When our daughter was 5, I developed for our home school the following physics lesson to teach her and a 6 year old friend Newton's three laws of motion.
Now in my talks to parents, I lead the parents through this activity so they can actually experience what it feels like to be a kinesthetic learner.
Here is Newton’s three laws of motion lesson: (Parents: I recommend you try this with your child, or lead pairs of children through this.)
First, move the furniture needed to clear a space about 6 feet square for each pair participating. Get on the floor, sitting back-to-back with another person. Link your arms at the elbows. Now, staying linked, try to stand up together.
How hard is it to do that? Notice it is easier to just sit there. That’s the first law of motion – Inertia: a body at rest tends to stay at rest! (Ever try to slow your kids down when they are running? That is the other half—a body in motion tends to stay in motion.)
Next, ask this: Which way did you push your feet to go up? (Some may say “Up.” Have them repeat the process, putting their feet in the air and pushing up.) Correct answer: You pushed down to go up.
That’s the second law of motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The second half of this second question was that you also pushed forwards to go backwards. Why didn’t you go backwards? Because your partner was pushing in the opposite direction.
Now ask this: If one partner is much smaller, who has to push harder, the big person or the little person? Test it and see! The answer is the little person. This is Newton’s third law: Force equals mass (size of the person) times acceleration (push).
Here are four learning styles observations about a kinesthetic learner from the Newton exercise:
1. A kinesthetic learner tends to make a mess and often leaves things everywhere. Look at the room with the furniture moved aside. As this is such a normal consequence of our learning style, we have a high tolerance for visual chaos. (Visual chaos really irritates the visual learner.)
2. Before a kinesthetic learner can even consider the details, we need to learn the big picture. This is why in as short a sentence as possible I brought out the details of Newton's three laws after my students had tried to stand up. It is feeling the big picture that has the kinesthetic learner literally jumping in the water to learn how to swim.
3. A kinesthetic learner often feels words fail to describe what is really going on for them. In my workshops, many people say they pushed up rather than down. Most parents know what their child means when the child talks, even if the words aren’t literally correct. But over the years, as others misunderstand us, many just simply stop talking, especially about their feelings.
A kinesthetic learner equates talking with being misunderstood. Often we feel like you understand us, but are refusing to admit it. And being misunderstood not only hurts us, but it usually angers our listener.
Unfortunately, to maintain relationships, we all need to talk. This lack of deep communication is especially hard on human relationships. So a kinesthetic learner, especially those with auditory as their last preference (KVA), tend to get along better with animals than with people. (And better with adults than with kids.)
4. If a child, especially a kinesthetic learner, is having fun, he will tend to repeat the behavior for the feel of it. A kinesthetic dad somewhat proudly confided in me that his son had knocked a hole into his stucco wall. Enjoying the feel of it, the son proceeded to knock a hole a hammerhead wide and a yard long. When his mother found out, she was beside herself.
Here’s another example: A puzzled mother at a home school convention told me that her son had cut out the Easter Bunny from construction paper and then proceeded to cut until all he had was confetti. She worried about her son’s behavior. (It seemed so pointless and destructive.)
Was he all right? What this mother didn’t realize is a fourth observation about a kinesthetic learner: These repetitions for the feel often confuse parents. A visual parent is expecting a picture perfect Easter bunny, not confetti or a yardlong hole in her beautiful house.
The child, once he demonstrates that he can cut out the picture perfect bunny, continues to cut because he has discovered that he likes the feel of it. The fact that the end product is confetti isn't as important as the fun he had creating it.
One important concept we’ve learned from learning specialist Pat Wyman, M.A., is the importance of matching input and output in teaching. For example, it may be obvious to anyone that a child cannot acquire the skill of swimming (output) by reading about it in a book. He has to get in the water and practice the skill (input).
Again, if the skill the child will demonstrate (output) is a visual skill, be sure the skill is taught (input) using visual activity. Here is an example:
Our daughter is extremely auditory. When she was first learning to spell, her mom and I thought it would be efficient to practice spelling words in the car. We were pleased to see that she spelled her words so well. “Horse!” we’d say. She’d spell “horse.”
We were pleased, that is, until we realized that no matter how well she spelled the words orally, she wouldn’t necessarily know the word when it came to write them. So when it came time for her spelling quiz, “Horse!” we’d say. And she’d spell “hors.”
What’s the point about having this information about input and output? The point is I don’t want you to feel that every lesson and every skill needs to be taught kinesthetically to your kinesthetic learner. Don’t restrict your teaching style to match your child’s needs without considering the output you want.
It is my hope this will give you the tools to help your child learn and live a better life with a brighter future. Understanding learning styles and using that information to change the way you teach your kinesthetic learner and to change the way he studies and communicates with others is a huge step in bringing this hope to fruition.
As a medical doctor, author, and homeschooler, Stephen Guffanti, M.D., offers a unique background and tremendous insight, and communicates with warmth and humor. Not only is Stephen a physician, but he’s also dyslexic and ADHD. From this unusual perspective he brings hope and understanding to families with a kinesthetic learner.