As we continue down the road of unpacking obstacles in homeschooling, I will explore another obstacle, learning styles. (To read about obstacle #1, finding true friends, click here). When we start our homeschooling journey, often one of the first things we want to discover is the particular learning styles of each of our kids. Sometimes it’s not so clear-cut and the waters of figuring them out can be a little murky.
Questions like, “how do I know how my child learns best?” or “how can I adjust my teaching to my child’s learning style?” may be swirling in your mind. I remember being there. Figuring out learning styles – what they are, why they are important, and how to determine your child’s specific learning bent – can often feel overwhelming. And yet it doesn’t have to be.
Obstacle #2 – Learning Styles
One of the benefits of homeschooling is being able to teach in a way that your children will learn best. Having a small teacher to student ratio allows you to be flexible in your teaching styles. Most of us know Proverbs 22:6,
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (KJV)
What I didn’t know until I recently heard Cynthia Tobias speak on Focus on the Family is that the Hebrew word for ‘train’ in this verse translates to ‘creating an environment for life’. I just love that! When we create an environment in our homes for life, we help our children to become confident learners. When we do so, we benefit our children for when they leave home.
You may have heard of the 4 basic learning styles. And sometimes, people break them down into 7 or even 10 different learning styles. There is a slew of scholarly articles written about learning styles. To keep it simple, I will focus on explaining the 4 learning styles most commonly found. These learning styles address how your student remembers and retains information best.
If you have already taught your child, think about which style below you think fits him/her best. If you are just starting out, don’t worry. As you teach, you will start to see what works and what doesn’t with each child. Become a student of your student. Observe what they do well, watch how they do things, notice when they are most happy. For kids who are around 8 or older, you can even ask them questions to help uncover how they learn best.
It may be frustrating at first. It’s okay, we’ve all been there! Keep persevering. I believe this is one way that God humbles us and causes us to stay on our knees before Him. But when you arrive at a place of mutual understanding, both you and your child will be so thankful you persisted. Hang in there mama!
Be aware that each of your children may, and most likely will, have different learning styles. God has made each one of us unique, twins included. However, even though different children will learn differently, you won’t have to teach every subject in a different manner. But, it will be helpful to remember these styles as you teach. If one child gets caught in a specific area, stop and take a look at how you are teaching. Could you do something different to help your child learn better? Sometimes even small adjustments can make a big difference!
Knowing your students’ learning style preferences is especially helpful for students with learning disabilities and/or who have trouble maintaining attention. Teaching to their style will greatly help their retention of information.
Also, as you look through the categories below, know that there is always some overlap. Most children (and adults) have a combination of different learning styles. However, each child will prefer one over the others and will be stronger in one or two over the others.
In addition, children often grow into learning styles. All young children, before age 6, will be kinesthetic learners, needing to move around and be hands-on. But, as they mature, children will often then gravitate towards one learning style.
Just because your child learns best one way or prefers to learn a certain way, does not mean that you need to teach him/her in that manner all the time. Children need to be exposed to learning through all 4 methods. Give your children experience in all learning styles and encourage them to stretch beyond what is comfortable for them.
You too will find that you have a particular teaching style that you gravitate towards, based on your natural learning preference. But, providing a balanced mix of teaching styles can enrich your student. The world will not cater to your child’s specific learning preferences, so keep this in mind as you teach. When your child gets stuck, however, go back and teach in a way that will help him/her grasp the concept or idea.
By exposing your children to all the learning styles and discovering which one is their strength, you help equip your child for the world. You can then give your kiddos tools on how to use their strengths as well as how to overcome and adjust when they are not in an environment that speaks to their strengths.
The Four Basic Learning Styles
Visual learners enjoy demonstrations and learn easily with descriptions, images, maps, graphs, and grids. These children love to make lists and have organized thoughts. They often are good sight readers, tend to be fast talkers, are usually great at remembering faces (often forgetting names), love to use their imagination, and are easily distracted by movement or activity around them. While noises tend to not bother them, visual learners often work well alone. Additionally, these kids often do not talk much but are careful observers. They may be creative and daydreamers. They need to see things in their mind – to imagine and picture things.
With visual learners, you can:
- write directions on a white board
- draw pictures to explain a concept
- point out pictures, maps, and charts in books
- paint mental pictures with your words
- choose visually pleasing materials
- speak with pauses to allow your student to track with you visually
Let these kids:
- organize their thoughts
- physically see you teach
- be in an area that is free from lots of surrounding movement
Students with a preference for auditory learning do well with verbal instruction and may learn easily by listening. However, they learn even better by hearing themselves talk things out. These children are often distracted by noise and need to work in an area that is relatively quiet. Learners with this preference often read aloud to themselves, like to express their thoughts verbally rather than in written form, and tend to speak slowly or be natural listeners. These kiddos process things verbally and thus, are often referred to as “chatterboxes.”
With auditory learners, you can:
- dialogue about and discuss each subject
- give verbal instructions
- teach with a conversational style
Let these kids:
- talk out problems or concepts
- ask lots of questions
- work in an area that is quiet
- hear you teach
- study in a group
- listen to books on CD
Students with a preference for read/write learning do well when taking notes when listening or reading something new, and often draw or doodle to help them remember. These students often learn by silent reading and rewriting notes in their own words.
With read/write learners, you can:
- give them pen and paper while reading or listening to you teach
- write out keywords in list form
- put charts into words
Let these kids:
- take notes
- make lists of ideas
- read silently on their own
Students with a preference for kinesthetic learning aren’t just hands-on learners (as most people learn that way). The difference is that these kids learn best when they are moving and active. They usually have high energy levels, often do not perceive and absorb what is taught orally, and tend to have shorter attention spans. Kinesthetic learners often want you to just get to the point. They learn best when using their whole body, especially when all of their senses are engaged. They tend to talk and make decisions slowly.
These learners often grow up to have jobs that allow for movement, such as artists, musicians, athletes, mechanics, etc. Don’t make the mistake that every child will need to learn how to sit still at a desk for long periods because their future job will require it one day!
With kinesthetic learners, you can:
- have them sit on an exercise ball rather than a stationary chair so they can bounce at their table
- have them move around while they are learning spelling words, math facts, etc.
- give them breaks throughout the day to be physically active (this is helpful for all students too!)
- allow them to play with or color something quietly while you do a read-aloud, such as building with Legos or coloring in a book
- go on lots of field trips with hands-on learning in which all senses are engaged
- use real-life examples
- give them space for movement as long as it is not a distraction to others
- find a curriculum that engages all senses (for my favorite spelling curriculum, click here)
Let these kids:
- work with their hands
- get out their energy or wiggles
- be active participants
- act out what they are learning
- learn through trial and error
- manipulate objects while learning (think blocks, O-shaped cereal, flash cards, etc)
- engage their whole body and all their senses while learning (e.g. shoot hoops while doing multiplication tables, pace while studying for a test)
I hope this post has been helpful to you. Teaching can really stretch us, but when a child feels understood and valued, they soar. It’s worth all the effort, time, and heartache.
For more information on learning styles, I highly suggest the book by Cynthia Tobias The Way They Learn: How to Discover and Teach to Your Child’s Strengths. Cynthia offers wonderful insights to parents, whether you homeschool or not. Her book will equip you to educate and communicate with your children in a way that creates an environment for life. It is a great reference to have at your fingertips.
For other resources that I have found extremely valuable in my journey to educate my kiddos best, click here, or visit the resource section of my website.