How to Teach Different Learning Styles

Posted by The Home School in the Woods Team on

Unschooling, Classical, Charlotte Mason, Waldorf, Montessori, Reggio-Emilia — the list could go on and on. We often get caught up in all of the different schools of thought when it comes to homeschooling. We have these grand, lofty (and honorable) ideas of everyone sitting around the table, pursuing every subject from math through literature as a family.

However, confusion, frustration, and that overwhelming feeling begin to build as we realize that what worked for the first child often doesn’t work for the second, the third child throws us for a loop, and by number four we are really wondering if we made the right choice to educate at home.

The truth is that all of our children have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to learning.

But, that’s okay! There are many ways to approach different types of learning in education!


Different Learning Styles

A quick google search will open the door to a multitude of different types of learning styles and definitions. There are frameworks and breakdowns that range from two different learning styles to eight! However, the most widely accepted model and definition of learning styles is known as the VARK model.

VARK stands for: Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing, and Kinesthetic. What does that mean? It means that our children use quite a few different methods when it comes to processing, remembering, and using information.

  • Visual learners rely on the things that they can see — images, graphs, reading, and videos — in order to best understand the material.
  • Auditory learners learn best when they can hear the material being spoken to them and are given time to talk through and discuss the lessons they are trying to grasp.
  • Reading/Writing learners need time to read information for themselves and then write, journal, or take notes in order to process the information they are receiving.
  • Kinesthetic learners thrive when they can get their hands on projects, working through lessons and material by creating and using information manually.

Forcing a student to try and learn outside of the way that their brain processes information best can instill in them low self-esteem, disengagement from the material, poor academic performance, and a general distaste for learning. But, when we discover the way that a specific child learns best and we begin to utilize these strengths, a struggling learner can become a student that excels, and a bored learner can become excited and engaged again!


Teaching to Our Children’s Strengths

Once we understand the different facets of these learning styles, creating the space for kids to flourish becomes a lot easier than we might imagine. There are plenty of activities and teaching strategies for different learning styles, all of which can be used in a homeschool setting as well as in the classroom!

First, taking the time to find out what type of learner a student is can be beneficial.

There are plenty of different types of free tests online to help assess a child’s learning style, but this will also become apparent over time. Once you are aware of what learning style best fits each individual child, you can begin to utilize different teaching strategies within your homeschool.


Visual Learners

Visual learners benefit from... visuals. Big surprise, right? But, implementing the right types of visuals is essential. Sometimes we can mistake visual learners for readers — and while there is a lot of crossover with some kids, true visual learners will benefit from a variety of images beyond just reading.

How can we enhance learning for our visual learners?

  • Teaching visual learners how to create outlines can help to arrange notes in a visually appealing way.
  • Drawing, doodling, and chart making assist in retaining and processing new information.
  • Strategic highlighting, annotation, and in-text note taking can help with processing large amounts of reading.
  • Creating timelines and utilizing pictures or flash cards with their own drawings and graphs will help them to organize material in a way that is less confusing for them.


Auditory Learners

Auditory learners learn mostly through hearing. We are so lucky to be living in a day where we have access to a number of dramatized books and audio files at our fingertips. As homeschool parents, most of us understand the importance of reading aloud to all of our children. Hearing living, breathing stories benefits every type of learner. But, where auditory learners differ from the rest is that they can retain information more easily by just hearing it.

How can we help our auditory learners?

  • Lectures, books, audible versions of textbooks (many of our Lap-Paks have audible versions of their text), and even reading out loud to themselves helps them to grasp a multitude of concepts.
  • Processing what they have heard through discussion or narration.
  • The use of audio dramatizations. (It’s why we included hours of radio theater in each of our Project Passport studies!)
  • Open or formal discussions of material are a great addition to any classroom setting and will help auditory learners to thrive.


Readers and Writers

In the “scientific realm of learning styles,” whether or not reading and writing is a learning style or just the “normal” method of learning is often debated. If there is anything to be learned through teaching (and parenting), though, it is that normal is often subjective. Reading and writing definitely deserve their own category!

How can we enhance learning for our readers and writers?

  • Giving them time to... READ! One of our favorite add-ons to include in any study is an additional resource list to enable reading more on a subject!
  • Encouraging them to take notes.
  • Letting them process information through creating outlines, summaries, and creative retellings of what they read.
  • Allowing them to choose writing an essay, report, or a creative writing assignment (such as ads or news articles) instead of participating in other hands-on projects.


Kinesthetic Learners

Kinesthetic learners just need to get in there and do it — whatever it is. Learning about science? They won’t be the ones reading through all the lab instructions first. Kinesthetic learners learn by using their hands and just doing it, even if it means they have to go through a ton of failed lab experiments to find the right answer.

Anything that you can turn from a textbook, lecture, or reading assignment into something hands-on will benefit these students in ways you can’t even begin to imagine. And this isn’t just relegated to science, either.

How can we enhance learning for our kinesthetic learners?

  • Math can be learned through baking and cooking. Drive home those fractions by doubling a recipe!
  • History, literature, or language can be turned into creatable projects and activities
  • Skits, dress up, or even just acting out scenes from their textbook will help them to ENJOY learning. That really is the goal we are all striving for, isn’t it?


What About Assessments?

If your home is full of readers and writers, then you might not have ever worried about assessing your child’s learning. BUT, since most of us homeschoolers have some sort of hodgepodge group of learning styles going on in our homes, assessment can be rough.

We all know that just speaking the word “test” in our homeschools can turn a good day on its head and make a bad day worse.

The good news: we can assess our children’s knowledge WITHOUT a test and in a way that showcases their learning styles best! Here are some suggestions for how to go about this.

  • When assessing how much a visual learner has retained, consider letting them present a drawing, collage, or flowchart illustrating the data that they have discovered.
  • When it comes time to assess someone who benefits from auditory learning, if a written test isn’t required, simply asking them to recite or deliver an oral narration of what they have learned will allow them to reveal all of the knowledge that they have tucked away.
  • Reading and writing learners can showcase their knowledge with a planned essay or carefully chosen writing prompts.
  • Consider letting a kinesthetic learner turn in a completed lap book as an overview of everything they have learned for that subject. If you don’t know what a lap book is, you are in for a real treat. Here’s a fully assembled lapbook in action!


What If All of My Children Have Different Learning Styles?

I know that all of this might seem a little bit overwhelming. Unless you are a homeschooling family with one child, chances are high that you will be met with some crazy combination of all of these learning styles.

Accommodating all of these learning styles in any classroom, whether at home or in school, can feel like an insurmountable task.

Here’s the truth, though. It isn’t, and here’s why.

Studies (like this one on the learning styles of first-year medical students) have shown that most students are a combination of styles — meaning that having a houseful of children with different learning styles is more flexible than you would think. As long as you are taking time to approach subjects in multiple ways, all of your children will thrive in their education.

And, the tools, activities, and curriculum we have available that take into account a variety of learning styles are endless!  

Take, for instance, that lapbook we just mentioned. While the kinesthetic learners are benefiting greatly from the hands-on activities, the visual learners can be learning from the visual aids that are pre-printed and the ones they are drawing themselves.

At the same time, reading and writing learners benefit from filling in facts in their own words, as well as reading the information needed in order to learn those facts. And while they are all working with their hands, reading an applicable living book in combination with these activities will further draw in your auditory learners, as well.

In fact, research has shown that it is good for auditory learners to work with their hands while listening, and good for kinesthetic and visual learners to listen while they work with their hands. See? It all comes together so beautifully!

In the end, we will all have kids who struggle and kids who excel. However, when our purpose is to guide children through the growth of knowledge, ultimately leading them to a rich life filled with the love of learning, taking time to figure out how each unique child learns best ends up being a benefit for all of us.

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