Tuesday, October 28, 2014

How Understanding Learning Styles Can Help Your Children

We all know that individuals learn differently -- some remember best the material that they hear, while others remember what they see better. Some people need to experience something hands on in order to do it, while others need to just read the directions. These needs within us are shaped both by our experiences and our biological make up. Learning styles go beyond memory style and learning preference, though. In fact, there are a LOT of things that go into making the learning environment around your child (or yourself) as successful as possible! An article published in California Journal of Science Education, Survey of Research on Learning Styles, says that learning styles are "as individual as a signature" and that understanding them can give us the ability to set up a learning environment designed exactly as a student needs. You can read the article (and the Journal it's from, which is pretty interesting!) at http://marric.us/files/CSTA_learnjournal.pdf#page=76

According to these authors, here are the things that make up a child's learning style:

  1.  Right or Left Brain Hemisphere Dominance. This information will give you an idea about the structure, independence, group/individual needs, background noise/activity, if they'll be motivated by peers or adults, and even optimal lighting for the learning environment.
  2. Age and Gender. Considering these things will help you figure out lighting, mobility needs, and sound needs. For instance, the need for sound is stronger for younger children, who also need less light (the need for light increases with age). And as I'm sure you already figured, boys need to move while learning more than girls do!
  3. Perceptual Preferences. According to the Institute of Learning, "Perceptual learning styles are the means by which learners extract information from their surroundings through the use of their five senses."  The different preferences (with links so you can learn more) are: 
    Print - refers to seeing printed or written words.
    Aural - refers to listening. 
     - refers to the sense of touch or grasp.
    Interactive - refers to verbalization.
    Kinesthetic - refers to whole body movement.
    Olfactory - refers to sense of smell and taste.
    Visual - refers to seeing visual depictions such as pictures and graphs.

    Studies have shown that in order to score the highest on evaluations of learning, the child should first be presented with the material in his or her perceptual preference, then that material should be reinforced by their secondary or tertiary preference (. So for example, my son is very visual. I might show him a video of a Magic School bus episode or a picture book about germs first, then I might reinforce that lesson by doing a hands on germ experiment (to meet his secondary preference for kinesthetic), and end by him listening to a song about germs (aural).
  4. Social Preference. In general, small groups are best for young students (as opposed to them doing work on their own without teacher involvement), heavy social learning in Jr. High, and then tapering off to do work independently and without as much teacher involvement in High School. This can all be affected by the student, though, so remember that your child is an individual and watch (and ask) to see how he or she learns best among peers and with/without a teacher!
  5. Time of Day. Is your child a morning, afternoon, or evening person? IOWA achievement test scores were significantly higher in the research when children were administered the test during the time of day that matched them best! I can vouch for this personally as I know my daughter does best with her most challenging subjects (her reading to me) in the morning, but then listens the best in the evening (if I'm reading to her).
  6. Mobility Needs. (I'm going to paraphrase from the article here). A bunch of kids were sent to psychologists for hyperactivity assessments. What did the psychologists say? That the kids were just "normal kids" with higher mobility needs--they were not actually hyperactive. Furthermore, the research found that the typical classroom environment was actually HURTING the education of the high mobility needs of (mainly) boys. Yikes! So instead of running to medication or discipline, consider the possibility that your boy might just be a boy and might just need to run around. 
Put it all together, and you'll have a really clear picture of what your child needs in order to learn and succeed the best! Learning styles are more than just being partial to sight, sound, or hands on. How do you think you learn best, and how do you think your kids learn best after reading this post?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

When Your 4-Year-Old Won't Go To Sleep

My son wouldn’t go to bed. It was probably because he slept in late (I let him—it was the first Saturday we’d had as a family in a LONG time) and because he randomly put himself down for a nap during the day (huh?!). I lectured him. I threatened him with grounding. I took things away. He just wouldn’t stay in bed.

I got angry and was just about to fight him when I stopped and realized that he’s Four. And Four turns into Five awful quickly. Five turns into Seven and before you know it, Never Land is something you read about instead of something you experience. And I don’t want to let this fleeting moment go without experiencing it.

So instead of fighting, I told him to grab a bowl. He didn’t miss a beat, pulled up a chair, grabbed some lemonade, and we ate Fire Chips together (Doritos—don’t judge me about the red dye, this is rare).

He showed me his muscles. “Mom, feel them!” He explained how these muscles punch the monsters so they aren’t a problem. “Pow!”

I learned that he wants to “be a giant, like a T-Rex” when he grows up and I watched his face grow disbelief when I told him there would be dinosaurs in Heaven.

He slapped his forehead and grumbled when “the little girl upstairs is crying!” (who is actually Eight, and I’m sure nearly a grown up in his mind). And even though he has no idea who Macaulay Culkin is, he did the Home Alone face when he realized there are TWO Cheerios boxes sitting on top of the fridge. Those are his favorite. Well, not really, but I don’t buy his “favorite” ones, the horrible mother that I am.

We never sit, just the two of us. And never with silence around us. The stillness of the moment gave him the opportunity to explore the stack of old fashioned paper straws that were on the table. I had grumbled through picking them up off of his floor an hour earlier. They’re school manipulatives and are supposed to be helping him learn to count, not to be strewn around, bent, and left to Little Boy ways. But now, he told me to watch because when he spun them, “they go up and down.” Something he would have never learned if he simply used them for counting. He intentionally dropped two on the floor and told me he’s sorry, only to then meet me with a handsome grin when I immediately picked up my own and promptly dropped it on the floor, too.

We talked about art projects he and his older sister had done. He wanted to know if I’d picked his up off the floor where he had left it. Of course, I had. These things are precious to me. And tonight, I got to take time to show that the child who had made that piece of art is precious to me, too.

Thank you, Timmy, for the honor of being your Mommy.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

5 Tips For A Successful Homeschool Year

Being the middle of July, parents everywhere are working on solidifying educational pans for the coming Fall. For me, it goes a little like this:

"I should send my kids to school.
 ...but the public school here is only rated at a 3/10.

So I'll send them to private school!
 ...oh, wait, I'd have to raise (legal) rare animals or something and sell the pelts to afford that. And I don't want to skin animals. Bad idea.

Public school is still an option.
 ...oh, look, the public school curriculum! I'll look through it --(about a hundred hours pass)-- Well, that's not going to work...

Maybe I could start my own school?

(using a screwdriver and my teeth to replace a belt on the vacuum cleaner while I watch my three year old pretend that the couch is Mt. Everest--I feel proud of my multitasking until I realize the baby is about to suck on the electrical cord of my newly working vacuum cleaner.) Ok, adding children is a bad idea. I need clean floors and alive children.

I could trade work with a private school so my children can attend.

...or not.

Ok, home schooling. That's a great academic option.

Home schooling. Maybe. It would take more effort on my part (is it ok to admit how much work it is to home school properly? and that my perfectionist mind will accept nothing less from myself?).

...I don't know, maybe I should send my kids to school."

Do you see how that goes? It's like one of those If You Give A Mouse a Muffin Books (bangs my head on the table full of math manipulatives). Since I'm still working on my options for the upcoming Fall, it means that I'm planning for every option so that whatever the end result is, it's successful. So without further ado, here is how you can plan for a successful homeschool year!

  1. Don't overburden yourself. I can't stress this enough. Starting simple and adding in will be much easier than trying to figure out what you can and can't weed out a few weeks into the school year! Fertilizing is easier than weeding. Remember that.
  2. Combine subjects. Especially for the younger grades, this is pretty easy. Not only will it make things simpler for you, but it will increase the depth to which your children are learning because it provides a variety of ways that the children are being exposed to the material and increasing the frequency of which they hear/experience it. My favorite subjects to combine are:
    • History
    • Literature
    • Art
    • Music History
    • Writing
    • Geography (if possible)

  3. Choose a curriculum or educational philosophy that you can continue through the years. This will save you the step of sifting through a thousand different books every summer so that you can decide on what curriculum to use in the Fall. Programs that are designed for ongoing use are especially nice for saving you effort and time!
  4. If you're homeschooling multiple grade levels, combine your teaching where possible. Many curriculums plan for teaching multiple levels, and have different activities/books/supplements for each one. This way, you can teach the core for everyone at once, and then break each child up for the appropriate activities for that level.
  5. Plan to cut the busy work. One of the beauties about home schooling is that it allows your child to go at his or her own pace. So if your child "gets" the math concept, don't make them do rote problems of it for weeks. If you do this, then you'll have more time to spend on the math concept that is harder for your child to "get". You also avoid the frustration of boredom.