Parents often begin their homeschooling journey by determining their child’s preferred learning style then choosing curriculum, teaching methods, and materials that provide a unique learning experience based on their children’s needs, interests, and learning styles. The following is a brief explanation of current research on learning styles.
Learning styles refers to the theory that each person learns information differently as he/she gathers, sifts through, interprets, organizes, draws conclusions, and retains information. There are over 70 different learning styles systems available, one of which addresses the five senses also known as learning modalities. At present, there is no research-based evidence to prove that learning styles in general make any difference or improvement in academic gains in classrooms (Vanderbilt University; Sage Publishing).
However, cognitive science has identified a number of methods to increase learning, are beneficial to students, and produce academic success when students:
1) space out their study sessions over time;
2) test themselves as part of their study practices;
3) make meaningful connections with the material rather than engaging in activities that involve simple repetition of information; and
4) use multiple modalities to learn the material. These effective strategies were identified decades ago and have convincing and significant empirical support.
Source: Scientific America
Multimodal learning, VAKT learning style, or multisensory instruction are synonymous in this context and have proven effective in teaching students with disabilities, especially in reading. Multisensory instruction is the term to use when you are searching for curriculum and materials for teaching your child with special needs. Because multisensory learning uses all the learning pathways in the brain to enhance memory through engaging all senses/ modalities, either simultaneously or sequentially, it is the best method for teaching children with disabilities to increase interest, focus, and memory of the material.
Institute for Multi-Sensory Education, Orton-Gillingham
As a parent, you can determine which learning modality your child prefers by simply observing him in work and play, but it is still critical to engage all of the senses as much as possible to hold your child’s attention and keep him on task. Remember, learning can and should be enjoyable for both learner and teacher.
There are three basic modalities which correlate with our senses: Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic (VAK) as identified by Walter Barbe in 1979. Other renditions add Tactile (VAKT) or Reading/Writing (VARK). Barbe delineated the following modalities:
Visual – learn by seeing and writing
- can be verbal (sees words) or pictorial (sees pictures)
- remembers faces but not names
- vivid imagination
- thinks in pictures
- facial expressions show their emotions
- enjoys using color
When choosing curriculum: incorporate art, color, pictures, graphs, charts, murals, and other visual media
Auditory– learns by listening
- prefers verbal instructions
- writes lightly, not always legible
- enjoys plays
- talks while he writes
- thinks out loud
- distracted by noises
- remembers by listening, especially with music
- remembers names, but may forget faces
- games and/or pictures may be annoying or distracting
When choosing curriculum: incorporate music, songs, speech to text technology, audio books, and podcasts
Kinesthetic– learns with large motor skills, whole body
- prefers doing things rather than watching
- not an avid reader
- poor spellers
- remembers what was done, not seen, or talked about
- touch is important
- attacks things physically- hit, fight, pound
- loves games
- needs to work with manipulative
- loves to take things apart, dissect, and rebuild
- NOTE: All children are kinesthetic learners up to age 6 or 7
Choosing curriculum: incorporate dance, exercise, games, frequent breaks, learning manipulatives, hands-on projects, field trips
TIP: Use all the senses
In teaching my sons with dyslexia and ADHD, I found that incorporating smell, touch, and taste also increased their interests in the lesson and strengthened their memory and retention rate. Below are a few ideas that we implemented in our homeschool when they were in early elementary grades.
- Practiced letters and numbers in chocolate pudding on a tray; colored chalk on sidewalk; shaving cream on bathroom mirror
- Counting, adding and subtracting with tiny marshmallows, chocolate chips, pretzels, and other foods
- Doing math on the sandbar with a stick, driveway with chalk rocks and water paint
- Unit studies: built volcanoes, hunted for animal signs, created a time capsule
This is one of the many blessings of homeschooling; you have the time and flexibility to be creative!
Institute of Multi-Sensory Education provides Orton-Gillingham methodology research, products and lesson planning tools.
Very Well Family teaches how to make your own multisenory learning materials.
Teachers Pay Teachers provides multisensory lesson plans in multiple subjects and grade levels for a minimal fee. Students with learning difficulties often need repetition of lessons to learn the skill, so purchasing a well built lesson for $3 may save you time in lesson preparation.
Learning Abled Kids is a website built to provide free resources for homeschooling families with special learning needs. They have plenty of ideas, recommendations and resources for multi-sensory learning.
Skills 4 Life has a very thorough categorical list of learning games that teach 9 essential skills: language, directionality, money, fine motor, gross motor, time telling, executive functioning, visual perception and STEM.
Cathy Duffy Reviews provides thorough descriptions of curriculum and you can search for those with multi-sensory instruction components.