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Learning Styles

Not every child learns new information in the same way. Educators have many ways of defining and describing the way people process information including learning personalities, modalities, and styles.

Your child’s natural strength and learning preference is his learning style. Understanding how your child learns best can help set your homeschool up for success.

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Five Guidelines for Determining Your Child’s Learning Style

According to Cynthia Tobias in The Way They Learn, five guidelines can help you understand how your child learns and processes new material best:

  1. Observe patterns of behavior. When your child experiences success, what were the circumstances?
  2. Listen to how he communicates with you. This is generally what he needs back.
  3. Experiment with what works and what doesn’t. Keep an open mind. We don’t all learn the same way.
  4. Focus on natural strengths, not just weaknesses. It’s easier to pinpoint weaknesses and work on them, but we should also build on the strengths. This gives us a better foundation!
  5. Learn more about learning styles in general. Pay attention to your child and to yourself.


We recommend that you identify the learning styles of every one in the family.

Why is it helpful for a parent to know their own learning style? Because a teacher will tend to choose a curriculum that appeals to his own best way to learn, because that is what makes the most sense to the teacher. But if a child has a different learning style than the teacher, the same materials may not make as much sense.

Why identify every child’s learning style? It is common for a phonics or math program to work extremely well for one child, and then parents often think that they have found the gold key to homeschool success. Then comes the shock! Child #2 or child #3 is wired completely differently and needs a different approach to learning.

Visual Learners

Visual/Spacial learners are lookers. They process information best when they can see it. 

Visual Learners Tendencies:
  • Often quiet and need to be coaxed into answering questions.
  • Are excellent “copycats,” functioning best when they “see” what is expected of them.
  • Are especially observant of details and can frequently find items lost by others.
  • Are visually organized, easily remember where things are, and need to have everything in its place.
  • Will take copious notes, even when the teacher promises to provide handouts.
  • Can assemble most things without help from printed or pictured instructions.
  • Will catch your typographical errors and recognize if they have worked on or seen a page of material before.
  • Make it a priority to look neat and be color-coordinated.
  • Are very aware of spatial relationships and thus able to create well-spaced drawings, diagrams, and graphs.
  • Doodle on note paper when talking.
  • Tend to have a vivid imagination.
  • Will have a large reading vocabulary at an early age, especially sight words.
  • Given a choice, would most like to watch TV or read a book in their spare time.
  • Are easily distracted by visual stimuli (e.g., a bird outside the window).
  • Respond favorably to visible rewards.
Visual Learners Flourish When:
  • Taught with books and pictures.
  • Allowed to work on challenging puzzles.
  • The teacher demonstrates the skill to be learned.
  • Shown the word before hearing what it is.
  • Given a picture of the actual object.
  • The position of tongue and lips is demonstrated when new words are presented. Note: If you can’t have the visual learner observe the concept or skill you are teaching, help him visualize it in his mind.
  • Taught with the following aids:
    • Flashcards
    • Matching games and puzzles
    • Dictionaries
    • Card files
    • “How-to” books with diagrams
    • Workbooks
    • Charts, maps, timelines, pictures, and graphs
    • Written directions
    • Wall strips and desk tapes
    • Well-defined assignments
Visual Learners Struggle With:
  • Creative writing.
  • Reading beyond the literal meaning of a passage.
  • Applying arithmetic to word problems.
  • Thinking beyond the obvious.
  • Forming a hypothesis and testing it with experiments.
  • Adjusting to changes in curriculum.

Auditory Learners

Auditory Learners are listeners.

Auditory Learner Tendencies:
  • Love to communicate and can generally “talk your ear off.”
  • Remember silly songs, poems, and TV commercials effortlessly.
  • Continually keep a rhythmic pattern going by tapping or making sounds.
  • Usually sing beautifully and have excellent pitch memory.
  • Generally remember names of people they’ve met or heard about.
  • Find it easy to express themselves verbally.
  • Tend to read out loud or subvocalize while reading.
  • Often sound older than their chronological age (as a result of their ability to process language patterns with “tape-recorder accuracy”).
  • Tend to sort out their problems by talking about them.
  • Sound out words and are, therefore, usually phonetic spellers.
  • Tend to be poor test takers because they can’t sort out visual material fast enough.
  • Enjoy listening to music in their spare time.
  • Respond well to phonetic reading programs, usually demonstrating excellent word attack skills.
  • Find it easy to follow oral directions.
  • Are easily distracted by background noises.
  • Love to receive verbal praise.
Auditory Learners Flourish When:
  • Told every step of the skill to be learned.
  • Allowed to move their lips or subvocalize to increase reading comprehension.
  • Neurological impressions are combined in reading: read orally to student while he points to the word being read.
  • Memorizing rules, plays, poetry, etc.
  • Taught with the following aids:
    • Audio books
    • Music
    • Rhymes
    • Rhythm instruments
    • Clapping, keeping a beat
    • Echo games (singing and rhythm)
    • Creating conversation for puppets
    • Field trips with interview focus
    • Integrated content (like Unit Studies)
Auditory Learners Struggle With:
  • Reading technical or non-fiction writing.
  • Rewriting and editing written work.
  • Properly researching footnotes.
  • Paying attention to detail for accuracy in math, science, and history.
  • Developing perseverance.

Kinesthetic Learners

Kinesthetic/tactile learners are movers!

Kinesthetic Learner Tendencies
  • Make friends while playing games and interacting through movement, rather than by talking.
  • Tend to live in perpetual motion, rarely sit still; often labeled hyperactive.
  • Try to touch everything they see or walk past.
  • Use lots of gestures and facial expressions when talking.
  • Tend to show anger physically (e.g., by stomping feet and slamming doors).
  • Prefer to try things out by touching and feeling, even as they get older.
  • Often make paper airplanes and fans out of their papers.
  • Prefer to be playing, jumping, running, or wrestling in their spare time.
  • Have excellent muscle coordination in sports which require skills in balancing.
  • Can successfully maintain balance while blindfolded.
  • Are most distracted when they must be still or things get “too quiet.”
  • Tend to dislike long-range goal setting and complicated projects.
  • Are excellent at taking gadgets apart and can put them back together again.
  • Find listening a difficult challenge.
  • Respond more favorably to a hug or a high-five, rather than to stickers on a chart or words of praise.
Kinesthetic Learners Flourish When:
  • Their learning experiences allow as many opportunities as possible to do or feel (touch).
  • They can demonstrate or model a task for other students.
  • Taught through role playing or pantomime. They love short, dynamic presentations.
  • Pointing with fingers to follow or anchor words in early reading.
  • They are kept moving with appropriate activities. They love construction.
  • Taught with the following aids:
    • Finger plays and puppet theater
    • Tracing motions (in the air, on paper, on the wall or floor)
    • Tactile experiences with sandpaper, sand, clay, water, etc.
    • Travel and field trips
    • Felt pens
    • Math manipulatives (blocks, rods, chips, play money)
    • Plays and dramatic interpretations
    • Conducting motions in music
    • Timelines and maps that he makes himself.

The key for kinesthetic learners is a variety in methods, with lots of hands-on activities.

Kinesthetic Learners Struggle With:
  • Concentrating on phonics, grammar, and math rules.
  • Reading for information.
  • Doing analytical work.
  • Proofreading their work.
  • Doing research-related writing.
  • Completing long-term projects in science and history.
  • Understanding the relevance of their work to other academic goals.

In Conclusion

The goal in evaluating learning styles is not to label our children or put them in a box. The goal is to understand what makes sense to them, what frustrates them, and how we can best help them to process, understand, and use their knowledge.

There is great overlap as we evaluate learning styles because most of us have a combination of learning styles, but we are usually dominant in one style. Sometimes people need to receive certain kinds of information one way and other kinds of information in a different way. There is no such thing as one “right” kind of material for a given learning style.

However, there are more and less efficient ways to use what you have. If your child is not learning what you want him to learn one way, try another method. Feel free to adapt the materials you have to the methods that will help you travel past the roadblocks in your child’s mind.

Your goal as a teacher should be to make your children eventually comfortable with all three means of getting information. After you have presented a new idea through your child’s preferred style, review the material with some of the other methods to increase your child’s flexibility.

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