Exams are around the corner, but your little one refuses to sit still and review his schoolwork with you. He would rather run around the house or sing aloud while you have sacrificed your badminton match with your buddies to coach him. It looks like it is going to be a frustrating night for the both of you. But fret not, Dad! Your little one may not be trying to be difficult. It could be that your teaching methods or activities are not suited to your child’s learning style.
According to Clinical Psychologist Dr Cecil Clark, “Parents mistakenly want children to adopt adult norms — to see play as something you do to pass the time, for example, to learn to compete, or as a reward for working. They don’t understand that children don’t distinguish between work and play — that play is a child’s work. The play is the learning.” (McNees 1986).
Fiona Walker, CEO of Julia Gabriel School of Education in Singapore adds, “Understanding your children’s learning styles as well as their strengths and interests will help you understand what motivates them and how to best direct them to areas in which they will experience the greatest successes.”
Therefore, as a father of a pre-teen, it is important for you to observe and recognise your child’s unique learning style, adapt your teaching methods and shape his life experiences to optimise his potential.
What are Learning Styles?
Learning styles refers to the way in which people respond to, absorb and process information. One of the most well known theory on learning styles is Fleming’s VAK theory, where individuals are categorised as Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic/Tactile learners.
While your child may have a dominant learning style, he continues to take in information from many different ways (Vail, 2002). So continue to provide your child with diverse learning opportunities while focusing on experiences that will benefit him the most.
• Visual Learners
A visual learner learns by observing, remembering and recalling images with the ‘mental photocopier’ in his head. If your child enjoys art, drawing or looking at images, he may well be a visual learner.
You may engage your child by developing flashcards together to review his schoolwork. You could also encourage him to draw illustrations to visualise abstract concepts. Visual learners also learn well by colour coding, highlighting and underlining important texts.
It is also important to expand the learning environment to engage visual learners.
Mr Koh TC, father of a 9 year old boy, chooses to capitalise learning opportunities outside of the school curriculum. He relates, “I’m a strong believer of life experiences. I brought my son to a Youth Olympic Games event yesterday, to share with him the competitive sports-person’s journey of discipline, sheer determination and hard work.”
“I think it’s important for children to have learning opportunities outside of academic work – there’s so much that young children can pick up in terms of values, attitudes, beliefs and in having their worldview shaped,” said Mr Koh.
• Auditory Learners
Auditory learners learn best through listening and recalling what the teacher has lectured, classroom discussions and by listening to podcasts and audio recordings. They easily remember facts articulated verbally, especially through poetry or songs.
Useful strategies for engaging an auditory learner include talking to your child regularly about what they are learning, reading a book and listening to the audio book at the same time and creating songs on topics of interest to help your child sing and remember the facts.
• Kinesthetic/Tactile Leaners
Kinesthetic/Tactile learners prefer to learn via experience. They thrive on discovery through experimentation and are always seeking meaning and purpose through various activities. Such learners may tend to frustrate fathers as they do not conform to our traditional methods of instruction and appear to be playful, hyper-active and have short attention spans.
If your child is a kinesthetic learner, involve him in physical activities such as building models and playing games while reiterating the learning objectives. You could also take your child on relevant field trips to develop on what he has learnt in school.
Mr. Khal El-Hilo, father of Sarah, 11, observes that his daughter is a kinesthetic learner with a short attention span. He shares, “Visiting the Zoo, Bird Park, and Underwater World are all opportunities to teach her about the different types of animals which is directly relevant to the science materials she is studying currently.” Mr El-Hilo also brings Sarah on overseas trip “to reflect on other cultures, religions, and life styles.”
Resources on Learning Styles
The National Library of Singapore has an extensive range of resources relating to parenting, fatherhood and learning styles. Some of the books are listed in the Reference section at the end of this article. The Internet also offers a wealth of resources to learn from. The Fatherhood section in About.com (http://fatherhood.about.com/) is a good place to start. Schoolfamily.com also offers a good article on learning styles.
• Attending Courses/Talks/Workshops
Many community centres, schools, private education centres and non-government organisations also offer ‘Positive Parenting’ workshops which may include a component on observing and responding to your child’s learning styles.
• Reaching out to the Community
It is important to maintain a good relationship with your child’s teacher to know his progress in school. You can also be proactive in sharing with the teacher your observations of his dominant learning styles. This will enable teachers to adapt their teaching methods where possible.
Fathers should also reach out to other father figures among their extended family and friends to share and learn from each other’s experiences. Mr Koh TC, shares that he prefers “talking to other parents with children of similar ages – commiserating on our children’s needs”
Informal interaction and networking with other involved fathers can prove to be a valuable learning experience. Ms Walker relates, “Building up a network of other involved father’s may well be the best resource available. Being able to share experiences, challenges and successes can be very valuable and is rarely done by fathers, while mothers do this all the time.”
Show that Daddy C.A.R.E.S!
Now, Daddy, if you learn best through mnemonics, remember this: C.A.R.E.S (adapted from Wills & Hodson, 1999).
- Celebrate your child’s uniqueness
- Accept your role as a teacher
- Respond rather than react
- Expand your view of where learning takes place
- Seek support from personal and community networks
- Pruett, K. (2000). Fatherneed:Why Father Care Is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child. New York, New York, USA: The Free Press
- Pruett, K. (2004). What a difference an involved Dad makes. Work & Family Life, 18(9), 3. Document ID: 700078671
- Vail, P. (2002). Liberate Your Child’s Learning Patterns. New York, New York, USA: Kaplan Publishing
- Willis, M., & Hodson, V. (1999). Discover Your Child’s Learning Style. New York, New York, USA: Three Rivers Press
About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.
First published on 29-04-2011.