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Learning Tricks

By Judy Loseff Lavin, M.S.W.
Author of Special Kids Need Special Parents

Learning is always a challenge and for some, it’s more challenging than others.

There are, however, some easy steps you can take to help your son or daughter organize, comprehend and remember.

Before you can do anything you’ve got to get organized. And, organization, in our multi-faceted world isn’t always easy. Make sure that your child always brings home from school the book that accompanies the homework assignments that were given. If no text is available, have alternative learning materials at home, including a dictionary and globe. Those tools can help your child understand and visualize what he’s doing.

Having all learning materials in one place is also crucial to prevent kids from thinking in a scattered manner. If a child is forgetful, leave verbal to-do messages in his or her cell-phone or answering machine to help him organize. Use post-its to paste up thoughts or ideas or to-dos. One of the things I’ve started using is a dry-erase board and it’s terrific. I have one for my children and myself. It’s a good place to keep appointments and write forget-me-nots. The kids like it too, because it’s fun to use.

For those with reading disabilities, Ercelle Feldman, a learning specialist from Rancho Mirage, California and Highland Park, Il. advises that for younger children reading textbooks it’s important to have them look at the boldface writing in the text as well as read the captions under the pictures. “Answers to text questions are usually in the boldface and in the pictures,” she said.

What’s more, she adds, children should use the glossaries in the back of their texts. “Any word that’s important will be in that glossary.” Feldman also advises scanning the table of contents to get an idea of what topics are covered in the book. It’s another way of breaking the material into easier learning bits.

If your child has a lot of trouble reading, get the books on tape and read along with him. This will increase his understanding while making it much easier for him to decode words. Cliff notes and other such summaries that are available in bookstores are helpful tools, too.

Another simple reading trick that experts advise, is to make sure your read material slanted on an angle instead of flat on a table or in your lap. Experts say that the angle minimizes fatigue, helping you stay alert.

For children with comprehension issues, using different colored markers to highlight the text is also good. “Red can be for the characters, blue the setting and yellow the plot,” says Jill Kirschner, PhD, specialist in neuro-cognitive disorders and learning disabilities in the Chicago-area. “Using different colors makes the it visually easier to go back and review the information—it stands out.” Along with that, your child should be sure to annotate or take notes in the margins of the book to help him understand and remember.

For memory issues, using mnemonics or memory devices can be helpful. For example, if you need to memorize, associate it with something else. Jackie Smith (not her real name) recalled how her 14-year-old daughter, Allison strung “memorables” together in a popular tune to help herself study for a test. “It was the first time I had seen that,” she said. “And it worked wonders for Allison.”

“Children with good visual imagery might want to attach their “memorables” to a picture or visual image. For example, Kirschner said, “If you are learning the months of the year in a foreign language, put a calendar in front of you so that you are looking at the months as you memorize. For people who have better visual memories, it’s a good way to learn.”

Math facts and calculations have a slightly different learning twist.

Should your child need to learn his multiplication or division tables, try this:

Think of a group of numbers and its factors and multiples as a family. So…to divide and multiple the number 12, 12 would be the “parent” and 3 and 4 as its children. If 12 leaves 3 home, who’s left? 4 (and visa versa). For multiplication, when 3 and 4 want to go somewhere, they need 12 to come with them. For many, using a family unit enables recall.

Another way to do numbers is to use triangles. Take the largest number and place it on the top of the triangle. So for the previous grouping, the number 12 would remain on top with 3 and 4 on the bottom. Cover twelve and ask what 3 times 4 equals. Uncovering the 12 gives the answer. For division, cover one of the bottom numbers and ask what, “Twelve divided by 3 (or 4) is.” The covered number is obviously, the answer.

Although a learning specialist can give you many more ways to break down material to facilitate learning, these rudimentary techniques can provide a simple start.

For more information visit

Judith Lavin, M.S.W., author of Special Kids Need Special Parents, and a former journalist with the Chicago Sun-Times, recognized the need for an easy-to-read resource for physically and emotionally exhausted parents like herself, as well as their families, teachers, doctors and others who work with them. Lavin speaks to numerous organizations and parent groups around the nation, giving them inspiration and hope.

Lavin’s work has been featured in numerous publications such as the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, Newsday, Washington Parent and Chicago Parent. In addition, she has appeared  on radio and TV news and talk shows around the U.S., including NBC-TV's Today show, PBS-TV's Small Talk for Parents and the CBS Radio Networks. You can visit Judy at