what is kinesthetic learning

As a teacher, you are always seeking new ways to keep your students engaged and interested in the classroom. One way to do so is to incorporate lessons that cater to a variety of learning styles, including kinesthetic learners.

What Is Kinesthetic Learning?

There are several different learning styles for both adults and children. Three of the most common are:

  • Visual learners are taught best through visually processing the information.
  • Auditory learners learn best when they can listen and re-listen to course material.
  • Hands-on learners need or prefer to be actively and physically engaged in the course material to truly understand. Hands-on learning is also called kinesthetic learning.

Kinesthetic learners absorb information by doing, rather than by seeing or listening — they need to engage in some physical, tangible learning exercise, whether it be by experimenting, hands-on solving or discovery learning. Kinesthetic learning gets its name from the science of kinesiology, which is the study of human movement.

For example, if you're teaching your students about how chemicals react with one another, a kinesthetic learner may remember the terminology and theory, but they will grasp the concept much quicker when you allow them to mix these chemicals and see the reaction for themselves.

This is a research-based learning and teaching method with proven results. Several neurophysiological studies have linked physical experiences with strong, active engagement activity in the brain. The kinesthetic system has receptors in both the tendons and the muscles — and that system becomes activated when you move your body.

You have probably heard the term "muscle memory" used when describing the body's ability to remember certain physical motions — such as a dance routine or typing on a keyboard — even when the mind does not consciously remember. Muscle memory is a form of kinesthetic learning and application.

Kinesthetic learners are very sensory people. Their minds thrive on information input from the things they touch, smell, taste and otherwise experience with their bodies. For this reason, hands-on learning projects are the quickest and most effective way of learning a new skill or grasping a new concept.

For example, while a visual learner might learn the basics of a volcanic eruption from watching a film about volcanoes or looking at visual aids, a kinesthetic learner would have an easier time understanding the various processes involved by constructing one out of clay or paper mache and mixing the correct substances to cause an eruption. Kinesthetic learners may have an easier time in classes with hands-on learning built-in to the curriculum, like interactive science labs or art classes, rather than lecture-style activities.

Characteristics of a Kinesthetic Learner

It's important to remember that kinesthetic learners can still learn through audible or visual means. In fact, many people learn through a combination of these three learning styles. Being a hands-on learner simply means that some aspects of learning come more naturally than other tasks and subjects.

Some common kinesthetic learner characteristics include:

  • Tends to gesture while speaking.
  • Remembers things they have done, rather than things they have seen or heard.
  • Gets distracted and fidgety during hands-off activities.
  • Enjoys working with tools, instruments and other supplies.
  • Often skilled at solving puzzles and completing mazes.
  • Thinks more clearly when able to move and engage, rather than sitting.
  • May need frequent study breaks to stay focused.
  • Likes to construct things with hands, like crafts or DIY projects.
  • Moves when learning or processing new information, such as foot-tapping.

Many kinesthetic learners go on to have careers in hands-on fields of work, such as physical therapy, carpentry, horticulture, dancing, acting, athletics, farming and more.

Benefits of Hands-On Learning in the Classroom

There are several benefits of hands-on learning for both students and teachers. Students who learn kinesthetically will have the advantage of learning at a pace that is comfortable to them, and they will not feel like they are falling behind their more auditory or visual peers. As a teacher, using multiple different teaching methods gives you a chance to asses what each student's strengths and areas for improvement are, so you can use that information to tailor and personalize future lessons.

Additional benefits of kinesthetic learning for students include:

  • Kinesthetic learners can often grasp the "big picture" of a lesson or activity quickly. Rather than thinking of a presentation as a chore or a task they completed at school, hands-on engagement means they will have a much easier time connecting that presentation to their everyday life.
  • It encourages students to think outside of normal classroom assignments and seek real-world applications
  • Fosters a spirit of curiosity and a drive to try new things
  • Children have an opportunity to fix their mistakes and learn organically through trial and error
  • For older students, hands-on learning is a chance to explore areas of career interest before committing

Many teachers spend hours perfecting their daily lesson plans, with very little real-time feedback provided during lessons. You might be left wondering if you truly got your message across and whether your students received it in a way that prepares them for their homework assignment, an upcoming test or even their future careers.

When you employ kinesthetic learning techniques in the classroom, you have a unique and valuable opportunity to test your teaching methods in real-time. By asking students to get involved with the lesson via an in-class project, you can pinpoint the areas in which your students are struggling and the areas in which they are succeeding. This can help you shape future lessons and gauge whether a certain subject or topic needs a bit more classroom time before moving on.

kinesthetic learning in the classroom

Tools and Strategies for Kinesthetic Learners

As a teacher, there are several steps you can take to ensure each type of learner in your classroom has an opportunity to engage with the material in a way that is comfortable and natural for them — this might mean stocking up on tools and supplies or learning new kinesthetic teaching techniques.

Tools and Supplies

The classroom supplies you will require for kinesthetic-based lesson plans will vary depending on the subject you teach, the age of your students and the particular lesson you are teaching that day. Some objects teachers often have on-hand for engaged lessons include:

  • Building blocks
  • Puzzles
  • Matching games
  • Arts and craft supplies
  • An abacus
  • Molding clay
  • Computers or tablets
  • Puppets
  • Countable objects, like coins
  • Index cards

Teaching Strategies

Again, specific teaching strategies will vary between classrooms and depend largely on the age of your students. Some examples of great ways to incorporate kinesthetic learning into the classroom include:

  • Use charts and presentations: Ask your students to create charts, graphs or poster presentations for a homework assignment. You can try this as an in-class activity, or assign it for the students to do at home. Either way, let your students be as creative as they would like to be — they might just find a new learning technique along the way.
  • Combine learning styles: Design lessons to include elements of each type of learning style, such as videos with audio, poster presentations and hands-on projects. Although some topics will always require more audible or visual teaching methods, try to incorporate small movements and activities where you can.
  • Bring lessons to life: Use characters or live presentations to roleplay real-life applications of your lesson. For a younger classroom, puppets or toys will keep your students' attention well. For an older audience, consider working together with the school's theater program to bring lessons to life. You could also put on your own classroom production and let students take on the roles themselves.
  • Utilize games and activities: Incorporate games and physical activity often. After all, kinesthetic learning is all about body movement. Create your own vocabulary matching games or spelling word scavenger hunts. Don't be afraid to take it outside of the classroom.
  • Take field trips: Think back to your own time in the classroom. Some of your most memorable learning experiences likely happened during a field trip or class outing to a museum, zoo or another educational resource center. Field trips are an excellent way to help both hands-on learners and the rest of your students gain a more real-world understanding of their homework assignments. As you search for field trip options, focus on those that also offer hands-on activities or demonstrations for students.
  • Let the students teach: It might sound counterproductive, but sometimes the best way for a student to work through their struggles is by facing them head-on. By assigning your students each a part of the lesson to be responsible for presenting to the class, they can engage with the subject material in a new way.
  • Bring in the experts: Consider bringing in experts to help attach a face to your lessons. For example, if you are teaching your students about animals, enlist a local zookeeper or veterinarian to speak with your class. This will help frame the relevance of your presentation for your students, and they will see the tactile applications of the lessons they are learning.
  • Have class discussions: Class discussions allow your students to engage with each other — and with you — about the material they are learning, but in a time designated just for them. Class and small group discussions let your students feel comfortable, and this interaction gives many hands-on students a chance to talk through the assignment in a way they would be unable to do if they were sitting still and quietly listening from their desk.

When in doubt, ask your students for feedback. Ask them which areas are difficult to understand, and what would help them grasp a concept more clearly. If your lesson relies heavily on data, for example, a kinesthetic student might feel overwhelmed by all of the visual information. If this is the case, they might ask you to put those numbers into a more real-world context.

at-home tips for kinesthetic learners

At-Home Tips for Kinesthetic Learners

As a teacher, you may encounter students of all ages who greatly benefit from kinesthetic learning. While you can implement this teaching style in your classroom, it may be challenging for students to continue kinesthetic learning when they are doing homework. Here are some tips you can offer your students, both young and old, to help them practice kinesthetic learning at home:

  • Create a study space: Advise your students to create a designated study space where they can do their homework each night. Make sure this space is private but spacious enough that they can get up and move around when needed. If they struggle with sitting still, advise them to choose a desk that they can stand and work at instead. Eliminate all external distractions from this area, especially TV and music.
  • Combine movement with learning: Encourage your kinesthetic students to stay active while they study, even if that means tapping a pencil or pacing the floor as they recite vocabulary words. By combining their studying with physical motions, students are more likely to remember their lessons. They can even try training their brain to associate study materials with movements. For example, if they tap their toes while listing off the U.S. presidents, their brain is more likely to recall that information when they repeat that movement during a test.
  • Take frequent breaks: All students need a break from studying every once in a while to stay focused. Kinesthetic learners especially require regularly scheduled study breaks to avoid getting too distracted, bored or under-stimulated.
  • Use different study tools: Advise your students to use a variety of different tools while they study, such as pens, markers, highlighters and sticky notes. The mixture will help keep them engaged with the course material and give their hands something to do.
  • Be experimental: If your students are struggling to focus while studying at home, encourage them to experiment with new study techniques and methods until they find one that fits their unique learning needs.

How Planners Help With Hands-On Learning

Using a print planner can help kinesthetic learners stay on top of all learning activities, projects and assignments. They also provide a tangible place for hands-on learners to keep track of their notes, write down questions they want to ask and plan their at-home study sessions.

You should consider choosing print planners for your students because it allows them to:

  • Set aside time in their week for extra studying or hands-on engagement.
  • Get a big-picture look at their week and month, so they never miss an important class, presentation or classroom project.
  • Have a place to keep track of all the study strategies they have tried and those they hope to experiment with in the future.
  • Draw their own charts, graphs and diagrams, so they can more easily understand the subject matter you're presenting.
  • Develop organizational skills that they will carry with them into higher education or the workforce.
  • Reduce the stress associated with forgotten due dates, crammed study sessions and misplaced assignments.

Choose Success By Design to Find the Best Planners for Your Hands-On Learners

Printed student planners are the perfect way to provide your kinesthetic students with a more tangible way to keep their assignments and thoughts organized. At Success by Design, we offer planners for all students, including elementary, middle and high school ages. We also provide helpful planner accessories that many hands-on learners will find useful, such as fill-in wall charts.

Interested in ordering custom planners for your students? Contact us to learn more about how you can get your school's mascot or logo put on the cover.

planners for hands-on learners