Nov 032012

Should we be generous and call this kinesthetic learning?

The latest trend in education seems to be incorporating kinesthetic learning into the curriculum. What is kinesthetic learning? Until I experienced it in action with my own children I don’t think I could have told you. Essentially, kinesthetic learning is about using the sense of touch or movement to imprint learning on the brain. I read recently that most young children are kinesthetic learners so it is important for most parents to understand the concept.

It’s not as simple as it sounds. At first, I thought it was like taking a dance lesson or doing athletic training but this type of learning is not about learning movements. It’s much more subtle. No one was using this learning technique much when I was in school so it’s no wonder that it was foreign to me at first.

I’m not sure how to explain kinesthetic learning other than providing some examples.

Squishing Colors

Recently my daughter’s preschool class was learning about primary and secondary colors. Most kids in preschool do some sort of kinesthetic learning about color mixing, with the most common approach being mixing watercolor paints. My daughter’s teachers made color mixing even more kinesthetic by having the children make a paint and glue mixture for each primary color then placing two primary colors in a zipper-top plastic bag and having the children squeeze and knead the two colors together to make a secondary color.  The mixed bags were then sent home with instructions that they could be used to practice letter writing when placed on a flat surface.  This was a simple yet brilliant instruction.  When learning to write, sometimes gripping a pencil or crayon is a tough enough movement all by itself.  Learning to write with just a finger moving through paint makes lettering easier.  So this became a double-kinesthetic activity.

Not much to look at but a bag of squishy materials makes a great learning tool!

Base 10 Blocks

One of the latest teaching tools for math is base 10 blocks. These blocks are scaled to size so that there are tiny 1 unit cubes, sticks of 10 cubes together, squares of 100 cubes together and a huge cube of 1000. When you teach a child the concept of a number like 52, you place on the table 5 10-unit sticks and 2 little one unit cubes. It doesn’t sound like it would be that impressionable on a child but it is huge! Being able to “touch” the number really helps to connect them with the concept of tens and ones. When learning concepts like subtraction and “breaking a 10″ you can see how making the numbers tangible rather than just abstract concepts on paper would help the brain process this concept in a new and more complex way.

When we need a break from math, sometimes the Base 10 blocks become building blocks too.

Suzuki-style music lessons

When most people hear the word “Suzuki method” they think of child prodigies or Tiger Mothers. I have been trying out a Suzuki piano book with my daughter and it has been fascinating to see how this method works. As I understand this method, Shin’ichi Suzuki was not trying to force children to become prodigies but rather to help them develop a natural joy for playing music. One of the keys of this method is kinesthetic learning. Rather than “reading” the music with your eyes and then translating that information to your fingers on the keys, you simply memorize the movements of your fingers on the keys and the sounds they make. This method really does work faster on young children and I imagine it is especially helpful to children who have trouble reading. My daughter can already play a Twinkle Twinkle Little Star variation with just one lesson.

Recently, I found my piano like this. I don't think this is the type of kinesthetic learning Shin'ichi Suzuki envisioned.

Note taking by Hand (or Handwriting in general)

Recently, organizing guru Stever Robbins recorded a fascinating podcast/column about some of the studying tactics that helped him get through MIT and Harvard. One of them was about taking notes by hand rather than on the computer.  He claims kinesthetic learning is a big part of the reason for doing this.  While some parents question whether we should teach handwriting at all anymore since everyone types on keyboards, there might be a real kinesthetic reason to continue handwriting to teach letters and sounds and reading concepts.

Preschool handwriting exercises.

Halloween Costumes

While here in Virginia many people are divided on Halloween from a philosophical/religious perspective, our family has found that Halloween costumes are an excellent opportunity for learning.  Having a child dress up as a historical figure (as we did this year) or become a favorite storybook character, or a painting is a great way to bring abstract concepts literally to life for children.

Halloween costumes that make history come alive!

Now that I know what kinesthetic learning is, I look for examples of it to incorporate into our homeschool curriculum. There are a lot of games and learning toys that bring a kinesthetic element to learning. Below are some I came across recently.

LeapFrog: Turbo Twist Spelling at amazon.com.

Learning Resources Rainbow Fraction Tiles with Tray at amazon.com.

Smart Lab Squishy You Explore It Human Body at amazon.com.

The bottom line for kinesthetic learning seems to be: “touching is believing.” You can see for young children why this is the case as their world primarily consists of tangible things. But you can see why this is true for the rest of us too. Touching stuff is just more fun anyway. Hands-on education is more than just a buzzword. It is a true learning philosophy.  So much of the time, I find myself saying to my children, “Don’t touch!”   I am now chastened to realize that in some ways what I am saying to them is “Don’t learn!”

What is your experience with kinesthetic learning? Do you have a favorite kinesthetic learning tool? Please share in the comments.

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