While teaching a Bible club lesson to a group of children at a local elementary school, I noticed that a boy named Ryan was having a rather difficult time. He didn’t participate in songs, and he didn’t seem to get much out of oral lessons with visual presentations. He was rarely able to answer questions during discussion time.
Eventually, I tried a new approach. I wrote down individual Bible verses with a brief explanation of each. I allowed Ryan to read and contemplate the content on his own in a quiet area. Later that day during discussion time, Ryan was one of the most active students. He knew the answer to nearly every question I asked.
We tend to assume that colorful visuals and over-the-top presentations are the best ways to deliver information (and often that is the case given the short attention span of many young children). But this isn’t true for every child. Ryan needed quiet, distraction-free study time to focus. He also needed to read the material for himself.
Not all children absorb content the same way. Some receive information better when it’s presented visually, while others learn best from hands-on activities. Some children need to read the material themselves, and others need to listen. Incompatibilities between teaching and learning styles can be frustrating for homeschool families.
Some parents mistakenly believe that they have somehow failed to be good teachers. Others get tired of paying for homeschool curriculums that promise success but fail to engage their child. Some parents even begin to question their child’s development and capabilities.
It wasn’t my fault or the fault of the other teachers that Ryan didn’t understand the Bible lessons. It also wasn’t that Ryan was slower to grasp the concepts than the other children were. The mismatch between learning style and instruction strategy simply made learning nearly impossible for him.
Understanding your child’s learning style can reduce these frustrations and make the learning process easier.
What is my child’s learning style?
There are three main types of learning.
- Auditory learners
These children like to listen to content rather than reading it. Verbally reciting information might be a preferred study method. Background noise such as music may be helpful to some, while it might be a distraction to others who work best in a quiet place.
- Hands-on learners
Children with this learning style learn by touching and engaging in hands-on activities. They might have a hard time sitting still while studying. Writing down information could be helpful.
- Visual learners
Visual learners understand information best by reading, viewing a demonstration, and looking at graphics. Children who learn this way might get impatient while listening to an explanation.
Finding out which learning style describes your child often requires a trial-and-error approach. A child who is a visual or hands-on learner can work through the same math problem on paper many times and have the concept explained in text or orally over and over but still not understand the material.
If your child is struggling with a concept, change tactics and try a different approach until you find one that works. For a child struggling with basic math concepts, try using beans or other small objects to demonstrate the concept visually. Let the child work out the problem with his hands. You might be surprised how quickly things begin to click.
Once I know how my child learns, what should I do?
Be creative. Find ways to shape a lesson toward the way your child learns best. Print off pictures of people, maps, and, places while reading about history, geography, and Bible if your child is a visual learner. Use projects, games, and crafts if your child prefers hands-on learning.
When selecting textbooks for your child, be sure to consider his or her specific needs. Some textbooks take an approach that would only appeal to one style of learning. Others offer a wider approach. A child who learns visually would have a harder time benefiting from an text-based curriculum with no pictures or graphics. A child who needs hands-on practice would struggle with only visual textbooks.
Some textbooks such as BJU Press elementary math are designed to appeal to all styles. Attractive pictures and illustrations help the visual learner while included manipulatives provide a hands-on experience. Extra practice sheets are there for those who need to read and work out the problems individually. Textbooks like these help take the guesswork out of teaching for individual learning styles.
The most important thing to remember is to stay positive and keep at it. A critical requirement of homeschooling for both parent and child is confidence. Don’t lose confidence in yourself, and don’t let your child lose confidence. You’ll get there. When things do go right, always remember to commend not only your child but yourself as well for a job well done. Homeschooling is a learning experience for both of you.