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Why my child struggle to achieve academic success and how to help?

There are many reasons why parents choose to home-school their children, either themselves or through home tutoring centres. Changing from a negative school environment, getting a higher quality education or wider subject choices, and having greater curriculum flexibility to work around other activities are just a few.

For at least some parents, their child's learning difficulties or disability prompted the decision – the knowledge that the restrictions and limitations of mainstream education do not allow their child(ren) to flourish and cause anxiety. Often, most of the learning needs to take place in the afternoon anyway, basically repeating the school day to counter failings in the classroom, placing massive pressure on the whole family.

Then there are all the 'extras' that prevent children from enjoying extracurricular activities and having time to socialise. Everything becomes about 'coping' with school demands. Home-schooling removes the pressure and allows children to develop at their own pace!
However much the home-schooling option helps to keep the curriculum more manageable, struggles often remain.

The question that often surfaces is 'Why?!' Why does my child continue to struggle?

To find the answer, it is necessary to go back to the beginning and consider the development and skills needed for learning readiness. To explain, let me refer to a sports analogy.

It is commonly accepted and understood that good balance, hand-eye coordination, quick reflexes, etc., are necessary for excellence in sports. Similarly, in learning, it is widely acknowledged that learners who struggle with speech, language development, fine motor skills, sensory integration, etc., will struggle to learn. Occupational Therapy and Speech and Language Therapy are important sources of support and development in these areas.

However, good sporting skills do not automatically make a person good at a particular sport. I always use the example of golf.

A person wanting to learn how to play golf needs to perfect each skill before they will have a successful swing.

When learning these skills, it is essential to:

- Learn the steps in the correct order: no sense in practising your swing if you still need to learn how to hold the club or place the ball!

- Secure each step before moving on to the next step. This is achieved through practice, practice, practice! If a person moves on too quickly from one step to the next, they will struggle to automate the swing… they will always need to remind themselves of each step, which could lead to an unnatural swing. Each step should be secure before moving on, and only small increments should be made in difficulty/complexity level.

- Keep reinforcing acquired skills: To fully embed and effect skills, it is important to keep revisiting them once secured. Think of any professional golf player: every one of them still goes back to the basics!

- Apply the skills: being good at the basics is essential, but applying these to play is important! Once the swing has been mastered, the foundation for golf is set! The player is now ready to learn the game's rules and how to make adaptations for different clubs (distances), holes and terrains. The stronger the foundation, the better the player!

In academic learning, it is no different.

A few critical cognitive (brain) skills need to be well-developed for your child to read, do maths, and learn effectively.

These skills build on each other and create a foundation for learning. Together, they form the next level of learning preparation once fine and gross motor skills, posture, and receptive/expressive language have been developed.

* Concentration: At a basic level, a learner should be able to give focused attention to a stimulus (e.g. visual or auditory information) and sustain this focus for an extended period. Once these skills are secure, a learner should be able to shift attention to a different task and return to the original task or to give attention simultaneously to various aspects (divided attention).

* Perception: Once learners can focus on a visual or auditory stimulus, they need to make sense of what is seen or heard. Some essential perceptual skills include recognition and discrimination in size, form, directionality (left/right, bdpq, etc.), distance, order (sequence), and foreground background.

* Memory: What is the point of giving attention, correctly perceiving and understanding what you see and hear but not remembering it long enough to use the information in the short term or translate it into long-term memory for future use?

* Logical Thinking: The ability to manipulate information and apply reasoning skills to solve problems underpins all learning, from comprehension tasks to mathematical calculations and word problems.

* Working Memory: Known as the brain's engine, working memory (WM) is an essential predictor for academic learning and achievement. Working memory allows us to work with information without losing track of our actions. It holds new information in place so the brain can work with it briefly and connect it with other information. It establishes a "bridge" between the information collected using our senses and stored in sensory memory and long-term memory, where information can be retrieved later. Strengthening memory, perception, and logical thinking skills thus translate into good working memory and academic success.

The establishment of neuroplasticity in the late 1990s opened the way to understanding that the brain's structure is not fixed! New pathways can be established, and existing pathways can be strengthened by participating in brain or skill development activities. In an interesting study in 2017, 30 illiterate Indian women were taught to read. Brain scans before and after the intervention demonstrated that their brains changed and developed as they learned to read.

What does this mean for your child? It means that through directed activities, poor cognitive skills can be developed and strengthened, enabling your child to turn around their learning challenges.

Edublox bridges the gap between learning needs and academic success. Just like a player needs to continue developing their swing whilst learning to play the game effectively, learners need to build a solid cognitive foundation while setting the foundation skills for the different curriculum areas. The skills work together and build on each other to establish a strong foundation for learning. Edublox understands this and provides the tools and assistance for your child to develop their skills through integrative cognitive, literacy and numeracy skills development.

If you want to learn how Edublox could help your child, visit our website www.edublox.co.za, for more information. A free evaluation of your child's cognitive skills is available here.

You may also be interested in the articles below:
Edublox explained in a nutshell
My child needs help – getting started
The Rise of the Cognitive Development Wave

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