"As in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them."
(Romans 12: 3-8 NASBRE)
One of the most rewarding parts of my service with the Ursuline Sisters is the work I do with young children. From tutoring at Casa Madre and Potter’s Wheel to assisting at the Ursuline Preschool and St. Rose Catholic School, nothing’s more rewarding than making a breakthrough with a child on a school subject they’ve struggled with. It’s that “Ah-Ha!" moment when kids get truly excited about learning.
Something I’ve discovered through a lot of trial and error while tutoring -- and through my own educational journey -- is that you’ll never reach that “Ah-Ha!” moment or get children passionate math or reading unless you cater to each individual child’s strengths.
One evening at Casa Madre, the boy I tutor told me he couldn’t figure out his math homework because he had a “bad brain.” It broke my heart to hear him say that and it reminded me of the similar anguish I felt as a child when I struggled to understand a challenging math lesson. “Every brain is different,” I told him, “and you have a good brain! Let’s try something different.” So we switched things up. We used visual representations of the numbers: blocks. “Ah-Ha!” It clicked.
One of the most valuable learning theories I discovered during my time in college was the VARK model, and I still refer to it when tutoring. According to the VARK model, there are four types of learners: Visual, auditory, reading and writing, and kinesthetic.
For me, the most memorable lessons from in my educational career didn’t come from a textbook, they came from experience. I’m a kinesthetic learner, meaning I learn best by doing and got the most out of hands-on lessons. I had a gift for the arts, and the classes I gained the most from were those that incorporated experiments, games, acting and creative projects in the lessons.
Because of experiences with teaching strategies used to teach large groups of high school and college-age young adults, we mentors and tutors sometimes forget how important it is to adapt to each child’s individual strengths, needs and circumstances. Not every child is going to respond silent reading or flashcards. For so many children we minister to, creativity and play are a crucial part of their learning process. A game of Jenga or Tip-It prepares children from the basic concepts of physics. Storytelling and journaling help children develop literacy. There are many ways to learn, and learning can be fun!
One of my goals this coming year is to help the children I work discover their own gifts and figure out how they learn best so that they can succeed in their future educational endeavors.