How many articles do we see nowadays that say things like “Each child is unique” or “Let your child interpret the world in their own way”? Yet, in most schools, children are expected to do things in a very specific and certain way. Our children are taught exactly how to learn, when ideally they should be discovering that for themselves.
I remember constantly seeing bright red comments such as “Show your working out!” or “Where is your mind map?” in my primary school workbooks. I had written the correct answer, or a great essay, but was always marked down because I didn’t do the type of planning “they” wanted. Luckily, as I got older, I learned how to “fake” the dreaded mind map, wasting time I could have spent on my next essay.
Here’s the good news – thanks to the Internet, we have a plethora of resources at our fingertips to help us help our children. The key is identifying your child’s natural way of learning and encouraging it. Hopefully, this blog post will point you in the right direction. Here are the four basic types of learners:
If your child actually enjoys doing things like mind maps (unlike me), you have a visual learner. Visual learners learn through seeing. Children who are visual learners thrive by observing behaviour (yours, their teachers, etc.) and often think in pictures. Visual learners may find that using arrows, charts, diagrams and symbols help them learn.
A whiteboard is a visual learner’s best friend! They can use plenty of colours to help them visualise what they are trying to learn. If your child is younger, flashcards are an excellent resource that are very easy to make at home. Your child can even help make the flashcards, making it a bonus bonding exercise!
Auditory learners prefer listening to information instead of reading it. These children thrive by participating in discussions and “talking things through”. Reading aloud to themselves may also help them remember things. Some auditory learners may find that making up rhymes, songs and mnemonics help them recall content that they have studied.
I once taught a young man whose parents would record his study notes for him to listen to. His severe dyslexia made reading notes very difficult and frustrating, but sitting quietly, listening to his notes worked very well.
Auditory learners often find it difficult to concentrate with background noise, because their brain focuses on it so easily. So, if your child is an auditory learner, try and give them a quiet place to study and do their homework.
Reading and writing learners
Reading and writing learners are drawn to the written word. This is the more “traditional” method of learning and children often struggle with it. These children are drawn to text-heavy resources and love writing essays and reading books of any kind.
Children who learn by reading and writing take copious notes in class and, come exam time, write out their study notes and read and re-read them. These learners enjoy making lists and often thrive on logical study methods, such as using clear headings, bullet points and numbering.
The first thing that pops into my mind when I think of a kinaesthetic learner – that is, a child who learns by physically acting out events and moving around – is an episode of Hannah Montana (yes, I watched Hannah Montana and yes, I loved it!) where Miley makes up a song and dance to learn the names of the bones in the human body. Here’s a link to the video if you have 3 minutes to spare: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMV8y2b4whI.
Kinaesthetic learners are tactile learners who learn through physical sensations and exploration. If your child struggles to sit still, or takes breaks every five minutes while studying, you may very well have a kinaesthetic learner on your hands. If this is the case, it is very important to allow your child time to move around and explore.
How do I identify my child’s learning style?
The answer is simple – observe your child. Do they prefer to read a book, or do they want to run around outside? If your child is reading, are they reading silently, or aloud to themselves? Does your child enjoy drawing, or would they prefer to watch television or play on their tablet? All these simple behaviours point to a preferred learning style or styles – your child will not necessarily stick to one!
Take note of how your child expresses themselves. Your visual learner may enjoy “people watching”, storing what they see for later use, while your kinaesthetic learner imitates what they see instead of just watching.
What interests your child? What are their current “obsessions”, likes and dislikes? Do you have a child who sings along to every hit song, but for the life of them cannot remember the information they have just read? This is a sure sign of an auditory learner! Visual learners often enjoy reading, watching television or looking at pictures. On the other hand, if your child enjoys physical activities and wants to play every sport offered by their school, your child may be a kinaesthetic learner. If your child loves writing stories or can spend hours reading, they may find it easier to use reading and writing to study.
When your child is faced with a problem, how do they go about solving it? A kinaesthetic learner may use their fingers to count or bounce their foot while thinking. If your child mumbles while doing their homework, or wants to discuss a homework problem with you, your child is most likely an auditory learner. Visual learners rely on their eyes to spot a problem. A reading and writing learner may make notes as they work through the problem at hand.
The most important thing to remember is that, while your child may show a dominant learning style, they may also use a combination of styles, or different styles for different subjects.
Inter- or intrapersonal learning
Another very important aspect of learning is to identify whether your child is a social learner (interpersonal) or solitary learner (intrapersonal).
A social learner studies best in groups where they can discuss concepts and bounce ideas off one another. Setting up a study group is a good idea if your child does not like to study alone. If this is not possible, you can be their “study buddy” and help them study and talk through their school work.
A solitary learner, on the other hand, needs to work alone. Group work sends a shudder down their spine. While a solitary learner may seek you or their teacher out to clarify something that they don’t understand, the bulk of their studying is done in a quiet place, away from other people and distractions. You can support them by letting them know you are there if they need you, and perhaps quietly offering a snack or something to drink once in a while.
Your child’s journey of learning is, like everything else about them, unique, and is bound to change as they grow. You know them best and you are the absolute best person to support them in their journey. Listen to them, observe them and support them where and when you can. Let them know that you are there for them, whether it’s to help them make up a song or rhyme, dance with them, get your hands dirty or get into a lively discussion about the wonders of the world.