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How Do Kids Learn?

Some children learn best outdoors, and some would rather work at the kitchen table. Some prefer to work on their own, and others prefer a set of specific instructions. So how does your child understand the world — through language, drawing and daydreaming, musical thinking, or logical calculations?

We all want to make learning experiences meaningful and effective, but do schools and parents really focus on the individual by building upon a child’s specific strengths or intelligences? When we want to find out if schools or students are successful, we turn to assessments, and — according to the Child Development Institute — most IQ and standardized tests primarily evaluate just two types of intelligences: verbal and math.

But when we maximize children’s natural skills and gifts, we maximize their learning. Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner proposes there are eight ways in which children demonstrate intelligence, and tapping into these strengths can accelerate learning.

Look at your child’s natural interests and talents and how she interacts with the world around her. These questions from the Child Development Institute’s Jay Davidson can help you identify the strengths your child exhibits, and Education Coalition Executive Director Dr. Carla Lane offers suggestions as to how to best serve these learners.

Does your child:

Use the body effectively, like a dancer or surgeon? Excel in more than one sport? Enjoy taking things apart and reassembling them? Enjoy running, jumping or other physical activities, show skill in fine-motor coordination activities such as origami, making paper airplanes? Bodily-kinesthetic kids learn best through physical activity, hands-on learning and role playing.

Show understanding when interacting with others? Enjoy socializing? Seem to be a natural leader? Empathize easily with others and give advice to friends? Show signs of being street-smart? Enjoy teaching other kids? These students with strong interpersonal skills learn through group activities, seminars and dialogs. Tools include the telephone, audio conferencing, time and attention from the instructor, video conferencing, writing, computer conferencing and E-mail.

Show a sense of independence or strong will? Demonstrate realistic understanding of her own abilities or goals? Do well when left alone to play or study? “March to the beat of a different drummer?” Have good self-esteem? Intrapersonal learners tend to shy away from others but are the most independent of the learners. They’re in tune with their inner feelings; they have wisdom, intuition and motivation, as well as a strong will, confidence and opinions. They can be taught through independent study and introspection. Tools include books, creative materials, diaries, privacy and time.
Think in terms of physical space? Easily recall visual details in objects? Like to draw, do puzzles, read maps, doodle and daydream? Drawings, verbal and physical imagery helps students with strong visual-spatial skills to learn. Tools include models, graphics, charts, photographs, drawings, 3-D modeling, video, videoconferencing, television, multimedia and texts with pictures/charts/graphs.

Show sensitivity to rhythm and sound? Easily remember song melodies and sing them? Recognize when music is off-key? Tap on the tabletop when working? Musical learners love music, but they are also sensitive to sounds in their environments. They may study better with music in the background. They can be taught by turning lessons into lyrics, speaking rhythmically and tapping out time. Tools include musical instruments, music, radio, stereo, CDs, multimedia.

Write and/or spell better than average for their age and use words effectively? Enjoy telling stories or jokes? Enjoy reading? Appreciate rhymes, puns, tongue twisters? Linguistic learners have highly developed auditory skills and often think in words. They can be taught by encouraging them to say and see words and read books together. Tools include computers, games, multimedia, books, tape recorders and lectures.

Demonstrate curiosity about how things work? Enjoy math or computer games? Like math in school? Enjoy strategy games that include reasoning, calculating? Think conceptually, abstractly and are able to see and explore patterns and relationships? They like to experiment, solve puzzles and ask cosmic questions. Logical-mathematical students can be taught through logic games, investigations and mysteries. They need to learn and form concepts before they can deal with details.

Talk about favorite pets or nature? Love the zoo, nature preserves? Hang around classroom pet? Collect bugs, flowers, leaves? Speak out about animal rights and earth preservation? Naturalistic students are often kinesthetic learners, so hands-on activities such as gardening or visiting an interactive natural history museum are perfect for them. For naturalists, everything from math to reading is made more alive when done outside.

You may find your child reflects several of these traits. In his Multiple Intelligences (MI) theory, Gardner says each of us has varying degrees of each of these intelligences, with some more dominant than others. All are equal in importance and often work together. The challenge, Gardner says, is when an educational system “assumes everyone can learn the same materials in the same way and that a uniform, universal measure suffices to test student learning.”

Ideally, schools, teachers and parents would all work together to provide rich, purposeful learning opportunities. Like Corbett Prep, schools need to integrate these areas into the curriculum and train teachers in addressing kids’ distinctive abilities and how they learn. Parents can find activities outside of school to help their children develop their dominant areas of intelligences. When we understand a child’s strengths and the unique ways he or she embraces learning, we help to create a true love of learning, a joy that lasts a lifetime.

Cindy Strickland is the Assistant Director of Middle School at Corbett Preparatory School of IDS, located in Tampa’s Carrollwood neighborhood. Corbett Prep is a fully accredited, nonsectarian private school serving over 500 students from PreK3-8th grade and offers the International Baccalaureate program of study for all students. Teachers are endorsed in gifted education through a master’s level grant with the University of South Florida. Visit for more information

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