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The Why and How of Learning Styles

August 3–7, 2015   |   Vol. 124, Programs 11–15

Are you looking for a fresh approach to the way you teach your children? Then tune in to today’s Home School Heartbeat, as your host Mike Smith introduces a concept that could re-energize your homeschool.

“The point of identifying your child’s learning style is to make learning a joy, not a burdensome list of requirements.”—Mike Smith

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Are you looking for a fresh approach to the way you teach your children? Then stay tuned to Home School Heartbeat, as your host Mike Smith introduces a concept that could re-energize your homeschool.

Mike Smith: One of the benefits of homeschooling is that it gives parents the freedom to personalize their child’s education to his or her talents and interests. An exciting way to do this is to explore learning styles.

You’ve probably heard the term “learning styles,” or “learning modalities,” before. A learning style is a person’s inborn preference for learning through one of the senses—hearing, sight, or touch. When teaching is tailored to a person’s unique learning style, he or she learns far more effectively.

Let’s say your student has become very frustrated with math, but you’ve noticed that he loves music class. His learning style might be auditory—that is, he learns best by hearing. You can help him understand math by teaching him the multiplication tables through songs.

Or, perhaps your daughter fidgets her way through history class and can’t seem to remember those pesky dates. She might be a kinesthetic learner—one who needs to use her whole body to learn. You could have her act out important scenes in history, cementing the facts in her memory.

Exploring learning styles can breathe new life into your homeschool. If your child seems to have hit a major roadblock in a particular subject, or simply doesn’t seem to care about learning anymore, a consideration of his or her learning style can make school fun again.

Mike: Identifying your child’s learning style can inspire a fresh vision for your homeschool. How? Because such things as curriculum choice and lesson format are all impacted by how your student learns best.

If your child has a tendency to stare off into space in the middle of class, he could be a visual learner. This is the child who learns through what he sees. He may be a picture learner—one who responds most to information that is presented in pictures. Or he might be a print learner, who remembers information that is presented as words on a page. When he appears to be daydreaming in the middle of class, he’s simply trying to visualize the concepts he’s learning.

Help your visual learner get the most out of studying by using visual aids. Assign books that contain helpful illustrations. Hang posters, maps, and timelines on your classroom walls. Since visual learners love eye-catching colors and designs, provide attractive folders for organization, and allow your student to use colored pencils on his assignments.

Take the time to teach your visual learner good study habits. He should practice highlighting reading material and quizzing himself with flashcards. Honing note-taking skills is crucial. By drawing pictures, sketching diagrams, and color-coding notes, a visual learner can solidly retain information presented in lecture format.

When you teach to your child’s learning styles, a whole new world of teaching options opens up.

Mike: Homeschoolers have the wonderful flexibility of being able to personalize their child’s education. Whether your child is a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner, you can choose the curriculum methods and teaching techniques that enable fun, effective learning.

Do you have an auditory learner in your homeschool? She’s the one who needs to hear herself say something in order to remember it. That’s because she retains information most strongly when it comes through her ears. You may also notice that she prefers to have you read aloud to her instead of reading to herself. Because this talkative child learns best by hearing, you’ll want to incorporate a variety of sound-based formats into her homeschool lessons. Encourage your student to read her assignments aloud to understand them. Teach lessons conversationally, giving her the opportunity to verbalize what she’s learning. Make frequent visits to your local library to borrow books on tape and CDs with learning songs. Your auditory learner will also benefit from group projects and oral presentations.

Since auditory learners sometimes find silence to be distracting, allow your child to listen to music while studying. She may also enjoy working with a study partner. Although your child’s study habits may seem unorthodox, the important thing is that she be aware of how she learns best.

As you homeschool your auditory learner, you’ll find yourself learning to celebrate the sounds around you.

Mike: This week we’ve discussed visual and auditory learners. Today I’d like to talk about the kinesthetic learner—the child who learns best through movement or touch. You’ll recognize him because he has difficulty sitting still. And when he says, “Let me see!” he really means, “Can I touch that?”

Imagine how frustrating the classroom experience can be for this child! Information presented in traditional formats—through workbooks or lectures—just don’t stick in his mind. But if he plays a game, acts a story, or uses math manipulatives, he can achieve success in learning. In planning lessons for this kinesthetic learner, you’ll want to deemphasize workbooks and lectures in favor of active learning. Get ready for some fun-filled schooldays! Provide your squirmy student with refrigerator magnets in the shape of numbers and letters. And if you’re studying history, have him build a model ship or construct a building out of blocks. Give him plenty of opportunities to dance, exercise, and act out stories. When it’s time to sit still, allow your child to sip on water or quietly work on a puzzle.

Your kinesthetic learner can study for tests by jumping rope while reviewing terms. Be sure and let him take breaks throughout the school day to run errands or take the dog for a walk. Movement and hands-on activities will make learning come alive for him.

Mike: Many resources are available that can help you identify your child’s learning style, both online and at the library. You’ll find checklists, detailed descriptions, and suggested teaching tools. If possible, have your child fill out a learning-style checklist herself. By combining your child’s perspective with your own observation, you’ll be able to confidently identify her learning style.

There’s no formula for teaching each particular learning style. Just dive in—and have fun! The point of identifying your child’s learning style is to make learning a joy, not a burdensome list of requirements. Ask your child for feedback as you try different teaching strategies. She can tell you when a lesson makes sense and when it doesn’t. She may even have suggestions for how she can learn more effectively.

As your child moves through the high school years, teach her how to take charge of her own education. You may even want to award high school credit for a course in learning styles and strategies. Have your student research ways to adapt various classes to her learning style. Challenge her to develop study techniques that take advantage of her unique strengths.

College and the working world can sometimes seem inflexible to the student who learns “outside the box.” But with a good knowledge of learning styles, your child will know how to make the transition with flair.

And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike SmithMike Smith

Michael Smith and his wife Elizabeth, along with Michael Farris and his wife, Vickie, incorporated Home School Legal Defense Association in 1983 and were the original board members. The Smith family’s lives changed dramatically when Mike heard a radio program in 1981 that introduced him to the idea of homeschooling. He and Elizabeth started homeschooling—taking it just one year at a time—to meet the academic and social needs of their children.

Mike came to HSLDA full-time in 1987 and has served as president of the organization since the year 2001. In addition to serving as president, he also is a contact lawyer for California, Nevada and Puerto Rico. All of Mike’s children are now grown, and three of the four were homeschooled. The most enjoyable part of Mike’s job is when he is able to go to homeschool conferences and meet what he calls America’s greatest heroes, homeschooling moms.

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