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Preschoolers' Learning Styles

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Q: My son is 3 years old and in preschool. He recognizes letters and the numbers 1 to 10. He is interested in looking at some picture books, but he doesn't like listening to stories or drawing on paper. Is this normal for his age? How can I make my son interested? A: Your excellent question reflects an important aspect of early childhood education: the different learning styles of children. All children learn differently, and your son is showing this by his interests in a particular type of activity.

Some children learn best through visual activities such as recognizing and reading numbers and letters. Others, called auditory learners, learn first and best through listening to stories, music or instructions. Kinesthetic learners are best engaged through activities that include the manipulation of objects, such as drawing, building, or being physically active with learning.

It sounds as if your son is most interested in visual learning activities, but this does not mean he will not be able to integrate his strength in visual learning with the other areas. Visual learning is the "doorway" he prefers and uses. You can interest him in listening to stories by giving him a copy of the book that is being read at story time so that he can look at it as it is being read. Or have him sit close to the front of the group so that he can see the pages very clearly. Keep directing his attention to the pictures and words as the reader goes through the story. This will encourage him to integrate the two areas of learning.

Drawing is a skill that develops later in the preschool/kindergarten years for many children. It takes small-muscle control and coordination and can be very challenging for young children. So start big. Instead of asking your son to draw a picture of something or write letters, give him fingerprints to make big lines and swirls. (Try finger-painting with chocolate pudding on a clean tray for yummy drawing fun!) This type of activity will help him develop those muscles and perhaps his interest. But don't push it. This will come in time.

Since your son is interested in visual learning, help him "see" the designs he is creating while he finger-paints or paints with large brushes (try taking a coffee can of water and big house-paint brushes to "paint" the sidewalk). Talk together about the different shapes, similarities and differences he can see and about what the shapes he's made might remind him of. For example, a big brush stroke might look like a dragon's tail or a bird flying.

When you start with a child's strengths and interests you open the door to learning in all areas.

About the Author

Ellen Booth Church is a former professor of early childhood education, an education consultant and author.

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