As educators and parents we are constantly observing, supervising, and interacting with children through play. Play is the most vital form of learning, however that learning does happen in different styles. Each child is unique because of his or her own particular learning style. It is through this unique style that each child learns best. Theorist, Howard Gardner, identifies numerous multiple intelligences that indicate the natural ways people are most comfortable learning. This, of course, is what you are observing as your children freely play with the toys and materials available to them.
Learners are identified as visual/spatial, linguistic, logistical/mathematical, musical, physical, interpersonal, or intrapersonal, or even naturalistic learners. It's important to note that, according to the multiple intelligences theory, children are not restricted to just one way of learning, they might have both primary and secondary learning styles. We need to be able to adapt different learning styles into all aspects of our interactions with children.
These learners love color, pictures, and images. They enjoy painting and drawing. Having chalkboards and easels in the play space will allow for ample play and exploration. Visual children delight in looking at pieces to see how they go together, so make sure you provide lots of activities with your large wooden building blocks and table blocks in the manipulative area, provide lots of puzzles and connectors to keep these children engaged.
Learning about letters and words stimulates this child. Try playing with magnetic letters, or initiate letter recognition and name recognition by displaying children's names during circle time, posting names on a manipulative job board, or labelling lunch seats with name tags. Provide lots of paper and markers as even very young preschoolers pretend to write their names. Linguistic learners also thrive in story time, with the display of books. To expand, use puppets and props to tell stories.
You’ll find this child counting the number of blocks in his newly constructed tower. The learner with this style will love the counting challenges as you read many Robert Munsch books that have a pattern storyline, and three count plot. Play dough is even great for this style learners when you introduce cookie cutters and shape cutters, exploring geometry.
The musical learner can have fun dancing, chanting and singing songs. This child will enjoy when you read the silly rhythmic verses in Five Little Monkeys Sitting in a Tree. Encouraging children to use accompanying finger puppets or counting out the Five Little Monkeys, also introduces math elements, for a well rounded experience.
The child with this style learns best in a group setting, through talking, interacting, and playing with others. You'll notice this child learns to organize players while they develop original games with their own rules and regulations. Social skills of cooperation and turn-taking is fostered as well. Encourage interpersonal children to learn to share responsibilities through dramatic play, while playing with the giant dollhouse that everyone crowds. You can also involve the children in team-building while putting their toys away.
An independent worker, this child is reflective and a good analytical thinker. Playing with trains, cars and trucks encourages these skills. Maneuvering the digger trucks, the child makes his own decisions about how and why to dig. Provide materials for active, gross motor play while fostering a free, individualistic spirit, with bikes and scooters in the playground. For an older intrapersonal learner consider creating a special notebook for this child to keep a journal about their private thoughts, which fosters school readiness with note taking and writing skills.
Children way back in the day may have majorly been naturalistic learners, without all these Play Doh, Lego, Fisher Price innovations. Because this learner is tuned into nature you need to provide some props for observations and exploration outdoors; supplies like binoculars, compass, and bug keepers. To assist the naturalist in learning more about various species and plant and animal classifications, provide informative books as resources and references in the classroom, like the great collection of National Geographic books we have in our JK/SK classroom.
Keep in mind, even though various toys and ideas have been pointed out as relevant for specific learning styles, a toy might bridge several styles. For instance, a number puzzle is appropriate for strengthening a child’s logical/mathematics, physical, visual, and intrapersonal skills. Besides providing children with toys and activities related to their strong individual learning style, be sure to introduce them to other approaches as well to expand their exploration for optimal learning.