A number of years ago, our family jumped into homeschooling with limited success. Sometimes our oldest son would understand the materials and sometimes our lessons would end in a fit of tears. He cried a lot over school. I had no frame of reference. I assumed the crying was just a stage. He would get over it.
After homeschooling for a couple of years, I attended a homeschool support group meeting one evening. There, the leader passed around some resources designed to help parents or other adults figure out a child’s learning style. It turns out, this was a huge breakthrough for us. By this time, our second was beginning to learn to read and if there was any other noise in the room, he would quickly get overwhelmed and start crying and covering his ears. It was by examing resources like this one that I realized my kids had ways they learned best. We actually used several different assessments, but the results were surprisingly helpful. It turns out my oldest son learns very visually. Having me tell him things verbally is overwhelming. He prefers to have things written down and is quite good at using a planner. My second son is very auditory. He loves audio books and learning by talking and hearing as well as doing. This has transformed how we homeschool. If a books comes on audio, I’ll get it for my 2nd son over making him read. He reads very slowly but enjoys listening to audio books while he does other things. My auditory son also gets overwhelmed by too much sound…his brain can’t process all that input which is why he used to scream when it was noisy (our house is almost noisy with 8 kids) and he was trying to focus. Thankfully that delightful habit has diminished significantly.
In addition to these two sons, the rest of my kids clearly fall into prefered learning styles which makes is a bit easier to tailor their learning so they can retain the most possible. Having focused on my kids learning styles, a year or two ago I started paying attention to how I learn. I did relatively well in school but I remember very little of what I learned. On the other hand, my husband struggled in school but remembers so much more. Moving forward, I want to do better…to obtain and retain learning in a style that suits me best. So I started thinking back to different contexts growing up in which learning occurred for me. Here are a few examples and what I observed about me:
1. Welcome to School – I did well in school but my form of learning looked something like this. I would take verbatum notes in class…you got it…every word. Then when the test came, I would reread my notes over and over and then spit that info back out on the test. I aced the essays. The teachers and professors probably didn’t realize I was giving their words back to them nearly word for word. If it was another kind of test like spelling, I either wrote them over and over or read them over and over for practice. Again…very good grades. Even so, my retention was relatively poor unless there was a hands on project involved. To this day, those assignments that involved meaningful or fun projects are what I remember and retained.
2. Welcome to Church – I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about this one because other than Sunday School with the flannel graphs, I remember very little of what I heard there. I’m sure I’ll share about my crisis of faith another time but as part of looking at my time in church, I realized it was a highly auditory experience. In our church, they handed out bulletins with outlines on them and blanks to fill in. So I actually wrote very little…and remembered almost nothing. On the other hand, we did do service projects and go on mission trips. That hands on serving and learning has provided part of the framework for how I view the world. It definitely made a huge impression.
3. Welcome to my Room – Growing up I had a bookshelf in my room. My dad made it and it was a prized possesion…partly because he made it and partly because it held my favorite thing ever….books. One Christmas, all I received was books…17 of them, which included a new Bible. By the end of the week, I had read them all cover to cover (except my Bible…I didn’t read it all in one week). I loved books and if I ever wanted to learn something, I would get a book to learn it. However, many times I did not recall what I read because I did not do anything with it. Novels that I enjoyed, I would keep on the shelf and reread every few months because I didn’t remember it well enough to make it boring the 2nd, 3rd or 4th time around.
4. Welcome to my Craft Table (yes I know it looked like a diningroom table but I assure you, that 10 foot beauty was better put to use for all my crafty goodness.) After learning how to do something (usually by reading or watching), I would do it…make it..sew it…or occasionally cook it. I loved crafting. I think my mom was secretly relieved when I moved out because she could have her table back.
After doing the assessment for myself and observing myself in daily life, I realized that I am a very visual/kinesthetic learner. I can’t process voices very well and have been known to be rather awkward in conversation. I find myself easily frustrated when more than one person is talking to me. I process auditory slowly and will often have a large delay answering a question because it takes awhile for me to process. As an adult, if I want to learn something, I either read or watch videos. But in general I prefer reading because I can follow the steps at my own pace and write in the books if I want. If its is something truly meaningful, I then take than information and do something with it. For me that looks like trying a new cooking method or herbal remedies. It might look like writing a book review or memorizing a Bible passage. If I don’t do something with it, I probably won’t retain much of it.
The reason I feel this topic is valuable for mom’s and dad’s is that when we have little kids, many times our own enjoyment or “me time” gets pushed aside. We are busy working, doing activities with the kids and running a house. My knowing how I learn best (which is also how I enjoy entertainment /relaxation best) narrows down the potential activities I will pick from when I do have some time alone. For example, because I am visual/kinestetic, some things I really enjoy are reading, watching movies, learning how to do a new thing. Some things I do not enjoy are music concerts, listening to speakers or in many cases…eating in noisy restaurants. I rarely participate in noisy entertainment because I don’t enjoy it, and can’t process it well. This may not sound like an amazing discovery but by the time a break arrives, I am usually numb and can’t even remember what I like so I feel depressed and don’t do anything. (nice right).
So, my encouragement to you is…figure out your learning style. Most people have a dominant and minor learning style. One you do that, make a list of potential activities/entertainment you are interested and use that learning style to help you screen your list. For me it helps me narrow down my options considerably. Additionally, I encourage you to never stop learning. Looking at your learning style and pick something new to learn that will help you accomplish a dream or benefit you and your family.