Visual, auditory, kinesthetic… or all of the above?
Would your child rather read a book or listen to the audio version? Do math or martial arts? Design a poster or participate in a debate?
Parents often pick up on their children’s learning preferences at a young age but may find that they change, blend or expand over time. Your intuition, combined with teacher observations, count for a lot. Understanding how your child learns best from an early age can help ease frustration, enhance their learning experience, and set them up for success — from preschool through elementary, from middle school through college.
What is a learning style, exactly?
It is the preferred way a child or adult perceives, processes and retains new information. To put it more simply, it’s the way you prefer to learn. Researchers recognize three primary learning styles — visual, auditory and tactile/kinesthetic — in addition to the traditional “read and write.”
Most people use a combination of styles. Some people have a dominant style of learning, with minimal use of other styles. Learning styles are not set in stone. You can develop ability in less dominant styles, as well as further develop styles that you already use well.
While children use all of their senses to take in information, they have preferences in how they learn best. In order to help students learn, teachers and parents should teach to as many of these preferences as possible.
Quiz: “What Is My Child’s Learning Style?”
Your young learner might already show a preference for learning in a specific way, or you might notice that certain approaches don’t seem to work. This quiz from the Early Moments™ blog will give you some insight into your child’s learning style. Keep in mind that learning style preferences can change over time as your child grows. Some of us even have more than one learning style.
Click here to take the What Is My Child’s Learning Style? Quiz.
Tips for Parents: Visual, auditory and kinesthetic preferences
Most people are fairly balanced in their learning styles, depending on the task and material. Here are some ideas to help your child learn:
- Surround your child with books! From an early age they will love looking at the pictures and develop a love of the printed page.
- Stock up on art supplies and allow your child to help themselves to paper and crayons or whatever supplies they prefer at all times.
- Color code ideas or notes; use graphs, charts, and other visual methods to understand concepts.
- Use flash cards for memorizing vocabulary words or math facts.
- Read as much as possible to strengthen spelling, vocabulary and comprehension.
- Memorize information by making up silly songs!
- Practice spelling words by saying the letters rather than writing them down.
- Try white noise or music without words in the background as your child studies. Many people with an auditory preference can focus better with a little background noise.
- Repeat or explain ideas out loud; have your child explain the concept to you verbally.
- Read out loud to parents, siblings, pets, or even stuffed animals.
Hands-on (tactile / kinesthetic) preference:
- Keep plenty of Play-Doh and modeling clay on hand at home.
- Look for books that encourage interaction—like pop-ups or books with textures.
- Allow time for frequent study breaks so your child isn’t sitting and doing the same thing for long periods of time.
- Have your child try standing at a desk rather than sitting, or sitting on a bouncy exercise ball instead of a regular chair.
- Chewing gum might help your hands-on learner focus while studying.
No matter what the results of this quiz, keep in mind that research tells us a multi-sensory approach to teaching early reading skills is the most successful—so asking children to see, hear and do while they learn is most likely to be effective.
What are the benefits of understanding learning styles?
By recognizing and understanding a child’s learning styles, teachers can use techniques better suited to them. This improves both the quality and speed of their learning. As a parent, this applies to everyday lessons you teach your child at home as well.
The more parents know about their child’s primary learning style, the more they’re able to be a partner in their child’s education. If your child is struggling to grasp a concept in their homework, you can challenge them to look at the problem in a way that aligns with how they learn best. You can also use your knowledge of a child’s learning style to help ignite their innate curiosity about the world around them.
This is the first in our series on Learning Styles and Preferences. Stay tuned for posts on topics such as:
- Learning Styles vs. Multiple Intelligences: What’s the difference and how are they related?
- Montessori and Learning Styles: Why a multi-sensory approach is best for all learners
- Tactile / Kinesthetic Learning: Hands-on learning should not end at preschool!
What Makes a Great School?
Good schools ask: How smart are you?
Great schools ask: How are you smart?