Parents and educators have, at least anecdotally, identified three main types of learning — kinesthetic, visual, and auditory. Usually, children will show a balance among all three, but there may be a particular style that allows them to thrive.
If you know your child's learning style, you'll have a stronger grasp of how to help her study, and you can be a better advocate for her at school. Knowing her learning style can also better inform your choices as you consider after-school activities, camps, and extracurricular classes.
There are several quizzes you can take to help you identify a learning style that works for your child. But you'll also get a good idea of which one applies just by considering what she already likes or by thinking about the kinds of activities she is drawn to.
Use the information below to learn more about each style and to identify which your child might prefer.
Kinesthetic learners are physical. You'll know if your child has this strength if she is great at sports or a natural dancer. These learners usually have a strong sense of balance, and they learn best by touching or doing things themselves. For example, this kind of learner tends to use a lot of gestures, or she may count on her fingers or clap along while she is counting.
Kinesthetic learners may have even exhibited some of these characteristics as babies or toddlers by being early crawlers and walkers, or especially physical babies. If so, these strengths have probably stayed with her as she’s grown older.
Indications your child is a kinesthetic learner:
- Aptitude in sports, dance, or other physical activities
- Tendency to fidget while in her seat — she may need to move while processing information
- Frequent use of gestures when speaking or explaining things
- A love of hands-on activities and play-acting
- Enjoyment of writing, drawing, or handwriting exercises
- Early physical development, such as walking, crawling, or sitting early
- Sharp hand-eye coordination
Read more: Study Tips for Kinesthetic Learners
Auditory learners are drawn to sound. They may be especially musical and show an aptitude for playing instruments or singing. They are good listeners and often have verbal strengths. They follow oral directions well.
As a baby, did your child perk up when conversations were going on around her? Did she notice the sound of the rain when other children were oblivious to it? Does your child better understand when she reads aloud to herself? If so, then you probably have a child who learns best by listening.
Indications your child is an auditory learner:
- Aptitude in music, instruments, or vocal ability
- Tendency to sing along to songs or to create her own songs as she plays
- Strong verbal ability, especially through repetition of words or phrases she’s heard before
- Ability to listen well and follow verbal directions
- A love for talking and discussions
- Sharp ability to notice sounds that others don't recognize
- Perking up when she hears music or dialog
Read more: Study Tips for Auditory Learners
Visual learners are observant of the world around them and are drawn to art. You may notice this kind of learner looking at paintings, lingering over illustrations in books, and showing keen interest in photographs. Visual learners tend to enjoy screens — whether computers, televisions, or movies, and they retain the information they find there.
These kinds of learners also have vivid memories. If your child is a visual learner, she may be especially skilled at remembering names, places, and people. She may have even exhibited these skills from a young age, by recognizing the places you’ve returned to together.
Indications your child is a visual learner:
- A vivid imagination
- An interest in art: painting, drawing, or crafts
- A strong memory that relays visually-observed information
- A good sense of direction and an understanding of maps
- An aptitude in reading and a love of books
- Recognition of people, faces, and places
- A keen interest in observing the world around her
Your child probably has some aptitude in each of the three learning styles, but if you look closely, you might see that one of them is particularly strong. This recognition can help you tailor your child's learning process and build on her innate strengths in the future.
Read more: Study Tips for Visual Learners
Current Research on Learning Styles
Some studies suggest that we should be wary of characterizations of different learning styles (auditory, visual, and kinesthetic). Certain experts suggest that classroom instruction should focus on the best way to teach the content, instead of on students’ individual learning styles.
Advocates, however, contend that even if research doesn't provide definitive proof on the subject, they've witnessed different learning styles in action. Many children do show an affinity for one type of learning over another, they maintain, and will thus benefit from study that enhances that style.
You've probably noticed the specific strengths of your child. If she displays a strong affinity for one learning style, you can tailor her study and assignments (especially at home) to support that strength. If she consistently struggles with certain kinds of tasks, however, you may want to consider whether she has a learning disability; if she does, you can support her at home and work with her teachers to ensure that accommodations are made in school. You can also read about study tips for different types of learners in our article How to Instill Good Study Habits at Home.
Neighmond, P. (2011, August 29). Think You're An Auditory Or Visual Learner? Scientists Say It's Unlikely. Retrieved November 10, 2014, from NPR.
Willingham, D. (2005, January 1). Do Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Learners Need Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Instruction? Retrieved November 10, 2014, from AFT.