School’s out. That big whooshing sound you hear? That’s the collective exhale of parents everywhere, who were, at the end, hanging on by their fingernails.
Now, it’s summertime, and the living is, if not exactly easy, easier. No more nightly backpack excavating, reviewing homework, and being the Big Bad Bedtime Enforcer. But summer brings its own set of parental concerns—not the least of which is the summer slide.
The summer slide is real. For decades, researchers have been studying this phenomenon of kids losing academic ground over the span of summer vacation. According to the National Summer Learning Association, kids can lose 1–3 months of learning over summer break. Kids, across the board, lose about two months’ worth of math skills. Loss of reading skills is less prevalent, because reading is more embedded in kids’ day-to-day lives, but many children do experience significant loss in reading as well as spelling. The extent of the loss is greater in disadvantaged children and children in higher grades.
What’s a parent to do? Plan a summer filled with “homework,” flash cards, prescribed reading lists, and summer school?
Well, you might want to do some of these things, particularly if your child needs to catch up. But if you, like me, believe that a less structured, happy, and carefree summer break is not only fun for kids but can also offer academic growth, you might approach the challenge differently. With a little planning and a lot of intention, we can provide kids with both the needed break from routine and the necessary engagement to combat the summer slide.
The key is building on these two fundamental ideas:
Give kids a say. The more you persist in pushing something your kids really don’t want to do, the more they will resist. Instead, urge them to get their curiosity on and make a “summer learning bucket list.” You might find that they have well-thought-out answers to the question, “What would you like to learn or explore this summer?”
Shoot for activity-based learning. Remember: One of the best ways kids learn is through play and exploration.
Here are just a few ways to keep your kids thinking all summer:
Think of the outdoors as a classroom. A session at camp, if it’s in your family budget, can expose your child to all kinds of new ideas and experiences. But you can do many camp-like activities at home too. Go on scavenger hunts, looking for various bugs, birds, or plants. Keep a nature journal of the things you see and do. Conduct science experiments that are too messy for indoors. Give writing prompts about nature, or try a nature-themed art project. Plan a picnic after dark to catch, study, and release fireflies. Grab the binoculars (easier to use than telescopes with young kids) and do some stargazing. Follow up by reading together books about the subjects you explore. Summer is a great time to build upon an emerging interest, and most children are intrigued by some aspect of nature or science.
Schedule some family travel. Even a day trip can be enriching for children. Let your kids participate in the planning—researching your destination and planning your route. It’s a chance to learn map skills—and practice their math skills—as they calculate distance traveled. While in the car, tune in an educational children’s podcast the whole family can enjoy, like Highlights Hangout. An audio experience can be a nice alternative to screen time.
“Loiter” at the library (really, it’s OK). Sign up for your local library’s summer reading program, and allow your kids to browse the shelves and choose their own books. Studies show that reading as few as 4 or 5 books over the summer can have a positive impact similar to that of summer-school enrollment.
Get your game on! Dig out the board games you never have time to play during the school year. Some of them are great at giving kids practice at doing math: Monopoly, Connect Four, Ticket to Ride, and Rush Hour. A yard game such as cornhole requires on-the-spot addition. Even hopscotch helps reinforce math skills. Word games such as Boggle can help with spelling.
Puzzle it out. Keep a supply of puzzle and activity books in the kids’ sight line and within easy reach—and download a few good puzzle apps for their tablets. Mazes, logic puzzles, word, and math puzzles—beautifully illustrated and made to look like the fun they are—reinforce a myriad of essential skills. They also help kids learn concentration, persistence, and multiple ways of solving a problem—all crucial skills for growth mindsets and school success.
Summer is a great time for discovery and exploration, and it’s an easy setup. This year, take the summer slide into family fun and learning—and create a softer landing for your child when school begins next fall.
Christine French Cully is the editor in chief of Highlights for Children, Inc., where she is responsible for shaping the editorial direction of all the magazines, online content and products the company develops for children and their families. She plays a strategic, ongoing role in the development of the Highlights vision and brand across all markets and channels/around the globe. Cully, a mother of two, resides in Honesdale, Pennsylvania.
In many cases, kids learn by absorbing the information and environment around them. As a result, exposing your youngster to the multitude of experiences that travel offers can provide unique, hands-on learning experiences. Consider, for example, these three benefits of travel.
1. Every moment is an opportunity to learn something new
When traveling, your child has the unique opportunity to continually absorb new knowledge and skills. Many children thrive when learning in a hands-on manner, and travel takes the skills and concepts your student may have learned in the classroom and puts these to use in a real-world setting.
For instance, if your child has recently studied geography, a trip to a national park such as the Grand Canyon might allow her to experience in person what she has previously only encountered in school. She might even deepen her knowledge by speaking with park rangers or participating in a Junior Ranger program at certain national parks. If you take your child on a trip overseas, she can experience all that the new culture has to offer, including discovering customs, learning about the language, and participating in day-to-day life in that country.
Travel is also a great chance for children to disconnect from technology. Your child may have seen your travel destination on TV or the internet, and this trip will give her the opportunity to put down the screen and experience these destinations firsthand. Technology is great for a multitude of reasons, but briefly disconnecting can also show her the positives of living in the moment.
2. Travel can build confidence and encourage your child to try new things
Traveling often forces individuals out of their comfort zones. While initially uncomfortable, this can have great benefits. Traveling helps children discover many things, including what type of travel he likes and what cultures and destinations he is most interested in learning more about. Exposing your student to travel can foster a love of exploration and open-mindedness about the outside world. Simple acts like ordering his own food or selecting the day’s activity can build confidence and demonstrate that he can successfully handle these types of situations. If you travel to a different country, your child may have the opportunity to participate in local cultural practices, such as learning a new musical instrument or trying new foods.
3. Travel provides the opportunity to meet new people and discover new cultures
Through travel, children will meet new people who have unique stories to tell. No matter if you travel to another country or a different part of the United States, your child will encounter people who live differently than she does. She may have heard or read about other cultures’ practices, but experiencing them firsthand and learning about their background from locals can provide insight into the culture that she may not otherwise have.
She will also encounter other travelers whom she can also learn from. She can discover why these travelers chose this particular destination, other places they may have traveled, and things they have learned along the way.
Caitlin Grove is an Associate Content Coordinator for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.
With the new year upon us, re-energizing your student about learning can seem challenging. With the right tactics, however, motivating your child to tackle 2018 doesn’t have to be a source of conflict. Techniques like promoting leadership or discovering your student’s preferred learning style can help both you and your child start the year strong.
1. Experiment with different learning styles
According to Howard Gardner, there are seven types of intelligence, also known as learning styles: interpersonal, intrapersonal, kinesthetic, linguistic, logical, musical, and visual. Gardner’s theory states that each student learns differently. For this reason, identifying which styles suit your student best can help her feel more confident. For example, she may absorb material more effectively when it is written on the chalkboard during class or on paper during homework time.
One key component of motivating your child is helping her feel confident in her abilities. Talk about how she prefers to interact with information, or experiment with several ways together. Discovering her individual learning style (or styles) can help your child begin the year motivated to tackle what lies ahead.
2. Encourage leadership skills
Is your student in fourth or fifth grade, or middle school? If so, it can be very helpful to urge him to take leadership of his education and any projects he may face in the coming year. Yes, you will still be present to assist when necessary. But if your child feels that he is in control of his education, he may be more likely to excel.
Allowing your student to practice leadership can take many forms, such as letting him choose which homework to tackle first. This may sound like a simple decision, but it is important to promote positive decision-making skills in your student’s everyday life. Discuss any areas where he would like to exert more leadership skills—perhaps he would like to help his little sister with reading or he would like to choose his extracurricular activities for the spring.
3. Foster an outside connection to learning
Your student will learn a great deal in the classroom, but engaging in activities outside school that continue this learning can be very beneficial. There are many ways you can strengthen your child’s connection to learning, both inside and outside your home. She could conduct simple experiments if she is interested in science, or write short stories if she is intrigued by the arts. Ask her about her interests and gauge what she might find exciting.
Another great way to motivate your student is to take field trips to local learning centers, museums, and historic sites. If your child is struggling with science, one way to get her excited about the subject might be to take her to a science museum and let her explore. She may find connections to information she has learned in the classroom and, in turn, may gain a better understanding of the concept. For example, if she is studying weather in science class, but cannot fully grasp the concept, she could explore the weather exhibit at a local science center. This idea can work for other subjects and locations as well, such as art museums and libraries. Speak with your student about areas where she is struggling or would like to delve deeper, and research how you can incorporate an outside learning connection into her education.
Motivating your student in the new year doesn’t have to revolve around helping him set resolutions. If you initiate an open dialogue about your child’s strengths and weaknesses, you can successfully motivate him to succeed in 2018.
Caitlin Grove is an Associate Content Coordinator for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.
As a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher, I’ve found that using puzzles in the classroom has benefits for students of all learning levels and abilities. Solving puzzles adds variety to daily lessons, helps children practice math concepts, and develops mathematical thinking—not to mention that puzzles are a fun and engaging way to bring math “to life”!
Puzzles serve as a great motivator for all types of math learners because they promote creativity, perseverance, and strategic thinking. Students who are struggling in math may find a new route through puzzling. At the same time, students who are comfortable with (or even proficient in) mathematical concepts can be challenged to think about learning in a different way. Puzzles can help solidify concepts and encourage deeper understanding, and they also provide the opportunity to manipulate, problem solve, and promote creativity.
Types of Math Puzzles
I have used a variety of puzzles in my classroom that have helped my students learn a number of different math skills:
These puzzles offer students practice with their visual and spatial skills. Mazes also help develop this skill set.
Pentominoes are a fun way to practice geometry skills as well as visual and spatial skills. Here’s how I use them: First, my students learn about what makes a shape a pentomino and how a set of pentominoes can be manipulated into larger or more complex shapes. After becoming more comfortable, students learn how to put several pentominoes together to create their own puzzles. Once their pieces are arranged, they trace the outside of the new shape, remove the pentominoes, and challenge their peers to solve their puzzle. It’s a great example of bringing math to life for students, and giving them the opportunity to develop their own ideas and spatial understandings.
These popular puzzles are ones that give children an opportunity to practice using their deductive reasoning skills and problem-solving skills.
There are all kinds of logic puzzles, but I use grid logic puzzles most often. Each puzzle has a series of categories and a number of options within each category. Each option is used once, and the goal is to figure out which options are linked together based on a series of clues. Each puzzle has one solution and is solved using simple logical processes.
Just like their previous work with pentominoes, after giving my students several logic puzzles, they are now creating their own! Many of the students choose to create puzzles with a classmate, which provides opportunities for collaboration and discussion about the puzzle. This helps to build classroom community. In addition to learning how to problem solve, students are learning about the importance of being specific, composing clear clues and directions (algorithms), and reviewing their work.
Math riddles are another type of puzzle that challenges students to think critically, logically, and creatively. Examples are polygon riddles and other brainteasers.
Math riddles are an excellent tool to help students think critically and to practice their problem-solving skills. One example of how I use math riddles is during our geometry unit, when the students are learning about polygons. I give the students one clue at a time, and they remove possibilities from their shape cards. An example of a polygon riddle: Clue 1: This polygon is not a parallelogram. Clue 2: This polygon does not have any right angles. Clue 3: This polygon does not have any obtuse angles. Clue 4: This polygon has exactly 2 congruent sides. What is the name of the polygon? Answer: Isosceles triangle. These riddles reinforce the students’ understanding of shapes and geometry vocabulary like parallel sides, perpendicular sides, types of angles, and lines of symmetry. After solving several riddles, the students create their own puzzles to share with each other. Another type of puzzle that challenges kids to think creatively is brainteasers, such as: What occurs twice in a week, once in a year but never in a day? Answer: The letter e.
Puzzles are a wonderful way to draw kids into math learning. After all, solving math problems is, in a way, just like solving puzzles. When kids see mathematics as puzzles, they are more engaged and have a more flexible approach to learning math.
Jackie Metcalf is a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at the University of Pittsburgh’s Falk Laboratory School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She has been teaching for 19 years. She is married and has two children who enjoy puzzles.
Many of the items that we interact with and use in our everyday lives come from all across the globe. As a result, today’s young people are very likely to work with non-native English speakers whether at home or in a foreign setting. Plus learning a second language can provide a multitude of new and exciting opportunities.
Here are three reasons to encourage your child to learn a new language, as well as ways you can help foster this growth:
1. The biological impact
Learning a foreign language helps to create new pathways in the brain. Children who learn more than one language from a young age are not just more likely to become fluent—they also experience slight shifts in the way their brain works to process information. Dr. Ping Li, a psycholinguist at Pennsylvania State University, describes the differences in neuroplasticity in the brains of multilingual people compared to their monolingual counterparts. To put it simply, a brain that has been accustomed to speaking more than one language is more active when using certain linguistic skills. Over time, this can help with memorization and learning other tasks.
2. The practical usage
Children today will grow up in a world with many employment opportunities outside the United States. While foreign languages often take a backseat to English in the American school system, encouraging your child to look into other language options can help him compete academically with the rest of the world. Starting a language early also takes off some of the pressure as children transition into high school, college, and beyond, where learning a language might be more difficult or time-consuming.
3. The social benefits
Knowing a foreign language can help children understand another culture. Young children base their actions on the people around them. The more exposure students get to different parts of the world through language, the more prepared they will be to eventually become global citizens. By learning a language at a young age, your child will have a platform to engage with others who have different thoughts and ideas. She can develop understanding and acceptance as a result.
While some students might already be interested in speaking another language, others will probably require a little bit of encouragement before they are sold on the idea. There are a few fun and easy ways that you can bring the idea up to your scholar and get her hooked.
For children of any age, the easiest way to encourage foreign language learning is by linking the concept to their own hobbies. A student who is interested in travel, for example, will be able to understand all of the ways that knowing another language could make traveling more fun. If you have a child who is hesitant about studying a foreign language, give her some autonomy over what language to learn. You might be surprised to see her take initiative and start studying a new language based on her own interests.
Samhitha Krishnan is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.
Learning vocabulary is a milestone of reading and writing skills, as well as something kids do daily—sometimes without noticing. Whether your child needs to learn a specific set of vocabulary words or you’re looking to simply expand his vocabulary, here are ways to help.
1. Post words everywhere
In addition to—or instead of—flash cards that your child can keep in her back pocket and whip out during any downtime, try posting the words where your child will see them most often. This could be above her dresser, on the bathroom mirror, on the refrigerator, in the notebook she carries around, on a bookmark, etc. Increasing the amount of interactions your child has with the words will help her memorize and comprehend them easier.
2. Learn word groups
The danger of drills and simple repetitions is that words are isolated from the context in which they function (i.e., phrases and sentences), which makes it more difficult for kids to remember them. Encourage your child to learn the words in groups that go together. For example, instead of crowd, think crowd of people—or, instead of data, think most accurate data. When studying a specific word, have your child list as many associations and connections as he can with the word, including drawing pictures of the word’s meaning.
3. Study context
Similar to word groups, understanding context is an important strategy for your child to study vocab more effectively. Have her consider the word in a sentence. What words often appear with or near it? Consider the context of the sentence also (formal? casual?). Can the word be used in multiple contexts or is it very particular? If you and your child are making flash cards, jot down a sentence from a book, an article, or another text with the word in it instead of just listing the definition of the word. To go a step further, have your child make up a new sentence with the word that has personal connections to her own life.
4. Use the words in daily life
Encourage your child to use the words in his day-to-day routine. You can choose one word, or a few words, per day or week. This might feel stilted at first, but it can be fun! Have your child pledge to use the word aloud or while writing, whether for homework or in his personal life (i.e., in a letter or an e-mail to a friend). If you choose to join the activity, you can model how you’d use the word, which will give him double the practice.
If widening your child’s vocabulary with no specific word list is the goal, prioritize reading. It’s one of the best ways to increase vocabulary while also improving your child’s comprehension skills and expanding her world view. Encourage your child to read books that are just a bit challenging for her; there should be just enough new words for her to learn, but not too many that reading becomes laborious and context clues are too difficult. In addition to independent reading, set aside time to read with your child. This is a great opportunity to tackle higher-level reading material—you can take turns reading aloud, or you can read aloud yourself.
6. Listen to audiobooks and podcasts
Listening is an excellent way for students to engage with material that they might not otherwise. Choose education-oriented or fun podcasts that you can listen to together or alone, preferably ones that speak to your child’s interests. Try videos as well; there are many videos that might address topical vocab words or that your child can put them into a song and dance routine
For years, flash cards have been touted as the way to learn vocab. This year, see how you might use them differently or even go without them. If your child has a study buddy or tutor, try incorporating some of these strategies in activities they already do.
Kinesthetic learners typically learn best by using their bodies to help them take in information. You may have noticed that your child has an aptitude for physical activities, often fidgets, and/or likes to act things out—thankfully, such activities can also be translated into study habits and strategies. Here are some ways you can help your kinesthetic learner make the most of this learning style.
See where movement can be included in class settings
Movement is becoming more and more a part of the classroom, but there are still times, of course, when your child will be expected to sit and work quietly. Speak with the teacher to see if your child can possibly be seated somewhere where he can stretch out, swing his legs, or even pace at his desk—as long as he’s not disrupting the learning environment. Let your child know that it’s OK to tap his pencil or his foot—again, as long as he is not distracting others. The teacher may also be able to accommodate your child with objects he could use to tap into his sense of touch, such as squeezing a stress ball or feeling a strip of Velcro under his desk. A cut-up pool noodle can also be great for the feet.
Use objects and space
Objects can be great for learning specific concepts as well, as they can help your kinesthetic learner better understand an idea or a skill. Students can tie these objects and concepts to a physical movement; for example, gently tossing a ball between the hands while reviewing an idea can help your student access and reaccess the information, as she can later remember “the idea I reviewed while tossing the ball back and forth.” Have your child use space as well—consider role-playing to act out stories and information. Keep in mind that while you’ll want to encourage the movements of your child’s body, you’ll want to limit too many visual and auditory distractions.
Write and draw
Pen and paper may seem more conducive to visual and auditory learners, but these tools are also great for kinesthetic learners. The simple movement of the hands allows kinesthetic learners to use their bodies and retain information in a deeper way. Have your child make flashcards or draw out ideas, whether in pictures or diagrams. Mapping, for example, how characters are related in a book can be a great way for students to better understand the novel’s events and character actions. Mapping is a critical-thinking strategy that can strengthen your child’s ability to make connections.
Have your youngster take scheduled breaks during homework time. These breaks can be physical, like stretching, dancing, singing, or playing a clapping game; talking with a family member or watching a (short) fun video also works. Use space in this instance as well; if possible, have her play or walk outside. Indoors, she could move to a different place in your house, or change from sitting to standing, and vice versa. As little as five to ten minutes can make a big difference in increased attention and concentration.
Be sure to communicate with your child’s teacher about what’s working and not working for him at school. You may be able to use some of the same strategies at home that will make the learning environments more consistent, and both of you will likely have insights for each other that can help your kinesthetic learner succeed.
During the upcoming holiday break, learning can easily slump. But it doesn’t have to! Here are six ways to incorporate learning into the holidays so your child goes back to school refreshed and ready to study.
1. Read for fun
Reading, as you know, develops vocabulary, critical-thinking skills, fluency, and even empathy. Take your child to the library or the local bookstore at the beginning of the break so he has an array of choices throughout the holidays (or books to take along during travel). Look for books you can read aloud together—you read to him, he reads to you, or a combination. Expose your child to a variety of books—comic books, graphic novels, magazines, poetry, etc. Audiobooks are also great for fluency and are excellent choices if the reading level is just a bit above your child’s.
2. Play together
Gather your family members for a game night that will be both fun and educational—whether your kids realize it or not. Choose games that involve strategy or have to do with literacy, counting, or guessing. Think chess, Scrabble, charades, or various iterations of them. Games like Jenga are great for motor skills. Have your child be the scorekeeper, a role that involves counting and calculating. Most games are educational in some way, and they will provide bonding time for the family. You could even encourage your child to create her own board game!
3. Get cooking
Welcome your child into the kitchen. You might start at the very beginning, such as having him plan a grocery list and helping you buy and calculate costs at the store. Baking is a great (and delicious) way to enjoy learning how to work with measurements, and it can be as simple or as complicated as you like. This direction might even take you and your child into the chemistry of cooking (perhaps try experimenting with different recipes of the same item and see what happens!) as well as conversations about other cultures, cuisines, and lifestyles.
4. Create DIY projects
Encourage your child toward DIY projects, which inspire creativity and problem-solving skills. There are some ready-made kits, which teach children to make their own soap or birdhouse, for example. Check out your local craft store for ideas and supplies, or do new activities you could try together. Turn these projects into holiday gifts or decorations. Teach your child a skill you know yourself, like knitting or crocheting. Finally, encourage your child in building and construction activities. You could use materials you already have at home, such as cardboard boxes, paper-towel rolls, toothpicks, and Popsicle sticks.
5. Perform writing and scrapbooking activities
To make writing fun, expose your child to different genres she may not experience at school, such as the aforementioned comic books, graphic novels, or poems. Have your child respond to books she reads by writing. She can keep a journal in which she writes whatever she wants. She might want to create lists in her journal, chronicle daily events or special occasions, write letters to her future self, or keep a dream journal. Suggest that she write holiday cards or letters to a pen pal or relative. You could also make this more tactile and visual by encouraging your child to scrapbook and collage with pictures and illustrations.
6. Take field trips with the family
Plan some outside trips—perhaps to a museum, local landmark, or historical site. Hiking would be great if the weather allows! Ask your child questions; you could even create a “treasure hunt” of the place if you like. Some museums provide optional, educational activities for children as well. If you’re planning on traveling during the break, involve your child in planning the schedule, reading maps, looking up places to go, figuring out transportation, and researching the historical background of the city or town.
Regardless of whether you stay home or go away for the holidays, your child can sustain his learning throughout the break. Capitalize on the time to encourage your child’s passions. Also consider asking your child’s teacher if he or she has any tips or suggestions!
Around age six, my daughter began to show interest in the upright piano pushed against a wall in our living room. Whenever I would sit down to play, she’d come stand by my side and listen. “Do another one, Mommy,” she’d say. “I like it when you play.”
Certain the attraction wasn’t my (very slim) musical talents, I made a mental leap: time for piano lessons! I signed her up at a local studio and thus began her weekly lessons—and our weekly battles.
“Have you practiced?” I would ask.
“I don’t want to,” she would answer.
“Come on, just 15 minutes,” I would coax. “You have a lesson tomorrow.”
Sometimes she would oblige without a fuss. More often, she’d go into warrior mode…bringing out the warrior in me.
“Becky, sit down and practice right now,” I’d say in my firm Mommy voice.
“No!” she’d respond.
Her face would tighten. Our voices would escalate. Then each of us would persist until one of us wore the other down.
About halfway through Becky’s second year of lessons she gave me a chilling wake-up call. There I was, by the piano, barking, “I said now!,” when she covered her ears and said, “Mommy, I can’t hear you. My ears hurt.”
As I stared at my little girl trying to block out the noise emanating from her mother’s mouth, I finally grasped the obvious: I was being absurd. My child had no interest in piano lessons. None. Why was I compelling her to do this?
Upon (overdue) reflection, I realized that I’d been operating from the well-intended but frail assumption that learning a musical instrument would enrich her life, just as it had enriched mine. I also assumed that she would enjoy practicing once she developed a habit. Like mother, like daughter, right?
Wrong. She’d been telling me as much for almost two years. But trained on my vision of all the wonderful benefits that would accrue as she gradually achieved mastery of the keyboard, I hadn’t heard her.
This was not one of my prouder parenting moments, but it taught me a valuable lesson. No matter what I might think was “good” for my daughter by way of life-enhancing activities, it was one thing to offer her an opportunity; it was another to impose it.
Acknowledging that your child is not interested in the same things you are doesn’t always come easy. If you starred on the baseball diamond and have fond memories of the dugout antics, it’s hard to swallow that your son hates swinging a bat. If you were the kind of kid who could lose whole afternoons curled up with a good book, it can seem incomprehensible that your daughter finds reading b-o-r-i-n-g. We assume that if we once reaped rewards from a certain activity, they will, too. Even as they balk, we cling to our memories of the benefits that come with persistence and determination (including, but not limited to, enhanced musicality, team camaraderie, good grades), so if only they will hang in there a bit longer…
Yes, our intentions are good. But forcing our kids to stick with something they don’t enjoy can have consequences. A once-agreeable child may turn balky or resentful. A child already inclined to proclaim, “I’m the boss of me,” may turn downright combative. And children of any temperament may lose their enthusiasm for sharing their ideas and interests if they feel their parents aren’t listening.
In the wake of my own piano battles, I have little patience for the parents who turn up the noise and pressure to turn out prodigies. Instead, I favor a simpler approach: listen to your kids. They will tell you what they do—and don’t—want to do, if only you’ll listen.
In my case, my daughter decided in middle school that she wanted guitar lessons. That lasted a nanosecond. Come high school, she announced that she’d signed up for a sport my husband and I knew nothing about: crew. When we learned what went into the grueling training, (“The only excuse for missing a practice is if there’s a death in the family!” the coaches announced at their one and only meeting with parents), my husband and I murmured to each other, “Becky won’t make it through the first season.”
Wrong. She rowed for four seasons and walked away with a bunch of national medals.
Jill Smolowe is the author of An Empty Lap: One Couple’s Journey to Parenthood and co-editor of A Love Like No Other: Stories from Adoptive Parents
In today’s world, gone is the image of the child quietly studying at a desk, not making a peep at home or in the classroom. Both settings have become increasingly more interactive, with a variety of activities designed for students to learn in the ways that suit them best.
This doesn’t mean there’s only one way for your child to learn, however—there can be multiple ways that speak to him the most. Here’s a guideline for some of the different kinds of learners and how to cater to that learning style as a parent.
The visual learner is typically most helped by pictures and images. These can include diagrams, slideshows, colors, and maps. Your child is probably a visual learner if she’s more interested in the material when there’s visual media, like videos or a book with pictures. Visual learners are often interested in art, easily remember visual information, and appreciate observing the world around them. Using flash cards, identifying keywords, and color-coding important information can be particularly beneficial for visual learners. At school, it may be helpful for them to sit near the front of the classroom so they can translate information into visual data (like comics or mind maps).
Physical, or kinesthetic, learners tend to learn best by using their bodies to help them understand new information. Your child is likely a physical learner if he has aptitude in physical expression, like fidgeting and using gestures, and enjoys things like role-playing and acting. Drawing diagrams or using physical objects to identify a concept (like using coins or blocks for counting) can be really great for physical learners. Encourage your child to trace words, and let him know it’s OK to tap a pencil or his feet while working. Physical learners sometimes benefit from taking a break physically, like taking a walk or changing body position or a seating arrangement.
For auditory learners, sound is very important. Elements like rhyming, music, rhythms, and recordings tend to appeal to auditory learners. Indications that your child is an auditory learner include an interest in music, strong verbal ability, and an aptitude for listening. These types of learners may benefit from setting mnemonics to music or learning a song to help recall information. In addition, try
reading material aloud to your child or have her read it aloud herself—this includes assignments, directions, flash cards, and so on. Books on CD or podcasts could also speak to your child effectively.
Your child is likely a verbal, or linguistic, learner if he prefers speech and writing—anything from keeping a journal to writing notes and letters to composing songs and poems. When you read aloud from a book, does your child like following along with the words on his own? If so, he may be a verbal learner. In that case, try strategies that involve both speaking and writing. Your child may benefit from scripting and role-playing, too.
Logical, or mathematical, learners tend to defer to logic as a means for comprehension. Students who are proficient in math, notice patterns, think in terms of the big picture, and ask questions about how things work are often logical learners. These types of learners want to understand the reasons behind what they’re learning. Therefore, it can be quite helpful for logical learners to draw connections, instead of using rote memorization to retain information. Have your child use lists and make mind maps to find patterns within—and better understand—a system of concepts.
In addition to the above five learning styles, your child may be a social (interpersonal) learner or a solitary (intrapersonal) learner, someone who works better in groups or alone, respectively. Keep in mind that your child may be a combination of the different types, or lean toward one or another depending on the setting. Have your child try different strategies to see what might work for her best with certain concepts or material.