In recent years, adjustable desks and standing desks have become more popular in America’s workplaces. Working adults all over the country realized that sometimes they are more productive when they are standing instead of sitting all day.

As an advocate who has seen dozens of her students find success at CTE schools (vo-tech, for us old folks), we’ve known forever that some students do better with hands-on learning. The CTE schools (career and tech ed) do this well and you find tactile kinesthetic learning in that setting more often than a traditional classroom.

Adding songs and movement to a story or lesson can help kinesthetic learners. (and it's more fun!)

Creative business meetings are having a moment too. Whether it’s taking a group of coworkers out on a walk or hike, or for a recreational volleyball game, employers are responding to their employees’ requests that they are permitted to move about during the work day.

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So it only makes sense that we begin to acknowledge this phenomenon in our classrooms too.

People, but especially children, were not designed to sit still in the same place all day. While some students are able to do this and learn efficiently, many are not.

What is a Kinesthetic Learner?

A kinesthetic learner prefers to learn through hands-on activities and experience rather than passively listening or watching. Not only do they prefer it, but it works better for them as far as retaining the information.

Everyone has their own preferences for teaching style and learning methods. Some students prefer to learn by listening to the topic explained to them, some by reading the material, and others by seeing demonstrations or watching a movie.

Many teachers use a combination of these, thankfully. When I went to high school and college, it was basically all “lecture and regurgitate information” types of teaching. Sure, we had the occasional film strip.

My now 8th-grader tells me about all kinds of hands-on activities they do in his classes.

This may or may not be related to a specific learning disability such as dyslexia. An unsupported dyslexic student will find reading difficult and will naturally gravitate to other learning styles where they are more successful.

A student who struggles with APD or attention and focus may find it more difficult to attend to auditory learning. This student may also naturally gravitate toward kinesthetic learning.

In a classroom, kinesthetic learners benefit from opportunities to move around, take breaks, and work with their hands.

This is a reason why CTE schools (what we used to call vo-tech when I was in high school) are increasing in popularity. Most CTEs offer more kinesthetic learning opportunities compared to regular high schools.

All students will benefit when teachers create more kinesthetic learning opportunities in their classrooms.

Unfortunately, this type of learning is often perceived as “more work” for the teacher. Or, the teacher may be concerned that the students will be difficult to ‘reign in’ once the active lesson is over. These are just a few reasons why this type of teaching is sometimes avoided.

A kinesthetic learner holding a stack of colorful blocks.

Tactile/Kinesthetic Learning

Tactile/kinesthetic learning, also known as “hands-on” or “kinesthetic” learning, is one of the three main learning styles, alongside visual and auditory learning. Tactile/kinesthetic learners prefer to engage with material through physical activity, movement, and touch.

They learn best when they can manipulate objects, perform experiments, or engage in activities that involve hands-on interaction.

These learners often have a strong sense of touch and physical awareness, and they tend to remember information better when they can physically engage with it. For example, they may benefit from activities such as building models, conducting experiments, using manipulatives like blocks or puzzles, or participating in role-playing exercises.

In educational settings, accommodating tactile/kinesthetic learners may involve incorporating hands-on activities into lessons, providing opportunities for movement and physical exploration, and allowing students to engage with material in a more interactive way.

This approach can help these learners better understand and retain information compared to traditional lecture-style teaching methods.

Are Kinesthetic and Tactile learners the same?

Tactile and kinesthetic learning are closely related but not exactly the same. While they both involve physical engagement and hands-on activities, they focus on slightly different aspects of learning.

  • Tactile learning primarily involves the sense of touch. Tactile learners prefer to physically manipulate objects, feel textures, and engage in activities that involve hands-on interaction with material. They may benefit from activities such as tracing letters or shapes, using tactile materials like sand or clay, or performing experiments that involve touch.
  • Kinesthetic learning, on the other hand, encompasses a broader range of physical activities and movements. Kinesthetic learners learn best when they can engage in physical movement and action. They may benefit from activities such as role-playing, participating in sports or physical games, or using movement to demonstrate concepts.

In practice, the terms “tactile” and “kinesthetic” are often used interchangeably, and individuals may exhibit traits of both learning styles. Both styles emphasize the importance of physical engagement in the learning process, but they may manifest in slightly different preferences and approaches to hands-on learning.

Kinesthetic Learning Examples

Kinesthetic learners are those who learn best through physical movement and multi-sensory teaching methods.

There are many ways to add this to just about any lesson.

Physical movement should be incorporated into lessons as frequently as possible. Some examples of kinesthetic learning:

  1. Hands-on activities
  2. frequent movement breaks
  3. movement while talking about a concept (marching while doing times tables)
  4. acting out concepts
  5. using manipulatives to teach concepts
  6. demonstrations and practice
  7. educational games
  8. puzzles that reinforce concepts (like map puzzles)
  9. use clay or playdough to teach math concepts such as shapes or geometry
  10. songs or rhymes, acting out the words

This means allowing them to experiment and explore, and giving them plenty of opportunities to practice what they’re learning. 

This might mean incorporating hands-on activities, allowing for frequent breaks to move around, or using physical props to help illustrate concepts. This might be taking a walk around the school grounds while talking about a concept. It doesn’t necessarily mean a physical activity that teaches the lesson.

It can also be physical activity while doing a lesson or reviewing a concept.

A stacking toy helps practice fine motor, math skills, and more. All with kinesthetic learning!

This means allowing them to experiment and explore, and giving them plenty of opportunities to practice what they’re learning.

Tactile Kinesthetic Learning Activities

OTs have known this forever. Have you ever met an OT who didn’t always have a tote bag of manipulatives with them at all times?

Here are ten activities tailored for tactile/kinesthetic learners:

  1. Building with Blocks or Legos: Engage tactile/kinesthetic learners by providing them with blocks or Legos to build structures, shapes, or even scenes from a story.
  2. Hands-On Science Experiments: Conduct experiments where learners can physically manipulate materials, mix substances, or observe reactions, fostering a deeper understanding of scientific concepts.
  3. Model Making: Encourage learners to create models related to the topic of study, whether it’s a representation of the solar system, a historical landmark, or a biological cell.
  4. Outdoor Exploration: Take learning outside the classroom with nature walks, scavenger hunts, or field trips that allow students to observe and interact with their environment.
  5. Role-Playing and Drama: Have students act out scenes from literature, historical events, or scientific processes, encouraging them to embody different characters or roles.
  6. Art and Craft Projects: Provide opportunities for hands-on creativity through art projects involving painting, sculpting, or crafting with various materials.
  7. Simulation Games: Use educational games or simulations that require physical movement or manipulation, such as a geography game where students physically move around a map.
  8. Hands-On Math Activities: Incorporate tactile materials like counters, beads, or blocks to help students visualize and solve math problems, making abstract concepts more concrete.
  9. Cooking or Baking: Integrate cooking or baking activities into the curriculum to teach concepts such as measurement, fractions, and chemical reactions while allowing students to engage their senses.
  10. Building Models or Prototypes: Challenge students to design and construct prototypes or models of inventions, architectural structures, or engineering projects, promoting hands-on problem-solving and innovation.
  11. Field Trips: Teachers, you’ve been taking kids on field trips since the beginning of time. Because it’s immersive and usually tactile kinesthetic! You were already implement this and didn’t even know it.

These activities provide tactile/kinesthetic learners with opportunities to actively engage with the material, enhancing their understanding and retention of information.

Just one example of this that I have on the site– a list of 25 Nature Sensory Activities. You can talk about trees and wildlife or whatever science lesson you’re doing. Or you can go outside and touch all this stuff. So much more memorable!

A kinesthetic learner walking through a field of pumpkins.
Learn about the life cycle of a pumpkin from a worksheet? Or an actual pumpkin patch?

Teaching Math Kinesthetically

For example, using manipulatives like real coins for counting change in math class may be more beneficial than completing a worksheet.

Another idea would be to add movement when learning skip counting.

Another idea is to use food to teach fractions. Like, say an orange or a candy bar!

Using oranges to teach fractions is a great multi-sensory approach for kinesthetic learners.

Use a variety of teaching methods with kinesthetic learners. This might include using demonstrations, telling stories, or creating games. Try tossing a beach ball, tennis ball, or stress ball around the room while you are working on reviewing the material.

You can also do things like use the game Twister to teach right and left, up and down, and colors. Or, use paper plates (write what you need on them with markers) on the floor to reinforce math concepts and have students step on or over them.

Allow kinesthetic learners to be physically active in class. Try stand-up desks, therapy balls, and break time for frequent movement.

Age Appropriate Kinesthetic Tactile Learning

In traditional classrooms, students are often expected to sit still for long periods of time and absorb information passively. This can be difficult for a student who likes to move.

For example, a student with ADHD may need frequent movement breaks to get their mind and body ready to learn. This would be an example of an accommodation for a kinesthetic learner in the classroom. 

I always say “If a student needs a movement break, they’re going to take a movement break, whether or not it’s in the IEP.” So, yes! Put them in the IEP or 504 if the student needs them.

In elementary school, for example, students can be given frequent opportunities to move around the room, use manipulatives, do hands-on activities with play dough, or even take breaks outside. 

In high school, assignments can be designed to allow students to be more hands-on, such as giving them the chance to conduct experiments, act out the lesson or build models. 

Kinesthetic learners often benefit from a combination of auditory, visual, and kinesthetic activities. However, traditional school settings are geared toward visual and auditory learners. 

Parachute activities are a great way to engage kids in kinesthetic learning.

How do I know if my child is a kinesthetic tactile learner?

There is no test or assessment for this. Mostly, it comes from knowing the child. You can also engage the child in self-advocacy skills by asking them probing questions. You can ask them what they do and do not like about school. Or, which lessons or classes they enjoy the most.

You can also observe what the child naturally gravitates to and away from, as pertains to schoolwork.

Kinesthetic learners may struggle with tasks that require them to sit still for long periods of time, such as taking a test or listening to a lecture. 

Additionally, kinesthetic learners may have difficulty with tasks that are entirely visual, such as reading a map. If a lesson is entirely auditory in nature, such as listening to a speech, this too may be difficult.

It is important to always build upon a student’s strength. By taking into account individual learning styles, teachers can create an environment that is conducive to all types of learners.

Success begets success.

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