to make a guess that you didn’t. To be honest, neither did your driving instructor. That is why he or she (and the Department of Motor Vehicles) insisted that you have time actually behind the wheel before setting you free. They knew the importance of being hands-on with what you are learning about.

Remember, anyone can learn given the right tools. When we teach our children, we need to give them opportunities to actually see, hear, and touch the things they are learning about. I am guessing that when your child was little and first learning about animals that you took her to a farm, zoo or aquarium. You knew that this hands-on experience would help her learn those animals. Just reading a book about a cow does not offer the same learning as seeing and hearing one for the first time.

The same holds true with whatever your child is learning currently. Is your child learning multiplication and division? Try bringing out Lego bricks and showing him adding and subtracting in groups in a very tangible way. Is your child learning money? Give him some fake money and play store with him.

Any skill that your child actually needs to know to be a successful adult has a practical method of learning. The trick is in finding that practical method. But, if you are using the “use the thing to teach the thing” principle, finding that method becomes so much easier.


Use Songs And Pnuemonics

Seseme Street is and was one of the best television learning platforms of our time. One thing that the creators of Seseme Street knew is that a song helps people remember things. I am certain everyone remembers at least one pnuemonic from childhood as well.

My personal favorites helped to remember the colors of the rainbow and the the order of the planets. Of course now that Pluto is no longer a planet, the pizza pnuemonic doesn’t really work. But anyways… If you can make things a song or come up with a pnuemonic reminder, things will get much easier to remember.

Brain Connections Are Built Slowly And With Repetition

Toddlers know how to build brain connections instinctively. Have you ever noticed just how often a toddler is willing to do the same function over and over until she masters the skill? It’s to the annoyance of most new parents at times. But, they are building brain connections.

Each brain connection is like an electrical wire. It begins as a single strand of nerve tissue and with each use of said connection, it gets stronger. In fact, it will begin to build a protective sheath to keep itself protected. All this building takes time and lots and lots of work. Each brain is different in the speed at which a new connection is made. Some kids, as you probably know, take much longer.

Anyone can learn

Don’t Force Your Child To Drink From A Fire Hose

For lots of kids, it can take a really long time to build a brain connection. A lot of special needs kids have limited working memory. This means that they cannot hold a lot of new information in the forefront of their mind. Slow things down and divide learning up into easily digested chunks. This way your child won’t feel like they are trying to drink from a fire hose.

If the information is coming too fast and their working memory can’t hold everything, inevitably something will be lost. In order for a long term memory to be created, it must first be worked through the working memory. Then the brain can transfer the information from the working memory into the long term memory. If the working memory is on overload, this transfer cannot happen effectively.

Maybe the curriculum you are using expects students to master the first five letters of the alphabet in a week and that is too much for your child. Try covering one or two letters in a week and providing more opportunities to work with the letters in a tangible way. The beauty of homeschool is that you can decide how fast or how slow to cover the materials your child needs to know.


Remove Distractions As Much As Possible

The working memory can only hold information for a short period of time. This is typically from 10-20 minutes, but can be even less for kids with learning disabililties. This means that if your child is absorbing new information and the garbage truck noisily stammers down the street, your child may become distracted and lose everything she just learned.

Think of it sort of like this. You are working through a new curriculum book and need to have things set for your child on Monday. It is Saturday morning, and as you are sitting with the book your kids come into kitchen and begin making breakfast. Suddenly you feel like you have read the same line sixteen times and can’t for the life of you remember anything. Sound familiar? This is exactly what is happening to your child, but it could be from much more sutbtle distractions.

These distractions may not even be noticable to you or I. In fact, my son can be distracted by the hum of a light fixture, the whir of the heating vent or even a dog barking in the next yard over. This is when you have to be a little bit creative and find ways to remove as many of these distractions a possible.

You may want to try headphones, decluttering and a relaxed study environment. Talk to your child and see if he can tell you what is distracting him from his work. Provide rewards such as breaks and games every so often to give your child’s brain a break. It is much easier to focus in on a boring subject when you know there is a reward coming soon.

Learn What Works For Your Child

I say this a lot, but only because it is so very true. You know your child best. As long as you are keeping the learning focused around your child, you will see progress. Remember, slow progress is still progress. Anyone can learn if given the right opportunities Keeping that in mind is the best advice I have personally been given.

Make sure to check out the other great blogs that are participating in this blog hop. Trust me, you won’t regret it!

Series Navigation<< You Are The Only Teacher Your Special Needs Child NeedsThere Is More To Learning Than ABCs and 1-2-3s >>

1 thought on “Anyone Can Learn When Teaching for Memory and Retention

  1. All excellent points and ones we should re-read when we are feeling down about a lesson or some other task. I love using toys to help my little ones learn math ideas and skills. And weeks later they will remember the skill and the toys they used to learn it.

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