As caregivers, it can be very challenging to ascertain exactly what goals your child needs to meet at any given age or grade. To help, we’ve compiled a list of the most common math developmental milestones for elementary, middle, and high school learners to serve as a reference as you work your way through each phase of your learner’s academic journey. It is important to note that everyone progresses at their own pace, so please keep this in mind as you review the grade and age-specific markers below.
The Mathematical Ladder
Learnfully utilizes the math ladder as a tool to guide our Educational Specialists and community as a whole towards foundational and application of math skills.
Counting & Number Sense: discovery and automaticity with and without manipulatives
Math Fact Fluency: exploration and mastery of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division
Concepts & Vocabulary: examples include, but are not limited to fractions, percentages, place value/base ten, decimals
Word/Story Problems: paragraph of language to process, thus, they involve and require the use of layers of executive functioning and literacy skills
Coordination of senses with motor responses, sensory curiosity about the world. Language used for demands and catalouging. Object permanence is developed
2-7 years old
Symbolic thinking, use of proper syntax and grammar to express concepts. Imagination and intuition are strong, but complex abstract thoughts are still difficult. Conversation is developed.
7-11 years old
Concepts attached to concrete situations. Time, space, and quantity are understood and can be applied, but not as independent concepts.
11 years and older
Theoretical, hypothetical, and counterfactual thinking. Abstract logic and reasoning. Strategy and planning become possible. Concepts learned in one context can be applied to another.
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Math Developmental Milestones
Add by counting the fingers on one or both hands.
Follow multi-step directions.
Begin to understand basic time concepts.
Copy or draw symmetrical shapes.
Identify the larger of two numbers.
Understand the meaning of words like unlikely or possible.
Count to 100 by ones, twos, fives, tens.
Write and recognize the numerals 0 to 100, and the words for numbers from one to twenty.
Know the difference between two and three dimensional shapes and name the basic ones.
Recognize and know the value of coins.
Predict what comes next in a pattern and create own patterns.
Compute basic addition and subtraction up to 20.
Read and create a simple bar chart.
Move from using hands-on methods to using paper and pencil to work out math problems.
Do addition and subtraction with regrouping.
Understand place values well enough to solve problems with decimal points.
Know how to multiply and divide using fact families.
Create a number sentence or equation from a word problem.
Work with money.
Understand that numbers can be represented in many ways like fractions, decimals, bases and variables
Use numbers in real-life situations like calculating a sale price or comparing student loans.
Use mathematical language to convey thoughts and solutions.
Use graphs, maps, or other representations to learn and convey information.
Begin to understand that some math problems do not have real-world solutions.
Begin to see how math ideas built on one another.
Basic and complex algebra with unknown numbers.
Work with lines, angles, types of triangles and other basic geometric shapes.
Work with fractions, percentages, and proportions.
Use formulas to solve complicated problems and find the area, permitter, and volume of shapes.
Introduction and Reflections on Becoming a Mom
It may sound rote to say this, but it’s true—nothing prepares you for motherhood. Everyone who has been there tells you this the first time you are expecting, but somehow you believe that you have it all under control. Fast forward to a few months after birth, and there you are: repeating to other expectant mothers that they have no idea what they are in for.
Don’t mistake my meaning—nothing ever surpasses that incredible feeling when you hear your baby cry for the first time. How I wish I could reach out to the 24-year-old version of me and whisper some of the wisdom that I now have, 18 years later. Let her know that the sleepless nights will pass. Tell her that the days are long, but the years are short, and before she knows it, she will have an incredible young man at her side.
What follows from here is my journey as the mother of a twice-exceptional (2e) child. The National Center for Gifted Children defines 2e as children who “have the characteristics of gifted students with the potential for high achievement and give evidence of one or more disabilities as defined by federal or state eligibility criteria.” These children—my son included—are indeed exceptional, and in many more ways than is apparent at first.
Breaking the Mold
I remember seeing James’ face for the first time. I’d just had a cesarean but was fully conscious. Seeing his little face emerge from my body was surreal and strangely peaceful. My short-lived moment of tranquility was shattered by the deafening wail of a newborn ripped from his cozy, protected slumber. A strong, healthy, and beautiful boy was making his presence felt in a way universally understood by new parents across history.
I’d wanted to be a mom since I could walk. I’d lived my whole life for that moment, so I found it ironic to be plagued with severe postpartum depression for the first year of James’ life. When he was six months old, I was hospitalized for two weeks. I had so much guilt, feeling that I was not emotionally present during those precious early days. But James was happy, healthy, and thriving, and I have learned to forgive myself.
As I healed, I had to grapple with feelings of incompetence and self-loathing. How could I be such a disastrous failure at the one job I was biologically designed to do? When I looked at other moms, they seemed to have it all under control, yet I was like a duck, gliding on the surface while my legs were treading water at 100mph.
In retrospect, it makes more sense. James had problems sleeping. Of course, this left me perpetually exhausted trying to deal with his needs all on my own (his father was physically present but left all the child rearing to me). As a newborn, James would catnap for only twenty minutes at a time, all day and night. At a few months old, he would take hours to settle at night, and then woke up every hour, feeding for up to forty minutes, until the morning. From eighteen months, he didn’t sleep at all during the day. I now know it was because that incredible mind of his was already working overtime. He was a very happy, beautiful baby, but he never slowed down—and I felt isolated in my own world of perpetual exhaustion.
After nine months, James went to daycare and I returned to teaching. Reestablishing myself in the real world gave my mental health a much-needed boost, but fresh challenges were ahead. As James met his certain developmental milestones, I was becoming more and more concerned that his speech wasn’t appropriately developing. He was incredibly vocal, but it was as if he was talking in his own language.
Everyone I spoke to had their advice and justification for Jame’s speech issues. I would hear, “Some kids are just slower than others,” or “He is an only child and has no sibling to mimic,” and so I left it alone for a while. While he did make small improvements and was a little more coherent overall, he remained significantly behind. As he was nearing his fourth birthday, things became more ugent. He was frustrated and was beginning to act out. I was quickly learning how traumatic and isolating it is when your child goes into full meltdown mode. I knew that he was different, and I needed to figure out why.
I contacted a speech therapist, who conducted an assessment with James. She was professional and kind, and was intrigued by him, but told me that he was almost impossible to assess due to his dramatic speech delay. She couldn’t complete her tasks because he was unfocussed on the assessment and was instead singularly obsessed with a single thing—dragons. Regardless of how she tried to prompt or stimulate him, he would always return to the dragons. She agreed to take him on as a patient, but also recommended that he see a specialist to uncover the cause of his delay.
The First of Many Diagnoses
The first developmental pediatrician I took James to was dumbfounded. He was a whirling dervish—jumping over all the furniture and all but climbing the walls and swinging from the light fixtures. I remember her words, voiced with a mix of compassion, empathy, and pity, “This is tough parenting.” I just hung my head in my hands and sobbed. It was the first time someone had verbalized that what I was experiencing was not the norm.
The reason I was struggling was because my situation with James was hard, not because I was a bad mom. It seemed so much easier for so many other moms because it was—and why they went about planning their second or third baby happily, knowing it would be challenging, but manageable. Meanwhile, James was diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed Risperidone to calm him, aid his focus, and help him sleep. Thankfully, it did the trick where his sleep was concerned; for the first time since his birth, we both got more than two hours of sleep in a stretch.
The Emerging Genius
As a mom, I recognized that James was exceptionally bright despite his hurdles. And his preschool teachers saw this too. They embraced his quirks and allowed him some space to be himself. His imagination was off the charts. He would remove himself from his peers, choosing to get lost in his fantasy world. But his pre-reading skills and early numeracy were not developing, and this added to my sleepless nights. While he enjoyed school and was happy, he struggled to communicate. Despite his basic vocabulary remaining limited, his vocabulary for advanced words grew immensely. While his foundational struggles were obvious, it was also beginning to become clear that he had a uniquely talented brain.
At the age of six, James started school formally, and our life descended into chaos. He was like a fish out of water and his anxiety levels shot through the roof. I had to literally drag him to school kicking and screaming, and in the afternoons he would physically attack me on the drive home, biting me and ripping out my hair. Trips to the grocery store often involved a lot of awkward gawking from strangers, who were keen to share advice on how I should discipline my child. Parents would whisper on the school grounds and birthday invitations would be handed out discreetly to avoid having to deal with this unruly creature and his incapable mother.
James would disappear from class, sending teachers on a frantic search. Ironically, he was usually found in the school library, as books had a calming effect for him. Finally, his teacher referred us to an educational psychologist, who advised that we place him in a remedial school.
Not long after, I was called in again to a panel of serious faces that told me that my child was unteachable. He could not sit still and did not want to conform. He kept slipping into his fantasy realm, where he could be anything. This realm had no judgment, and he was king. If he wanted, he could be a bee in a tree. Or he would become a T-Rex, with short arms, because, “You can’t write with short arms.” This was the perfect avoidance tactic for him. The other kids just thought he was weird.
His teachers acknowledged his exceptional intelligence, though. To them, it appeared that he was learning to read. But I quickly realized that he had just memorized the pages from what he heard in class and faked it to avoid appearing stupid.
James’ anxiety was reaching critical levels. I had to retrieve him from school because he was throwing desks and chairs around his classroom, caught in the grips of an earth-shattering meltdown. His school behavior was mirrored at home, and our own family even started to avoid us. He was uninvited from my sister’s wedding, in case he “destroyed” their day. He wasn’t allowed to attend his cousin’s birthday celebrations.
Unsurprisingly, I was spiraling too. I felt so helpless. I loved this little boy with all my heart and seeing him rejected by the world over and over was breaking my heart. And then came the day I sat across from his educators and principal and heard what I had feared: they no longer felt that they could cater to his needs. I needed to consider alternate schooling.
Diagnosis After Diagnosis
This entire time, I was tenaciously searching for answers. Eventually I learned more about what was then known as Asperger Syndrome and high functioning autism. I was able to get the school to refer us to a child psychiatrist who confirmed my suspicions and gave James an official diagnosis. I felt empowered; not because he had been assigned a label and not because I had an excuse for the challenges that he had, but because I now knew what I was dealing with. I could educate myself to support and understand him, and I could educate others so they were not so quick to make assumptions and write James off as a badly behaved child.
As the search began for our next academic option, I moved James to a special school for kids with autism. Here he had a phenomenal young male teacher who recognized his intellect and incredible mind. James adored him and his emotional healing began through their bond. But reading progress was still stuck, and at eight years old, he could only recognize his name.
Ultimately, yet another new label was added—Dyslexia! I felt so defeated and overwhelmed. How would I ever find the right school for James? Our education system struggles to find a place for a child who reads below first grade but needs the intellectual stimulation offered by college-level courses. I was so grateful for technology because I could at least feed Jame’s intellectual needs with audiobooks and documentaries. He was a sponge who rattled off details about the Russian Revolution and dictated constitutions for me to write down, inventing countries that could run off the best parts of capitalism, socialism, and communism. He was eight!
Discovering My Son’s Gifts
Around this time, I accepted a teaching position at Radford House School. Radford House is the only official school for gifted children in my country, and I was simultaneously excited and terrified. What on Earth could I possibly teach these children? I shared more on my experiences teaching gifted children at Radford House in a prior blog entry.
I very quickly learned that my instincts about James were spot on. So many of the children in my care shared his quirks and way of thinking. It was also the first time I learned what 2e was; not all geniuses can read at age three and write like Neil Gaiman. I ended up thriving in my new role. The empathy I brought to the table, fostered by my personal experience, helped me form deep bonds with my students and their families.
The parents gained immense comfort knowing that the teacher saw things from a parent’s perspective and that I didn’t sweat the small stuff. I understood that trouble with spelling, lousy handwriting, and difficulty understanding new math concepts did not take anything away from their exceptional talents. I knew that If you wanted to see their giftedness in action, have a debate with them, extract their opinions, or have them tell stories. That is how you could get these kids to shine.
Due to circumstances with Jame’s education , Radford House wasn’t the place for him just yet. But it certainly changed our trajectory. I became close to a mom who ran a reading center and I asked her if she could help me get to the bottom of James’ reading struggles. She could tell that his issues were beyond the scope of her programs, but she had been researching The Davis Dyslexia Correction Program. As luck would have it, a four-day training workshop was coming up in Cape Town, and suggested that we go together.
This turned out to be a life-changing event because I was able to get James ten days of one-on-one training with the country’s lead dyslexia facilitator. It was not cheap, and it took every resource we had available to make it happen. There were a lot of skeptics who thought I was foolish to spend that much money, but I felt that it was the right thing to do—and sometimes, you have to trust the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t another oncoming train.
By this time, James was almost 11. He had come a long way and his challenges weren’t always immediately obvious to people meeting him. This ability to partially blend in is why 2e kids are so often misunderstood. James seemed like a regular kid who talked way too much, was prone to overreacting, and needed his mother to teach him some damn manners. He was also curiously obsessed with DNA, said the most embarrassing things at most inappropriate times, and seemed to have a factual answer for everything.
The facilitator had his work cut out for him. He admitted that James was one of his most challenging students—essentially completely illiterate and autistic, albeit high functioning. Fortunately, the Davis Program catered for autistic learners as much as it did for dyslexic ones. The marriage of the two approaches completely changed James’ life. It took two draining days and endless negotiations to get James to actively participate. On day three, the facilitator won James over and they began working through the program in earnest.
The Impact of an Educational Shift
In no time at all, James could recognize and name the letters of the alphabet. And he was excited about making attempts to read words in his environment. But the most significant shift came with how he managed his autism traits. He became more aware of the consequences of his actions and could self-regulate more effectively. Autism doesn’t go away, and I wouldn’t want it to. It is a part of what makes my child unique and goes hand in hand with his gifted mind. But the life skills he’s gained and is working towards developing further have knocked down massive obstacles to his future.
I had no unrealistic expectations. James has one of the most severe cases of dyslexia there is. So, I didn’t expect him to suddenly start reading novels and acting like other kids around him. But we had made enough progress that he could finally enter the school system shortly before turning 12.
James was accepted to a small support school. They placed him in what they called “the skills class,” which was designed for children who couldn’t manage academic work but would still be educated on the broader aspects of life. It was a start, and I continued to meet with them to see how we could make the most of James’ potential.
Another stroke of good luck came when one of the teachers at his new school was a former Radford House teacher, and she recognized that James was 2e. Her own class was designed to be transitional —for kids who were capable of more than those in the skills class, but not the academic level of the general population. She helped me approach the school with a plan. She agreed to take James on for 18 months and bridge him between the skills class and the general studies classes. This would have him ready just in time for high school. He would also receive formal accommodations, like allowing a scribe to help him with written tests.
Thanks to his teacher’s continuous encouragement and commitment to challenge him, and James’ own determination, guess what happened? My boy did it! He most recovered six years of school in the space of only 18 months. He was able to cope in a classroom with other kids, and was no longer running away screaming. The frequency of his meltdowns diminished considerably and primarily occurred at home after a particularly taxing day. I never thought it would be possible, but my boy was going to high school.
I owe so much to that school and his incredible teacher. James thrived and grew so rapidly that I was soon attending swimming galas and public speaking competitions where he was not just competing, he was winning. We celebrated every success, no matter how big or small, because we knew the road we had traveled to get there. I heard parents complaining that their child got a B-, but James and I had celebratory milkshakes for his C. He fought damn hard for that C.
A Different Kind of Principal Visit
Last year, just after he turned 17, I was called in again. PTSD led me to expect the worst. But no: this was a meeting unlike any other. Because of his late start, James is a few years older than his peers. He is in the 10th grade. The nature of his school meant that they limited the subjects that they offered up to 12th grade, focusing on fewer academic areas that still met the minimum requirements.
This meeting was called to tell me they could no longer accommodate his needs, but for a reason unlike I had ever heard as the mom on the other side of the principal’s desk. They could no longer accommodate him because he had surpassed anything they could offer him. They would be doing him a disservice, limiting his potential and future options, and felt he needed to move to an environment that could challenge him more and offer him subjects like science, engineering, and business studies through to graduation.
The new school James was referred to was designed for children like my incredible son: bright, capable, often gifted kids who face challenges such as learning disabilities, or who just don’t fit into the neat box that the world seems to have decided they must. He still has the support of a reader and a scribe, but eight months in, he has embraced his new environment and is achieving top honors.
On top of this, my son is an exceptional human being. He has principles; he is justice driven; he still hugs his mom many times a day. My son has a kind, compassionate heart and makes an impact wherever he goes. It is a privilege to be his mother, and I will walk this road a thousand times over if it means I get to hold his hand while doing it. My son will change the world for the better, and in some ways he has done so already.
About the Author
Nicola is mom to James, a 2E 18-year-old, and she lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. Nicola is a writer who is focused on supporting parents and teachers of children who are “different” according to commonly-held views. Before starting her career as a writer, she specialized in gifted education and taught at Radford House School, a school for gifted children.
Some experts call it the double-minority effect—when a learner who is neurodivergent also identifies as gay, transexual, nobinary or anywhere along the spectrum. My family of six identifies as a two-mom, interracial, neurodivergent family, so we have several minority impacts covered. I feel passionately that diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) is imperative to our society, both personally and professionally. My family has also unfortunately experienced the consequences that arise when communities fail to follow DEI’s guiding principles. Recently one of my neurodivergent children started to question their gender identity. To do my part to help prevent my past undesirable experiences from being visited upon my child and others, I decided to join a transyouth ally support group (note: I found a group local to GA to join for my child). Within minutes of the support group meeting, the majority (if not all) of the members of the group expressed the struggles they face as neurodivergent youth in the LGBTQIA+ community, instantly crystallizing the concept of double minority for me. All of the sudden, so much of my world started making a little more sense. I was struck with the fascinating realization that I later confirmed through research: a significant number of my LGBTQIA+ friends and family were also neurodivergent. I knew this couldn’t just be a coincidence! The more I searched, the more I knew I had to to share my findings with others to help raise awareness about the overlap that exists between the LGBTQIA+ and neurodivergent communities.
Starting with Why it Matters
If you’re not very familiar with one or both of the groups mentioned in this article—the neurodivergent population or the LGBTQIA+ community—you’d be forgiven for asking if their overlapping is such a big deal. It is. Everyone wants to feel seen, heard, and understood by members of their community, and these individuals are no different. As with most people who do not fit neatly into the box of what is considered “normal,” neurodivergent and LGBTQIA+ individuals are often bullied, shunned, treated as outcasts, or are otherwise looked down upon as not equal to those around them.
In a recent article published by the University of Cambridge, Elizabeth Weir, a PhD candidate at the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge, and the lead researcher of their study, said, “Understanding the intersectional identities of autistic individuals who are asexual, bisexual, homosexual, or ‘other’ sexuality is key. It is particularly important that healthcare providers and educators use language that is affirming and accepting of all sexual orientations and gender identities when providing sexual education and sexual health screening checks to autistic and non-autistic people alike.”
The growing identification of neurodivergent people in the LGBTQ+ community make it an important topic for our society to explore. Because of the stigmas society burdens them with, LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers. We can (and must) do better to uplift those who are marginalized in their own communities, and awareness is the first step towards heightened inclusivity and widespread support.
Emerging Statistics Show a Relationship
Research into neurodiversity in the LGBTQIA+ community has increased quite significantly in the last few years and has presented us with rather eye-opening findings. The study referenced above from the University of Cambridge also found that, “autistic adults and adolescents are approximately eight times more likely to identify as asexual and ‘other’ sexuality than their non-autistic peers. And there were sex differences in sexual orientation: autistic males are 3.5 times more likely to identify as bisexual than non-autistic males, whereas autistic females are three times more likely to identify as homosexual than non-autistic females. When comparing autistic females and males directly, autistic females were more likely to be sexually active; more likely to identify as asexual, bisexual, and ‘other’ sexuality; and were less likely to identify as heterosexual.”
Other recent research supports the idea that autistic people are more likely to identify as LGBTQ. As reported by SPARK: Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge, “Most of the data that we’re seeing is that [the LGBTQ rate] is two to three times higher,’ says clinical psychologist Eileen T. Crehan, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Tufts University. But larger studies need to be done before the true rate is known, she says.” They go on to present a Dutch study which found 43% of autistic women reported being homosexual compared to 18% of autistic men. Additionally, women were more likely to be attracted to both sexes, and also to neither sex.Research suggests that people who have an autism diagnosis or autism traits are two to three times more likely to be transgender than the general population. Also, a larger percentage of autistic people reported their gender as being more fluid (being something other than strictly male or female) compared to non-autistic individuals.
In her article The Double Minority Effect: The Struggles of Identifying as Autistic and LGBTQIA+, developmental and clinical psychologist Dr. Tasha Oswald found that, “Among individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), an estimated 42–69% identify as same-sex attracted or a sexual minority. 15-35% of individuals with ASD who are labeled as “high-functioning” reported a sexual minority identity. Women with autism are more likely to be in a same-sex relationship than women with TD, and all participants with ASD reported more same-sex attraction, more varied sexual identities, and more asexuality.”
This phenomenon exists for others with brain variations, too. While additional research is needed, there is some support to suggest individuals with ADHD may be more likely to question their gender. Psychentral.com shared a 2014 study on gender variance indicating that people with ADHD were 6.64 times more likely to express gender variance, which can cause them to question their gender identity or experience gender dysmorphia.
So, Why Does this Overlap Exist?
Upon fully immersing myself in the research, I returned to my original hypothesis, which turned out to be accurate—neuroscience, societal constructs, and general norms play vital roles in explaining the undeniable connection between neurodiversity and the LGBTQIA+ population. But why?
One possible explanation could be a lack of concern for traditional established societal strictures. The National LGBTQIA Health Education Center released an ebook exploring this question. “Evidence suggests that neurodiverse people, particularly those on the autism spectrum, are more likely to be gender diverse and have a lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, or asexual sexual orientation, compared to neurotypical people. The reasons why are not well understood. One possibility is that neurodiverse people tend to be less aware of, or less susceptible to, societal pressures and gender norms; therefore, they can express their gender identity or sexual orientation without concerns of being judged or fitting into certain roles.”
Outleadership.com explores this relationship further, reflecting on the potential explanations for the strong correlation between neurodiversity and LGBTQIA identifiers, “Lydia X. Z. Brown, a disabled and queer policy advocate, attorney, and expert, highlighted that gender identities which differ from biological sex (non-cisgender identities) appear to be more common among neurodivergent people and laid out possible reasons. On explanation is that if you are positioned to question “norms” than you are automatically more willing to embrace a non-conforming gender identity. Similarly, an international study published in 2018 this year revealed that nearly 70 percent of autistic respondents identify as non-heterosexual—more than double the rate in the general population.” So, in other words, the pressures I have felt all my life to fit into a cis-heteronormative life might not exist as prominently for individuals on the autism spectrum. Which, if you think about it, says a lot more about our society than it does about autstic individuals.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Finding a safe, supportive community where you can be your authentic self is vitally important for life happiness and health. Many support groups and personalized support services exist for LGBTQIA+ individuals, both online in person—though some local cohorts are not as inclusive as one would hope. We’ve listed some great organizations below . They can provide support in locating a community that bolsters those in your life facing the double minority challenge. If you would like to get involved as an ally, but do not know where to turn, joining one of the ally-oriented support groups (just Google “LGBT” + your city name) like I did for my own neurodivergent, LGBTQIA+ child and attending local events can be a great place to start. June presents a perfect opportunity to participate in pride events and to learn more about the resources that are available in your community, but pride events sometimes vary regionally so be sure to check your local calendar. Whatever path you choose, please know that you have the right to find your people and you deserve to be yourself—neurodivergent, LGBTQIA+, neither, or some other permutation. We are a long way from universal acceptance, but I believe small steps will lead to more understanding,love, and kindness for all.
As an educator, I’ve always gravitated toward teaching through play, whether it be games, role play, or just having fun during lessons. Going back to the first child I taught, I’ve always tried to make my teaching interactive. The child was learning to read, and we pretended a yoga mat was the boat from our story. We acted out every chapter, sailing across an imaginary sea.
I’ve taught multiplication through the use of Uno cards. I’ve written letters and numbers on balloons to make the abstract feel more tangible. I’ve used everything from memory games to board games to enhance lessons and better connect with learners.
If I’m being honest, I did it for myself as much as for my students: doing my lessons this way kept everyone engaged and made learning fun. I’ve always implicitly felt that a learner who isn’t engaged wouldn’t retain information or build a strong connection to their learning.
As my career advanced, I began to realize that this wasn’t just a hunch. The connection between learner engagement and learning outcomes became more and more clear. Play-based learning emerged rapidly as an innovative educational approach to support this methodology. But I didn’t realize just how widespread this approach has become until we traveled to LEGO’s headquarters in May 2022. Learnfully’s co-founder and CEO, Letha McLaren, and I traveled to Denmark for the LEGO Foundation’s “Play for All” accelerator program. The accelerator program provides equity-free funding and fixed-term mentorship programs for social enterprises, ventures, and organizations who wish to support autistic children and children with ADHD through play-based learning. It immediately reassured and energized me to see just how invested companies are in a play-based approach to learning.
During our time at the LEGO Foundation campus, we heard from experts and collaborated with other entrepreneurs. The many sessions, workshops, and keynotes we participated in were an unending source of rejuvenation and inspiration. It was great to work alongside our entrepreneur peers and converse with experts in the field. Especially when considering the last two-plus years of the pandemic, when it’s been too easy to feel isolated and lonely. The time we spent together with other entrepreneurs helped the Learnfully team realize how many people share our worldview—particularly in that we need to reframe our thinking when it comes to learning diagnoses and putting learners in certain boxes, like “neurotypical” vs “neurodiverse.” We all shared a collective vision: that the conversation around neurodiversity needs to change. And that the impact of play should be front-and-center in this conversation. We all have different ideas on how to achieve this goal, but it aligns us under a common guiding North Star principle.
Learnfully brought a distinct focus to the program around the area of executive functioning (EF). We’ve always known that EF is the key foundational basis for any type of learning—it’s the gatekeeper to all of learning. If a child is unable to regulate their emotions, manage their time, understand their peers, etc., then it simply doesn’t matter what the curriculum is—it won’t be effective.
So how does a learner build executive functioning? Play has been scientifically proven to enhance EF in young learners. Our time at LEGO demonstrated to us that EF is finally getting a place at the table: educators, caregivers, and companies are all waking up to the long-term developmental importance of EF.. Learnfully has long been a proponent of the benefits of EF, offering classes and multisensory instruction for learners, and professional development for educators, focusing on developing EF skills. We predict that the significant impact executive function has on a person’s life will continue to gain traction and prominence in the neurodivergent community and the larger education system.
Getting the chance to spend several days in Demark alongside other like-minded companies and individuals was an eye-opening experience I’ll be drawing on for many years. I’ve always felt that play is the most effective way children and their educators can connect, and my time at LEGO helped confirm it as the lynchpin for everything important to the learning process—from instruction and engagement, to skill development and retention.Mr. Rogers once said: “Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.” Thanks to our trip to Denmark, we confirmed it does this and much, much more.
Summer reading is imperative to maintaining learner momentum. Without it, your child could easily lose progress they gained last school year and enter the classroom feeling less successful and confident overall. As a parent of four little learners myself, I constantly struggle to inspire our children to read consistently throughout the summer. So, in order to make summer reading as fun, engaging, meaningful and rewarding as possible, a few of our Educational Specialists have compiled a list of Learnfully’s favorite titles to make your lives easier as parents and to ignite joy in your whole family!
Rex Ogle tells his own story of growing up poor in a wealthy neighborhood and the complexities of navigating the 6th grade in this honest, and at times heartwrenching, exploration of povery and class in America.
Coming of Age
One Crazy Summer (series)
In One Crazy Summer, eleven-year-old Delphine is like a mother to her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern. She’s had to be, ever since their mother, Cecile, left them seven years ago for a radical new life in California. But when the sisters arrive from Brooklyn to spend the summer with their mother, Cecile is nothing like they imagined.
History, Civil Rights, Coming of Age
Sheets: Volume 1
Fiction, Graphic Novel
Marjorie Glatt feels invisible. At thirteen she is in charge of the family laundromat and has to find a way to balance her responsibilities at home and school. Wendell, on the other hand, is actually invisible – because he is a ghost who can only be seen while wearing a sheet. Sheets tells the story of how this unlikely duo are united by laundry and a desire to be seen.
The Radium Girls: Young Readers’ Edition: The Scary But True Story of the Poison That Made People Glow in the Dark
The true story of hundreds of young women whose work painting watch dials with radium paint led to a serious and mysterious illness and put them at the center of a deadly corporate coverup.
History, Fascinating People
Hidden Figures Young Readers’ Edition
Shetterly, Margot Lee
Hidden Figures tells the story of how a team of black female mathematicians known as “human computers” allowed humankind to reach space. This is a revised edition of Margot Lee Shettery’s New York Times’ bestselling book that inspired the award-winning film by the same title.
STEM, Space, Civil Rights, Fascinating People
It’s Trevor Noah: Born A Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood (Adapted for Young Readers)
This revised edition of Noah’s acclaimed memoir explores what life was like to grow up as a bi-racial child in apartheid South Africa.
Fascinating People Human Rights
Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood
Gary Paulsen, who is probably most famous for his novel Hatchet, describes his tumultuous upbringing and how a few key moments, choices, and people helped shape the person he would ultimately become.
Social Emotional Development, Fascinating People
The One Thing You’d Save
Park, Linda Sue
Nonfiction, Poetry Anthology
Linda Sue Park captures the different responses middle school students give when asked the question If your house was on fire, what one thing would you save?
Social Emotional Development
In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse
Jimmy McClean is a member of the Lakota tribe. Over summer vacation, Jimmy’s grandfather, Nyles High Eagle, tells him the story of the heroic deeds of one of the greatest Lakota heroes, Crazy Horse.
Family, Cultural Connections, Fascinating People
Out of My Mind
Draper, Sharon M.
Eleven-year-old Melody has a photographic memory, which means she can remember everything she has ever experienced. She is easily the smartest kid in her school, but no one knows. In addition to her remarkable memory, Melody also has cerebal palsey. Unable to walk, talk, or write, Melody struggles to find a way to show everyone who she really is and what she is capable of.
Social Emotional Development
Planet Middle School
Joylin Johnson’s life was going great…until it wasn’t. Middle school has thrown her whole life upside down and she now has to figure out how to navigate changing friendships, romantic relationships, and an evolving sense of self.
Charlie Hernandez & The League of Shadows: Volume 1
Charlie’s abuela has been sharing the traditions, myths, and art of Latin America with him since he was in diapers. Although he dismissed many of these myths and legends as just fantasy, Charlie begins to experience some strange and sometimes eerie phenomena that cannot be explained – except by the lengends he now fears may actually be true.
Cultural Connections, Family, Adventure
The Witch Boy Trilogy
Ostertag, Molly Knox
Fiction, Graphic Novel, Fantasy
In thirteen-year-old Aster’s family, all the girls are raised to be witches, while boys grow up to be shapeshifters. Anyone who dares cross those lines is exiled. Unfortunately for Aster, he still hasn’t shifted . . . and he’s still fascinated by witchery, no matter how forbidden it might be.
Family, Identity, Adventure
Fiction, Graphic Novel
Hudi, with the help of his imaginary friend and mascot, Chunky, struggles with self-acceptance and staying true to yourself when those around you want you to change.
Friendship, Social Emotional Development, Identity
Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom
Fiction, Graphic Novel
An honest, funny, and charming look at what it means to be yourself when you don’t know who you are.
Social Emotional Development, Identity
Pie in the Sky
Fiction, Graphic Novel
Jingwen has moved to a new country and started at a new school. Because he doesn’t speak English, Jingwen struggles to make connections and form new friendships, so he turns to his younger brother, Yanghao, for companionship. To distract himself from the loneliness, Jingwen daydreams about making all the cakes on the menu of Pie in the Sky, the bakery his father had planned to open before he unexpectedly passed away. The only problem is his mother has laid down one major rule: the brothers are not to use the oven while she’s at work.
Family, Cultural Connections
A Really Short History of Nearly Everything
Beloved storyteller Bill Bryson tackles everything from the smallest atoms to the rise of civilizations in this approachable and entertaining exploration of (nearly) everything.
Girls Solve Everything: Stories of Women Entrepreneurs Building a Better World
An exploration of how solving big problems begins with asking the right questions.
History, Fascinating People
Brown Girl Dreaming
Growing up, Jacqueline Woodson split her time between South Carolina in New York in the 1960s and 70s. Although she struggled with reading as a child, Woodson finds her voice through storytelling and poetry.
History, Civil Rights, Coming of Age
I Am Malala
When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan they prohibited girls like Malala from attending school. Determined to receive the education she deserved, Malala’s defiance made her a target and she was shot at point-blank range while riding on the schoolbus. Her miraculous recovery and activism have earned her global recognition and accolades, including a Nobel Peace Prize.
Fascinating People, Human Rights
Murder is Bad Manners
Daisy, a self-described Sherlock Holmes, parters with best friend Hazel to form their own secret detective agency. The problem? There is nothing to investigate…until Hazel stumbles upon a murder.
How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure
An illustrated guide to the people and technologies that paved the way for Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon.
A Perfectionist’s Guide to Not Being Perfect
This book is designed to help encourage teens to strive for greatness without perfection and understand the importance of letting go of all-or-nothing thinking.
Social Emotional Development
One of the most famous modern science fiction stories, Jurassic Park remains one of the most well-known science fiction-thrillers.
The Boys Who Challenged Hitler
Hoose, Philip M.
Ashamed of his nation’s leaders, fifteen-year-old Knud leads a team of teens to take action against the Nazis.
History, Human Rights
Outrun the Moon
Set in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1906, Outrun the Moon tells the story of fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong as she tries to heal a community suffering from the aftermath of California’s most notorious earthquake.
Cultural Connections, Family, Friendships
A Thousand Steps Into Night
When Miuko is cursed and begins to transform into a demon with a deadly touch, she embarks on a quest to reverse the curse and return to her normal life.
Adventure, Cultural Connections
The Theft of Sunlight
Children have been disappearing from across Menaiya for longer than Amraeya ni Ansarim can remember. When her friend’s sister is snatched, Rae knows she can’t look away any longer–even if that means seeking answers from the royal court, where her country upbringing and clubfoot will only invite ridicule.
Identity, Adventure, Cultural Connections
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Alire Sáenz, Benjamin
Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship–the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime.
Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens
This anthology explores disability in fictional tales told from the viewpoint of disabled characters, written by disabled creators. With stories in various genres about first loves, friendship, war, travel, and more, Unbroken offers a glimpse into the lives of disabled people in the past, present, and future.
Relationships, Family, Social Emotional Development
Smith, Sherri L.
Ida Mae Jones dreams of flying, but as a young black woman in Louisiana in the 1940s, she knows the sky is off-limits. However, circumstances change when the United States enters World War II and creates the WASP – Women Airforce Service Pilots. However, Ida will have to “pass” as white to join, leaving her torn between her desire to fulfill her dream and staying true to who she is.
Family, Cultural Connections
Gods of Jade and Shadow
Inspired by Mexican mythology and the Jazz Age, Gods of Jade and Shadow is a modernist fantasy about a young woman who comes of age in a world of music, myth, and the battle between good and evil.
Cultural Connections, Family, Adventure
The Language of Spells
Grisha, a dragon, and Maggie, an unusual child, are an unlikely duo. Together they are determined to solve one of the darkest mysteries of Vienna: What happened to all the dragons?
Fiction, Graphic Novel Anthology
This epic adventure features the Bone cousins: Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone. When these three misfits are chased out of Boneville they find themselves on a journey through deserts and forests inhabited by creatures both wonderful and terrifying.
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