Working with Learning Styles

Learning Styles:


  1. My son insists on jumping from topic to topic. What can I do?
  2. My daughter only wants to do her chores if I am there to help her, even though I know she can do them by herself. How can I get her to work by herself?
  3. Sometimes, when I am working with my child, he seems to miss the whole point entirely. Is there something wrong?
  4. My child comes home from school too tired and hungry to start her homework.
  5. My daughter says that she can concentrate better with the TV on. How can that be the best way to do homework?
  6. I’ve heard that there are various intelligences. Are they related to learning styles?



When working with children, whether helping them to master a new skill or wanting them to remember to perform a task, it is important to understand their preferred learning style. By gaining an appreciation of how our children take in and recall information, we can improve communication, decrease frustration, and be more effective in our interactions.


Understanding your Preferred Style

In order to understand learning styles, it can be helpful to first consider what works best for you.
When you are receiving driving directions, do you prefer:

  • to have a written list of all the turns?
  • for someone to tell you the route?
  • to have a map and trace the turns with your finger?

What about if you need to pick up a few items at the food store. Do you:

  • make yourself a list?
  • talk out loud to yourself?
  • picture opening the frig and cabinets to find what items you need?

Your answers may give you clues as to your preferred learning style.

  • If you need to have directions and lists written down, then you are more of a visual learner.
  • If you would rather have the information spoken, then you tend to be an auditory learner.
  • And if you need a motion or movement to help you, then you show a kinesthetic learning preference.



Understanding your Child’s Preferred Style

The following is taken from a real-life interaction between a mother and son as the son was trying to learn where to put commas.

Mother:   Let me see what you have written so far. OK, let me show you where to put the commas.

Son:          (HUMMING TO SELF)

Mother:   (LOUDER): I said, “Let me show you where to put the commas.”  Come here and look at the paper.

Son:          Can’t you just tell me.

Mother:   It’s writing, I can’t just tell you. Come and look at this paper.

Son:          (COVERING HIS EYES) I don’t want to look. JUST TELL ME!

Part of the problem is that the mother and her son are using different styles of learning. It is almost as if they are speaking two different languages. In this case, the mother is approaching the teaching from a visual stance, while the child is expressing a strong preference for auditory instruction.

We often expect that others, especially our children, will learn the same way that we do. It can be surprising to discover that others take in information in a different way. Without this knowledge, it can be frustrating for us and for our children when we try to work with them.

Although everyone has a preferred learning style, if the information is more challenging or if we need a change of pace or if our primary method isn’t working for whatever reason, we can try an alternative approach.

We don’t need to keep doing more of what isn’t working. It is important that we can identify our children’s preferred method, but it is also important that we are well-versed in all three styles, so that if one approach does not work, we can switch to another.

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Details on Learning Styles

Visual Learners

close up of an eyeAbout 65% of people are visual learners who prefer to gather information by looking at pictures or written instructions. These are the people who prefer to read directions or watch a demonstration to learn how to do an activity.

Visual learners can “see” ideas, remembering details as pictures in their mind. As adults, visual learners tend to make lists, organize their thoughts by writing them down, and take notes to help focus them during a conversation.

Some clues that a person is a visual learner is that they tend to use phrases such as:

“I see what you mean”
“Imagine this…”
“Picture this…”

Children who are visual learners may like to have pictures up to remind them of what they need to do to get ready for bed. These children may “picture” their spelling words in their heads. Using brightly colored folders or papers can help these kids to focus.

When trying to work with them, they may stare into space. To the untrained eye, it may seem as though they are day dreaming, but what they are actually doing is trying to “picture” the answer in their mind.

Visual learners tend to be distracted by clutter or movement. For children who are visual learners, they may like to look at pictures of what they need to do and keep lists of their ideas.

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Auditory Learners

close up of an earAuditory learners comprise approximately 30% of the population. They tend to learn best by hearing verbal instructions either spoken directly to them or by repeating the words under their breath to themselves.

This group needs to “hear” the information in order to learn and commit the ideas to memory. As adults, this group may talk out loud to themselves. They may repeat ideas to be sure they have heard it correctly.

Some clues that a person is an auditory learner is the use of phrases such as:

“What I hear you saying is…”
“Let me tell you how I did this . . . “
“Listen to this . . . “

When working with auditory children, you may want to tell them what you want them to do. These children may need to sound a word out to hear how it is spelled.

Even when reading to themselves, this group will need to repeat, either silently or just under their breath, important facts or directions.

Also know that they may become easily distracted by background noises. As a result, these children may request to have background music to block out unexpected noises. They may want to talk with you about what they are learning to help solidify the ideas.

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Kinesthetic Learners

someone tapping a pencil on a notebookThis third style comprises most young children, who learn by doing and touching, and account for approximately 5% of all adults.

Kinesthetic learners prefer to move to learn – this would be the adult who twittles his pencil or paces while on the phone. When faced with a new project, this group prefers to learn by jumping in and doing, rather than reading or asking for directions.

A clue that a person is a kinesthetic learner would be the use of phrases such as:

“I get it.”
“Let me show you.”

Children who are kinesthetic learners may need to move their whole body to learn. They are often fidgety. A parent may feel that their kinesthetic child isn’t listening because he is swinging his legs, getting in and out of his chair, or even falling onto the floor.

In general, kinesthetic kids cannot concentrate for more than 10 minutes without getting up and moving. They might practice their spelling words while bouncing a ball or running in place or walking up and down the stairs.

The movement actually helps the mind to focus. Those who fall in this category can be easily distracted by the movement of other people or things in their environment. They learn best by doing, such as writing or drawing or acting out what they are learning.

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Putting It All Together

Learning Styles in Action

After the mother mentioned earlier became versed in learning styles, she again tried working with her son and was able to apply the information as follows:

Mother:     Let me see what you have written so far. Ok, let me show where to put the commas.

Son:          (HUMMING TO SELF)

Mother:     Do you want me to show you?

Son:          Can’t you just tell me?

Mother:     You would rather have me tell you?

Son:          Yes.

Mother:     Hum. I’ll try. It’s easier for me to write it down. So let me write down my thoughts and I’ll tell you what I am doing. We’ll see if that makes sense.

Son:          Thanks, Mom.


Using Learning Styles to Teach New Skills

  • For Visual Learners
    • Write down information on paper
    • Draw pictures or use pictures from magazines
    • Use bright colors, use different colors for different idea/sections
    • Allow your child to doodle or take notes


  • For Auditory Learners
    • Read directions or instructions out loud
    • Use the sing-songy voice, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25…


  • For Kinesthetic Learners
    • Create a motion to remember information(for example – counting on fingers or forming the letters with their hands as they try to memorize how to spell a word)
    • Allow your child to bounce a ball or march in place
    • Take frequent breaks


Using Learning Styles when Providing Reminders

  • For Visual Learners: Use a note or a picture (chore list)

  • For Auditory Learners:  Use a word or phrase (remember the Barney clean up song?); Have them make up a recording of what chores they need to complete

  • For Kinesthetic Learners: Use a motion or gesture (brush teeth)

Remember: When one approach isn’t working – try another!!!!!!

Other Considerations

Learning Styles is one important piece to consider when working with your child; however, it is not the only factor.

When determining what is “going on” for your children or which course of action is best, also examine:

  • the stage of development, whether they are in a period of relative calm or internal turmoil.

  • their temperament (how easy going, how slow-to-warm or challenging their innate traits are).

  • their maturity level (how ready and able they are to take on a particular task).

  • other outside factors that may be influencing your children such as the birth of a sibling, a move, divorce/remarriage, or the start of the school year.


Over Time

Our preferred style does not remain constant. Throughout life, we are often required to use different styles at different ages.

Young children tend to learn best by doing. Imagine trying to teach a youngster how to tie his shoes by reading him a story or by showing him a picture. It may be possible, but it will be easier to actually show, demonstrate and attempt the steps.

A college student needs to be adept at learning through the reading his text books and listening to his professors’ lectures.
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Help! When I work with my child, he insists on jumping from topic to topic. He won’t finish one section before he goes onto the next. It drives me crazy when I am working with him. What can I do?

    It sounds like a difference in approach. People, who prefer to finish one task before starting the next, work in a sequential order.

    • For those who prefer to approach their work in a sequential manner, it can be difficult to work with a child who prefers to jump around, doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

    • For some children it can be boring to finish part “A” before going onto part “B.” This method is called “random.” They skip around to keep themselves interested and on track – despite how disjointed it may feel to those who are sequential.

    You can try an experiment. Allow your child to do it “his way” for 1 week and see how it goes.

    If he completes his tasks satisfactorily, then let him do it his way. Even if it looks disorganized to the sequential learner, this random approach can and does work for some.

    In fact, adults who approach their work in a random manner are more adept at juggling many tasks and at staying on track despite interruptions!

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My daughter only wants to do her chores if I am there to help her, even though I know she can do them by herself. When I keep her company she does her work, but I feel like I am giving in. What can I do to get her to work by herself?

    First, you may want to look at your reasons for wanting her to work by herself. Is it because you are pressed for time? OR is it because you think she should do it herself?

    If it is the latter, then you may want to consider if your daughter’s temperament is a factor. Many children get depleted when they need to be by themselves for too long. Often referred to as extroverts, these children actually get drained from spending time alone.

    If that sounds like your child, you may want to assign tasks that involve working with other people; for example, helping to care for a younger sibling, assisting you with a part of your chores; calling to check in with family members.

    When doing school work, she may prefer to do her assignments where family members are present, so she can share her ideas about what she is learning. This interaction actually energizes the extravert.

    Introverts, while still social, tend to get drained from being around people. These children would need a break to re-group before they can tackle chores or assignments, particularly those that involve interacting with others.

    They may work better in a quiet location in the house, freer from interruptions and the need to interact with others. Examples of some isolated solitary chores are: emptying the dishwasher, taking out the trash, or watering the plants.

For more information about introverts and extroverts, click here.

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Sometimes, when I am working with my child, he seems to miss the whole point entirely. He gets so caught up in learning one detail that he forgets what the main idea is. Is there something wrong?

    When we approach learning differently than our children, it can feel quite disconcerting.

    Some people, like your son, tend to be analytic in their approach. They break down the subject matter into small bits and then focus on the details. Doing so may provide them an appreciation for the nuances in the information and allow them to delve deeply into a topic as they follow their curiosity.

    However, at times, they may lose sight of the bigger picture. They need reminders as to what the greater concept is that they are learning and need help to see how each of these separate pieces of information fit together and build to a great concept.

    The other approach is more global. These learners tend to grasp the big picture, understand the important concepts and how they fit into the bigger scheme. However, these children often overlook the details, and learning to slow themselves down to focus on the particulars can be a struggle and feel “boring.”

    You can assist them in being mindful of the details by showing them how all of the details fall under the expanse of the larger concept and are important in supporting the larger idea.

    In other words – to use an old cliché – the analytics “Can’t see the forest from the trees;” while the globals “Don’t notice the trees in the forest.” Both styles have their advantages and their struggles.

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When I was growing up, I would come home from school, have a quick snack and do my homework. I can’t seem to get my daughter to follow this plan. She comes home so hungry and tired.

    Many teachers will tell you that the kids’ days are more jammed pack with work than in the past. They truly may be more tired when they come home.

    While some kids find it difficult to relax until their work is complete, many need to unwind from the day before they are ready to tackle a second round of work.

    Different children will need different activities to help them to rejuvenate – Some ideas include running around outside, doing a hobby, napping, eating a healthy snack, watching TV, taking a shower, or playing with friends.

    Try working with your child to create a schedule that works for both of you – one that accommodates her need for down time and your need to know that her work will be completed on a timely schedule.

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She turns on the TV and gets engrossed in the programs and then she does her work with the TV still on. I get so angry that I yell and finally have to turn off the TV. She says that she can concentrate better with it on. But how can that be the best way to do homework?

    Some children claim to have an easier time completing their assignments if there is background noise, and research actually supports this assertion. For some children, they are actually able to attune to their work better if there is a steady stream of white noise. Some parents find having their children listen to music to be more acceptable than TV.

    To determine the best environment for your child to work in, observe how she chooses to work when completing a project which requires concentration that interests her. You can then follow her lead when setting up her work space.

    You can also note:

    • Does your child prefers sitting at a desk or lying across her floor?
    • Does she turn on all the lamps or does she prefer a lower level of lighting?
    • Does she have her materials neatly lined up or does she spread everything out?

    You can replicate her natural style and preferences when determining where and how she should complete her work.

    An interesting note: Research suggests that children should “switch up” where they do their work. Those who exclusively study in one place sometimes have difficulty recalling the information in a different setting – perhaps they are using visual or auditory cues in the one setting that may not be present in the classroom.

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I’ve heard that there are various intelligences. Are they related to learning styles?

    Yes, in the same ways that we each take in information differently, we each have certain skills that may be easier or more difficult for us to learn. Those areas that are easier would be considered our strengths. Howard Gardner developed the concept of multiple intelligences which includes the following categories:

    • Body/Kinesthetic – movement, sports, dance

    • Interpersonal – understanding others, communicating, working in groups

    • Intra-personal – understanding one’s self, how we feel, how we think

    • Logical/Mathematical – problem solving, reasoning, scientific thinking

    • Musical/Rhythmic – tones, rhythm, beats

    • Verbal/ Linguistic – understanding words, verbal and written proficiency, memory

    • Visual/ spatial – knowing where you are in space, visualizing what doesn’t yet exist, imagination

    If you aren’t sure which of the above listed areas describe your child, there are numerous online tests you can use to help you discern those areas in which your child has a natural proclivity. With this awareness, you can consider what chores you assign your children and guide them in deciding what interests and activities they choose to pursue.

To take a test and see your child’s intelligences, click here.

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For more information about learning styles and individual learning strengths and challenges, check out the following books. Purchasing books from through our website supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.

A Mind at a Time by Mel Levine The Way They Learn by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias How Your Child Learn by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias

<recommended books about school and learning

<all our recommended parenting books

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