We all learn in different ways. Understanding your child's learning style is a key factor in helping them enjoy and succeed in school.
It’s late; your child is still sitting in front of a pile of homework, head in hands, with no end in sight.
Back at school the next day, your child is acting out, disrupting the class and endlessly complaining about being bored. Whatever the teacher says seems to go in one ear and out the next.
You know there is something wrong. You know that your child is usually keen and curious. She or he is usually interested in one or two subjects at school, so this new flippant behaviour is making you worry. And the worst part of it all is that try as you may to help your child out, it seems like learning is always a struggle.
But it doesn’t have to be.
The key to success at school, for students of any age, is understanding the different types of learning styles. In the 1920’s, various psychologists and educational specialists began to develop and test various approaches to learning. Thus, based on the studies of people like Grace Fernald, von Erich Keller, Samuel T. Orton, Anna Gillingham, Bessie Stillman and Maria Montessori, the VAK (Visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic) model of learning was born.
This model was later further developed into more specific models that break down the three main learning styles, but it still provides a solid framework for any parent wishing to help their child out.
Here is a breakdown of each learning style:
Auditory learners absorb most information by listening. They prefer to listen to information being presented rather than seeing it written down in front of them. Reciting information out loud or putting information to music or rhymes helps auditory learners commit what they learn to memory. Listening to wordless music in the background while studying can help.
Visual learners prefer to see information in front of them to better understand it. Information is best displayed to visual learners in maps, graphs, charts, pictures, etc. These types of learners prefer writing information down where they can look at it over again to review it. Using cue cards, colour-coded notes and avoiding visual distractions (TV or a busy window) is best for a visual learner’s success.
Kinaesthetic learners learn by taking a hands-on approach. That is, they prefer to actually demonstrate how to do things rather than verbally explain how things are done. These learners often learn best while being active (pacing, walking around reading, etc.) rather than sitting still at a desk. Kinaesthetic learners should take plenty of study breaks to avoid monotony and listlessness, which will hinder their performance.
Michael De Grande, the Executive Director of Sylvan Learning Centre in Qatar, stresses the importance of figuring out your child’s preferred learning type early on.
"Identifying a child’s learning style is important for parents, schools and teachers so varied learning input and output opportunities and environments are provided to improve and enhance the learning experience for each child," he explains. "One-size-fits-all is not an effective nor an efficient learning model."
To help identify a preferred learning style, De Grande stresses that observation is key. He suggests that if you simply spend time with your child as an observer, without interacting with them, you can tell a lot about how they prefer to play and learn.
"Let the child choose what he or she wants to play or do and try not to direct what they do or give directions," he says. "Watch them play, engage with them, but don’t direct. Observe what they do, how they do it, what they pay attention to, what they prefer, and to listen to what they say."
While you are observing your child, make note of:
- What the child is doing when she or he is most focused
- What she or he spends most of his or her time doing when they can choose the activity
- What conflicts (if any) arise when interacting with others
- What types of activity least interest your child and/or makes them frustrated
Based on your observations after a few opportunities of being able to observe your child, you may notice certain patterns that will help you identify a preferred learning style.
Adele Samarani, a 36-year-old occupational therapist, feels that it is necessary for the parents or the students themselves to identify a learning preference.
However, Samarani stresses the importance of being able to tell the difference between a preference in learning styles as opposed to a potential learning disability.
"If a certain area of learning is consistently problematic, it might indicate learning disabilities," she says. "So it’s important for parents to be involved in the learning process."
By understanding and being able to identify your child’s individual learning preference, you have the advantage of making the learning process much less stressful and ultimately more successful.
The next step to becoming an even better student is to try to improve on your child’s weak areas of learning. Just because you have identified a learning style that works them, you shouldn’t simply stick to it and hope for the best. You never know when the situation will arise where they may be forced to learn something in a style that is not their strength.
"If a child’s learning style is different from the teacher’s teaching style, you should dialogue with the teacher about your observations of your child’s learning style," explains De Grande.
Whether you are talking to their teacher or they are taking the initiative themselves, it is the hope that the teacher will appreciate your efforts and work together to find a compromising solution.
“Teachers and schools should understand and promote a varied learning environment in order to stimulate and support each child’s individual learning style," says De Grande. "A truly vocational teacher will appreciate the time and effort you have made to get actively involved in your child’s education and will value the information you provide him or her with."