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Why Hands-on Activities are Vital for Young Learners

by Sarah K Major February 03, 2016

Why Hands-on Activities are Vital for Young Learners

Children who benefit most from hands-on activities are tactile or kinesthetic learners

(“Tactile” has to do with receptors on the skin – touching and feeling texture, shape, etc. “Kinesthetic” has to do with registering body movement.)

“Most of the school population excels through kinesthetic means: touching, feeling, experiencing the material at hand. “Children enter kindergarten as kinesthetic and tactual learners, moving and touching everything as they learn. By second or third grade, some students have become visual learners. During the late elementary years some students, primarily females, become auditory learners. Yet, many adults, especially males, maintain kinesthetic and tactual strengths throughout their lives."

(Teaching Secondary Students Through Their Individual Learning Styles, Rita Stafford and Kenneth J. Dunn; Allyn and Bacon, 1993)

How to identify your kinesthetic learner:

Does your child like to:

  • Touch and handle everything
  • Try it for themselves without listening for directions or instructions
  • Move pretty constantly (swinging a foot, waving hands around while talking, hopping, tipping chair, jumping, rolling)
  • Show you rather than tell you
  • Have trouble verbalizing at times
  • Listen for only a short span of time and then get moving again

These active children are often labeled with ADHD, but reality is that they learn through movement, and activity helps them think and process. When their attention begins to wander, rather than trying to force them to sit quietly, let them get some exercise and then they can come back and refocus on their task.

Some children who are kinesthetic might focus more effectively in school if they are allowed to stand up by their desk as they work (rather than sitting still), if they can manipulate objects as they are working, and if they are encouraged to draw pictures or charts and graphs of what they are learning. Many older kinesthetic children will doodle and take notes as they are listening in order to improve their focus and comprehension. Their focus will be closely tied to what their hands and bodies are doing.

How to help your kinesthetic learner in school:

  • Make sure the child understands his / her learning gift
  • Teach him / her to create movements that reflect the concepts they are learning. The movements might be whole body gestures that mimic the action in the learning piece, or they might be small motor actions such as those utilized in drawing a picture or scene that includes the concepts they are learning
  • When learning a new procedure, encourage the child to visualize himself / herself doing the action very much like a gymnast visualizes himself going through his routine before a performance.
  • When dealing with abstract symbols such as math equations, rather than just using pencil and paper to solve problems, encourage your child to replicate the problem using real objects. For example, when you are teaching your child the math facts, don’t just give him or her flash cards with the problems on them, give the child manipulatives and have them figure out for themselves the various combinations of numbers that equal a particular target number. For sums to 8, for instance, you will give the child 8 objects and have him or her work out for themselves the combinations of numbers that equal 8 (1+7, 2+6, 3+5, 4+4).
  • Use rhythm like clapping or beating on a drum for repetitive learning such as counting by two’s or ten’s.

Considering that all very young children are kinesthetic learners, it follows that we should move away from verbal instruction, memorization of facts, formulas, procedures, words as primary means of teaching.

Physical activities that will help your kinesthetic child learn more readily:

Children have an inner sense of the types of movements their brain and body need and we need to make sure they have ample opportunity to:

  • Spin
  • Balance
  • Jump
  • Stand on their heads
  • Swing
  • Roll

Most children today don’t get the opportunities they need to move in these non-structured ways. Playing an organized sport provides exercise, but the types of movements listed above literally help with physical development and with neural organization. This type of movement actually helps children think better!

So put away the electronics and get your child outside for some good free play with friends!

More information on Kinesthetic Learners


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.