Understanding your child’s learning needs

Bright ideaWhat type of learner is your child? Is he or she currently in a school that encourages that learning style? If you’re not sure, now is a good time to assess your child’s learning needs and whether alternative education, such as a private school, is something to consider.

Dr. Kathryn Ages, a Toronto-based psycho-educational consultant who assesses students with learning difficulties by identifying their strengths, challenges and needs to accommodate their learning, says parents can uncover a lot about the type of students their children are by watching how they play and interact with others at home.

She says verbal learners — those who can “listen to a teacher, soak in the information and verbally share their ideas” — tend to do well with language-based education, where non-verbal learners, being more visual, understand information through graphs, maps and charts. She refers to these learners, who often benefit from hands-on work and prefer real-life learning, as “kids that need to have their hands in the dirt.”

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,” says Dr. Alan Edmunds, associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Western Ontario in London.

He says the best schools tend to understand and look toward Universal Instructional Design, 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?”

At Glenburnie School in Oakville, 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,” says school founder and director Linda Sweet. “We also emphasize that all concepts taught in our classrooms have real life applications.”

Sweet’s belief is that learning should not be about producing right or wrong answers, but 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.

However, this may not be the right fit for parents looking for a more traditional approach to education. That’s why Sweet recommends parents visit schools equipped with a list of objectives that they would like a school to meet, such as education and discipline philosophy, testing and homework requirements, and 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, 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,” Sweet says.

Also important to remember is that children are constantly changing, so “what you see in the early years is not necessarily what your child will be like as he or she moves into the junior years and on to high school.”

This means parents should continuously reevaluate their child’s scholastic progress and not be afraid to make a change if necessary.

Ages advises her clients that in order to make a more seamless transition, the ideal years to start at a new school are Grade 6 and Grade 9. But, she says, if a school is unable to accommodate a child’s personality and needs, it can have a detrimental impact on the student’s self-esteem and behaviour, and thus a change should be initiated immediately.

Haley Eisen is a writer for, Canada’s trusted source for private schools and camps. You can find different types of private schools, their philosophies and how they may be able to benefit your child at OurKids.