How does your tot learn?

Is your little one an imaginative learner, a common sense learner, an analytical learner or a dynamic learner?
Is your little one an imaginative learner, a common sense learner, an analytical learner or a dynamic learner?

(This article was first published in Your Baby, Jan/Feb 2014) 

Have you ever noticed that what works with one child may not necessarily work for another? Your techniques for combatting fussy eating that worked wonders on your first-born just don’t have the same effect on his sister, and your friend’s child responds well to time in the naughty corner but yours responds better to being spoken to. Just as each child has his own unique ways and habits, each child learns differently as well.

Now that your toddler has embarked on his very first steps in his educational journey by starting preschool, it’s a good time to try to figure out how your little one processes and retains information, so that you know how best to equip him for success in his future schooling.

The imaginative learner

Imaginative learners perceive information in concrete ways and then process it reflectively. They prefer interaction, integration and sharing rather than the “sit and git” traditional classroom style. According to Cape Town-based early educational specialist Simona Maraschin, “This is the ‘dramatic’ child who uses his fantasy world to make sense of things,” she says.

He probably plays dress-up and make-believe games quite often and tells a lot of stories. “It’s very common for children under the age of four to be wrapped up in their own worlds and to use their imaginations often, as this forms a very big part of their learning.

With very young children, it’s very important to encourage this kind of play as this is how they learn,” she adds. “Lots of stories – particularly fables and folktales – that your child will listen to and absorb, are a good way to teach imaginative children. Such stories illustrate reality and your child will take in the morals (what is considered right and wrong) from the stories.

Since your child’s imagination is in his head, you don’t even need to get loads of dress-up clothes as he could probably invent the most beautiful costume out of a blanket.”

Simona does, however, urge parents of imaginative children to limit their use of concrete objects such as PlayStations, iPads and even the TV, as this doesn’t encourage them to use their vivid and actually narrow your child’s imagination and it’s better to take your child out into his environment to allow him to make use of what he has,” she advises.

Remember, young children learn through play and this is ultimately what they need to be doing. Structured exercises – no matter how your child learns – aren’t really necessary at this age in any event. “Parents tend to put pressure on themselves and their children to start learning ‘formally’ when they start preschool but play is still paramount at this stage,” she urges.

The common sense learner

Common sense learners perceive information abstractly and then process it actively. They desire real-life applications of learning and thrive with hands on instruction. Traditional classroom instruction will frustrate them unless they can see immediate uses for the skills and knowledge presented to them in class.

“In other words, your common sense child will use what he’s already learnt and what you’ve already taught him in order to make sense of things,” explains Simona. “This is the kind of child who will give you an answer to something and you’ll think, ‘Wow, that’s really insightful, where did he get that from?’” The answer is, your common sense child is very aware of his surroundings.

He has picked up on everything that you’ve said to him and everything he experiences and then comes up with his own conclusions about most things – whether you taught it to him directly or he simply saw it or heard it somewhere – based on what he knows.

“Common sense learners generally have very good memories and would benefit from logical pattern and memory games, a lot of interpersonal contact and being fed with unregimented information. They listen to everything that you say, and you need to be very hands-on with them as they pick up everything from the outside,” urges Simona.

If your child falls into this category, make a point to ask him lots of questions, keep his little mind enquiring about things, and hear him and his logic out too. Also, because he’s so hypervigilant broad you need to be very careful in terms of what he’s watching on TV as he really does take in everything, she says.

The analytical learner

Analytical learners perceive information abstractly and then process it reflectively. They value established knowledge and detail. Because they prefer sequential, step-by-step learning, the traditional classroom approach works well for them. This is your classic, “But why, Mommy, why?” child.

“Analytical children ask a lot of questions because they tend to want to know the answers to everything,” maintains Simona. “This type of child is the polar opposite to the imaginative child and he needs answers, which is why he’ll ask, ‘But why?’ over and over again, often frustrating you.” The best thing that you can do for your analytical learner is to help him make the link between his question and your answers, she says.

Because while your common sense child will form the links (regardless of whether they are right or wrong) on his own, your analytical child needs you to do it for him. “In order to help this child learn, you’ll need a lot of patience, and you’ll also need to be careful not to do too many formal tasks with him,” warns Simona.

“Your analytical child will love the formal learning environment, and be keen for this kind of environment and to learn his ABCs and counting from an early age, but you don’t want him to lose out on playing. Be careful, then, not to focus too much on learning but rather let him play. It’s vital, and something that analytical children sometimes struggle with.”

Simona also recommends that when your child asks, “But why?” answer him, but also ask him what he thinks to give him the opportunity to form his own conclusions and use his imagination a little bit more, as this will help him to build his confidence too.

The dynamic learner

These children perceive information concretely and process it actively. They do not care about order and sequential learning, but prefer to take risks and tackle new challenges. They are often frustrated by traditional classroom methods. “In the same way that you are hands-on with your common sense learner, you need to be the same with this type of learner,” stresses Simona.

“The dynamic learner, like your common sense learner, is very social and you need to be very careful with these types of children as they’re often given a label of some sorts. For example, a dynamic learner may be misunderstood as having something like an attention deficit disorder because while he may look hyperactive, he is in fact learning while ‘on the move’.

All he’s doing wrong, essentially, is not sitting still in his chair to learn formally.” These children generally learn much better by interacting with their peers and with their environment, and the best way to “teach” them is to take them out and let them explore.

“Yes, he will take risks and may even get himself into tricky situations quite often. But you need to allow him to do this,” she urges, pointing out that young children need to develop their gross motor skills before they develop their fine motor skills in any event, so if your child is not one for arts and crafts at three, that’s fine as the skills there are not very important yet.

“Parents also need to observe their children and if they feel they have a dynamic child, they need to make his teacher aware of it and explain that their child struggles to sit down.

Perhaps, then, your child can be better understood and given more breaks to cater for his needs,” she suggests. Lastly, it’s important to know your child and know which category he falls into – generally – without necessarily putting him into a box.

“There are many, many different types of learning styles apart from these four and many children don’t just identify with one style, falling into more than one. Keep these crossovers in mind always,” cautions Simona.

Do you know how your tot retains information? Is he analytic or more dynamic? Send us your comments and stories to we may publish it. 

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