What kind of learner is your child?
I remember being asked that question as a first-time homeschool mom when I was attending a homeschool convention. It was a moment of panic as I realized that I didn’t have an answer. But surely after a few weeks of homeschooling, I will know, I thought. But I didn’t. Fast forward several years, and I still don’t have a neat answer. I know my children better than anyone else, but I’ve found that learning styles aren’t as big of a deal as some people think.
Defining Learning Styles
What exactly are learning styles? According to educational experts, the four basic learning styles are: auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and read/write. (They’re sometimes referred to by the acronym VARK).
Visual Learners: Visual learners need to see pictures. If your child is a visual learner, use plenty of pictures, graphic organizers, maps, and so on to help him or her grasp new information.
Auditory Learners: If your child is an auditory learner, he or she will learn best by listening to someone (through a lecture, audiobook, video with sound, etc.). In order to remember information, these learners often repeat it out loud, set it to music, or perhaps even make up a short poem about it.
Read/Write Learners: Some people learn best by reading information or copying it down. If your child is a read/write learner, provide lots of books and encourage taking notes.
Kinesthetic Learners: Kinesthetic learners are tactile learners. They need to touch, and they need to move. Hands-on activities and experiments are great for learners of this type.
The Limitations of Learning Styles
I’ve found that even though it’s helpful to know your child’s preferred learning style, it isn’t essential. What you should be aware of, however, is that most children don’t fit neatly into a single category. For example, one of my daughters seems to use three of the four learning styles at different times. She does great with hands-on activities and moves almost constantly, but she also learns well when she can see pictures, when someone asks her questions out loud, or when information is set to music.
To further complicate things, often a child’s learning style will change over time. Most young children need a lot of hands-on learning, but as they mature and their brains develop, they may do better with another learning style.
The Strengths of Multisensory Learning
So what does all this mean for the homeschool mom? Homeschooling is all about being able to give your child the individual instruction that he or she needs to excel. So pay attention. When your child struggles to grasp a concept, try a different approach. But instead of trying to tailor all your teaching to a specific learning style (and exhausting yourself in the process), consider using a multisensory approach instead.
A multisensory approach, as the name implies, incorporates multiple senses into the learning process. Experts believe that children taught with a multisensory approach retain information better because they have more opportunities to connect with what they are absorbing.
Examples of Multisensory Learning
This multisensory approach to learning is one of the strengths of the BJU Press curriculum. It isn’t designed for only one type of learner—it’s a curriculum for all types of learners. I’ve taught three (very different!) children with the BJU Press curriculum, and it has fit each of them
For example, this year my kindergartner is using the K5 Math digital learning program from BJU Press. The first lesson was about identifying a circle. The teacher showed examples of circles (visual), described what a circle looked like (auditory), and invited students to finger-trace circles (touch). This multisensory lesson was exactly what my daughter needed.
BJU Press also recognizes that multisensory teaching is particularly helpful when teaching reading to young children. At this age children still think on a very concrete level, so getting their senses involved will help them better understand what they are reading.
For example, last year, when I was teaching Reading 2 to one of my daughters, I noticed that she was struggling with a particular selection titled “Philip and His Pets” because she had no experience with some of the types of pets mentioned in the story. So we went to the pet store and observed all those animals. It was an extremely helpful experience that increased both her understanding of the story and her appreciation of it.
If you’re interested in more examples of multisensory learning in math, science, and history, be sure to check out some of our previous blog posts.