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Understanding your child’s learning style and differentiating homeschool instruction

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Differentiating instruction for homeschool is important for parents to feel confident with, so they can continue their important work of teaching and learning alongside their child. I include questions about differentiation in a free printable you can download at the bottom of this post.

I taught full day kindergarten. It was painful to try to teach 24 children in one small classroom while being required to give them each the same instruction. Most teachers desire to reach out with the advanced or remedial or robust teaching that each individual child needs and deserves. But with that amount of students, and being just one person, it was near impossible to meet the academic needs of every child.

“Differentiation” is a buzz word in teaching and academic circles. You must say what it is, why you believe in it, and how you will implement it into a classroom if you are to receive any job offer.

Carol Ann Tomlinson of the University of Virginia describes differentiated instruction as factoring students’ individual learning styles and levels of readiness first before designing a lesson plan.

Differentiating instruction with your children (or students) can be done through exploring and adapting the process (learning style), the learning environment, the content, and the outcome (end goal). These categories can mold together and don’t have to be completely separated, but they are important to think about for each individual child.

Understanding the learning style, or process, of your homeschool child

There are many questions to ask yourself before you prepare your child’s year or curriculum. Charlotte Mason wrote that children are born persons. Each child’s personhood should be taken into account when considering how they learn and how they should be taught. This does not need to be complicated, however. You could spend some time thinking about these categories, or jotting down some notes.

Truly, the best way to know answers to any of the following questions is to simply start. 

Many of us go into teaching and learning with a fixed mindset, thinking that we are incapable of teaching our own child. This is not true. There are many resources out there and brilliant free and low-cost curriculums too. My hope and prayer is that I can continue to help you build confidence that you can do this as we learn about these subjects together.

Questions to consider the process of teaching and learning

  • Is my child a visual, auditory, or a kinesthetic learner or a combination?
  • Will my child understand instruction best through words, pictures, or example?
  • Does my child learn best through reading on his own or with my reading aloud?
  • Does my child work better with a partner or on his own?

Questions to consider the learning environment of teaching and learning

  • Does my child learn best indoors or outdoors?
  • How many brain breaks does my child need, and how often?
  • Does my child need a clean area to work?
  • Does my child need a quiet space, free from distraction?

Questions to consider the content of teaching and learning

  • Am I giving my child an opportunity to narrate what was read to put his learning into his own words?
  • Am I offering variation for narration and learning?
  • Does my child thrive with a workbook?
  • Does my child need to use their hands while learning?
  • Is my child interested in the stories and content shared in our curriculum?
  • Which level of thinking is my child currently working through?  
  • Am I providing rigorous, thought provoking reading material and projects that challenge, but don’t frustrate, my child?

(You can read more about levels of thinking using Bloom’s Taxonomy to evaluate where you child is in their development of: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.)

Questions to consider the outcome of teaching and learning

  • What is necessary to know my child is learning?
  • What activity or project could I assign that will show my child has mastered certain concepts?
  • Does my child need to take a “test” to prove their understanding?
  • Can my child orally narrate what they have learned at the end of the day, week, unit?

Simple homeschool learning style differentiation examples

My son strongly dislikes physical art. While I have given him opportunities to explore art (through a pastel art class or watercolor videos online), he has decided that he does not want to continue. There were battles, on my part, for his artistic side, but right now, any art assignments are tasked on Krita (a free and open-source graphics editor designed primarily for digital painting and 2D animation, it was made by artists that wanted to see affordable art tools for everyone). He enjoys this, it is educational, and he is excelling in a computer program that could prove useful in the future. I also like to point out to him that he enjoys creating cartoons too. We’ve provided several cartoon and comic books for him to work through as well. 

Another way I have helped a child’s learning style in our home is for reading with my fourth grade daughter. She enjoys reading gentle and kind stories about animal or female protagonists. So I simply provide books that include those elements. She orally narrates what she has read to me. She also has begun to write down her thoughts about a chapter (started with 1–2 sentences, now has progressed to 4-6 sentences) and then she reads that aloud to me. We use narration instead of testing. This is a very gentle way to ensure they are learning and understanding the book conceptually and cognitively.

For my kindergartener, now hybrid first grader, I have noticed that she loves cutting paper and gluing projects together. For her Bible verse or sentences, we are cutting words out and resorting them. This has delighted her and makes her want to continue with reading practice.

Why considering homeschool when thinking about differential learning for your child?

Sadly, in schools, instruction must stay on target for an individual grade. The hope is that students left behind will have tutoring to help them reach the level of their peers. This is only possible if the school can afford reading specialists or paraprofessionals who can work individually with the child. Often, children are grouped together so isolated issues are missed and perpetuate into the next grades and years.

You can teach your child

You alone know your child best. You know what they love best to each, what their favorite stuffed animal is, when they are fake or real crying. You know your child. Who but you could be best to teach them daily about themselves, about God, and God’s creation? 

When your child needs remedial help, there are many resources you can turn to. There are therapies you can even take advantage of in the public school system (paid for by your tax dollars), as well as other cognitive and behavioral therapies as needed. 

You are your child’s best advocate. You can teach your child as you learn and grow together.

You can find the complete list of questions about homeschool differentiation here.

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