Have you ever noticed any of these things about your child:
If you can tick those of one by one and say, "YES!" it is very likely you have a visual-spatial learner on your hands. Sometimes they're also called right-brained learners.
- Learns complex subjects easily but struggles with easy skills
- Sees the big picture but may miss details
- Is better at math reasoning that at computation (arithmetic)
- Arrives at correct solutions but not be able to explain why
- Does not learn by drill and repetition
- Develops own method of problem solving
- Often gets upset about having to do things the teacher's way
- Has uneven grades
- Had or has difficulty learning to read, spell, and write
I'm a homeschool mom of two boys and I found out that my oldest son is a predominately right-brained learner the hard way. At least it was the hard way for him. As a kindergartner in Germany, he struggled with sounding out words. I was working with him at home so that he could learn to read in English. It was incredibly hard for him. When we moved back to the States, I was unhappy with our educational options so I decided to homeschool him. We worked even harder on learning how to read and things just weren't coming together. So I started to do some research. And the pieces of the puzzle came together fairly quickly.
I found a website, Visual-Spatial Resource, that provided me with absolutely tons of information. I've relied heavily on it to write this diary and any quotes come their pages. They have information for parents and for teachers. They also have information for adult VSLs, as their called.
I learned that I have a right-brained son. I actually learned that I had two right-brained sons. I also learned that most materials for teaching kids are aimed at left-brained learners. This isn't just in the public school classroom but for most homeschool curriculums as well. And, in a lot of ways, this makes sense. The left brain rules sequential thinking. For most people, it is easier to explain things sequentially... it just makes sense to them. Think about it - why wouldn't you explain a new concept step-by-step? And textbooks are written by sequential thinkers as well. Our world has been a truly left-brained world for a long time. And while times are changing - you'll notice that many textbooks are more visually dynamic and attempt to use real life connections to help global thinkers relate - the education world is slow to adapt.
After all this reading, I started to change the way we taught. I actually stopped teaching. We had always played but now we played all the time. I stopped reading lessons and just kept reading books out loud. When he felt like it, he would give reading a stab. We learned over time that he was not good at sounding out words but that once he learned what a word looked like and how it was pronounced, he owned it. So the more I read to him as he read along, the better. He also loved listening to audiobooks while drawing or playing with building toys, so we took advantage of that as well. By 9, he was finally ready to read. Imagine a being 8 years old in public school and not being able to read at all. He would have been labeled in first grade as a slow reader. By second, he would have been very far behind. By third grade, he would have been in special classes and maybe even tutoring to catch up when, guess what, he might have caught up, not because the intervention made a difference but because his brain had finally developed in the necessary ways to comprehend reading. But, because he was homeschooled, we didn't tell him he was behind or that he had to catch up. He wasn't overly concerned about not being able to read. By 10 he was reading Harry Potter. By 13, he had little patience for anything written for kids and was reading adult-level literature. He basically skipped everything for kids - luckily we had read it out loud to him so that he had still enjoyed great books. He just didn't feel the need to read them for himself.
I won't tell you that I never worried. Parents always worry about their kids and I second guessed myself multiple times. If it hadn't been for other homeschool parents and support groups reminding me that their own kids had gone through a similar learning process, I might have succumbed to the traditional path and forced more intervention at a younger age. After all, if a teacher tells you this is the most important path for your child, don't you believe them? They have a degree in education.
What I've learned is that although teachers know a lot about classroom management and a lot about developing great lesson plans, they don't know a lot about the brains of children. Hell, neurologists are still learning about the brains of children. There is so much that we just don't understand. Sometimes a parent's gut instinct is better than all the experts in the world. Sometimes a parent can discover the right path for their child and it can be the correct path despite the disagreement of the teachers or the administration. Sometimes the experience of many families can inform us in ways that the current educational system isn't yet ready to accept.
This process has been eye-opening in so many ways. And it explains not only my own kids but many other people I have met over the years. I bet you know more than a few folks that could be described by this:
Visual-spatial learners think in pictures rather than in words. They learn better visually than auditorally. They learn all-at-once, and when the light bulb goes on, the learning is permanent.My oldest son doesn't think in words. He thinks in pictures. He sees feelings and emotions as colors in his brain. Even numbers are assigned colors. He translates these pictures into words in order to communicate orally. He's done it for so long, that it isn't as hard as it used to be but when he was younger, he would often struggle to explain a concept to me that he obviously understood but couldn't find a common language. These kids think differently but they don't think stupidly. Unfortunately, they are often accused of just that. In my limited experience, kids that just don't get it usually do if the content is presented in a different way or if the child is given the time to approach the content in their own sweet time. These are two solutions that teachers often don't have the leisure to implement.
They do not learn from repetition and drill. They are whole-to-part learners who need to see the Big Picture first before they learn the details.
They are non-sequential, which means they do not learn in the step-by-step manner in which most teachers teach. They arrive at correct solutions without taking steps, so "show your work" may be impossible for them.
In case you are wondering if a VSL homeschool child can 'make it' in today's world, I can give you anecdotal evidence that they can! My own son is doing just fine. At 16, he has qualified for classes at the local community college. He is preparing to take his GED because he just wants to be finished with high school and to start getting real credit rather than dual enrollment credit for the classes he will start this fall. In order to save money, he'll probably attend junior college for his basics before transferring to a 4 year university for his final two years - he is pretty practical that way. He is great at the big ideas in math and science and hates the basics but has forced himself to master them because he sees the necessity of passing the most basic of tests.
I have just started reading a book that points to the importance of right-brain thinking in our society, A Whole New Mind: Why Rightbrainers Will Rule the Future. The author calls attention to all of the places where right-brained thinkers are being called upon to solve problems. He argues that right-brained thinkers aren't replacing left-brained thinkers in the work place but that right-brained thinking is harder to outsource. Although the author can be overly simplistic in his conclusions, he only reinforced a concept that I began to understand a long time ago - the right-brained thinking of my sons can be a net positive when they understand how their brain helps and hinders them. Understanding how they learn and how to communicate with those that learn differently will be the key to their success.
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