When Naomi was little she didn’t really like me reading stories to her. She’d endure and there were certain times that she had to sit and listen but she would much rather just sit with a book by herself. I struggled with this until one day I was doing a learning style test online to help me understand Josh and Jess and in the process of doing this test a few times, I suddenly realised that to Naomi the book was all about the pictures – not the words. To me, a words based learner – it was all about the words! Fast forward a few years and Nomi at 6-7-8 years old and simply wasn’t learning to read. We’d changed our phonincs programme to a more visual and kinaesthetic programme but still not that interested. She was giving all the reading-ready signs but when it came to it not interested. She was still more engaged with the pictures – the artwork – than the words on the page. Finally at 9 years old she learnt to read – fairly quickly. Now, in hindsight I can see Naomi, an artist, learns differently. Thankfully I understood a little – and it is now confirmed. She needed pictures, imagination and colour and time to do it her way. She learnt in a way that was different to my other kids.
In fact each of my kids have their unique mix of learning preferences – as do I, as does Peter. This is what is called learning styles. You may be very familiar with the three main aspects of learning styles: Auditory, Visual and Kinesthetic but it goes further than that. We are very complex beings and learning happens in many directions all at the same time. Learning styles is a fairly broad term for understanding the ways we take in information, the way we process that information and then the way we communicate what we know. For example:
- Environmental preferences that affect how we concentrate
- Modes of Remembering: auditory (hearing), visual (seeing), kinaesthetic (moving)
- Cognitive –how we interact with information: analytical (details) or global (big picture)
- Multiple Intelligences – How you show you are smart (Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Spatial, Musical, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal,
- Mind Styles – how we communicate what we know with various combinations of Concrete (using our 5 senses) and Abstract (using our intuition and imagination)
Reading about learning styles is one of the first things I learnt when I started homeschooling. It made me look at myself, understand some of my own quirks when it came to study and learning, and I started to see my children as little people with their own quirks. Knowing this about myself helped me adapt my teaching methods, and knowing these things about my kids helped me be flexible and purposeful in the learning opportunities I was creating for them.
Some lessons I’ve learnt about learning styles:
Use it but don’t be limited by it Though we may have a preferred learning style we need to learn to learn in many different ways. Our kids need to learn in an environment where there are other people making noise or moving around or interrupting in some way, they have to learn with other people (who will undoubtedly have different learning styles), they will have to learn and take on different styles of projects. We cannot keep our kids just using their own learning style. We need to be able to understand and live with, learn with, and work with people who are different – so don’t use labelling a learning style, a learning preference – as the only way to go – but certainly use it as a very helpful tool when you can. Particularly use it when a student is struggling By using a student’s particular preferences when they are struggling to learn a particular concept makes sense and is doable in most family situations. You may take that student aside and do one-on-one or everyone may join in the different shaped lesson until that struggling student gets it. For example, we’ve watched documentaries at times because it suits one or two learners more than reading a book, even though the other learners could very comfortably just read an article online. Let your kids fly with it when they are an independent learner Once your children are independent learners then it is easier to let them focus on their own unique learning style or preferences. The challenge for many parents is that when this happens their kids’ learning looks very different than traditional classroom learning in highschool. If we want our children to take a learning path that is individualised, then their learning is going to look different. We have to be okay with that. In our family highschool has looked like reading and essays for one student, projects for another, and hands on/art/technology driven projects for others. The key to working with various learning styles in the same class, in the same family learning environment, is to give your children the freedom to learn their way as long as it doesn’t impinge on someone else’s learning and to give them the understanding that learning happens in different ways, with different constraints. There needs to be a give and take, and we need to learn to learn in many different ways.
My own learning style affects my automatic mode for teaching Never is the need to understand different learning styles more important than when you are the teacher. My automatic mode of teaching is language based – it is my strength. And it has shaped my family’s learning. That being said, I have had to learn how to find ways to communicate knowledge, and let my children process and communicate their knowledge in different ways. This is challenging – but so necessary. That annoying thing they do isn’t going to stop Just as Nomi wasn’t that interested in words, Daniel has also had annoying things that we’ve had to deal with – in particular he likes to fidget and touch stuff while he thinks. This goes from clicking pens on/off – on/off. He would rock in his chair. He would get up and move around. It is easy to take these things as a lack of focus, a lack of self control, a lack of obedience – it is easy to be annoyed at them, because they won’t stop! But by seeing movement helping him to concentrate and process we were able to come up with other strategies that are helpful to him, and not distracting to others – he can leave the learning environment and bounce on the trampoline, or go for a walk. He can have a squash ball, or stress ball that can be fidgeted with without the noise. This is how we can use the knowledge of learning styles – or preferences to help our children and not just be annoyed at them. Books I recommend: * Every Child can Succeed by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias * Discover your Child’s Learning Style by Mariaemma Willis and Victoria Kindle Hodson Have you considered learning styles in your homeschool? It may help you understand the child that annoys you. It may give you a tool to help a student who is struggling. It may give you and your children an appreciation for the uniqueness in each other as you start to understand your differences.
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