Intelligence and study styles: What works best for your child?

Children have different types of intelligences and different study styles work for different children. Find out what makes your child tick and you could unlock their potential.
Children have different types of intelligences and different study styles work for different children. Find out what makes your child tick and you could unlock their potential.

Every child is unique and intelligent in different ways. Experts have come to realise that intelligence is no longer just about IQ, but about social, linguistic, logical, spatial, musical and body-kinesthetic intelligence (among others) as well. Children who used to perform poorly in IQ tests were considered ‘dumb’, where if they were simply tested on another scale they would have been identified as ‘super-intelligent’.  

All children are smart in some way or another, even those children labelled as ‘mentally or learning ‘disabled’. The best thing you can do for your child is to discover where they excel and help them find ways to show the world how brilliant they are.  

Closely connected to different types of intelligence (termed "multiple intelligences"), are learning styles. Children learn in different ways and how they learn gives a strong indication of where their level of intelligence is high (and vice versa). Also, if your child works with his natural knack for learning, his or her studying, homework, extra-mural activities and even inter-personal relationships can be improved.

Keep in mind that your child may have a combination of learning strengths and will need to take methods from each for optimal learning.  

So where is your child smart and how does he or she learn?  

Logical-mathematical intelligence

Children with this learning style love solving problems and coming up with the right answer. They love to do research and discover new information. These children are really good at tests and exams because they enjoy answering questions. 

A typical logical-mathematical thinker:

  • likes a tidy room
  • is good at problem solving
  • love puzzles
  • can easily unscramble letters to make a word
  • needs structure
  • enjoys fixing things
  • is good at strategy games such as chess.

Study tips for logical-mathematical children:

  • Set up their own mock exam.
  • Do a Q and A session with them.
  • Encourage them to do more research on what they are learning – these children love the internet.
  • Give them a structured learning environment: study goals, incentives and record their successes (gold star chart for instance).
  • Their desk needs to be kept tidy and functional.

Social-interpersonal intelligence

These children are great with people and don't like to work alone. They love to discuss their ideas and work best in groups

The social-interpersonal learner:

  • is considered a natural leader
  • believes in fighting for a cause
  • has close friends
  • loves parties
  • is good team player.

Study tips for social-interpersonal learners:

  • Set up a study group for learners with similar learning strengths.
  • Discuss what your child is studying with them – ask them to tell you all about it.
  • Let them "present" their work as if they were on stage; they can even talk to themselves in the mirror.

Bodily-kinesthetic (tactile) intelligence (the "cat")

Like a cat loves being touched, a kinaesthetic learner absorbs information best by touching or experiencing it. She prefers participating in activities and performing skills such as note-taking and writing. Learners with this strength find it very hard to sit still and learn best by using their hands or moving around. Kinaesthetic children are usually creative and most of them find studying difficult. 

You know you have a bodily-kinesthetic learner when:

  • they learn best by active involvement
  • like to do things with their hands
  • their hobbies are physical
  • they find it hard to sit for a long time
  • they enjoy exercise
  • and like to keep busy
  • can take items apart and put them back together again, such as building blocks
  • moves around all the time and is often regarded as a hyperactive child
  • is usually good at sports, such as hockey, tennis and swimming
  • enjoys reading how-to books on topics such as pottery or carpentry, and
  • likes to lie on the floor or bed to study.

Study tips for bodily-kinesthetic learners:

  • Give them a stress ball to play with while studying.
  • Tapping their foot or fidgeting with a pencil helps them concentrate, so don't stop them.
  • Study well with music on.
  • Take lots of short breaks between studying; they battle to concentrate for long periods of time.
  • Use flash cards that they can flick through (keeps their hands busy).
  • Younger learners enjoy writing their notes in sand with their fingers.
  • Move around while learning – pace around the room, jump rope while memorising, gesture with their hands as they explain to themselves.
  • Write repetitive lists – just the continual action of writing will engrain the information.
  • Bring colour into her studying by encouraging her to write summaries on different coloured paper. For example, use green paper for Social Science, pink paper for Natural Science, and so on.
  • Because she finds it difficult to concentrate for long periods, limit her study periods to 15 minutes at a time, with five-minute breaks in between.
  • When studying, encourage her to sit on a gym ball instead of a chair.
  • Try to make sure that there are no distractions in the room.
  • Encourage her to take as many experimental learning opportunities as possible such as lab or studio courses, instead of traditional courses.

Auditory intelligence (the "owl")

Like an owl preying in total darkness, an auditory learner can pick up sounds in the environment others may not even be aware of. She learns information best by hearing it and processes it by repeating it aloud. Auditory learners remember a lot of what was said in class and prefer listening to information than reading it. The auditory learner:

  • focuses in on noise and sounds
  • finds it easy to move to a beat
  • loves seeing musicals
  • plays musical instruments well
  • remembers sounds and words after hearing them once (such as song lyrics)
  • likes having music on when studying
  • never stops talking and is a good storyteller
  • usually has poor handwriting and
  • prefers videos to books.

Study tips for auditory learners:

  • Read work aloud to themselves. It is also a good idea for them to record it – then they can listen to the recording later as they study.
  • These children are easily distracted by noise so don't have the TV on loud while they are studying and avoid loud interruptions such as lawn mowers, vacuum cleaners, etc.
  • Ask them to make up a song with their study notes. They will never forget those lyrics!
  • Repeat facts with their eyes closed.
  • Make up rhymes and other mnemonic devices to remember facts.
  • Having music on tends to help, but make sure it is classical or instrumental, as music with lyrics or a fast beat will be more of a distraction than an aid.
  • Speed up the learning process by recording her lessons on tape or CD, and let her listen to it while she follows it in her book.
  • To reinforce what she's learning, encourage her to read aloud while studying.
  • Encourage her to use a finger or a pointer to avoid skipping words.
  • Use rhymes when learning new facts. For example, if she has to learn the dates that Columbus sailed to America, try the rhyme "In fourteen hundred and ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue."

More study tips for auditory learners

Linguistic intelligence

These are the "natural" study types. They love reading and studying and learning comes very naturally to them. The linguistic learner:

  • is interested in learning foreign languages
  • enjoys reading books, magazines and websites
  • likes to write letters
  • enjoys class discussion
  • keeps a journal
  • takes notes to help with studying
  • loves crossword puzzles

Study tips for linguistic learners:

  • Take a lot of notes.
  • Read through the information plenty of times.
  • Look through dictionaries, encyclopedias and the internet to find out more about a term or topic they don't understand.
  • Write a story to help them remember.
  • When studying graphs or charts, they should put them into words first to help them understand better.

Spatial-visual intelligence (the "eagle")

With her eagle-like eyesight, a visual learner notices everything and loves anything that involves her eyes. Children with this learning strength think in pictures and are sometimes known as having a "photographic memory". Visual learners:

  • often re-arranges his or her room
  • enjoys things like packing the car for a journey
  • remembers facts easily with charts, graphs and tables
  • dresses well (colours match)
  • can find their way easily (good at navigating and reading maps)
  • recalls things as mental pictures
  • enjoys three-dimensional puzzles like the Rubik's Cube
  • tend to daydream a lot
  • prefers reading and learns information best by seeing it;
  • likes to look at books and pictures and enjoys doing puzzles
  • will write something down if she wants to remember it
  • notices detail such as how others are dressed, and spelling errors
  • likes using technology such as computers; and
  • remembers the faces of people she meets and may forget names.

      Study tips for spatial learners:

      • Remember facts with charts, graphs and tables.
      • Draw pictures to remember their work.
      • Mind maps work perfectly for this learning style.
      • Go wild with colour – highlighting important facts, circling keywords, etc.
      • Let them change their study environment: in the garden, at their desk, on their bed, etc. This change gives them a whole new perspective while studying.
      • Encourage them to put their notes on the wall, yellow sticky notes on the fridge, etc. For example, red notes represent main themes, blue notes point to supporting themes, and so on. 
      • Visualise ideas and facts: tell them to create funny pictures in their mind to remember boring facts.
      • Try flash cards. For example, write the word "apple" on one side of a page, and paste or draw a picture of an apple on the back. Older children can use flash cards to memorise difficult formulae or definitions. For example, try pasting the flash cards on doors, mirrors or in areas your child frequently visits.
      • When learning new words, encourage her to write each word several times.
        Children who are considered "school smart" generally fall into either the linguistic or mathematical-logical category (or even both). 

        No child is intelligent in all areas, just as no child is not intelligent at all. In addition to these learning styles and intelligence types, there are other categories that educational experts have identified, such as naturalist intelligence and intra-personal intelligence, and there will probably be many more discovered as this area is researched in more detail. 

        The bottom line is that your child is smart. No matter what has been said about him or her, or what the report card shows. Your child has a very specific way of learning and understanding the world and if you can tap into that, a whole new world can open up.  Go discover the genius!

        Michelle Minnaar has degrees in Psychology and Education and regularly conducts workshops for teens and parents on topics such as self-esteem, depression, eating disorders, drug abuse and learning problems.

        How does your child learn? Do you believe every child has some talents? Send your comments to for possible publication.

        Also see:

        How to master learning with mind maps

        Learning with flash cards and the Leitner system

        How to use mnemonic devices to learn and remember facts

        How to remember lists of things through visual and word associations

        How not to study

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