One thing you can do as a parent is help your child figure out what kind of learner they are, so that they can find the ways that work the best for them when they need to learn something. We like to look at both learning style and intelligence type, and there is some crossover between the two. Here is an excerpt from my book Homeschoolers Are Not Hermits.
Schools are best at teaching students who enjoy learning through reading and writing, and through spoken instruction. Fortunately, homeschoolers aren’t confined to using lectures, chalkboards, and textbooks for learning. You have access to a whole world of learning, and you and your kids are the ones who get to decide what serves your kids best, not the school system.
First, help your kids figure out what their learning modalities are. Once they understand which type of input helps them to learn best, they (and you) can tailor their lessons individually. Use the Learning Styles questionnaire at the bottom to figure out the easiest ways you and your kids learn. I was surprised to learn that my middle son, who adores reading, actually prefers to learn things through listening and watching videos.
It’s a good idea to offer information in a variety of styles, and for a variety of intelligences. The more ways something is presented, the more likely the knowledge is to stick. Also, it will help your kids develop more than one learning style, so they have more options in how to learn, and more developed intelligences, so they will be better rounded people.
Everyone is different
Usually, a person will have one dominant style or modality while still having access to the others, although that’s not always the case. A friend of mine in college was primarily kinesthetic, with auditory as backup, but could never picture anything in his mind. In fact, he was stunned to learn that I see actual pictures in my head, like a photograph. He thought that when someone said, “picture this,” it was metaphorical.
We also have a friend with severe dyslexia who needs to listen to audiobooks to keep up in class. Reading is never going to be an optimal way for him to learn. In our family, we have several different kinds of learning styles, and when we’re all learning things together we try to present the material in multiple ways. I read out loud, we watch videos, we read books on the subject, we use workbooks, and we make projects and go on field trips.
Learning Styles Questionnaire
People learn in many different ways. Four ways of getting information into the brain include Visual (pictures), Auditory (listening), Reading/Writing, and Kinesthetic (feeling). Learning through a combination of all four is considered ideal, and each person has his or her own unique combination of primary and auxiliary styles.
The following questions will help you explore your child’s learning style. Write down the letter that best explains his or her preference. If a single response doesn’t match, write down two or more choices. V = Visual (pictures), A = Auditory, R = Reading/Writing, K = Kinesthetic.
1. You are about to give directions to a friend. She wants to visit your house and she doesn’t know how to get there. Would you:
V – draw a map on paper?
A – tell her the directions?
R – write down the directions without a map?
K – go get her and show her the way?
2. You are going to visit a friend and don’t know how to get there. Would you like him to:
V – draw you a map on paper?
A – tell you directions on the phone?
R – write down the directions without a map?
K – come get you and show you the way?
3. Your friend wants to know all about a road trip your family is taking. Would you:
A – tell her about it?
R – make her a copy of the itinerary?
V – show her on a globe or map?
4. You are going to cook dessert as a special treat for your family. Do you choose one by:
A – asking for ideas from others?
K – cooking something familiar without needing instructions?
V – thumbing through a cookbook looking for ideas from the pictures?
R – reading the recipes in a cookbook?
5. You are going to teach other kids all about national parks. Would you:
K – suggest a tour of a national park?
V – show them pictures or movies about national parks?
R – give them books about national parks?
A – give them a talk about national parks?
6.You are about to buy new headphones. Other than price, what would most influence your decision:
A – a friend talking about them?
R – reading details about them?
K – listening to music on them?
V – how cool they look?
7. Recall a time when you learned how to do something like playing a new board game. (Pick something that is not a physical skill like riding a bike.) How did you learn best? By:
V – visual clues like pictures, diagrams and charts?
R – written instructions?
A – listening to somebody explaining it?
K – doing it?
8. Which of these games do you prefer?
V – Pictionary
R – Scrabble
K – Charades
A – Twenty Questions
9. You are about to learn to use a new program or game on a computer. Would you:
V – ask someone to show you?
K – ask someone to help you do it?
R – read the manual or instructions?
A – ask someone to tell you about it?
10. You are not sure whether a word should be spelled “dependent” or “dependant.” Do you:
R – look it up in the dictionary?
V – see the word in your mind and choose the best way it looks?
A – sound it out?
K&V – write both versions down to see which one looks best?
11. Apart from price, what would most influence your decision to buy a particular book?
K – using a friend’s copy
A – a friend talking about it
R – skimming parts of it
V – the pictures
12. A new movie is out. What would most influence your decision to go see it or not?
A – your friends liked it
R – you read a review of it
V – you saw a preview of it
13. Do you prefer to learn from:
R – books, textbooks, articles, information sheets?
K – field trips, labs, hands-on sessions?
V – flow charts, diagrams, pictures, slides, videos?
A – lectures, discussions, guest speakers, talks?
Adapted from Fleming, N.D. and Mills, C. (1992) “Not another inventory, rather a catalyst for reflections,” in To Improve the Academy, vol. 11: 137-155
What ways do they learn best?
Tally up the different answers to figure out how your kids learn best. Remember, just because a particular learning style is valued in the school system doesn’t mean it has more intrinsic value than any of the other learning styles. Learning is learning; forcing kids to learn in a way that is tedious to them when we have access to so many other options just doesn’t make sense. Yes, it’s a good idea to know how to learn information in all these modalities. Yes, present things in as many ways as possible. No, don’t force them to learn in a particular style.