Learning Styles

Few things frustrate homeschoolers more than trying to teach a child who won't sit still, won't stop talking, or won't listen until the directions have been repeated twenty times.

However, our frustration could often be relieved if we simply understood differences in learning styles.

A child's dominate learning style, or learning modality, describes how he or she receives and processes information.

  1. Auditory processors learn by listening or talking.

  2. Visual processors learn by seeing or making mental images.

  3. Kinesthetic or tactile processors learn by doing.

A child's primary learning style is referred to as his or her "dominant modality". The next favored learning style is referred to as the "secondary modality". A child's least favored modality is considered a "weakness".

Some children can function equally well using two different learning styles. This is known as "mixed modalities".

Because traditional classrooms cater to auditory and visual learners, children who are equally auditory and visual are generally labeled gifted. On the other hand, a kinesthetic and auditory child who learns through movement and sound may be incorrectly labeled hyperactive or ADHD.

As adults we have our own preferences as to how we receive or communicate information. Many times we want to teach our children in a way that makes sense to us.

However, it is counter productive to tell a kinesthetic child to sit still and listen, or to tell an auditory learner not to hum while writing. In doing so, we take away the very tools the child needs to learn.

Teaching to our child's modality makes learning more efficient and enjoyable. It also limits conflict and helps children learn to maximize their strengths and use them to compensate for areas of weakness.

Determining Your Child's
Learning Style

The best way to determine your child's learning style is to study your child. Consider the following:

  • Does your child express emotion through facial expression, tone of voice, or body language?

  • Do your child's primary interests involve pictures, sounds or movement?

  • When encountering something new, does your child want to examine it, ask questions about it or touch it?

  • In a group setting, does your child watch others, talk to others, touch others or encourage others to move?

  • How does your child communicate? What forms of communication does your child best understand?

  • How does your child solve problems? What brings about success or frustration?

It may take some time and experimentation to figure out your child's dominant learning style. The goal is not to pigeon hole your child or make excuses for poor behavior, but to find ways to work with, not against, his or her natural strengths.

When teaching children with different learning styles, it is not always necessary to use multiple programs. While that may work for some families, it can also lead to frustration and burn out. Try using the suggestions below to tailor your curriculum to meet your child's needs.

Your Auditory Learner

Auditory learners receive information by listening or talking. They need to repeat information aloud or hear information repeated for accurate processing. This can take the form of repeating directions to themselves, saying answers aloud as they write them, and moving their lips while reading.

These children can be vocal and dramatic, and typically enjoy storytelling, audio tapes, reading aloud, listening to music, and playing instruments. They have a good memory for conversation, and thrive on group discussions, and asking and answering questions.

They usually follow oral directions well, and may frequently whistle, talk or hum to themselves. Homeschooling methods that involve reading aloud and group discussion may appeal to auditory learners. Consider unit studies, classical homeschooling or the Charlotte Mason method.

Tips for Teaching Auditory Learners

  • Read information and directions aloud.

  • Give your child the opportunity to discuss the directions before beginning an assignment.

  • Use oral drill for practice.

  • Encourage participation in spelling and geography bees.

  • Provide opportunities for group study.

  • Make a song or poem out of information that needs to be memorized.

  • Have child record information and play it back in order to commit it to memory.

  • Teach child to read or talk to self in a whisper.

  • Motivate reluctant readers through the use of rhyming books, poetry, and audiobooks.

Your Visual Learner

Visual learners receive information by seeing and making mental images. They may think in words, such as reading and writing, or images, such as charts, graphs, maps and drawings.

These children may move slowly because they are paying attention to details. They sometimes appear to be daydreaming, and prefer to watch an activity for a while before joining in.

Visual learners typically enjoy reading, math, art, and visual stimulation in the form of television and computer games. They have a good memory for pictures and the written word, and are adept at noticing similarities and differences. In subjects such as spelling, they determine whether or not a word is correct by asking the question, "Does it look right?"

Children who are visually oriented are generally neat and organized. Your visual learner may prefer classical homeschooling, traditional textbooks and workbooks or computer-based homeschooling over those that require projects and group interaction. Book lovers may also enjoy a literature rich approach, such as the Charlotte Mason method.

Another group of learners, known as visual-spatial learners, thinks visually, but focuses on the big picture rather than details. These children learn complex skills more easily than simpler ones, and have difficulty with the step-by-step methods used in most curricula. For more information about visual-spatial learners, visit Visual Spatial Resource.

Tips for Teaching Visual Learners

  • Teach your child to take notes so he has something to look at while listening.

  • Put information in the form of diagrams, charts, maps, graphs and drawings.

  • Highlight information to make it more prominent.

  • Teach child to put information in the form of an outline.

  • Give written, as opposed to verbal, instruction.

  • Use flashcards and worksheets, as opposed to oral practice.

  • Motivate reluctant readers with books that have interesting pictures. When books have been made into a movie, view the movie before reading the book to give your child a visual to refer to.

Your Kinesthetic/Tactile Learner

Kinesthetic/tactile learners receive information by moving or touching. The term "kinesthetic" refers to large muscle movements such as those required for athletics or dance. "Tactile" refers to touch, or small motor movements such as those involved in sewing, typing or craftsmanship.

These children express themselves through gestures and body language, and can have extreme mood swings. They need physical action, and can best remember information that learned while participating in activities or imitating movements.

Kinesthetic learners are typically coordinated and adept at building and taking things apart. Homeschool methods which involve projects, models, and experiments will appeal to these individuals. Consider unit studies and Montessori homeschooling.

Tips for Teaching Kinesthetic Learners

  • Associate memorization of facts with bodily movement such as taking steps, jumping on a trampoline, swinging, etc.

  • Take frequent breaks. Alternate short periods of seatwork with periods of activity.

  • Let your child complete assignments while rocking or sitting on a bouncy ball.

  • Let your child stack blocks, squeeze a ball, build clay models, or draw while listening.

  • Record information to be memorized and let your child listen while swinging, jogging or engaging in physical activity.

  • Use manipulatives to teach mathematical concepts.

  • Use textured letters and alphabet magnets to teach spelling and reading.

  • Have your child write in sand, shaving cream or pudding to practice spelling or letter formation. Your can also write on your child's back with your finger or have your child use his finger to write in the air.

  • Let your child write on a large chalkboard or dry erase board when studying. Have him or her erase information as it is learned.

  • Let your child run his finger along the words or highlight information while reading.

  • Motivate reluctant readers with pop up, scratch and sniff, lift the flap, push/pull tabs and other books that invite activity. Older readers may prefer, books that feature adventure or sports.

Resources for Further Study:

Discover Your Child's Learning Style by Mariaemma Ms Willis and Victoria Ma Kindle Hodson

Talkers, Watchers, and Doers: Unlocking Your Child's Unique Learning Style by Cheri Fuller

The Way They Learn by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias

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