Wired for learning

wired for learning

Brain exercises? Rewiring? Auditory training?Musical therapy? What are we talking about? Here’s how certain exercises can help rewire the brain to overcome weaknesses and help your child with their learning.

did you know?
Research suggests that working memory is one of the most important skills for successful academic learning at school, and in fact is the one quality Savants have in common.

when the results don’t make sense

It’s that time of the year again – school reports. Even if your children are good at schoolwork, you probably await the results with a mixture of hope and dread. It can be truly disheartening when your child’s not achieving to their potential, especially if there aren’t any obvious reasons for the discrepancy between the child’s intelligence and their report card.

The answer may be that your child has a learning deficit that can be overcome with brain exercises. Just as an athlete can learn to throw the javelin with their non-dominant hand, so can a child coach their brain to learn in a way that doesn’t come naturally to them.


A few years ago, the idea of shaping your brain would sound like science fiction. Fortunately for our children, we now have scientific evidence that the brain can be rewired. The official term for rewiring the brain is neuroplasticity – it means that experience and repetition help create new neural pathways in the brain to form long-lasting changes.

Every time you reactivate a neural circuit in the brain by repeating something you’ve learnt, connections become more durable. Whenever you do specific tasks over and over again, they begin to take up less of your brainpower.

the arrowsmith school

Barbara Arrowsmith-Young was a brilliant girl with severe learning disabilities. She read and wrote everything backwards, struggled to process concepts in language, and she couldn’t even make sense of an analogue clock. Through sheer persistence, she acquired a university education and, in the process, discovered the key to reshaping the brain for learning. This helped her invent cognitive exercises to fix her own brain, and to set up the first Arrowsmith School where she worked with both children and adults.

The traditional way to handle learning disabilities is to teach the child ways of coping with and working around the problem. Arrowsmith-Young proposed instead to exercise and strengthen those areas of the brain that appear weak or underdeveloped. This is wonderful news for the parents of children with learning problems.

This programme is fairly intensive and will require students to attend the school for 1–4 years before they can reintegrate into a regular classroom setting and succeed. Recently opened in New Zealand, the Arrowsmith School is a great option for kids who are really struggling.

the fast-for-word techniques

Fast For Word is widely used in schools and clinics in the US, Canada, Australia, the UK, and is now available in NZ. It helps students aged 4–14 who have language learning difficulties. A collection of computer-based language intervention programmes, it targets children’s reading and oral language skills through themed games and interactive activities, developing the cognitive skills that enhance learning.

The students start with foundation-building cognitive exercises. In each session, the child has to make a number of increasingly complex decisions. This helps rewire the brain to bolster processing, improve focus and enhance memory skills. The child then moves through an individualised series of reading exercises (such as symbol imagery, visualising sounds, integrating images with language, etc) that form the building blocks of reading and comprehension skills.

Children need to spend 30-60 minutes a day, for a minimum of three days a week, for 3-12 months on the Fast For Word exercises in order to see improvement.

the brain gym techniques

This works on the premise that the more your child understands their sense of physical balance, the better wired their brain will become. Brain gym focuses on many exercises, such as breathing and crossovers, to establish the child in space and help them with their vestibular development. On a day-to-day level, get your kids rolling, crawling around, climbing trees, doing gymnastics and playing sport.

the best brain possible

People used to let the brain they were born with shape them and their lives. With neuroplasticity, we can learn to shape the brain so that we can lead the life we want. Barbara Arrowsmith-Young would like to see cognitive programmes be a part of every child’s educational programme. Perhaps this would save a lot of disappointment and struggle for those who just haven’t yet formed the right pathways for important tasks like reading and maths.

where to go:

audio processing
Auckland: www.soundskills.co.nz    www.clinics.auckland.ac.nz
Wellington: Richard Bishop ph 04 499 6147
Christchurch: Bay Audiology ph 03 374 6593
visual processing
Howes and Brown ph 09 528 4198

symbol relations learning problems

“Do you want to go to the shop before or after lunch?” If your child has a symbol relations learning problem, this question is going to stump them. Because of this neurological defect, your child is unable to distinguish concepts such as above/below, they cannot understand that 3*5 is the same as 5*3, or figurative language like “I’m crazy about chocolate”.

When writing an essay, such children have trouble staying on topic, and you’ll notice that their sentences will be logically disjointed from one another.

auditory disorders

Children with Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) often find it difficult to process spoken instructions and block out background noise. Assistive listening devices (classroom FM systems) can help your child listen and understand better by enhancing clarity and, therefore, the child’s attention. Other types of auditory training is used to balance out the ears so that they listen at the same speed and amplification, and help with speech discrimination (sounds, tone and gaps in speech). Alternatively, Johansen IAS is a form of musical therapy designed to rewire the brain for better audio processing.

learning to read

Reading is a complex process that needs many specific activities to take place simultaneously in the brain. Four key cognitive skill sets improve the reading ability:

1  Memory – important for word recognition, comprehension of complex sentences, and remembering instructions.

2  Attention – the ability to ignore distractions and concentrate on the task at hand.

3  Processing rate – the rate at which we absorb information. In reading, it’s the rate at which we distinguish speech sounds to create meaning.

4  Sequencing – placing information in the correct order, for example, the order of letters within words or words within sentences.

Yvonne Eve Walus is an education specialist, a senior consultant to Creative Learning Systems in Auckland, and a mother of two primary school children.

Scroll to Top