Kinesthetic learning is the process by which a child learns by moving, touching, and doing. Some people are more visual, others learn best by listening, but many children really gain substantial knowledge through physical engagement. One of reasons many children have issues in traditional education settings is because sitting and being lectured at is contrary to how children learn.
Children’s Learning Styles
You may have heard of children’s learning styles in the past. Some children are visual learners, who learn best by reading, seeing pictures or watching an interesting demonstration. These kids enjoy beautiful images and seem to learn best when their environment is orderly and inviting.
Others are auditory learners, who thrive when they hear information. These little bundles of joy love to be read to, and will often want high interest books repeated over and over… and over again. They memorize things joyfully and easily. And, they want to talk things through. A lot.
Still others are tactile learners, who learn through touch. They enjoy drawing while learning and are often interested in art.
Then there’s kinesthetic learners. These kids flourish when they are active: moving, touching and doing. These are the busy kids. The can’t sit still kids. The oh-my-gosh-I-can’t-keep-up kids.
Kinesthetic Learning Style
Kinesthetic learners are happiest - and learn the most - when physical activity is involved. A hands-on approach that allows these bundles of pure energy to explore their environment is critical to their success. These are the kids that have trouble sitting still and are often labeled as “problem children” in traditional learning environments.
Although you may see elements of two or more learning styles in your child, the majority of primary and lower elementary aged children prefer a kinesthetic learning approach. This is one of the reasons many children struggle in traditional education settings. Put simply, the entire setup, where kids are constantly sitting and being lectured to, is contrary to how they learn.
Maria Montessori understood this vital need in children to physically engage with their environment and to move about the classroom:
“What the hand does, the mind remembers. Therefore, it is clear that we must not carry the child about, but let him walk, and if his hand wishes to work, we must provide him with things on which he can exercise an intelligent activity."
The Absorbent Mind
Dr. Montessori knew that an active, moving child is a learning child. To this end, the Montessori Method seeks to use movement and active engagement with the environment to teach. This is in stark opposition to the seated lecture approach of traditional schooling.
Let’s take a closer look at just what kinesthetic learning is, how it benefits your child, and how it’s expressed in Montessori education.
What is Kinesthetic Learning
Sitting down to listen to a story is something almost everyone can enjoy, even small children. Asking kids to sit and listen for 6+ hours to someone speak on various subjects is far less engaging. Consider this: even as a patient, fully grown adult, when was the last time you felt great about sitting and being lectured at for an entire day? Now, consider how that feels to a young child and you’ll quickly see why traditional education doesn’t work for everyone, and why so many active kids are done a disservice by the approach.
Kids that are particularly inclined to kinesthetic learning would be called “hands-on” learners if they were adults. They do best by actually interacting with a subject, moving it around and manipulating it rather than being told or shown how it works. (Hello, golden beads!) Children who learn best in this way in a traditional school setting benefit from frequent breaks, fidget devices and realistic, situational examples. They love field trips, role playing and moving their bodies.
Benefits of Kinesthetic Learning
While some kids are “antsier” than others, there’s a general inclination in children to be curious and movement-oriented. This is why kinesthetic learning benefits virtually all kids.
Some of the benefits of kinesthetic learning include:
- Better information retention: kids remember more of what they’re taught
- Improved critical thinking skills: kinesthetic learning develops problem solving skills via a powerful process of individual discovery: trial-and-error experimentation.
- More engagement: movement creates energy, which improves focus.
- Increased self-confidence and autonomy: kinesthetic learning is often self-paced, so kids can practice for as much - or as little - time as needed to gain a full understanding. This promotes confidence by focusing the child on their own learning, not on anyone else’s.
How Montessori Uses Kinesthetic Learning
The Montessori Method is foundationally built on engaging as many senses as possible when learning. Most of the items used in a Montessori classroom are hands-on, physical tools like golden beads (math), dressing frames (practical life) and the pink tower (sensorial). These items are used to facilitate active learning through all senses. So, Montessori is just what every child needs, because it embraces each and every learning style by its very nature. And, since Montessori is child-led, it makes sense that children’s learning styles are nurtured in a way that allows kids to fulfill their highest potential.
An Example of Kinesthetic Learning
Let’s walk through a straightforward example. Children in a traditional classroom may see, hear and write letters while learning letter sounds. And, Montessori students get this exposure, too. But, in addition, Montessori kids are given sandpaper letters as part of language studies. They trace them physically and feel the roughness of the grit. They also “write” letters in sand as a precursor to writing, which allows earlier language skills development while simultaneously preparing the child’s muscles for writing.
In a nutshell, Montessori students get wide exposure to all learning types, and then get to pick and choose what works best for them. This translates into better learning and happier, more confident kids.
These multisensory activities allow a child to truly engage with the concept they’re learning about. Think of it like showing them a drawing of an orange and telling them about it. They will know vaguely what they look like and that they’re tasty, but if your child picks up an orange, pulls it apart and eats it, they’ll remember and understand it far better.
Sensorial and kinesthetic learning impart information in a fun, engaging and more meaningful way than traditional education counterparts, and are present in almost all aspects of Montessori education.
Manipulatives in Kinesthetic Learning
The Pink Tower is a good example of a physical Montessori manipulative. Consisting of multiple layers of blocks that stack into a tower, your child hones their fine and gross motor skills, and learns perspective while interacting with it. They learn to see how best to stack the blocks to correctly create the tower, as well as trial-and-error, which boosts patience and confidence. There’s no screen or paper - the blocks are sturdy wood and require physical manipulation.
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Even an early childhood concept like the object permanence box has a kinesthetic angle. This manipulative asks infants to move the ball from place to place in order to play a game of “hide and seek.” The box is a simple construction where a child drops a ball in a hole on top, and it disappears briefly, only to roll out into a tray on the bottom. This is a fun activity, and eventually teaches kids that objects still exist, even if they can’t see them. All the while, even an infant who does not yet walk can learn kinesthetically within the Montessori framework.
By using physical, open-ended items to help children learn concepts, you’re helping them immerse themselves fully. For most children, lecture isn’t enough to capture their attention or engage with them completely. Whether we’re talking about the Pink Tower, the Object Permanence Box, or simply a stack of wooden blocks, physical education materials are fun to use and add layers of information to each class session.
Movement matters in Montessori
Kinesthetic learners require a hands-on approach to truly understand a concept. They must be able to hold it, move around with it, and manipulate it in a way that engages their physically focused minds. It’s not enough to hear about a forest ecosystem - they need to walk through it, touch it, and jump in the leaves.
While moving through a learning environment makes sense specifically for kinesthetic learners, it’s important to understand that most children are kinesthetic learners to a degree. Especially in younger children, exploration and education is better when it’s done with movement rather than paper and lecture.
Maria Montessori understood that kids need to move - it’s in their nature. They have too much energy to sit still for many hours per day. By engaging their senses and their need to move, children will enjoy learning more and retain the information better.