My friend Pam has tried everything: public school, homeschool, and private school. The traditional school route just isn’t working for her oldest child, Zach. When he was young, she tried homeschooling and she felt ill-equipped and tired all the time; planning lessons at night, spending time teaching during the day, and still questioning if what she did made a difference.
But public school doesn’t seem to be working for Zach. He doesn’t have special needs, but he is a wonderful, out-of-the-box kind of kid. He struggles with staying on task, and Pam can see how much better it is for him to have the freedom to move around and use his school time in a way that works with his rhythms of focusing and wiggling. Homeschooling seems like the right answer for now, but the thought of trying it again makes Pam tired already.
The VARK Model
Yesterday, I set the stage for understanding learning styles. I reminded us that, with all of our wonderful complexity, we aren’t easily labeled. An introvert does sometimes need to be around others, and a visual learner is capable of learning through what he hears! With people, it’s rarely an all-or-nothing proposition.
The most common paradigm of learning styles is referred to as the V-A-K model, with an occasional extra category included to make it V-A-R-K. I’ll bet a lot of you know where I’m going with this, right?
V stands for Visual. Visual learners learn through pictures, video, demonstrations, and graphics. These learners prefer a picture instead of just words. If you teach a highly visual learner, you might ask yourself this:
- How can I represent this idea in a picture or graphic? Could we make a chart, a Venn diagram, or a simple drawing to help explain a new concept?
A stands for Auditory or Aural. Auditory learners learn through what they hear and speak. They process new information best when words are being spoken back and forth. The mom of a strongly auditory learner might ask:
- How can we set aside the time needed to talk this out with my daughter? Could she explain a new concept again to her dad tonight, or to her grandfather on the phone? Is this something that she could teach to her siblings?
R is for Read/Write. People with a read/write learning style learn through the written word. There are many learning tools that may seem visual, but are actually more in this category of read/write. Most of what you find on the internet, even with nice, high-resolution pictures included, is actually information taken in through words. People with this learning style are well-suited for traditional schooling! But it would be helpful to stop and consider:
- How can I go beyond the textbook for my daughter who is a voracious reader? And how can I safely and effectively use all that’s available on the internet to allow my son to do more research, since he’s dying to learn more?
K stands for Kinesthetic. One thing I’ve realized is that nearly every parent thinks that their child is a kinesthetic learner through preschool and the early elementary years. (Don’t you envy their energy level? I do!) Some kids persist in their preference for kinesthetic learning even as they get older. Kinesthetic learners learn by doing, using hands-on experience and practice. Parents of a kinesthetic learner should ask questions like:
- How can I teach him to read by allowing him to get his hands on the parts and move them around? What are ways that I can help her learn this new math concept in the kitchen with me?
So What Does Understanding This Look Like?
Let’s go back to my friend Pam. Clearly, Zach is a kinesthetic learner. Here’s what I’d ask her about her little guy:
1 – How can we get him moving while he learns?
Sometimes the substitution of an exercise ball for a chair or a rubber band ball to pick at can actually help a kinesthetic child to pay attention.
2 – How can we help him move what he learns?
So much of what we learn has parts that make up a whole. Think about learning to read, planning what we’ll write, anything mathematical or scientific – they all have moving parts. So how can we literally get those parts moving for a kinesthetic learner? Magnetic letters, index cards, models – all of these can be great helps in allowing a student to be hands-on with learning.
3 – How can we help him excel as he moves?
I would ask if Zach is involved in sports or any kind of regular physical activity he loves.
Here’s the thing about my friend Pam: she is uncomfortable sharing this with anyone. She feels like there’s no reason that homeschooling shouldn’t be going well, and has admitted that, down deep, she thinks that she just may not be cut out for it.
For some reason, we think that we should have everything figured out about these kids of ours. After all, they’re ours!
For some reason, we think that we should have everything figured out about these kids of ours. After all, they’re ours! Nobody knows them as well as we do.
I understand that. Tomorrow, I’ll share one of my own parenting stories about how I reacted in a vulnerable parenting situation at my daughter’s preschool. I felt that inexplicable embarrassment of being told something about your own child that wasn’t even on your radar. Not fun!
But we all know the truth, don’t we? When things aren’t going smoothly, it’s not automatically a parenting problem! In fact, it’s rarely YOU. When we arm ourselves with knowledge, support and community, we’re able to deal with these bumps in the road more objectively.
When things aren’t going smoothly, it’s not automatically a parenting problem! In fact, it’s rarely YOU.
If we understand concepts like learning styles, or even the idea that we were never meant to do it all and do it alone, we can more objectively consider the situation when something related to our kids goes off the rails. A mismatch of a child’s learning style and curriculum isn’t a parent fail. Neither is a mismatch between a child’s learning style and your learning style.
My hope is that, armed with some good information, you’ll be able to course-correct along the way and homeschool with confidence and even joy.
Read Day 3 here