I can remember looking at math word problems as a child, and feeling none of this made any sense. My dad, who was good at math, couldn’t understand why I was unable get it. So secretly I would draw pictures of the problem and “lo and behold, I got it!” Later I learned that I’m a visual learner and need to “see” the problem in order to understand.
Some children are talkers. In order to process information, these learners like to discuss it with others. After they’ve heard the words, they understand and usually remember the information. We call them audio learners.
Another group learn while active and playing games. If they can manipulate objects with their hands, they are able to understand the concept and it soaks into their long-term memory.
There are a lot of ways professionals categorize different learning styles and the procedure can be complex. However, the most widely used system, divides all learning styles into three basic categories: Visual Learners, Auditory Learners, and Kinesthetic Learners.
Why do we need to know our child’s learning style?
When we realize there are differences in the way children learn, we won’t be trying to force them to learn the way we do. Just think how much easier homework would be if parents were able to help, using techniques that best fit their child. If my father had known that I was a visual learner, he would have been able to show me how to draw pictures of the problem or to make a visual graph to help me understand. I would have felt that drawing pictures was an accepted method of learning instead of being secretive about it.
Oftentimes children feel at fault if they can’t grasp a problem when it is explained verbally. The child who needs hands-on activities is frustrated and can’t sit still during long dissertations. Their behavior is then characterized as not acceptable, and a different learning style becomes a discipline problem. The kinesthetic learners have a difficult time conforming to our expectations.
Think of the difference it could make, if you informed the teacher about your child’s learning style, early in the year. Many teachers don’t have the time to analyze each child’s style. They usually teach according to their own particular learning style.
Children who have learned to recognize and understand their own learning styles are the most likely to succeed. They can use techniques that work specifically for them. I know of a child who had struggled all through school. She finally got to college and was overwhelmed with college instructors who required copious note taking. This was not her learning style. She needed to hear the information again and again. She realized this and used a tape recorder to play the information back while she repeated much of it aloud. As an audio learner this was her successful method of learning.
Children can use a mixture of learning styles or be dominant in one. A child with diverse learning styles is usually a more flexible learner. Read through the characteristics of each learning style. See if you can recognize your own child’s style(s) from the following descriptions
Characteristics of visual learners (65% of the population):
- Learns through images
- Enjoys art and drawing
- Read maps, charts and diagrams well
- Likes mazes and puzzles
- Use lists or outlines to organize thoughts
- Is able to spot recurring patterns in information
- Remembers where information is located on a page
- Sees pictures or words in the “mind’s eye”
- Is able to visualize stories
- Often a good speller (they can see the word in their mind)
- Has a vivid imagination
- Becomes impatient or drifts away when extensive listening is required
- Color is important and aids memory
- Likes to piece things together
- Usually likes reading/writing better than math/science
- Fond of doodling
- Enjoys tracing words and pictures
- Often accused of being a daydreamer in class
How can I help my Visual Learner?
Since math is abstract, it is important to draw a picture or explain with diagrams.
Encourage and teach your child how to draw pictures to understand math problems. Usually visual children are very creative and are able to find a good memory technique to remember math vocabulary or procedures. They just need to know it is an acceptable method.
In reading, suggest visual clues. Offer picture books of all types; when reading chapter books together, encourage visualization of story and scenes at intervals. Provide colored pens for note taking or writing. Suggest writing the syllables of new spelling or vocabulary words in different colors. Help them to make lists or outlines of information. Suggest drawing a picture of historical information that needs to be remembered.
Characteristics of auditory learners (30% of the population):
- Tends to remember and repeat ideas that are verbally presented
- Learns well through lectures
- Is an excellent listener
- Is often the leader for a group discussion
- Can reproduce symbols, letters or words by hearing them
- Likes to talk
- Enjoys plays, movies
- Can learn concepts by listening to tapes
- Enjoys music
- Enjoys question/answer sessions
- Retains information that is set to rhyme
- Finds small group discussions stimulating and informative
- Must hear himself say information aloud
How can I help my Audio Learner?
These children learn best through verbal lectures, discussions, talking things through and listening to what others have to say. Talk with your child about the homework and have him or her explain it to you. This reinforces the learning. Audio learners often benefit from reading text aloud and using a tape recorder.
Read math problems together and break a word problem into smaller segments. Discuss what it means and talk about possible solutions. Why would this work or not work? The audio learner needs this type of dialogue.
In every subject it is necessary to listen to your child read the information aloud and then discuss it. This may seem time consuming to a parent but is the best way for the audio learner to succeed. Plus it builds a closer relationship. Audio learners don’t do well working by themselves.
Audio learners absorb information like a sponge. They can listen to a stimulating educational video and remember most of the information, especially if there is a discussion afterwards. If there is information that must be memorized, put it to rhyme or music. Make it fun!
Characteristics of kinesthetic learners (5% of the population):
- Learns by doing, direct involvement
- Often fidgets or finds reasons to move
- Is not very attentive to visual or auditory presentations
- Wants to be “doing” something
- Tries things out
- Likes to manipulate objects
- Gestures when speaking
- Is often a poor listener
- Responds to music by physical movement
- Likes clapping to rhymes
- Uses hand movements when sounding out words
- Often finds success in physical response activities
Kinesthetic/tactile children learn best through a hands-on approach, actively exploring the physical world around them. Touching things, trying them out, and moving their bodies are all ways kinesthetic children learn. They may find it hard to sit still for long periods and often become distracted by their need for activity and exploration. These students have high energy levels. They think and learn best while moving. They often lose much of what is said during a lecture and have problems concentrating when asked to sit and read. These students prefer to do, rather than watch or listen. Are often diagnosed as ADHD
How can I help my Kinesthetic/Tactile Learner?
These learners need lots of objects to work and manipulate. Physical objects are essential, especially for math. There are a lot of hands-on materials available in educational stores and many teachers are happy to loan some of their teaching materials to parents. For example, if you are helping your child with telling time, get an old clock and let him or her move the hands around while you are explaining the idea.
Reading, spelling and writing are often challenging for these children. Buy letters and have the child spell out words using something they can touch and feel. Sometimes using the computer is beneficial since they are moving the keys. Computer math games work well too.
Clapping out syllables while reading words helps kinesthetic learners sound out the word phonetically. If they forget punctuation at the end of a sentence, suggest hand signals like a closed fist for a period, an extended arm for an exclamation mark and a curved hand with extended arm for the question mark. By using the body, information is internalized.
Use games to reinforce learning. For addition and subtraction, play dominoes or card games. Write unfamiliar words on small cards and play “Go fish” or “Concentration” to help reading skills.
All Children Benefit
Knowing your child’s learning style is important stuff! When you are able to help your child in a way where they can respond positively, you are setting a good tone for learning. Self-esteem increases. Your child is much happier because they feel accepted for who they are. They don’t have to learn like someone else. They have special abilities. They are unique!