How to Tell if Your Child Is a Top-Down Learner

Whole green beans in a carton.
Image via Wikipedia

Does your child struggle when you put him down in front of his math book? Are you frustrated in your attempts to get him to do math classwork or homework?

Maybe he’s a top-down learner. If so, you might not know based on his current “regular” work. It will help in his education if you know he needs the big picture before the details – or the big theories before the steps.

I remember learning to do derivatives when watching the foster kids that lived with us. I was eight. I’m a top-down learner. Here’s how to find out if your child is one too:

How the “green beans” con works.

My mom used to leave green beans open in a can on the table. We would walk by and eat them. If she put them on our plate, we would refuse them. So she got us to eat vegetables without asking us to, by just making them available.

You can use the “green beans” con as a test.

For math, put out the harder stuff. Find some books at Half Price Books or someplace cheap in your area. Open up the book. Sit and do some of the math yourself while mumbling aloud. Then walk away.

If he sees his folks (or older sibs) working through those problems, he might be interested. Watch to see if he goes up to the book to check it out (steal a green bean). Be available to answer questions if he asks.

If he can grasp some of  that “higher level” stuff, he’s probably be a top-down learner. He won’t want the building blocks until he sees the plans for the whole house. This could be the cause of some of the struggle and frustration – he’s been given the building blocks instead.

Let him have the big stuff – start “allowing” him to do more of the advanced books. He’ll back up on his own to learn the “lesser” stuff so he can understand the big stuff better. You won’t have to force the work on him anymore.

Share your experience with your top-down or bottom-up learning in the comments!

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2 Responses to How to Tell if Your Child Is a Top-Down Learner

  1. This is such a great suggestion! I wish I had have known earlier on that my son was a “top-down” learner. As I am a “bottom-up” person, I have struggled to often offer him the bigger picture effectively, even now that I know how important it is for his learning. I plan to try this with him. Thanks!

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