How to Know Your Child's Learning Style

First things first, no one really agrees on the different styles of learning, but everyone has an opinion. Most would agree that everyone seems to learn best in different ways, some with only one learning style, while others learn through a variety of styles. Your learning style is the natural or habitual pattern that is used in acquiring and processing information. Simply put, we acquire knowledge through our senses and process it internally and externally. We use every sense to learn, but often have a primary sense by which learning comes easiest. We also learn individually and with others, but usually one style benefits us most.

In my work as a licensed educator and now as a licensed counselor, I have developed a simplified model which has helped me understand myself and others in the process of growth and change – be it academic, emotional, or spiritual.

This process involves three areas – experiences (emotions), beliefs (thoughts), and actions (behaviors). For instance, I believe water moccasins are aggressive and temperamental because I picked up a fish trap as a child and experienced a large snake hiss and strike at me. No amount of reading about this venomous snake could have impressed upon me the weight of this experienced belief. The same applies to our children’s learning: they need to learn through their senses and take action and experience what they are learning. I would not have learned to successfully play the trumpet or throw a baseball without receiving instruction, and then gain experience by playing with others and myself. The following are seven commonly held learning styles which incorporate the above:

Visual/Spatial: Pictures and images as well as the use of spatial awareness.

Aural/Auditory: Using sounds, music and rhythm.

Verbal/Linguistic: Using words through/with speech and writing.

Physical/Kinesthetic: Using your body and the sense of touch as you acquire information.

Logical/Mathematical: Using logic, reasoning and systems.

Social/Interpersonal: Preferring to learn in groups or with other individuals.

Solitary/Intrapersonal: Preferring to work alone through self-study

Most of us use an array of these, as well as different styles with different subjects. We are also capable of developing those areas which don’t come as naturally to us.

The question for us as parents is how can we best help our child(ren) experience and act upon the instruction they are receiving at school. Homework should be an example of this, but often falls short by using only verbal or visual styles to reinforce learning. We can begin by helping our children identify their preferred learning style, which will better set them up for success when studying at home. There are many self-assessments available online to help you further understand this, but it is fair to say that your child will show you how they learn best.

Here are a few questions to help you to start thinking through your child’s preferred learning style. Do they tend to doodle, fidget, chew gum or walk around their table as they work? Do they end up in the middle of the kitchen or in a corner of their room as they do homework? Which subjects do they tend to do better in and how are these subjects taught to them?

I hope to convey that each style is important, no style is considered better than another. If you can help your child(ren) learn their preferred style(s) and then develop their non-preferred styles, they will invariably do better academically in the long run. The following are a few tips for nurturing each style:

Visual/Spatial: Let them draw out the story they are reading, problem they are solving or spelling words they are memorizing.

Aural/Auditory: Let them listen to music, tap their pencil or hum along as they do their homework. I had one album I listened to every time I studied during graduate school.

Verbal/Linguistic: Let them talk out loud or write in a journal as they seek to process the information they are working on.

Physical/Kinesthetic: Let them stand up and walk around, play with rocks or bounce as they study.

Logical/Mathematical: Help them make graphs and systems with the information as they acquire it.

Social/Interpersonal: Have them set up their homework on the kitchen table or invite friends over to study.

Solitary/Intrapersonal: Provide them a quiet space for homework, free of distractions or the intrusion of pets or siblings.

I have asked my former colleague Kristina Burrow-Woodruff, a licensed Art therapist, to write the following about the importance and benefit of incorporating art into learning.

'As an Art Therapist and artist, I have always had a deep personal understanding of the importance of creating art while learning. Also, as a professor teaching ‘Child Development and Psychology’ I lectured about many different theories and styles of learning. By creating art during learning children incorporate together many of the theories and styles of learning. While working as an Art Therapist in various settings I have seen that the creation of art helps with problem solving, decision-making, motor skills, language development, and visual learning. Studies have been conducted that corroborate what I have seen. Other studies report that children show more motivation, pay closer attention, and remember what they learned more easily when arts are integrated into learning.

Personally, I have always doodled. I learned early on that my doodling actually helped me retain more information during lectures. When I looked at my doodles later I could reconstruct a whole lot of the information I had heard during class. I remembered much more when I doodled than when I didn’t. Recently, there has been much psychological research that shows doodling can help with paying attention, staying focused, retaining information, problem solving, grasping new concepts, and generating new ideas or insights. So, my encouragement in learning is get busy creating and doodle on!'