DFWChild / Articles / Family Life / Baby + Toddler / Learning Curves Ahead

Learning Curves Ahead

Did you ever have a hard time sitting through a lecture? Then you can probably relate to your son who twiddles his thumbs during English class. Your daughter, on the other hand, sits there enthralled. Projects bore her.

For years now, psychologists have been studying theories of learning and multiple intelligence, and it’s made all the difference in how kids learn, according to Jan W. Van Blarcum, Ph.D., founder of Creative Tutors in Dallas.

“Every human being has their own unique ability to learn,” she says. And she’s speaking from experience. To this day, she remembers Ms. Gragg and Ms. Beale, the grade school teachers who reached out to her, a dyslexic, by identifying the unique ways that she could learn.

“We were studying Native Americans in the schoolyard … and we dug a pit and put coals in there and roasted whole corn with shucks,” she remembers. “They broke it down into a system to help me.”

But learning differences aside, Van Blarcum points out the importance of working with students’ individual needs even when it comes to the child’s particular style of learning. “Some kids need info presented more logically and orderly; others need it presented more creatively,” she says. “One child in a class might get something, but [the student] next to him won’t because he needed the information presented hands on.”

Fe Thornton, mom of three, has witnessed this in her own household. Five-year-old son Nash learns better by listening, she reveals, unlike her eldest, Gene, who is now 22. She found out early on that he learns best by following written instructions. And yet, middle son Sean, 20, was discovered to have a propensity toward visual learning when he was a young child. Thornton recalls when the two were still toy-playing tikes: “One day, my husband came home and bought each son a LEGO toy,” she shares. “Gene got frustrated … since the instructions only had picture directions. Sean, on the other hand, had no problem looking at the picture on the box and putting the toy together.”

So what’s a concerned parent to do? Find out how your child processes information. Once you’ve done that, make a point of talking to your child’s teacher to ensure his individual needs are being addressed and when it comes to after-school activities, find something that hones in on your child’s learning style. It could make all the difference in helping him to develop a love of learning.

Several theories have been proposed to model the way that children learn. One of the most popular asserts that people fall into one of four learning categories, which include visual, auditory kinesthetic and reading/writing. Which category do you think your child falls under?

The Visual Learner
This may not be what you wanted to hear, but it may just be in your little one’s best interest to hand her a marker. Visual learners like to see colors and shapes and be stimulated well, visually. In fact, says Van Blarcum, some visual learners actually discover that they have a preference for one color over another; for example, if red is a color your child favors then highlighting a word in that shade will draw the word off the page for her and into her memory.

Suggestions for school:

  • Encourage your child’s teacher to help your son or daughter make notes into a visual chart
  • Help your child color-code his or her subject notes

Engaging activities beyond the classroom:

  • Stop by the Dallas Museum of Nature and Science to learn about the stars and planets at the planetarium or take your child to see an IMAX show, with a variety of exciting and educational 3-D films. 214/428-5555; natureandscience.org
  • The Irving Arts Center offers a variety of visually stunning and educational exhibits and programs for kids such as their Saturday School classes. 972/252-7558; irvingartscenter.com

The Auditory Learner
Does your child listen attentively—and respond accurately? There’s a good chance he’s an auditory learner. Some auditory learners can hear an instruction and respond immediately. Others may take notes, according to Van Blarcum, but they will probably never look at them again (so much for late nights of studying!). Someone who learns this way will probably do very well on verbally administered spelling tests, points out Dr. Ian Rule, a Dallas educational consultant, though he adds, “the more senses involved, the better.”

Suggestions for school:

  • Talk to your child’s teacher about allowing your son or daughter to sit up close during story time or lessons, because according to Dr. Matthew Houssan, a Dallas-area psychologist in private practice, this helps the child become more engaged in the story.
  • During reading time, encourage your child to read out loud rather than silently—hearing himself allows him to process info more effectively.

Engaging activities beyond the classroom:

The Kinesthetic Learner
If you have a child that won’t sit still, chances are he’s a kinesthetic learner. Rule remembers a student who excelled at math, and when asked to work problems on the blackboard he completed them quickly, but when he was told to remain at his desk and watch other students work, he “picked his fingernails.” This student, like other kinesthetic learners, needed to use his body to make information stick. Instead of sitting in his desk to study, for example, he may sit in a beanbag chair or roll on an exercise ball while reading.

Suggestions for school:

  • If your child loves to be in motion, find out if his teacher will let him run small errands throughout the day, like taking notes to the office, for example.
  • Making alphabet- and number-learning hands-on by encouraging kids to draw on sandpaper or with colored foam.

Engaging activities beyond the classroom:

  • The Dallas Museum of Art offers a variety of hands-on, educational activities that will get kiddies’ noggins ticking including Studio Creations or First Tuesdays, to name a few. 214/922-1200; dallasmuseumofart.org
  • The brand new Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park offers plenty of dynamic animal exploration opportunities with their hands-on exhibits. 469/554-7340; childrensaquariumfairpark.com

The Reading/Writing Learner
If your child falls into this lesser-known category, you’ll know. Maybe she writes down all her favorite foods or even has a list of toys she likes to play with. This learner displays a preference for information displayed as words, whether that comes from the Internet, dictionaries, quotations or books. Not surprisingly, many academics have a preference for this style, so you may have a future college professor on your hands.

Suggestions for school:

  • Make sure your child’s teacher allows your son or daughter ample time to rewrite notes and turn visual charts and graphs into written notes and words.
  • If she already has a preferred way of studying, say through creating outlines or summarizing information through bulleted lists, encourage the teacher to occasionally provide info in this format if possible.

Engaging activities beyond the classroom:

  • Get your little one’s creative juices flowing by encouraging him to jot down thoughts, write short stories or even poems. Local poetry contests can be found year round, like the “Express Yourself” Youth Poetry Competition hosted by the Dallas Public Library. 214/670-1671; dallaslibrary2.org/poetryCompetition/index.php
  • Trinity Arts – LIVE! in conjunction with Backbeat Café & Listening Room now offers occasional Kids Open Mic Nights. Have your little ones pen some poetry and read it to the crowd. This is also a great opportunity for auditory learners to listen to their peers’ poems. 214/665-2355; trinityartslive.blogspot.com

While learning is not cut and dried, neither is teaching. According to Van Blarcum, a classroom can be an enriching environment—if it’s managed well. Do your part and help your kids discover what works for them … even if it means cleaning up a colored-foam mess.