‘Learning by moving’ is not a new concept, but only very recently has a plethora of promising research on the subject been used to motivate teachers and parents to use this technique to improve the academic performance and engagement of children. Otherwise known as ‘kinaesthetic learning’, this technique mixes visual and auditory elements with movement, creating a more relaxed atmosphere for learners to participate fully and acquire knowledge at a more gradual pace. Kinaesthetic learning has proven to have high potential for increased attention and creativity in STEM subjects such as mathematics, with educators in greater number turning towards manipulatives, puzzles and dances to teach math concepts instead of rote memorisation and lengthy word problems.
However, kinaesthetic learning may present difficulties for pupils that have symptoms of a learning disorder, such as dyspraxia or dyslexia. This can manifest as struggles with coordination (ie. identifying their left and right sides), body and spatial awareness (ie. difficulty mimicking movements and keeping balance) and fine/gross motor skills (ie. challenges with grasping objects and moving ‘fluidly’).
In order to ensure that all pupils can participate actively in math lessons involving kinaesthetic activities, whether they include spinning, bending, tossing, balancing or any other movement, here are some adaptations you can implement for these pupils at home or at school:
- Prepare the room
Before conducting kinaesthetic learning activities, make note of how restrictive or open the learning environment is. It is recommended that you clear the space of any distracting clutter, so it’s best to free pathways for pupils to move around the classroom without bumping into each other or classroom furniture/items. You can also eliminate distractions by removing noises from the environment and checking that the room temperature isn’t too hot or cold.
- Create simple and adaptable choreography
Avoid causing any mental strain with the movements you’ve planned for your class! Since children with learning disorders struggle with short-term auditory and visual memory (which includes difficulty remembering sequences), any movements you incorporate in your lessons should rely more on each child’s creative expression instead of insisting that the movements are perfectly replicated. Being inclusive also means creating choreography that can be ‘differentiated’, ie. if pupils struggle to mimic movements, present alternative ones.
- Provide visual and verbal cues to help with memorisation of movements
As some pupils with learning disorders have trouble differentiating between their right and left sides, you can instruct them to hold up the index fingers and thumbs of both hands and ask: “Which hand looks like the letter ‘L’?”, to remind them where their left side is located. Another visual point of reference for determining the left side from the right can be a paper bracelet/watch placed on the pupils’ left wrists before any movement activities.
In addition to visual points of reference, pupils can also be helped with memorisation with the use of verbal cues. If, for example, you’re teaching children multiples by clapping your hands for every multiple of 3, allow them to whisper the numbers between the multiples of 3 (whispering “1, 2” before clapping and saying ‘3’). In this way, children do not have to rely on memorisation before they have mastered reciting their multiples.
- Make activities collaborative
For your kinaesthetic learning activities, avoid picking teams, competition and emphasis on being first. Instead, tailor instruction to groups of 5-10 pupils and then create tasks with movements that they must work on together, while holding hands for instance. A similar collaborative game which can curate a sense of togetherness and ease replication of movement is ‘follow the leader’.
- Use props
Props can offer learning support to reinforce various types of movements. If, for example, your movements require being able to practice balancing, give your pupils a beanie bag that they can place on their heads while they do their movements and instruct them to make sure it doesn’t fall off. You can also use music as a great way to ease the stress of movements or rote memorisation. This can be done by singing the movements/concepts they are learning, creating songs together, or presenting pre-made songs for the activities.
We hope that these tips will help you to apply kinaesthetic learning with your pupils and lead you to the conclusion that there’s no such thing as a ‘clumsy’ child – just an un-adapted learning environment!
To read more about these adaptations and many more practical suggestions on how the resources from our Erasmus+ project Math&Move use movement and storytelling to improve math skills, check out our full guide for parents and teachers below: