Supporting your child's learning difficulty at home

There are many ways that you can support your child and help them grow and improve at home.

Responsibility for your child’s learning is shared between you and their school. You both play an important role in helping your child to understand the nature of their learning difficulty and in supporting them to grow and improve.

You can help to build your child’s confidence and motivation, as well as helping them to think about their learning difficulty in a positive way.

Your role

It's important to remember that you do not need to take on the role of your child’s teacher. You'll help your child most by being a supportive parent or guardian, do not make the living room into a classroom.

Things you can do include:

  • let your child know that you are interested in what they are learning about at school and that you understand their difficulties
  • support them while they complete homework and other tasks. It's important that this is a positive experience
  • encourage them to read or write at home for fun
  • access online tools and resources for learning difficulties.

There may be things you can do to help your child meet the goals in their individual education plan. Talk to their teacher about what you can do to support this or activities to help develop literacy and numeracy at home.

Learning at home

Time at home can be an opportunity to help your child practise what they have learned at school.

Things to keep in mind when your child is learning at home

  • Your child has different strengths and abilities that they bring to their learning. They may require greater support with some tasks than others.
  • Before starting any work with your child, explain clearly what they need to learn or do. For example, they may need to read a text and answer questions about what happened, write, do a maths task or work out how to read difficult words.
  • See what your child already knows or remembers about the task or the topic. This is the point at which you'll start supporting their learning.
  • Plan how you will guide your child toward completing the task. Think of questions you can ask that will help put them on the right track. Break the task down into small steps.
  • Plan how you will do each step together.
  • Show them what to do. It's often easier for children to understand something when they have an example or can see a task being done first. Showing them what to do, rather than just telling them what to do, is a better way of supporting their learning.
  • Make sure that you take breaks.
  • Think about how many tasks your child can do before needing a change or break.
  • Breaking down larger tasks into small steps, and ticking them off one at a time, will help make learning more manageable and enjoyable for your child.
  • Use a timer on a phone or tablet or the oven timer to schedule the amount of time to spend on specific tasks.
  • If you can see your child getting tired or anxious, consider taking a short break or giving them a choice about whether to keep going or come back to things later.
  • Always give your child positive feedback when they complete a task or are on the right track. Your child will build on these positive experiences and feelings and be more motivated to learn in future.

Help your child to take more responsibility for their learning

Over time, as children move through school, they'll be expected to take on more responsibility for their own learning.

Develop planning skills

You can help your child develop their planning skills. For example, when they are starting a task encourage them to break it down into small steps and think ahead about what they need to do and how they will do it.

Teach them to check their work. As your child works through tasks, get them into the habit of checking their progress, learning to spot mistakes, correcting and changing what they are doing if needed.

Encourage them to review and summarise what they have learned. After completing a task or homework, encourage your child to spend some time thinking about what they have learned.

One way of doing this could be to have them write a short list of things they know or can do that they could not do before. This will help them to better remember what they have learnt.

Connect your child’s learning to everyday situations

There are many situations at home and outside of school where children can apply what they have learnt. It can be helpful to make these connections so that your child can see the usefulness of what they are learning at school.

Look for ‘teaching moments’ in the everyday

Children are learning all the time. You can make the most of this by encouraging your child to experiment with what they know, make predictions or guesses about things, and help them to enjoy learning new facts and information in their everyday life.

Examples of real-life learning include:

  • handling and reading items with written labels or seeing signs in their environment.
  • shopping and cooking in the kitchen. This is a great way to teach numeracy skills, such as adding, subtracting, dividing, multiplying, fractions (for example, half a cup of sugar), budgeting and more.
  • playing sport, video games or watching TV. Encourage your child to read the words and sentences that appear and use what they read to make decisions or predictions. You can also have your child read or write down rules of different sports and games.
  • measuring or weighing things. You might ask them to measure out dishwashing liquid or help you cut some timber into equal lengths.
  • telling time, reading temperatures or fuel gauges in a car. Encourage your child to read the numbers, explain what they mean, count up or count down, or change the numbers in other ways (for example, doubling, halving).
  • talk to your child about the different ways of looking at or thinking about these things. For example, you might ask them:
    • 'What might happen if I put in 500 ml of dishwashing liquid instead of 50 ml?'
    • 'Why do you think this road is called Elizabeth Street?'
    • 'What are some other words you can think of that could be used instead of "enclosure" in the name "koala enclosure"?'

Encourage your child to read or write at home

Encourage your child to read books that interest them. Not only will this mean that your child sees reading as a fun and enjoyable experience, but you will also have more success getting them to read more regularly.

To achieve this:

  • have books easily accessible in your living areas at home
  • join the local library and take your child there after school
  • give your child a bookshelf in their bedroom
  • let your child see you reading often and talk with them about what you are reading. It's important that these are books or novels (not magazines or newspapers) and that you are reading for pleasure, not work (Sullivan & Brown 2015)
  • let your child see you using maths when dealing with everyday problems and issues
  • set regular reading times in the home, for example, before your child goes to sleep, and read books with them
  • encourage your child to write for fun and for everyday reasons. For example, your child could write poems or stories or letters to their relatives and friends. Ask them to help you write on birthday cards and write messages to themselves
  • encourage your child to talk about what parts of books or stories they enjoyed and why they enjoyed them. Help them find a friend or peer at school who shares these interests.

Support your child emotionally

Without support, children with learning difficulties can find school a frustrating experience. They may have low self-esteem or believe that they are unable to learn or succeed as a learner. This frustration can show itself in different ways. They may become upset easily or be anxious, they may seem bored or experience feelings of anger and sadness.

You may hear your child say the following or similar:

  • 'I can’t do this.'
  • 'I’m not smart enough.'
  • 'I’m dumb.'
  • 'What’s the point [of trying]?'
  • 'I keep trying but I just don’t get it.'
  • 'I’m bad at ________.'
  • 'I hate school / English / Maths / my teacher.'

You can help your child to replace this kind of thinking with more positive and constructive self-talk. This will build their self-confidence as a learner. It'll help them see that they can be successful and be more motivated to read, write or do maths and try again.

Try getting your child to say the following or similar:

  • 'I don’t know how to do this … yet.'
  • 'That was hard, but I got through it and I have learned something by doing it.'
  • 'I know I'm making progress.'
  • 'Things only seem big and scary until you break them down into small steps and tick them off one at a time.'
  • 'This looks hard, but I know there are things I can do to start. When I can’t do anymore then I’ll ask for help.'

Things to keep in mind while working with your child

  • Help them see they are making progress and that they know more than they did before. Ask them to explain to you what they know now and point out that they didn’t know that the day before.
  • Avoid making value judgements about your child’s efforts. Instead of saying, 'You need to try harder' or 'I wasn’t any good at this either when I was at school', remind them that you’re proud of how hard they are working, and that learning is hard sometimes.
  • Help them to set goals for themselves. For example, learning new skills, more words and topics for reading, or specific skills or knowledge in maths. Try to avoid goals that compare them with others. For example, 'I want to read like my sister' or 'I want to be as good at maths as Tim.'

Help your child understand their learning difficulty

Children with learning difficulties are often self-aware of the fact they are having trouble at school or that they are not learning at the same rate as their peers.

Helping your child to understand their learning difficulty is important. You need to decide what kind of conversation you have with your child and when the right time is. It may be helpful to speak with your child’s teacher or get advice about how to approach this talk.

Improving your own understanding of learning difficulties will also help you to answer questions that your child may have.

When having this conversation:

  • highlight their strengths and what they already know and can do
  • explain that different people learn in different ways and that you and their teacher will help them figure out how they learn best
  • if your child has a specific learning disability, such as dyslexia or dyscalculia, tell them that there's a name for how they learn. Naming is an important part of understanding and accepting that they have a learning disability and taking ownership of that
  • tell them they are not alone and that many people learn like they do. Many of these people have done great things and been happy and successful
  • decide when and how to explain to your child what their specific learning disability means
  • younger children may be satisfied being told that different people learn in different ways. Older children may benefit more from a detailed description and being given strategies and next steps.

Hire a tutor

Some families may choose to hire a tutor to support their child’s learning at home.

Before making the decision to engage a tutor, it's important to check that they have the necessary qualifications and skills to support your child. When you are organising a tutor, you should ask them if they have experience teaching or working with children with learning difficulties.

Your school may have recommendations for tutors that can work with your child.

Things to look for in a tutor include that they:

  • hold a current Working with Children (Employee) registration
  • are, or have been, a registered teacher
  • have any additional qualifications supporting children with learning difficulties
  • are registered as a specialist tutor by a professional organisation that supports families of children with learning disabilities
  • are a specialist in the relevant area (such as literacy or numeracy)
  • have insurance for public liability and professional indemnity.

Visit Learning Difficulties Australia(opens in a new window) or SPELD Victoria(opens in a new window) for a list of registered certified tutors.