By Kay Chance
Last year my son took biology through a co-op class. For the tests they were required to know at least twenty vocabulary definitions for each unit, so I told him he needed to study the words and then I would quiz him. Unfortunately, when I quizzed him on the definitions he didn’t remember very many. It was as if he hadn’t even seen the words. So we tried something else. This time I said the definition to him and he would repeat it back to me, back and forth, until he had them down. Why couldn’t he just read the definitions over and over instead of saying them over and over to learn them? My friend’s son was in the same class and could take the book, memorize the words quickly, and be ready for the test without saying them aloud. Why the difference?
Perhaps one of the biggest factors, besides interest in the subject, was a matter of learning styles. There are many excellent books and resources on this topic, and if you look up learning styles on the Internet, you’ll soon find there are multiple labels and theories about them. Learning styles are the ways, techniques, or manners in which we gain knowledge. Webster’s 1828 defines learning as “gaining knowledge by instruction or reading, by study, by experience or observation; acquiring skill by practice.” One of the most common ways to categorize learning styles is visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners; and those categories can be clearly seen in Webster’s definition:
Gaining knowledge by instruction (auditory) or reading (visual), by study, by experience (kinesthetic) or observation (visual); acquiring skill by practice (kinesthetic.)
The following is a chart to help simplify the concept (especially for you visual learners) that includes a definition of each kind of learner, their characteristics, and a few learning strategies for each type:
Visual Auditory Kinesthetic Definition Learns best by seeing Learns best by hearing Learns best by moving or doing Characteristics of Students Enjoys drawing, likes colorful illustrations, charts, graphs, and maps; remembers things that are read Likes to listen to stories and music, enjoys discussions, remembers things that are said Enjoys playing sports or dancing, can’t sit still for long, remembers things that they do Learning Strategies Watch demonstrations; use charts & graphs; have them memorize with flash cards; write down instructions; provide time to read each day; have them draw pictures; make notebook pages Incorporate time for discussions; listen to audio CDs & lectures; have them memorize with/by music; Read instructions out-loud or have them read instructions out loud to themselves; repeat vocabulary/math facts back & forth to each other to memorize; have them narrate Do experiments; have them make up hand motions, build models, take things apart & put them back together, work jigsaw puzzles; play games to memorize math facts; play with clay; make lap books and notebook pages; review material with games
The most important thing to remember, though, isn’t a list of labels. Instead, keep in mind that each of your students is a unique individual. Because of this, they will have different interests, different ways in which they learn best, and specific preferences for how they learn—and one way isn’t any better than another. Does that sound overwhelming when you think about your family? Do you think, “How in the world can I teach all these unique individuals without running myself ragged? How can I teach more than one child without buying a separate curriculum for each?” Don’t worry! It can be done.
For one thing, if a person prefers to learn by listening, that doesn’t mean he won’t learn anything by reading. If she loves hands-on activities, it doesn’t mean she can’t get anything out of an educational video. People usually have more than one learning style, especially during different stages of life. For example, all young children can benefit from using concrete objects to learn math. Most have a mixture of styles, though usually you’ll notice a dominant one. My son, who learns better with auditory methods, is also a very good reader. Just think of identifying a student’s dominant learning style as another tool in your educational tool box. You can use all the tools in the box, but sometimes you need that special tool to help fix a specific problem—like when your student has to memorize a lot of biology words! Sometimes you can use a different tool for a job (yes, I have hammered a nail with the end of a screwdriver), but another tool might be more effective.
So how does identifying your children’s learning style help you to choose a curriculum? For one, if you have a student who is predominately a kinesthetic learner, you probably need to stay away from curriculums that do not include any activities. If you have an auditory learner, a workbook-based curriculum might not be the best. If you have a visual learner, perhaps learning a foreign language from a CD isn’t the best.
I believe the most effective curriculums use a variety of materials and methods and are adaptable to multiple students.
Consider the following:
- When a family reads aloud and discusses what they are reading they are reaching the student who is an auditory learner.
- When a family does a science experiment they are reaching the kinesthetic learner.
- When a family watches an educational DVD, they are reaching the visual learner.
- When a family takes a nature walk they reach all three: the visual learner observes, the auditory learner hears the sounds of nature, the kinesthetic learner gets to move.
- When families create notebook pages, they reach all three provided they let the auditory learner tell someone about it (narration)!
I hope you will consider the Trail Guide to Learning Series as you search for the curriculum that fits your family’s needs the best. In it you will find a variety of methods and activities based on multiple learning styles. These are just a few examples:
For the Visual Learner: Reading (including visually appealing books like The Story of the Orchestra, Good Ol’ Cowboy Stories; and a variety of atlases); Making charts and graphs, DVD (in POS); Vocabulary cards; Copywork
For the Auditory Learner: Read-alouds; Narration; Discussion; Speeches; Music CDs; Dictation
For the Kinesthetic Learner: Drawing, water color painting, sculpting with clay; Games for review; Notebooking; Optional lap-books; Experiments; Activity books including Going West and Lewis and Clark Hands On.
My son looked up from his math, pointed his finger in the air, and exclaimed, “Kid’s grades could be in danger!” He had found a mistake in his text. You might think that is a unique reaction to finding a mistake in a textbook, but I knew exactly why he said it. We had recently finished reading aloud Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham. In it, Nathaniel Bowditch, who wrote The American Practical Navigator, was furious when he found a mistake in the mathematical calculations of Moore’s Navigator. He declared, “Men’s lives depend on these figures!” knowing that sailors navigated the dangerous oceans based on the accuracy of those calculations. Often some phrase has caught the attention of our family during a read aloud, and it isn’t uncommon for us to begin quoting it around the house. My son had just put his own twist on it.
One of my favorite times of the day when it comes to educating my children at home is reading aloud. When my oldest son, Ben, began his freshman year I chose a curriculum that was designed to be done independently. While reading to my youngest son Daniel, almost daily we would hear a comment—actually multiple comments—from the other room about what we were reading. I finally gave up and let Ben come listen, too. It wasn’t like he was really paying attention to the assignment he was supposed to be working on.
That was when I realized how much I value the time to read aloud with both of my boys. To me it is one of the most beneficial things we do as a homeschooling family. Why? There are multiple reasons, but one is the chance to spend time together—to have a shared experience. In her book, For the Children’s Sake, Susan Schaeffer Macauley explains it this way: “A family, a class, or any group that reads aloud has a sense of communion as they share together ideas and human experiences.” Reading together deepens our relationships through the many discussions that naturally occur during that time. The topics we talk about vary as much as the books we have enjoyed together.
Many homeschooling parents I know are as concerned with character development as academics. Let’s face it, what difference does all the knowledge in the world make when someone lacks the character to handle it well? Reading aloud, and discussing different topics that naturally come up, is a non-threatening way to talk with kids about worthy character traits we want them, and ourselves, to develop. Just as Jesus used stories to teach his disciples, we can use stories to teach our children. For example, when we read Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes, we talked about Johnny’s struggle with pride and how he was humbled. We talked about how the prank of one character, Dove—a boy who was jealous of Johnny, and whom Johnny had looked down upon—ended with more severe consequences than he ever imagined. We’ve observed disobedience, selfishness, and fear in the lives of some characters, but we’ve also seen perseverance, courage, faith, and hope in the lives of others. We have seen how imperfect people can grow and change. Sometimes they are fictional characters and sometimes they are real, but all the people we have met through reading have affected us.
This year we have been reading biographies of inventors while working through Paths of Progress. So far our discussions have centered on three main topics: how these great men were able to overcome various obstacles in their lives, how their earlier circumstances influenced their accomplishments, and how they were able to learn, even without formal schooling, and then take what they learned and apply it in new ways.
The biographies featured in the Trail Guide to Learning Series show us how difficult circumstances and even tragedy developed the very characteristics that we remember people for today—the characteristics that allowed them to be successful. And that has given us the opportunity to talk about how we never know how God might use our present circumstances in our future endeavors. Samuel Morse’s desire to create a quicker way to communicate was born from both personal and national tragedies. Michael Faraday overcame a speech impediment with the help of a stranger he met on the streets of London.
I’m going to be honest here: my kids don’t always value the education they are receiving. Sometimes they even complain about doing schoolwork. I know—gasp! So reading biographies together has allowed us to talk about the fact that these men valued education to the point that they sought out opportunities to learn in ways we might not consider fun. Nathaniel Bowditch from Carry on Mr. Bowditch taught himself several languages by placing a Bible in the language he wanted to learn by his own. Then, he went through it verse by verse, comparing the two versions, to learn the new language. Michael Faraday learned through copywork, taking notes and drawing diagrams, going to lectures, talking with mentors, and corresponding with others interested in the same subject. All valuable ways we can learn today, too.
Noticing how these men learned about new things has inspired discussions about how to learn. Many copied passages from the books they were reading and developed relationships with those who were interested in the same things. We noticed how Morse first wrote down all he knew about subjects such as electricity and magnetism as he began to develop an idea for how people might communicate more quickly. Ben said “Well, he had a lot of time to think since he was stuck on a ship for months.” This, of course, lead to a discussion of how it takes time—quiet, uninterrupted time—to learn and to be creative. We talked about the importance of not filling up all our days at the expense of time to think.
I’m praying the lives of these great men speak louder than my words about how privileged we are to have education so readily available to us. I hope they can see that characteristics such as tenacity, perseverance, creativity, along with hard work are traits they, too, can develop. Like Faraday, may they—actually we —“stand on the shoulders of giants.”
My boys aren’t the only ones learning in this process. Through Michael Faraday’s mother, I have been confronted with the importance of faith and encouraging my children to pursue their God-given talents and interests. Yes, by reading with my children, I have learned probably more than they have. The discussions we have give me a window into my children’s minds. I have the privilege of hearing their perspectives and ideas. They have had some pretty amazing insights over the years, and, yes, there have been times I’ve had to ask “Did you even hear what I was just reading?” (Just want to keep things real here!) But whatever the responses are, we get to share it—together.
When I was young, my grandmother made my sister and I a special calendar to hang on the wall during the month of December. It was a large rectangle of red and white felt, and there were 25 candy canes tied to it. Each day we removed one candy cane until it was Christmas. I still remember that calendar fondly, but my total focus as a child was what happened when all the candy canes were gone: Opening all those presents under the tree! My sister and I always counted each present we were going to get—and made sure we had the same number of gifts. We would shake the boxes trying to figure out what they were, and one year we even carefully unwrapped two of our matching gifts to sneak a peek, and then rewrapped them so our parents wouldn’t know. (I can tell you all this now that we finally “‘fessed up” to our mom a few years ago!)
Obviously, there is nothing wrong with children looking forward to presents, but do we really want that to be the main focus of this Christmas season? How can we help our children keep it all in perspective—to enjoy and be thankful for any gifts received, as well as being excited about giving to others? It begins with us setting the example! As we make our Christmas list of family and friends, take time to really think about what would benefit or be an encouragement to each of them. Ask your kids for their ideas, too. We can also go out of our way to be gracious and patient with those who are working in restaurants and retail stores during this busy season. Our kids are watching us, and they are learning.
Be creative with your time and talents. Brainstorm ideas about how you can give to others as a family and individually. And remember giving to others doesn’t always mean buying a gift. It can be gifts of service, thoughtfulness, and encouragement, too. Hopefully the following list will help you think of fun ways to focus on others during this wonderful season! And please, share your ideas with us on our blog!
10 Ways to Focus on Others
- Make cookies, candy, or bread for neighbors.
- Choose a family you know who could use some anonymous gift certificates left on their doorstep.
- Offer to babysit for a young mother so she can do some Christmas shopping.
- Have an old-fashioned caroling party. Get some family and friends together and go around the neighborhood singing carols and handing out Christmas cards.
- Many charities need extra help during the holidays! Choose one to donate some time. For example, volunteer to serve with Meals-on-Wheels or at a local homeless shelter or soup kitchen.
- Plan a scavenger hunt for your children and their friends seeking food items from willing neighbors. When they are finished collecting the items on their list, take them to deliver the food to a food bank.
- Make home-made Christmas cards to give out at a nursing home in your area. Sing some Christmas carols for the residents, or play games and visit with them. We found a nursing home in our downtown area that few, if any groups, visit during the holiday season. You might want to check and see if there is one like that in your town, too.
- Invite some neighbors, who you’ve been wanting to get to know, to your home to host a “Hot Chocolate Party.” Play games and enjoy getting to know one another.
- Take small gifts, cookies, or cards to those who serve your kids or your family—their teachers at church, the mailman, the family doctor, etc.
- Have kids write specific thank you notes to those who have given to them. Instead of a quick “Thank you for giving me ________,” they can tell the giver how much they appreciate the gift, how it will be helpful to them, and something encouraging to the person who gave the gift.
When my husband and I decided to homeschool, I began reading every book on it that I could find. One particular method struck me as “the way” to teach children. So we began our journey using the classical method. It was described as how the great thinkers were educated, and it was rigorous. Rigorous—the word that makes the new homeschooling mother’s heart sing. I mean, who doesn’t want to give their five-year-old a rigorous education? Rigorous means thorough, demanding, and therefore better, right? May I say my five-year-old son wasn’t nearly as excited about a rigorous education as I was.
So I kept reading and researching. And as I learned more, my ideas about education changed. I started asking questions like:
- What is education, anyway?
- How can I help my sons develop a love for learning?
- What should they be learning about at the different stages of their education?
- Is learning how to learn as important as what is being learned?
- How would God want me to teach the ones he had entrusted to my care?
As I continued my research, I was drawn to the ideas of Charlotte Mason. We incorporated short lessons and found my son’s attention span increased. We read, and read, and read. I started using copywork and we took nature walks. I “chilled-out” a bit and my son started enjoying it more.
Then my oldest son began his 3rd grade year, and I read Dr. Beechick’s You Can Teach Your Child Successfully. It was then that I had that “aha” moment. What she wrote just made sense. Slowly I began to incorporate more and more of Dr. Beechick’s methods into my teaching, especially in the area of language arts. A few years later, I wrote a literature based unit for a small co-op that included reading, language lessons, art projects, and notebooking. I had a friend encourage me to write a language arts curriculum at that point, but I didn’t think too much more about it.
However, in 2009 my husband was laid off from a job he had worked at since before I had even met him. We found ourselves in a very different place financially and I began to try to think of ways that I could help out while continuing to homeschool. I had discovered Trail Guide to Learning: Paths of Exploration the year before, and knew it was an answer to prayer for my youngest son. I loved Dr. Beechick’s methods, and here was a complete curriculum based on those methods by women who truly understood them. It was a perfect match.
As I watched my youngest son’s growth that year, I realized I wanted my oldest son to join us the next year for Paths of Settlement. I wanted us to be learning together, but he was older than the target age groups. That is when I had this crazy idea to e-mail Geography Matters about writing a middle school supplement. Several months later, they responded that yes, they would be interested. All I had to do was send them a prototype—which I did—which they complimented in any way they could, but it was not what they were looking for. Cindy Wiggers called me and graciously set up a meeting between her, Debbie Strayer, and myself to explain what they did want. After talking for an hour, they asked me to try again—which I did—which leads us to this blog. I’m Kay Chance, co-author of the middle school supplements and high school extensions for the Trail Guide to Learning Series. And now I’m excited to begin working with Geography Matters newsletter production and writing their blog.