Karen was an active, energetic child. She rode her bike earlier than other kids in the neighborhood and was on the go all the time. Curious about everything, she learned best by doing “real-life” activities with her parents in the kitchen or manipulating things such as blocks.
Karen loved preschool, especially making animals out of clay, finger painting, and outdoor play. But when she was four years old and the letters of the alphabet were introduced, she had a hard time distinguishing between P and D, W and M, and other letters. The letters just didn’t connect with the sounds.
Luckily Karen’s mom, Gretchen, realized her daughter learned in a hands-on way, so she made two-foot-tall shapes of all the alphabet letters out of brightly colored material. Karen played with the stuffed letters, manipulated them, and turned them around different ways on the floor. Before long, she learned the alphabet letters and sounds, and was putting her big stuffed letters together to make simple words.
Karen’s parents understood how their daughter learned best, and when she didn’t seem to understand something, instead of saying, “Why aren’t you paying attention; how could you be so stupid?” they thought, How are you thinking about this, Karen? Thus, they gave their little “Doer” many opportunities for hands-on learning in her early years, which helped her master the basics and reinforced what she learned at school. She learned math best by handling concrete objects around the house. She learned about counting and measurements by helping her mom cook.
Even though at first reading was difficult for her, Karen’s parents (who were avid readers themselves) read to her a great deal. They found books that were action-packed and in her areas of interest, and Karen became an excellent reader and writer. By age ten, she started writing her first novel on her computer and had ideas for ten different novels.
Like many active, hands-on learners, Karen didn’t notice if her clothes matched—she was too busy with projects, the computer, or taking long bike rides. Very involved in athletics, she earned letters in four sports at school each year, and had plenty of energy for other activities.
Although “Doers” like Karen may be very bright, they’re the most at-risk group for school failure and problems because school is mostly letters and numbers, abstract symbols on worksheets or books that can be hard to figure out. These kids make up the major population in “resource rooms” for learning disabled. But if their parents help them learn in ways that capitalize on their strengths, they can succeed.
Just as your child has a unique temperament and personality bent, she also has particular patterns for learning. Each child’s brain is wired differently and many factors make up a person’s learning style. Psychologists have long known there are distinct personality types. Wouldn’t it be boring if we were all the same? Those differences in preferences, choices of hobbies and clothing, keep our families and our world exciting and interesting.
Just as kids have different personalities and physical traits, a number of factors that affect kids’ learning. They might learn best independently or a study group might be more effective for them. They may excel in a structured classroom with an adult teaching or they might prefer to discover concepts themselves through reading. Some students need to see the big picture before breaking down a concept into parts, and some learn best in logical steps and want rules for doing new tasks. Some learn best in a quiet room, and others need some background noise.
Among the factors of learning style, one that plays a vital role in school performance is how your child processes information.
• Some kids learn best by seeing—reading, observing, looking at pictures and diagrams—that is, by visual learning. (We’ll use the term “Watchers.”)
• Some children’s strength is hearing explanations and talking about the information—that is, by auditory learning. (“Talkers”)
• Other kids, like Karen, need to get their muscles, movement, and/or touch involved in learning—by doing an experiment, rehearsing, or taking an active approach—that is, by kinesthetic learning. (“Doers”)
• Many children use a combination of these three methods to understand and learn.
While most of us learn in all three ways at some point, scientists have discovered that in most children, one sense is more finely tuned and effective for learning than the others. We can compare the learner to a television set that can receive information on several different channels. Let’s say you’re at a lake cabin without cable service or a satellite dish. One channel usually comes in more clearly than the others. And just as you would tend to watch that stronger, clearer channel as the main source of your news and entertainment, the learner tends to rely on one means—the auditory, visual, or kinesthetic—as the primary way of receiving and processing information, and of expressing knowledge and ideas.
If one station has constant interference and is blocked from effective use and the student doesn’t know how to change channels, he’s frustrated and may develop problems in the classroom.
Helen Keller’s visual and auditory channels were not available for processing information or learning words. But when her sense of touch—her strength—was accessed to get through to her brain, the lightbulb went on and she understood language. Her brilliant mind was released to achieve and impact the world as she grew into adulthood. If we discover children’s strengths, their mental growth can be enhanced and they can be more successful in school and life.
Discovering children’s learning styles is not a panacea for all learning problems, but even students who have been labeled “learning disabled” can compensate for their weaknesses and achieve more when we discover and use their skills and talents.
As you look at different factors in this book, you’ll discover your child’s learning patterns—not to label or pigeonhole her as only one kind of learner, but to discover how the combination of her strengths and gifts and the particular way her brain is wired can be utilized to learn most effectively. Kids achieve more when they’re understood by parents and teachers who show them ways to capitalize on their strengths and help them compensate for their weaknesses, so they aren’t consistently overwhelmed or defeated.
Whether you’re a parent who has children in a public or private school or a homeschool mom with four kids at different grades, understanding their learning patterns can be invaluable. Teaching our children how to learn is as important as teaching them what to learn.
Here are some of the benefits:
• They concentrate better, retain more, and make higher grades.
• They acquire a more positive view of learning, because kids’ early learning experience, whether a string of successes or failures, strongly influences their motivation and view of themselves as learners.
• They become more active, independent learners. They “learn how to learn” and maximize the study time they have at home or school.
• They can learn to adapt to different teaching styles in the classroom.
• When they hit a snag, or are “stuck” in a subject or task that is difficult, they have tools to draw on to get over the obstacles and learn what they need to.
• Conflict over chores and homework between parents and children can be eliminated, resulting in more family harmony.
You see, children in the same family rarely learn the same way. Husbands and wives usually have distinct learning styles, and parents often approach tasks in different ways from their children, which can cause conflict. (That’s why in a later chapter we’ll look at your learning style as a parent.) The parent whose main learning channel is auditory may interpret a Doer’s style as misbehavior. The visual parent may say, “Be quiet!” to her auditory learner, blocking the best means of study for the child who needs to say and hear the information to understand and remember it.
Getting the Most from This Book
As you read the pages ahead, you’ll discover new things about how you learn and how your kids learn. Instead of expecting them to learn just like you do, you can begin to talk about learning preferences. If your child could choose to practice math facts or vocabulary words in any way possible, how would he do it? You can read the chapter about parents’ learning styles to get a better picture of how you learn best. And the descriptions of children and surveys in chapter 3 will help you gain a picture of your child’s learning patterns.
Next, I encourage you to try some of the learning-style strategies suggested throughout the pages that follow and see which methods—or combinations of methods—help your child learn and remember important information. There are also lots of ideas for enhancing preschoolers’ visual, auditory, and kinesthetic skills before they’re ever in a classroom situation. Be sure to take “another look at smart” and discover ways to identify and develop your child’s gifts and intelligence in chapters 8 and 9. Chapter 10 will give you suggestions on working with teachers without alienating them and ways to bypass kids’ weaknesses. Be sure to read chapter 11 to your child so he can be inspired by the stories of learning-different people who struggled in school but achieved amazing things as adults.
I think you’ll find, as I have, that when parents understand their children’s strengths and show them how to capitalize on them, kids can excel. D and F struggles can be turned into A and B successes, confidence grows, and children become active learners with a pattern of achievement at school.