Have you ever been in a classroom or at a seminar and looked around? Some people watch the speaker intently, others are taking copious notes, and some may be listening intently (maybe with their eyes closed to focus on what they are hearing). Each of these individuals is exhibiting a different type of learning preference and it’s important parents & nannies learn the style of the children in their care.
We learn when we make connections between previous knowledge and experiences and new information or experiences. But we do not all learn in the same way. How these connections are made differs from person to person. Thus, we all have a preferred learning style. It can be described in many ways, but generally falls into one or more of these categories: visual, verbal, auditory, or kinesthetic.
Having a preferred learning style is the mode in which your brain best processes and retains information; however, it doesn’t mean you don’t learn with the other styles. A preferred learning style may simply create new neural pathways in the brain more quickly while making existing neural pathways stronger.
This is true for children as well as adults. Children learn from seeing, reading, hearing, and doing. Parents and caregivers can support each child’s preferred learning style by first identifying the style and then providing new information in a compatible manner.
Different groups describe learning styles in different ways and let’s focus on 4 learning styles (Visual, Verbal Auditory, and Kinesthetic). Let’s define the learning styles, list common characteristics and provide ways to facilitate learning for a child with this preference.
Visual: The visual learner tends to prefer pictures, diagrams or charts, demonstrations and videos. They see to understand. They often pay close attention to the body language of the speaker. The best way for a visual learner to retain a new concept is through linking the concept with diagrams or other mental images. They generally like to read and are often good spellers. They may have trouble following verbal instructions and may be easily distracted by noise or side conversations.
These students may present themselves as copious note-takers or avid readers and are able to translate abstract concepts into words and essays. They may tend toward technology-driven careers and other visual occupations such as architecture, design, photography and art.
Visual learners often display the following learning characteristics:
- They tend to remember faces better than names
- They memorize things more easily if they can see them on paper
- They notice and remember details
- They prefer to watch and learn as opposed to talking or doing
To help a visual learner understand a new concept, have them draw an illustration. It will help if they can use charts, graphs, maps, diagrams and timelines to depict and organize new information. Teach the child how to identify and write down/highlight key information. Using colored markers or highlighters can help the visual learner separate key data. When giving verbal directions, write down key steps on a note pad. Whenever possible, demonstrate what you want the child to do. Use flashcards for memorization.
Verbal: The verbal learner prefers words over pictures. They think in words, not images. They generally have good listening skills and can express their thoughts well. Since a lot of the school curriculum is taught verbally, they generally do well in school. They benefit from group study and discussions, summaries, and stories. They are skilled at creating and delivering both oral and written reports. They usually have excellent memories and many become teachers and professors.
Verbal learners often display the following learning characteristics:
- They usually like to read and have extensive vocabularies
- They often talk to themselves – even talking themselves through new tasks
- They enjoy classroom discussions and participate eagerly
- They are usually skilled writers
To help a verbal learner, you can create jingles that help them remember key concepts. If the verbal learner needs to memorize a list, make up a mnemonic or phrase. Have them verbally explain new concepts to you. Talking their way through new material is a great way to help the verbal learner understand it. Have them explain drawings and diagrams and then write their explanations down. Make a list detailing steps, processes, or procedures needed to successfully accomplish a task. If the child is given a long reading assignment, teach them to pull out keywords and list them separately.
Auditory: The auditory learner is a listener. They depend on hearing and speaking as the main way of learning. Auditory learners remember what they hear more clearly than what they see or feel. These learners interpret the essential meaning of speech by listening to the tone of voice, pitch and speed. They rely on sounds, music and rhythms to retain information. Auditory learners love background music and may hum or drum their fingers when learning new and complex information. They may become musicians as they have a deep appreciation of sound and music and enjoy the performing arts.
Auditory learners often display the following learning characteristics:
- Whisper the words on a page as they read
- Have difficulty being quiet for long periods of time
- Memorize things by reading them aloud
- Hum or sing often
To help an auditory learner, give them the opportunity to listen closely. Make sure to speak clearly. Have discussions and debates so the auditory learner can understand all key concepts. When possible, incorporate background music in the study session. Help the child create jingles and rhymes to to retain information.
Kinesthetic: The kinesthetic learner learns by doing. Children who are kinesthetic learners best understand information through a tactile representation of information. They use their whole body while learning and usually have a high level of gross motor skill controls. They have a need to touch and handle things while studying or listening. They may struggle with teaching styles that involve only auditory and visual lessons. Kinesthetic learners are often creative and may have hobbies that reflect that creativity. They are usually coordinated and agile and may become professional athletes or performers.
Kinesthetic learners often display the following learning characteristics:
- They become distracted when sitting for long periods, preferring activity and exploration
- They doodle while listening and processing new information
- They use a move a lot – gesturing and pacing or tapping their foot when doing schoolwork
- They stand close to people and touch them to get their attention
To help a kinesthetic learner, encourage them to take notes while listening – the act of writing helps them stay focused. Have them do homework in blocks of time with a physical activity between sections. Provide hands-on material such as globes, maps, blocks, and models whenever possible. If you are drilling them on spelling words or other information, have them use a fidget spinner or other minor physical activity to help them focus.
Some kids are stronger at processing new information and experiences through the visual sense (seeing a picture). Others process better using their verbally (through words). Auditory learners, respond better to auditory stimuli (listening). Kids who learn best through physical movement are kinesthetic learners (manipulating materials, performing). There is no right or wrong preferred learning style and many times children (and adults) prefer different styles depending on the situation. When you understand how a child learns best, you can help them in all areas of learning.