Understanding My Son’s Learning Styles


Vincent ( far right ) engaging with a ‘tactile’ learning style during a class activity.

For several years, Vincent’s teachers have sought our attention because apparently he is having a hard time focusing in school, sometimes not participating in class, and always needing to do something with his hands. Because of these concerns, we have sat down and had talk with him a million times regarding these issues at school. We were getting frustrated! It’s always dreadful every time we receive an email from his teacher saying the same things.

At one point, we considered home schooling him so we don’t get this kind of pressure from the school. We have to admit, and to our shame, there were times Moses and I yelled at him and took away some of his privileges at home. I compared him to other kids and to my own study habits when I was in grade school.   We were aware that it isn’t fair to him to be treated that way. It was very challenging and frustrating that we lose our patience.

We also enrolled him to Kumon hoping it’ll help him develop concentration and better study habits. Although we help and support him doing his homework at home, we make sure that he takes responsibility as well. We know that Vincent is a very smart, clever and witty boy. But some teachers have suggested have him checked, maybe he has ADHD. Though we were in denial for long time, we are now considering seeing a specialist.

What’s interesting is, every time we get his report card, he excels basing on California Standard Test although his learning behavior is below average. We also get different opinions from our friends and family as well so it can be very confusing sometimes.

Our minister in our church also helped us understand that we, his parents should be his number one fan when it comes to learning. If he feels unloved and ‘not accepted’ because of his inability to concentrate, he will develop low self-esteem and more insecurity in life. I’ve been reading a lot about this topic and it’s overwhelming.

I bumped into an article written by Denise Mann of WebMD site. It is very enlightening and for the first time I felt there are ways how to help my son succeed in learning.

According to Denise Mann, you shouldn’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. She emphasized that 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).” So she recommends a step-by-step guide to identifying, understanding, and making the most of your child’s learning style.

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.

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. “If a little girl has a lot of spatial problems (difficulty picturing things), but is terrific in English, she can learn math by putting everything into her own words,” Levine explains. “If you show her an equilateral triangle and ask her to talk about it, boy, will she understand it. “She can only understand things in words, which is why she is such a terrific English student.”

Another way to enhance learning is to focus on your child’s affinities and areas of interest. “A lot of strength could ride on the coattails of their passions, and you can build academic skills in that area,” Levine says. “Have him became an expert in the area that he feels passionate about.” Pelullo-Willis agrees.

“Parents really should encourage children’s interests, talents and what they love to do,” she says. “Parents tend to say ‘If you are not doing well in school, you can’t take horseback riding lessons,’ but those are things that can build self-esteem.

Further, she says, “acknowledging and honoring their interests and talents tells you a lot about their learning style. If your child is really interested in plants and gardening, you can see if they are more hands-on and they need to go out there and garden. Or do they learn better from pictures about gardening, or reading about gardening?”

Increasing Awareness in Schools  

As it stands, schools mainly teach to print, auditory and language learners, according to Pelullo-Willis. “They teach by saying ‘Read, answer the questions and listen to me talk’ and that only covers a small percentage of children,” she says. If your child is a hands-on learner, “You can say: ‘Of course school is so hard for you; you need to move a lot and they don’t do that in school,’” she says. “Then learn everything you can about how to use their learning style to make school easier.” Adds Levine: “We are learning more and more that there are differences in learning, and to treat everyone the same is to treat them unequally.”

The good news is that growing numbers of teachers are focusing on learning styles and reaching out to all types of learners. For example, Levine helped launch the Schools Attuned program. This professional development program helps teachers acquire the knowledge and skills they need to accommodate learning differences.

To date, the program has offered training to 30,000 teachers. But if your child’s teacher has not been trained in learning styles, don’t despair, Pelullo-Willis says. Instead, talk to him or her about what you have observed about your child’s learning style. “Say, ‘Wow, I have just discovered this and I tried it, and he got it. Do you think we could work together using this kind of information?’ And the teacher may even get interested in reading a book or article on learning style,” she says.

Now I have more in depth understanding of my son’s learning style. Vincent responds very well with visuals (picture or print), or tactile-kinesthetics (hands-on or whole-body participation. He has an adventurous personality and he really has to move to learn, so Levine is right, sitting at desk all day doesn’t do it for him.

Because I’m now empowered to support him in his study habits, I feel more relaxed and calm. I now have full acceptance that my son is different from the rest of his class. I am my son’s advocate and I will focus helping him with his strengths. Vincent’s success in learning is not defined by the school but through his parents who believes in him.

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