Often with the very best intentions, we set out to chart the course and plan the events of our children’s lives according to what makes sense to us—the way we did it. . . . But what seldom occurs to us is that other people, perhaps even those in our own family, may view the world in an entirely different way than we do.

This quote is from The Way They Learn, written by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias. Her book covers several different models used to determine learning styles.

As we head into a new school year and prepare to teach our children at home, it can be helpful to understand the different ways of approaching the concept of learning styles (called “learning style models).

This blog post will cover two of the learning style models listed in Tobias’ book, and my next post will cover two more.


This learning style model recognizes that our minds can work very differently. There are different ways that people receive information and process information.

Some kids will perceive things concretely, registering information directly through the five senses. Other kids will perceive things abstractly, visualizing with intuition, intellect, and imagination.

Not only do we perceive information differently, but we use what we know in different ways as well.

Some kids will order things sequentially, organizing in a linear, step-by-step manner, following logical trains of thought; they enjoy having a plan. Other kids will organize things abstractly—they are more impulsive and spontaneous and can skip steps.

When I first read the chapters in The Way They Learn that discuss Mind-styles, I got hung up on the fact that I don’t neatly fit into any of the four categories Tobias gives (concrete/sequential, abstract/sequential, concrete/random, and abstract/random). I think her four categories are generally extracted from the 16 Myers-Briggs personality types, which paints a fuller picture.

The Mind-styles category that applied the most to me (abstract/random) also had many things that did not apply and that was a little frustrating (like, it projected a lot of the Myers-Briggs “feeler” tendencies to that category, which doesn’t describe me at all). So, if you’re familiar with Myers-Briggs, you might be frustrated with Tobias’ information, taking 16 personality types and condensing them into four more limited ones.

But, having said that, Tobias’ information about how we receive and process information is nonetheless worth reading and could potentially be very helpful.

For instance, some children like to have things “mixed-up” to avoid getting bored in school. Other children learn better when they can make a list and have things stay predictable. This is just one example of how understanding Mind-styles can be helpful to a home educator.

Environmental preferences

This learning style model can help parents and educators design the ideal study environment for concentration and learning.

“We all have certain preferences for our most productive learning environments,” Tobias says.

First, ask where your child should study. Not every child will need a neat, quiet, well-lit desk or table to concentrate. Some will want to sit on the floor or couch. Some will prefer lying on a bed. Others need a hard chair to stay alert.

“Try watching what position your child uses most often when engrossed in a book or other favorite task, and let him use the same position for studying,” suggests Tobias.

Next, ask what level of noise a child prefers. Not all kids need quiet. Some kids actually need noise to keep from being distracted.

My oldest daughter, unfortunately, was highly distracted by noise for many years. This was difficult because she has three younger siblings in the home. We finally bought a headset and played calm, classical music for her, and had her do her math in a separate room, which helped significantly!

What about light? “We all seem to have different levels of tolerance for bright or dim light,” Tobias says. “For kids who need a softer light, the key is to use enough light to see without having to strain your eyes.”

Other factors include temperature, hunger, and time of day. Some kids, like adults, will have certain hours where they are naturally more energetic. These environmental factors can affect concentration.

The good news is that homeschoolers have a lot more flexibility to adapt the learning environment to suit the needs of their kids, as compared with traditional schools!

In my next post, I will cover two more learning style models in Tobias’ book The Way They Learn.