Homeschooler Karen M. Gibson presents the first of two articles about how the differences between her learning style and right-brain/left-brain capabilities and that of her children affected their home learning atmosphere.

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The Unschooling Handbook
How to Use the Whole World As Your Child's Classroom
by Mary Griffith
Unschooling, a homeschooling method based on the belief that kids learn best when allowed to pursue their natural curiosities and interests, is practiced by 10 to 15 percent of the estimated 1.5 million homeschoolers in the United States.

Homeschooling Our Children Unschooling Ourselves
by Alison McKee
Patrick Farenga, editor, "Growing Without Schooling": An honest and touching account of how homeschooling leads to new attitudes and possibilities for learning.

Home Learning Year by Year
How to Design a Homeschool Curriculum from Preschool Through High School

by Rebecca Rupp
A structured plan to ensure that your children will learn what they need to know when they need to know it, from preschool through high school. Based on the traditional pre-K through 12th-grade structure.
Liberty in learning means being free to pursue the paths that lead to one's own personal fulfillment.
~ Jennifer Kuzbary

    Learning Styles and Hemispheric Dominance - Is Your Learning Style at Odds with That of Your Child's?
    Karen M. Gibson

    Author’s Note: This is the first of two articles about how the differences between our own learning styles and right-brain/left-brain capabilities and that of our children can affect our home learning atmosphere. Part I will discuss Learning Styles and ways that you can use the knowledge of your own learning style and that of your children’s to your advantage. Part II will discuss the theory of right-brain/left-brain dominance, how these differences can affect the way we learn and also how we communicate with others, and alternative ways to assist your right-brain child in the academic areas in which he may be experiencing difficulties.

    Part I: Learning Styles


    Our family’s decision to home educate was in reaction to the public school system and the way it treated our children, not due to any great philosophical or religious reasons. We simply believed we could educate them as well at home; certainly teaching them at home would cause less emotional damage. During those beginning months of homeschooling, though, it became apparent to me that being able to read a teacher’s plan book and present a lesson to my children was not what home education was all about. Even though I am a very patient person and consider myself to be attuned to my children and their needs, I became extremely frustrated by the fact that many of the resources I found natural to use did not seem to appeal to my children. While it was obvious that they gravitated towards certain types of resources, such as videos, computers, and audio books, it was important for me know why certain approaches, certain ways of presenting material seemed to work better for them than others, ways that seemed awkward, inefficient, and unworkable to me. These differences in our preferred approaches to learning and utilization of resources were causing some conflict among my children and myself and a great deal of inner turmoil on my part. I knew that, if our home education adventure was going to succeed, I had to find a way to resolve them. And so my search for answers began.

    Golay’s Pattern of Learning

    We all have one or more preferred ways in which we take in information, in which we learn. As I soon discovered, there are many differing opinions and explanations on learning styles. One of the simplest explanations breaks learning styles into three groups: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.

    • Visual learners learn best by reading or watching something, such as a video. They are more comfortable learning from textbooks and/or workbooks.

    • Auditory learners learn best by listening, including being read to and listening to tapes or lectures. Verbalizing (discussions) and music are also comfortable ways to learn.

    • Kinesthetic learners learn best through a hands-on approach, body movement, and manipulating objects.

    In his book Learning Patterns and Temperament Styles, Keith Golay proposed a more complex theory, based upon an individual’s pattern of learning. “Temperament is primary, and predisposes the person to certain ways of thinking, wanting, emoting and acting. Thus, each of the personality styles has its own way of learning, its own way of being motivated, its own way of relating with others, and its own way of being satisfied.”1 Golay classified learners as: Actual Spontaneous, Actual Routine, Conceptual Specific, or Conceptual Global.

    • Actual Spontaneous – Action people. They like their environment such that they are free to act spontaneously; they dislike planning and organizing. They love games and hands-on projects, but have short attention spans and are difficult to motivate. They want to know how what they are learning is of use to them. They ask “How does this work?”

    • Actual Routine - Task-oriented. They like their environment to be clearly structured, planned, and organized. They are not comfortable with spontaneity and do not feel they are creative. The traditional school model works well for them. They ask “What?”

    • Conceptual Specific – Big Picture people. They need to understand, explain, predict, and control their environment. They like to solve problems, are self-motivated, and prefer solitary activity. They ask “What if?”

    • Conceptual Global – People-oriented. They are social people, looking for meaning and significance. They are interested in concepts rather than details. They prefer integrated studies, where they can connect the personal aspect into understanding their world. They ask “Why?”

    In her book The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling, Debra Bell begins with Golay’s model of learning styles and expands upon it for home educators. She renames them The Active Learner (Actual Spontaneous), The Routine Learner (Actual Routine), The Focused Learner (Conceptual Specific), and the Global Learner (Conceptual Global). Bell makes suggestions as to how to tailor a home education program which takes advantage of your child’s strong areas and helps your child work at improving his/her areas of weakness. I offer an abbreviated example here:

    The Global Learner has a wide breadth of interests, often finding it difficult to narrow her pursuits to a manageable number of directions. She is fascinated by others’ beliefs and attitudes: what they think, what they want, how they feel, how they respond.

    The global learner is creative and flexible, but not detail-oriented or technical. Rather, this learner will act on hunches and impressions to form broad conclusions.

    Global learners in general are high-achievers and do well academically. But often they set high standards for themselves. Their creations and work are an extension of themselves and are strongly tied to their sense of self-worth. Therefore, failure or rejection of their work is often interpreted as failure or rejection of themselves.

    The global learner typically gravitates toward the language arts, performing arts such as music and drama, psychology, counseling, the ministry or social services.

    Program Suggestions

    Choose resources that focus on how individuals or people groups have been impacted by the areas of study. Read about the scientists behind the theories or how inventions changed people’s lives.

    Because she thinks globally, a unit study approach that integrates subjects such as science, history and literature around a common theme will appeal to her interest in understanding how events, ideas and inventions affect the people of that time and place.

    Think groups. Co-ops and field trips will become the focal point for most of the global learners studies.

    This learner will need your help in learning to pay attention to details. She is often forgetful and careless in her errors.2

    While you may recognize immediately your child as one of these four types of learners, Bell cautions parents that most children will not fit perfectly into one category and I could not agree with her more. All children are unique individuals and we must not use these categories or any other learning style theory to pigeonhole our children as a “global learner,” for instance, while ignoring other strengths or weaknesses they may exhibit.

    Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences

    In Frames of Mind: Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Howard Gardner challenges the traditional view of intelligence as a single capacity, one quantifiable entity. Instead he proposes that there are actually seven different intelligences, or learning styles, and that all individuals are made up of differing combinations of intelligences (recently he added an eighth style, the Naturalist).

    • Linguistic – attune to the spoken and written language, verbal skills. Uses language to express oneself and also as a way to remember information. (Examples: poets & writers)

    • Logical-Mathematical – is able to analyze problems logically, detect patterns, and reason deductively. (Examples: mathematicians & scientists)

    • Spatial – able to recognize and use the patterns of wide space and more confined areas. (Examples: artists, architects, surveyors, & inventors)

    • Musical – involves skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of musical patterns. (Examples: singers, musicians, & composers)

    • Bodily-Kinesthetic – the ability to use mental abilities to coordinate bodily movement; using one’s whole body or parts of the body to solve problems. (Examples: dancers, actors, athletes, sculptors, surgeons, & mechanics)

    • Interpersonal – concerned with the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people. (Examples: sales people, social directors, & travel agents)

    • Intrapersonal – entails the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one’s feelings, fears and motivations. (entrepreneurs & therapists)

    • Naturalist - entails the ability to recognize, categorize and draw upon certain distinctions and patterns in the natural world.

    In M.K. Smith’s article on Gardner, he wrote: “In Frames of Mind Howard Gardner treated the personal intelligences ‘as a piece’. Because of their close association in most cultures, they are often linked together. However, he still argues that it makes sense to think of two forms of personal intelligence. Gardner claimed that the seven intelligences rarely operate independently. They are used at the same time and tend to complement each other as people develop skills or solve problems.”3

    Which Theory Is Correct?

    Which of the above theories of learning styles is most helpful or most accurate? Only you will be able to decide that for yourself; there is no right or wrong answer. These are only theories and models, not irrefutable fact.

    Personally, while I found Bell’s in-depth descriptions interesting to consider, none of them seemed to be an accurate description of any of my children. Rather I could see bits and pieces of each of my children in most all of the descriptions. Yes, some did rather favor one category more than the other, but not enough for me to be able to say, “Ah ha! That’s ___!” Conversely, I know some parents who have preferred Bell’s models over that of Gardner’s. For example, one parent felt that Bell’s descriptions explained certain aspects of their child’s personality that they had originally attributed to just the child’s age. These parents like the fact that Bell’s descriptions show how their child’s main learning style overall may affect such things as their interpersonal skills and also that she offers suggestions as to how to help improve any weak skill areas.

    On the other hand, a combination of Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory appealed to me. I could identify the separate intelligences that seemed to make up the particular learning styles of each members of my family. I could put together any combination of them and leave out those that obviously didn’t apply. For example, I could immediately identify that my main intelligence area was Linguistic (although mainly the “written language” area of Linguistic and not the “spoken language” area), with a dash of Musical and a pinch of Intrapersonal and Bodily/Kinesthetic thrown into the mix.

Observations of Myself

I insist upon reading the instructions before using a new item. In order to remember something better, I will write it down or type it. When I was a student, I would always recopy my notes made in class because the very act of rewriting them would cause me to better remember them; just listening to the teacher was not enough. When I would take a test, quite often I could close my eyes and see the answer to a question in the textbook where I had read it – I would see the words in my mind. Even today I must take notes when I am talking to someone on the telephone or I will not remember what we talked about in anything other than a very general way. If someone reads to me an article out of a newspaper or magazine, I must read it again myself in order to really understand it. Ask me the words to any “Golden Oldies” pop tune, though, and I can sing it to you; putting the words to music enables me to remember them. I love to crochet, but am incapable of picturing the finished product in my mind. It is always an adventure to see whether the colors and the patterns I chose actually turn out to be pleasing, which may be why I love the creating process so much more than the finishing process – my dreams and expectations are not always realized in the finished product.

    In short, I am one of those people for whom the present-day system of learning was designed. Since this system worked so well for me it was the one I attempted to re-create, but unfortunately it did not work well for my children.

    Using Learning Styles

    So, how can one use this knowledge of learning styles to the benefit of their family’s home education experience? First, begin by paying more attention to your child’s activities. What does he prefer to do during his free time? Does she prefer to have music playing in the background at all times or does the music distract her? Does he require many playmates or is he content with just one or two or even just himself? Does she need to move around while you are reading to her or is she content to sit next to you while listening? How does he approach a problem? And how does she express the answer to a problem?

    As I began to pay more attention to my children’s particular learning abilities, I more fully realized just how different their learning styles were from my own and had a better appreciation as to why the resources I chose did not work for them.

Observations of My Children

My children are all able to envision the finished product and work a project backward in their mind, thereby figuring out the steps necessary to accomplish the project before actually beginning it (Spatial Intelligence). While they are all strong in the Linguistic area, they are equally strong in both parts of the Linguistic area, attuned to both written and spoken language. They actual enjoy it when someone reads aloud to them and they often prefer listening to audio books rather than reading. While they still gather a great deal of their knowledge from reading, hands-on materials are much more important to them than they are to me (Bodily-Kinesthetic). All of my children are much more likely to just dive into a new software program without reading the instruction manual, something I would never think of doing! And two of my children can run circles around me with their logical arguments and deductive reasoning abilities (Logical-Mathematical).

    To accommodate their different learning styles, I made some adjustments. My children enjoyed listening to someone read as much as they enjoyed reading, so I did more reading aloud to them, even though it is something that I have always disliked doing. I read aloud everything from fantasy and classics to history, science, and math literature. We borrowed audio books from the library and watched more videos. Instead of learning math and other subjects solely from textbooks, we played more board games and computer games and attended more group discussion learning situations. My husband networked our computers together so the children could play games like Age of Empires against one another. Don’t get me wrong! Books are still my main source of learning and our house still overflows with them, but they are no longer the sole resource I look for. We had already experienced the frustration that came with using only resources that worked well for me. It was my children’s education I needed to facilitate, not my own!


    My initial research on learning styles was done during my first and second year of home education and there were several ways in which this understanding of learning styles aided me. One way was that it enabled me to loosen the grip of my public school indoctrination, granting me the freedom to begin to really think outside the box concerning education, both with resources and methods. Another way was that it also reassured me that accommodating my children’s learning styles wasn’t just “molly-coddling” them. For example, I now understood more fully that allowing them to learn math through playing board games and using computer software rather than using a textbook wasn’t just more entertaining to them, but that it also provided the optimal learning experience for them. And after all, isn’t that what home education is really all about? Not lesson plans and textbooks, but providing our children with their individual optimal learning experience.


    • Debra Bell, The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling: Year 2001 Edition Book & CD, Thomas Nelson, 2000; ISBN: 0849975751.

    • Thomas Armstrong, In Their Own Way: Discovering and Encouraging Your Child’s Multiple Intelligences, J P Tarcher Inc., Los Angeles CA, 2000; ISBN: 1585421514.

    • Thomas Armstrong, 7 Kind of Smart: Identifying and Developing Your Many Intelligences (Rev updated edition), Plume (the Penguin Group), NY, 1999; ISBN: 0452281377.

    • Howard Gardner, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (10th Anniversary Edition), Basic Books, NY, 1993; ISBN: 0465025102

    • HISNet (Homeschool Information & Services Network), Methods and Materials.

    • Keith Golay, Learning Patterns & Temperament Styles, Manas-Systems, Fullerton CA, 1982; ISBN: 0971007605.

    • Learning Patterns and Temperament Styles, South Maine Technical College


    1. Keith Golay, Learning Patterns & Temperament Style, Manas-Systems, Fullerton CA, 1982.
    2. Debra Bell’s Home School Resource Center (URL verified 06/28/08)
    3. Smith, M. K. (2002) Howard Gardner and multiple intelligences, the encyclopedia of informal education (URL verified 06/28/08)

    Copyright May 2002
    Originally published in the May/June 2002 issue of HELM (Home Education Learning Magazine)

    Read Part II
    Learning Styles and Hemispheric Dominance:
    Right or Left Brain: Which is Dominant in Your Family?

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