Memory is the key to learning – Tips to Help Your Struggling Learner Remember More
Three of my kids have special needs. They each have different learning difficulties, but they all stem from the inability to remember. Memory is the key to learning. Whether you have a working memory, short memory or a long-term memory problem, learning will be an issue. I’ve seen it in my youngest 3 kids.
My middle son has dysgraphia and has difficulty moving information from the right half of his brain to his left. Writing is very difficult for him because he literally has to remember each letter he writes, it’s very laborious. But only recently have I realized that this translates to other areas of his learning too. He has difficulty remembering math facts as well. For most of us, it takes 6 months for information to get stored in our long-term memory and therefore the information becomes automatic. But for M, information doesn’t become automatic unless he really works had at it, for a long time. He is very good at math, but he still has to think about his addition, subtraction, and multiplication facts, even after 5 years.
My youngest 2 kids have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). 95% of people with FASD have memory issues. My daughter cannot remember abstract facts. She can learn something one day and it can be totally gone the next day and sometimes, on a bad day, even the next minute. This is very frustrating for her. She has needed so much repetition to learn letters and numbers and she has many days when she still doesn’t remember them.
As a mom with special needs kids, I work very hard to find tips and tricks to help my kids remember the information. I watch and study them. Always trying new things, continuing with what works and scraping what doesn’t.
Through the study of my kids and of course reading information from people way smarter than me, the one thing that I have realized is that the key to remembering is the ability to make a picture of the information in your head. My daughter learns best when she has context. Whenever possible her curriculum involves a story. This allows the pictures to form easily in her brain. When the information does not have picture readily available, we create our own picture.
- She draws a picture of the information she just learned. By getting her to illustrate what she learned, she really focuses on forming that picture in her mind.
- She creates a drama. We have used Five in a Row as our main curriculum for 2 years. This year I have started painting peg people that look like the characters in the story and she uses them to act out the story. She has been able to remember the story better, sequencing has been easier for her, and facts have been recalled faster.
- We read picture books about the subject. Really good illustrated books are great for her memory. The pictures have all been formed for her. I have found that she remembers more when we talked about each picture as we read the information.
- We watch videos about the subject. This seems to work the best for her. Often the videos have songs and cartoon illustrations, which is perfect to help her brain remember information.
- Narration was something I read about when we dabbled in the Charlotte Mason homeschooling method. Basically, I read a page and she tells me about it. Slowly, I increase the number of pages she has to narrate back to me. My older kids use narration for their learning as well, but they use notebooking pages and write out their narration.
For my son with Dysgraphia, we do things a little differently. M has a block between the two halves of his brain. I always tell him that he has a brick wall in his brain preventing him from getting the information to the long-term memory side. We need to take down that wall one brick at a time, but his brain is going to need some help doing that.
To help M take down that wall, we use Dianne Craft materials. He does the figure eight exercise to help with his writing and if he does it first thing in the morning it helps him with his other subjects as well. He is able to focus and remember information a little easier.
Midline exercises are another great way to get both sides of the brain working together. Crossing the midline exercises activate the brain to be more receptive to learning. These movements cause the brain to communicate across the corpus callosum. This thick cable of nerves allows the two brain hemispheres to communicate. This is vital for higher level skills like reading and writing. The more often children move in different ways the more pathways are formed in the brain.
Crawling is the first midline movement that children learn to do. Most children will naturally learn to cross their midline as they grow. Both of my kids, that have difficulties in this area, didn’t crawl, so we have had to really concentrate on helping them learn to cross the midline. If I had realized this when they were babies I would have tried to do more to encourage them to crawl, but it was never mentioned to me.
Check out my Pinterest board for many examples of midline exercises for kids.
We noticed a big difference, in our daughter, after only a week or two of doing the figure 8 exercise and doing a crossing the midline exercise video on YouTube. She was able to sit longer and needed less brain breaks. (You can read about what kind of brain breaks we use here.) She took less time to finish her school work and she was remembering facts faster and with less review. Even she noticed that learning was getting easier for her.
It’s heart-breaking to watch your kids struggle with learning, when they try so hard. What kinds of things do you do to make learning easier your struggling learners?