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Kinesthetic Learners

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q:  I have an 11 year old boy (Primary 5). I was told by his preschool teacher that he is a kinesthetic learner. He can't sit still for long and he needs something to hold on to when he is doing his work. It could be an eraser, magnet, ruler or whatever.

I thought that after all this time, he has changed. I have just bumped into his ex-form teacher who told me that his current class teacher is having a problem with his 'behaviour'. He will just leave his seat during her lesson and walked to the front of the class and looked at something. Then he'll go back to his seat. As and when he feels necessary, he'll walk again. I have asked him before why he can't sit still. He said that it will make him very uncomfortable. He just needs to move. I shared this with a friend and was told that he could be a ADHD child.

Please advice me what can I do to help him. He is an above average student (in the top class for his level). He loves to read and has a passion for art. He likes doing things which needs to be 'assembled'. He is happy go lucky and has no pressure. He takes things easy. He doesn't like going to school and complains of headache quite frequently.

I really need your help and advice to overcome his "problem". He has such big heart and an obedient child. He can't understand why he's always being scolded when he said that he didn't do anything wrong. Please help me.

A: Firstly, you may need to establish whether your child has ADHD. Often, kinesthetic learners are confused with ADHD children. In fact, it is so often these days that a child who does not sit still and moves around a lot is easily and perhaps unjustly labeled as having ADHD. Therefore, if you have ruled out ADHD, there are ways of understanding and helping a kinesthetic learner.

There are generally four basic types of learners: visual, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic, but keep in mind that these styles are not absolute and they may overlap. Kinesthetic learners take in information best through movement of their large motor muscles that is when they are moving. They need to move around and use their muscles to explore and discover. Examples of movements include learning while performing a task, real life activities, learning through projects and discovery, role-playing and simulations.

For a kinesthetic learner, it can be very frustrating to be asked to pay attention to the teacher for long periods of time. In a classroom setting, students are often expected to sit and listen to the teacher, and not move around. This can be very stressful for the child and when their actions are not acceptable (mainly due to the unawareness on the part of the teacher), this type of learner may resort to maladaptive behavior. This kind of behavior stems from the psychological need to move and is often viewed as "attention-seeking" behavior.

Thus, kinesthetic learners may face learning difficulties that eventually lead to poor grades, much to the frustration of parents. In your case, however, your son is in fact doing well academically, which means he has been able to cope so far. From your description, he appears to be a good child. It's very unfortunate that he's being scolded and not able to understand the reason. What you may need to do here is to speak with his teachers to allow him his "space" in terms of movement. Once teachers are aware that their student has a different approach in learning and is not misbehaving or being disobedient, they may find it easier to cater to those needs. Also, explain to him the other party's point of view when he is scolded.

In a typical classroom, teaching generally relies on auditory input more and more as the chronological age advances (lesser reliance in pre-school and lower primary). What you can do to help him is to use his strengths instead on giving too much attention to his weakness. What is he really good at? Encourage him to find that one thing which he can be better at than most people. You mentioned his passion for art. Help him enhance his strength and this will boost his self-esteem. At school, you may want to discuss with his teachers on how to help him best. There are many dedicated teachers who would go that extra mile when they see potential in students. You can also help yourself (as you did in this one) to research deeper into "kinesthetic learner" with the help of the Internet.

Here's wishing you all the best and I really do hope your son will shine. Support and encourage him all you can.


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