BY EMILY MARTON, B.S.
State funding of school districts has continued to weaken nationwide since 2008. In fact, at least 31 states provided less state funding per student in the 2014 school year (end) than in the 2008 school year before the recession took hold (CBPP, 2016). These budget cuts cripple the ability for schools to maximize student learning potential and creative development, usually beginning with the elimination of arts and enrichment programs. Ironically, these are the programs that have proven to stimulate the greatest brain activity and function for children. For students with learning differences, these programs play an even more critical role in academic development and success.
For years now, research has shown that music improves brain development and even enhances skills in core academic areas such as reading and math. Music and other enrichment classes such as art, physical education, computers, crafts, home economics and science labs, engage different parts of the brain. Exposure to the arts and enrichment classes with an emphasis on a hands-on approach emphasize more critical thinking and creativity.
A multi-sensory approach to learning is essential to children with specific learning disabilities and deficits. Whereas standard teaching methods involve a more text-heavy approach, multi-sensory teaching caters to many senses. Rather than just reading and taking notes, students engage in making physical diagrams, building projects, manipulating objects and other handson learning methods, which engage the whole brain and allow for kinesthetic and experiential learning.
Students with learning differences need multi-sensory learning in order to be successful in school. The benefits of this type of learning are immense and can even eventually help them become familiar with how they learn best. Enrichment courses provide multi-sensory learning, allowing students to experience the following:
• The ability to exercise creativity, which many students with learning differences have as a strength
• Greater sense of self confidence, further improved by guaranteed successful experiences in the classroom
• Improvement of gross and fine motor skills and increased spatial awareness
• Mental breaks
• The ability to exercise new ways of critical thinking and the encouragement to think outside the box
• Different environments to collaborate with peers – students learn how to collaborate and express ideas in more social group settings with freedom for expression and creativity.
Social-skills learning is one of the most vital areas of development that all children could benefit from. In a public school setting, students would have to enroll, usually through a speech clinic, in private sessions called “social-skills groups”. Teaching empathy, kindness and emotional management is essential to the growth and social development of all children, but for those with learning differences and processing deficits in particular, it can be an especially challenging aspect of social development. Parents who feel their child may struggle socially, learn differently or have a specific learning disorder, should consider schools that offer a variety of enrichment programs.
While some students may have great social struggles and find life-changing strategies through social skills classes, another student may have a hard time communicating verbally, writing, or reading, and may thrive in an art class, which provides a creative outlet to help them express emotions or thoughts.
Providing multiple ways for students with learning differences to experience success—while discovering and utilizing their talents and passions— will result in higher interest, excitement and confidence throughout their learning experience. That, in turn, will yield a more successful future. The overall benefit is in creating a holistic sense of confidence and accomplishment.•
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Emily Marton received her Bachelors Degree in Art Education from Temple University in Philadelphia and has experience in private and public art classrooms of all grades. Since February 2015, she has served as Enrichment Department Chair at The Prentice School, located in N.Tustin, California. Celebrating its 30-year Anniversary, The Prentice School is a private, nonprofit academic, Certified Nonpublic School through the California Department of Education, and is fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. The Prentice Approach is designed to engage students on three learning pathways, including auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. Using evidence-based curriculum and instructional methodologies, a structured literacy approach, multi-sensory instructional strategies, and ongoing progress monitoring.