Supporting your kid’s way of learning

School’s about to start. Do you know what kind of learners your children are? Some kids learn best by listening or reading. Others learn better by talking or seeing. And not every child learns in the traditional way that schools tend to teach. Knowing the best way your kids learn helps you support them as they navigate a new grade with new challenges. Add in solid homework routines and your kids will be primed for the new school year.

Typical classrooms and extraordinary kids

Some kids were born for a traditional classroom that demands sitting still and listening, raising hands and participating, and cranking out worksheets. Others can get overlooked, the ones who might have a hard time conceptualizing a math problem on a worksheet but excel when you give them blocks or props to use to work it out. Or the children who memorize best while they move their body or learn best when they act out history lessons or science experiments. By working with your kids on your own, and advocating for them within the system, you can help your children succeed no matter their learning style.

Figuring out which type of learner you have

Depending on which expert you follow, there are typically seven learning styles: auditory/musical, visual/spatial, verbal/linguistic, logical/reasoning, social/interpersonal, solitary/intrapersonal, and physical/kinesthetic. Your child might lean heavily to one or possess traits of a few or even all types of learning. Here are a few signs of each and ideas on supporting their learning:

Auditory/musical: These kiddos perk up when you really get into reading, raising and lowering your voice. When learning, they tend to talk to themselves, sing, or hum. If this is your child, ask him or her to read back their notes or retell the teacher’s lesson. Also, when doing math homework, let them beat out answers with a drum or pencil. Since this type of learner can get distracted, ask the teacher to seat them outside the fray.

Visual/spatial: Does your child love to doodle in the sidelines of their paper? How about make observations about their surroundings? If your child is good at puzzles or taking things apart and putting them back together, you might have a visual/spatial learner on your hands. If so, take advantage of illustrations and pictures to help him or her absorb information—or allow them to sketch out concepts. Use color coding when setting up school folders. Visual/spatial learners may like to make lists.

“Some children do very well with to-do lists as they can see a concrete success when they cross things off. For other children, to-do lists may feel overwhelming. Find what works best for your child,” says Andrea Holt, LMFT, CAC III, Marriage and Family Therapist with UCHealth’s Family Medicine Center in Fort Collins.

Verbal/linguistic: These kids love words. They have a great vocabulary and enjoy reading and storytelling. Use this to your advantage by encouraging them to make up stories or jokes around what they are learning (e.g. ‘Five is getting married to Eleven and having 16 babies’).

Logical/reasoning: You can also call these kiddos mathematical learners. They excel in math and science. They love finding patterns in things, categorizing, knowing how things work, and of course, enjoy working with numbers. Engage your logical learner by asking them to compare and contrast what they are learning, or physically figure a math problem with blocks or Legos.

Social/interpersonal: This child learns best in group activities, and they might shine as leaders. They are not always super talkative, yet they can be. They love participating with others. Help with homework by turning it into an interaction. Play teacher/student with them as the teacher, or make a game of the lesson at hand, using props like puppets.   

Solitary/intrapersonal: Introspective children gauge the world first by emotions. They like to watch others and listen to see how the world works. They are good at being independent, playing and working alone. Bank on their ability to observe, and engage them with emotions, as in, ‘What do you think the first explorers thought when they saw the Grand Canyon for the first time?’ Encourage tools that tap into their introspection, such as keeping a journal, taking photos, or drawing. Help them find a private nook to read or do homework.

Physical/kinesthetic: These are your typical rough and tumble kids who like to get in on the physical action and learn by doing. If your child drums or shakes their legs, or has trouble sitting for long periods of time, he or she might be a physical learner. Turn homework into a physical game or experiment or let them physically act out lessons (e.g. dancing while they shout out time tables). Allow for plenty of breaks, maybe 15 minutes of math homework earns them 5 minutes of playing catch or riding their bike around the block. Let them fidget while they study, and make sure the area they do homework in is clutter-free. Whenever you can, turn learning into play.

“Kids who are allowed ample opportunities for unstructured play learn how to negotiate relationships and how to think critically and problem solve,” Holt says.

Hover, it’s really okay

It can be hard to be a parent of a non-traditional learner—one like a physical learner who has trouble sitting still in a classroom, or an auditory learner who gets distracted by his neighbor tapping a pencil on a desk. Add in a learning disability, and school might not come too easily.

You might have to be that parent—the one who gets a 504 plan or individual education program (IEP) rolling with your school, which puts special accommodations or services in place for your child, that all teachers must follow. It might also involve finding out which school, and even which teacher, might best teach to your child’s unique learning style—a teacher who goes beyond trying to fit your triangle child into a round hole. While you do all this, remember: Your child is smart, they just learn differently. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Be your child’s advocate

Don’t be shy to ask teachers to go above and beyond for your child to help them succeed. Maybe that computes to simple adjustments, like having your elementary child sit in the front row or having the teacher pull your child aside at the start of work sessions to explain the assignment in a different way. For older kids, it might mean letting an auditory learner record lessons on his or her phone or allowing them to listen to music while they take a test. Teachers are busy, but if they know you are paying attention and involved, it makes all the difference. You will have to be an advocate for your child, especially when they leave elementary school and enter middle school where the number of teachers and classrooms multiply. Having a handle on how your child best learns is an important place to start.

Homework tips for success

Getting kids to do homework is a common struggle for parents. Different solutions work for different kids. Here are some ideas to consider putting in place for the new school year.

  • Create a homework space and time

Find a quiet corner where you can put up a desk that’s free of distractions. Have it well stocked and organized with paper, calculators, dictionaries and a computer. Also, set rules about play time and homework time. If possible, set them free a bit after school before making them sit down to do homework. Be as consistent as possible, from day to day, making a set Plan B for days they have soccer practice or music lessons. “Homework routines work because kids learn what is expected of them,” says Andrea Holt, LMFT, CAC III, Marriage and Family Therapist with UCHealth’s Family Medicine Center in Fort Collins.

  • Stay involved

Before your kids sit down to do their homework, engage. Ask them about their homework and make it relatable by tapping into their interests. Make sure they understand the assignment and let them know you are available if they have questions or want to talk something through. When they are done, review their work in a positive way, e.g. ‘Great job! You got all of them right except a few. Can you take another look?’ Also, view grades regularly online to ensure your kids are staying on track.

  • Resist doing it for them

If your child doesn’t get a math problem, work through a similar one to teach the concept rather than solving the problem at hand. If they don’t know what the assignment is, ask them to recall how the teacher described it and build on that information. Be patient and try explaining ideas in a few different ways—by talking, drawing or acting it out.

  • Promote communication with teachers

If your kids don’t understand an assignment, or if they got a poor grade and are upset, encourage that they talk with the teacher about it the next day. This skill—advocating for themselves in the school setting—will serve them well throughout their academic life. If the issue isn’t resolved after a few tries, email the teacher of your elementary and middle school child. At school conferences, don’t hesitate to provide insights into how your child learns best.