This article first appeared on parenting website coffeegroup.org 🙂
Lovin’ that Learning Style
Somewhere near the top of the parents infinite list of daily jobs is ‘responsibly guide your child through life’. On the child’s list is ‘learn something every day’ (this one comes after ‘wake up early’ and ‘empty breakfast bowl on floor’). The best learning happens through play so for generations now parents have found ingenious ways of sneaking knowledge into their kids via ‘games’. The foundations of learning are established by the age of three so as a parent it pays to show excitement about the world from the day you bring the baby home. Your child will grow up sharing this enthusiasm, and have no idea until they’re an adult themselves that their folks were making it all up as they went along.
Make it easy on yourself by tuning in to your child’s learning style. There are three main sensory inputs, or learning facilities. Broadly speaking, some children like to use their eyes (visual), some their ears (auditory) and some their hands (tactile, or kinaesthetic). There is generally a dominant learning style, followed by a close second; in this way we are hard wired to absorb information through a few different avenues. Confusingly, a child’s style often differs from his or her parents – evolution’s way of mixing it up a little.
If you’re aware of how your child takes in information best you can play on their strengths and create opportunities that offer maximum learning. For example, if your child likes to touch then hear – offer ‘cause and effect’ type toys with buttons to push which then make noises. Poking the cat till it meows would fall under this category; a learning opportunity often relished by crawling babies when their mothers turn their backs – but probably better to go with the activities that don’t leave quite so many scratch marks.
So how to determine learning style? It’s a matter of paying attention to your child when he or she is a baby, and noticing the way they like to interact with the world. Subtle clues when they start to get independent – for example particularly messy dinner times, with little hands in food more than usual, might reveal a tactile child.
Visual learners learn best by seeing because they remember things as pictures inside their heads. They love anything that involves their eyes, they like to read books and enjoy written records – this type of child will love a photo wall all about them (let’s face it, who doesn’t like that!). They enjoy maps and love ‘hide and seek’ books (like the Where’s Wally series).
Tactile learners love to touch and be touched. They enjoy getting up and dancing, drawing and painting, and learn to do things by physically doing them. Give them plenty of blocks to build with (and hurl around). Let them help you with the cooking, and bury things for them to dig up – they love a good treasure hunt. (When they’re a bit older ‘underwear basketball’ is a great way to get them to put their clothes away – open the drawer – stand back with the washing basket, holler encouragement, and they’re away!)
Auditory learners delight in sounds. They hear things that other types of learners don’t – by becoming more attuned than most to different volumes and tones. They’ll enjoy library storytimes, or for a change at bedtime try singing their favourite book to them (the sillier the better). Auditory learners love to talk and jabber away to anyone who’ll listen – here’s where the cat comes in handy again.
Don’t make a fuss about mistakes. Young children don’t respond well to pressure and if they are worried about getting it wrong it will paralyse them. Combat this with lavish praise. It’s the attempts you’re rewarding rather than the end results. By doing this the child learns to persevere through frustration so they enjoy the journey as well as the achievement of the goal at the end.
Whatever their learning style, teach them that discovery via trial and error brings results – set them up early on in life to go get them. You may be able to retire early when they invent something amazing. Or at the very least you’ll have raised a person that leaps into life boots n’ all. Our country will thank you!
By Liz Donnelly, creator of the Eardrop’s Journeys educational language and listening CDs.