Can your unique learner improve his or her learning skills?

Yes! In fact, it is easier, and more fun, than you think. You can improve your child’s learning readiness in ways that feel like play.

Let’s start with a better understanding of learning readiness. It isn’t about how fast they can finish a timed math quiz, nor how neatly they print. Learning readiness occurs after foundational developmental abilities are in place.

Students who are ready to learn know how to take in and make sense of the information around them. They know how to recognize patterns. They can consider different explanations before selecting the most likely. This type of problem solving must occur when performing arithmetic, reading, and writing. However, these skills develop outside the classroom first.

You can’t accomplish this with more math worksheets or printing practice. How can you help your unique learner improve their learning readiness? The answer may surprise you.

Learning readiness only occurs when the developmental building blocks fall into place. If your unique learner has some developmental gaps, don’t despair. These gaps can be filled in with activities that feel like play.

Here are three ways to use play to improve your unique learner’s learning readiness.

Try One More Time

The first area to focus on is improving your child’s ability to practice “try one more time” strategies.

Start by stretching your child’s attention span by having them “hang in there” a little longer. Play with that toy a little longer, work on solving that difficult puzzle just a moment longer, read a little longer, and encourage them to “stick with” that chore you assigned them, just a little longer.

Make this goal of yours, designed to help your child, a secret. Without talking about it, start role modeling this behavior yourself and when you’re playing together.

If you’re playing a game with toy cars, stretch out the game a little longer by adding a new and creative dimension. Perhaps enjoy having the cars drive to a pretend parking lot at the pretend zoo.

If your child is reading a story, have him or her look at the pictures just a little longer. Ask your child to describe all the things that are red in the picture or all the things that make a sound.

Invent a new way of playing with the backyard bowling set and teach your child to stretch their imagination.

Teaching your child to stretch their imagination to “play longer” will help improve attention span for academic activities.

Look for opportunities for your child to “think a little more” or “try one more time”. Encourage and support their effort. Help your child to enjoy feeling their mind successfully wrap around a problem.

Teaching your child to “hang in there”, problem solve and execute one more attempt can all help keep the mind engaged in a productive manner. That may be trying one more time to find the lost sock or problem-solve how to get that bicycle wheel back onto the bike frame. It could be figuring out the best solution to the riddle of the day or finishing their chore independently.

We want children to enjoy using their minds and develop “try one more time… ” strategies. They will need them at school as well as for the rest of their lives.

Improve Spatial Awareness

Being ready to read, write, and perform arithmetic requires good spatial awareness. If spatial awareness isn’t innate and automatic for the child, academics will be challenging.

This means that children must understand three dimensional space. They have to be able to navigate their physical body in, over, under, through, around, and to explore all physical spatial relationships.

Navigating space seems simple to us because with just a quick glance, we can easily see how to navigate to the restroom in a busy and unfamiliar restaurant. The visual sense of space develops after experiencing it physically. We may not remember learning this skill, but learn it we surely did.

Our children need to learn this skill too. They must learn the words to describe physical space and be able to separate themselves from that space.

The ability to separate themselves then allows them to learn to observe the objects, people, places, and things that are in the space around them. This in turn develops into the ability to visually judge space without having to physically move around the room.

Developing spatial awareness can be accomplished very well through games. Here are some examples of games that children love to play that also develop spatial awareness:

• Simon Says

• Hide and Seek

• Red Light, Green Light

• Chutes and Ladders (board game)

• Obstacle courses

• Treasure hunts

Your child will never know that you are really working on developing their learning readiness.

The unique learner who has difficulty sequencing, reasoning, and independently problem solving literally needs physical movement (often more beneficial than added homework) in order to facilitate effective thinking.

Balance and Movement

The ability to physically experience the world around us relies on the sensory system that perceives movement in relationship to the space around us. This sensory system is the vestibular system. The vestibular system provides our brain with a strong urge to maintain balance.

Our need for balance notifies the muscle and joint system. This system has its own set of receptors, called proprioceptors. The proprioceptive system allows the body to smoothly respond to different shifts in the center of gravity.

Most physical activities require the integration of the vestibular system with the proprioceptive system.

When these systems work together properly, a student is ready to learn.

In many unique learners, these systems aren’t working properly. This is a big reason for their academic struggle. It affects the ability to sit in a learning ready position. It impacts the student’s ability to look and listen. It distracts their focus at a subconscious level as their brain pays attention to information from the vestibular system that indicates the student might fall off the chair. These are just three out of hundreds of ways these systems affect learning readiness.

Movement, exercise, sports, martial arts, yoga, dancing, and juggling all offer excellent opportunities for the movement and balance systems to stimulate and help facilitate brain functioning.

You can support your unique learner’s growth by embedding movement as a part of the fuel necessary to grow the brain. A more typical student may seem to respond well to practice, practice, practice. A unique learner seems to respond better to practice, movement, practice, movement.

The more you “strategically” playing with your unique learner, the more improvement you will see in their learning readiness.

There are a variety of fun games that you can play with your child to help develop their vestibular and proprioceptive systems. Go to to learn more about these two important sensory systems. Would you like additional exercises that improve the vestibular and proprioceptive systems? Get the exercises at


Suzanne Cresswell
Occupational Therapist and Author of Unique Learner Solutions

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