August 30, 2021 by Carol Britton Meyer
Lessons taught in the small-group setting at the Clayton Learning Lab in South Hingham are filled with multi-sensory activities to engage pre-K through grade eight students as they enhance their math and literacy skills.
"The idea is to make learning fun," owner Emily Clayton -- a former student teacher at South School -- told the Hingham Anchor. That's accomplished through the Orton-Gillingham method, a multi-sensory way of teaching through hands-on learning and manipulatives that makes reading, writing, and math a more pleasant experience for students who may be struggling.
The Learning Lab offers two roomy, comfortable, and welcoming classrooms, with class sizes ranging from four to six students each. They're different from normal classrooms, featuring all-white furniture, tan walls, white window frames, and pops of color that make for a homey, crisp-looking workspace with pink bins, blue chairs, and bookcases full of colorful children's books and lots of plants.
The Learning Lab, located at 3 Keith Way, serves students in Hingham and other South Shore communities. "This in-person program is geared to help students who in a regular classroom of 25 kids may fall in the middle between those with special needs who are served by IEPs [Individualized Education Plans] and those students who whiz through their lessons -- the kids who are just getting by," according to Clayton. "The Learning Lab helps fill that gap."
The program is based on multi-sensory learning -- which takes an auditory, visual, and kinesthetic (sensory) approach. Activities for younger children include writing in the sand and "skywriting" in the air (which involves students practicing a letter or short word by first "writing" it in the "sky" with their fingers before putting it down on paper).
"The services offered here provide supplemental enrichment outside of the classroom and help the students build self-confidence," Clayton said. "It's also an opportunity for them to expand their friendship circle."
As an example, during a Learning Lab program this summer, four children from different towns all ended up in the same camp together.
Students are encouraged to move around as they learn, whether sitting on yoga balls or wobble seats. Creative learning is the word as children are encouraged to get up and stand by their desks, work at a sand and water table, acquire math and other skills by hopping on the appropriate floor tile that contains specific letters and numbers; or to identify the correct letter from those posted at the four corners of the room that represents the first letter of a word shared by Clayton.
The wide variety of offerings includes literacy groups that engage in lessons and activities related to phonological (the system of contrastive relationships among the speech sounds that make up the fundamental components of a language) and phonemic (related to the sounds of letters) awareness, fluency, journal writing, and listening comprehension and Kickstart to Kindergarten, which enriches children's early literacy and math skills in preparation for kindergarten or even as enrichment for those who are homeschooled.
Participants in the Book Club -- which begins Wednesday, Sept. 15 and runs for six weeks -- will read and analyze "The Red Bandana," by Tom Rinaldi. This is a young reader's adaptation of "The Man in the Red Bandana," which depicts the actions of Welles Crowther -- the brave son of a New York firefighter who on Sept. 11 rushed around in the burning building to eventually save a dozen people. His selfless actions continue to be an inspiration to this day.
Clayton's husband, Ross -- a teacher at Marshfield High School -- tutors middle through high school students at the Learning Lab. He will also run the homework drop-in class that will be offered this fall.
Summer offerings include camps and programs to help students take what they learned in the past school year and bridge the gap to being prepared for the next grade -- especially following COVID, when students' educations were seriously disrupted.
After graduating from Bridgewater State College in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in English in secondary education, Clayton, who holds a license to teach severe special education, is now finishing her master's degree in special education for students with severe disabilities.
As background, Clayton was a student teacher at South School in the classroom for students with severe special needs in 2020, and then COVID hit and classes went remote for a time.
The mother of a third-grader at South School asked Clayton to teach a pod of students at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, which proved successful. "The support I received from the parents empowered me to start my own business last April," she said. "That's the one positive thing that happened to me as a result of COVID."
The overall goal of the Learning Lab is to "keep growing and helping students to my utmost capacity," she said. "I give each student 100 percent of my time and effort. In a small-group setting, it's easier to differentiate instruction among the students. It's not just about how many kids come through the door but about how many I am able to help."