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Different Children, Different Learning Styles

by Diann Gano

Some children are great at building with blocks. Others are "word people" who master new vocabulary words daily. Some are expert tree climbers. These clues may give you insights into each child's learning style.

When children excel at an activity, they repeat it often—and this makes them more likely to continue to build their skills in that area.

In his 1983 book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Harvard University psychologist and neuroscience professor Howard Gardner proposed that people have many different kinds of "intelligences."

Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences can provide a useful framework as you observe how children approach learning. You'll gain insights that will enable you to determine the best learning environment and activities for your students or for your own children. As you read this post, reflect on the ways that different children think, solve problems and learn.

VISUAL-SPATIAL INTELLIGENCE (These children are "picture smart.")

Children with well-developed spatial intelligence think and process information in pictures and images. They have excellent visual-receptive skills and fine-motor skills. They like to build with Legos, read maps and work on jigsaw puzzles.

BODILY-KINESTHETIC INTELLIGENCE (These children are "body smart.")

Children who possess bodily-kinesthetic intelligence explore the world through touch and movement. Their bodies and minds work in harmony and they can control their bodies with grace, expertise and athleticism. These children can be taught through physical activity, hands-on learning and role playing. 

MUSICAL INTELLIGENCE (These children are "music smart.")

Musical children think, feel and process information primarily through sound. They are sensitive to sounds in their environments, and they may learn better with music playing in the background. They can be taught by turning lessons into lyrics, speaking rhythmically and tapping out time.

INTERPERSONAL INTELLIGENCE (These children are "people smart.")

Children with a high level of interpersonal intelligence have a natural ability to interact with, relate to and get along with others. They are good leaders. These students learn through interaction. They have many friends, show empathy for others and possess "street smarts." They often learn best by engaging in group activities and dialogues.

INTRAPERSONAL INTELLIGENCE (These children are "self smart.")

Children with strong intrapersonal intelligence have a deep awareness of their feelings, ideas and goals. These learners tend to shy away from others. They are strong-willed, confident and opinionated. They learn through books, creative materials, privacy and time. Students with this type of intelligence usually need time alone to process and create.

VERBAL-LINGUISTIC INTELLIGENCE (These children are "word smart.")

Verbal-linguistic children love words and use them to "think through" and solve problems. These learners have highly developed auditory skills and often think in words. They like reading, playing word games and making up poems or stories. You can help these children learn by encouraging them to say and see words, read books, solve riddles and play rhyming games.

LOGICAL-MATHEMATICAL INTELLIGENCE (These children are "math smart.")

Logical-mathematical students enjoy working with numbers. They can easily interpret data and analyze abstract patterns and have a well-developed ability to reason and think in terms of cause and effect. These children are able to see and explore patterns, solve puzzles and ask questions. They like to experiment. They need to learn by investigation and form concepts before they can deal with the details.

NATURALISTIC INTELLIGENCE (These children are "nature smart.")

These children enjoy being in nature and want to preserve and protect the natural world. Children with strong naturalistic intelligence easily recognize and categorize plants, animals and rocks. They enjoy playing in the water or with pets and bugs and generally enjoy the outdoors. These children like to sit near windows and play with natural loose parts. They may learn better outdoors.

EXISTENTIAL INTELLIGENCE (These children are "life smart.")

These children see the big picture and are deep and reflective thinkers. They are often capable of tackling deep existential questions such as "Why are we here?" and "Why do we die?" The best way to teach these children may be by diving into all of the reflective thoughts that they throw at us. They love to think about how the world works, so topics such as gravity, weather, the planets and the universe all seem to pique their interest. These children like volunteering to help out in the classroom or support their latest cause. They also enjoy group discussions and discussions with adults.

When we focus on learning styles, we can see why children who have visual-spatial or logical-mathematical intelligence are more drawn to puzzles and may be better at solving them. If you've ever watched children completing puzzles that were clearly too advanced for their age, it's likely that these children possessed high levels of visual-spatial and/or logical-mathematical intelligence.

When you learn how children learn best, this knowledge takes your understanding up a notch and can help every child soar. Could this be the piece of the puzzle that changes how you present a topic to a confused child? Give it a try and find out!

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