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Understanding Your Child's Learning Style

Knowing your child's own learning style can assure academic success. Here's what to look for.
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Don't panic if your son has trouble spelling or your daughter can't sit still during history class. It may be that he or she simply has a different learning style.

Every child learns in a slightly different way, experts say, and figuring out your child's own learning style can help assure academic success. In some cases, it may even help do away with labels, like "attention deficit disorder (ADD)" and "learning disabled (LD)."

Here's a step-by-step guide to identifying, understanding, and making the most of your child's learning style.

Learning Styles: Identifying Your Child's Strengths

Parents need to keep their eyes and ears open to figure out what works best for their children when it comes to learning, says Mel Levine, MD, co-founder of All Kinds of Minds, a nonprofit institute for the study of learning differences.

"Some children are hands-on, while others work best through language and do well with reading," says Levine, a pediatrics professor at the University of North Carolina Medical School. "Some children understand things better than they remember them.

"There are many different patterns of learning, and the best thing that a parent can do is step back and observe what seems to be happening and what seems to be working with their child."

Levine suggests that parents begin evaluating their child's learning style at age 6 or 7. Learning styles really start to crystallize during the middle school years.

Understanding your child's disposition can also help you determine his or her learning style, says Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis, MS, a learning coach based in Ventura, Calif., and author of Discover Your Child's Learning Style.

For example, is your child adventurous? Inventing? Or thinking/creating like a poet or a philosopher?

"An adventurous personality really has to move to learn, so sitting at desk all day doesn't do it for them," she says. By contrast, "a child with an inventing disposition asks a million questions, such as 'How does this work?' 'What about this?'"

Another factor to observe is your child's "learning modality", she says. This refers to which senses your child best learns through. Are they auditory (listening and verbal), visual (picture or print), or tactile-kinesthetics (hands-on, whole-body, sketching or writing)?

"Some people are more visual and need pictures to learn, while print learners need print," she explains.

Another aspect of learning style involves the environment, she says. For example, noise, temperature or lighting may affect some children's ability to learn.

"For one child, temperature might not make a difference, but some children can't concentrate if it's too hot, and/or lighting can be a crucial factor for some people if fluorescent lighting causes eyestrain," she says.

Learning Styles: Playing to Your Child's Strengths

Once you have identified your child's learning style, you can begin to build on his or her strengths to compensate for learning weaknesses -- without labels.

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