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Learning Styles (Q & A)
Last Revised: January 15, 2009
What is meant by a child’s learning style?
Is it important to know?
How do I identify my child’s learning style?

Short Answer
Learning style simply means that we recognize that children learn differently, depending on what comes “naturally” to them. Learning is easier when the teaching method and curriculum matches the child’s learning style.

There are several tools that can help you evaluate different aspects of a learning profile. For now, think about the subjects your child struggles with and the subjects that come easily, and consider why. What type of toys does your child play with? Think about your child’s school experience to date. What was positive and what was negative? Chances are the answers to these questions will give you a clue about your child’s learning style.

When most people think of learning, they think of a classroom with a group of students sitting in rows of desks being taught by a teacher. The teacher gives a lecture, possibly using some visuals. Then the students do some pages from a workbook or textbook to learn the material. Eventually, they take a test or write a report to show what they’ve learned. The teacher grades the test and gives the student a report card at the end of the marking period.

This way of learning works for about quarter of the students. Another one quarter can get by. That leaves half of the students trying to learn in a way that doesn’t work well for them.

In an effort to correct this situation, people started examining how children learn and found different factors affect the learning process. Some factors include the learning environment, the child’s attitude toward learning, stress, talents, and different ways of approaching a task.

It was found that each individual has a “natural” way of working and learning. A variety of terms were used to describe these natural tendencies, including “intelligences,” “personality traits,” and “learning traits.” Eventually, the term learning style caught on.

Components of Learning Style
There are several components to a child’s learning style. Most of the books and resources on the topic cover only a few of the components. Sometimes the terms used to describe the different components are used interchangeably, which causes confusion. The basic components are:

  • preferred sense or modality – sense refers to one of the five senses
  • personality – how a person approaches life; the personality acts as a filter for all experiences; there are different ways to categorize personality
  • thinking style – how the individual processes information
  • talents/skills/expressions – these are natural abilities that come easily to the person, often referred to as “intelligences.”
As you may guess, these factors greatly impact how easily a child learns. Whenever children are trying to learn something that matches their natural way of learning (learning style), the skill can be mastered quickly. Of course, the opposite is true, too. Whenever children are trying to learn something that is the opposite of their natural way of learning, it will take more modeling and practice to master it. In fact, it can seem as if the child is as much as a year or two behind. It’s not that it can’t be learned, it’s just that it takes more work and more time before it “clicks.”

It’s important that you identify all the different components of learning style in order to get the complete picture of how your child learns. Many resources, and particularly free on-line sites, only look at one aspect. Most of the assessment tools are so short that they don’t allow for enough differences. Children come in all sizes and shapes, both physically and in the way they learn!

One of the advantages of homeschooling is that you have more flexibility and time to match the teaching method and curriculum to the child’s learning style, thereby making learning more effective and more enjoyable.

Teaching Style
One factor that is often overlooked is the parent’s learning style. Our learning style impacts the teaching method and the type of curriculum that appeals to us. This may or may not be what is best for the child. At the same time, however, you need to be comfortable with the amount of structure (or lack of it) in the materials you choose.

Learning Styles vs. Learning Issues
More and more educators are realizing that many so-called “learning disabilities” are actually due to differences in learning style. There is no way a group classroom teacher can cater to the individual needs and learning style of every student. The teacher will often present material in several ways in recognition of these differences, but time and resources are limited. The teacher cannot teach until EVERY child has mastered the material; the class must keep moving forward and complete the prescribed material for the calendar year.

Any child who can’t keep up or who may need just a bit more help, is often overlooked. Generally, the child is passed along with the idea that he or she will get it next year. The problem is that most don’t. They keep getting further behind until they are “diagnosed” with a learning issue.

If your child is struggling, it is highly recommended that you identify his or her learning style and make adjustments accordingly. This will be the first step. If the problems persist, you will have a better idea of where breakdowns are occurring and under what circumstances. This can help you target specific areas and find a remedy.
KEY WORDS: learning, style, profile, differences, intelligences, modality, personality, hands-on, special needs, disability, disabled, diagnosed, issues, label

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