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Nurture Your Child's Visual-Spatial Intelligence

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Children with high Visual-Spatial Intelligence are the artists among us. These children think in pictures and images. They tend to perceive the environment holistically, storing information in a non-sequential fashion, revealing the strength of their right-brain processing. Their rich internal imagery makes them very imaginative and creative. They are the visual learners. They like posters and pictures and movies and other visual presentations of new information. They are daydreamers, sometimes becoming so engrossed in their own internal "movie" that they don't seem aware of the external environment. But, don't be fooled. They are also keen observers of the world around them, noticing subtleties and details that most of us miss. They also have an excellent awareness of space, the orientation of their body and others. This spatial awareness gives them skills in drawing, doing puzzles, mazes, and any task that requires fine-motor manipulation.

In my experience as a counselor and an educational examiner, I have observed that many children with learning disabilities appear to have significant strengths in visual-spatial intelligence. How can parents recognize this special intelligence in their own children, and more importantly, how can they value and encourage this ability in order to build the self-esteem of the learning-disabled child? Last week, we looked at an introduction to Personal Learning Styles and the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. I mentioned two tools on the Web that will help you to analyze your child's learning style and multiple intelligence pattern. Why don't you visit these now to determine your child's unique gifts then come on back for lots of ways you can help nurture your child's visual-spatial intelligence at home.

Educational software is of tremendous value to the visual-spatial child. I highly recommend that the child have frequent access to advanced multimedia technologies. Multimedia opens the world of learning to the visual-spatial child in a way that is amazing to watch. In his article on Multiple Intelligences and Technology , Jack Edwards recommends that the visual-spatial child use these types of software programs.

Draw and paint programs Find reviews of art programs at The Review Zone , Oppenheim Toy Portfolio , and SuperKids . The Boston Computer Museum recommends Crayola's Make a Masterpiece.

Reading programs that use visual clues such as rebus method or color coding The Review Zone's Reading Software reviews cover most of the popular programs. Living Books and Disney Animated Storybooks are good choices. Another good title for word learning is DK Publishing's My First Amazing Words & Pictures . The Boston Computer Museum recommends Microsoft's My Personal Tutor for early reading.

Programs which allow them to see information as maps, charts, or diagrams and Multimedia programs Children's Software Revue recommends the best software for kids on the topics of Geography , Science , and Reference . We like DK Publishing's Eyewitness World Atlas (ages 12+) and My First Amazing World Explorer (ages 4-9) as many other DK titles .

Science probeware The Review Zone rates Science programs . Kids Domain has a large list of science software reviews for kids. Magic School Bus titles from Microsoft are good for younger kids. DK Publishing has a wide variety of multimedia science software titles for kids.

The perfect tool for a visual-spatial child to use to learn Math concepts is the very cool Geoboard . Download a computer version FREE from the Edmark Mighty Math site. The North Carolina Dept. of Public Instruction has some great ideas for Math learning using visual-spatial activities . You and your child will have lots of fun with these activities.

Keep your home well stocked with arts and craft supplies. My very organized sister taught me to buy large Rubbermaid boxes to store arts and craft supplies that I find in sale bins and rummage sales. Nearly anything can and will be used by the visual-spatial child to "make things". You will find her to be an eager learner if you choose to teach her the hobbies of sewing, knitting, photography, cross-stitch, videotaping, any of the visual and creative arts. You could also keep a small satchel of paper, colored pencils, markers, and other drawing supplies in your car. Your visual-spatial child will be drawn to them and will be absorbed enough to get you through rush-hour traffic and the drive through McDonald's with a little peace and quiet.

Consider formal art lessons in your community if your child is interested. This can be a wonderful after-school activity that will result in improved self-esteem and confidence for your child. Also, you will find a lot of resouces on the Web for teaching art to your child. Try these great sites!

The Visual Spatial Learner

© 1991, by Linda K. Silverman, Ph.D., and Jeffrey N. Freed, M.A.T.

From Issue No. 4, Winter 1996, The Dyslexic Reader

This article is based on the authors' experiences in developing teaching strategies with approximately 200 schoolchildren over a 5-year period. These students were identified as gifted through standardized intelligence tests; they also scored significantly higher on subtests for spatial abilities than for auditory sequential processing.

What is a Visual-Spatial Learner?

A visual-spatial learner is a student who learns holistically rather than in a step-by-step fashion. Visual imagery plays an important role in the student's learning process. Because the individual is processing primarily in pictures rather than words, ideas are interconnected (imagine a web). Linear sequential thinking — the norm in American education — is particularly difficult for this person and requires a translation of his or her usual thought processes, which often takes more time.

Some visual-spatial learners are excellent at auditory sequential processing as well. They have full access to both systems, so that if they don't get an immediate "aha" when they are looking at a problem, they can resort to sequential, trial-and-error methods of problem solving. These students are usually highly gifted with well integrated abilities. However, the majority of visual-spatial learners we have found in our work are deficient in auditory sequential skills. This leads to a complex set of problems for the student. A definite mismatch exists between the student's learning style and the instructional methods employed by the student's teachers.

Physiological and Personality Factors.

Visual-spatial learners who experience learning problems have heightened sensory awareness to stimuli, such as extreme sensitivity to smells, acute hearing and intense reactions to loud noises. They are constantly bombarded by stimuli; they get so much information that they have trouble filtering it out. They tend to have excellent hearing, but poor listening skills. Their ability to retain and comprehend information auditorily is weak and they have difficulty with sequential tasks.

These children are highly perfectionistic, which means that they cannot handle failure. They usually refuse to attempt trial-and-error learning because they can't cope with the failure inherent in this technique. They have an all-or-none learning style (the aha phenomenon). They either immediately see the correct solution to a problem or they don't get it at all, in which case they may watch quietly (while pretending not to watch) or avoid the situation completely because it is too ego threatening.

Visual-spatial learners have amazing abilities to "read" people. Since they can't rely on audition for information, they develop remarkable visual and intuitive abilities, including reading body language and facial expressions.

Many of the students described in this article were so adept at reading cues and observing people that they could tell what a person was thinking almost verbatim. Oftentimes, in school, they sense a teacher's anxieties and ambivalent feeling towards them, and react with statements such as, "that teacher hates me."

Traditional Education.

In most cases, the visual-spatial learning style is not addressed in school, and these students' self-esteem suffers accordingly. Traditional teaching techniques are designed for the learning style of sequential learners. Concepts are introduced in a step-by-step fashion, practiced with drill and repetition, assessed under timed conditions, and then reviewed. This process is ideal for sequential learners whose learning progresses in a step-by-step manner from easy to difficult material.

By way of contrast, spatial learners are systems thinkers-they need to see the whole picture before they can understand the parts. They are likely to see the forest and miss the trees. They are excellent at mathematical analysis but may make endless computational errors because it is difficult for them to attend to details. Their reading comprehension is usually much better than their ability to decode words.

Concepts are quickly comprehended when they are presented within a context and related to other concepts. Once spatial learners create a mental picture of a concept and see how the information fits with what they already know, their learning is permanent. Repetition is completely unnecessary and irrelevant to their learning style.

However, without easily observable connecting ties, the information cannot take hold anywhere in the brain — it is like learning in a vacuum, and seems to the student like pointless exercises in futility. Teachers often misinterpret the student's difficulties with the instructional strategies as inability to learn the concepts and assume that the student needs more drill to grasp the material. Rote memorization and drill are actually damaging for visual-spatial learners, since they emphasize the students' weaknesses instead of their strengths. When this happens, the student gets caught up in a spiraling web of failure, assumes he is stupid, loses all motivation, and hates school. Teachers then assume that the student doesn't care or is being lazy, and behavior problems come to the fore. Meanwhile, the whole cycle creates a very deep chasm in the student's self-esteem.

In the traditional school situation the atmosphere is often hostile to visual-spatial learners and their skills. The students are visual, whereas instruction tends to be auditory: phonics, oral directions, etc. The students are gestalt, aha learners and can be taught out of order, whereas the curriculum is sequential, with orderly progressions of concepts and ideas. The students are usually disorganized and miss details, whereas most teachers stress organization and attention to detail. The student is highly aware of space but pays little attention to time, whereas school functions on rigid time schedules.


A key component in the recovery of motivation for visual-spatial learners is experiencing success. Individual tutoring should be sought to help these students learn to use their strengths and build their feelings of competence. Sincere praise works wonders. Spatial learners often excel at activities such as Legos, computer games, art or music. Any skill in which these young people experience success should be encouraged and nurtured. Their skills, interests and hobbies may lead to careers in adult life.

In adulthood, these individuals excel in fields dependent upon their spatial abilities: art, architecture, physics, aeronautics, pure mathematical research, engineering, computer programming, and photography. Frequently, they develop their own businesses or become chief executive officers (CEOs) in major corporations because of their inventiveness and ability to see the relationships of large numbers of variables. We need individuals with highly developed visual-spatial abilities for advancement in the arts, technology and business. These are the creative leaders of society. We need to protect their differences in childhood and enable them to develop their unique talents in supportive environments at home and at school.

More Information:

A full text article, including diagnostic testing information and an overview of specific teaching techniques recommended by the authors, is available from The Gifted Development Center, 1452 Marion Street, Denver, CO 80218. Telephone (303)837-8378.

About the Authors:

Dr. Linda Silverman is the director of the Institute for the Study of Advanced Development, as well as the Gifted Development Center in Denver, Colorado, and the author of the books, Counseling the Gifted and Talented and Upside-Down Brilliance.

Jeffrey Freed has a Master of Arts in teaching exceptional children, and is the author of the book Right Brained Children in a Left Brain World, which focuses on strategies for teaching children with A.D.D.

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