5 strategies to help children learn new skills

5 strategies to help children learn new skills

March 17, 2015 - 8:00 am

Did you know that poor processing skills may limit your child's ability to solve problems or learn new skills?

When you turn on a light switch and the light doesn't turn on, you don't say the light isn't trying or that you are not very good at turning on lights. You troubleshoot and check that the lamp is plugged in and the bulb isn't burnt out.

To troubleshoot or problem solve is using processing skills.

People often make the mistake of thinking a child isn't trying or just isn't good at something when missing processing skills are the culprit.


Here are some processing skills to consider for children.

  • Can your child regulate his or her energy appropriately to accomplish tasks? Does your child speed up when something needs to be finished in a hurry?

  • Does your child use up all his or her physical effort at the beginning of a task and then have nothing left for the end?

  • Can your child select and use the tools he or she needs for a specific task? For example, does he or she know that a spoon is better than a fork to eat applesauce?

  • Can your child pack his or her own lunch?

  • Can your child pack his or her backpack for school?

  • Can your child lay out his or her clothes for school the night before?

  • Can your child pack his or her bag for a sleepover at a friend's?

  • Can your child pack his or her bag for sporting events?

  • Can your child set the table for a meal?

  • Can your child seek help or additional instruction if he or she does not understand how to do something? Such as ask an adult? Ask a peer? Ask a sibling? Look it up in a book? Look it up on the Internet?

  • Can your child initiate, execute, and complete a task? Does he or she need help at each step to continue?

  • Can your child locate, gather and organize the materials he or she needs to complete a task? For example, does he or she know that he or she needs to get paint, paper and a paintbrush before he or she begins to paint?

  • Does your child accommodate unexpected challenges when working at a task? For example, does he or she try a new method if his or her first attempt fails? Does your child learn from his or her mistakes?

  • Does your child show he or she has learned a new activity or task when repeating it?

Here are five strategies to help your support your child when learning new skills or when processing skills are a problem.

  1. Add a visual reminder. Remember that visuals can be words or drawings or pictures. For example, put a picture of each food group on the fridge that your child needs to put in his or her lunch bag.

  2. Reflect by talking, reflect by writing, reflect by recording yourself speak, reflect by drawing, reflect by painting, reflect by creating a cartoon strip. Time and effort to reflect helps us pay attention to the process of any skill.

  3. Use a checklist. It can be written, an audio recording or a video recording.

  4. Teach the last step first. This is called backward chaining. We often automatically revert to teaching a long series of steps by starting at the beginning.

  5. Be curious with your child when something is new or hard to learn. Ask, instead of telling. Show instead of telling. Have your child show you too. Ask and listen. Then ask and listen again.

If you ever wonder if occupational therapy can help your child, I have written two FREE eBooks you can download, the first describes when occupational therapy can help pre-schoolers and the second when occupational therapy can help school-age children. -OT Christel Seeberger

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