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Harmonious homework: understanding your child’s learning style

Success at homeschooling or helping with homework is predicated upon having a sound understanding of your child’s cognitive...

3 years ago

Success at homeschooling or helping with homework is predicated upon having a sound understanding of your child’s cognitive profile. This will help you to gauge what style of delivery works best and minimise frustration on both sides of the kitchen table. Is your child more of an auditory or visual learner? How can you tell? Educational psychologist Desmond O’Connor shares some tips to help you better understand the learner within.

Act one, Scene one

Monday morning, a kitchen table somewhere in England. CHILD is sitting working at the table. PARENT is hovering, helpfully, over their left shoulder.

PARENT:          (Enthusiastically) Six times six…we know this one…you did your six times tables last week.
CHILD:             Silence
PARENT:          (Calmly) OK…let’s try and remember. Six times six is…
CHILD:             Silence
PARENT:          (Animated) Right…let’s do the trick…in the garden, pick up sticks…
CHILD:             Silence
PARENT:          (With feigned patience) Six times six is…
CHILD:             Silence
PARENT:          (With waning, feigned patience) Is thirty…
CHILD:             Silence
PARENT:          (With dangerously waning patience) Thirty sssssss….
CHILD:             Silence
PARENT:          (With diminishing self-control) Thirty sssssiiii….
CHILD:             Silence

Child exits…pursued by a bear.

If there’s one thing home-schooling has taught us, it’s that teachers are WAY better at their job than we ever realised them to be. Not only do they understand everything that they have to teach our children, but they also understand our children. Somehow, despite breeding them, raising them, feeding them and loving them, we simply can’t get inside our children’s heads in the way that a skilled teacher seems to do so effortlessly. 

The good news is that there is no magic trick or secret science at work here. Fifteen years of teaching and ten years as an educational psychologist has taught me that if you want to really understand how best to teach a child, you simply have to spend time observing the way in which they interact with the world around them. 

Spoiler alert: It may not be the way that you do…

Chalk and talk

Many of us grew up in an era when the curriculum was delivered in a manner that was weighted in favour of auditory learners. If you were good at listening and you could remember what you heard, then ‘chalk and talk’ teaching was your ticket to success.

But perhaps you were one of those kids who had to see it in order to understand it. Or maybe you excelled in lessons like Art and DT because you were (and still are) a practical, hands-on learner. If your child is a visual learner or a hands-on learner, then no amount of yelling times table mnemonics into their ear will make the info stick. They’ll need counters, crayons, building blocks or fabulous games that involve running around the garden picking up flashcards or gathering beanbags.

Watch and learn

But how best to find out your child’s learning style? It’s easy. Put the schoolbooks to one side and set up a practical, problem-solving challenge. You know the kind of thing… build the strongest structure possible using marshmallows and spaghetti, make your way across the room without touching the floor, build the tallest tower you can using tape and balloons.

Get creative, don’t stress about the mess then close your mouth and get ready to watch and listen.

If your child instinctively talks about how they will solve the problem (or talks as they are working), then they are probably an auditory/verbal learner. 

If they spend time looking carefully at the resources they have available then you can bet they are a visual thinker. 

Those who leap in and seem to have a spontaneous sense of how it all fits together almost certainly have active, practical problem-solving skills. These are the kids who think in 3D. These are also often the kids who hate writing and may be none too keen on their times tables either.

But why bother with all of this mess and chaos? A kitchen covered in spaghetti, the living room furniture upended, the carpet a mass of Sellotape and burst balloons…

This is an investment. An investment in your child. An investment in your sanity. An investment in a future of stress-free homeschooling and harmonious homework. Once you understand your child’s learning style you can start working with them in a way that is easier for you and more enjoyable for them. Mix it up, keep it active and rest assured that if your child doesn’t understand something, they’re probably not deliberately trying to drive you crazy. But then again…

About the author: Desmond O’Connor is an independent educational psychologist and consultant.


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