Educating at home provides so much freedom in the way we teach our children. There are a variety of learning materials that we can choose from, but most of us have had the experience of choosing something that just doesn’t seem to work as well for one child as it can for another. Really getting to know how each of our children thrive and what some triggers may be that interfere with effective learning allows for a much smoother learning experience for parents and kids.
Our interview with Karen Van Riesen from Incredible Living is packed with lots of guidance and information related to learning styles, personality characteristics and how we can grow closer as a family by understanding those qualities in each other.
Karen lives in Calgary, Alberta, and is a homeschooling pioneer, taking on the education of her children at a time when some in authority were threatening to arrest those who wanted to have control over the Christian education of their children. She partnered with Dr. John Trent, author of The Blessing, who was the mastermind behind the labeling of her four behavioural styles with animal types. You will benefit from her insight here and from the additional resources she has available on her website.
TCS: How do you help homeschool families with your business?
Karen: My vision and prayer is to strengthen families (and to bring hope and encouragement to homeschoolers) that they may succeed in fulfilling their calling. I believe that God has given us amazing clues into our behavioural styles, and if we can learn to ‘read’ our children’s clues, then we can adapt our language, our classroom and our curriculum to their natural learning environment.
TCS: How do behavioural styles impact how we learn?
Karen: Normally, behavioural styles inform learning styles. I am not an expert in educational psychology, but over the years I have become a bit of an expert in predicting behaviour in four critical areas: problem solving, processing new information, managing change and assessing risk. Knowing how God has wired your children and applying this information is critical to your success. My observation is that even though parents are aware at some level, it is often forgotten in the day-to-day living.
Here are some clues:
Lions - Aggressive Problem Solvers, Decisive
- Likes to learn quickly, may be frustrated with a slower pace
- Has own internal motivation-clock, learns for their own reasons, not for anyone else’s reasons
Otters - Optimistic, Trusting
- Likes learning in groups
- Interacts frequently with others
Golden Retrievers - Predictable, Steady
- Accepts a balance between individual and group work
- Shows patience with detailed or technical processes
Beavers - Structured, Risk Aversive
- Prefers individual work over group interaction
- Accepts more impersonal training, such as remote or online
For a more complete list, see Incredible Creatures.
TCS: What benefits do we get from identifying the behavioural styles of our children?
Karen: Understanding behavioural styles of our children, especially when they stand in contrast to our own, causes us to stand in awe of God and his amazing creativity; however, in the moment that positive thought is not the first thing that comes to mind!
Do we want our children to enjoy growing up in our home? I conducted a parenting workshop, and two parents discovered they were a Lion and a Beaver. Both strengths are task-oriented, and the lion is very short on patience with anger being their main emotion. With loss of time as their basic fear, their patience was short with the children. Dad, who was the beaver, was super structured, detail-oriented with loss of quality his basic fear. Their children were golden retriever and otter, both people-oriented and more relational. I asked, “How much fun are you having in your house?” They sheepishly replied, “None.” I hope that they went home and changed that before their children became nervous wrecks!
TCS: Can you share some examples of how we can parent and educate our children better by taking your interactive adventure?
Karen: The adventure is a fun activity for the whole family.
It will unravel mysteries such as: “Why won’t Margie stop acting out and pay attention?” Right, Margie’s an otter! “Okay, Margie. Thanks for that entertaining moment. Now could you just pull back your otter strength a little so we can finish this project?” What a wonderful way to bring up a child rather than scolding and losing your cool. Parents, your kids will quickly learn to identify your behaviour as well, and it really does become a positive and fun way to understand each other.
The Old Schoolhouse® has an excellent review explaining the adventure in detail so I won’t go into it here. However, additional resources - the Family Strengths Wheel and the companion Activity Book - strengthen and lengthen the impact of the adventure. The strength’s wheel is part of the adventure. Each family member places a headshot of themselves on the appropriate sector according to their strengths, resulting in a beautiful picture of the family dynamic that God has created. Just a quick glance can bring insight to each person’s reaction or emotion. How good is that? The activity book, purchased separately, has almost 20 different family activities that each member can choose according to their preference. This helps everyone respect and appreciate other family members’ interests.
TCS: Why is the atmosphere our children learn in so important to their success?
Karen: I facilitate a webinar Discover Your Child’s Natural Learning Habitat. I ask parents to identify what they loved most about school as a child. When this question was asked during a workshop of Christian schoolteachers, some behavioural styles actually chose ‘going home’ as the best part! Who do you think that would be??
Some children need lots of activity and social interaction, and others want quiet routine. As a parent/teacher, my behavioural style has the greatest impact on the environment because I hold the power (or not - one of my children may actually hold the power). If someone other than me has it, then I want to get it back because, ultimately, I am responsible for their education. I can help folks with this through the adventure followed by some coaching.
TCS: Tell us the story of how Incredible Creatures Interactive Adventure came to be?
Karen: My marriage was in trouble. As I was training as a life coach, God in His great mercy led me to a resource called Leading From Your Strengths. I completed the online assessment, and for the first time, I felt that I was understood and not somehow defective in my personality formation. Because I am an Otter/Lion, I of course soon flew to Phoenix to become certified in this wonderful tool. It wasn’t what I expected. It was a wonderful 4 days of learning and repentance, repentance for doing it all wrong in our marriage. But it was a joyous time as well. Subsequently, my husband completed the profile, and we became students of each other’s behaviour and sought to understand the back story of why we do what we do.
I soon realized that I did not understand my five children at all. Their behaviour was a mystery, and we simply did things my way, including my homeschool. I asked the question, “What if parents could know this information about their children? And that’s how Incredible Creatures Interactive Adventure was born. A fellow life coach and I took the information in the adult assessment and created an interactive story for Grade 3 initially, and we facilitated in schools, churches and camps, but it has morphed into a family adventure that you can purchase for your own family.
Karen Van Riesen has 20+ years of training and experience as a life coach, as well as her own life experiences as a spouse, mother, friend, colleague and former homeschooler, to help you understand your God-given strengths and how to use these to build, heal and thrive in your personal and professional relationships.
In addition to Karen’s coaching services, she is regularly invited to speak and present workshops at conferences throughout North America and has worked with non-profits such as The Mustard Seed and the Salvation Army and volunteered overseas with Youth with a Mission.
Her passion for education and helping others has also led her to work with the Micah Project Ugandan Partnership, a Christian school that provides a quality education for children living in deep poverty in rural Uganda. Learn more about Karen at her website https://incredibleliving.ca/.