The Ultimate Guide to Learning Styles
Before homeschooling, you may have never heard about “learning styles” but that’s not surprising. It is not in the model of government school education, nor is it a factor in many of the private schools across the country. In homeschooling, however, it can be the very key that unlocks all the potential you know your child has. It makes a huge difference because children tend to retain more of the information they take in if it’s received in a way that matches their natural style of learning.
If you’ve been homeschooling for a year or more, you may know the frustration of teaching for hours, only to find that your child still has not grasped the concept you’re attempting to teach. It just doesn’t seem to “click” and regardless of how many times you repeat the information, they just don’t “get it”. This can be a sure sign that they have a specific learning style, and you haven’t found it yet. Of course, that doesn’t mean YOU are doing anything wrong. It simply means this information has escaped you. That is, until now.
Much like personality styles, no child possesses a 100% learning style. That means that whereas they may have a dominant style, they still have others that are simply used less often. In some cases, children exhibit different learning styles depending on the circumstances in which they find themselves. The good news is, this is perfectly acceptable in the homeschooling environment, and some weaker learning styles can even be developed as the child ages. This can help a great deal when getting ready for the high school years, and then again when preparing to transition to college.
You might consider a bit of research on the VARK model when attempting to understand your child’s learning style. Especially if they are middle or high school age. VARK is an acronym that stands for four of the seven primary learning styles: Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing, and Kinesthetic. The VARK Questionnaire can be utilized to find out what kind of learning style you have, of the four, and is best utilized by children ages twelve to eighteen.
The Seven Learning Styles In Detail
After reading through the information in this guide, it’s likely you’ll have a good idea which style of learning your child utilizes, even without using a questionnaire or a model. Since you know your child better than anyone else, you have seen how they’ve learned their entire lives up to this point. The benefit of nailing down the specific style in which your child learns is that you’ll be better able to tailor your homeschooling style and curriculum choices to that specific model of learning. That means that not only will your child learn more efficiently, but you’ll be less stressed as you teach.
Some have said that putting a “learning label” on children can actually hinder their overall ability to learn, but many homeschoolers will say this is not so. Especially if you are stepping outside the box from time to time to teach from other learning styles. Strengthening those weaker learning styles is actually a life lesson in itself, teaching the child that sometimes, stepping out of their comfort zone will be both necessary and rewarding. Learning new things, in new ways, is not to be avoided, but confronted as you make the most out of the situation and hopefully come away having learned something new.
When a child learns visually, they take the most advantage of what they are able to see. For instance, any resources that offer illustrations, diagrams, charts, handouts, and video content will all be very beneficial. Given the option between visual presentations and written information, they will always prefer the visual option. These children find beauty and art to be very important are able to memorize information if they see it. At the same time, they might grasp the “big picture” while having trouble understanding all the minute details that go along with it. These children are often gifted in emotional, spiritual, and creative arenas, but can have a hard time learning to read, write, and spell, as phonics doesn’t play a huge role in their learning ability.
For the visual learner, vocabulary words are often cemented into their memory if they are allowed to draw pictures alongside them, as a representation of what the word brings to their mind. In much the same way, using or creating diagrams for math class can help them to remember numbers and formulas. You’ll find they are better at keyboarding than writing with a writing instrument, and even though they are late bloomers, they can often give you “right” answers without being able to explain their process of arriving at that answer. Still, their vivid imagination and ability to think “outside the box” can make them great at processing information in a new way.
They can use colored pens or paper for other projects as well, helping to differentiate between points or topics when writing. Illustrated flashcards work well, as do PowerPoint presentations and other forms of visually stimulating media. When using a textbook, you can let them get a headstart by allowing them about fifteen minutes to scan over titles, pictures, and charts for easier processing of information.
Teaching math, for any homeschooling parent, can sometimes be a struggle, but it’s sometimes easier by using beans or macaroni to visually demonstrate the concept of addition and subtraction. For visual learners, this can be the key that unlocks math for them, once and for all. You can also use a chalkboard or dry erase board, or an abacus. One of the most important things to remember about visual learners is that they don’t often learn well when taught by a person who is a left-brain thinker, nor do they learn from a curriculum that is left-brained, i.e. logical or detail oriented.
In choosing curriculum and other teaching materials for visual learners it’s important to look for anything that has a graphic appeal. Photography, architecture, video, and computer design can all be excellent tools for these children. Color coding is a great way to help this child maintain order and organization, especially in writing. Word lists should be created with unique colors so that they stand out when the child looks at them.
Lapbooks are an excellent tool for visual learners in subjects such as science and history. By creating a visual flow, information is more easily taken in, and the lapbooking outlet gives them an excellent way to bring out the information they’ve learned. They can create picture books, timelines, graphs and pie charts, and tons of other manipulatives that really bring the subjects to life. Some curriculum options you might want to consider for the visual learner include Abeka, Alpha Omega Publications, and Calvert Homeschool.
Here are some tips for making the most of your teaching time with a visual learner:
- Set aside a specific learning space.
- Limit distractions to as few as possible.
- Choose a curriculum that is visually stimulating.
- Teach them how to take great notes.
These children capitalize on information that is processed by hearing it, and usually think in words instead of pictures. They often remember very well what you tell them and they retain most of the information they hear during a lecture. If given the opportunity, they would rather listen to the lecture rather than watching a video or reading a transcription of the same. Reading out loud helps them to memorize information, and reviewing podcasts works better than reviewing written notes. Because visual clues are not a strong point for these children and young people, they won’t be able to read facial expressions or body language very well.
If auditory learners can pair music with the facts they are studying for an exam, they usually respond well when test time comes around. In fact, these children usually have at least some degree of musical talent, with the ability to hear notes, tones, and rhythms and they can quickly memorize the lyrics to their favorite songs. You might often find them reading aloud in private as they try to make sense of something they’re learning. These children are good with language and tend to think conceptually and abstractly. You’ll find, if you haven’t already, that this child loves to hear himself talk, but also listens well and retains the information you share.
Studying should take place in areas that are quiet, without a lot of television or music (preferably none), or background conversation. For an auditory learner, this can blast right through their concentration, making it almost impossible to study. Using a recorder of some sort for recording reading materials or lectures can also be helpful, as can speaking and recording the answers to the exam questions. As “step-by-step” learners, they will be very attentive to details, but they also learn best by trial and error. Debates, oral presentations, and social discussions are all strong points for this learner.
No matter how you choose to homeschool a child that learns through hearing, you should always start with verbal instruction. This is their strongest point and it gets everything off to a great start. Brainstorming activities, or questioning them to pull out as much information as possible, can also help them learn what they already know in any given lesson. For a fun activity for everyone, allow them to create a play in which they act out the material they have learned, which can double as an assessment.
Sonlight is a great curriculum for auditory learners if you have the time to invest in one-on-one instruction. You’ll be doing a lot of reading aloud, or, if you have older children, they’ll be able to read on their own. Not only is the curriculum complete, but it offers a teacher’s guide that is impressively thorough so that every day has a plan and a method. You might also want to look into some of the resources available through Abeka as well.
Here are a few tips for teaching the auditory learner:
- Set aside plenty of discussion time for each lesson.
- Use a curriculum that includes plenty of lecture-based content.
- Use audiobooks and videos as often as it makes sense to do so.
- Be willing to read directions with your child out loud, and make sure they understand what is being asked of them.
- Utilizing music whenever it’s possible
- Turn information into rhymes or songs for better memorization.
Words mean a great deal to those who learn through reading and writing. These children are often excited to be able to read through a textbook instead of listening to you speak about the same information and may take plenty of notes in comparison with those who learn in a different way. They enjoy definitions, lists, handouts, and projected text, retaining much of that information for future use.
When your child falls into this learning style, it won’t be out of the ordinary to find them seeking out information through articles and internet searches. In fact, research and essay writing are things they will likely excel at from an early age. It’s easy to teach these children, probably easier than teaching any other learning style. If you give them access to plenty of books, especially dictionaries and encyclopedias, along with plenty of time to utilize them, you’ll find they absorb most of what is taught. Furthermore, giving them time to share what they’ve learned by writing it out will give you not only a clear picture of what they know but also plenty of additions to their portfolio.
If you’re having a hard time finding a good math curriculum for your reading/writing learner, you might consider a book called The Philosophy of Mathematics, a public domain book translated from the Cours de Philosophie Positive of Auguste Comte. Unlike 99% of math texts that are found today, this book is primarily composed of words, but with this learning style, the reader will come away with a far superior understanding of numbers and methods.
If you can manage to offer aspects of reading and writing in every subject you teach, you will likely have won the heart of this learner. Allow plenty of report writing, note-taking, PowerPoint presentations, and reference material use. Consider using a curriculum such as Abeka, Christian Liberty, Bob Jones, or Apologia, as they all work very well for the reading/writing learner.
To get the most out of your teaching time with the reading/writing learner:
- Offer plenty of independent study time, but make sure they know you are available at any time for guidance or answering questions.
- Give them Living Books to read
- Make sure they have plenty of dictionaries, encyclopedia, and other investigative materials with which to do their research.
- Let them know you can never take too many notes.
Those who learn kinesthetically, or through tactile stimuli, will exhibit more information retention by touching things and actually doing something physically while learning new information. A hands-on experience is preferred by this learner, choosing to learn by the trial and error of actually doing. Physical activity is important to this child and they will prefer lessons in which they’re able to conduct a hands-on experiment or take part in the performance of a theatrical endeavor. They also do very well in sports and dance or anything that allows them to move and flow through a lesson. If you have the opportunity to relate a lesson to a real-life experience, you may find them not only more interested in the material but better able to remember it come test time.
Kinesthetic learners are the ones most often diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) in a public-school setting that has no room for such movement-based learning. It is not a part of their overall goal and is thoroughly rejected as a legitimate basis for learning. These children, by nature, are very fidgety and aren’t able to sit still for very long, but that doesn’t mean that something is “wrong” with them. As a parent, you’re likely to remember that they’ve been like this their entire lives, and that’s a good clue that they are kinesthetic learners.
You need to keep kinesthetic learners moving! Offer plenty of hands-on activities, field trips, games, and frequent breaks, even in the midst of bookwork. Allowing this child ample opportunity to work off excess energy will help a great deal when it comes time to settle down, but if you see that things are getting out of hand, just offer a quick break and you’ll find that things will quickly return to normal. Sometimes, it could be as simple as letting them walk back and forth while reading, which can actually help retain the information much faster, and much deeper, than simply learning while sitting still or remaining stationary.
For these children, activity aids in memorization. Bouncing on a small trampoline, then, might help them remember their spelling words easier. Sitting still, quite to the contrary, makes it harder for them to pay attention, so retention of any information taken in this way is often not easily recalled if it can be recalled at all. Let them doodle as much as they like while taking notes because they are probably forming a connection between what you’re teaching and what they’re drawing. Give them opportunities to link learning with sports, art, and theatre for more enjoyment and actually knowledge retention.
Your kinesthetic learner can probably assemble things that come in pieces with no need to read directions. Instead, they capitalize on any pictures or diagrams that are included. If this is not available, they will move on to find a video that will depict what they need to do, so they can watch it. Organization is never their strong suit, but art is, along with doodling, imitation, “fiddling” and practicing anything they find important.
There’s no one perfect homeschool curriculum for kinesthetic learners. The truth is, any curriculum will work so long as the child is able to engage his or her senses or have some kind of movement involved with the learning. For that reason, online plans or programs that are heavy with video content will not be a good fit for this child. Look for something that makes “on-the-go” learning an easy option.
Ideas for teaching kinesthetic learners include:
- Make sure to offer plenty of hands-on opportunities.
- Take frequent breaks and, preferably, get moving.
- Attempt to incorporate as many of the senses as possible in this child’s learning routine.
- Don’t confine them to a chair or desk for long periods of time.
Your logical learner enjoys solving problems, working with abstract visual topics, and working with numbers, which is surely no surprise to you. These methodical thinkers quickly recognize patterns in a variety of things and can analyze what they see with ease. Grouped information is easier for them to grasp and it might surprise you at some of the complex calculations they can actually cipher in their head. Itineraries, agendas, and to-do lists have always been a friend of this child. They enjoy games that really give their minds a healthy workout, such as trivia, brainteasers, and chess.
These children, when placed in a public-school setting, are quite likely to be diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, as this type of learner does not fit their teaching mold. Many teachers, these days, are not logical learners, and the fact is, it’s hard to teach a child who thinks so differently. It takes a dedication to that child, often in a one-on-one environment, which makes homeschooling the perfect choice for a reasonable thinker. They are also more likely to be considered a “nerd” by public-school peer standards and are often the victims of bullying.
Logic isn’t solely a part of this child’s academic career. The logical thinking child uses this kind of reasoning to think about, figure out, and describe almost everything, including original thought processes and emotion. They are excellent problem solvers with a keen eye for visual analysis and they will constantly attempt to find new, structured, and logical ways of expressing themselves. It’s not hard for them to tell that something is “off” if information is incomplete or missing a crucial piece.
You might not have known there was a title for the learning style, but finding out that there is can help so much in teaching them. In fact, you might also find out that this child usually fits into the “gifted and talented” model, and it’s not infrequent to find them advancing more than one grade level per year, though this isn’t the standard for this learning style. Still, being ready to move forward when they’re ready to do so can make things go much more smoothly. In the homeschool setting, there’s simply no reason to hold them back and force them to go over, lesson by lesson, information that they obviously already firmly grasp. For this learner, pretesting will be the homeschool teacher’s best friend.
There is a variety of other curriculum options for math programs. There are even some stand-alone math programs such as Math-U-See and others, that focus solely on mathematics. Make sure you also consider Abeka, Saxon math, Horizons math, and Life of Fred.
Social learners are, as you might have already expected, excellent at communicating with people. That communication can be verbal or nonverbal, and they are incredibly sensitive to emotion, moods, and motivation factors. They do well in groups and are often sought out for advice when one of their friends can’t decide what to do about a problem. At the same time, they enjoy the opportunity to share their ideas and get feedback from others with whom they have shared. Co-ops are a great resource for this child, but they also do just as well, learning from you, their homeschool teacher.
Social learners are responsible for the term “social butterflies” and that’s just what they are. They enjoy any activity that includes multiple people, including sports, board games, theatre, and music performance and they enjoy simply being with and interacting with others, especially friends and family. Counseling, mentoring, and helping others come naturally to this young person and they often have a strong, intuitive feel for opinions from others.
As a secondary learning style, many different homeschool curriculum choices will work for the social learner. Since some new homeschooling parents have doubts about their ability to teach math, considering a co-op math class for your social learner is certainly not a bad idea. It could be, even for students that struggle with math in general, that they will learn more in a social environment than they could ever pick up through one-on-one instruction. Still, be sure to check out all your options and, for older children, make sure they get to be part of the curriculum choosing process if they’d like.
Also called an “intrapersonal” learner, these children prefer their own space for learning. They have a great level of self-motivation, do their best work when left alone, and truly enjoy their independence. A quiet environment is often their best friend, both in personal and academic settings, they’re likely to keep journals, and they are very uncomfortable in noisy, crowded situations. They’ll struggle with the ability to self-manage and they aren’t quick to share their feelings with anyone, but they have a very independent mindset and make lots of big plans.
Solitary learning, in and of itself, isn’t a primary learning style, but rather a secondary one. To find out what the primary learning style is, you’ll need to consider the first four listed in this guide, as one will emerge as dominant, even with your child’s introverted personality. When you learn to combine the ability to teach their primary learning style while still being mindful of their introverted nature, you will have unlocked the key to this child’s learning potential.
It can be hard to do so, especially if you are not a solitary learner yourself, but learn to give these children plenty of peace and quiet. Of course, checking in with them from time to time, at regular intervals, is very important as well. Their intrapersonal personality makes it hard for them to ask for your help. Sometimes, they won’t even admit a problem exists, even when there is one, which means you might have to approach the situation from a different angle. Asking them if there’s anything you can help them to understand, for instance, can be a way of assisting without their admitting that they have a need. But, if you simply get a “no”, then you’re right back where you started. Better to ask a question that requires thought on their part or ask them to describe the concept or problem they are now working with. If they have difficulty with this, then it should be clear to you where they need help.
As with social learners, a variety of homeschool curriculum will work, making sure you cater to the primary learning style first: visual, auditory, reading/writing, or kinesthetic. With so many options available, it’s easy to find one that will work. On the other hand, it’s also just as easy to piece together a program that is personalized for your child. For the solitary learner, it can also help to be able to have a part in choosing some of those curriculum resources which can help them feel as if they’re being included in this important decision.
If you’re looking for some tips to help your solitary learner, here are a few ideas:
- Give them enough space so that they don’t feel overwhelmed, but do not leave them to flounder when there’s an obvious need.
- Allow them plenty of time for journal writing, which can give them a place of their own to record emotions and struggles from an academic and/or a personal perspective.
- Help them with personal goals and interests to motivate self-confidence in themselves.
- Add social opportunities when possible, but don’t force them to attend every single event.
- Nature walks can be a great way for the solitary learner to explore, observe, and learn about the world around them.
- Offer plenty of books, education and spiritual websites, and other materials that will help them quietly seek out information when they want to do so.
- Use a to-do list or checklist to keep up their motivation levels and help them focus on the goal ahead.
Most people tend to teach in the same style in which they themselves learn. In other words, a visual learner will naturally teach visually. A kinesthetic learner will naturally teach kinesthetically. As a homeschool teacher, however, it’s important to teach in a way that matches your child’s specific learning style, both primary and secondary. If the two styles are very far apart, between you and your learner, it can sometimes be a challenge, but it’s not at all impossible. There are plenty of resources, curriculum options, and other teaching aids that will be of benefit to you as you plan the school year for your child.
For the best opportunity to get a good look at all your curriculum options, be sure to attend a Great Homeschool Convention near you. At every convention, homeschool curriculum providers are set up a large exhibit hall, with all of their materials available for your hands-on review. Better still, you’ll be able to talk with curriculum makers to find out in-depth details about their programs, who they’re geared for, and how you can best teach them. The convention also allows you the opportunity to speak with other homeschoolers, both newbies and veterans, who will be more than happy to share their opinions on a certain curriculum.
Just remember, even if several people swear by a specific resource, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be perfect for you and your child. Take the time to examine each one and imagine using each resource in your own homeschool. If a specific curriculum is nowhere near your child’s learning style, chances are, it’s not going to be a good fit.