Some years ago, when I was a volunteer in our church in Winnipeg, Canada, I was asked to do a short training about learning styles. I actually knew very little about learning styles myself, but I guess they figured I knew about this. So I looked into this subject, and made some eye-opening discoveries. I have been tailoring my lessons to these learning styles ever since. It has given me a tremendous motivation to make my lessons much more interesting and engaging for all children, and for myself as well!
God has created each of us in different and unique ways, and just like the colour of our eyes and the shape of our noses is different, we also have different ways in which we learn best. There are different ways to classify learning styles, but I want to look at three basic ones that will help us understand our kids better, and will help us strategize how to reach all the children in our classes, and not just a few of them.
Auditory (Hearing) Learning Style
These children learn well by listening. They love to listen when a story is told, and often remember specific words that were used. They love things like sound effects and word jokes. They also may be good at coming up with very specific words to describe situations or feelings. When they tell a story they are expressive and they can mimic voices of different characters. They do well when verbal instructions are given. They may love music and can detect when someone sings off-key.
Since most teachers love to talk and talk and talk, the traditional way of teaching works well for these children. These kids are the ones who can sit still in class without a problem, who listen well and can answer questions the teachers ask. They probably cause the least amount of problems in your class. This is usually a smaller group of children in your class.
Auditory children are distracted by sounds, so ringing cell phones, whispering children and noises coming from outside your room will be a distraction for them.
Visual (Seeing) Learning Style
These children learn best when they can ‘see’ things. They primarily remember the things they see. If there is something for them to see, that will be the thing they will remember. So if their mom asks them after church, “What did you do in Children’s Church today?” they’ll think, “Eehhmmm… o, yes, the teacher was wearing a scarf over her shoulder… I remember now! It was about Joseph!” When they tell you a story, they may add detailed descriptions of what things look like.
Adding visual things to your lessons will greatly assist these kids in remembering what was taught. Think about using props, science experiments, costume items, puppets, pictures, maps or charts. All these things serve as great hooks for their memory. If you use an illustration of how something works, they will be able to figure it out. Having a visual like a picture, an item, or a diagram helps them to understand and remember what is being taught. They also pay attention to your room, the decorations, the types of building materials used, the furniture and the seating arrangements.
These kids also pay attention visual things that are not important, like the clothes the teacher wears. Carefully look at your teaching space to discover what they will notice. Decorations can be a great help for them – or a great distraction. If someone moves in your room, their eyes will be drawn to it and they will automatically notice. You can imagine how their thoughts will wander away as well: “What is that person doing?” Minimizing the visual distractions is very important for your visual learners. It’s important to pay serious attention to these things, because the largest group of children in your class will be visual learners.
Kinaesthetic (Hands-on) Learning Style
These children love action! They often struggle to sit still in class, and easily become bored or distracted if nothing “happens” in class. Engaging these children is perhaps the hardest, but if you put an effort into reaching these children, you will have the most creative, interactive and fun lessons, and you can be sure that you will engage all the children in your class.
When you ask for volunteers, the hands of these kids shoot up first. These kids love doing the actions to the praise and worship songs, jump the highest when they are excited and their eyes start to glimmer whenever you say, “We’re going to play a game!” Often these kids loves sports and drama and running. When they tell a story, they move their hands as they speak and, if possible, their bodies as well. When your time with the kids only involves sitting and listening, they will be the first to become bored.
So how can you reach these active, bouncy kids? It may seem intimidating, but it’s not impossible at all! Include them. Make them part of what you are doing. Make sure your praise and worship includes lots of jumping and challenge them by doing fun, different actions that require their attention. Once they got rid of some of their energy during Praise & Worship, it’ll be easier for them to sit down and engage with a Bible story. When you tell the story, often use Creative Teaching Methods such as Audience Participation so they can channel their need to move in an acceptable way. Let them help out by collecting the offering and when it’s time for things to be handed out, let them be your helpers. Make sure you play games in Small Groups that require doing something, even if it is small like picking up cards or playing a board game (connected to the Main Point of your lesson – not just games to kill time or even have fun only).
Sitting still will push these kids to misbehaviour. They are not bad kids, this is simply how God made them, and so it’s our responsibility to ensure that we teach in a way that will help these kids learn and enjoy learning.
Some people may have a combination of two learning styles, and all combinations are possible. Some people may not have a dominant way to learn but utilize whatever learning style fits a particular learning environment. Regardless of your own particular style or styles, it is important to be able to recognize the characteristics of all three, and to tailor your lessons to them so that all kids will be engaged and will enjoy learning.
Learning Style Barriers
As we looked at these styles and how we can tailor our lessons to help them learn, we already saw some of the specific things that make it more difficult for children to learn – the barriers. Here are a few more possible obstacles to consider:
- Have the teaching area on the opposite side of the door if possible. Anyone who comes through the door will be a distraction if the door is on the same side as your teaching area. If people enter the room from behind the children, it is less likely for them to be distracted.
- Avoid having more adults in the teaching area than necessary. It is distracting for children if there is a second or even third teacher who is just standing there. The problem is that the teacher won’t just stand there, but moves and has facial expressions. Every movement will be observed and will distract from the actual teaching. Every facial expression sends a message, and even a blank expression communicates, “This is boring”.
- Make sure cell phones are switched off, and do not let teachers answer their phones. If a teacher starts to answer a cell phone or text a message where children can see it, they will immediately think, ‘I wonder who she is talking to!’ It inadvertently sends the message that the phone call is more important than what is happening in the room.
- The other teachers should move around as little as possible during the lesson, because whenever someone gets up and starts to walk, heads of the children will turn and they will be distracted easily.
- Children often bring things into the room. Have a rule about where they should put their stuff. You may tell them to put their things underneath their seats so that they cannot see them and cannot touch them – and won’t be distracted by them.
The goal of this strategy is simple: we need to design our lessons in a way that will engage children with all these different learning styles so that learning will be fun for all of them. We want them to enjoy coming to our Children’s Ministry programs. Let our lessons be fun and engaging for kids with all learning styles, so that each of them can grow in their faith!
Coming up next – Strategy 6: Value the Uniqueness of Childhood