Learning Modalities: The Different Ways Children Learn

Prime Time Early Learning Center

Regional Education Director, Nancy Nathanson

Howard Gardner, theorist and author of Frame of Mind:  The Theory of Multiple Intelligences identifies the eight distinct intelligences we each hold.  He explains further how children learn, remember, perform and understand in different ways.  We not only come from different cultures, abilities and home experiences, but we inherently have different ways of learning.

As educators and parents, we can carefully observe and document our children’s behaviors and begin to understand what activities they are drawn to and how they approach learning.  Why does one child seem so motivated by a topic or planned activity while another has difficulty grasping that same concept.  What activities are they drawn to day after day? Do they seem to prefer verbal directions or do better when watching a demonstration?  Do they work best alone or with others?  Even, what kind of software they prefer when they use the computer – puzzles, games and stories, or graphics can provide clues to better understand how they learn.

Learning modalities refer to the style learners use to concentrate on, process, and retain information.  Here are the eight elements of multiple intelligences Gardner refers to and how we can apply them to activities and experiences in the early childhood years.

Linguistic/Language – learns by listening, reading, verbalizing, enjoys discussion. (ABC games, paper and markers, puppets, loves stories, jokes, riddles)

Logical/Mathematical-thinks conceptually, looks for abstract patterns, likes classifying and categorizing. (cash register, shape sorter, playdoh and cookie cutters, string beads, computer)

Musical – thinks in tones, learns through melody and rhythm, remembers songs (loves finger puppets, rain sticks and instruments, plays with microphone)

Spatial – likes to draw and design things, likes to build models, imagines real things and likes maps, charts and videos (loves color and painting, erector sets, and arts and crafts)

Bodily kinesthetic – processes knowledge through bodily sensations, learns by touching and manipulating, likes creative movement and physical activity (plays with the building set with gears, dress-up clothes, hopscotch rug, fixes things)

Interpersonal – understands and cares about people, learns from cooperative learning experiences and likes group games, makes friends effortlessly (makes up original games, magic castle playset and group activities are favorites)

Intrapersonal – enjoys working independently, likes to be alone, needs quiet space and time (keeps journals and diaries, arts and crafts, train sets with intricate parts

Naturalist – investigates, experiments and questions, finds out about the elements of science (enjoys science and nature, butterfly garden, bird feeder)

Knowing this information about how our children learn can assist us as teachers planning learning experiences that incorporate a wide range of modalities that is most likely to produce enthusiastic and engaged learners.  Parents, too, can identify their child’s learning styles and better understand what makes their child do what they do. We can be better advocates for our children and their successful journey in the learning process if we are more in tune to their strengths and styles.