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Why You Need Different Academic Expectations for Different Siblings

siblingsHave you ever wondered why school seems to come easily to one of your children while the other has to really “work at it?”

What you are likely seeing is not a difference in your children’s academic abilities, but simply how much better one child’s learning style fits the traditional school structure.

Every human being has his or her unique learning style.   And, fortunately or unfortunately, some styles are better suited to how traditional school systems are designed.

Children who have a learning style that matches the design of the educational system tend to do better than children that don’t.

As a parent you need to know the learning style for each of your children and understand the design of a traditional school system.  Only then can you identify how well each of your children actually “fit” into the traditional school system.

Know the Learning Style of Each of Your Children

There are three basic learning styles: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic, or active learning.  Siblings may or may not have the same learning style.

Below are two simple tests you can use to evaluate your children’s learning styles.  These tests do not replace an evaluation by a learning specialist or psychologist, but they will give you a quick overview.

Learning Style Quiz for Younger Children (K-6)

Learning Style Quiz for Older Children (7th and Up)

Understand the Design of a Traditional School System

The traditional school system takes place over thirteen years, kindergarten through twelfth grade.  The system is structured into three phases: early elementary, late elementary, and middle school/high school.

Early Elementary – An Individualized Learning Environment

The first phase, kindergarten through third grade, is designed to support a variety of learning styles.   There is a lot of movement, drawing, cutting/pasting, singing, talking, sharing, listening, and the rooms are FULL of beautiful visuals that are there to support different learning objectives.

Teachers are trained to support all three major learning styles and the curriculum typically honors them as well.  The school system is structured this way based on the belief this is what “small” children need.

Late Elementary – Individuals Bend to the School’s Structure

In the second phase, fourth through sixth grade, everything gradually changes.  Teachers talk more and offer fewer visual aids.  Students are required to sit still.  Curriculum even tends to be written with less variety.

There is a subtle shift that sends the message, “Okay, you’re in 4th grade now, time to get serious.  You should be able to sit still and listen for longer periods of time.”  Unfortunately, “serious” also means visual learning aids diminish and the opportunity for motion based learning goes away.  At this stage, the school system struggles to support multiple learning styles.

Middle School/High School – The School Structure Dictates the Learning Experience

By the time a student moves into phase three, seventh to twelfth grade, there is hardly a place in the school system that acknowledges there are students that learn best by moving, doing, touching, and seeing lots of interesting stimuli about what they are being expected to learn.  The system heavily favors the auditory learner, just one of the three major learning styles.

Think about your own school experience.   By the time you were in high school how many hours a day did you sit and listen to a teacher talk?   If you were a student that needed to listen to information to learn best this would have served you well.  If you were a student that needed visuals and opportunities to move in order to absorb knowledge, you may have struggled to stay engaged with the learning process.

Does Your Child’s Learning Style “Fit” the Traditional School System?

If you have one child that performs effortlessly at the top of the class and another that doesn’t, you need to evaluate how well each child “fits” within the system.  The traditional school system will benefit a child with an auditory learning style and hamper a child who is a visual or kinesthetic learner.

A disconnect between the traditional school system’s instructional style and your child’s learning style has absolutely nothing to do with your child’s “intelligence”. 

If you have a child who is a visual or kinesthetic learner with a sibling who has an auditory learning style, learning this truth will empower her so she doesn’t beat herself up, thinking she just isn’t quite “smart enough”, that her sibling does better in school because he is “just smarter.”    As a parent, when you stop seeing academic differences in your children as “them” and take into account the learning environment you will no longer wonder why one of your children just seems “naturally” better at school.

Having different academic expectations for each of your children gives you the freedom to leave your auditory learner to flourish in a traditional school while you seek out additional support or even an alternative school for your visual or kinestetic learner so she can flourish too.

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