So you’ve decided to homeschool. Or maybe you’re still on the fence. And that’s ok! Or, just maybe, you’ve been at this crazy thing called homeschooling for a while now, but are completely stumped as to how to figure out your child’s learning style.
I’ve been there. Believe me, we all have.
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One of the most important – and sometimes, most nebulous – parts of teaching your kids is to figure out how they learn best.
We All Have a Learning Style
I’ve gotten a wide range of reactions over the years when talking with parents about learning styles.
Some parents will nod sagely and proceed to rattle off their children’s learning modes as if they’re listing favorite foods.
“Ashley is definitely visual, while Jordan is kinesthetic and auditory. Jacob’s a bit of everything, but he leans a little more toward visual.”
Other times, I’ll get a blank look followed by, “Well, he’s 8. I don’t know, what does that equal?”
And sometimes, I’ll look up and see a mom who’s on the verge of tears, feeling more inadequate than ever because she really doesn’t know.
The thing is though, learning styles aren’t things that are somehow exclusive to homeschooled kids. You have a learning style that is unique to you. So do I. And so does each of your children.
Answering the Questions
So…what is a learning style, and what makes it such a big deal? If everyone has one, shouldn’t they be pretty easy to figure out?
Well, you’d think so.
Basically, what we often refer to as a learning style (also sometimes called a “learning mode” or “modality”) is just the way in which someone best learns and retains information. That’s it.
Think of it this way: we live in a world in which information is so readily available that we can’t help but absorb some of it. But what types of information are you most drawn to?
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Learning Comes Naturally
Do you love to read, to get lost in the world that lies in the pages of a book?
Is there always some sort of noise going on in the background, whether it’s the TV, a podcast, or music streaming from some device?
Do you love brilliant pops of color and feel as if you just can’t focus in a bland environment?
Or, think about the things you do for fun, as hobbies, or even without realizing it.
Do your hands need to be doing something at all times?
Do you make lists or journal because writing things down helps you think things through?
Have you found that exercising clears your mind or that doing some sort of craft or activity helps everything come into focus?
I’m willing to wager that at least one of these statements rang true to you, and not just because they describe common interests or activities. Rather, it’s because they describe the results of different learning styles.
You see, our interests, hobbies, and activities are partly drawn from our learning styles.
Once we are given a choice of things to do, we will naturally gravitate toward the ideas that calm us, exhilarate us, cause us to learn, and allow us to process information and ideas.
Our kids are the same way!
They’re going to naturally want to do the things that cause them to learn, that help them to discover. Our goal as parents and teachers is to help that happen.
How Do I Determine My Child’s Learning Style?
So what’s the secret to figuring out how your child learns best?
Well, there are several dozen quizzes out there, and some are obviously better than others. (Personally, I recommend staying away from any that look like a social media “quiz.”)
These can give you a basic idea of what your child might need, but that’s really about it.
This is because kids aren’t robots. They aren’t “standard.”
They don’t fall neatly into the modes of visual, auditory, or kinesthetic (more on these in a moment), though that’s a good place to start. There’s just more to it than that.
Honestly, the best way to determine your child’s learning mode(s) and style is to intentionally observe them.
What do they do when they’re not being directed? Or what do they choose to do for fun?
What frustrates them, seemingly for no reason?
These are all good indicators of their learning mode and style.
Generally, people will refer to “learning modes” as “learning styles.”
The term “learning mode” refers to which sense (sight, hearing, or touch/doing) best helps a person take in and process information in order to retain it.
The most common terms used to describe these modes are visual (learns best with visual materials), auditory (learns best with things like read-alouds, audio books, and lectures), and kinesthetic (this is the hands-on learner – the one that learns by touching and “doing”).
Visual leaners (not surprisingly) prefer to learn through what they can see.
These may be the kids that always have their nose in a book, the ones that intently look over the whiteboard during a class, or the artistic kids that love visual movement and bright colors.
The one thing that ties all of these learners together is that if they can see it, they can easily learn it. If they hear it…perhaps not so much.
This is why you can hand them a list of things to do, and they will happily get it done; if you tell them a list of things to do, it goes straight over their heads as if you never said it.
Auditory learners, on the other hand, prefer to learn through what they can hear.
They may have an amazing ear for music and be able to memorize songs very easily, or they may love to have you read to them but aren’t so keen on sitting down with a book.
They may also be the kids that seem to talk or make noises all the time.
While this may seem like they’re goofing off and not paying attention, in reality it often means that they’re processing a lot of information at once – they’re just doing so in a way that doesn’t make sense to most other people.
Home Learning Year by Year: How to Design a Homeschool Curriculum from Preschool Through High School102 Top Picks for Homeschool CurriculumDo It Yourself Curriculum – Fun-Schooling with Minecraft: 400 Homeschooling Lessons (Homeschooling with Minecraft) (Volume 1)The Big Book of Homeschool Ideas: 55 Moms Share Their Expertise on 103 TopicsThe Ultimate Book of Homeschooling Ideas: 500+ Fun and Creative Learning Activities for Kids Ages 3-12 (Prima Home Learning Library)The Big Book of Homeschool Ideas: volume 2
Kinesthetic learners are often the most misunderstood, and at times, the kids that are assumed to have ADHD. (True ADHD is a whole different beast, one that we’ll tackle in another post.)
The term “kinesthetic” just means that the learner needs some sort of movement, of “doing,” in order to really learn.
These students might be the ones who are constantly tinkering with something, the ones always tapping a pencil on the desk, or even the ones who need to get up and walk around.
(While this doesn’t work so well in most classrooms, it’s very easy to accommodate in a homeschool setting.)
A subset of this group is tactile learners – people who need to be touching something, often something with a specific texture, in order to effectively learn.
In my next post, we’ll see how all this works together to figuring out your child’s individual learning style – in other words, how you can best reach your child’s heart and mind.