Learning and Memory

What is Learning and Memory?

Learning and memory describes the ability to take in, process, store, and recall information. This may be information that we have heard (e.g., spoken instructions) or seen (e.g., being shown the location of items). Learning and remembering information relies on many different skills. First, we need to take in the new information. This relies on sensory processes (e.g., hearing, seeing, touching) and cognitive processes (e.g., paying attention, concentrating, processing information quickly, and storing information in an organised way). Once information is learned, we also need to be to get that knowledge from memory stores.

Learning can also be for movements or actions, like learning how to kick a footy. Learning new motor skills (‘procedural learning’) is thought to be developed through experience, with the process of learning controlled by different parts of the brain compared to when we learn new information about things we see or hear. This means that kids who have challenges learning new verbal information may not have any additional challenges in learning motor skills. Some kids with motor conditions (e.g., challenges controlling or planning body movements, knowing where their body is in space, and/or being able to monitor and change body movements) may find learning motor skills more challenging, meaning they may need more practice or the activity modified.

Who has challenges with learning and memory?

It is common for kids to differ in the way they learn information. Some kids are very good at learning verbal information, which means that may only need to be told something once for them to recall it. Other kids may be better at learning and recalling things they have seen.

There are many things that can impact learning and memory. Some children with disabilities or developmental disabilities find learning and memory challenging. Kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can find it challenging to pay attention and concentrate for a long time. This makes it hard for them to take in and process information, making learning more challenging.

Kids with intellectual disability often require information to be simplified and repeated to support their learning as much as possible.

Children with other developmental challenges like autism spectrum disorder may have strengths in their visual learning skills but challenges with their verbal learning. This means that using visual aids (e.g. pictures) and hands-on tasks are likely to make learning easier.

Kids with acquired brain injury (e.g. stroke, head injury) and cerebral palsy can have learning and memory challenges, depending on how the brain has been affected.

When a kid is anxious or worried, learning is also more challenging, as their thinking is focused on the things that is concerning them rather than the information they are meant to be learning.

What might be some challenges on the footy field?

Kids with learning and memory challenges may take longer to learn new information. If a child is having difficulties learning new information, it may look like they are not following instructions, when in fact they are unsure what has been asked of them.

Develop routines and use visual aids

  • Have a consistent routine: Provide predictability by having a consistent routine at each session.
  • Use a visual schedule: Use a visual schedule that kids can see at all times so they know what’s coming up and can easily transition from one activity to the next.
  • Use visual instructions: Some kids might need visual instructions to learn a skill. Consider using a flip chart to show the visual instructions when teaching.

Think about how you communicate and teach new skills

  • Reduce background noise when giving instructions: Minimize background noise while giving instructions so all kids can hear.
  • Present new information in different ways: Present new information to learn in multiple ways, such as by talking, showing pictures, showing videos, demonstrating, and modelling.
  • Repeat and simplify instructions: Some kids might need instructions to be made simpler and to be repeated multiple times. You may need to limit the amount of information given at once, so that only to 1-2 steps are explained at a time.
  • Slow things down: Slow down an activity the first few times it is played so kids have more time to learn.
  • Use extra repetitions when learning skills: Some kids might need extra practice for skills. Allow them to do more repetitions than other kids to learn the skill if needed.
  • Allow more time to learn skills: Some kids might not be able to kick, catch or run as well as other kids and may need more time than others to learn these skills.
  • Use footy stories: A social story might be needed to teach a new football skill or to help them play.

Think about how the activity is structured

  • Use small groups: Some kids might need to work in smaller groups so they feel safe. Small groups can make it easier for kids to concentrate, which will help their learning.
  • Start with just a few rules: Start with activities that have only a few rules to remember. Introduce further rules one at a time when kids have learned the flow of the activity.

Things to consider

To maximise a kid’s learning skills, it helps to think about what things may be contributing to the learning challenges. This might include considering whether the child can see and hear clearly, and/or whether they have cognitive challenges, language or communication challenges, attention challenges, or are anxious or worried.

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