By Brenda Robinson
Parents and teachers who want to help children overcome struggles with learning activities are often challenged to understand why they are not understanding! Quite often, the information is repeated over and over again to clarify. But – does it clarify or does it confuse them even more?
Children begin very early to let us know how they prefer to receive information. When babies cry in their crib, they are communicating needs and wants to their parents or caregivers. What role does a style of communication play in soothing the crying child? Some babies stop crying as soon as they hear the familiar voice of a parent / caregiver. Their preference for receiving information is connected to auditory feedback and stimulation. They respond to what they hear.
Other babies will stop crying as soon as you enter the room. Indeed, they are often like little birds in a nest peering up over the bumper pads in search of you. Visual confirmation soothes some babies more than any other stimulation. Some other babies continue to cry and cry until they are picked up, patted, stroked and made fully aware of your presence. These babies are kinesthetic in their way of understanding. We need to respond to babies differently because they have different preferences. By being attentive to differences, we can often prevent frustration and misunderstanding.
Let’s consider the way toddlers taste and eat their meals. Toddlers with an auditory preference often enjoy the sounds of eating. They will slurp and smack and make all kinds of eating noises. They quickly learn the communication attached to food and snacks. They recognize the sounds of food preparation and the language of meal times. Visual toddlers watch closely and imitate the eating actions of adults. They may sort their food items by colour, shape and design. They may separate their food on the plate and eat one item or selection at a time. Kinesthetic toddlers are highly experimental in their approach to eating meals. They may “squish” food in their hands, throw food against the wall, mix food all together and pour their milk or juice into their bowl. They experience the food in highly interactive ways. They are intrigued by textures, shapes and mixes. All babies enjoy food, but in very different ways. It can be very challenging for parents and caregivers, especially those who would like them all to be tidy, careful eaters.
These preferences continue to challenge understanding as children entering the wonderful world of playschool and kindergarten. The teacher gives each child a pile of Lego with the instructions to build a house. Auditory children immediately ask questions. “Where do I start?” or “Which blocks go first?” or maybe “What colours should I use?” Without some auditory confirmation of the expectations, they may seem reluctant to begin.
The visual child looks around to see what other children are doing and looks at the Lego pail for a sample or example. A visual example is very important to these children. The kinesthetic child just starts building – happy to touch the Lego blocks and put them together. If these children are unhappy with the results, they do not hesitate to break it apart and start over again.
As the children work with the Lego, differences in style are readily obvious. Auditory children ask for feedback before going on. They may provide their own assessment by talking to themselves or seemingly to the Lego. Common phrases such as: “That looks good”, “That fits nice”, and “That works”. Auditory feedback is essential to their confidence in the task. Visual children look repeatedly at their construction to assess the progress. They view it from different angles and perspectives and often ask others “How does it look?” or “Would this look better?”
Kinesthetic children continue to build and change and add to the construction. They try to use different size blocks and seem fully engaged in the process more then the end result. Some even build castles and towers instead of houses. They love working with the Lego blocks and finding the many ways to work with Lego.
Eventually, all of the children build something. The auditory children like to talk about their construction. Visual children point out details and want to place their construction on a shelf or take it home to show mom and dad. Kinesthetic children often dismantle theirs immediately and plan a new construction. What a difference!
How can we meet and address all of these differences in the children we deal with? Well ….. we certainly can’t expect the same or treat them all the same – they’re different!
Let’s put ourselves in the place of the ten year old class (grade 4 – 5). As they leave the classroom at the end of a long, learning day, the teacher calls out “Now, don’t forget – pages 18, 19, 26, 27 and 33 for homework”. The children race out of the classroom, away from school and home. As they come through the door, mom or dad asks “Do you have any homework?” The auditory child thinks for a moment and responds “Yes, we have pages 18, 19 26, 27 and 33.” “I’ll do it after dinner.” The visual child squints, looks thoughtful and says “I don’t think so – I didn’t write anything in my journal or I didn’t write it on my hand.”
The kinesthetic child responds with little hesitation – “We did it all in class – some other kids have homework, but I don’t have any.”
What happened? All the children received the same instruction and yet the results are not the same. Sometimes we say “Can’t they hear” or “Don’t they listen?” Yes they can hear and listen, but the message was not meaningful for all of them. How can we be certain we give important information to all the children in meaningful ways? We need to remember and respond to the differences.
Fortunately, most children are not just gifted with one style. Most children have two strengths and some may find it easy to respond with all three communication styles. However, like any other preference we may have, we are more comfortable and more confident when we receive information in a style in keeping with that preference.
Taking time to get to know children, observing their preferences, watching them share information, listening to their questions and even watching facial expressions can help us understand what the best approaches are to clarify information and ensure understanding. To be truly helpful and to facilitate learning activities, parents, caregivers and teachers need this awareness. Understanding will minimize confusion, frustration and misunderstanding.