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Make learning enjoyable by understanding your child’s learning style, and the way in which they processes information.

What are learning styles?

Melanie Hartgill, an educational psychologist from Johannesburg, says there are several different theories about how many learning styles exist. But there are three main learning pathways:

  • visual (seeing)
  • auditory (hearing)
  • doing (kinaesthetic)

“Three of our five senses are used primarily when learning, storing, recalling and retrieving information. Just as we are predominantly left- or right-brained, we tend to use one modality more than the others.”

Visual learners learn best by seeing what is written on the board. They will enjoy writing and drawing and will grow impatient listening to long lectures. Auditory learners have excellent listening skills and will often prefer to recite information, rather than write it down. Kinaesthetic or tactile learners prefer to be mobile and will often excel at hands-on activities such as experiments.

Glenda Karow, a Durban-based educational psychologist who specialises in learning problems, agrees. “Be careful not to ‘pathologise’ the learning style. It is a preference and not a problem.” She says children should be encouraged to develop various learning styles, which they can adapt depending on the subject being studied. “Students who are able to learn through a variety of ways are more effective learners. Remember, they will have to cope in a variable learning-style world.”

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When can you tell?

Your child’s learning preference will manifest from an early age, as soon as they start interacting with their environment and speaking. “Our learning style is believed to be relatively established by the age of seven years and though we are able to strengthen our styles after this age, we tend to have one dominant style,” Hartgill adds. Having said that, how a child learns may often depend on what is being learnt. Science and maths, for example, will require a more kinaesthetic approach than history.

At school

Experts agree that teaching has evolved to accommodate various learning preferences. There are not that many teachers who don’t cover all three learning styles, but the teaching style will depend on the teacher – their age and preferred teaching method.

Hartgill says teachers should combine different teaching methods to meet the respective needs of their class. “This would mean verbally teaching a concept while making use of visual input, such as notes, handouts, information on the board and then allowing children to work through examples or elements of the task themselves.”

Often it is parents who are stuck on the conventional modes of learning, observes Karow, but by trying something different, such as doing star jumps in the garden instead of sitting at a desk, parents could encourage their child to discover a more comfortable, and rewarding, way of learning.

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How to identify your child’s learning style or preference

Hartgill identifies the characteristics of the three main learning styles. Note that your child may show a stronger leaning to one of these styles, but is probably a combination of all three.

The visual learner:
  • learns with images
  • reads charts, diagrams and maps more easily
  • can sit and play with building blocks
  • may be described as a daydreamer
  • is good at remembering faces, but may forget names
  • prefers to take detailed notes
The kinaesthetic learner:
  • needs to move
  • cannot sit still for long periods
  • uses body language and gestures to communicate
  • needs to be shown things, and not just explained to
  • loves to touch things
  • may be incorrectly labelled as ADHD
  • usually excels in sports
  • is often evident in boys
The auditory learner:
  • thinks in words
  • enjoys storytelling
  • is unlikely to battle with spelling
  • loves reading
  • has an excellent memory for names, dates and trivia
  • enjoys word games
  • is often musically talented
  • doesn’t enjoy writing

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Learning guidelines

Encourage the visual learner to:
  • use memory games, books with pictures and diagrams
  • use coloured paper and pens
  • highlight sections that are important
  • work on the computer
  • sit in the front of the class
  • learn through seeing or reading handouts
Encourage the kinaesthetic learner to:
  • listen to music as they work, if they ask for this
  • take frequent breaks to move around
  • tackle hands-on projects
  • move around while they are working
  • do art projects
  • act out stories
Encourage the auditory learner to:
  • read aloud when writing tests and exams or studying
  • create word problems
  • dictate their work onto a computer dictation system
  • present their assignments verbally
  • encourage debates and discussions
  • use mnemonics to help their memory

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