Does your child have trouble remembering something you told her if there's a lot of noise in the room? Can she only seem to focus if she's tapping her foot? That's because we each need certain stimuli to help us learn. Learning is a process, and one of six possible thinking patterns works best for each of us. If your kid has ever gotten a bad grade, had trouble paying attention or received a poor progress report from school, it may be time to check how she learns before you ground her or send her to tutoring.

Unfortunately, many schools and teachers assume that all of us learn the same way. We don't. "One of the biggest miseducations we suffer from is the assumption that all human beings use the same process for thinking," says Dawna Markova, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and educator. We usually assume that kids’ minds do or should work in the same ways as their teacher's mind does, which can spell trouble if your kid's learning pattern is different.

According to Markova’s book How Your Child is Smart, everyone processes information differently. There are six possible ways we can understand what we're taught. When you realize how your child learns, you understand that she isn’t unintelligent; she is, in fact, very smart. Markova breaks down the way we think into three channels and three stimuli. Each type of stimuli triggers one of three channels in your child's brain, resulting in focused attention, the ability to put ideas together, or a relaxed state that fosters creativity.

  1. Conscious channel. In this channel, children easily pay attention, absorb information, express themselves comfortably and can be logical or organized. It's a short-term memory place, where thought is stored until it can be sorted out.
  2. Subconscious channel. Children can sift through ideas and fit them together in this state. They are aware of input from the environment as well as their own inner frame of reference. They can move from attentive to "spaced out" while trying to understand a concept. This is a crucial channel, allowing kids to flow between conscious and unconscious easily.
  3. Unconscious channel. No, your kid isn't asleep here. This is the channel that is responsible for relaxation, creativity and seeing the big picture. It's a stress-free zone where kids giggle and play, invent games and make up songs. This is also a place where long-term memories are made.

Your kid needs to use all three of these channels to learn effectively. Think about how you best absorb information. When a child first learns something new, it needs to be taken in and remembered long enough (conscious channel) for her to figure out where it fits in with what she already knows (subconscious channel). Then, she can make it a part of her reality, seeing it in terms of the big picture (unconscious channel). Once that is done, the information is stored for the long term. How do you get your kid to move through these channels? You have to know what stimulates these states of mind. According to Markova, your child predominantly uses one of three stimuli to trigger each mental channel.

  1. Kinesthetic stimuli. Movement or body awareness.
  2. Visual stimuli. Pictures, visual demonstrations or written words.
  3. Auditory stimuli. Verbal directions, songs and sounds.

Each type of stimuli matches up with a channel. Based on these stimuli moving the brain from conscious to subconscious to unconscious channels, there are six perceptual thinking patterns:

  1. Kinesthetic, auditory, visual (KAV)
  2. Kinesthetic, visual, auditory (KVA)
  3. Auditory, kinesthetic, visual (AKV)
  4. Auditory, visual, kinesthetic (AVK)
  5. Visual, auditory, kinesthetic (VAK)
  6. Visual, kinesthetic, auditory (VKA)

Each pattern lists the types of stimuli in order, correlating with the conscious channel, subconscious channel and unconscious channel. For example, if your child is a KVA, her conscious is triggered by kinesthetic, her subconscious is triggered by visual, and her unconscious is triggered by auditory stimuli. If your child is a KAV, moving around somehow (kinesthetic stimuli) brings her into the conscious channel, listening to instructions puts her in the subconscious part of her brain, and visual stimuli sends her into her unconscious mind. She may need to tap a foot or squeeze a ball to focus, listen to music to put ideas together, and draw or look at pictures to find her creative space. The following chart breaks down some of the signs that show which stimuli trigger which mental channel for your child.

 

Conscious

Subconscious

Unconscious

Kinesthetic

Learns physical things easily, enjoys athletics, more alert when moving or using hands.

Sorts by trying options or doing something in different ways, pays attention outwardly by moving, inwardly by feeling, can feel and move simultaneously.

Spaces out when touched or moving in a set way, shy or private when expressing through movement, finds it easier to express feelings than pinpoint a sensation, can easily forget how to do something physical.

Auditory

Remembers things heard easily, comfortable speaking in front of people, has detailed and organized vocabulary, more alert when speaking.

Sorts by talking out loud, pays attention outwardly by speaking and inwardly by listening, can talk and listen simultaneously, dialogues both sides of a conversation internally.

Spaces out when listening to too many words, is shy or private when talking, can easily forget what was said or people’s names, remembers tone of voice.

 

Visual

Remembers things that are seen, comfortable with writing or showing ideas, organizes visually with lists or pictures, aware of visual details, alert when showing or writing something.

Sorts by writing, drawing and visualizing options, can see outer and inner images simultaneously with eyes open, sees two perspectives at once.

Spaces out when looking at something for too long, shy when expressing through writing or drawing, finds it easier to remember big picture ideas than visual details, can easily forget what was read or seen.

 

More and more schools are embracing these learning patterns. Lucille Callahan, kindergarten teacher at Dallas Elementary School in Dallas, Pennsylvania, was trained to discover the best way her students learn. "It helps provide a good foundation for learning, especially at such an early stage of their education," she says. Observation is key, says Callahan, so start observing to avoid frustration and apathy later on in your kid's education.