One of the things I like best about homeschooling is that I can treat my kids as individuals. Each one has his or her own unique learning style. It would definitely be easier if all of my children learned the same way I do, but it wouldn’t be as exciting. If you have more than one child, then chances are you will be dealing with more than one learning style. So what are learning styles? And how can you implement your children’s styles into your homeschooling?
Your learning style is the way that you approach learning. There are three basic styles: visual, auditory, and tactile or kinesthetic.
Visual learners learn through seeing. They think in pictures and may visualize in their mind the information they want to learn. Noah, my 7-year-old, is a visual learner. I first recognized this when he was in kindergarten. In math, we were using some dot pattern cards, which have dots arranged on them to represent each number. I was folding laundry one day when Noah said to me, “Mom, three plus three equals six!” When I asked him how he knew that, he replied, “I pictured the dot card in my head and counted the dots.”
When you teach your visual learner, use lots of visual aids. Pictures, diagrams, charts, and maps are tools that will help your child to grasp the information being taught. Demonstrate how to take notes when listening to information that needs to be remembered. Your child can learn how to draw charts and diagrams to organize information. Flashcards will work well for learning math facts. Visual learners may have difficulty paying attention when you are reading aloud a book that has no pictures. Encourage your visual learner to imagine the story as it is being read. This will help your child to “see” and remember what you are reading.
Next we have the auditory learners, who learn through listening and hearing information. My 9-year-old daughter Natalie is an auditory learner. In second grade, she was struggling with her spelling lessons, which involved writing the words on the list and using them in various worksheets and puzzles. I tossed out the spelling curriculum and found some grade-level word lists. When Natalie studied her spelling, I had her spell the word out loud to herself several times, rather than doing all the other busy work. Since then, it has been rare for her to miss any words on her spelling quizzes.
When teaching your auditory learner, reading aloud is a great tool. When your voice gives out, use books on tape. Information that they need to remember, such as grammar rules or times tables, can be put to a rhythm or rhyme and then repeated aloud. There are also companies such as Audio Memory, which sell CDs with songs designed to teach math, geography, history, and science.
The third learning style is tactile or kinesthetic. These learners learn by touching, moving, and doing. They need to get their hands on things and explore the world around them in order to learn. This describes my 6-year-old, Jonathan. He is always moving. Even while listening to me read aloud he is squirming, hanging upside down on the couch, and fidgeting all over the place. I used to think this meant he wasn’t paying attention, but the opposite is true. If I try to make him sit still, all of his energy is used up in order to stop moving and he has none left over with which to learn.
Kinesthetic learners will need frequent breaks from any work that requires sitting in one place. They are easily distracted by other children or toys nearby and may need a clear space in order to concentrate. Try giving your kinesthetic child a rock to rub or pencil to hold on to while he is listening. Use manipulative like counters for math, letters cut out of sandpaper or other textured material, and play dough. Most of all, don’t expect a child who learns in this way to sit still.
Remember, there is no right or wrong style for learning. Most people have one style that is dominant, but will use the other styles at times. Some people have a combination of two styles that work best for them. When children are taught in a way that uses as many of the learning styles as possible, they are more likely to understand and remember. For the homeschooling parent, it can be difficult to teach outside your own learning style. If you are an auditory learner, it will be hard for you to understand why your child doesn’t sit with rapt attention while you read aloud for hours on end. If you learn by seeing things, you will think flashcards are the best way to learn math facts. Knowing your own learning style and those of your children will help you find ways to tailor your teaching methods. There are many learning style inventories offered free online for both adults and children. A search engine will bring up many sites that can help you in determining your own learning style, as well as those of your kids.
If you’re having difficulty teaching one of your children, don’t give up! Try something new and see how it works. Don’t be afraid to toss a method that worked for “all the other children.” I’ve certainly had to change a lot of things in order to teach Jonathan. And I’ve learned a lot in the process.