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Matching Toys to Children's Learning Styles
By Susan Miller, Ed.D.

As you observe your preschoolers and kindergartners play during free choice time, it very quickly becomes apparent that some children always gravitate towards the block corner first thing in the morning, while others seem to head directly for the art table. Each child is unique because of his or her own particular learning style. It is through this unique style that each child learns best. In Howard Gardner’s book, Frames of Mind (1983), he identifies numerous multiple intelligences that indicate the natural ways people are most comfortable learning. This, of course, is what you are observing in your classroom as your children freely play with the toys and materials available to them.           

According to the multiple intelligences theory, children are not restricted to just one way of learning because they have both primary and secondary learning styles. For instance, Megan learns about colors by singing the color names in a song while Jessica learns about colors by creating big splotches of bright color with crayons or pumping the colorful toy top and watching its colors swirl together. Although Jessica may not have the linguistic or musical intelligences as her primary learning styles, she may possess them as secondary intelligences and might still be able to learn about colors in the same way that Megan does. If, on the other hand, Jessica has neither linguistics or music as primary or secondary intelligences, she may not be stimulated by the color name songs and could become frustrated. 

As you continue your observations, tune into how various children play – with their hands, by talking a lot, through group interaction. What are their interests – leaping like lions or painting lions at the easel? What play toys do different children pick – noisy activities, active toys to develop their large muscles, or materials that encourage their imaginations?           

Let’s match the children’s various multiple intelligences and learning styles to the toys in your classroom. You will find that it’s exciting for you and your preschoolers and kindergartners to use some of the classic toys and old favorites with fresh thinking in mind, as well as adding some new products to encourage learning in the most interesting ways possible.

 

Toys for the Visual/Spatial Learners

These learners love color, pictures, and images. They enjoy painting and drawing. You may want to add a “3-Way Adjustable Easel” with a chalkboard and wipe-off marker board ($98.87, Discount School Supply) so two budding artists can share their ideas as they paint. The “Harold and the Purple Crayon Game” ($19.99, Briarpatch) is fun for a small group to play to enhance their artistic and observation skills. Because posters, charts, and maps are exciting for visual learners, consider the “12 Raised Relief Explore Globe” ($24.99, Replogle Globes, Inc.). Also, as they are challenged by puzzles and mazes, you may want to try putting together a wooden “USA Puzzle” ($14.99, Discount School Supply) or one of the “First Masterpiece Puzzles” – “Starry Night” ($14.95, Constructive Playthings). Visual children delight in looking at pieces to see how they go together, so make sure you provide lots of activities with your large wooden building blocks and table blocks in the manipulative area. This visual child will enjoy theatrical designs so dust off your dollhouse and think about adding “Let’s Pretend! Soft Play Theater” ($19.77, Discount School Supply) to the dramatic play area. Enjoy a favorite old visual activity in a new form – the I Spy Little Board Book ($5.59, Scholastic).

 

Toys for the Linguistic Learners

Learning about letters and words stimulates this child. Try playing with “LEGO® DUPLO® letters” ($57.00, LEGO). Initiate an exciting game with the “Alphabet Toss -n- Play Activity Set.” Several children can enjoy the “Dr. Seuss ABC Game” ($14.99, University Games). Provide lots of paper and markers to write down pretend road signs and yummy recipes. Talk about raising the ladder while you read the Big Red Fire Truck ($11.96, Scholastic) together. Use puppets to tell stories. Make them out of socks and paper bags or surprise everybody with a wonderful “Large Elephant Puppet” ($44.99, Folkmanis, Inc.).

 

Toys for Musical Learners

The musical learner can have fun dancing to the lovely rhythm of his “Chilean Rainstick” ($12.67, Discount School Supply). Songs and chants are high on his list, too. He will enjoy it when you read the silly rhythmic verses in the book about Five Little Monkeys Sitting in a Tree ($7.96, Houghton Mifflin). You might want to encourage the children to use the accompanying finger puppets as they sing the words in the “This Old Man” board book ($34.50, Creative Playthings). Help the musical learner compose real music with the “Playskool Tape Recorder with Sing-A-Long Microphone” ($29.99, Hasbro) and the new electronic “Musini” ($69.99, Neurosmith). Or create your own microphones with cardboard tubing, aluminum foil balls, and tape.

 

Toys for the Logical/Mathematical Learners

You’ll find this child counting the number of blocks in his newly constructed tower and enthusiastically making change with her “Pretend and Play Calculator Cash Register” ($39.95, Learning Resources). The learner with this style will love the counting challenges as you read the book Snappy Little Numbers ($10.36, The Millbrook Press). He’ll delight in making his own paper plate clock to practice number sequencing and telling time or putting together a clock puzzle. “Cookie Shape Surprise” ($16.99, Fisher-Price) is a good choice to learn more about geometry or you might try cutting out play dough with cookie cutter shapes. With her aptitude for logic and reasoning, the mathematical learner can sharpen her problem-solving skills with the interactive computer program “Curious George’s Downtown Adventure” ($19.99, Knowledge Adventure).

 

Toys for the Physical Learners

The physical learner is a doer – developing his mind through the movements of his hands and body. Using his fine motor skills and sense of touch, he learns by manipulating sensory materials such as “Clay Hammers” ($7.87, Discount School Supply) in the art center and turning fascinating machinery in the “Gears! Gears! Gears! Building Set” ($19.99, Learning Resources). Sticking together colorful, tactile “Bristle Blocks” ($24.99, Imaginarium) strengthens the physical learner’s problem-solving skills. Movement games, both indoors and out, and sports activities are favorites for these children. Provide a “Hopscotch Play Rug” ($28.83, Discount School Supply) or “34” Bigens Yellow Play Ball” ($19.99, Sport-Fun). Encourage playful dramatizations with a “Red Wheelbarrow” ($29.99, Radio Flyer) and an interesting collection of dress-up clothes donated by parents.

 

Toys for the Interpersonal Learners

The child with this style learns best in a group through talking, interacting, and playing with others. She learns to organize players while they develop original games in the “Find-Me 6-Foot Play Tunnel” ($29.99, Pacific Play Tents). Cooperation and turn-taking is fostered while playing a homemade lotto game created with theme stickers and index cards. Playing with the “Great Adventures Magic Castle Playset” ($34.99, Fisher-Price) encourages interpersonal children to learn to share responsibilities through dramatic play. Involve the children in team-building while putting their toys away.

 

Toys for the Intrapersonal Learners

An independent worker, this child is reflective and a good analytical thinker. Playing with trains using the “BRIO® New Classic Figure 8 Set” ($39.99, BRIO), encourages these skills. Maneuvering the “Tonka Mighty Backhoe” ($29.99, Hasbro), the child makes his own decisions about how and why to dig. “Riding the Scooter Fox” ($99.99, Kettler International), this free spirit follows his own adventurous path. Pretending to cook breakfast with the “Good Morning playset” ($13.95, Constructive Playthings) empowers this independent learner and builds her self-esteem. Consider creating a special notebook for this child to keep a journal about his private thoughts.

 

Tips for the Naturalistic Learners

Because this learner is tuned into nature you need to provide some props for hikes and observations in the outdoors. The “Explorer Backpack” ($29.95, Constructive Playthings) includes binoculars, compass, and bug keeper. A “Butterfly Garden” ($19.99, Insect Lore) with the caterpillars that emerge as Painted Lady Butterflies helps children to observe natural relationships. The new “Wildlife Care Center” ($29.95, Constructive Playthings) promotes role-play about the important aspects of a protective jungle environment. You may wish to work together to create milk carton bird feeders to hang on the trees. To assist the naturalist in learning more about various species and plant and animal classifications, read informative books such as The Yucky Reptile Alphabet Book ($6.25, Charlesbridge).

 

Conclusion

Remember, even through various toys have been pointed out as relevant for specific learning styles, a toy might bridge several styles. For instance, a number puzzle is appropriate for strengthening a child’s logical/mathematics, physical, visual, and intrapersonal skills. Besides exposing children to toys and activities related to their strong individual learning styles and intelligences as the best and most comfortable way to learn new things, be sure to introduce them to other approaches as well to expand their horizons.

 

Susan Miller, Ed.D., is Professor Emeritus of Early Childhood Education at Kutztown University in Kutztown, PA.

 

Helping Parents Select Toys

With the holidays just around the  corner, parents often ask their  children’s teachers and caregivers about how to select appropriate toys for presents. The parents are  bombarded with a plethora of  advertising on TV, in catalogues, and while shopping in the stores. Selecting just the right toy and considering the child’s age, developmental level, and interests as well as keeping in mind safety, durability, cost, and kid-powered toys (no batteries) can be a daunting task.           

There are several websites that share information about identifying children’s learning styles and match these to the toys available on the market. Some sites also provide product reviews by educators and other parents, which your parents may find interesting. Two sites in particular that are quite helpful are www.SmarterKids.com and imaginarium.com through www.amazon.com. 

Encourage your parents to be good observers. Soon, they will see patterns emerge while their children play and they will begin to match toys to their own child’s unique styles and strengths.

 

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Featured Resources

Company Name                      Website

Briarpatch                                 www.briarpatch.com

BRIO® Corporation                    www.briotoy.com

Charlesbridge Publishing            www.charlesbridge.com

Constructive Playthings              www.constplay.com

Discount School Supply             www.discountschoolsupply.com

Fisher-Price                              www.fisher-price.com

Folkmanis                                 www.folkmanis.com

Hasbro                                      www.hasbro.com

Houghton Mifflin                         www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com

Imaginarium                               www.amazon.com

Insect Lore                                www.insectlore.com

Kettler International                    www.kettlerusa.com

Knowledge Adventure                 www.vugames.com

Learning Resources                   www.learningresources.com

Lego®                                      www.shoplego.com

The Millbrook Press, Inc.            www.millbrookpress.com

Neurosmith                                www.neurosmith.com

Pacific Play Tents                      www.pacificplaytents.com

Playskool                                  www.hasbro.com

Radio Flyer                                www.radioflyer.com

Replogle Globes, Inc.                 www.replogleglobes.com

Scholastic, Inc.                          www.scholastic.com

SmarterKids                              www.smarterkids.com

Sport-Fun                                  www.sportfun.com

University Games                        www.ug.nl