Noticing and accommodating your children’s learning preferences

There are several ways to change or maintain our level of alertness and attentiveness. Even if your study habits are different from your children’s, it is possible that they will be able to concentrate and learn by using some of the following options. Watch for consistency of completion and quality of work. If either start to drop, remember the phrase, “This isn’t working,” and be willing to suggest other strategies! (Think “trial-and-error” and stay positive!)

Noise preference

• Prefers quiet: working with white noise or sound block; headphones (not plugged in) or earplugs. Even ticking clocks can be distracting.

• Prefers listening to music, with or without headphones. Larger, old-fashioned headphones can provide pressure to help some kids concentrate.

• Prefers certain types of music. Thomas Armstrong, author of The Myth of the ADD Child, suggests that some kids are more focused and less hyperactive when listening to loud rock music. Note: It’s OK to restrict music with “mean or obscene” lyrics.

Lighting preferences

• Availability of natural light. Use full-spectrum lighting when possible (especially during winter months). Can reduce eyestrain and seasonal affective disorder (or “winter blues”).

• Preference for subdued light

• Avoidance of fluorescent lights, which can increase hyperactivity and irritability in some individuals

• Use of colored acetate (EZC Readers or Reader Strips, for example) to reduce glare and improve focus (colored acetate over text; reduces contrast of black text on white paper)

Intake preferences:

• Chewing, munching, snacking. Note: Watch for food allergies and sensitivities!

Mobility preferences:

• Moving, stretching, rocking

• Changing seating or position on seat

• Switching from chair to couch (or bed, or floor)

• Getting up to walk around

• Learning while moving (walking, skipping rope, bouncing a basketball). Can be useful for factual information, spelling practice, multiplication tables, etc.


Drinking water. Note: This is NOT the same as drinking juice or soda.

Seating or Body Positioning preferences:

• Sprawling out on the bed, couch, or floor

• Using a different kind of seat: therapy ball, bean bag chair, chair with arms, reclining seat

• Putting a bungee cord or heavy-duty rubber band around the front legs of the chair at your child’s desk or work space

Affiliation preferences:

• Working alone

• Working with a friend or study partner; working in a group

• Going over work with you

Tactile anchor (when doing a listening activity, reading, or focusing in class, for example)

• Handling a beanbag, stress ball, other “fidget” toy; playing with pen or pencil

• Using a pencil grip to help with proper placement of fingers, reduce fatigue

• Less obvious accommodation: string, piece of clay, twist-tie, pipe cleaner; velcro (separated, adhered to top, inside, sides, or underside of desk or under chair)

• Drawing, doodling, coloring while listening

Many of these suggestions have come from various occupational therapists, physical therapists, kinesiologists, special education teachers, and parents, among others (including early versions of Rita and Kenneth Dunn’s Learning Styles Inventories). Their sources include their own observations and experience, research, books and workshops focusing on the needs of non-traditional learners, as well as contributions from workshop participants and web site visitors.

These strategies were adapted from material in The Parent’s Little Book of Lists: Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Parenting, by Dr. Jane Bluestein (2021, Father Sky Publishing, Albuquerque, NM) and The Win-Win Classroom, by Dr. Jane Bluestein (2008, Corwin Publishing, Thousand Oaks, CA).

© 1990, 1997, 2008, 2012, Dr. Jane Bluestein

Related links:

Conditions with ADHD “Look-Alike” Symptoms
Literacy: What’s Movement Got to Do with It?

Podcast: Movement and Learning: A Partnering Relationship with Dr. Aili Pogust. This podcast is oriented to classroom teachers, however it contains examples and ideas that are applicable to parents.

Podcast: The Fragile Learner: Reaching and Teaching Struggling Students with Dr. Hanoch McCarty. This podcast is oriented to classroom teachers, however it contains examples and ideas that are applicable to parents.

Book: Creating Emotionally Safe Schools
Book: High School’s Not Forever
Book: Listas Para Padres: Qué Hacer Y Qué No
Book: The Parent’s Little Book of Lists: Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Parenting
Book: Mentors, Masters and Mrs. MacGregor: Stories of Teachers Making a Difference

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