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Why Visual/Spatial Learners Need a True Multisensory Reading Program

by Sarah K Major February 04, 2016

Why Visual/Spatial Learners Need a True Multisensory Reading Program

The Easy-for-Me™ Reading Program is specifically designed to be a multisensory reading program that addresses the needs of the myriads of children who are visual-spatial and kinesthetic learners, including those identified with autism, dyslexia, ADD, ADHD, and many other “disabilities.” It is also very effective with non-readers. When nothing else has worked for your child, this will.

But what does it really mean when we say multisensory? 

In the last post I referenced “non-traditional learners” and in this post, I will be more specific about the term. The accepted, traditional teaching techniques typically used in the classroom meet the needs of (left brained) sequential learners. Concepts are introduced in a step by step sequence and are practiced and reviewed using drill and memorization; children must also show evidence of their learning in a particular time frame. This is all very good for children who are left-brained or sequential learners. The problem is, of course, that while the approach to teaching is great for those children who are sequential, every learner is taught this way and this traditional approach is ineffective at best for all the non-sequential learners.

In the next post, we will look closely at the identifiers for visual-spatial learners, but for now, let’s look at how Easy-for-Me™ meets the needs of the non-sequential learner. Each heading in the post is a descriptor of how a visual-spatial child does or does not learn. Visual-spatial learners learn holistically, learn from whole to part, learn via images, learn all at once, need to see how elements are related to each other, need to put each detail into the global whole, do not do well with auditory sequences, are systems thinkers, struggle with too much external stimuli, learn by doing, learn by seeing, need to experience success and are strongly intuitive.

Visual-Spatial Kids Learn Holistically

SnapWords® sight words with pictures and movement

A visual-spatial learner learns all at once using brain and body.

Easy-for-Me™ Reading addresses the visual-spatial learning style in many ways. Alphabet cards contain images which connect symbol and sound in one picture and engage the body in a motion that replicates the shape of the letter. The learner sees the visual, says the sound, and does the body motion to engage body and brain in instant learning.

Alphabet Tales deepens this learning experience via whimsical stories about each alphabet letter and how it came to be formed as it is. 

SnapWords® cards perform similarly. A visual-spatial learner can view the stylized word and capture its meaning just like a camera snaps a picture. Along with the visual embedded in the letter symbols for each word, a story or situation is implied that the child can identify with, (in the example, a mom is telling her child that IF he makes his bed, he can go play soccer) a sentence on the reverse of the card uses the word in a meaningful sentence that correlates with the picture, and finally, a body motion that mimics the word is suggested. 

Again, the child is seeing the concept within a visual, is hearing his own voice saying the word, and is moving his body to replicate the meaning of the word. Both the brain and body are fully engaged. Easy-for-Me™ Reading utilizes this multisensory pattern in every lesson. Anything the child learns via visual and motion he will also say and write on a whiteboard. This last element in the lessons is critical because learning happens best when the child is actively engaged in the cycle of learning and showing learning immediately.

Visual-Spatial Kids and Too Many Details

Visual-spatial learners can have trouble with too many external stimuli such as noises, details, and activities that they must struggle to filter out while learning. They frequently cannot distinguish between what is extraneous and what is vital to learning. With a lot going on, it can become hard to know where to focus attention.

Those who know me the best understand that when we go out to eat together, my visual-spatial characteristics will immediately march out on display. Depending on how the menu is designed and organized, I can go into full-blown panic mode over the simple process of choosing what to eat. Then, if I find myself confronted with a waiter who wants my choice, everyone else having easily identified and verbalized what they want to eat, my brain freezes, and most frequently I will stab at the menu randomly with my pointer finger, and later regret my choice! (This is exactly how I learned that I do not care for seared tuna on a cold lettuce leaf.) When I look at a busy menu, everything begins to swim in my head. I see words I should know the meaning of, but they are not conveying meaning to my brain. Furthermore, how in the world am I to select from that vast array of choices when all are equally screaming for attention?

With a whole language approach to learning to read, children are fully expected to “catch on” to reading skills if they are surrounded by print, supplied with plenty of books, are read to, etc. Unfortunately, this approach bombards children with a multitude of stimuli that they cannot order, evaluate, or distinguish between. Sensory overload occurs and what often follows is very little learning.

Easy-for-Me™ Reading has streamlined the process of learning to read by identifying precisely what elements a child must know and teaching those in a whole body/whole brain manner. For example, a child learns the sound of Aa in a multisensory manner and immediately learns the sound of Tt the same way. The very next step is to combine these two sounds to make a word.


Right-Brained Alphabet


So far the child has not had to manage a barrage of details (such as learning all the names of the letters, the sounds of the letters, the shapes of the letters – to many visual-spatial learners doing this is like handing them a box of 1,000 tiny puzzle pieces and asking them what the picture is). She has learned through using her whole body a tiny sound, another tiny sound, and then stuck them together to make a word. It is neat and effective. Similarly, the Easy-for-Me™ Children's Readers Sets A, B, and C stand out from other readers in that they only contain specific sounds and words that the child has already learned. The first two books in Set A require only eight letter sounds and two sight words: A and AT. As more concepts and words are introduced, each is taught in a whole-body/whole-brain method and then used in reading a book. 

Nothing is left to chance; nothing is left to guesswork.

Visual-Spatial Learners Are Systems Thinkers


Visual-spatial learners need to see the whole before they can see details

Visual-spatial learners do not just remember a fact in isolation. Once they create a mental picture of a detail and place it in its context, learning is permanent. SnapWords® have proved to be highly effective in propelling children into reading when they were once failing because they were suddenly able to snap a picture of the whole word and recall it intact when they later encountered the word in reading. Once visual-spatial children learn these high-frequency words, the teacher can take the words apart and study the details of how they are constructed (sometimes called phonics rules).

Easy-for-Me™ never teaches a word in isolation. Let’s say we are going to learn the word LITTLE. Traditionally, the word would be printed on a card for the child to memorize, he would be asked to learn the spelling of the word and then recognize it later in reading. Because we design for visual-spatial learners, we show the word LITTLE in a visual which shows the meaning of the word instantly and of which the child’s brain snaps a picture. Then we immediately connect the word LITTLE to many other words with similar characteristics so the child can see the way this word fits into the whole collection of words he will encounter in reading. LITTLE has the LE ending and double consonant middle just like these words: PUZZLE, DRIBBLE, NIBBLE, SNIFFLE, MIDDLE, FIZZLE, DRIZZLE, WHITTLE, etc. By showing the word LITTLE within its system or pattern, the child avoids several phonics rules and has a much easier time reading words that also follow that pattern. In reality what happens is that while learning one specific word, because of utilizing the system, children can easily pick up all the other words that follow that same spelling pattern.

Visual-Spatial Learners Are Not Auditory Learners

Visual-spatial learners do not learn from teaching done verbally and in a sequence.

Many things are taught in verbal sequences. Spelling words aloud is a verbal sequence. A child may be directed to chant L-I-T-T-L-E. For a visual-spatial learner, this is an exercise with no benefit. Phonics rules are taught as verbal or auditory sequences for the child to grasp and memorize and be able to use.
We’ve already talked a lot about how Easy-for-Me™ Reading shows the child pictures of the object of the lesson. But there is more to it than that. The first lesson includes an illustrated story, a stylized letter card, and a jingle that goes with the letter. But happens immediately after this is that the child visualizes the letter complete with image, then opens her eyes and draws on her whiteboard while saying the sound of the letter she makes. Since she visualizes the letter first, she draws on the picture she mentally snapped of the letter. And when she draws it on her whiteboard, she is replicating the letter for her eyes to see and her body to engage with; sounding out loud while drawing the letter completes the mind/body connection. The exercise not only deepens learning for the child, it allows the adult to see what she has grasped.

SnapWords® sight words with pictures and movement

Similarly, when learning SnapWords®, children snap the mental picture, visualize, then sound and write on whiteboards in every single lesson.

Another way Easy-for-Me™ shows learning rather than telling it is through use of color-coding similar to the color coding in the previous section. Having the target colored makes it stand out for the child to quickly grasp. A vital way Easy-for-Me™ shows kids the structure of a word so they can tie all the pieces together in a correct sequence is through finger-mapping, which is a component of every lesson. 

Visual-Spatial Children and Memorization

Visual-spatial children do not use memorization with any success in learning.

One quick way to ensure a visual-spatial child is identified as learning disabled is to teach material verbally and expect a child to study and memorize. Because visual-spatial children do not learn via memorization, this approach to teaching reading is damaging to these learners. They learn in an instant all at one time, just like a camera taking a picture. If a child doesn’t get it the first time it is taught, drill and study will not make it any clearer. At this point, the natural result is to place the child at fault for not learning. However, we at Child1st strongly believe in avoiding the spiral of unnecessary failure by providing materials that visual learners or picture thinkers can use to learn according to their own particular wiring.

Any time there is a concept you want a child to remember, give the child a hook to hang the hat on. For instance, kindergarteners learning the words for measurement might have trouble recalling the words inch and foot and yard unless these words are tied to a visual reminder.

How to use visuals to teach measurement

This hastily-constructed visual is not only a visual reminder of the measurement vocabulary, but the words are tied to objects children are familiar with (inchworm, his foot, his yard) and relative lengths are implied. Snap a picture and learning is done. If a child is not sure about remembering it, he could take a second to draw his own version of the visual. He will not forget the words, however, that is pretty certain! In the Easy-for-Me™ Reading Program, all difficult concepts have a visual to help the child recall the concept.

Visual-Spatial Children and Failure

Visual-spatial learners are often perfectionists who do not handle failure well.

Of course, no child enjoys failure. But since visual-spatial learners learn instantly and through visuals, if they fail at something, going back to drill and study will not help. What they come away with is a deepening sense of failure, of not being ABLE to learn. Frequently this causes “brain freeze,” leading even further towards ensuring failure.

In the Easy-for-Me™ Books, the reason we outline every single thing a child will need to know before she reads each book is to prevent her from starting to read a book she is not yet ready to read. I have personally taught reading groups using commercially produced leveled readers which included very difficult phonics concepts and unknown vocabulary. In general, my experience with those books children struggled terribly while attempting to read, thus rendering reading a chore at best.

When a child is learning to read, the last thing we want to have happen is for her to come out hating the exercise. The Easy-for-Me™Reading Program instead gives her all the tools she needs to read 22 or 44 books that include carefully selected concepts, as well as over 100 high-frequency words and many sound-spelling patterns. When she has gained all that, we will have given her the gift of preventing failure and of equipping her with the necessary tools to read any book that catches her fancy. 

There is nothing like success to breed more success!

Sarah K Major
Sarah K Major


Sarah's absolute belief in every child’s ability to learn, and her passion to empower the child by supporting his/her own unique giftedness have fueled her life’s work and provided a new pathway for children to succeed academically.