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Learn How Your Child Learns

When you connect with your childís learning style, you help him feel more at home. By Lois Melina

A friend and I are taking voice lessons. We sing together in a group and want to improve our technique. At our first lesson, the instructor asked what each of us did to sing on pitch. "I have to see the note," my friend said. "I have to hear it," I said. The incident reminded me that people have different ways of learning as well as different types of intelligence. Thatís something for parents to think about as children head off to school in the fall.

Iím an auditory learner. I learn best by hearing and speaking. Journalism was a good career choice for me because it depends on my ability to gather information by interviewing experts. I have "linguistic intelligence," the ability to learn by hearing, speaking, or writing words. This means I have difficulty remembering information that Iíve read unless I copy it or discuss it aloud. I tend to learn best on my own, which explains why group projects in school drove me crazy.

When my children were in school, the advice I gave them came from my own experience: take notes, study by typing up your notes, donít listen to music while you read. It didnít occur to me that some people can take in information just by reading a textbook. Music complicates my own learning process because it competes with the words I am trying to hear, but some people actually retain information better when they are listening to music, or tapping a pencil. Highlighting text in yellow marker serves both visual learners and those who learn kinestheticallyóthose who must do something physical as they take in material.

The Adoption Factor

Several factors influence a personís style of learning and the type of intelligence that is most highly developed. Genetics, or the interaction between genetics and environment, is one of those factors, perhaps because learning styles take place in different parts of the brain. For this reason, adoptive families may be more likely than biologic families to see differences between parents and children, and between siblings, in both ways of learning and types of intelligence. Being mindful of those differences can help parents assist children in their schooling. By understanding these differences and embracing them, adoptive parents minimize the chance that their child will think: I just donít fit in this family.

Although educators are becoming more attuned to the various learning styles of children, most educational environments, as well as standardized testing, favor those students with logical intelligence or linguistic intelligence. Traditional schools are set up for visual and auditory learning. Kinesthetic learnersóthose who need to move around and are constantly manipulating something with their handsóare often considered classroom distractions.

So the differences between siblings or between parents and child when it comes to styles of learning may correlate to academic success. The non-logical, non-linguistic child may think: Iím a failure, or, Iím a real disappointment to my parents. When we read about reunions between birthparents and adopted persons, we frequently hear about the discovery of similarities in mannerisms. Some of these "mannerisms" are manifestations of learning styles or types of intelligence. When an adoptee feels a connection to her birth family because they share what appear to be random habits, perhaps what she is feeling is that these people understand and appreciate a core element of who she isóthe way her mind works.

Of course, learning styles and intelligence types are not black and white. Unless there is physiological impairment, everyone learns by seeing, hearing, and doing. Everyone has some ability in math, can hear a tune, has insight into themselves. I primarily learn by hearing, but when it comes to finding my way in a new place, Iíd rather look at a map than listen to directions. (My first choice would be to have with me my daughterís friend who just seems to know which direction to go in a city on her first visit.)

Parents arenít clueless about their childís learning or intelligence simply because it isnít the parentís own style. But most of us rely on our own experiences in relating to others. If a childís approach to learning is different from ours, we simply need to find commonality and to validate the childís unique make-up. Friends of mine who are highly skilled at learning visually and by experimentation adopted a child with keen interpersonal intelligence. They study with her as a group, capitalizing on her natural tendency to thrive in social situations. Sheís on the honor roll.

Accentuate the Positive

By recognizing their childrenís intelligence type, parents can guide them to activities and interests where they will thrive. Obviously, a child with highly evolved kinesthetic intelligence may excel in sports, but also may enjoy hands-on activities in the outdoors. The child with good interpersonal skills could be the top-ranking popcorn salesman in a school fundraiser or show leadership potential in Scouts.

Ideally, a teacher would present opportunities for children of all learning styles to grasp a lesson. Good communication between parents and teachers on a childís learning strengths and weaknesses can help with that, but parents must be cognizant of the limitations of traditional classrooms. If the childís intelligence type canít be accommodating to these, parents might consider an appropriate private or magnet school, or consider home schooling.

Parents can also let their children teach them. The visually oriented parent with little kinesthetic awareness can let her child acquaint her with the world of movement and music. The logical parent can be open to entering the childís world of spatial awareness or interpersonal intelligence. It may feel odd at first, but it goes a long way to communicating toward children that their parents cherish their unique traits.

©2003 Adoptive Families. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

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