Your kid is not doing as well as he should in school, and you don’t know why. Experts highlight five types of learning styles and personalities, and suggest ways to help.
Learning style #1: The Mover and Shaker
This child puts a leg up on the chair in order to pay attention, or fidgets or walks around constantly. “Some have sensory-motor integration issues like difficulty in balancing while sitting, so they can’t concentrate,” says Areena Loo, director of Bridge Learning.
“They don’t know how their body relates to surroundings and acting the way they do is how they help themselves.”
Try this: Hand him something he can twiddle with while studying, so he doesn’t walk around. Paste sandpaper under the table or place a toy nearby; touching these objects will help him stay focused, just like some students study better when they’re twirling a pen across their fingers. If he wants to walk around, make the boundaries clear and tell him that he can only move within that space.
(Also read: 6 steps to help your kid score in Primary 1 English)
Learning style #2: The Blank
Very often, a teacher or parent equates a child’s “I don’t know” with him not paying attention and moves on. The child learns that it’s an effective strategy and uses it more.
Sometimes a child doesn’t answer because there’s no incentive for him to give you the right answer; he’s bored; or the material is presented in a boring way and “I don’t know” becomes a learnt response for helplessness, explains Dr Mark Nowacki, founder of Logic Mills and a former assistant professor of philosophy (education) at Singapore Management University.
Try this: If your child says “I don’t know” repeatedly and you’re sure his brain’s shouting otherwise, try jazzing up the way you teach. Use bottles to explain a concept, alphabet pasta for spelling, or refresh the senses by taking him out of his usual studying environment. Dish out little rewards as he progresses.
Learning style #3: The Lost Milestoner
Missing out on early childhood milestones can affect how the brain grows. When Areena consults, she asks about milestones in a child’s physical, communication and mental development. “Some children missed out on crawling, which helps the right and left brain communicate with the rest of the body,” she says.
“If a child isn’t able to run and tumble around, the body cannot communicate with the brain to learn new information.”
Diagnostic assessments can give them options and manage parents’ expectations if the child has missed these milestones.
Try this: Talk to the school’s learning support coordinator if you suspect your kid has difficulty integrating various skill sets. You may notice he has trouble learning concepts such as distances and capacity no matter how hard you try. In the early years, plenty of hands-on learning experiences and outdoor play time promote well-rounded development.
(Also read: 8 ways to increase your child’s attention span)
Learning style #4: The Want-to Learner
Do you ask a question twice and wait impatiently for an answer? “We ask children to think harder when they are thinking. We pressure them to keep trying when they’re lost for words,” observes Dr Nowacki.
Or maybe he’s holding back answers because he’s bored, needs more time to digest or learns better in a different way.
Try this: Stay-at-home mum of two, Marilyn Ho, 36, discovered that seven-year-old Damien couldn’t study Mandarin sitting down with a book. He was motivated and more forthcoming with answers when she took him away from the table and used Chinese characters printed on flashcards she made herself.
Learning style #5: The Slow and Steady Thinker
“A child with poor auditory discrimination – someone who mishears sounds which can delay language development – may be able to cover that up if he’s a good visual learner and can memorise most of the stuff in lower primary,” Areena explains.
Sensory-motor integration issues, a processing problem in the brain, may be at play when a child can’t copy accurately or skips rows when writing. Such difficulties may “stem from the fact that many children today are made to write and spell from as young as three”, she says.
“At that age, children should be working on verbal expression, then moving on to different fine motor activities instead of going straight into writing.”
Try this: Understand that your child needs more time to learn and will benefit from professional help, if this is proven by an expert. Such a learning difficulty highlights the importance of little things like tying shoe laces and playing with kids’ clay early on in life.