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What's your child's learning style?

The physical learner

Physical learners (also known as "tactual-kinesthetic learners" – "tactual" for touch, "kinesthetic" for movement) discover the world best when they're using their hands or bodies. In some ways, all children are natural physical learners. As babies, they rely on their sense of touch to grasp new ideas and concepts. Remember how yours discovered his toes – and almost every other body part – by putting them in his mouth? By the time children reach preschool or kindergarten, many have begun to adopt other learning styles, but some children maintain a strong affinity for physical learning. While many physical learners are both tactual and kinesthetic, some are decidedly one or the other. If your child prefers to feel things in his hands, he's primarily tactual. These are the kids who enjoy hands-on activities, such as cutting construction paper to make collages and fiddling with beads and other objects when learning how to count.

If your child learns best by immersing himself in a physical activity, he's kinesthetic. These kids like to move and get their whole body involved in activities. Your child is probably kinesthetic if he is very expressive, he likes to act out stories with his whole body, wiggle, dance, and move his arms or if he jumps around a lot even while listening to you.

What are the benefits of knowing my child's learning style?

Knowing how your child likes to learn and process information is an invaluable tool that you can use to help him do better in school and develop a love of learning. Education experts have identified three main types of learners – physical, visual, and auditory. Understanding that your child is a physical learner (though his style may shift over time), and therefore most comfortable using touch and movement to explore the world, can help you play to that strength and work on the other learning styles – auditory and visual – that need more stimulation.

When learning about counting, for example, a physical learner may need to use blocks, an abacus, or other concrete materials to practice the new concept. A visual learner will grasp the material more quickly by watching his teacher solve a problem in front of him. An auditory learner will remember the information if he can listen to the teacher explain it and answer his questions.

These learning styles aren't just theoretical. Several studies have shown that accommodating a child's learning style can significantly increase his performance at school. Many of these studies were based on a specific learning styles program developed by Rita Dunn, director of the Center for the Study of Learning and Teaching Styles at St. John's University in Jamaica, N.Y., and the evidence is compelling. Two elementary schools in North Carolina increased the achievement test scores of students from the 30th percentile to the 83rd percentile over a three-year period. And in 1992, the U.S. Department of Education found that attending to a child's learning style was one of the few strategies that improved the achievement of special education students on national tests.

Make an alphabet poster

Go to story time at the library or a bookstore

Nothing beats listening to a professional storyteller – especially one who gets the audience up from their seats and acting out the part of the story. Going to story hour at the library or a bookstore is a fun outing for a preschooler. As a bonus, you may pick up a few tips to jazz up your own read-aloud sessions.

Play dress-up and act out a book

Dressing up like the characters in your child's favorite book can really bring reading to life. Invite some of your child's friends over and make it a playdate.

Make finger puppets to go with a story

Cut the fingers off some old gloves and use fabric markers to draw the characters. You can also roll felt or paper for the body and then glue on eyes, noses, smiles, and hair. If your art skills could use some work, make color copies from the book, cut out the characters' faces, and glue them onto the glove fingers, rolled paper, or felt. Once you make the puppets, you and your child can use them to help tell a story.

Build a reading fort In your child's bedroom, drape blankets over a couple of chairs to create a tent. Grab a book and a flashlight and climb in with your child for story time in the dark. Your child's probably too young to read along, but he'll enjoy flipping through the pages, holding the flashlight, and looking at pictures. One caution: Keep the stories light and fun. This is no time for anything scary or serious. Serve a meal from a book Use food coloring to make green eggs and ham, try to re-create parts of the Grinch's Christmas feast, or make your own batch of porridge for Goldilocks and the Three Bears. You can even get a basket and fill it with goodies for Little Red Riding Hood to take to Grandmother's house. Have a reading picnic Take your favorite food and your favorite books to the park. You'll reinforce the idea that reading can be fun anywhere. Pack books about picnics, like We're Going on a Picnic! or Teddy Bears' Picnic.

Throw a party with a book theme Read over your child's favorite books and think about what elements would work as a party theme. Can you decorate his room like a jungle to represent Where the Wild Things Are? Can you collect hats and host a party about the Cat in the Hat? Whatever you come up with, you'll be sure to get your child and his friends excited about books.

By S. Jhoanna Robledo Updated June 2017

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