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Learning Styles—Your Blueprint for Homeschool Learning-Success

by Victoria Kindle Hodson & Mariaemma Willis

Whether you’re a homeschooling veteran, a new homeschooler, or just thinking about taking the plunge into teaching your children at home, finding out your child’s learning style will show you the route that you need to take to ensure your child’s Learning-SuccessTM!

After years of homeschooling you might be tired of paying for materials that look good and sound good but don’t work. If you’re new to homeschooling you might be feeling frustrated by the fact that your kids don’t enjoy doing lessons the way you think that they “should” be done. And, if you’re thinking about homeschooling, you might not feel confident about your skills to be your child’s “teacher.” Determining your child’s learning styles boosts confidence for all parents, because you know that you’re making plans, selecting materials, and using strategies for teaching that have the maximum potential for success.

One mother we met at a Link Conference assessed her children's learning styles and came back the following year to tell us, “This has been the best year ever! I gave my kids the profiles, bought materials for their learning styles, stopped trying to make them learn the way I learn best, and it made all the difference. I wish I had known all of this sooner!”

Finding out your child’s learning style has benefits for your child and for you. With the results in your hand you can improve: 1) your child’s chances for Learning-SuccessTM, 2) your ability to communicate with your child, 3) your ability to teach effectively and 4) your chances of raising a competent, responsible, independent, creative adult.

Improved Learning-SuccessTM

If you want a sturdy, comfortable house, you wouldn’t try to build it without a blueprint. If you want to take an enjoyable trip, you wouldn’t go across the country without using a map. If a coach wants to bring out an athlete’s best, he wouldn’t recommend a training program for her without knowing her strengths and weaknesses.

Of course you want the best education possible for your child. After all, you’re so committed to the best possible education that you’re doing it yourself or thinking about doing it yourself. Yet, in the rush to get your curriculum together, are you attempting to educate your child without: a blueprint of how he learns best, a map of where she wants to go, or a clear understanding of his/her interests and talents? If you aren’t looking carefully at your child’s learning needs when you’re putting a learning program together, what is determining what materials, methods, or curriculum you choose?

If the individual learning needs aren’t your guide, you’re likely to be setting up a program: 1) that is similar to the program you had when you were in school, or 2) that is the program you wish you had had when you were in school, or 3) that is designed by the people who wrote the curriculum to be a “one size fits all” approach. Your child’s chances of Learning-SuccessTM are decreased dramatically if this is the approach that you’re taking for choosing an academic program. Your child’s chances for enjoying the program are reduced even further. After all, your child is not you.

If you did well in math and you want your child to learn the same foundation skills that you did in the same way you did, you are destined for distress. If you had a terrible school experience and you are selecting materials and strategies that you wish you had had in school, you’ll have fun buying all the things you like, you’ll think that you have a perfect curriculum, but the kids might hate it. And, if you choose a curriculum because you’ve heard that it is a “good” one, or because your best friend used it, or because you liked the presentation made in the ad you read or by the sales person, that program is not likely to meet your child's needs. For example, if it is a program for a child with a Producing Disposition and your child has a Performing Disposition, your chances of Learning-SuccessTM are about zero.

There is an underlying dynamic that shows up when you begin using learning style appropriate methods and materials—When you start working with your children, they start working with you.

Improved Communication With Your Child

What is the one thing that moms, dads, and kids have in common? They each think that the other is not listening to them. Wives say it about husbands. Husbands say it about wives. Parents say it about kids. And, kids say it about parents. In fact, when we ask kids what they want from parents, their #1 response is, “I want them to listen to me.” How often is good communication thought of as listening carefully? Don’t we usually think of good communication as making our point clearly? If we want our kids to trust us and share themselves with us, we need to learn to listen carefully to them.

When you find out about your children's learning styles you are setting up the possibility for the kind of bonding experience that many parents wish for but never quite achieve. You’re saying to your child, “Tell me about yourself.” Learning style information that comes directly from a child is a powerful message to a parent. When we were young, how many of us had a chance to tell our parents about ourselves as students? Because you are asking for the information you’re saying “I want to know you better.” This may be the most powerful message a parent can give to a child.

And, if you are willing to make curriculum changes based on learning style information, you are showing that you are flexible and want to work with your child’s learning needs. Your actions are saying, “I care,” which is more powerful than simply  saying the words, “I love you.”

The unexpected effect of listening to our children more carefully is that our children often are more able to listen to us. The underlying dynamic mentioned above shows up again—When you start listening to your children, they start listening to you.

Improved Ability to Teach Your Child

When you have the learning style results for each of your children, your chances of being a more effective teacher increase a great deal. At the same time your effectiveness increases, the chances that you will burn out on the job decrease.

Learning style assessment results are your child’s blueprint for Learning SuccessTM. With them you will know how your child learns best so you won’t be wasting valuable time, money, and energy on methods and materials that haven’t worked before and won’t work in the future. If your child has a Thinking/Creating learning disposition, you can begin to understand why all of those workbooks and fill-in-the-blank worksheets that you loved when you were in school don’t work, and you can allow your child extra time to daydream and wonder. If your child has a Visual-Picture and Kinesthetic-Sketching learning modality you can start looking for pictures to add to your Visual-Print phonics program, and you can get a roll of butcher paper and lots of drawing tools for doing math and reading comprehension exercises. If your child has an Interactive-Nature talent you might get prepared for doing lessons outdoors and taking field trips into nature for science, writing, and math.

You will no longer expect the impossible and you won’t feel frustrated and guilty when your child can't achieve it. You won’t be comparing the “terrible” spelling scores of your child who has a Performing disposition and Body Coordination talent with the “wonderful” scores of your best friend’s child who has a Producing learning disposition and a Word-Language talent. You will be able to translate your child’s learning needs into a shopping list of workable, useful, fun, inspiring materials. You will be effective because you know the person you are teaching.

You can improve your chances of being a more effective teacher even further if you assess your own learning style. It is one thing to know your child well and to advocate for him/her. It is another thing to know your teaching bias well. As a homeschool parent, when things get confusing, frustrating, and/or challenging you are going to revert to your teaching bias.

Your teaching bias is based on your unique learning style and could be considered your default setting. No matter how understanding of your child’s learning style needs you think that you are, if you don’t know your teaching bias well, you are likely to be sneaking in your favorite kinds of activities or what you think your child “should” be doing. Your bias expects your child to be the kind of student you were or you wish you had been. And, by finding out your own learning style you become aware of what you take for granted as a learner, what you’re likely to avoid, and what your easiest ways to do things are. With this information about yourself, you’re more likely to allow your child to be different from you as a learner, which will avoid innumerable confrontations and battles. Owning your own learning style bias is not easy; however, you will notice the difference it makes in your effectiveness as a teacher and so will your kids.

Improved Chances of Raising a Competent, Responsible, Independent, Creative Adult

Homeschooling parents we meet have very specific reasons for taking their children out of public or private schools. Every year at the Link Conference Victoria collects a list of the goals parents have for their children when they become adults. It is a wonderful list of characteristics that always includes: competent, responsible, independent, and creative. Parents want to help raise an “individual;” a person who is indivisible—not capable of being divided against himself, therefore, capable of fulfilling his own purpose in life. The question that always comes up in relationship to this goal is, “What are you going to do differently from what schools are doing to reach your goal?”

So many of the homeschooling families we meet are doing what schools do—but at home. They are using school expectations for when a child should read, write, learn the multiplication tables, etc. School methods that rely on textbooks and worksheets; and school’s ways of assessing progress with book reports, research papers, and grades are deeply ingrained in those of us who have attended public or private schools. So, when it comes time for us to educate our own children, it’s only natural to draw upon what we know best.

However, as teachers who dropped out of the system because we couldn’t see how the one-size-fits-all expectations and methodologies for teaching and evaluating students could contribute positively to a child’s foundation as a confident, eager, lifelong learner, we are concerned when we see so much reliance on the production-line structures for educating our children. Homeschooling parents have chosen an alternative to the school system that allows them, if they know how to do it, to individualize programs and give children the advantage of growing and learning at their own pace, in their own way, in terms of their own talents and interests—the way people destined for leadership in our country have always been educated. In other words, if you want to grow an “individual,” you need to know the “bent” of that individual and “individualize” the curriculum to bring out the best in that person.

By finding out your child’s learning style you know how your child is “bent” in terms of: learning disposition, talents, interests, learning modality, and most suitable learning environment. After all, we come into the world with some pretty stubborn hardwiring; we are without a doubt “bent” in a certain direction. How many of you did very well in art or music in junior high or high school? How many of you who did well in art or music couldn’t make any sense out of math? How many of you loved to read literature and poetry? How many of those who loved poetry and literature fell asleep in chemistry or vice versa?

When you know what your child’s hardwiring is, you can customize any curriculum to bring out the best in that child. By treating your child as an individual from the earliest ages possible, you will be ensuring that your child grows into a person with purpose who is competent in his/her field, who is responsible, independent, and creative.

In Conclusion

We have worked for fourteen years researching, writing, and experimenting with the concept of learning styles. We have worked with it so long that it is hard for us to imagine starting a homeschooling program without finding out a child’s learning styles first. Think of it as your foundation for your program, your blueprint for providing successful learning experiences, or a map to your child’s successful future. Anyway we look at it, we see learning styles as the first step to your child’s Learning-SuccessTM.

Here are the voices from some of our fellow travelers in academia and medicine. Arthur Levine, President of Teachers College, Columbia University, writes in the New York Times, December 22, 2000, “We are heading to an era in which schooling will change profoundly. The teacher will not be the talking head at the front of the classroom, but the expert on students’ learning styles, the educational equivalent of a medical doctor. Children will no longer be grouped by age. Each student will advance at his or her own pace in each subject area through individualized tutorials.” Just think, you don’t have to cut through any bureaucratic red tape to allow your child to advance at his or her own pace in each subject area! You’re a homeschooler! You can start today!

Here is Mel Levine, MD, “Our society desperately needs all kinds of minds. So let’s make sure that every child is getting his or her strengths strengthened. Let’s not punish kids for the way they’re wired, but let’s celebrate and encourage that diversity. I’m trying to propagate a generation of optimistic kids, who will feel that they’ve made a contribution, that they are successful in their own ways. If you can show people how to believe in themselves when they’re young, then it becomes a lifelong process.”

And from teachers writing for Educational Leadership Magazine, February, 1996, “Educators are finally recognizing that unique learning needs are the norm rather than the exception.” (Cynthia Warger and Marleen Pugach, “Forming Partnerships Around Curriculum”)

With the information that you get from your child’s learning style profile you can strengthen your child’s strengths as well as celebrate and encourage his/her own way of learning. We have discovered that when we support the way that they learn best they feel optimistic about their possibilities in life. And, they are more likely to persist longer in the face of challenges and to want to make a contribution to society.

Victoria Kindle Hodson, M.A. & Mariaemma Willis, M.S., are Learning-SuccessTM Coaches, the authors of Discover Your Child’s Learning Style and the creators of A Self-PortraitTM Online Learning Style Profile. For more information visit their website at www.coachingforlearningsuccess.com

©2001 by Hodson & Willis/Reflective Educational Perspectives

Copyright © 2006 Modern Media