You’ll know your child is a visual learner if he’s frustrated when he can’t “see” concepts or ideas. Or, if it’s easier for him to draw his thinking rather than using words. Visual learners, says Linda Silverman, director of the Gifted Development Center in Colorado, “often take things that were intended to be used in one direction and flip them to see the possibilities from a different perspective.”
This is can be a leg up when it comes to thinking outside of the box, but visual learners may struggle in school because of this different perspective. Allie Golon, author of Raising Topsy-Turvy Kids: Successfully Parenting Your Visual-Spatial Child, says this struggle can be more apparent in second and third grade in particular, when these kids may be having a hard time memorizing multiplication tables or spelling words. The good news is, there are things you can do as a parent to help combat these struggles. As your child moves through school, here are 12 ways to help your visual learner succeed.
- Let the Picture Load. When you ask your visual learner a question, he may take his time to answer. “Visual learners can find information by rewinding the tape in their minds,” says Linda Leviton, learning styles coach and director west coast director of the Gifted Development Center, “but it takes time.” Ask your child’s teacher to give your child extra time to answer questions, or give him the questions before class starts so he has time to convert pictures into words, and vice versa if need be.
- Allow Piles. Visual learners like to organize in piles and stacks. He’ll lose things in file drawers, but will quickly find a book, toy, or t-shirt from the piles on the floor. Give your child space to organize his work. In school, provide your child with pocket folders that allow him to make “piles” in his binder.
- Color Code. Ask your child to organize his binder or folders by color depending on what color he associates with writing, reading, math, and other subjects. Then, as he reads, have him highlight information by color: characters can be highlighted in yellow, places in green, plot events in blue, etc. Using colors to highlight information will help your child “see” information on the page, and recall it later. It's a great way to visually call out text in a somewhat pictorial way.
- Let Him Look Away. Looking directly at the teacher, says Golon, can be too much visual information. When your child stares out the window during class, he’s not daydreaming, he’s listening and creating images in his mind. “Lots of teachers insist on ‘eyes on me,’” says Golon, “and for visual learners, that stops them from being able to really listen.” Ask your child’s teacher to let him look away or out the window during whole group instruction as long as he’s able to answer the questions after the lesson.
- Show Problem Solving. Visual learners can complete math problems correctly, but often aren’t able to explain the process. At home, have your child explain how he solved math problems by drawing the steps. This will allow him to make the connection between the process and the end result.
- Show Time. Visual learners often get lost in time as one minute stretches into five or ten. Try using a Time Timer to keep your child on schedule. The visual representation of time, and time passing, will help your child get a better sense of how to manage his time and where he fits into it.
- Practice Thinking Under Pressure. It can be stressful for a visual learner to have to translate images into words when he's under a time crunch—for example when he's taking a test. Like anything else, the best way to overcome that hurdle is to practice, practice, practice! The more he practices making those translations, the better he'll get, and the easier it will become for him. More importantly, he'll be able to do it more quickly. Play games that use timers, Pictionary, Boggle, timed Scrabble, to practice going from images to words in a fun way.
- Focus on the Whole Word. The newer methods of reading, based on phonemic awareness, are designed for auditory-sequential learners, says Silverman. Visual learners learn whole words or parts of words that have meaning. When your child reads, he may skip words like “the,” and “it” that have little meaning to him, even though he understands the content. As your child reads and builds his vocabulary, ask him to outline the reading passage or draw definitions for new words. This again, will help him make the connection between text and image and really make the learning stick for him.
- Teach Keyboarding. Being able to flip images and see different possibilities helps visual learners imagine, but it can be a hindrance when kids are trying to learn to differentiate between lowercase B, P, Q and D. Teach your child to use the computer keyboard early, which will help him with his typing skills, and help him differentiate between tricky letters. The keyboard is a great way to reinforce visual distinctions between the different letters.
- Make Memorization Funny. If your child has to memorize lists or facts, such as state capitals, the colonies, or vocabulary lists, help him create a funny image in his mind for each of the items. A big salt shaker over Salt Lake City, UT, for example. These kinds of visual associations are not only great memory tricks, but they'll also make the process more fun.
- Use Internet Resources. As your child starts to explore different topics and time periods, use the Internet to show him what he’s learning. Travel, history, science, and other sites can help your child connect with topics from history timelines to abstract science concepts to world cultures and more.
In the long run, your child’s visual ability will help him succeed in the 21st Century, says Golon. In school, kids may be rewarded for neat handwriting, following directions, or memorizing facts, but in the workplace, they’ll need to work together, be creative, and solve problems, all visual learners’ strengths. Throughout his time in school, make sure to celebrate your child's unique ability to think outside of the box!