Whether because you have read my other articles in the Early Childhood Education category or because you have researched this topic online, you likely have questions about how the terms “brain friendly” and “learning styles” fit into your work with your preschooler. Certainly the goal of both is to help your child learn, so what’s the difference? Is one better than the other?
“Learning styles” is the older concept and represents the results of several research studies trying to determine how we learn. You will find a summary of these findings in my article “Learning Styles-Should I Have my Child Tested?” (The answer is NO.) These concepts were essentially guesses, based on observation of behavior, about how the brain takes in and stores information. Guesses as to how the brain learns.
I recommend that you read that article to familiarize yourself with the terminology because you are likely to encounter some or all of these concepts as you further study early childhood education. You may even encounter teachers in your child’s future who still hold onto these concepts. Some of these attempts to explain how we learn have more merit than others; there is some truth in each; but none provided the full answer. The concept of learning styles has lost favor in the field of education. In my research for this article I was surprised at how many articles and videos referred to “debunking” this concept of learning styles.
Having taught in public schools in the ’90’s when we were encouraged to test our student’s learning styles, and students were often placed in classes where their learning style matched the teacher’s style, the idea of learning styles being “debunked” initially seemed impossible. However, this change in attitude about education is the result of new developments in brain scan technology, brain surgery, and brain research. We no longer have to guess how the brain learns. We have lots of research and practical verification of techniques that have proven effective for learning to occur.
The field of brain based education and learning is only a couple decades old; and the field is not without its critics; but even Harvard University now offers master’s and doctoral programs through its MBE–Mind, Brain, and Education–program. The study of brain based education is about learning what techniques parents and educators should use to best engage the brain in learning.
Now that we know how the brain actually learns, it is important the you use brain friendly techniques as you work with your preschooler. You don’t need a teaching degree to use brain friendly techniques. I will now summarize here things you need to consider when you work with your child. The brain needs color, exercise/movement, a variety of activities, novelty, processing time, music, limiting stress, information in small “chunks,” plenty of rest, introduction to “the arts”–dance, drama (acting things out), and art, frequent review, good nutrition, and more. There are many specific techniques that teachers use in their classrooms, but this list will give you a good start for working at home..
There are a few things you should notice from the list:
- These activities actually utilize all the different concepts of learning styles, which is why you don’t need to test your child, and why I didn’t list them. Using brain friendly techniques addresses what you need to know about learning styles.
- You are already using many of these techniques. You are already working in short periods of time, giving time for processing, lots of review, movement, different kinds of activities, watching your child to avoid stress, etc.
- Skill & drill worksheets are NOT brain friendly. There are hundreds of sites online offering worksheets for your preschooler. However, unless these worksheets have lots of color, novel and varied activities, are short, are self-checking to avoid practiced mistakes, and you are willing to oversee every moment of their use, you should avoid using them!
If you want more information about brain based learning, I recommend reading Eric Jensen, David Sousa, and/or John Medina.
The answer to the initial question is that “brain friendly” is the learning concept you need to incorporate into your work with your child. Notice that I have not even mentioned math because these techniques are for ALL learning. Remember to always stay positive with your child, be enthusiastic about learning, and avoid boredom in your child. Boredom actually destroys brain cells, and we certainly don’t want that!