How can Parents Help with Learning Challenges?

By Nancy Winans

Use these activities and strategies with your typical or struggling learner to provide skills for learning math and language arts!

See also: Ways to Demonstrate What You Have Learned

Reading and Spelling Support


Phonemic Awareness Help

*Rhyming songs and games

*Say 3-4 sounds that make a word (like c-a-p) and ask the child ‘What word could that be?”

*Use colored letter tiles; put them in order of the sounds they ‘make’ to create words

*Auditory Training Programs with an Audiologist (for CAPD or AIT)

*Phonemics based programs such as Phonografix, Barton, Wilson or Lindamood-Bell phonemic training programs, or Earobics or Fast Forward computer program

Phonics Lessons:

*Phono-grafix training book

*Explode the Code Workbook

*First School Years website worksheets:

Visual Processing:

Tracking, Focusing and Visual Behavior

*Do mazes

*Look at
3-D images and let your eyes go out of focus to see a 3-D image

*Try activities on Eye-Can-Learn Website: to check and work on visual skills (or as a pre-screening to see if your child is having difficulties)

*Use a special ‘focusing card’ with just a one-line cut-out to pull across a printed page

*Do Vision Therapy – with Dr. Cami Hunt or Dr. Popilsky

*Consider a consultation for light sensitivity or scotopia with Ruth Campbell

*Use the ‘captions for the hearing impaired’ setting while watching movies or TV so kids can read along or watch CNN with the crawl line going (some kids do better with ‘moving’ words)

Visual Perceptual

* Do puzzles, tangrams, or pattern block activities

* Find hidden images in I-SPY books

* Search for imbedded pictures in
Highlights magazines or other books

*Find ‘What’s different?’ between two similar images in Highlights or other puzzle books

* Tracing in sand, with paint, or shaving cream

*Use sandpaper or bumpy foam letters to make a ‘rubbing’ with crayons on paper

*Trace pictures or letters on your child’s hand or back and have them I.D. which one you are making; then move on to short words.

* Make ‘picture words’ in clay.  For example, for the word ‘also’ have them tell you a picture for it (could be a stick figure girl buying a cupcake and “also” a cookie.)  Next have them close their eyes and listen to you say the word and the letters, then they say the letters, then open their eyes and touch the clay letters and/or the printed letters.  Next, have them trace the letters in the air as they say the letters, then you have them look up to the left to a blank wall and imagine and ‘read’ the letters they see.  Ask what is the last letter?  What is the letter after or before the ‘l’, etc.  Add or delete steps as needed for mastery.

*Play the squiggle game where one person makes a squiggle (a curved line that doesn’t cross itself or gets connected) and the other person has to make it into a person, animal, place, or object and write the word (with help, if needed) and then the other person traces over the squiggle and word so there are two copies for reading flash cards and/or to play ‘memory’ card game. (click here or here for a type of squiggle game) Tracing strengthens the ability to visualize symbols in their head.

* Try the Waldorf walking ‘re-set’ method: give a 3-5 word phrase (like “My hands make fine things”) and have the child take one step forward for each word, then walk backwards 1 step for each word, saying them in backwards order (this re-sets the child from a 3-D mode to 2-D sequential mode.)

*Use the Davis Dyslexia Program (read “Gift of Dyslexia”) for ‘Getting On-Point’ which helps the child to perceive the image in their mind where it isn’t turned around or reversed.

*Use pattern blocks to work on visual memory and reversals.  With the child’s head turned away, make a pattern with 3-4 shapes, then have the child to take a look for a minute or so and then cover the design.  Next give the child blocks that are identical to the ones in your design and ask them to make the same design with their blocks.  Tell them they can ask for as many turns as needed to peek at yours but they can’t look at your design while they try to build it. Work up to more blocks as well as ‘flips’ and ‘rotations’ of designs.

*Do educational therapy program with educational therapist or other resource.


*Go to website for Spelling City to do word searches, vocabulary, missing letters, and listen
and spell activities

*Go to to make ‘boxes’ for their spelling words

* Use AVKO for a sequential spelling  program

Math Support

*Do pouring and scooping with sand, cornmeal, beans, water, etc.

*Do rhythmic games and songs

*Work on patterns, sorting, counting, and categorizing with “Math their Way’ materials

*Use programs like “Math-U-See’ or ‘Right Start Mathematics’ with manipulatives for visualizing concepts

*Do games and activities online which do not need writing and which help to visualize and understand concepts

*Use alternatives to writing (see ‘Dysgraphia’ article or go to online math websites where answers can be typed or ‘clicked on’)

*Play logic games or do logic workbooks

*Use a progression  of ‘make-it’ with manipulatives/ ‘picture it’ in your head /’draw it’ as a picture or a journal page / ‘write it’  in ‘mathish’ (mathematical notation for number operations, place value, algebra, etc.)

*Use templates (download from the internet) or create your own – for students to fill in, helping them to remember steps or procedures or to organize their thoughts.

* Use mnemonic devices, ‘tricks’, or methods for different learning styles (images, stories, patterns, 100-charts, skip-counting charts or songs, hand movements, manipulatives, or other methods to remember math facts or procedures)

*Use white boards and different colored high lighters to make certain terms or procedures easier to track

*Make sure your child has the concepts of number operations, place value, 10’s pattern, equations as balanced scales, and sequencing by using manipulatives and playing games

*Play all kinds of games that help with counting, number operations, money, logic, etc.

*Do ‘real life’ math activities like weighing, shopping, measuring, building, cooking, designing, or word problems, etc.

*Draw pictures for word problems to figure out what kind of problem it is and then translate it to math sentence

Writing Support – click on the links below

*First read Dysgraphia Accommodations for ideas on how to ease into writing

*Use note-taking strategies such as colored highlighters and sticky notes or tabs to mark a place in a book or article or use assistive technology such as a smart pen, word processor, i-Pad, or tape recorder to take notes.

*’View these AT devices for writing and organization: Writing and Organization and Memory

*Use graphic organizers (templates) for organizing thoughts before writing, such as:

Freeology Graphic Organizers

Read, Write, Think Mind Maps

Read, Write, Think Writing Organizers

i-Pad Mind Mapping tools such as i-Thoughts or Notability

*OR use software for organizing ideas for written work, such as Inspiration and Kidspiration

*OR instead of templates, organizers, or software (or along with them) use index cards (white or various colors) and put a word or phrase (or image) on front of each card, then write 1-3 short phrases or sentences about it on the back of the card. Next arrange cards in order as an outline on a work space.  In that order, write or type out the sentences or phrases  and then go back and expand on each one.  Finally, edit each sentence or paragraph, in 4 steps. 1) read each one aloud to make sure it makes sense (no missing or out of order words) then 2) touch each word to check for spelling (or use spell checker) and 3) Find the beginning of each sentence and make sure it is capitalized and then find the end of the sentence and make sure it has a period (or question mark, exclamation mark, etc.) Last, read the whole text aloud and make sure it flows together.