Is your child a visual learner?

Visual learners and learning style
Does your child have an obsession with highlighters, or spend hours looking at YouTube videos about his latest class topic? He might be a visual learner. Here’s how to tell – and how to get the most from his learning style.

What are learning styles?

There are many different models of learning styles, but the most commonly known is the VAK model, developed by New Zealand teacher Neil Fleming in 2001. According to his theory, children can be categorised as visual learners (those who learn through seeing), auditory learners (who learn by listening) and kinaesthetic learners (who learn by moving and doing). Today, most teachers agree that these definitions are rather simplistic, and that children tend to learn in a variety of different ways, but nevertheless, it can be useful to try to identify how your child learns best.

What is a visual learner?

Visual learners are children who find it easiest to learn by seeing. For a concept to sink in, they need to be able to see it – or at least visualise it in their mind. Some visual learners learn best through written language and are good at writing and following directions, while others find it easier to learn through charts, diagrams, pictures and videos.

Is your child a visual learner?

Unsurprisingly, visual learners tend to enjoy drawing and colouring, and also like doing jigsaws and puzzles and playing with construction toys like Lego and Meccano. Your child may be a visual learner if he’s good at drawing (and reading) maps, charts and diagrams, and is interested in machines and inventions. Visual learners usually have good imaginations, and may appear to be daydreamers in class, because their attention is tied up with mentally illustrating the concepts that are being taught. They tend to look upwards when they’re thinking hard about something, and, when they understand something, are likely to say things like, ‘I see!’ or, ‘I get the picture.’

Helping your visual learner with spelling and other key skills

Visual learners are often very good at spelling, because they naturally take a mental photograph of the words they have to learn. Because visual learners need to be able to see a concept to visualise it, it’s also a good idea to encourage your child to use colours or diagrams to help him learn his spellings or times tables. For instance, if he struggles to remember in which order to write the ‘ie’ in words like ‘friend’ or ‘believe,’ writing that letter pairing in a different colour ink could provide the visual cue that he needs for it to sink in.

Top five learning strategies for visual learners

  1. Encourage your child to leave lots of margin space around his work, so that he can write notes or draw pictures to prompt his memory.
  2. Use different coloured pens, highlighters or underlining to help important concepts sink in.
  3. Make use of tables, graphs and diagrams – your child is, for example, likely to grasp the idea of the water cycle in diagrammatic form far more easily than if it’s explained verbally.
  4. Talk to your child about the importance of looking at his teacher when she’s speaking; this will help to keep his mind focused, rather than drifting off into daydreams.
  5. Encourage your child, before beginning a new book or a new chapter, to scan it through first, taking in headings, pictures and other page furniture – this will give him a good overview of the content before he begins reading.

Helping your visual learner with homework

Visual learners tend to work best on their own, so make sure your child has somewhere to work without distraction. Encourage him to use diagrams or doodles to help him solve a problem – if, for example, he’s working on an addition task, he might want to draw dots on the page margin to add up. Provide a good selection of stationery for him to use, such as coloured pens, sticky notes and highlighters. When reading with your child, ask him to describe the pictures he sees in his mind as he’s reading. If he’s researching a project, allow him to use picture books and videos on the internet to find the information he needs. And don’t worry too much about presentation – his homework may end up looking like a riot of colour and doodles, but these tactics could be improving his learning.

Please note that the learning styles theory has recently been questioned by neuroscientists and educational experts and many teachers are moving towards the use of other, more evidence-based, methods in the classroom.