By Kayla Garelick
Many of us are homeschooling because our children are gifted and their needs will not be met in school. Being gifted doesn’t just mean learning smarter or faster; it can mean learning differently. Some of our children learn so differently that they need educational experiences designed to their unique needs. These unique educational experiences can be more readily provided when homeschooling than in a typical classroom, since a parent can tailor the learning situation to fit the child's preferred mode of learning.
It can help our understanding of how our children learn if we distinguish two main aspects of learning: (1) preferred form of input -- what we often call learning style; and (2) preferred form of output, or how we communicate our knowledge. As homeschooling parents, we too often get tangled up among these areas and can't figure out if our kids are visual-spatial, auditory-sequential, kinesthetic or some other blend. Once confused we may feel that we are no longer experts on our kids. But we are! We just have to observe our children at work and play.
Let me introduce my kids briefly so that you'll see the range and diversity of learning styles, even in my own home. I call my children bookends, because where one looks right the other looks left -- yet somehow they look the same! My son (let's call him ‘Stargazer’) uses his strong auditory memory and love for the sounds of words to learn. He was an early reader, memorized books and video tapes, and requested to be read to at every opportunity. In contrast, my daughter (let's call her ‘Gutsygirl’) has auditory processing issues and has to work hard to listen when there is background noise, for example. Nonetheless, there are parts of her brain that hook in with certain kinds of auditory information, so that if something is presented through music she will learn it thoroughly, thus leaving me with much to think about. So I consider Stargazer an auditory learner, and note the complexity of Gutsygirl's auditory skills as fodder for thought.
Another area of contrast is their use of their bodies -- what we've lately come to call ‘kinesthetic’ ability. Gutsygirl seems to learn only while in motion. From the beginning, she has charged forward to meet the physical world and learn all about it through her body. She needs to touch and manipulate objects and get her whole body involved, such as acting out something from history. Stargazer, on the other hand, struggled with sensory integration, a problem where the information traveling from his senses to his brain gets scrambled, or processed improperly. The misinformation led to struggles with both fine and gross motor skills. Yet his super sensitivity was useful for him at times. As my children grew, these and other differences appeared and caught my attention. I'm glad they are bookends because it caused me to think hard about their learning styles and to find ways to help them learn through their strengths.
Now, for some examples of the difference between input and output I’ll use myself (so I won't embarrass my kids any more!). I am highly visual and I learn quickly through pictures. However, I never learned to draw so I use a camera to express myself visually. I love to move. I go walking in the woods to clear my head. I toil in the garden to work off frustration. I love to get my hands dirty and attempt to fix my car, printer and computers. But I often feel like a total klutz. I trip over my own feet, bump into walls, dance without grace, smash my thumbs and jam my fingers. So I learn though my body, but I do not express my knowledge through my body!
Am I a kinesthetic learner? I think so, because I take in so much information through moving my body and interacting with the physical world. In their discussion of Learning Styles, LDPride.net describes Tactile/Kinesthetic Learners as those who:
learn through, moving, doing and touching... Tactile/Kinesthetic persons learn best through a hands-on approach, actively exploring the physical world around them. They may find it hard to sit still for long periods and may become distracted by their need for activity and exploration.
Now that really sounds like me! It also sounds like my Gutsygirl to the max! I think this does a good job of describing input prefence.
But I do not qualify as one with Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence as defined at LDPride.net. According to their website B/K intelligence includes:
…ability to control body movements and handle objects skillfully. These learners express themselves through movement. They have a good sense of balance and eye-hand co-ordination. (e.g. ball play, balancing beams). Through interacting with the space around them, they are able to remember and process information. Their skills include: dancing, physical coordination, sports, hands on experimentation, using body language, crafts, acting, miming, using their hands to create or build, expressing emotions through the body. Possible career paths: Athletes, physical education teachers, dancers, actors, firefighters, artisans
I do not have those abilities, nor can I express myself well through my body. Anyone who knows me would roll on the floor laughing at the idea of me as an athlete! I do, however, remember and process information through interacting with the space around me. So perhaps this definition includes not just some innate potential, as I think of an IQ, but also learning/input style and communication/output style.
A kinesthetic learner, such as myself or Gutsygirl, can be at a distinct disadvantage in a typical classroom setting. While a teacher might give a highly verbal learner books through which to learn about the world, or give a visual learner pictures and symbols to understand the world, the kinesthetic learner is often a mystery to teachers. While teachers usually try to reach all areas of their students' strengths, the kinesthetic learning style is the least considered and least tolerated in most typical classroom settings. Chaotic movement in the classroom from several people moving at once can unsettle the teacher and some of the other students. Many educators prefer their students remain seated at their desks or in a neat line. This can so frustrate the kinesthetic learner that they may shut down entirely -- as did Gutsygirl.
After years of struggling with many different schools, I finally brought my kinesthetic Gutsygirl home to learn. She needed room to move. At 11, she still could not sit still. She needed to touch to understand, and most important, she needed to be in a place where being herself is an OK person to be. My first concern for her as we began homeschooling was that she should regain her sense of her self. In school, her need for motion was not acceptable and the result was that she felt that there was something wrong with her. I knew it was the lack of flexibility of the system that was meant to teach many children at once that was flawed -- not Gutsygirl. I wanted her to be able to see that, too.
At home, Gutsygirl could excel in her strengths, because we did not have to accommodate a classroom full of different kids with different learning styles. Homeschooling gave us the freedom to go in search of activities specific to Gutsygirl’s learning style – and her kinesthetic expressive style. I realized lessons learned as a preschool teacher about using the whole body for learning could be adapted to teach my middle schooler. I knew that I had to fully engage her with her need to move, her love of drama, and her ability to transform through her body.
As our learning at home began, we immediately got on the move. We drove out to historical recreations of gold mines, and to the epicenter of the 1906 earthquake where she could walk the distance between the fences that moved when the ground moved (showing how big the rift was). We went to Zeum, a hands-on science and art center in San Francisco with art projects and rooms that require people to move to interact with the exhibits. We made a big splash into homeschooling.
I suspected that the combination of movement and imagination might intrigue Gutsygirl, so I signed her up for circus classes where she could hone her natural skills in these areas. The mix of physical and dramatic really grabbed my daughter and developed her acting skills because she used her body even more. I also found acting classes for homeschoolers. I tried to reinforce her strengths by providing auditory-kinesthetic experiences where she could excel, thereby continuing to improve her self-esteem and also allowing her to learn in the style in which she learns best. Other activities which we found beneficial to her learning style included anything including movement, such as martial arts, gymnastics, swimming, and more.
Once my daughter, then 12, began to recover from her unpleasant school experiences, it was time to start thinking about using her strengths to teach some academics. I knew that any concept can be more fully explored by a kinesthetic learner by acting it out. For example, they can create and direct a play about an historical event with other homeschoolers, or use story boarding to plan a video about the ecosystem of your backyard, then taping and editing it. You can even get pads of paper at the art store that has the storyboarding rows of tv screens on it already! For a kinesthetic learner, everything is better learned in the context of movement, even if it does not involve actually moving. Thus, learning history by reading historical fiction works for Gutsygirl, as does learning about other cultures through stories about the personal lives of real people. For her, creating and using artifacts (which is ripe with story) works better than examining beautiful artifacts at a museum, unless she can pick up the thing and play with it!
Teaching math to kinesthetic learners can be a challenge. It really helps if they can get their hands on it! Math manipulatives are great, but they have their limits. While they can promote understanding of concepts and operations, they begin to present problems for more complex math. Not being much of a mathematician myself, I left the teaching of algebra to my husband, but he did not easily grasp her kinesthetic learning style so he could not translate the concepts to be taught to work with manipulatives. There are some manipulatives for algebra out there that may help; however, what worked for us was finding teaching moments in everyday situations. Shopping, cooking, tipping the server at a restaurant or the taxi driver all moved her into regular use of pre-algebra operations. Computer math games, like the various Clue Finders Adventures, also can help. To promote memorization, I like Times Tables the Fun Way: A Picture Method of Learning Multiplication Facts. Their system for memorizing time tables relies on story associations and funny rhymes placed in strongly visual setting so it could work for many types of learners.
Anything that can be made or built will help a kinesthetic learner show what they are learning: make a diorama, a rocket, a circuit, a fort or a doll house. Anything that can be taken apart is rich with learning. We used to have "take apart" as a choice of activities in kindergarten classrooms. Parents would donate broken things and kids would unscrew and unbolt to their great delight and amazement! (Don't try this with TVs or computer monitors!). Gardening and cooking can also teach math and science and form a basis for exploring other cultures.
We used books on tape, great for the auditory side, which Gutsygirl usually read along with so as to help with concentration. She admitted that she would begin to daydream if she just listened. We also rented videos about the cultures that we were studying. There are many great educational videos out there.
Kinesthetic learners are unique individuals who can seem entirely out of place in many settings. They are often loud and boisterous, or simply seem to bounce off of the walls. They may not fit in even at family gatherings. So it's important to bring them together with people like them. If your group of close family and friends are thick with kinesthetic learners who express themselves through their body, then you've got this covered. Otherwise, it’s important to find ways to bring them together. When Gutsygirl was homeschooling, her theater classes were a wonderful opportunity. It was taught at a theater, with actors from the theater company teaching. One of the local homeschooling charter schools even gave credit for the class. This was special because these kids were dedicated to their craft and were like us, homeschooling to become fully themselves.
We also belonged to a history group. The group studied a time period, met weekly for crafts and other activities relevant to the time, and cooked food relevant to the work. At the end of each year we had a culminating "history faire" where everyone came as characters, developed by the kids, based on fictional or real historic figures who existed or could have existed in at that time in history. In this group, all of the parents took turns making presentations. One of "my” presentations was about bookmaking, and was actually presented by Gutsygirl. It was fantastic because it involved both her talent for making things and the use of her acting ability in order to teach the craft.
My daughter left homeschooling because she got into a public high school that has a great arts program and a fabulous theater program! In school, the kids work on academics in the morning and theater, movement, physical theater, Afro-Haitian dance, and Asian drama in the afternoon. They recently held a "basic night" where the introductory class showed what they'd learned in their theater classes. In the show, they interspersed group dances and circus presentations with "10 minute plays" performed by groups of 2 or 3 actors per skit. I was blown away by how great these kids are! She is so happy to be surrounded by kids like her!
These suggestions from LDpride.net may be useful in helping someone who learns through their body:
• take frequent study breaks
• move around to learn new things (e.g. read on an exercise bike, mold a piece of clay to learn a concept)
• work at a standing position
• chew gum while studying
• use bright colors to highlight reading material
• dress up your work space with posters
• if you wish, listen to music while you study
• skim through reading material to get a rough idea what it is about before settling down to read it in detail.
For more information and resources on different learning styles, please see Gifted Homeschoolers Forum's 2e Resources page.
Kayla Garelick homeschooled her daughter through middle school and her son through high school. She holds a Masters Degree from the Bank Street School of Education, a Masters in Law from New York University, and a JD from Rutgers Law School. She teaches digital photography to elders as a volunteer and, in her spare time, she is starting a business selling her photography and book art. She can be reached at email@example.com