About 15-20% of students have learning challenges of one form or another. Of these students, about 50% are classified by the Department of Education as “learning disabled.” What none of the data show, however, is that students diagnosed with learning challenges are often of above-average intelligence and have usually found creative and sophisticated ways to help compensate for their challenges.

Another commonality among students with learning challenges is that they share a processing difficulty that interferes with their learning. Yet, despite the prevalence of various learning challenges among today’s students, these challenges aren’t often viewed as opportunities for growth. As a result, many parents feel discouraged and frustrated in their efforts to help their child succeed academically. What is important to note, however, is that all students, regardless of any challenge, learn differently. This is not unique to a diagnosis or label. There are ways you can help your child work with his or her innate abilities, ways in which you can work as a team to enrich learning as well as your child’s self-esteem.

Research indicates that about 25% of students remember information better when it is heard; this is auditory learning. About 40% of students remember information better when it is seen or read; this is visual learning. Some students need a hands-on experience to recall information better, and will often use their fingers or even objects to help remember basic facts. This is hands-on or kinesthetic learning. Along with these learning styles, a great percentage of students process information best when they can apply the information to real-life situations. This is experiential learning.

So what does this mean for the learning challenged child, or for any child facing difficulties in school? Since we all have one primary learning style, identifying your child’s primary learning style can help you work together to maximize his or her potential. Once a child’s primary learning style is identified, you can work together to adapt study methods to suit the way he or she processes information best. (See our free download, Identifying Your Learning Style, excerpted from our series, Study Skills: 50 Strategies for Success.)

We have broken down three primary learning styles and provided examples of adaptations that can be made to study methods. Don’t be afraid to experiment and get creative with your own methods, building off the suggestions listed here. Bring your child into the process and discover solutions together. Keep the experience as adventurous and as positive as possible.

Encourage your child to think of his or her own ideas, or to think about other methods of learning that seem easier than others. This is an exercise in metacognition, which is understanding the way in which we process and apply information. Many children have never thought about analyzing how they learn, so be patient with the process. And don’t be afraid to step back if at any time your child feels overwhelmed. Pressing on is counterproductive to your ultimate goals, which are preserving the bond you have with your child, and allowing him or her to become an active participant in his or her own learning.

Auditory Learners
 These learners do well with traditional teaching techniques. Many teachers use a lecture style, presenting information by speaking to their students. Auditory learners succeed when directions are read aloud or when information is presented and requested verbally.

Adaptations to Study Methods 

  • Reading information aloud to your child.
  • Having your child turn pictures and other graphics into words by describing what he or she sees.
  • Quizzing through oral methods rather than traditional written methods, such as flash cards or reading notes.

Visual Learners
 These learners prefer someone to show them how to do something rather than read about how to do something. Visual learners prefer diagrams, charts, pictures, films, and written directions.

Adaptations to Study Methods

  • Using to-do lists, assignment calendars, and written notes.
    (These study methods often benefit kinesthetic learners as well.)
  • Turning complex information into pictures or a chart.
  • Using graphic organizers to separate the most important information in a text or story into proper categories (this can also be done with stories, movies, TV shows, etc.). For example, use a graphic organizer like the one shown to break down the main idea and details of a favorite bedtime story.
Main Idea:  (what the story is mostly about)
Detail: (key information that supports the main idea) Detail: Detail:
Detail: Detail: Detail:


Kinesthetic Learners
 These learners prefer tactile experiences, such as touching, feeling, and manipulating. Kinesthetic learners are easily engaged when they can immerse themselves in a hands-on activity.

Adaptations to Study Methods

  • Use objects, or manipulatives, to help your child solve math problems. Manipulatives can be as sophisticated as connecting cubes and tangrams, or as simple as a paper clip or coin.
  • Conduct experiments to help explain science concepts. (The Internet is a rich source of easy experiments that can be done at home.)
  • Organize your own “field trips,” such as visiting museums that encourage hands-on explorations or walking in nature and observing shapes and patterns in plants, flowers, and anything that can be touched or held and examined.

Building Critical Thinking for all Learning Styles

  • Ask questions that stimulate thinking about solutions, rather than revealing the solutions to your child. Questions should probe, guiding your child to discover solutions on his or her own. (See Building Critical Thinking Skills at Home on our blog.) Such questioning builds comprehension, as well as your child’s ability to recall information.  Assessing critical thinking skills are the major component of the Common Core Standards.

Keep in mind, too, that learning styles can change as a child progresses through school, as illustrated by author Rita Stafford and Kenneth Dunn in their book, Teaching Secondary Students Through Their Individual Learning Styles. “Children enter kindergarten as kinesthetic and tactual learners, moving and touching everything as they learn. By second or third grade, some students have become visual learners. During the late elementary years some students, primarily females, become auditory learners. Yet, many adults, especially males, maintain kinesthetic and tactual strengths throughout their lives.”