What's Your Child's Learning Style?
By Idelle Davidson

If you know how your children absorb information,
you can help them become the best learners they can be

Does your child close his eyes when he’s trying to recall a visual image? Does he move his lips when he’s memorizing facts? Write words or math problems in the air with his finger? He’s giving you clues about the way he learns.

Children who are successful in school capitalize on their learning styles, according to Rita Dunn, Ed.D., director of the Center for the Study of Learning and Teaching Styles at St. John’s University in Jamaica, New York. “All students can learn if we teach to their strengths, not their weaknesses,” says Dunn, co-author of Bringing Our the Gftedness in Every Child (John Riley, Inc.). “Kids are empowered when they know what works for them.”

About a third of all children absorb facts by listening. Another 30 to 40 percent learn by reading or seeing. The rest learn by touching, handling or manipulating objects, or kinesthetically, through motion. Teachers often group the tactual and kinesthetic categories because they’re closely related, especially for children from preschool through the third grade. Many kids also learn through a combination of styles.

Most children have an easy time learning once they know and can use their areas of strength, notes Peggy Fogelman, the mother of two boys and a kindergarten teacher in Calabasas, California. “Parents are doing their kids a disservice if they believe there’s only one method—usually the one they were familiar with as youngsters—to teach their children reading or math,” she says. “Once the information is in your child’s head, it’s in. What difference does it make how it got there?”

Fogelman encourages her tactual-kinesthetic students to handle and eat alphabet letters she’s made from Jell-O. They learn about animals by holding the iguana, rabbit, hermit crabs and turtles in the classroom. For her auditory kids, Fogelman stocks up on books on tape; she creates colorful subject-related wall displays for her visual students.

Shirley Pelkofer, a third-grade teacher in Aberdeen, South Dakota, has her tactual-kinesthetic kids write math and spelling facts on the blackboard. Instead of using chalk, they dip their hands into water and use their fingertips.

Linda Zwang-Weissman of Los Angeles has found that the auditory approach to homework helps her seventh-grader, Yardena, memorize geography facts. Together, they’ve come up with the following nonsense sentence to learn one country’s capital, language and main product: “Don’t Bern German watches in Switzerland.”

Anita Ferdenzi’s five-year-old boy, Dean Angelo, a visual learner, loves stories about knights and castles. So the Whitestone, New York, teacher designed a 21-page fantasy book with her son. Ferdenzi wrote a sentence or two on each page and Dean Angelo drew pictures to go with the key words, such as “Dragon.” Now he can read the mythical tale. “My son takes pride in knowing what his favorite words look like,” says Ferdenzi. Maxine Rudoff, a fourth-grade teacher in Los Angeles who also trains other teachers, starts out each school year with a Chinese proverb: “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.” With that philosophy, she incorporates as many of the senses as possible in her lessons. Last year, for example, when her class studied the California Gold Rush, they wrote about the miners of 1849, read a variety of facts to each other and received “gold nuggets” (gold-wrapped candy) for good work. They finished the unit by traveling 400 miles to a historic prospecting site and panning for gold.

Katy Lux, Ph.D., the director of the Midwest Regional Teaching and Learning Center at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, encourages students and teachers to use creativity and understanding. For example, she urges teachers to permit fidgety kids (kinesthetic) to quietly leave their seats occasionally, or to straddle their chairs so they’re more comfortable. “For older kids who are not real auditory, we tell them to tape the lectures, go home, and listen to them on a portable cassette player while they jog,” she says. “Truly, it makes a dramatic difference.” The following descriptions will help you identify your child’s particular style—and give you guidelines on how he learns best.


• Remember what they hear better than what they see.

• Respond better in class when hearing, rather than reading, questions.

• Love to have stones read to them with a lot of expression.

• Tend to memorize well and remember spoken words and ideas.

• Often surprise their friends by knowing all the words to songs. They also enjoy rhythmic and musical activities.

• Are talkative. They may share jokes, amuse peers with tall tales and drive parents to distraction with incessant chatter.

• Might have poor visual memory, reversing letters p and q. b and d, n and v.

Learn best when they…

• Talk through the steps of a task, and learn how to think, spell and say syllables out loud.

• Choose oral over written reports.

• Listen to books on tape.

• Ask you or their teacher to tape books for them, and listen to the tapes while reading (for younger kids). This works for older kids with individual chapters of textbooks.

• Hear information in the classroom first, then read the related material and, finally make up their own story or activity about the material.

• Make sure the teacher knows they need to hear the assignment as well as see it on the blackboard.

• Use travel games to give their memory a workout. One simple but effective game is, "I'm going on a trip and on my trip I will take…" Each person repeats all preceding items and adds one more. Car rides are also perfect times for auditory learners to recite multiplication tables or spelling words.


• Retain what they see better than what they hear.

• Respond better when you show them things rather than tell them.

• Love books, pictures and puzzles, and are attracted to colors.

• Have very good visual recall, and can remember where they placed a toy days earlier.

• Are noticeably quiet in class.

• May watch the expressions on your face when you speak or read to them.

• Are detail-oriented and generally keep their rooms tidy.

• Have a hard time remembering the order of the alphabet unless they recite it from the beginning.

Learn best when they…

• Use many visual aids—color coding, charts, maps, graphs, flashcards, highlight markers, photographs.

• Take advantage of visual gifts. During museum visits, for example, they can build critical thinking skills by comparing and contrasting paintings and art objects.

• Watch the facial expressions of people who are reading to them.

• Have plenty of books and magazines around the house.

• Read material first, then attend a classroom lecture.

• Play educational computer games and other games that encourage strategy and critical thinking, such as chess, Scrabble and Concentration.


• Tend to be well-coordinated.

• Like to touch things.

• Thrive with hands-on activities such as crafts, science and building projects.

• Enjoy taking objects apart and putting them back together.

• Learn best by experiencing their environment; they love field trips.

• Don’t mind taking notes.

• Learn concepts well through manipulating—anything that they can hold and change, such as Legos or three-dimensional plastic numbers.

• May become frustrated when learning abstract symbols. They might have a tough time understanding a teacher who says “two plus two equals four.” But they’ll grasp the concept easily if the Steacher shows them four marbles.

• Need movement: can’t sit for long.

Learn best when they…

• Tap out syllables and numbers.

• Draw letters or numbers with crayons on a washable vinyl placemat. Then, they can trace the letters or numbers with raisins or macaroni.

• Review facts in combination with a physical activity. For example, you might ask them to recite the names of all the U.S. presidents while bouncing a ball or riding a stationary bike.

• Color-code vowels and consonants in spelling words; write facts in the air.

• Use a lot of three-dimensional learning aids, such as fiashcards. You might spell out words on the refrigerator using plastic magnetic letters. Then, ask children to scramble and unscramble the letters. Some early childhood teachers encourage tactual-kinesthetic students to trace letters and numbers on sandpaper or in the sandbox.

• Turn theory into practice. Instead of memorizing 2 + 3 = 5, for example, tactile-kinesthetic children can learn the concept by using five marbles or five Popsicle sticks.

• Play movement-oriented educational computer games such as “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” and board games with movement. Twister, for example, helps young children learn colors.

How do you learn?

The way you process information—and the way you pass it on—can have a big effect on how your youngster learns. Your choice of answers will pinpoint your learning style.

1 I flip on the radio or television I the moment I get home.

2 I have quite a strong fashion sense and always make sure that I look my very best.

3 I enjoy puttering around in the garden.

4 I would enjoy working as a chef, surgeon, automobile mechanic or dancer.

5 I usually give directions this way: “Turn left at the tall cedar tree and right at the red barn.”

6 I usually give directions this way: “Turn left, go two blocks, turn left again, after four blocks turn right, then make a left on Main Street. Got that?”

7 I give directions by using gestures and then saying, “Follow me.”

8 I would like to be an illustrator, architect, writer, interior decorator or proofreader.

9 I am best at remembering things that I hear, and it seems as if I’m always on the phone.

10 I would enjoy being a disc jockey, trial lawyer, movie director or opera star.

11 My job is great because I get to travel a lot.

12 I am best at remembering things I see, and I prefer to read instructions.

13 I often gesture and speak at the same time.

14 I take my glasses off to answer the telephone.

15 I tell the person on the phone, I can’t hear you because my glasses are off.”

16 I remember faces but not names.

17 I remember names but not faces.

18 I remember events but not names or faces.

1, 6, 9, 10, 14 and 17 indicate auditory preferences.
2, 5, 8, 12, 15 and 16 indicate visual preferences.
3, 4, 7, 11, 13 and 18 indicate tactual-kinesthetic preferences.

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