Discovering Learning Styles
by Beverley Paine
I first heard about learning styles when my children were in their teens; up until then I simply applied common sense principles to understanding and working with my children.
One of the first things I learned when they were toddlers was that I couldn't parent each of them the same way. To my surprise each child was different! It sounds silly now, but my expectations of parenting were based on what I'd read in books and seen on television and noticed older parents doing: all of it observational with very little direct experience.
I discovered I couldn't discipline my son the same I had his older sister. He responded to things very differently and at different ages to his sister. And when our last child came along, that was a whole new ball game too! What worked with one child wouldn't work with the others!
My knowledge and assumptions on the subject of parenting were shelved. I still thumbed through a few books, always hopeful for new ideas or possible answers, but found the only thing that did produce sustainable results was observation, common sense, and identifying needs.
I found myself gradually developing and using different parenting, teaching, disciplinary styles with each child. I guess you could say I learned about learning styles in a very natural fashion!
Somewhere along the way I had a sane moment and realised that if I could work out how I learned optimally I might get a handle on what to do with these three very different children.
I started by thinking about all the things that make me tick: what I like, don't like, what turns me on, keeps me going, how I do things, both 'good' and 'bad', the distractions I'm addicted to, etc. And then one day it dawned on me that my husband didn't think like me -- this after a decade of marriage! Suddenly the problems in our marriage made sense. Up until then I had expected that his brain was wired the same way as mine. I didn't understand why he couldn't analyse literature, or predict what people were going to do next, or do three things at once and still have a conversation with me!
Without knowing that Howard Gardiner, Thomas Armstrong or Alan Thomas existed, I worked out that if I treated my children as people, rather than children, and thought of us all as learners, then home educating became a lot easier. In essence the issue has more to do with respect, rather than doing different or knowing anything in particular. And then I noticed something even more interesting. By observing attentively how I, my husband and my very different three learners learned, it soon became apparent that we were all using very similar techniques, regardless of age.
I noticed that I had definite preferences. I like to read and think. I need to write. I have to make meaning that is personal. I don't retail details. I'm a big picture person. I test hypothesises. Learning styles - the things the above guys write about - is about preferences. What observing my family demonstrated to me was that underneath the preferences we all learn in much the same way.
As we grow we hone our preferences, usually at the expense of an all-round holistic education. I gave up my musical ability to focus on my passion for writing stories instead of lyrics to songs. Every so often a few lines of a song will burst from me, original words and tune, and I wonder if, had I lived differently as toddler, might I have become a Kylie Minogue? The 'left-brained' scientist and writer in me dominated and I'm happy.
Examining how I learn in detail helped me realise that my children weren't little duplicates of me. This enabled me to accommodate their idiosyncratic learning preferences and styles. Looking back, I probably could have done a much better job.
It's mainly about providing the most suitable resources and opportunities, but also about keeping education holistically balanced and continuously providing opportunity to exercise the whole body, mind and spirit, not just what we're naturally talented at or interested in...
For more information about Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences visit, http://howardgardner.com/multiple-intelligences/ as well as http://www.institute4learning.com/multiple_intelligences.php.
See also Learning Styles and Preferences.
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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