Homeschooling Your Baby

Originally written in 1993, shortly after the addition of Pearl, Baby #5.

Learning Styles

Having a newborn has reminded us again of why we teach our children at home. Teaching your child does not begin with kindergarten curriculum, nor does it begin with a preschool program, or even with your baby’s first step. Home education begins shortly after birth; it can begin with a cuddle.

Doesn’t it seem that after you have your baby, friends and foes alike will rush to hold her? Our baby Pearl is no exception. She loves all the attention and seems to adore everyone who dotes on her. However, do not put her on your shoulder to cuddle. She will arch her back and let you know clearly that that is NOT where she belongs. Is she being difficult, acting spoiled, showing her sin nature already? If we had assumed that, then we would have missed a wonderful opportunity to nurture our baby. Instead we recognized that Pearl is a visual baby, which means that God has made her to learn best by seeing the world around her. When an individual puts Pearl on her shoulder, it limits Pearl’s field of vision and thwarts her primary objective of seeing everything. In other words, they are incapacitating her learning agenda. But by holding her against themselves, face forward, she gets to see all that they see and she is not only contented, but is still able to fulfill her consuming passion to learn. Babies are born “learning machines,” and learning is their first priority. But not all babies are visual babies.

Abel was an auditory baby, which means he learns best by hearing and experimenting with sound. As a baby, he loved to be cuddled on our shoulders, as close to our voice-box as possible. To soothe him we would merely hum and he would be so fascinated with the sound he would soon forget his discomfort.

Auditory babies are frustrated by a lot of noise because they want to sort out each sound and the combination of sounds is overwhelming. When things are dull, auditory babies can create their own excitement with various chirps, coos, and patter. Even at this tender age they delight in listening to themselves “speak.” Get used to the sound of their voice, because you are going to hear a lot of it!

A third type of baby scholar is the hands-on learner. Whereas the auditory or visual learner can accomplish their enthusiasm for investigating by sitting in your arms, the hand-on learner needs to be doing. Our Hope was such a learner and she would wiggle and squirm and moved about just for the sheer pleasure if brought her. The saying “motion stops commotion” particularly suits this style of learner. She did not want to sit quietly and had she been forced to it would not have been best for her. Bear in mind, we are not addressing areas of discipline here. There will undoubtedly be times when your wiggler needs to sit still for an exam, your auditory baby will need to be quiet during church, and your visual baby may need to duck under a blanket to be nursed. However, for the nurturing parent these times should be the exception and not the norm. The wiggler should not only be allowed to move about freely, they should be encouraged to do so. Again, thwarting this God-given drive will impede the learning process.

The first step to teaching your baby at home is to let your baby teach you. What makes your baby laugh? All sorts of tickles will amuse your wiggler but leave your auditory baby sober. However, he will squeal with delight whenever Grandpa makes a funny sound. Your visual baby will love contorted faces and other forms of slapstick humor. By doing your “homework” and studying your infant, you will discover what sort of learner he is. By determining what will soothe your baby, and what amuses your baby, you will not only have one of your biggest clues as to what style of learner he is, you will be well on your way to nurturing a lifelong love of learning.

Catering to the Learning Style of Your Baby

As a teaching mom, my first assignment is to study my baby and learn how he learns best. Keep in mind that many babies are a blend of styles, but all babies will have a decided preference.

When you are the parent of a visual baby, the road ahead of you will be fairly smooth. For whatever reason, nearly all canned curriculum is geared to the visual learner. Moreover, visual children who attend school have the greatest opportunity for success because most of their teachers will not only use a visual curriculum, but are visual learners themselves. Visual babies study the details in the world around them. These are the babies that become the children that seem to teach themselves to read. Our Joy was reading words at 18 months and loving it! Because we know Pearl is likewise a visual baby, we will work to surround her with lots of visual stimulation. The easiest way for me to do this is through brightly colored picture books, but other ideas are posters, mirrors, and toys, even a fish tank! My goal is to nourish the visual ability of my baby, to allow her to excel in an area God has made her capable.

Our auditory babies have also picked up academic skills readily. The advantage that they have had is that nearly all my teaching is given orally first. This has given them at least one opportunity to master what is expected, and because auditory learners are so experienced at processing what they hear, they tend to be very successful. We have found that our auditory babies are ideal candidates for music training and foreign languages. An environment with good music will begin a lifetime love for music. If we were bilingual we would have capitalized on that skill while they were still infants. Instead we did the next best thing and let them listen in while we played foreign language tapes. A lesson we learned the hard way was to spend as much time talking to our babies while there was still time. Before we knew it, they were talking, talking, talking… And that will continue throughout their childhood as they sing while they work, chant out their math facts, and yodel for the sheer pleasure of it. If it seems to you that their mouths are always in gear, keep in mind they truly do need to hear themselves think.

In the academic world, our hands-on babies are at a disadvantage. These children learn best by doing, but apart from some preschool/kindergarten activities, most curriculum is geared for visual learners. Our Hope needed an environment full of action. Hope was not content to sit and watch the action flow around her. As soon as possible, she hurled herself into that action. Hands-on babies learn by feeling and doing, so give them every opportunity to push, pull, squeeze, squish, dig, and dump. When Hope was a little older and involved in “hard-core academics” like puzzles and coloring, it amused us to no end to notice that she spent the entire morning standing at her child-size table. To ask her to sit to work on a puzzle would have bewildered her. How can you possibly do a puzzle without hopping, wiggling, and at the very least marching in place?! We could have forced her to sit quietly in a chair for schoolwork, but she would have been so engrossed in the labor of sitting still, that there would have been no brain power left to solve puzzles. We saved the training of sitting still for when sitting still was the only goal. Keep in mind that God put those wiggles in your baby. When you think you just cannot clean up one more mess, tell yourself that to excel academically your baby needs as much active time as possible. I like to think that the more weary I am, the brighter my hands-on baby is becoming.

Once more, we are not addressing conduct here. We do not think we should abdicate our throne to a 15-pound tyrant. We do, however, have the intent of making our babies our course of intense study. What makes him sad, what makes him happy? What challenges him and what does he find boring? The more I know about my baby, the easier and more pleasant my career as a teaching parent will be.