Inside: Guest author Amy Pak, from Home School in the Woods, provides practical tips for using visuals with your kids to help them better engage with the material and absorb more information.
When we began our homeschooling journey back in the mid-90s, one of the first things I read about was the differences in learning styles. I gobbled up information on that, as it seemed each of my four kids had a learning style all their own!
My daughter absolutely couldn’t get enough reading in and had stacks of books next to her bed. And where she once had a mess of a room, now she can’t be organized enough. She was also the type who loved to finish a workbook page and move onto a new, clean one.
One of my sons took forever to get engaged in reading, and even to this day isn’t thrilled with it. Even so, he loves listening to podcasts and constantly seems to have his earbuds in. He’s an outdoorsy, hands-on kind of guy.
Another son of mine was a slow reader, and once he discovered a love of books, he took it upon himself to learn how to read faster. He is now a researcher and writer and has the ability to read and absorb information like nobody’s business!
Finally, my other son is a bit of a blend, but mostly is happier when he’s creating and doing, although he loves classic books and music. He’s a bit of a global thinker, needing to see the whole picture.
But whether they learned by audio or the written word better, they all did best when there were visuals involved! That is something I’ve found to be generally a universal idea as well.
They say between 11-30% of the population are auditory, 5-6% are kinesthetic, and a whopping 65-83% or more are visual. However, I’d like to challenge even that and say that over the years, I’ve come to find that even the auditory and kinesthetic do better if they have some form of visuals included!
Visual learners are ones who rely on seeing something to connect what they are learning or hearing about. This includes pictures, maps, graphs, diagrams, and charts—just about any printed information. This is why the timelines we have created have illustrated figures along with text—it helps create a solid image that connects with the person or event, rather than just words that can flitter away amongst all the other information that would be on a timeline.
For auditory learners, they absorb their information through hearing. This is where the musicians can stand out or those that prefer read-aloud. Even if they are reading to themselves, they will often read aloud to help take in the information. You may be wondering, how does this rely on a visual aspect? Words make connections in our minds, and we generally think in pictures. How audio is being presented can create stories or information that stick in the imagination better than others.
When it comes to kinesthetic learners, they are basically visual learners on steroids! What the child learns is generally through a hands-on experience. However, these kids need other aspects added to the visual memory they are creating, such as textures, smells, sounds, and tastes. Where they may begin with a visual experience, they add to it with other senses. When you see a ripe, red strawberry, can you imagine how it would taste? Or perhaps see a picture of the ocean, can you smell the salt or hear the gulls?
You can see how each learning preference ties in with a visual aspect in some way, and generally speaking, most people are visual anyway!
Various Ways to Incorporate Visuals
Have you ever used directions to build something that is only in words? I cringe when that happens. I always do better when there are step-by-step images to help me along. Or when I leaf through a cookbook, I always tend to stop at the recipes that have a photo of the dish. It’s comforting to see what my final result should look like, and creates a visual “finish line” of sorts to know if I’m on the right track! We can do that in many ways with our kids’ lessons, too!
As I mentioned before, our business began with the creation of illustrated timeline figures. I was a graphic designer in my previous job before children, and I am highly visual. In fact, I didn’t like history through most of my education because I was taught through rote memorization from boring textbooks. It was the first time I saw timelines that showed me the “when” in history that people had prominence and events took place, and the maps to show me the “where.”
Now that I had a ‘latitude and longitude’ of sorts, it gave me a launching point to better understand this abstract concept of time. I could more freely learn because I could picture in my head where and when these events were happening, what led up to them, and what came after. It created a framework in my mind that I could hang information on, rather than bits and pieces floating around and disconnected.
Timelines would also provide a way to see a sequential view, following along the line and seeing what led up to an event, the event itself, and what came after. In addition, wall timelines feed the need of the global thinker, who does better seeing a whole picture.
Lap books are a wonderful way to create a visual smorgasbord of projects, all collected into one place! I call them ‘an amusement park in a file folder.’ By taking a common file folder and re-folding it to open from the middle, you provide panels that can hold paper projects of all kinds. Projects can have multi-folds, sliders, pop-ups, pockets, booklets—the list goes on! The mini-projects also provide a small space to write the crux of the information in either short paragraphs or bulleted lists, making it easier for a child to remember what the data says. For example, if your topic is “Insects,” you might make a three-flap project where the flaps have a picture of the head, abdomen, and thorax on the front, and each flap opens to a description on the inside. I can guarantee your child will remember the parts of an insect much better when they have that image to connect to the lesson.
When I would think of student notebooks of the past, they conjure up essays, reports, maps, and maybe the occasional puzzle page in my head. However, I believe student notebooks should be filled with anything that can be three-hole punched and lay somewhat flat! By turning a notebook into more of a “scrapbook,” you open yourself up to adding visuals of all kinds. Studying about a particular era in time? Create postcards and brochures of the location and adhere them to a piece of cardstock. Both, like what you would get at a travel agency, give you a snapshot of what life is like there. Speaking of snapshots, add photos! You can house projects such as those used in a lap book by adhering them to cardstock pages and including them in the notebook. Fold-outs, such as accordion timelines, work wonderfully in a notebook as well.
With access to a camera on our phones nowadays, it is so easy to make movies! Have your children include a little drama by filming what they learned about! Let’s take Ancient Greece, for example. The children could film a play, acting out the death of Socrates or a scene from one of Aesop’s fables. They could create a news clip with a reporter interviewing Hippocrates or ‘on-the-spot’ reporting at the Battle of Marathon. Or perhaps you can make a two-minute commercial about olive oil!
Including viewing actual movies and documentaries can also make learning fun and enhance the studies. Find movies that pertain to the topic you are learning about and include a movie night, complete with popcorn. Are you studying the Iditarod? You might want to watch Togo or Iron Will.
Include drawings with stories or papers. When the child creates the illustration, or at the very least colors in a coloring page, it causes the child to take the time to notice details about the picture. We’ve always encouraged the use of colored pencils, as it allows a child to get right into the nitty-gritty details of an image. The more time a child spends observing the image, the more it will cement it into his mind. If the child really doesn’t like to draw, have him research appropriate images to add to his writing that he can cut out and glue in. Of course, parental guidance is suggested when searching out images on the internet.
There are also visual ways to address common drills, such as flashcards, puzzles, and games. All of these ideas create that image in the child’s mind that connects with the lesson. Decorating a room or bulletin board with colorful posters creates a reminder the child sees every day. We used to take grammar poems and post them in large, bold text on colored paper around the room for one of my sons. He needed to see these “gimmicky” reminders more often to help him retain what he’d learned. Another visual support can be having a “to do” chart or schedule. One of my grandsons does so much better with the aid of a schedule he can check off once each task is completed. It helps keep him focused and timely when it comes to staying on track with the day’s lessons, and accomplished when the day is done.
As you can see, there are various ways we visually communicate through aids and ideas to enhance our studies and truly make a connection that can stick with a child. The best thing you can do is figure out your child’s learning style and provide for it in ways that engage with him and make the lessons memorable!
Amy Pak is an 18-year homeschool veteran to four and a “Maimy” to seven grandkids. She is also the co-owner, illustrator, and co-author at Home School in the Woods, a family-run history company known for its historical timeline figures and hands-on history studies. You can read more of Amy’s writing on her company’s blog.