When I was in graduate school, excited to learn how to teach in a way that would result in a better learning rate for children, I kept hearing people talk about incorporating movement in learning activities in order to benefit tactile and kinesthetic learners. I was curious about that, so I kept my eyes and ears open to see what I could learn.
Paper Feet Hop
One cute activity I came across was a set of footprints cut out of colored paper, each one containing a sight word written with magic marker. The activity was fun for the children because the footprints were taped to the floor of a long hallway and the children hopped on each footprint as they read the word printed on the paper. I was curious at the time how hopping on the paper footprints would help the child learn the words more readily and wondered if possibly because the activity itself was fun, it engaged the learner and made him more motivated to learn his sight words. I can’t really say for sure. My lingering question had to do with the fact that if the movement in the activity was supposed to facilitate learning, if the word on each footprint was different, yet the movements were all similar hops, how was the movement tied to learning? I’ve thought about this a lot over the years and what I did was try and come up with movements that mimicked the meaning of the word.
Lean to the Right
I first started to pay attention to movement years ago while I was teaching a group of preschoolers. We had written the numbers 1-20 on a chart with four rows of five numbers. During circle time, children would take turns pointing to each number as they led the rest of the children in counting. One morning, Peter’s mother informed me that Peter had suddenly begun to count by fives and she was surprised, and quite frankly, really pleased. She wanted to know if we’d been working on counting by fives. I said no we hadn’t.
Lame Man March Curious, I began to watch Peter when he was leading the counting exercise. It happened that he would track to the right, pointing to 1, 2, 3, and 4, and when he got to 5, he would swing his body back to the left to quickly point to the 6. He moved the same way when he reached 10. I began to suspect that the swinging motion to the left became associated in Peter’s mind and body with the numbers 5, 10, 15, and 20.
To try out the theory of movement prompting learning, when it was time to start learning to count by 2’s, we formed a line and marched as we chanted our numbers. We would lean heavily to the right each time we said an even number. “One, TWO, three, FOUR, five, SIX,” etc. Next, we repeated the same march, but we whispered the odd numbers and spoke the even numbers loudly while leaning heavily to the right. Finally, we just thought the odd numbers, but continued to lean and say the even numbers out loud. So we counted on hearing the even numbers at the same time our body leaned into the even numbers as a means of learning to count by twos.
Moves That Prompt Recall
A young friend of mine was sad that I was leaving his home after a visit. I assured him we could talk on the phone after I got home. He immediately asked for my phone number. “Hold on!” he shouted as he ran into the kitchen. “I need to punch it in.” I was amused to see him key my phone number on the microwave key pad. Then he announced, “Now I will never forget it!” And he didn’t forget!
A first grader I worked with several years ago had a really hard time remembering how to form an M. He always confused it with a W. We established that the M looked like MMmmmountains, and to this visual reference we added a motion of hands together and down, while elbows arch high up like mountain peaks. Whenever Joel came to that troublesome letter, if he did his mirroring motion, he always made the correct sound!
It’s true that some children don’t seem to rely much on movement that mimics the concept that is being taught; other kids, however, seem to be unable to learn without mirroring their learning with their bodies. For these children, any time we spend thinking up accompanying movements to learning is so worth the time investment!