Teach the Way They Learn

An Everyday Story

An Everyday Story

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When I was teaching high school there were usually two reasons why a student would have difficulty focussing on tasks; either there was an external issue that I wasn’t aware of (maybe they were still processing something which happened over lunch, maybe they were preoccupied with a relationship issue or maybe something was happening at home) or the lesson I was teaching didn’t meet their learning style or interest. More often than not it was the latter.

I was reminded of this today during a visit to the National Portrait Gallery. Jack has a little friend; an amazing, creative, spontaneous, energetic little friend. He is fiercely intelligent and his ideas just burst forth. In a situation where the children are expected to be still and answer questions, these personality traits may come across as intense, off-task and disruptive.

But they couldn’t be more wrong. These intensities aren’t disruptive and they are far from off-task. They are a strong drive to know and understand, to share and express ideas.

“Children do not wait for our permission to think. Indeed, children are bursting with ideas that are always impatient to escape through language (and we say a hundred languages) to connect and communicate with the things of the world.”  

~ Louis Malaguzzi, Founder The Reggio Emilia Approach

Jack’s little friend reminds me of Jack in so many ways. Jack is creative and spontaneous, he’s energetic and intense. Teaching Jack can be either extremely stressful or incredibly rewarding. It all depends on me.

An Everyday Story

How does Jack learn? When I ask myself this question, my eyes are open to him; I watch him play, watch him create, watch which books he chooses to read, which art materials he chooses to use; I see him. 

I know that he expresses his understandings through his hands. I know that he uses his whole body to share ideas; jumping around as he talks. I know that his drawings are inspired by the music in his head; humming and singing all the while.

I know that spoken stories soothe him; that he will sit and draw alone happily if he has an audio book playing. And I know that he recreates his understandings visually with materials he can manipulate.

An Everyday Story
Recreating the flow of blood through the body.

Circulatory System with Spielgaben - An Everyday Story

I know these things now. And when I teach the way he learns, everything connects. Jack is engaged, questions are flying everywhere, there is a buzz of enthusiasm.

When I don’t, when I lose track of whose learning this is and instead create learning experiences based on my learning style, (and probably worst of all) when I can not relinquish control; insisting that we complete the activity, things never go well. No learning of any value happens.

The only thing Jack learns is that my ideas and my ways are more valuable than his and that he needs to conform to my ways. And that is NOT something I want to teach him.

An Everyday Story
The chambers of the heart
An Everyday Story
Recreating the inside of an artery.

An Everyday Story

How do you feel when you are teaching or spending time with children? Do you feel energised most of the time? Or do you feel a little stressed, anxious and even a bit deflated? I think a lot of how we feel about teaching and the time we spend with children has to do with our approach. Are we teaching in the way our children learn?

How do your children learn? Or the students in your class? What languages do they use to express themselves and their understandings? Do they like to represent their ideas through building and drawing like Jack? Or are they logical and deliberate; creating lists, following steps, practising their handwriting and creating plans? Maybe they express themselves through writing, or through music and dance?

Maybe they need to move their whole bodies; and so find sitting still difficult, preferring instead to create bold strokes with a paintbrush or delve their fingers deep into a lump of clay. Or maybe, instead of completing writing practice sheets, they prefer to label drawings and write letters, or take on a more sensory approach; writing letters and words with water.

We need to take time to really observe our children; learn about how they learn, and engage in a continual dialogue of reflection so we can teach so they can learn. If that means changing our entire style of teaching, then so be it! It’s their learning after all.


Jack is using the Photographic Atlas of the Body. It’s quite an interesting book with all the workings of the human body captured in the most minute details. It’s really fascinating. 

Jack is also working with our Spielgaben set. If you’re interested in investing in a set, Spielgaben offers an 11% discount to An Everyday Story readers. Simply email info@spielgaben.com mentioning An Everyday Story and they will reply with a discount coupon. 

21 Replies to “Teach the Way They Learn”

  1. One of my favorite teaching quotes: “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn”. ~ Ignacio Estrada. But it’s not always easy to do! Thank you for sharing your life in the way you do – you and your family are an inspiration to me in my homeschooling journey!

    1. Thank you Lilandi. I agree. I think it is very difficult. It means up giving up control and we often feel secure in knowing that we have things organised. It also means critically reflecting on our teaching practices and letting go of a lot of the ‘chalk and talk’ (I talk, you listen) methods.

      This was hard for me; reflecting on my practice, especially when I already thought they were fairly child-centred, and realising that I needed to be more flexible in more approach.

      We are not unschoolers, while we have aspects of unschooling, I plan many of the topics we will approach. These are based on the children’s interests but I still have be open in my approach to continually reflect on my practice to make sure that their learning experience is shaped by them (in the explorations I offer Jack and Sarah) rather than me shaping them to fit my curriculum.

      It is difficult and I think it is something that we need to work on consistently and purposefully.

  2. I love this post, always an important thing to keep in mind 🙂

  3. A great reminder. Thanks Kate. It’s wonderful to read through your reflections as you teach your children. You’re a wonderful teacher and your passion and love for teaching (and your children) is so evident. xo P

    1. Thank you Pauline. I have a deep respect for teachers. I know that from all I have learnt over the last 5 years, and the last two with homeschooling, that it would be so much more challenging trying to engage a class of kindergarteners and really offer an engaging environment for them. I have two kids and I’m still learning.

  4. Kate, as always a wonderful reflection from you on the ways in which we have to challenge ourselves. I remember a wonderful idea that was put to me in a Reggio classroom that I was privileged to take part in. It’s the idea of the adults and the children being co-learners. We as the adults have just as much to learn as the children in our care, and what a wonderful journey that can be, to challenge ourselves and our thinking. Thank you for your inspiring post.

    1. Thanks Julie. 🙂 That was one of the points which really resonated with me too. The idea that the adult wasn’t the gatekeeper of all knowledge, rather that both the adult and the child were co-collaborators (or co-learners like you said); working together, learning together and learning from each other. It’s really inspiring, isn’t it? 🙂

      And thank you as always for popping by 🙂

  5. nishoosharma says:

    Love your passion towards learning..my sons learning doesnt have a set pattern n i have to keep moulding myself…hes the best out in the greens..hands on learning…m still learning…

    1. Thank you 🙂 My children thrive outside too. I feel like I have come a long way but am still learning too. There is always something to learn 🙂

  6. So inspiring Kate. My lad is very in his body ~ and I hope his teacher will understand his needs and learning style the way you do for your children. Wonderful stuff.

    1. Thanks Kelly 🙂 He attends a most wonderful school, I am sure his learning styles and gifts will be nurtured there 🙂

  7. When I saw how Jack and used the Spielgaben to recreate blood flow I thought “WOW!” Did you lay it out as a provocation or did he ask to use it? The new set is very tempting!

    1. Thanks Kaylea. Yeah in this case I did put the Spielgaben on the table for the kids. But they will often ask to use it. This was beautiful to watch. He chatted to himself the entire time, travelling little red ‘blood’ dots around the body and then changing them to blue as they travelled back up to the heart and lungs.

      The new set is very tempting, isn’t it? I really like how you can take each of the sets out of the drawers. That’s probably the only downside of the version we have; the trays take up a lot of space on the table.

  8. Love this post. I love how Jack is using his manipulatives in such a unique way, and I love that you are letting him set the agenda. I wish / hope that I can teach my kids the way they want to learn too. It’s easier said than done, and it’s a goal that’s worthwhile striving towards.

  9. First of all, let me say that I very much look forward to your posts. You are inspiring. The question I have is, when Jack seems to be learning about something like the human body or other countries and cultures, for example, do you sit him down and “teach” him? Or is it more casual, like putting out books and seeing if he is interested in looking at them? I have also noticed recently that Sarah is trying to learn to write her name. Do you tell her it’s time to work on writing, or does she just stumble upon the materials you set out?

  10. I totally agree with this quote and remind myself of it often when teaching children.

  11. Such an inspiring post – I loved reading it. It is such a good reminder that each and every child has their own unique learning style. Love that quote 🙂

  12. I just love so much about this post Kate…I always enjoy the way your children’s learning evolves and how you extend on their interests so beautifully. Will be sharing as I’d love the formal early childhood educators to understand this approach to learning 🙂

    1. Thank you so much Jode. It’s something that I feel quite strongly about and something that I always felt I struggled with while I was teaching. But I do think it is something that we need to continually reflect upon; how do our children learn? How are we meeting that learning style?

  13. Hello, I just discovered spielgaben & am researching to see if is worth the cost for our family. Can it be used as a math program on it’s own? If so, what math concepts are covered or not covered? How far would it take a child? Thanks!

  14. Buncee is a really awesome resource for us to use when catering to kids’ creative side! Students absolutely love it, and when using buncee they grasp concepts at such a faster rate. There’s also an awesome 30 day free trial that doesn’t ask for credit card info or anything. their customer service is awesome. definitely worth it.

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