Families often spend more time than they need to judging schools solely by their rankings in their search for the right school for their child. However, experts recommend that parents to begin by understanding their children first, including their specific needs and what environment might foster their learning style best.
Here’s a brief look at the importance of understanding your child and his or her learning needs.
Observe your child at home
Dr. Kathryn Ages is a Toronto-based psychoeducational consultant who assesses students with learning difficulties by identifying their strengths, challenges and needs to accommodate their learning. She says that parents can uncover a lot about the type of students their children are by watching how they play and interact with others at home.
“Verbal learners tend to do well with language-based education, they can listen to a teacher, soak in the information and verbally share their ideas,” she explains. These kids are often more talkative, have a wide vocabulary and can express their ideas easily. They tend to feel more comfortable reading and sharing their thoughts. “Non-verbal learners,” she continues, “are more visual, they understand information through graphs, maps and charts.” These learners often benefit from hands-on work, and prefer real-life learning. “These are kids that need to have their hands in the dirt,” she says.
Meeting the learning needs of children
Many students can be identified as having a variety of learning styles and thus will benefit from teachers who can teach to the whole child. “Parents should look for teachers who are engaged in a variety of teaching modalities while in the classroom and then address these same modalities when they ask children to do seat-work, homework, major projects and tests,” explains Dr. Alan Edmunds, associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Western Ontario in London. He says that the best schools tend to understand and look toward Universal Instructional Design (UID), which involves considering the potential needs of all children when designing and delivering instruction. “Teachers should ask themselves, what do I need to do in order to give all of these kids a chance to succeed?” he says.
At Glenburnie School in Oakville Ontario, this is the premise upon which the curriculum is developed. “Our teachers are required to include auditory, tactile and visual components in all of their lessons,” explains Linda Sweet, director and founder of the school. “We also emphasize that all concepts taught in our classrooms have real life applications, in order to anchor this knowledge to the everyday world.”
Sweet’s belief is that learning should not be about producing right or wrong answers, but rather about evaluating and synthesizing information while taking risks and learning from your mistakes. “We want our students to be engaged and motivated while taking ownership of their own learning,” she says.
Finding the right fit
While this notion appeals to many families, for those parents looking for a more traditional approach to education, Glenburnie might not be the right fit. That’s why Sweet recommends parents visit schools equipped with a list of objectives that they would like a school to meet. These can range from education and discipline philosophy, to testing and homework requirements, to communication practices. As the theory goes: if you know what you’re looking for, you have a much better chance of finding it.
Once you have decided on a school, Sweet advises that parents maintain regular communication with teachers and administrators. If the practices and beliefs of the school are not similar to those at home, it may become confusing and frustrating for a child. “In our parent orientation session,” Sweet says, “we encourage parents to keep an open mind and remember that this is a new era and school should not be the same as it was 20 years ago.”