What academic lessons do you remember from your days as a student? It’s been more than a few years since I was in school, so my memories of the classroom are increasingly fuzzy. For the most part, what I remember involves my teachers talking to us from the front of the room. Then they’d hand each of us students a piece of paper with an assignment, and I was to sit at my desk and work on it.
However, two lessons from my classroom years stand out as unique and memorable in my mind.
The first was a class on state history. Much to our surprise, the teacher came to class dressed in a calico dress and bonnet. We spent the day carding and spinning wool, writing on miniature chalkboard slates, shaking cream into butter, and making cornhusk brooms.
The other lesson from my school days that is strongly embedded in my memory involves learning about number systems other than base 10. As a class, we spent a week or two being introduced to different number systems via lecture and worksheet. But the big day came when we created a mini store with items priced according to base 2. Then we went around and “shopped” for what seemed like exorbitantly priced items. Because the numbers in base 2 are so large, the price tags showed long strands of numbers. For instance, $5 in our decimal system is written as $101 in base 2. What made a big impression on me was how the purchase prices felt inflated.
What stands out to me in these memories provides a glimpse into what is important to each of us. Often, what we as individuals remember most is highlighted to us because of our learning style. Because my two primary memories from school were both days of active learning and hands-on experiences, it’s highly likely my learning style involves an active, hands-on approach.
The concept of learning styles helps explain why we all learn differently. Some experts call them learning preferences. All students can learn through many methods, but we all seem to have a preference toward one particular educational delivery format. We often have a preferred secondary learning style. Some students are even a 50/50 split of two learning styles. As a Christian, I think of learning styles as one more way to understand the unique way God has created my children.
Most researchers identify four primary learning styles. For the sake of this discussion, let’s use the common names of Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, and Reading/Writing. In this article, we will look at an overview of each. I want to help you consider which learning style might best describe each of your children, as well as you, the homeschool teacher.
Visual: The “See It” Learning Style
Visual learners prefer pictures, images, and videos. They learn best with spatial lessons, maps, and timelines. The use of graphic organizers and diagramming to brainstorm thoughts during writing projects is helpful to them. They like charts and outlines to organize information and concepts.
When reading nonfiction, visual learners might choose to color code, use symbols, and highlight the text because it helps them “see it.” When reading fiction, they might scan a book first to look at all the pictures.
Visual learners usually want an orderly learning environment and a measure of quiet when they work. They prefer to be assessed by identifying items on a map or diagram, creating a collage or diorama, or perhaps by drawing a response.
Auditory: The “Hear and Talk It” Learning Style
Auditory learners prefer books read aloud to them, listening to recorded audiobooks and lessons, and hearing concepts set to music. They enjoy working with a partner, repeating things aloud, and memorizing verses, poetry, and passages.
These students are usually linear thinkers and want to be slowly told how to do something. Discussion benefits auditory learners. They prefer to be assessed aloud by repeating back information in a narrative, summarizing a concept aloud, or answering questions verbally rather than writing out answers.
Kinesthetic: The “Do It” Learning Style
Also called the “tactile” learning style. Kinesthetic learners enjoy conducting experiments, learning through gross or fine motor movement, and understanding concepts via manipulatives or 3D demonstrations.
Kinesthetic learners thrive when they can take something apart and put it back together. They enjoy role playing, field trips, building models, and using flash cards if they must memorize something. They want to be shown how to do something or have instructions demonstrated. It doesn’t seem to matter if they are working alone or in a group; either way, their brains seem to work best when their bodies are also moving.
Kinesthetic learners engage in learning when they can use all five senses and don’t mind a trial-and-error approach. Completing a project or building something is how this learner prefers to be assessed.
Reading and Writing: The “Read and Write It” Learning Style
Also called the “pen and paper” learning style. Reading and Writing learners want books, books, and more books. They prefer workbooks and textbooks over lectures, videos, or projects. Usually, Reading and Writing learners want a solitary learning environment and don’t want to study in a group. They intuitively take (often detailed) notes and are often the type of avid readers others might label as bookworms.
Reading and Writing learners want written instructions and usually follow them sequentially. While they might not know the how or the why of a concept, these students can be experts at the what. Reading and Writing learners express themselves best when they can write their thoughts. They are often great test takers and want to be assessed via a written test rather than a group discussion or project.
Learning Styles and Your Homeschool
So which of these learning styles best describes your child? Once you pinpoint your child’s dominant learning style, you can select curriculum and mold your homeschool in ways that allow your child to best receive new information. With awareness of learning styles, homeschoolers have the ability to craft teaching methods to best suit the needs of each child. That’s what I hope to do in the next four articles of this Beginning Homeschooling series: unpack ways a homeschooler can adapt to each of the four learning styles.
An equally interesting question is, what’s my learning style as a parent-educator? Since each of us prefers a learning style, it makes sense that we’d tend to teach in that style. In other words, as a homeschool mom, I tend to default to my preferred style as I teach—a kinesthetic approach. Instead I must be careful to choose what suits each of my kids, not just do what makes the most sense to me.
Here’s a great example of why being intentional about laying aside my preferred learning style to defer to my child’s learning style is so important. Years ago at a homeschool convention, I attended a workshop taught by the author of a language arts curriculum. She gave each homeschool parent in the audience a piece of paper divided into eight sections. Each section was titled with one of eight genres of literature: biography, historical fiction, mystery, nonfiction, realistic fiction, adventure, fantasy, folk tale, and humor.
The author asked us to mentally go through our house and mark in the boxes what kinds of books we already had on the bookshelves in each room. My historical fiction and nonfiction boxes were heavily marked, but I didn’t have many folk tale or fantasy books. She pointed out: What if my son prefers folk tales? Putting those types of books in front of him will accelerate his reading and therefore his learning. The point she was trying to make was we tend to read to our children the kinds of books we like.
I would agree and add that I tend to teach my children the way I like to learn. But I need to make a concerted effort to adapt my teaching style to my students and select curriculum that is best suited to them. That might be as easy as using the curriculum I’m already using but allowing an oral quiz instead of a written one at the end of a unit. It might mean adding more field trips into our schedule or making sure we have a study group for science. Or it might mean a major change like purchasing a new curriculum.
As this series continues over the next few months, we will explore each of the major learning styles in depth and look at examples of how homeschool families have implemented that learning style into their studies. Understanding learning styles can be a powerful tool in the way you educate your kids. In the meantime, be encouraged that each of your children is uniquely made and that you are fully equipped by God to be their teacher.
Melanie Hexter and her husband, Matthew, started their homeschool journey in 1998. With two graduates and four children still at home, they ask the Lord to teach them how to uniquely educate each child. The Hexters love to travel the US, using their Colorado Springs home as a western base. Melanie is working on two books and offers several homeschool curricula, including the U.S. National Parks Unit Study, for download at www.LEMILOEpublishing.com. LEMILOE is their family motto: Live Every Moment In Light Of Eternity.