What’s Your Teaching Style? (And Why It Matters)

If you’ve been a homeschooler for any length of time, or even have been just thinking about homeschooling, you’ve probably heard how important it is to know what your child’s “learning style” is.  And I agree it can be very helpful.  If you’re looking for information on learning styles I recommend you check out Cathy Duffy’s 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.  Or you could read Cynthia Ulrich Tobias’ The Way They Learn.  I particularly love Cynthia Tobias’ book.  I heard her speak at a homeschool convention eons ago and she was hilarious!  Her writing is equal parts entertaining and informative.

All that being said, I believe it is just as important, as a homeschooling parent, to understand your “teaching style.”  I came to this conclusion after homeschooling for many years.  I wish I had understood sooner that we all have our own teaching style that we need to embrace, because it could have saved me much homeschooling parent angst over the years!

In order to demonstrate what I mean when I speak of understanding your teaching style, I’m going to tell you a story.  A story of my friend Joni, who I consider to be my homeschooling “mentor.”

Joni is possibly the last person who would consider herself a homeschool mentor, but her influence was invaluable to me when I was contemplating homeschooling back in the 1980’s.

I first heard about homeschooling in 1986 when my daughter, my oldest child (and only girl) was just two years of age.  I listened to the “Focus on the Family” radio show on a regular basis, and one day Dr. James Dobson interviewed homeschooling pioneers Raymond and Dorothy Moore.

As I listened to them discuss this utterly foreign subject known as “homeschooling,” I thought to myself, “THAT is what I want to do!”

I loved being a mom to my little girl.  I looked forward to having more children, and the idea of being able to keep them home beyond the “normal” first five years of their lives appealed to me immensely.

Not long after I heard that radio program I met Joni through a women’s Bible study.  She had two girls just older than my daughter and, even more than that, she was a homeschooler!  Just think – I was actually in the same room with a real-life homeschool mom!  Someone that I could converse with and learn from!  That may not seem like a big deal to you if you’ve been homeschooling for less than say, 20 years, but you have to remember that in the mid-80’s parents who homeschooled were often still hiding out in their homes because homeschooling in many states was illegal.  In addition, while today homeschooling is considered almost mainstream, in those days homeschoolers were rare creatures indeed.

In any case, I struck up a conversation with Joni and when she heard of my interest in homeschooling she promptly invited me to a local homeschool group’s park day, which I began attending regularly.

But life takes strange turns sometimes, and after I had my second child – a son who refused to sleep and who was, to put it mildly, strong-willed – I felt that there was no way that I could homeschool my daughter and keep up with her little brother.  Unfortunately, I was under the (very) mistaken impression that homeschooling would take hours a day to accomplish and would leave me time for little else.  So with those thoughts in mind, I prepared for my daughter to attend a small, private, Christian school for kindergarten.

Nevertheless, I continued to attend the homeschool group’s park days, and I would discuss homeschooling enthusiastically with the other moms.  One day Joni looked at me and said very seriously, “You are a marked woman!”  I knew what she was really saying was, “One day, girl, you are going to be a homeschooler, whether you realize that now or not!”

Little did Joni know how quickly her “prophecy” would come to pass.  I sent my daughter to that private Christian school for just one year.  My daughter experienced much success there, earning straight “A’s” and having the honor of being the class “valedictorian” at her kindergarten graduation ceremony, but I also learned a few things that year.  I learned that teaching little kids is not rocket science, and that even a tiny, private Christian school can expose your child to issues that you would much rather wait to deal with until they are older.

After that experiment, I brought my daughter home for school and we haven’t looked back since.  I have now homeschooled three children through high school.  This year will actually be my first year, in almost twenty years, where I will be homeschooling only one child!

During the early years I was homeschooling, Joni and I became very close friends and we often took our children to the beach, or got together in her home so the kids could play and we could have some adult conversation.

Now you may be asking, “What does this have to do with knowing my teaching style?”  Be patient!  I’m getting to that!

Though Joni and I were close friends and both homeschool moms, our teaching styles were completely different.  Joni is an extremely creative individual.  She grew up dancing – which is another interesting story, as I found out a few years after we met that Joni’s dad and my great-aunt had both owned dance studios in Miami and had been close friends for many years!

Joni was (and still is) incredibly artistic.  When I would go to her home she always had one or more projects going: making a quilt, painting, or dabbling in some art form I had never even heard of!  She was constantly teaching her children via various art projects, and they all began taking violin by the age of 2 or 3.

Unlike Joni, creativity is not my strong suit.  In order to expose my children to the arts, I searched out places where they could take lessons.  For instance, my daughter took dance lessons for more than a decade and played piano for many years as well.  She is very “artsy-craftsy” by nature and a good seamstress as well.  (I actually did teach her to sew myself…but she surpassed me in that arena a long time ago!)

My oldest son took art lessons (and is quite good) and my middle son played the saxophone in the homeschool band for five years.  He also plays the guitar and, though he has never played the instrument himself, is teaching my youngest how to play the mandolin.

While Joni’s gifts are of the artistic nature, my gifts are more of the administrative and academic.  I am detail-oriented and I organize almost compulsively.  I have learned to handle the clutter of my kids’ toys, but paper-clutter I cannot abide.  And I am focused like a laser on my children’s academics, particularly the three “R’s.”

The funny thing is, all those years ago when Joni and I were constant friends and our kids were playmates, we envied each other.

I often felt like a failure because I wasn’t as artistic as Joni.  And she would often say how much she envied my organizational skills.  As a matter of fact, one day I took my kids over to Joni’s house and while our children played, I reorganized her schoolroom!  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and she was astounded how quickly I was able to get things in order.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized how silly and futile it was for me, and Joni, to look at the other’s efforts and deem ourselves failures in regards to our homeschooling.

Because the truth is, God gave Joni’s kids to Joni, and he gave my kids to me, and he knew what our strengths and weaknesses were before they (or we!) were even born.

But my guess is that most homeschool moms do the same thing.  They look at other homeschool moms and think that surely their own children must be missing out because they aren’t as: artistic or patient or funny or intelligent or strict or laid-back, or whatever than other moms!

I believe it is in our nature as human beings to compare ourselves to one another, and that is not always a bad thing.  It can inspire us to stretch and achieve things we might otherwise have just left alone.

But it can also be detrimental if we look at everyone else strengths and compare them to our weaknesses.  We need to be reasonable in our assessments of our abilities and accomplishments.

How much frustration I needlessly put myself through because I wasn’t as artistic as my dear friend.  As I discussed earlier, I was still able to give my children exposure to many artistic endeavors merely by paying for art or music or dance lessons.

On the other hand, I’ve heard many homeschool moms claim that because they aren’t “good at math” that they aren’t going to bother teaching their child algebra (which, frankly, should be considered a basic math requirement!)

Yet, just as I could hire an art or piano teacher, there is no reason that a homeschool mom who is intimidated by algebra can’t avail themselves of any number of tools to help them, whether that means hiring a tutor or enrolling their child in an online class.

In other words, there is no reason that your child, or mine, cannot explore and find success in just about any area, even if those subjects or interests are not an area of strength for us.  There are classes and co-ops and homeschooling teenagers looking to make money, all who can assist us in our homeschool efforts!

And not everything has to cost money either!  Do you have a friend who excels in an area that you don’t?  Talk to her about giving your child lessons or teaching a class in her area of strength, while you offer to do the same in an area that you excel at.  I have participated in homeschooling co-ops twice in my homeschool career.  One time it was with several other moms and the other time with just one other homeschool mom, but both times I was able to offer instruction that focused on my strengths, while the other mom (or moms) did the same.  I truly enjoyed both experiences as they gave me an occasional break from having to teach.  At the same time it gave my children exposure to another person’s “teaching style” that broadened their perspective!

Identifying your teaching style is not a complicated process.  Simply evaluate what your strengths are.  Do you spend a lot of time on crafting websites?  Or do you prefer to spend your “free time” (whatever that is!) reading historical novels?

Do you spend a lot of time in the garden?  Or does the idea of digging in the dirt make you cringe?

You probably already know if you prefer to do science projects or art projects, or you enjoy snuggling on the couch with your children reading a good book.  Whatever it is that you love to do, embrace that!  Quit looking over your homeschool neighbor’s fence wishing you could be more like her!  God gave your kids to YOU.

And when it comes to those areas that you feel to be your “weaknesses” – look for ways that you can expose your child to those areas and endeavors.  Enroll them in a class, sign them up for a co-op, or hire someone to give them lessons.

Whatever you do, don’t waste needless mental energy constantly evaluating yourself negatively in light of what “all the other homeschool moms” are doing.  More than likely they’re wishing they could be more like you!

The last thing I want to say is a “thank you” to my dear friend and homeschooling mentor, Joni.  Her friendship and encouragement in those early years of my homeschooling are very precious memories to me.  And hopefully we’ll have the opportunity to make more fun memories in the future as well!

  • Joni Futscher

    Let me 1st say that Anne is obviously a very talented and intelligent woman with an active and inquiring mind and a sweet and loving heart. I’m Joni and am humbled by these very kind words. When Anne organized my schoolroom it was the “ah ha” moment for me too in that she had finished like 8 cabinets of books and supplies to my one and always marveled at the store like order of everything in her house. May I add to that the kids all grew up fine in spite of all the things we didn’t excel in because they are in and of themselves a wonder of creation. Even as adults they continue to grow and develop as do we. love ya Anne

    • annegalivan

      Thank you so much my fun and funny friend.  You are one of my favorite people in the whole world and even though we don’t see each other as we once did, you have been in my heart and mind so often.  Hopefully we will one day have the opportunity to live closer to one another…we can be little old ladies walking the beach together!

      God surely knows what He’s doing when he gives our kids to us.  As a mom who has three grown children already – who are all remarkable people – I still feel like a failure at times.  I know that it is the enemy of our souls who wants me to feel like that, but it is hard to remember at times when life is difficult.

      Your commitment to your children was always evident to those who truly knew you and loved you.  Your children, and mine, can never truly appreciate all that we gave in order to raise them in the light of His love, but that’s okay.  God sees and he knows. 

      And I would add that we also don’t, and can’t, fully appreciate and comprehend the impact we have had on our children.  That is something that we can only fully know when we step on the other side of the veil.  But I can tell you, your incredible creativity and sense of humor have, and always will have, a tremendous influence on your beautiful children.  God bless and I love you!  Tell all those kids of yours that “Mrs. Gavigan” said hi!

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