Not All Learning Happens at a Desk

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Schools have been in session for over a week now. How are you all doing? My social media news feeds have been full of the wonderful smiling faces of little ones on their first day of school belying the frustrations of their parents and teachers from just a few weeks ago. Uncertainty is the constant. We hold on to the hope that this will be a good school year because we know many heads, hearts, and hands have worked hard to make the best plan conceivable in these unprecedented circumstances. In years to come our great grandchildren will read about us in their history books.

My teacher friends want you to know that they love their jobs and students but this is hard. My friends with school-aged children want you to know they are confused, frustrated, scared, and this is hard on them as well. School looks different for each of us this year. For my family I have two in college and one is a freshman in high school. His school never ends because we homeschool and Hawk Academy educates year-round. Last year as schools closed and students went home I felt an affinity with all the families who found themselves “homeschooling”, although that wasn’t the choice they had made for themselves, it was the reality abruptly ushered in by Covid-19. There used to be many choices for families in our community; virtual academy, public school, homeschooling, simultaneous college/high school learning, private school, and charter. For now, choice seems to be put on hold and many are frustrated on some level.

When I began the journey of homeschooling eleven years ago there were around 70,000 families in NC on this path. Last year there were 95,000 families homeschooling. I was disappointed that the 2020/2021 numbers of families who registered their homeschools with the Department of Nonpublic Education has not yet been published, but I expect it to be well into the 100,000s. How parents can juggle work and school seems to be the most frequent and challenging question that I hear. Whatever school “choice” your family has made, I have a few thoughts and personal stories I would like to share with you that I think can help.

If your student’s classes are not “bell to bell”, figure out when they learn best and encourage them during that time. Our homeschool evolved from early morning learners to mid-day learners as my students aged, and then there was one. I now work while he sleeps in, takes care of his chores, and begins his assignments. I am able to take a break midday to assist him as needed, returning to work when he is back on track. Evenings are reserved for checking over his assignments and testing when these things are needed.

Determine what kind of learner you have. Early in my homeschooling years we would have combined History, Bible, and Literature in a read-a-loud format. One day my 2nd grader was leapfrogging across the floor. This was after she had been upside down on the couch, feet in the air, behind the couch, and in my lap. In frustration I quizzed her on what I had been reading, certain she had no idea. To my astonishment that child rephrased perfectly what we had covered. Meanwhile, her 4th grade sister, who had appeared to be listening well, could only tell me about the sentence I had just read. It seems she had been paying most of her attention to her sister. This was revelatory for me, clearly identifying the difference in learning styles of the two siblings. My then 4th grader was/is a visual learner, while her 2nd grader sister was/is an auditory and kinesthetic learner. 

A visual learner needs to see and experience what they are learning. Visual learners love to read and receive information well through the written word, hands on experiences, and lecture style education. An auditory learner best remembers information they hear, so the use of audio books for tougher subjects may be an effective tool for this type of learning preference. One day, my auditory learner was struggling with a discussion question about a book excerpt she was supposed to have read. She came to me and asked for help. I questioned whether or not she had read the section because the discussion seemed straightforward to me. Since I wasn’t sure, I asked her to read it out loud to me. Suddenly she understood. Once she had heard the words she had no trouble finishing the discussion questions.

A kinesthetic learner uses motion and material manipulation to facilitate learning. When my son was learning his multiplication tables I would throw bean bags at him. The bean bags coming at his face fired up his brain and opened his mind to remember the facts. All of my learners have some kinesthetic needs at varying degrees. My auditory/kinesthetic daughter needs to move to learn. For her busy hands means a clear and receptive mind.

Your student may be a combination of these types of learners. Your classroom set-up needs to take this into consideration. Remember my leapfrogging kinesthetic learner interfering with my visual learner’s experience? My solution was to put a pad of paper in my 4th grader’s hand so she could take notes. When I would quiz her she was allowed to reference the paper. Sometimes she had to face away and eventually the time came when she stopped participating in our read-a-loud time to read the assignments for herself. 

Now in this 12th year of homeschooling, my last student takes outside breaks between difficult subjects. I still throw things at him when he is memorizing information. We regroup and adjust regularly, sometimes even changing or supplementing curriculum when one isn’t getting the job done. Did you know that Lee County educators have access to 4-H hands-on, research-based curriculum? All classroom types can find a supporting 4-H curriculum. We have school enrichment, individual national project books, and NC 4-H curriculum offerings. NC 4-H curriculum is evidence-based, connected to North Carolina essential standards, and developed by land grant universities like N.C. A&T State University and NC State University. We are sharing a survey this month to find out what this education community needs. Please participate. You can find more information at Lee County 4-H School Enrichment Curriculum.

No matter what your student’s classroom looks like this year, I hope these are ideas to help you facilitate that learning. Also, check out what other families are doing, especially veteran homeschoolers. If you find something that works well, share it. Grace will be required in all directions from and for all parents, teachers, and students. Take this time to be creative and connect with your young learner, making it an enjoyable and enriching experience for all parties involved. And remember, not all learning has to take place at a desk!