Nursery World Show: 'Idea of visual learners unhelpful', says top neuroscientist

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The idea that children are visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learners is ‘completely unhelpful’ for learning, a leading brain expert said at the Nursery World show today.

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Paul Howard-Jones, professor of neuroscience and education at the University of Bristol PHOTO Simon Jones

Paul Howard-Jones, professor of neuroscience and education at the University of Bristol, said that all sensory forms of learning, and the links between them, are important because the brain is multi sensory.

‘Sometimes we get teachers who just [teach] in an auditory form or a visual [way].

‘The idea that some people are visual learners, and you should communicate as much as possible in a visual way, doesn’t hold water unless the child has particular special needs.

‘For normal healthy children, identifying them as visual auditory or kinaesthetic [related to movement of the body] learners is completely unhelpful.’

Instead, he said that teachers should ‘engage, build and consolidate’ children’s knowledge, with techniques such as verbal rewards or novelty, giving the child the ability to choose and sharing attention to a subject with the child good for stimulating higher levels of engagement.

The professor, a regular contributor to The Secret Life of Four Year Old’s on Channel 4, explained ‘what the children already know is very important but consolidating something they know through repeating it in a new way adds additional engagement and means it is likely to be retained in the brain in another form - and so makes it more accessible.

‘If there is something new in the classroom or you discuss something in a new way it will really get the children’s attention- it is ... representing old things in new ways.’

He also said ‘the most important thing’ for children’s development was quality adult -child interactions. ‘There are foundational skills that children need to learn. A lot of these are social skills. I am not sure how important it is what they are learning so long as they are learning.

‘If children are allowed to pursue their passions and interests and through that interaction learn self regulation to pay attention and communication... that would be the best option.

‘What we don’t want to see is a curriculum being taught in a school like way being pushed into the nursery.

‘Where I am talking about teaching at this age I’m talking about where a child sees something of interest and how to support that interaction around that interest which stimulates their interest and curiosity.’

The Nursery World show is taking place today (1 Feb) and tomorrow (2 Feb) at the Business Design Centre in London.

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