Getting to Know Your Homeschool Learner
No one knows your kid as well as you do. But when you make the decision to homeschool, you need to consider your child as a learner. This might mean taking a step back to really observe your child and get to know how they learn best.
Here are some things to consider:
What time of day does your child learn best?
Is your child most alert in the mornings? Or do they wake up grumpy most days and hit their stride after lunch? If you wait until your child is in a terrible mood and then expect them to work through their most challenging subject, you are going to come up against a wall, and HARD.
How does your child harness his/her energy?
For some kids, energy is a force that helps them learn. They get excited and their brain is able to get into hyper-focus mode. For other kids, excess energy distracts them and they may need to really “get out the wiggles” in order to take a breath and focus.
Consider the multiple intelligences
If you haven’t learned much about the multiple intelligences, here’s a brief overview: according to Howard Gardner (Harvard psychologist), there are 8 types of intelligence, including: visual-spatial, linguistic-verbal, interpersonal, intrapersonal, logical-mathematical, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, and naturalistic. Knowing about your child’s preferences and strengths will help to plan successful learning activities. For example, when teaching multiplication facts, a logical-mathematical child may pick up on numerical patterns and learn facts quite easily, whereas a child whose strength is musical may prefer to learn the facts through songs. If your highly interpersonal child is struggling with isolation at home, he/she may need more interaction with peers, such as through a co-op.
Does your child sit still?
Not all kids can be in a desk or at the kitchen table for hours on end. Even in classroom settings, young children (preschool to second or third grade) are constantly moving from desks to the “carpet” area. Many schools now offer flexible seating (at all ages) because they realize that kids need to MOVE. Really watch your child through the day. Is he/she most comfortable sitting? Standing? Laying down? There are many tools out there to help kids “move” as they learn. Some examples include wobble stools, standing desks, pedal desks, exercise balls, and scoop chairs.
What types of auditory distractions help or hurt your child’s learning?
For this one, it’s a good idea to consider yourself. If you needed to complete a task that required quite a bit of concentration, how would you set yourself up for accomplishing the task? Would you put on headphones? Play music? Have the tv turned on? Be in a room with people talking? Now think about your child and experiment with different background sounds. I’d recommend trying complete silence, background conversation, classical music, and other types of music (instrumental, music with lyrics the child knows, music with unfamiliar lyrics, etc.). This is a fun little experiment that your child would probably really enjoy. Side note: if you have an older child (middle or high school age), they may insist that they perform better with earbuds in – but I would be very wary of taking their word for it. Perhaps consider letting them choose their auditory preference for certain tasks, but not others.
Which types of visual distractions help or hurt your child’s learning?
For some kids, having a lot of visuals makes learning fun and interesting. Visuals, such as posters on the wall or a multiplication table on the desk can be used as resources for learning. These types of kids may not be bothered by a stack of mail sharing space with them on the kitchen table. But for other kids, too many visuals can hinder, rather than help, their learning. If your child gets distracted/off-task easily, you may want to consider the number and types of visuals you have in your schooling area. For some kids, plain and simple is better.
Where does your child learn best?
Experiment a little bit to determine where your child learns best. This may be at the kitchen table, outdoors, at the local library, or somewhere else. Does your child enjoy being in the same spot every day? Or does he/she prefer to have more variety? Consider having more than one option for learning areas in your home. Clipboards can be a quick and easy way to make your learning ready to “grab and go.”
Does your child prefer to learn with others? Or one-on-one?
Many children are motivated by their peers, and homeschooling with the help of a co-op group or enrichment classes can really accelerate and extend their learning. For other kids, the pressure to keep up with peers can bring on stress and anxiety, and they would prefer to learn strictly from their parent-teacher or tutor.
What motivates your child?
In an ideal world, everyone would be intrinsically motivated to learn for the sake of learning. But in the real world, a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations drives the majority of people. Think about what motivates your child. What are they interested in? What excites them? Do they look forward to a specific activity (game, one-on-one time, technology, sport)? Do they look forward to doing hands-on projects and experiments? Working with others? Free choice? Being independent? Notice the activities and subjects that light a fire under your child and make note of these. You can use what you learn to help your child get the most out of homeschool.
These might seem silly, but for many kids, these simple tweaks can make a big difference.
- Food/water – Whenever I sit down to work at the computer I have at least two or three beverages. If someone told me I couldn’t have water nearby, I would probably turn grumpy pretty quickly. So determine what you are okay with during school time. Water in a spill-proof container? Snacks that aren’t too messy? The beauty of homeschool schedules is that you don’t need to squeeze eating and drinking into a thirty minute lunch break like in traditional schools. So don’t!
- Temperature – I don’t know about you, but if I’m too cold, I can’t focus on much other than the fact that I’m cold. Make sure your homeschool area is at an acceptable temperature to maximize learning.
- Supplies – okay, this may sound ridiculous, but for some kids, having a certain type of school supply makes for a much better learning experience. So if your child is insistent on the purple eraser or the spiral notebook with the picture of the puppy on the front, maybe it’s a battle you let them win.
- Clothing – Some homeschoolers wake up at the same time every day and have their kids put on “real” clothes, while others let their kids rock their pjs until it’s time to leave the house. Whatever your style, make sure your kids are dressed comfortably for learning.
Like adults, kids have personalities and preferences. While the outside world cannot always accommodate for every wish and desire a child has, getting to know your little learners can make a huge difference in your homeschool experience. If you need some ideas to get you started, check out this behavioral observation form.