There are almost as many systems for gauging learning styles as there are children to apply them to. And even if the acronyms and animal codes make sense to you, what do you do once you know exactly how your child learns? These are the problems facing too many parents, and precisely the problems Carol Barnier addresses in The Big What Now Book of Learning Styles.
Barnier begins with the obligatory opening chapter defending her decision to write yet another book on learning styles. She assures readers she isn't going to follow the usual course of too much prognostication and not enough adaptability. Instead, this book is about learning to adapt instruction to the needs of your kids.
There are basically three main learning styles, according to Barnier: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. She comes up with three icons to represent each of these, and throughout the rest of the book, any idea or suggestion is preceded by one or some combination of these icons, depending on which learning style(s) that particular suggestion addresses.
Binding yourself to a single teaching methodology is like trying to dance with your feet tied, Barnier says. Flexibility is needed if your kids are going to maintain their innate love of learning, and this means freeing yourself from the constraints of rigid teaching structures. Instead, Barnier promotes "lightbulb-led learning," which involves lots of experimentation and observation, doing what works and eschewing what doesn't.
Sure, this takes a lot of time and a fair amount of effort, but it's worth it if you want to raise kids who not only enjoy learning, but are simply able to learn. Whether you're using lots of hands-on activities for a kinesthetic learner, catering instruction to your visual learner, reading aloud to your auditory learner, or mixing all three approaches for one or many kids, their enthusiasm is sure to benefit both them and you in the long run.
It's easy to think of the teacher-student relationship as one of top-down authority, but Barnier encourages parents to see it as a collaborative effort, in which kids are free to tell their parents what works and what doesn't, and for parents to tailor instruction accordingly. This doesn't mean kids run the show, just that they are called on to help in the process.
All of this is covered in the first four chapters. The rest of the book is a series of chapters about each of the major academic subjects (spelling, writing, reading, math, history, geography, and science) in which Barnier presents dozens of possible activities, assignments, field trips, games, etc. aimed at each of the three main learning styles.
These range from making play dough letters, to using an abacus, to "the squishing game," to learning to use a computer keyboard, to using household items to show how a heart works. Some of the activities seem a little silly, but Barnier assures parents that kids love silly and you should turn it to educational advantage whenever possible.
The Big What Now Book of Learning Styles is certainly a helpful book, especially for the frustrated parent looking to inspire their kids to want to learn and to retain what they learn. Unfortunately, she doesn't seem to think much of simple rote memorization or traditional learning methods, which have immense educational power. Other than this, however, Barnier's book is very fun and very helpful, no matter what learning styles you or your children have.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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