3 Ways Kids’ Personalities Affect Learning
By now you know I like to geek out about personality.
I’ve written about the personalities of homeschool moms.
I’ve theorized about kids’ personalities and learning styles.
Over the last few months, then, you can be sure I’ve fielded numerous emails on this topic. And while I love troubleshooting personality questions and applications, there’s one topic that recurs that makes me nervous:
What curriculum should I use for my child’s personality?
Here’s where educational philosophy comes into play. This is why you need one. When you have one, you won’t be stumped by questions like this.
Your child’s personality does not change the curriculum.
Now, often we homeschool moms use the word “curriculum” to mean the specific program we’re using. The root of the word curriculum and its broader meaning refers to the overarching direction we’ve chosen, the way we’ve determined we’ll achieve our ends.
Either way, if your curriculum is solid and your path clear, it does not need to change based on either your child’s or even your own personality.
What will change is your tone and tactics and your expectations.
Learning is the work of each child. We provide the means and the structure, and they do the work. The means, the materials – if quality – do not change.
The amount and detail of structure each child needs will differ.
The way they go about their work and what they draw out will differ.
As Charlotte Mason wrote:
We spread an abundant and delicate feast in the programmes and each small guest assimilates what he can. […]All sit down to the same feast, and each one gets according to his needs and powers.
Charlotte Mason, again:
Our business is to give him mind-stuff, and both quality and quantity are essential.
A quantity of quality we bring to our children, along with structure and accountability. They bring themselves and do the work of learning – and it is that work that differs by personality.
If your curriculum doesn’t work for all personality types, it’s not a sound and grounded curriculum.
Even when following the same curriculum, however, there are three ways each child’s personality affects his learning.
A child’s personality is key to his motivation.
Charlotte Mason warns us against motivating children with prizes and grades. Such tactics might be our default and they might be easy, but they are forms of external motivation.
What we want to achieve is internal or intrinsic motivation in each student. This takes years to mature, which is why we are tempted with the short-term fixes of external motivators. We love quick fixes. However, permanent and lasting motivation never comes out of quick fixes, but from long-haul perseverance.
Differing personalities have differing trigger points for intrinsic motivation.
Some types love to finish things. Others love to explore things – and don’t care if the exploration ever ends. Some types want praise and affirmation, while others care more about meeting objective standards or seeing concrete results.
When we know what our child interprets as success and progress, we can ensure they see that along their journey. Seeing small wins with each steps increases motivation naturally and also decreases (note that I did not say eliminates) stress and frustration, even when the work is hard.
In Gifts Differing, Isabel Briggs-Myers connects type development (becoming a mature version of your type) with motivation:
Both home and school should provide them with the experience of doing particular things well and thereby earning the satisfaction they crave. Because the various types have different gifts and needs, the specific things they do well and satisfactions they crave cannot be the same for all children.
She gives examples of differing sorts of internally-motivating rewards:
- extra pleasures or possessions for a sensing child
- special freedoms or opportunities for an intuitive
- new dignity or authority for a thinker
- more praise or companionship for a feeling type
Discover what kind of small wins yourself and your children are looking for and feel most satisfied by, and make sure you’ve set up your feedback or your structure to make those small wins obvious.
A child’s personality is key to his attention.
Isabel Briggs-Myers, in her book Gifts Differing applies her personality theory to learning styles and the maturing of children.
To learn a new fact or idea, that is, to make it permanently accessible to voluntary recall, the child must give it enough attention to fit it in his or her mind.
John Milton Gregory agrees:
Without attention the child can learn nothing.
As does Charlotte Mason:
No intellectual habit is so valuable as that of attention; it is a mere habit but it is also the hall-mark of an educated person.
Whatever we must have before we begin reading or teaching, we must have attention.
Isabel Briggs-Myers relates this to learning and type directly:
In teaching, the other main problem related to type is the students’ interest. Intuitives and sensing types differ greatly in what they find interesting in any subject even if they like, that is, are interested in, the same subjects. Intuitives like the principle, the theory, the why. Sensing types like the practical application, the what and the how. Most subjects have both theoretical and practical aspects and can be taught the the emphasis on either.
Some things more naturally trigger interest and attention based on personality type.
The entire lesson should not revolve only around what a particular child’s interest is. A child is not nor should not be limited to knowing about only what is instinctively interesting.
Instead, we can open their attention by touching their natural interest, then broaden it to the lesson we’re presenting. By securing their attention first, we can lead them on in paths of learning.
For example, if you have an ISFJ, ISTJ, ESFJ, or ESTJ – a type that leads their learning process with introverted sensing – you’ll want to make sure to present your material as reliable and proven. Share a fact or a detail, not an abstract concept or connection, but a concrete point of reference or piece of proof. That is what they relate to most readily, and once they are on board, you’re ready to go.
A child’s personality is key to his connection.
Learning does not look the same in each personality type. Some what to put their knowledge into action, some through theorizing or making abstract connections, some through creative expression, some through applying it in real life situations. Some will really want to talk it all over, while some will want to ponder quietly. Some will express what they’re learning with dramatic flair, while others might prefer lists and Venn diagrams.
We don’t really know a thing until we’ve done something with it, but the ways of allowing our minds – and even bodies – to act on the material vary greatly, and different personalities will gravitate toward different sorts of expression.
When we, as the teachers and mentors, recognize the available options for minds to work through the material, we can allow freedom in learning – not in the material learned, but in the manner that learning is expressed. We don’t need to rely on tests only or on written or oral narrations only (though both can be effective for all types – as long as personal expression is allowed), but also suggest options such as drawn narrations, drama presentations, charts, lists, or maybe even letting the child write the test rather than take it.
What matters is the mind making the knowledge its own. The way that is done most effectively or most readily varies by type.
A classical curriculum is for every personality.
The curriculum is time-tested and time-honored. It does not change with the winds of fads nor with the whims of personality.
We should consider the personhood – the personality – of our children as we walk alongside them on the path of education, but the destination and even the path is the same for us all.
What might trip us up, what might spur us on, what might inspire us most will differ, but it is a path that is broadly human, above individual personalities.
So know your child’s personality, but also choose a solid curriculum and stick with it. You don’t need to change everything for every child. Yes, when you homeschool you can customize to that level, but that doesn’t mean you should.
As Charlotte Mason wrote:
The teacher who allows his scholars the freedom of the city of books is at liberty to be their guide, philosopher and friend; and is no longer the mere instrument of forcible intellectual feeding.
If we’re attempting force-feeding, personality will inform ways of doing that better per type. However, if we’re pursuing real learning, we have freedom to give each personality freedom in the city of books, guiding them toward truth and not fearing when they each take what they will within the large and generous city gates.
Stick with the tried, true, and timeless.
Personality will help you with how to stick; it doesn’t change the curriculum.
So, now what?
How can you know what personality type your child is?
How can you find out what success and stress looks like for his type once you know? How can you know how to connect with his preferences and strengths?
I’ve pulled together what I’ve learned about cognitive functions and type theory, applying it not to career advice or workplace dynamics, but to showing how these concepts can help us with our home management and our home relationships.
Click here to find out more about my new resource: Practical Personality Portfolio: A handbook to apply MBTI at home