Home Math Tips: For Kinesthetic Learners

Kinesthetic learning (aka tactile, physical, hands-on or skill learning) involves students learning by doing physical activities rather than just listening to a lecture or watching demonstrations or reading and writing about the topic. Kinesthetic learning activities involve students using body movement to explore concepts and then explaining, in their own words, how those body movements explain and are related to the concept. A good basic explanation of kinesthetic learning can be found on Wikipedia. At one time, it was thought that different children had different “learning styles”–including kinesthetic learning–and that finding and focusing on the individual child’s “style” would produce better learning. However

What about “Learning Styles”? At one time, it was thought that different children had different “learning styles”–including kinesthetic learning–and that finding and focusing on the individual child’s “style” would produce better learning. However, evidence now suggests that “mixed modality” learning–using a variety of learning styles/approaches, including auditory, visual, kinesthetic, etc.–is best to improve learning. At the same time, for children who have difficulty focusing on traditional approaches such as lectures or reading and writing, or are naturally very active, kinesthetic techniques can be very helpful.

Kinesthetic memory: Another advantage of these kinds of activities is that they help move the traditional learning of new concepts from short-term memory into long-term memory. This involves the effect of positive emotions associated with physical activity such as excitement and curiosity.

Sample Activities: Here are a few examples of activities which have worked well with my tutoring students; you can use these as starter ideas to develop your own activities for/with your children:

  • For learning numbers: With your finger, “draw” numbers on the child’s back or on the palm of his hand (with the child not looking) and have the child identify the number; have the child “draw” numbers in the air with his arm; step on sidewalk blocks or a hopscotch court, counting aloud (or simply count steps while walking); count steps while climbing stairs
  • For practising number skills (and writing!), large writing tools and textured surfaces can be helpful. For example: have the child write with large pieces of chalk on sidewalk; or write with her finger on a table with a textured fabric cloth or in sand or whip cream or finger paints
  • For memorising math facts: bounce a ball or jump up stairs or skip rope or jump on trampoline while reciting math facts
  • Learning odd and even numbers: toss ball back and forth (odds and evens); set out number cards on floor, step from card to card, looking at each and saying the number–then repeat, skipping numbers to practice skip-counting by 2s and 3s
  • Practical math (and reading/writing): Using grocery flyers, look at the pictures and record items for a grocery list (for children with difficulty writing, cut out the pictures of the items and glue them onto a “grocery list” paper), use a calculator to add up the prices, go to the bank and take out the money, then go to the store and shop for the items, comparing the words on the list with the words on the items, and finally, pay cash for the groceries, counting out the money. At home, put the groceries away, checking off each item on the list as it is removed from the bag.

Practical, hands-on, physical activities like these can really enhance the learning of a child who is struggling with “theoretical” or “paperwork” learning methods. It is most helpful if the child explains afterwards, in his/her own words, the concept(s) learned.

Other kinds of kinesthetic activities include doodling, creating graphics, painting, mind-mapping, webbing, etc.; modelling and building with clay, wood and other materials; role-playing, drama, and dance; sports activities and gymnastics (applying concepts such as physics, measurements, following directions, etc.); hands-on “science experiments”; use of manipulatives; musical theatre and/or playing instruments; outdoors exploration of the environment; and physical games such as charades. Note that many of these activities can be done in groups as well as individually.

Oh! And these activities are also a great way to distract children from those electronic devices 🙂

What kinds of kinesthetic activities have worked well for your children? Please share your experiences in the comments. Thank you!

Other posts in this series:
Games and family fun
Charts and tables
Books and workbooks
Online sites
Tips for kinesthetic learners
Unit studies

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