Our "identical" twin boys were only 6 the Easter they each made a special card for me. Robert, the compliant, easy-to-please son, had drawn a beautiful picture of the cross with a Bible and lily and the words: "To Mommy?Christ is Risen. Happy Easter!" Michael, our wonderful, strong-willed son, presented a card that was plain on the outside. But inside there was a colorful character and the words: "Happy Easter from Jabba the Hut." These two boys are the same age with the same parents growing up in the same household, and yet they are so different in their outlooks and perspectives, you'd never know they shared the same genes. If twins can be so different, it's crystal clear that no two children in any family are alike.
As parents, we have been given the sobering charge of shepherding and guiding each of our children down the right path. But while the destination is the same for each child, the path is not. Because each of our children think differently, they also learn differently. Thankfully, we can trust that God, who designed our children as unique individuals in the first place, will give us the insight to discover our children's natural learning styles.
Learning styles are the inborn traits and preferences that affect the way we perceive our environment, take in and process information, and decide what's important. These preferences impact everything-the way we learn to read, to drive a car, to speak a new language. It's not surprising, then, that learning styles come into play in your child's spiritual development. Teaching techniques that work wonderfully for one child might do very little for another. One child might thrive on reading through a children's Bible with you, while another would rather sing through a rousing version of "Father Abraham." In other words, your child's spiritual development is affected not only by what she learns, but by the way she learns it.
Although there is a great deal of research behind the concept of learning styles, it doesn't take an advanced degree in education to identify and understand the learning styles of your children, no matter how old they are. With a little time, effort, and observation, you'll be able to determine how your child learns best and use that understanding to deepen your child's love for God.
Your child chatters almost constantly. She often repeats what you say like an echo, and she gets in trouble for talking out of turn during school. Highly auditory children seem to learn best by hearing?but not necessarily by hearing someone else. They need to hear themselves talk. But that need to hear information out loud means she may be the first to memorize her Bible verses, list the 12 disciples, and name all the books in the Old and New Testament. Why? When she says these things out loud, or even sings them, she's listening to the rhythm and sound of the words. When asked to remember information, she'll think of the sounds and tell you all she knows.
If you find yourself constantly trying to keep your child quiet, try giving her more important things to talk about. Discuss spiritual ideas, like God's love, and ask for her input to give her the chance to process these important spiritual concepts. After Sunday school or family devotions, ask her to give you a summary of what she's learned. Look for ways your child can use her voice without distracting others or being disruptive, such as volunteering to read the Bible story in Sunday school.
I had just finished a 45-minute presentation to a group of high school student leaders when one of the senior boys came up and proudly showed me a beautifully detailed picture he had drawn while I was talking. He saw me frown, and quickly explained, "If you ask me a question about anything you talked about, I can look at my picture and answer it. It's all in here." He went on, "All my life my teachers have told me to put my pen and paper down and look only at them. But if I can't draw or doodle, I can't remember what they say." If you have a child who is a visual learner, it doesn't simply mean he needs to see what he's learning in a book or on the chalkboard. He may need to make his own picture in order to remember what he's been told. You may want to encourage your visual child to highlight passages of Scripture in his Bible, draw a picture, or write notes in the margins of a workbook.
On any given Sunday, you can look over the church congregation and see parents trying in vain to keep their children quiet and still. The children seem restless and fidgety. But the fact is, many of us are born with the need to stay in almost constant motion, especially when we're bored. As adults, we've learned to move with a subtlety that doesn't distract others (adjusting our position, holding a pen or pencil, smoothing our hair, etc.). Most children have not yet learned the art of moving in ways that don't get them in trouble. If you have a child who is especially fidgety, he may be a kinesthetic learner. Help him move while he learns?he can squeeze a ball, tap a foot under the table, shoot hoops while he memorizes facts or Bible verses. If you ask your child about the Bible story you told him while you made cookies, he'll remember that you talked about the Israelites fleeing Pharaoh while he was vigorously mixing the batter. You may be amazed at what your restless youngster picks up when he seems busy doing something else.
Do you have a child who always seems to need more information? Questions like, How do you know? Where did you find that? Why are we doing it that way? can often be an indication of a naturally analytic mind. A child with an analytic nature tends to focus on specifics, and he automatically pays more attention to details than children with a more global, big picture, get-the-gist-of-things perspective. This can be especially challenging if you, as the parent, are not particularly tuned in to the analytic side of things. But the details that seem unimportant to you can be just what capture the attention of your child.
Our son Michael is an analytic learner. From the time he was very young, he has focused in on the smallest scriptural inaccuracies in church programs or children's pageants. Until Michael informed us (when he was all of 5), none of our well-churched family realized that the tomb of Jesus was provided by Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus. Mike had watched the Nest Entertainment New Testament videos*, and his mind absorbed almost every detail of the stories. The only children's Bibles that have appealed to him are those that include maps, charts, and interesting and entertaining background information. If you have an analytic child, be prepared to answer a lot of questions, or at least provide your child with resources?Bibles, videos, picture books, encyclopedias?that will help him find the answers on his own.
Our son Robert is the exact opposite of his brother; he is the classic global/big picture child. If we provide him with an accurate and detailed definition or concept, he waits for the magic phrase: In other words. Suddenly the smile on his face lets us know he understands. It isn't that Robert misses the details?he just focuses on the details that reveal the big picture.
Unlike his brother who searches for maps, Robert quickly thumbs through a reference Bible to find the summaries, paraphrases, and highlights of the stories. Instead of trying to figure out what's missing in a program or presentation, he is totally absorbed in the experience itself, enthusiastically cheering and participating in the performance whenever possible. Your global thinker might appear to be ignoring you when you're in the midst of a long Bible story. If so, feel free to skip the details and head straight for the action. If the story is familiar to your child, consider letting him tell you the story. You'll be amazed at the details he considers crucial.
There's no doubt that each child is a unique and complex package. Still, it can be tough to know when your child is relying on her natural learning strengths and when she's just not paying attention or being lazy. The Bible offers help in Proverbs 3:5-6, which starts, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not unto your own understanding." I believe this verse means there are other ways of understanding and making sense of things besides just mine.
At the same time, don't allow your child's learning style to become an excuse for misbehavior. The next part of the passage says, "In all your ways, acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths." If our children are using their learning styles, personalities, and temperaments in a way that brings honor and glory to God, it's okay. If, however, a child's behavior does not honor God, no matter what learning style he's using, it's not okay. It's important that children still respect parents and teachers. It's also important that they think of others as they express their individuality.
Our Designer and Creator has given each of us some wonderful traits and gifts. When we discover the unique ways our children learn, we can better instill in them a deep love for the One who gave them those gifts in the first place.
Cynthia Ulrich Tobias is the founder and director of Apple Street Communications, an organizations that provides resources on learning styles.
For more information on learning styles and your child's spiritual growth go to www.applest.com. Look for these books from Cynthia Ulrich Tobias:
Do You Know What I Like About You? Jump Starting Virtues and Values in Your Children (Vine)
A celebration of the ways in which adults relate with children. This collection of narratives, photographs and poetry will surely touch and inspire hearts and minds.
Every Child Can Succeed: Making the Most of Your Child's Learning Style (Focus on the Family)
You'll find practical ideas for applying learning styles to motivation, discipline, and much more.
The Way They Learn: How to Discover and Teach to Your Child's Strengths (Focus on the Family)
This entertaining and practical book should be required reading for any parent or teacher who truly wants to help children succeed. These concepts are powerful tools for bringing out the best in every child.
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