Making Learning Styles Work For You!

A long time ago, when I was still new to homeschooling, I made what turned out to be a very helpful discovery – learning styles! Of course it’s easy to figure out that some people can read a book and easily take in all the knowledge presented in it, while other people need to hear it explained or see a movie about the same topic in order to understand it well. The concept of learning styles was fascinating to me, and the more I learned about it, the more I realized that homeschooling is the perfect setting to be able to truly put those style preferences to work in a positive way.

I read a book called The Way They Learn by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias, and started thinking about what learning styles my kids tended towards. I also figured out what my own learning style was, because that would affect my teaching style. Because we were homeschooling, we could customize so that each kid could learn the way they learn best, rather than being forced to learn in a way that’s most convenient for a classroom setting.

Some basics about learning styles:

  • Auditory learners are those that learn best by hearing. They can take in information presented in lectures or videos effectively, and speaking aloud may help them remember better. Read out loud to them. Allow them to do tests orally. Music may be a valuable tool to help them memorize things like math facts.
  • Visual learners need to see concepts to understand, often in diagrams or pictures. They tend to remember things in images, so they may doodle those images in their notes, or prefer to have photos or graphics in their texts. Allow them to follow along in their own copy if you’re reading aloud or listening to audio-books. Encourage them to draw pictures and doodles in their notes. Use highlighters or color-codes to help them organize information.
  • Kinesthetic learners understand best when they can do something hands-on. They may be impatient when someone is describing how to put something together, because they need to do it themselves in order to understand and remember the steps. Movement helps them think! Look for ways to incorporate hands-on learning as much as possible – field trips, experiments, and art projects. Let them sit on an exercise ball instead of a chair at their desk.
  • Although we can all use each of the different learning styles, we also have a preference.
Another way to think about learning styles is that there are two basic ways that we perceive and understand information. Perception – how we take in information – happens in two ways, and we all use both, but we each have a preference. Concrete perception takes in information directly through the sense and deals with what is tangible and obvious, without hidden meanings or relationships between ideas. Abstract perception allows us to visualize and understand things we can’t see, using intuition or imagination and looking for more subtle meanings. The way we use the information we take in can also be divided into two general methods – Sequential or Random ordering. Again, although we use both, we will find one style more dominant than the other. Sequential ordering organizes information in a linear, step-by-step manner, using logic and following a plan. Random ordering organizes information in chunks without a particular sequence. This is the ability to skip steps or work in an unconventional order, and people who think this way may seem impulsive or as if they don’t have a plan.

Putting Learning Styles to Work in our Homeschool

One of the early ways learning styles became obvious to us was how we memorized. Whether it’s a Scripture verse, the Pledge of Allegiance, a spelling list, or math facts, how we commit the things to our memory in the first place and how we recall it is different depending on our learning preference. My daughter is visual and auditory – she writes out her own times tables to help her remember the facts for which she doesn’t have a song memorized. One of my older sons is very kinesthetic and when he was little he could recite plenty of things he’d memorized if he was allowed to bounce on a chair, walk around, or clap hands. But he often would go blank on something as simple as the Pledge of Allegiance if he had to stand still at attention.
We learned awhile ago that my son has a strong preference for auditory and kinesthetic learning. He learns effectively by reading aloud or talking about the subject; and hands-on experiences help him learn and remember as well. Knowing that he is not oriented towards needing to see information reminded me to take it easy on him for not showing all his work in math, for instance. And that if he isn’t looking at the screen, that doesn’t mean he’s not paying attention to the lecture being given on the DVD – it’s likely that he is concentrating on listening to what is being said even though it appears he is staring blankly into space!
When my Visual girl and my Auditory boy are working on a lesson with me teaching, she will follow along if we are reading something together, or make drawings or notes about what we’re reading; but he is far more likely to put his head down and appear as if he is dozing off, when in reality he is probably taking in the lesson just as effectively because he only needs to hear it. And yes, I’ve tested it by asking them afterwards, and despite the fact that she doodled the entire time, my daughter could tell me when the lesson was about, and so could my son, even though he looked like he was asleep the whole time.
Give students some practice in managing well in a setting where they may need to use a learning style that’s not their preference. Classroom settings are not the best for kinesthetic learners, whose need to move around can be disruptive. Homeschooling is great for these kids when they are younger, and we can let them hop on one foot around the kitchen table as they recite the states and capitals if that helps them! But that kind of thing isn’t going to go over well in a co-op class or at college, so as they get older they will need to learn setting-appropriate ways to keep their brains in gear. Fortunately, most kids do adjust on their own, but knowing about learning styles and being prepared with those how-to skills will be valuable for them as they head off to college.
Harness the unique ways that your kids think and learn to help them make the most of home education!

Do you know your learning style, or your child’s learning style? How do you make the most of it in your homeschool?


Kym (25 Posts)

Kym is in the middle of her 17th year of homeschooling her four kids, two of whom have graduated. She and her husband of 27 years are Canadians transplanted to Maryland. Kym loves coffee, history, and homeschooling, and you can join her for coffee break at her blog, Homeschool Coffee Break.

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