Do You Know How Your Child Learns Best?

November 20, 2013

There is not one of us whether parent, teacher or caregiver that has not asked the children in our care, 'What do you want to be when you grow up?'. We delight in the answers; fairy princess, race-car driver, mommy, firefighter, ballerina, astronaut…We find these responses endearing and sweet, but your child’s response could be telling you something important about the way he or she learns.

As well, which one of us has not displayed some anxiety about what our children seem to be able to do, or not do, as they grow and start school. Some our our children seem happiest when doing arts and crafts, while others find delight in harmonicas, guitars, singing and dancing. Others still love soccer, swimming and just generally being active. We have our socially adept children and those who seem shy and content to play alone.

As with the examples above of what our children perceive as their 'future occupations', the activities that they seem to enjoy most tell us a lot about their preferred learning styles.

Howard Gardner, professor of education at Harvard University, wrote in his book Frames of Mind, "it is not how smart your child is, but rather, how is he smart". He developed the theory of Multiple Intelligences to help educators, psychologists and parents better understand how children process and learn information.

What Intelligences does your child possess? The following are descriptions of Gardner’s nine Multiple Intelligences.

  • Linguistic Intelligence (Word Smart). This child focuses in school, enjoys reading, has an extensive vocabulary, prefers English or Social Studies over math and science, learns a foreign language with ease, is a good speller and writer, likes rhymes and puns, and communicates his thoughts well.
  • Logical-Mathematical Intelligence (Number/Reasoning Smart). This child is curious about how things work, loves numbers and math (especially if he can do it in his head), enjoys strategy games like chess, checkers, brain teasers or logic puzzles, likes experiments, is interested in natural history museums, and likes computers
  • Spatial Intelligence (Picture Smart). This child easily leans to read and understands charts and maps, daydreams often, is skilled at drawing, doodling and creating 3-D sculptures, enjoys movies, and likes taking things apart and putting them back together.
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence (Body Smart). This child excels in more than one sport, taps or moves when required to sit still, can mimic other’s body movements/gestures, likes to touch objects, enjoys physical activities and has excellent fine-motor coordination
  • Musical Intelligence (Music Smart). This child can tell you when music is off-key and easily remember melodies. He has a pleasant singing voice, shows aptitude with musical instruments, speaks or moves in a rhythmical way, hums or whistles to himself, and may show sensitivity to surrounding noises.
  • Interpersonal Intelligence (People Smart). This child enjoys socializing with friends, is a natural leader, is caring, helps friends solve problems, is street-smart and understands feelings from facial expressions, gestures and voice.
  • Intrapersonal Intelligence (Self-Smart). This child shows a sense of independence, knows his abilities and weaknesses, and does well when left alone to play or study. He has a hobby or interest he doesn’t talk about much, is self-directed, has high self-esteem, and learns from failures and successes.
  • Naturalist Intelligence (Nature Smart). This child talks about favorite pets or outdoor spots, enjoys nature preserves and the zoo, and has a strong connection to the outside world. She likes to play outdoors, collects bugs, flowers and leaves, and is interested in biology, astronomy, meteorology or zoology.
  • Existential Intelligence (Philosophically Smart). This child enjoys thinking and questions the way things are. He shows curiosity about life and death and shows a philosophical awareness and interest that seems beyond his years. He asks questions like, ‘Are we alone in the universe?’

As a teacher of almost 40 years, learning about Multiple Intelligences and using this knowledge to plan my lessons was the single most important factor in helping each child in my care reach their potential. You have to have a variety of teaching strategies that will address each of the learning styles.

If all the teacher ever does is talk, write on the board and assign homework, the linguistic and intrapersonal children are happy and are probably doing well. But what about those children who learn best by talking or those who are strongly kinaesthetic and just can not sit still in their seats for long periods of time?

As a parent or caregiver, knowledge of these intelligences can help you understand how your child learns best. Knowing that it is normal that they will not be strong in all of them at a young age, you can enjoy providing activities in their areas of strength to watch their self confidence grow. As well, you can provide activities to give them exposure to other styles of learning and to experience joy with them as the grow and develop.

In subsequent blogs I will give tips on how you can strengthen each of these learning styles.