How Children LearnAs parents we have a lot to cope with. Our training is zero and our competence is crucial, somehow we have to work out what’s best for our children. Along with our adopted roles as carer, counsellor, cleaner, confidante, cook, comedian, controller and chauffeur we have to add the more demanding role of teacher. This isn’t easy.

Homework issues abound. Already tired children are given a steady stream of study to add to their other commitments and our reserves and nerves are tested. What do we need to know that may help us out?

It has become so clear to me that understanding the way we learn is vital, and this is driven by many factors one of which is our personality preferences. The way we naturally teach is also driven by our personality preferences. If your teaching style as a parent happens to connect with your child’s learning style then you have good reason to be grateful. On the other hand, if the way you are trying to pass on your wisdom does not seem to be hitting the right spot then please read on!

My experience with my two children, and subsequently when working with teachers on training them on personality type, has been most revealing.

My daughter and I connect beautifully. Our learning curve is a perfect match and I have always enjoyed our time together. The pre-school phase was effortless. I only need open a book, she would focus diligently on the words and their meaning. We could spend happy times finding all the ‘b’s on the page and looking for other words that began with b or had a b in them. She memorized vast chunks of books that could easily have convinced me she was a reader before she even set foot in school. She observed before she attempted anything new and enjoyed the step-by-step instructions I gave to perfect a skill, whether that be cooking or riding a bike. We marked our small achievements and celebrated reaching the goal. Bliss – what a great parent I was!

Along came child number two just to prove that everything I had learnt thus far was now depressingly redundant. My son was a mystery to me. He happily opened books at the middle and only ever looked at the pictures. Reading, or attempting to read, up-side down (either him or the book!) was much more fun. Starting a book from the back page and working forwards was also entertaining. When I asked him if he could find any b’s on the page he looked at me as if I was mad and said “No!” (as in, “No, what on earth would I want to do that for?!”) All learning was a jump in with two feet approach. When given his scooter for Christmas he hopped on it and said “Look Mum, I can do tricks!” For him learning had to be fun, innovative, exciting and most importantly he had to see the point in order to put in the effort. Kindy was a dream, school was a shock.

“Yes, but it’s a boy/girl thing!” I hear you cry. You’re right, parts of it are. Like girls being more able at fine motor skills before boys. The rest is the way he sees the world, call it right brain vs left brain or whatever model suits, but it’s very different to me and it was obvious that I needed more understanding.

Here’s an exercise for you to try out at home. Get an empty plastic drink bottle (I hate to admit it but a coke bottle works well) and ask your child (or children, or whole family!) to think up,or write down, 20 facts about the bottle and 20 new things that the bottle can be used for. Which part of this exercise requires more energy from you? Some people love the fact finding part and can effortlessly come up with way more than 20 facts. For others they skip the detail and move more easily onto the different ways a bottle can be used.

Whichever is your preference, or strength, you will have a natural energy for the task. Whichever is your non-preference, or stretch, you are able to do it but will need some help. For example, those needing help with the facts are thinking, ‘It’s a plastic bottle, what else is there to see?’ Ask them to take a closer look at the writing, describe how the bottle feels or sounds when you touch it etc. For those needing help with ideas for different uses they are thinking ‘It’s a drink bottle, it’s used for putting drink in!’ Suggest they think about each room in the house and what use the bottle could have, maybe cut the bottle in half? What could happen then?…As you will see, it’s a case of ‘different strokes for different folks!’

Here’s a conversation I had with my son recently:

Tell me about your day. (Happy mood)

I suck at maths! (Grumpy)

Oh, what are you doing in maths? (Cheery question)

To the power of’s! (Still grumpy)

Oh, I see, like 3 to the power of 2 is 9. (Knowingly)

No, like 2 to the power of 4!!! (exasperatedly)

Oh, well that means 2 x 2 x 2 x 2. (Still knowingly, but clearly highly irritating)

I get that bit! (How did I end up with you as my mother?!)

Well what bit don’t you get? (Getting a sharp tone)

I just don’t get it. I don’t get why you would ever do that? So…I suck at maths! (Back to grumpy)

Sometimes love, there just isn’t anything else to get. That’s just what you need to know to pass the test (Wrong answer!)

I consulted my good friend who understood immediately. What you need to do is say. “What would you rather I give you, $1 million or a $2 coin on a chess board that doubles in value every time you move a square?” Aha…even I can see that would work for him. I tried it – it worked!!! But, why can’t I think of this? I’m afraid it’s a little known fact that great minds don’t think alike! Both are great – just different.

These aren’t the only differences that can cause some interesting dilemmas. Whether we share the same preference for extraversion and introversion is important to know. Learning for some children can be blocked if there is an emotional issue that hasn’t been settled or if there is no logical reason given for the learning.

Children with laptopThe practical tips included with this article use the now well known animal characters. You will recognise your child’s learning needs and I hope it will help you see that there are many ways your child can learn. Sometimes, we need to admit that we are not our child’s best teacher and that another approach may work better. If that is the case, please don’t feel that you have failed. On the contrary, you have succeeded in recognising your innate differences. The choice is yours to give it a go and try something new or ask for help from someone who shares your child’s learning style or is a teacher who understands.

Whoever said parenting was going to be easy?

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©Copyright 2010, Personality Dynamics Ltd.