Most preschoolers and many school-aged children are kenesthetic learners, that is learners who learn best when they are physically active.
Ask such a child what “humongous” means, and she will spread her arms as far as she can reach. Ask a one-year-old what the dog in the picture is doing, and the child will get down on all fours and sniff. Ask a child the difference between up and down, the child will stand on a chair and say, “up,” and then jump to the floor and say, “down.”
These children use as much of their bodies as possible not only to learn but to demonstrate that they have learned.
How do you know if a child is a kenesthetic learner?
- The child loves sports—running, jumping, dancing, and tumbling.
- The child seems more active than other children of the same age.
- The child gestures while talking.
- When the child sees a demonstration, the child wants to try it herself.
- The child ends the day dirty—dirt under his fingernails, peanut butter in his hair, shoes scuffed—and he is oblivious.
- When reading or writing, the child kneels on a chair, stands, sits on the desk, stands on the chair and leans over, and does all of these in the span of five minutes.
- The child fidgets while learning—tapping her fingers, puffing up her cheeks, wriggling her shoulders—yet she pays attention.
- The child loves Legos, puzzles, and toys that can be put together or taken apart.
- The child has great hand-eye coordination, and can learn to control pencils, paint brushes, screw drivers and tools with ease.
How does such a learning style affect reading? What can you do?
- Since a kenesthetic learner often reads later than his peers, you might panic that he is lagging his classmates. It helps if you can accept that for this child, reading is a low interest activity. You can reinforce what he is learning by connecting it to activities he loves. “A is for arrow. B is for basketball. C is for coach.”
- Because the child needs to move, let him swing his legs, stand, lie on the floor, or move a rubber ball from hand to hand as he listens to instruction.
- Break up reading lessons into mini-lessons with in-between times when the child is free to move around. Use this time for the child to act out what he has learned.
- Since the child likes to use his hands, teach using manipulatives such as letter tiles, pictures to sort by sound, parts of sentences cut into phrases, flashcards, and online work which includes using a mouse. Vary the writing instruments the child uses since the feel of some will attract the child to work.
- Suggest that the child draw what he is learning. Have her fill in boxes and use arrows to show relationships.
- Use repetitive physical activity to deepen learning. Throw a ball back and forth while spelling new words. Take a walk while discussing subjects and predicates. Move magnetized words into sentences on the refrigerator while shifting weight in a dancing rhythm. Draw mind webs while reading to show comprehension.
- Teach a hard concept after physical activity.