Tools for Visual & Linguistic Learners

Tools for Visual & Linguistic LearnersHelp Your Child’s Learning Style Come Alive

The world must be a uniquely beautiful view for one of my kids. He sees things many just walk right past, hears things in a different way, and finds the humorous, perplexing, and inspiring in what we might consider the mundane. His learning styles are unique to him, but I consider it my job to help find tools that will enhance his learning. If you’re the parent or teacher of a child who thrives on visual or linguistic learning strategies, you know that his or her view on the world is intriguing, and that it is not always easy to use typical teaching tools.

Linguistic learners have skills for reading, writing, speaking – those tasks that revolve around words and communicating ideas through them.

Visual learners thrive on seeing things in action, through demonstrations, charts, graphs, pictures, and any other way they can visually connect with an idea.

You don’t understand anything until you learn it more than one way. ~Marvin Minsky

I treasure that quote by Minsky. It reminds me that just because things have been taught in certain ways for so long, it doesn’t mean those are the only effective ways to learn. Visual and linguistic learners often have similar traits – they enjoy stories. The following learning tools incorporate both of these in unconventional, yet successful ways.

Language Arts Learning Tools for Visual and Linguistic Learners

Idioms

We use idioms often without thinking too much about them. They are a natural part of the English language. Some people, however, struggle to decipher idioms, usually taking them literally (which would be a very confusing way to spend the day). One of the markers of kids on the Autism spectrum is an inability to comprehend idioms. The phrase, “I’ve got a frog in my throat” takes on a whole other meaning for these kids.

Teach your kids about idioms using books like my son’s favorite, Horsing Around – Making Sense of Everyday Idioms, by Katherine Scraper. In the book there are 50 common idioms, each illustrated with funny interpretations and a story passage using the idiom in a dialogue situation (a few short paragraphs). This book appeals to both visual and linguistic learners. The pages also each give space for kids to write their own interpretations of the idioms.

Understanding idioms improves language by

  • Helping with oral language development, especially in the early preschool and elementary years
  • Building reading skills
  • Developing creative writing skills
  • Improving speech for ESL students (English as a Second Language)

Mathematics Learning Tools for Visual and Linguistic Learners

Math doesn’t have to be just rote calculations. Perhaps it is my love of the written word that draws me to these next two math tools, but I’ve also seen my kids relate to numbers and mathematical theories in a different way since adding these resources to our bookshelves.

Life of Fred

  • The Life of Fred books are a series of “story” books, ranging from elementary all the way through high school, that are designed to get students thinking about math. The unconventional approach uses humorous or just plain wacky stories to teach kids how to apply mathematical concepts.

Charlesbridge Math Adventures

  • This series of math adventures, perfect for early elementary students (even my older kids love to listen to these, too), is an engaging way to introduce and reinforce math concepts. Colorful and wonderfully illustrated tales have characters experiencing adventures that are all intertwined with mathematics. Some of our favorite titles include:
    • Sir Cumference and the Isle of Immeter (a tale that teaches kids how to calculate things such as the area of a circle)
    • Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi (yep – a story about calculating with pi)
    • Alice in Pastaland (an adventure centered around problem solving skills)
    • Cut Down to Size at High Noon (ratios and proportions set in a western story)

Social Studies Learning Tools for Visual and Linguistic Learners

Do you remember memorizing the list of presidents when you were in elementary school, the names and locations of countries, or the capitals of states? If you were like me, it was simply based on rote memorization, grouped by perhaps 10 names at a time. And the memorization lasted long enough to pass the test – and it was usually not an entertaining experience. If you’re looking for a new way to help your kids memorize these basic (and sometimes boring) facts, try some of these books.

Yo, Millard Fillmore!

  • This fun and engaging book helped all of my kids not only learn the names of the US presidents, but their memory of these facts is long lasting, and they really enjoyed the illustrative approach. Each president has a picture and short description as to how the picture fits with that name. Then, each picture (president) is somehow linked to the following one, helping to reinforce the order of presidency.

Yo, Sacramento!

  • Just like Yo, Millard Fillmore!, this book engages readers through humorous illustrations that teach kids how to relate the capital names to the state names.

The Scrambled States of America

  • You might be familiar with this title of the book that teaches about the US states. I also use the board game (by the same name) to reinforce the illustrative concepts presented in the book.

Visualize World Geography

  • I admit that when I first saw this book I raised an eyebrow. The graphics are – unique – and I wasn’t sure I would be able to get past their uniqueness in order to actually learn from the materials. But then my kids and I started using it and we realized that these mental maps that the book creates really do work. There are short bits that go with each graphic to help tie the mental map together, appealing to both my visual and linguistic learners.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a homeschool parent is that learning styles not only influence academics, but they transcend our personalities. It is more than learning about reading, writing, and arithmetic. It is about learning what makes each one of us tick – what gets us excited to try new things, and helps us overcome failures. When we tune into our kids’ learning styles, we give them tools that go far beyond their report cards.

Advertisements

Standardized Tests – Are We Losing Focus?

standardized testsTeachers, parents, and students all face the stress of superfluous standardized tests. Teachers are accountable for training students to take these exams – and pass them. Parents are often responsible for making sure their children are constantly preparing for these tests. Students have perhaps the biggest burdens of all: they must not only repeatedly attempt to regurgitate information in the forms of shaded bubbles, but they bear the labels those test results give from the earliest ages. Average. Below-Average. Above-Average. They also suffer the unintended consequence of missing out on the opportunities to learn how to learn. Instead they are all too often in classrooms where teachers must teach to the test.

Author and outspoken critic of standardized testing (among other failures in education), Alfie Kohn digests and dissects the increasing ritual of testing students in the United States. In his article Standardized Testing and Its Victims, Kohn submits eight facts that support his theory that standardized testing is in part ruining our schools. Among these facts, Kohn disseminates the ever-increasing trend to test more and more, and to place increased value on standardized tests as well.

Kohn is not alone in his distrust of and distaste for standardized tests. Professor Rhona Weinstein reports on research that demonstrates that standardized tests are actually eroding the education of our children. Kohn, Weinstein, and others like Sir Ken Robinson, find many reasons why standardized tests are not leading our children into brighter futures, but instead showing them a limited viewpoint of themselves, as if they are seeing themselves in a mirror which is mostly covered in black and only allowing small glimpses of reflection.

  • Few countries around the world place the emphasis on standardized testing like seen in America. These other countries do not routinely test children younger than high school age, and are countries with high academic outcomes.
  • Standardized tests pressure teachers to teach to the test. The job requirements to end the school year with test scores of certain marks take away from the job description of actually teaching children.
  • Schools that focus on standardized tests are sometimes forced to decrease classes and opportunities for arts, physical education, social sciences, and more so they can devote more time to test prep.
  • Standardized tests measure students’ abilities to answer finite questions in limited areas of focus. They test a student’s ability to weed through possible answers, make guestimates, and interpret the language on a test.
  • Education in America is at risk of losing teachers who have the passion and ability to educate children who can think for themselves. The New York Times reports that the pressures to increase test scores results in schools unintentionally making the difficult job of teaching even more demanding, and less rewarding.
  • Students who can afford more tutors and rigorous test preparation courses might be able to improve their own test scores, but then increase the already growing gap between socioeconomic groups.

Even among these voices of reason, there are those who feel that standardized tests are the best ways to measure our children’s performances in school and their preparedness for their futures. Some researchers report that standardized test scores are among the best predictors of college and graduate school performances. However, perhaps this is because those students who are able to “test well” are the same students who are able to “test well” on in-class pop-quizzes and the regurgitation of information in college courses. Perhaps both standardized tests and college grades are not the best predictors of life successes and abilities after all.

As Kohn writes, “The focus among policymakers has been on standards of outcome rather than standards of opportunity.”

About 12 years ago my oldest took her first standardized test, and I was anxious and wracked with self-doubt as the “teacher” in our homeschool. At the age of 7 and homeschooled all of her life she had never taken a standardized exam. I felt as though I was about to be assessed more than she, and the future of our academic choices resided in those test results. Although Iknew she was extremely capable and bright, I did not know how she would perform on a test where each circle needed to be shaded precisely and she could not question the questions.

Fast-forward many years and I now know the truth about standardized tests. I know before my kids take their exams if they are passing or failing math, excelling in reading, or surpassing expectations – I don’t need a test to tell me that. My kids don’t need a test to show them how much they know or don’t know. Every year now they take the exams, as mandated by our state’s homeschooling laws, and the kids actually have fun with them and have learned to look at them almost as a game. We don’t fret over scores or fear time limits. The scores are just a generalized glimpse of a small portion of their abilities, but they don’t reflect all of who they are and who they are becoming.

I, and teachers and parents like me, can spend countless hours injecting the precise materials we know will be tested into our kids, but we won’t be teaching our children lessons that will let them succeed. They won’t learn to learn and think for themselves, and they won’t have the opportunities to be creative, insightful, and questioning. Without those qualities, what will our future look like?

Homeschool Questions – Critics or Curiosity?

homeschoolAnswering Questions About Homeschooling

As wonderful as it is, homeschooling is hard. There have been days when the educational and life successes of my children has weighed so heavily on my mind and I wonder if I somehow forgot to teach someone to count by threes or how to identify prepositional phrases. These self-doubts weigh heavily enough. Then as homeschoolers we some days feel the added crush – from the in-laws, the neighbors, the clerk at the grocery store who wonders why you’re there with a full minivan at 9:30 a.m. on a Tuesday. That crush can sometimes make those challenging days of self-doubt squish you more than a minivan full of your own kids – plus their friends – all piled in for “park day”.

I used to memorize statistics of the benefits of homeschooling, armed and ready to tackle the critics and the questioners. Then I realized that in a way my family was a curiosity more than something people were criticizing. Sure – there are still those critics who feel perfectly justified telling me of the multiple ways my children (who are all thriving) will undoubtedly be ruined by homeschooling. But for the most part, people are curious and sometimes it just comes out awkwardly and uncomfortably for all of us. Which is why over the years I have tried to move from defense – relaying all of the positives about homeschooling, to humorous offense – having fun with my life and being proud of our decision to homeschool.

Top Questions for Homeschoolers

(and how to answer them graciously with a side of humor)

Are all of these kids yours?

My stretch-marks would confirm for you that, yes, these children are all mine. My favorite one is the kid who brings me fresh coffee every morning (FYI – none of my kids bring me coffee in the morning so ergo I don’t have a favorite).

How can you stand spending so much time with your kids?

Before I know it there won’t be any choice and they’ll be off living their own dreams. When I am older and greyer I will probably spend sad moments in the bathroom when no-one comes knocking, needing to know at precisely the moment I sit upon the porcelain throne what we are having for lunch, where he put his math book, and how many pieces of gum I guess he just fit into his mouth.

(This is the question that actually bothers my children the most. They always remark about how sad it is to hear parents speaking of the relief they feel when fall rolls around and it is time to send the kids back to school.)

Do you work at a real job, too?

Nothing gets more real than taking on the responsibility for the education of children for 20 years. My paycheck must just be lost in the mail. (BTW – I also work at a real job as a writer and editor, but I don’t worry too much about handing out my resume. I also don’t ask other people for their resumes unless I’m working.)

Or

According to my coffee mug I am a domestic engineer.

How long do you plan to do that?

We “plan” to do this until it doesn’t work. Right now it works. It has worked for more than 15 years. I’m less worried about how long I plan to do this than I am with how can I make this continue to work for our family as long as possible?

No school today?

Oh my gosh – we forgot!!! (smile)

Or

We homeschool – every day is a school day. Poor kids don’t even get snow days or time off for parent/teacher conferences – that’s just me talking to myself – again.

What about college?

Been there, doing that. With one senior and one freshman in college what we’ve learned is that colleges embrace homeschoolers. In fact, in my daughter’s first semester one of her professors made a general announcement in class that in his years of experience, there are two kinds of students who do well in college: homeschooled kids and music students. They know how to independently study and ask questions.

Are you worried that your kids won’t be socialized?

If you mean socialization by spending 8 or more hours a day with age-segregated groups in a socioeconomically flat environment, then, hmmmm. Nope. If you mean the stereotypical kinds of socialization (prom, bus ride antics, etc.), some of my kids get that, too by participating in public school sports (and I’m pretty certain they would still thrive without those experiences).

Full disclosure – I know wonderful kids who attend public schools. Some of the best friends of my kids (gasp – my kids have friends!) get on the school bus every morning. My kids also have friends across age and experience demographics, and feel comfortable in a wide variety of social situations. They have the time to experience more in their homeschool classroom – their community (or wherever we happen to travel). Although some days I do dream of a day of seclusion from the rest of the world like those fake visions of homeschoolers so that I wouldn’t have to get out of my lounge pants and remember which activity needed the snacks and which community education class needed the samples of pond scum – you do not want to be the mom who messes up those two things. Socialization – check.

If you homeschool – how do you handle all of those questions from curious people?

An Invitation – Free Writing & Reading Printables

Years ago – in the blink of an eye and with a gentle whisper to myself – I started homeschooling. I collected curriculum resources like some women collect shoes. I also started my own personal collection of files and PDFs, creating my own miniature lessons (especially for reading and writing). In an effort to purge my files and track my paper trail of personal resources, I developed A Powerful Pen. Consider it my tiny corner of the homeschool world where I share the resources I developed for my own kids. Some of them you may have already seen here at Happy Medium Homeschooling – scattered in the blog posts. A Powerful Pen takes them and devotes some space just for printables.

So – you’re invited. I’ve just started uploading the files, adding in notes about how to use the printables when necessary. Print what you need. Take what you will. Grab what might help your child learn to love words and language and everything amazing about communication. And if you want me to share your resources, send me a note with the link.

Children who learn how to absorb words, communicate their thoughts, and use language to its fullest are steps ahead in life. I believe in the power of the pen. 

powerful pen

A World of Possibilities: Helping Kids Find Their Sparks – With or Without College

global girl

What do you want to be when you grow up?

This is the question we ask our kids, from those early years when jobs like firefighter, princess, superhero, or rock star might top the lists. We keep asking those questions as our kids get older and we wonder about the directions their lives are taking. We don’t expect (or want) their answers to be:

Miserable… Bored… Frustrated… Tired…

We don’t want our kids to pursue paths that lead to 40 hours of boredom, where every day of the week seems like Monday. A no-good, very bad Monday. But are we really preparing them for life living out their passions? Are we living out our passions and excited to be doing whatever it is we are doing every day? Are we showing them how to live fulfilling lives?

Working Without Passion Hurts Us and Our Kids

An article in Forbes, “What to Do When You Hate Your Job”, cites the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in reports that not even 30% of people between the ages of 31 and 61 rate their feelings toward their jobs as “very satisfied”. The rest of respondents reported being somewhat satisfied or not satisfied at all. Other reports indicate similar dismal findings. Salary.com shows an even lower overall satisfaction level among the workforce with only 15% of people being extremely satisfied with their jobs. And those kids we are raising? They are on the heels of the population with the lowest satisfaction rate (those under the age of 30 years).

Research also shows that when we are in jobs that we really can’t stand, our health declines. People who have jobs that give them low satisfaction:

  • Are at higher risks for anxiety and depressiontired dad
  • Are no more satisfied than those who are unemployed
  • Are more likely to have high blood pressure, even outside of work

According to Dr. Katharine Brooks, author of You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career, there are several different reasons why people don’t like their jobs.

  • The position is either too demanding or not demanding enough.
  • There has been a lack of training for the position.
  • There is not enough job security.
  • The relationships with co-workers are negative components of the job.
  • The job doesn’t pay well enough.
  • There isn’t an opportunity to advance.
  • There isn’t the opportunity for flexibility that allows for balancing work and personal time.
  • The working conditions are poor, or even dangerous.
  • The employee is simply burned out and has no energy to give.

I don’t know about you, but when I lie awake at night and envision my children’s future, I dream about something above somewhat satisfied, of more than limited opportunities and poor working conditions. But how are we going to get there?

Helping Our Kids Find Careers They Love

According to groups such as the Search Institute, we need to be help our kids ignite their sparks – those things in their lives that make their hearts skip a beat, get them energized, and are the “essence of who they are and what they offer to the world.”

The Search Institute’s research shows that only approximately 65% of kids in grades 5 through 12 could identify at least one “spark” in their own lives, and 55% of students reported that someone (such as a teacher or parent) helped them to find their sparks and support them.

Maggie Mistal, a career consultant, agrees with this idea. She says that:

“[People] haven’t clarified their values and thought about how they’d like to use their abilities to make a difference and align their work with their purpose. Too often people assume work is supposed to be a chore so they don’t even look for anything other than that when embarking on a career.”

So if you’re like me and many other parents out there – you want to find a way to help your children be some of those extremely satisfied adults, who have a spark for their day jobs, who have learned to pursue their passions.

Will Education Bring Job Satisfaction to Our Children?

It used to be the sentiment that those students who worked hard in school, got amazing grades, passed tests with flying colors, and attended a four-year college, would be guaranteed success. Now, however, a college degree guarantees a large loan more than anything else, and too many students are graduating with degrees that don’t necessarily align with their passions.

Before you make the assumption for your child that his spark will turn into a full-fledged flame of career enthusiasm because he attends college, spend some time getting to know what those sparks even are. Maybe your child doesn’t even know yet because he has been too busy putting in time in education and not enough time putting in effort and enthusiasm for learning.

  • Get to know your child’s school. There are other options out there if you find your child’s school is not nurturing the sparks of students. If we continue to put our kids in the same box of education, we will get the same results – adults who are not very satisfied with their careers (and when you consider how much time goes into a career, they are not very satisfied with their lives).
  • Get to know your child. This might sound silly, but do you know your child’s favorite color, what she thinks about when she is staring out the car window, and how she imagines her “perfect day” as an adult?
    • Spend one-on-one-fun time with your kids.
    • Read the same books your kids read (and then talk about them later).
    • Ask them questions – and don’t provide judgment in your reactions to their answers.
  • Give your kids opportunities to job shadow. In schools such as those in Germany, high school is not complete without several internship possibilities that put students front and center with careers for several weeks at a time.kids building
    • Take your child with you to work for a day.
    • Ask your neighbors and family members if your kids can job shadow them.
  • Help your kids find mentors in the areas where they have their sparks. This helps them learn networking skills, gives them the inside scoop on the latest trends, and provides a support system for your kids’ dreams.
  • Ask your kids if college is something they want. You just might be surprised at what they say when given the opportunity.

Have you noticed that not all of these items are related to school education? Grade point averages and test scores do not equal success. This doesn’t mean that I am an anti-education fanatic. I have one child who is a senior in college, and who plans to continue for many years in graduates school. I should hope so – she wants to become a veterinarian and I’m guessing that most pet owners would like her to receive proper medical training. However, while I value education for the opportunities for learning, I don’t know if college will help all of my children achieve their dreams. Their sparks should be more important than the college degrees on their walls.

I was recently going through a family genealogy book and came across stories about my relatives when they ventured to this country for the first time. They weren’t satisfied with the lives they were living in another country, so they endured travel and terrain unlike any they had ever encountered, and they came to a town barely inhabited – with almost nothing but their determination. They were seeking their own happiness, guided by their own expectations, and ready to face the challenges that were along the paths to their dreams. Let’s get back to a place where we value ingenuity and self-direction. Let’s raise children who will venture on their own, who will be able to mark that box for “extremely satisfied” in life.

Explosions in the Kitchen – AKA Science for Homeschoolers

Homeschool Science

You know you’ve made a lasting impression when the furnace guy who makes the yearly maintenance checks wants to know what science experiment we have planned for the day. Turns out he vividly remembers the first time he showed up right in the middle of a volcanic eruption in the garage.

Explosions, messes, and gooey-gadgets are mainstays in homeschool science lessons (at least they are if we’re having fun). Below is a list of some of our favorite resources for science of all types.

Online Science Resources

There are some fabulous YouTube channels that provide great short videos for free about a wide variety of topics. Just search on YouTube for these names:

  • MakeMeGenius
  • Adventures in Learning
  • The Spangler Effect
  • Minute Physics

Free Printable Science Worksheets

I’ve also put together Steps to Good Science for kids – a free PDF you can print and use – as they conduct their science experiments, based on the scientific basics of:

  • Observations
  • Questions
  • Hypothesis
  • Testing and experiments
  • Drawing conclusions.

Books

There are tons at the library but these are three we’ve kept on our shelves over the years.

Hands-On Gadgets

We just can’t get enough of hands-on experiments, and these are some of the staples we like to have around for science.

  • Snap Circuits sets
  • Wild Goose science experiment sets
  • Magnets – the bigger the better

I’ve been there – watching the horror as green goo rose up and walked all over my kitchen counter with a life of its own. And while these kinds of moments call for extra paper towels, they also give amazing memories and lessons well-learned.

 

 

The Vote that Scares Me Most

Vote
Vote

If there is a place on the ballot for parents – a vote for whether or not we are preparing our children well for the world where by each of our names we would mark Pass or Fail, would I be able to vote for myself with a passing grade? It is a frightening thought, and I am not certain of the answer. We teach our kids so how to do so many things – how to talk, tie laces, read, be a good friend, and drive. So many lessons and firsts that our heads spin! Today marks another “first” in our household – one that I worry and hope that I have prepared my daughter to maneuver. She is voting for the first time. As I watched her take her ballot I was overcome with a tidal wave of parental anxiety – wondering if I have given her the tools she needs as a legally responsible, voting adult. While we’ve had immeasurable discussions about politics in our home over the years, knowledge of the nuances and leaps between political parties is not enough of a tool. I want my kids to possess more in their election toolboxes.

Discernment – Suddenly all of those moments we discussed and debated ideas, topics, and ideals in our home flood through my mind. I don’t think I truly realized all along how much these moments might prepare her to discern for herself which path she finds most relevant and right. While I might not always want to admit it, I am thrilled she is stubborn when it comes to her beliefs. It will hopefully keep her steadfast as she marks her ballots in years to come – implementing discernment with each selection and standing up for what she believes is just.

Gratitude – I ache inside with hope that my daughter felt a deep sense of gratitude as she marked her ballot, and I hope that I have demonstrated over the years that I am grateful for my privilege as a citizen – as a woman – to vote. I am thankful for the civic contributions to our country that politicians have made, even though I may roll my eyes at some of these “contributions” along the way. I am grateful for and humbled by those who came before us in the suffrage movement of decades past and by the military for lives endangered and lost to secure our national freedoms. As I watch on news reports of girls and women robbed of essentials such as food, safety, and life, I imagine that they can’t even envision the right to vote. I hope my daughter and I never take for granted the voices we have, and that we find ways to use those voices to speak for those who cannot.

Faith –This thought both bolsters my confidence and terrifies me that I haven’t done enough. I remember many Sunday mornings spent in the “crying room” at church with four very young children – and the only thing I really prayed for was that the homily would move along so I could escape before my children destroyed the furniture or each other. As my children have grown, helping them learn to fold their hands in prayer, to lift themselves and others up to a higher power, I don’t think I ever did it with the direct thought that it would serve them as they vote. But now I can’t imagine a more powerful component of the voting process. I hope that faith guided my daughter’s hands more than anything else as she cast her first ballot. Faith in a country that may not be perfect, but that is a perfect example of possibilities. Faith in candidates to fulfill duties promised during campaigns. Faith in herself that she is choosing candidates who represent the values, ethics, and morals she holds dear to her own soul. Faith in a purpose and path that leads to amazing wonders.

And I hope that if there ever is a ballot that collects votes regarding the capabilities of parents, that there is an option to mark besides “Pass” or “Fail” – perhaps “Work in Progress” – for that is all we really are.