A son who “wiggles too much” to finish a worksheet. A daughter who asks to dress up in historical costumes to show others what she’s learning. A student who can’t sit still through a chapter of a book but can confidently deconstruct and reassemble electronics.

The three students above are most likely kinesthetic learners. In the first article in this series, I wrote that an understanding of learning styles can greatly accelerate a homeschool. All students can learn through many methods, but in this article, I want to focus on tailoring a homeschool to the kinesthetic learning style.

Also called tactile learners, kinesthetic learners thrive when they can use all five senses and have hands-on experiences. They don’t seem to mind a trial-and-error approach. It doesn’t seem to matter if they are alone or in a group; either way, their brains seem to work best if their bodies are also moving. To show what they’ve learned, kinesthetic learners don’t want to write a paper or take a test. They’d rather be assessed by completing a project, building something, or doing a demonstration.

By now, you may be saying, “Ah-ha. That’s my child!” If your child is a kinesthetic learner, below are five ways you can adapt your homeschool to take full advantage of your student’s preferred learning style. Some of the ideas are simply extensions to the curriculum you might already be using. Some suggestions may require presenting the material from your current curriculum in a different, more tactile manner. Other kinesthetic teaching ideas might challenge you to switch to a different curriculum or to completely adopt a new teaching method.

Using Manipulatives

Manipulatives are physical objects that are used as teaching tools to engage students in hands-on learning. They can be used to introduce, practice, or even remediate a concept. A manipulative may be homemade or store-bought, as simple as grains of sand or as sophisticated as a model of our solar system.

Why do manipulatives enhance learning? Researchers say that all children learn by progressing through three sequential levels of understanding—concrete, pictorial, and abstract. The use of manipulatives enables students to explore concepts at the first, or concrete, level of understanding. By definition, manipulatives are concrete objects that students can touch, which make them perfectly suited for kinesthetic learners. For instance, when my son moves three pencils into a pile of seven pencils, he can tangibly see there are now ten pencils. This concrete understanding precedes the pictorial (3+7 = 10) and the abstract (calculating the addition problem silently in his head) stages in the learning progression.

Manipulatives are especially helpful tools for teaching and reinforcing math concepts. Some homeschool math curriculums emphasize the use of manipulatives; Math-U-See is one curriculum that bubbles to the top for many homeschoolers with tactile learners. Other curriculums stick to paper and pencil instruction, but you can supplement with colorful unit blocks, base 10 counters, fraction strips, geoboards, and geometric-solid models. These manipulatives are useful for students learning to count all the way through to the study of algebra and geometry. Practical applications like carpentry and baking can also bring math concepts to life for kinesthetic students.

Manipulatives are also helpful in subjects beyond math. When my children are learning to read and write, I keep a bag of white rice to pour into a jelly-roll pan. They write their letters in the rice, loving the tactile sensation. I also write phonics sounds and short words in craft glue, which leaves a slightly raised impression when it dries. Tactile learners love the feel as they trace the sounds and the words.

One of my boys loves to listen to books being read aloud, but he definitely has the wiggles. When he was young, I invited him to bring something to the couch to hold in his lap while I read books aloud to him and his siblings. Even though he quietly played with a stuffed animal in his lap, he could accurately narrate to me what he had heard. It took me a while to acknowledge, but I gradually accepted that he learned best while he wiggled! Over time, what he brought to read-aloud time became a small action figure or a poseable Lego mini-figure. That pattern lasted for almost a decade; I read while his fingers moved the plastic figure. His learning accelerated as he moved.

Encouraging Movement

A kinesthetic learner has a strong drive to move and to explore material through doing. A classroom with twenty-five students can’t let all twenty-five kids wiggle and move without compromising each other’s concentration, but homeschool parents can let children wriggle! We can be supportive and view our kinesthetic student’s movement not as a disturbance but as a perfectly healthy expression of how God has created him or her. Our fidgety, wiggly kids can and do learn—so let’s make the most of it!

How can you add movement to your homeschool schedule? Instead of using a chair, have your child balance on a large exercise ball while doing deskwork like math. Purchase an indoor mini-trampoline so students can jump up and down while reciting math facts or working on spelling words. I have often placed math, phonics, or vocabulary flash cards on the stairs; my boys jump up or down one step with each correct answer they give.

Long, unbroken stretches of study can lead kinesthetic learners to become particularly burned out. This is especially important to keep in mind for older students, who normally would be expected to work in longer chunks of time. Rather than working for one solid hour, for example, kinesthetic learners may benefit from focusing heavily for twenty-five to thirty minutes at a time, then taking five- or ten-minute breaks after each period of concentration. The short break is a great chance to move and stretch. Called the “Pomodoro technique,” this productivity approach is something we often use in our homeschool.

Arts and Crafts

Arts and crafts are a great way homeschoolers can enhance any subject for kinesthetic leaners. Build papier-mâché models and conduct experiments for science. Make salt dough topography maps for history and geography. Design and assemble lap books to enrich literature, history, and science readings. Create artwork and author books for any historical era you are studying.

Because we have four sons, our house is full of 3-D toys like Legos, K’Nex, and Playmobil toys. We have often used these toys in our learning. I teach a Lego class with art and science applications at our homeschool co-op. We have studied simple machines through a K’Nex curriculum. My husband and son assembled a four-stage motor to learn about engines. Similar hands-on enrichment is available with Play-Doh, modeling clay, and scrap wood or metal.

Unit Studies

Unit studies are curriculums that address several subjects through the study of one topic. For instance, studying your state could encompass history, science, literature, government, and art and music. Usually hands-on and project-oriented, unit studies are a great fit for kinesthetic learners.

Role Play and Reenactment

Whether it’s girls who love Little House on the Prairie or Anne of Green Gables, boys who love the Revolutionary War period, or students who enjoy ancient cultures like the Egyptians, Greeks, or Romans, role-playing and reenacting are a tangible way to make historic periods come alive. Cooking, creating costumes, dipping candles, and building “houses” are some of the ways to “do” history.

Years ago, to complete a unit study of ancient Greece, our family hosted a Greek open house. We turned our garage door into a giant Greek flag. My children wore toga-like outfits when they greeted our guests (other homeschool families). We transliterated our guests’ first names in the Greek alphabet as a souvenir. After my children acted out some of Aesop’s fables, we served baklava and other Greek snacks.

Another memorable reenactment involved a Civil War “encampment.” At lunchtime, I sent three of my kids into the backyard, permitting them to stay outside the rest of the afternoon. Needless to say, that request was met with no resistance! As they went outside, I handed them each a folded bandana. What had I packed inside? A soldier’s ration of “hardtack” (melba toast crackers), “dried meat” (beef jerky), and a canteen of water. After they ate, I watched them find sticks to build a fort and simulate a battle. They loved the role-playing experience and today can still describe it in detail, even though it happened a dozen years ago.

Making adjustments for your kinesthetic learner won’t just improve his grasp of concepts. He will also have a lot more fun learning! It bears repeating: we homeschoolers can allow our students to move and wiggle, to build and take apart, and to learn by doing. Let’s create a learning environment for them to “do”! 

This article was published in the January/February 2017 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine.

Melanie Hexter and her husband, Matthew, started their homeschool journey in 1998. With two graduates and four children still at home, they ask the Lord to teach them how to uniquely educate each child. The Hexters love to travel the US, using their Colorado Springs home as a western base. Melanie is working on two books and offers several homeschool curricula, including the U.S. National Parks Unit Study, for download at www.LEMILOEpublishing.com. LEMILOE is their family motto: Live Every Moment In Light Of Eternity.