A huge piece of helping our children overcome their learning disabilities or struggles is to target their weaknesses with cognitive activities. This is different than academic activities. For example, if the child is having trouble in math because of the inability to see the relationships of numbers, then cognitive activities that focus on noticing relationships of pictures, for example, may be given. The ability to compute is an end result of being able to see relationships.
Some of the more common cognitive difficulties that we see in the classroom are:
Neuroplasticity is the understanding that the brain can always change, until the day we die. Our brain has the capability to build and change its neuropathways if given the proper environment. Researchers, when designing programs to improve the brain, look at intensity, duration, and frequency. Generally, programs to help change the brain are 5 days a week for about 20-60 minutes in length. The training will increase in intensity as the the tasks become easier for the child. This gradual increase in difficulty is an important element when working with your child using cognitive activities or games. As soon as the activity appears to be easy, you need to up the ante, always providing that cognitive challenge.
Everyday household games that can be used to build cognitive strength: Right brain activities: visual, spatial, whole-brain, long-term memory, creative Left brain activities: language, logic, computational, patterns, details
Blink (visual processing), Scattergories, Spot it (visual figure-ground), checkers (logic/strategy), Master Mind (logic), Battleship (strategy), Soduku (pattern), Crossword (language), Word Search (visual figure-ground), Yo, Mr. Filmore book on a quick way to memorize the presidents (visual, long-term memory)
Some simple activities are thinking of lists (like all the words that starts with ___, or as many animals that live in the jungle); visual scanning for an item or differences between two pictures (there are several good websites for spot the difference games); and visual and auditory memory games. There is also an activity that is called the Stroop Effect which you list, for example, color words, but those words are written in a different color than what it says. Have the child focus first on reading all the words, then go back and say the color in which it was written. You can have the child also alternate between word and color. You can use this stroop effect for arrows and their direction, animal words and animal pictures, etc.
Using a metronome in class is very powerful and can help children gain an internal sense of timing. Set the metronome between 54 and 60 beats per minute while performing certain tasks and have them perform to the beat. This could be clapping or other physical movements, reading words, or solving math problems orally.
Carol brown does an amazing job at putting together a collection of cognitive activities that address a variety of skills. She uses simple, everyday items and games. She has a DVD to show you how to do the different activities. It is very parent and teacher friendly. You can find her workbook, DVD and other information on equippingminds.com
Below are a variety of different cognitive programs and resources that are available:
The Interactive Metronome (IM) is a research-based training program that helps children and adults overcome attention, memory, and coordination limitations. IM works for people of all ages who have a variety of conditions affecting their cognitive and physical abilities.
IM is an evidence-based, engaging therapeutic modality that improves cognitive and motor skills. The design of the program ensures that patients recognize progress as it is occurring, increasing their motivation toward therapy and their ultimate recovery. IM is used to improve attention, coordination, language processing, reading and math fluency, and control of impulsivity/aggression - among other things.
I use the Interactive Metronome with my own children and in my classroom with my struggling learners and have seen nice improvements. Every student is different and I do not use it as my only intervention. All my students I have using IM improve their rhythm and timing, but some take longer than others, especially if they have difficulty with auditory processing or sound sensitivities. Sometimes I have students that are struggling and then all of a sudden it seems to click for them and their score dramatically improves. Sound sensitivities seem to diminish as they learn to use the auditory stimulus.
Interactive Metronome is generally offered in a learning center or clinical setting. There is an IM-home unit available, which allows clients to work on the interactive metronome from home while being monitored by a provider. Go to their home page to find a provider near you. If there is no local provider, or there are other circumstances that would prevent you from being able to travel to an IM provider, you could purchase a home unit and be monitored and have consultations via the internet/skype. Please contact me if this is of interest to you.
This program is actually only available in schools that use her exercises and computer software. If you are interested, you can investigate to see if there is a local school that offers her program, or if you are part of a school, you can get trained to provide it in your setting.
There are many more specific learning disabilities (19 to be exact) described on Barbara Arrowsmith Young's website found here. More information on Barbara Arrowsmith Young, her book The Woman who Changed her Brain and how she developed her program, see her profile and articles here.
Her chart of Learning dysfunctions and Learning Outcomes can be downloaded here.
Sharpbrains.com is an online resource for research and information in brain science.
Eyecanlearn.com is a free online resource for strengthening visual skills, such as tracking, processing, perception.
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Perhaps not a perfect program, though I have not yet found one that is. I really like BrainBuilder™ because I appreciate the data it collects and how it tailors the lesson depending on what their current brain score is, as well as for its simplicity. The tasks are definitely cognitive challenging and some children can become resistant. Usually, I try to lower the intensity, but online programs, such as Lumosity, might be a better option since there are many more games from which to choose that target different areas of the brain. However, I find for my own children, BrainBuilder™ is easier because they know exactly what to expect and I do not have to explain how to play each game, and the session stops on its own. So even my 5 year old and son with autism who has limited receptive and expressive language are both independent while using it.
Lumosity is an online program that targets many different cognitive areas. The games are probably more interesting for children than the activities in BrainBuilder, but for me, there are too many different activities and I haven't personally learned to use it effectively for me or my family. The downside is that you need a different e-mail address for each user, and for a family of multiple users, they each might not have an e-mail address. It is possible that I was not registering correctly, but that was my experience.