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16 Characteristics of Kinesthetic and Tactile Learners

by Sarah K Major October 05, 2018 14 Comments

16 Characteristics of Kinesthetic and Tactile Learners

Insights, tips, and techniques to help active, hands-on learners at school and at home

What is it like to be a kinesthetic and tactile child in a classroom or at home?
Imagine yourself at your dinner table working on your budget for the month. There is a child demanding your attention, your best friend is texting you about dinner plans, and your favorite tv show just began. Plus, the pile of dirty dishes is calling your name. Does that sound familiar? Are you able to tune out the extra noise and get your task done? Or do you stop what you’re doing to address the other issues?

There are choices adults can make, products we can buy, and environments designed for focus: noise-cancelling headphones, private meeting rooms, a quiet car ride to get lunch, and more.

Now, put yourself in the shoes of a child in a classroom. We put them in a colorful room full of multiple messages, packed with their friends. We ask them to be quiet, stop moving, and concentrate. At home, siblings, technology, and toys are all screaming for their attention.

When you consider a child’s learning style - kinesthetic learners (who require movement to learn) or tactile learners (who require hands-on learning) - these environments can be overwhelming. Often times, the children who can’t succeed in these classrooms are labelled dyslexic, ADD, and ADHD. Is this your child?

Teaching strategies for kinesthetic learners

Kinesthetic and tactile learners have similar learning styles

Kinesthetic learners need to move. They wiggle, tap, swing their legs, bounce, and often just can’t seem to sit still. They learn through their bodies and their sense of touch.
Kinesthetic learners have excellent “physical” memory. They learn quickly and permanently what they DO as they are learning.

Kinesthetic learners are often gifted in physical activities such as running, swimming, dancing, and other sports.

Kinesthetic learners are typically very coordinated and have an excellent sense of their body in space and of body timing. They have great hand-eye coordination and quick reactions.

Tactile learners learn through fine motor movements rather than whole body movement. They are more moderate than kinesthetic learners who require whole body movement. 

Tactile learners learn primarily through the sense of touch. Try this free activity with your child to practice making compound words using cut-out SnapWords found in the 301 Kit.

Tactile learners learn best through hands-on activities. Incorporating related motions into teaching is one way to  strengthen tactile learners - explore our Alphabet Teaching Cards to see how hand gestures can play out in learning letters.

Tactile learners express their learning best with projects. They learn better when creating mini-books, games, skits, models, building blocks, art materials, and math manipulatives. 


What can you do to help kinesthetic and tactile learners thrive?

Kinesthetic and tactile learners have trouble sitting still.

At school: Let them move! If you tell them they can stand up, swing their legs, or even pace the floor as long as they are not disrupting the other students, their performance will improve.

At home: Practice movement at home - some children learn new material better if they are able to pace the floor while reading. They may need to swing their leg while reading with you.

Kinesthetic and tactile learners lose interest quickly.

At school: Use novelty and change where you teach a lesson in order to help break up long periods of time when the students would be sitting in their desks. Consider changing location, letting children sit on the floor, encouraging them to synthesize their learning by sketching what they learned. Keep intensive teaching moments short.

At home: If your child is working on homework, break homework time into short spans with a break in between. For example, do math homework, then take a break to run around the yard, do somersaults on the floor or do a physical activity of the child's choosing.

Kinesthetic and tactile learners have difficulty learning steps and procedures.

At school: Teach students to visualize what they are learning. If you are teaching them steps for solving a problem, have them go inside their imaginations to "see" themselves following the steps. TIP: These types of learners are also visual learners - they need to be very clear on the outcome before making sense of the steps. Be prepared for and embrace if the child comes up with different steps that work better for them. After all, the desired outcome is what matters and kinesthetic / tactile learners excel once they are clear on what is expected of them.

At home: Share with your child the goal or what the desired final "product" is. Next, share the suggested steps and have the child imagine doing them. Ask your child if they believe the steps will produce the desired outcome. Listen and adjust as needed if the outcome will be the same.

Kinesthetic and tactile learners are easily distracted by their environment - their attention follows their hands.

At school: Teach them to draw sketches or diagrams of what they are hearing in a lesson. Teach them to point to each problem. Encourage the child to find a spot with minimal distraction. Encourage them to use flashcards with information they are learning. TIP: use flashcards with strong visual cues. Remember, kinesthetic and tactile children are also visual learners.

At home: Create a cozy, private environment for your child to use as they do schoolwork. A strategy that works very well is creating a "study spot" that uses a screen to limit what the child can see in a room. TIP: make a screen from a large cardboard box with one side and the bottom cut out.

Movement based math resources for kinesthetic and tactile learners

Kinesthetic and tactile learners can be overwhelmed.

At school: Teach them to use deep breathing and relaxation techniques to help with focus. Break up their tasks into manageable segments.

At home: Take a break from schoolwork or the activity. Decide together the amount of time for rest and relaxation - have the child set the timer. Help them learn to organize their homework into individual tasks, put them in order of priority and focus on just one at a time.

Kinesthetic and tactile learners tend not to be auditory learners. 

Information they learn by body movements will be stored in their brains, help them focus, and remember what they learned.

At school: Incorporate movements and visuals into the lesson. For example, when teaching a sight word like "help" also show the body movement that will both mimic the shape and meaning of the word. TIP: Visual are powerful aids for these types of learners because anything that is embedded in a visual can be captured and stored in a memory in less than a second.

At home: Your child's memory is not related to how many times you've told them to do something - despite how much we might wish this is true. They learn-by-doing. Help them store words or facts by creating fun, repetitive movements or visual signals such as whiteboards with lists and images.

Snapwords sight word cards have helped thousands of struggling readers thrive

Kinesthetic and tactile learners need manipulatives. 

At school: They will focus more easily with objects to manipulate instead of always paper and pencil. Get creative with learning tools. For example, use sight word cards to build sentences. When they are solving math problems, encourage them to draw the problem or build the problem using manipulatives.

At home: Use building blocks to help them visualize math problems. Combine sight words with items around the house to construct sentences.

Kinesthetic and tactile learners' attention tends to wander. 

At school: Keep their attention by combining visuals and related movement into your lessons. Switch up where you teach - and how you deliver the content. TIP: Try using images and body movement - you may be surprised how much it changes the focus and learning results of kinesthetic and tactile students.

At home: Homework can be difficult to do in a busy or quiet home. Try to switch up where homework is done. Share with your child that they have a powerful learning gift and that visuals make learning instant and body movement is a tool for remembering. A child can be their own best helper once they understand their "problems" aren't evidence of a disability but rather evidence of an unique gift.

Check out our resources for kinesthetic & tactile learners!



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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.

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