Embracing Different Learning Styles

It came in an email, a picture of a sweet little St. Nicholas ornament. “Adorable and easy,” I said to myself as I took note of the visual how-to steps. The whole craft was made of felt and just below the image of the final product were a series of photographs that showed how the creator had cut the individual pieces. St. Nick’s triangular miter was snipped from red felt, as was his cape. His crozier and cross required yellow fabric. A little tan circle for his head, some white felt to form his body and beard, and a swatch of black background finished the project.

I suppose I’m a visual learner because the snapshots were all that I needed to stir my imagination and provide me the blueprint. Honestly, I’m not even sure if the email contained written instructions because I never read a single word of it. Grabbing the required shades of felt, a pair of scissors and a tube of glue, I set about to assembling St. Nick. Within ten minutes, my first felted bishop had taken shape and was resting on the countertop waiting for the adhesive to stick (unfortunately I chose the wrong kind of glue because I failed to read the little details).

Embracing Different Learning Styles

Beckoning my daughter over, I hastily displayed my crafty outcome and asked her to follow my example. Knowing she’d require a pattern, I quickly traced and cut one from a sheet of white paper. I even made sure to scribble the color name on each template shape. “Here,” I instructed, “just cut these out and glue them together like I did.” Satisfied that she could handle the job, I vanished to the couch with my nursling toddler in hand and a head buzzing with a thousand other holiday Pinterest plans (darn that Pinterest!).

The whirlwind in my head had me in maniac mode. The ornaments were just one of the 8 recipes being whipped up in my household that afternoon. With 4 kids attempting to fundraise for a ski trip, my teeny tiny kitchen was buried under jars of flour, cartons of eggs and dirty baking dishes. I was trying hard to remain calm as I weighed our accomplishments (and mess) against our planned goals.

Sometime after the nursing session and a half a dozen more tasks were undertaken, I stopped back at the counter to confirm my daughter’s progress. Felt bits strewn everywhere, she’d abandoned the pattern and took to cutting free-hand. The problem, in my estimation, was that her parts were no longer symmetrical and her free-styling meant that she was wasting fabric. Her product failed to meet my standards. Her tears close to the surface, she was frustrated as well.   

“Why? Why didn’t she just follow my example? Why hadn’t she been able to figure it all out just the way I wanted her to,” I considered. I didn’t resort to yelling, but my disappointment was probably clear as I began pointing out her mistakes. She asked to be excused from the project and I obliged. Seeing as the ornaments were part of the fund raising, I had to jump back in and complete the task myself. It took me the latter part of the night which provided me ample quiet time (okay, when I say quiet time in a household of ten I mean internal quiet) to think about what had just taken place at that counter top.

A bit of guilt poked me as I considered my daughter’s glassy eyes. I hadn’t meant to upset her, but perhaps my expectations were unfair from the start. Clearly, I had an understanding of what the project required in order to mirror the image in that email, but she didn’t share my vision. Her method of learning was not the same as mine and I had failed to recognize her difference. Additionally, I dropped the craft into her lap without allowing her the time to ask me questions.  

As a veteran home schooler of a big brood, you’d think that I would have mastered this concept (of recognizing individual abilities and limitations) by now, but I’m still a work in progress. My two oldest children were very independent students when it came to their math lessons, so I naturally assumed the next two children would be equally adept at algebraic equations and geometric proofs. Unfortunately, it took me a few months to notice the struggles; however, once I identified the root causes we were able to hit the reset button. For one child that simply meant sitting with her, reading the instructions and correcting the examples in real time for all future lessons as opposed to the video instruction she’d been receiving. For the other child the new plan consisted of one-on-one time, as well as, completely starting over from lesson 1 in his textbook.

Years ago my husband and I found ourselves increasingly angry with some relatives who would politely offer to babysit, but rarely ever (like never) follow through. Obviously, Mr. B and I adore children (except maybe occasionally) and we’re pretty skilled at commanding a crowd (I’m thinking of applying as a mosh pit bouncer or managing a boy band when the kids move out), so it seemed foreign to us that everyone else didn’t share our fondness for smiling, shrieking, short people. Finally, we came to the conclusion that those offering us aid lacked the aptitude and/or confidence to protect and entertain our brigade of small individuals. Not that we are better than they are, but what comes easily for us causes them to break out in cold sweats. Accepting that reality freed us from our disappointment and changed the playing field when it came to extended family.

Of course, honesty goes a long way. If we communicate our needs and anticipated standards and then wait for feedback to insure everyone is in agreement, we’ll likely avoid misunderstandings, frustrations and disappointments. We’ll also need to reevaluate now and again, like in the case of my students, because sometimes the original plans fall flat.

How many times does this play out in our lives? We have an expectation in our minds and we assume that others will meet our unspoken demands. Perhaps, our background or simply our natural talent imparts us with a clear picture of what/how a job is to be completed. That doesn’t mean our children, family, friends or co-workers will possess the same skill set. Being clear, honest and available for open dialogue will foster a productive spirit and increases the likelihood for success all around (um, and limiting your exposure to Pinterest could help, too).


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