What is Kinesthetic Learning? Does My Child Need It?

Kinesthetic Learners

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.

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.

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

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.

Kinesthetic Learning

Kinesthetic learning is a type of learning where a person learns best by doing things rather than just hearing or seeing the information. 

There are many ways you can support a kinesthetic learner.

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.

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:

  • Hands-on activities
  • frequent movement breaks
  • movement while talking about a concept (marching while doing times tables)
  • acting out concepts
  • using manipulatives to teach concepts
  • demonstrations and practice
  • educational games
  • puzzles that reinforce concepts (like map puzzles)
  • use clay or playdough to teach math concepts such as shapes or geometry
  • 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.

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 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 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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