As a karate instructor for over 20 years, I have done extensive research on how people learn, specifically children. It should come as no surprise that all kids learn differently. Although each child has their own unique way of learning, there are generally three styles: aural, visual, and kinesthetic. Kids can learn primarily from one style or a combination of all three.
I will attempt to explain each style and provide an example in the context of martial arts teaching, as that is my area of expertise. These styles can be applied to anything, however, whether learning to play an instrument, a sport, reading, or doing math.
The example I will use for each style is the teaching of a form in karate which is a prearranged pattern of movements that involve many techniques, turns, and movements.
The visual learner
This type of person needs to see something in order to understand it and do it. An appropriate way to teach this person is to demonstrate something and then and have them follow your lead. For example, you do the first 2 motions of a form and have them follow you. It is important to face the same direction as them and either be slightly in front of them or side by side. Mirrors are a great tool for this activity. We all know kids who can teach themselves a something new by simply watching someone else do it.
The aural learner
This type of person follows directions well and needs to hear things in order to process them. An appropriate way to teach this person a form is to practice the form with them and at the same time give them instructions on what you are doing. For example, when teaching this type of person, as you perform the first motion of the form say, “Take your left hand to your right ear, look to your left, step to your left with your left foot, and execute a low block.”
The kinesthetic learner
This type of learner is often the most challenging to teach something to. This person needs to “feel” themselves doing it and need lots of repetition. Often times you need to physically touch the arm or leg that you want them to move. For example, when teaching a form, after executing the first two motions you may need to touch the student’s right leg and right shoulder in order for them to move that leg and look over that shoulder.
So, how do you know what type of learner you have? There is no secret recipe unfortunately. The only way to know is to understand each style and how to teach using them then see which style yields the best results. The brute force, trial and error method is the only way to go.
Be sure to observe your child in everyday situations as well as you can get some insight into their learning style. When my son was an infant, he was very observant. Even in the hospital he would be studying the nurses, doctors, and equipment so much so that everyone who came in noticed it. Once he started being mobile, he would grab and examine everything. Rather than playing with things, he likes to examine every nook and cranny. He loves flipping through books and magazines on his own, examining the images. He is only a year and half old, but my inclination is he will be a visual learner.
These styles are great to keep in mind when teaching kids coordination type things like learning right versus left. Please feel free to reach out if you’d like some help formulating a plan to teach something or help identifying what type of learner you have.