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How kinesthetic folks learn Math

I'm not a Math teacher yet I feel I'm highly qualified to write on this topic. I am a lifelong Math learner and I am highly kinesthetic. Being kinesthetic means I am highly sensitive, I love to touch things, I enjoy moving my body, and I am aware of my feelings. In some ways I learn Math (and most everything else) differently than most teachers teach. This article shares six ways I engage my kinesthetic intelligence in learning Math and solving problems.

1. Being Hands On

This is perhaps the most obvious way us kinesthetic folks learn. If I'm solving a problem I have to make a picture. Part of drawing is about engaging the visual senses but a big part is about using my hands, touching the pen, and moving it along the paper. While I haven't gotten myself organized to gather together pens and pencils of different textures and colors and paper of different thicknesses and colors I'm sure these things would be helpful to myself and to others.

I also enjoy making paper models of mathematical things, cubes, Moebius strips, and other "manipulatives".

If someone describes a problem to me, or if I read it in a book or online I have to record it on paper, to make the problem mine and to fully engage with it.

As a side note, a huge part of my enjoyment of blogging is the kinesthetic pleasure I derive from typing on the keyboard. Really.

2. Moving and Pacing

I don't sit still. Learning involves movement. Often when I'm solving a challenging problem I'll be walking around the house, holding the picture I just drew, and pondering the solution. My body is just too restless to be still. Somehow my entire neurological systems seems to get engaged when I'm in motion and my creative thinking becomes enhanced. If I'm sitting down my legs will move, or sometimes I'll tap with my feet. And, I'll be tuned into the sounds and sensations around me.

3. Music and rhythm

Music doesn't only affect the aural senses. It also stimulates the kinesthetic senses. If you don't believe that, ask yourself if you've ever been moved by a piece of music, maybe even been moved to tears. I have.

I find it very helpful to have either music playing or white noise, like the hum of a computer monitor, when I'm thinking creatively. Think "The Mozart Effect", which is all about the positive effects of classical music on learning.

Some people learn by getting in sync with a rhythm. I have no doubt that some kids would learn to count much more quickly and easily if they counted while skipping rope, or while hopping, or maybe as they drummed or performed some other rhythmic activity.

I've even heard of kids who couldn't learn to read until they incorporated singing into the approach. Wow!

4. Awareness and sharing of feelings

Feelings matter. If I'm feeling angry or sad I'm not going to be as engaged as I could be with the problem at hand. I find it helpful to write my feelings, or to share them with a friend. As much as I love Math there are times when I experience anxiety or shame around not seeing the solution to a problem, or not seeing it quickly enough, or I'll feel bad sometimes if I make a silly arithmetic mistake. Feeling the feelings, expressing them, and letting go of them is a constant process for me. But, on the other side, I'm able to think more clearly and be more productive.

If you're someone with Math anxiety then I urge you to find ways to really own your feelings, to share them with someone you trust - or journal them - and to learn as much as you can about how you learn best and to incorporate what you learn into your life. Once your feelings aren't sabotaging you you'll learn better and faster and you'll enjoy yourself more.

5. Exercise

I exercise almost every day. I lift weights, do some cardio exercise, and Tai Chi. Not only does exercise help me to stay fit but it uses up the extra fuel that I have as a kinesthetic person. Exercise also clears my mind, enabling me to solve those problems more effectively.

I also believe that certain kinds of exercises integrate left and right brain functioning. Tai Chi does this. This integration makes it easier to more effectively do problem solving that involves analysis and creativity at the same time.

If you don't exercise regularly but want to then I recommend finding something you enjoy. Don't worry about how many calories it burns. You'll burn the greatest number of calories doing what you enjoy.

6. Minding my body's rhythm

I'm a morning person. I came wake up with the sun, and be ready for the day in just a couple of minutes. Without coffee. I do my best thinking in the morning. So, mornings are good for me to write, solve problems, and do other tasks that engage my brain. In the evening I'll do my weight lifting. I can do some mental activity at night but I don't count on getting much accomplished then.

Your rhythm may be different. You may not have the choice of when to do homework. Control what you can and be kind to yourself about everything.

I find that I'm fairly sensitive to being hungry and trying to think at the same time. I don't do both well together. Eating six small meals per day, each with a good amount of healthy protein, works for me. And, I avoid junk food because I can't think reliably when my blood sugar is bouncing around.

I hope this article has been helpful. I hope you've gained some insights into how you can use your body as an ally in your learning of not just Math but everything.

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  1. One of my children really struggles with certain math concepts and no matter how many things I have tried has still been unable to memorize the multiplication facts. We are unable to move on until she can grasp this. You have given me some good ideas. I think we will try some of these things. Thanks!

  2. Oops! That was me above. I didn’t mean to be anonymous. My toddler was playing with the computer mouse while I was typing. 🙂

  3. Hi Muddy Mama,

    I can’t recommend too highly Mark Wahl’s book, Math For Humans, which I reviewed on this blog.

    The book has a chapter titled “Sharpening the Math Facts”, subtitled “Starting and Honing the Tables With MI”. MI stands for Multiple Intelligences. Wahl has a VERY creative approach to teaching the Math Facts.

    The book is an outstanding book. I’ve started working with kids in a teaching context and Wahl has really opened my eyes to the fact that there are LOTS of ways to learn.

    Please don’t be frustrated if the ways you’ve tried haven’t worked. There are lots of ways to teach and learn. That’s a big part of my exploration and enjoyment in writing my blog.

    I’d love it if you’d report back on how it’s going with your son. Also, if you enjoy this blog I’d appreciate it if you’d tell others about it and write about it in your blog (and/or link to it) as I’d love a larger audience.


  4. Thank you for your comments. I have only just heard about this type of learning from my sister in law, and what you have described is our 6 year old son completely. I will order this book, but if you have any other recommendations for maths at primary level it would be much appreciated. Thank you so much for sharing your revelations.

  5. Hi, read your guest post over at shivanata. I’ve gone my own way with the dance of shiva but also have some free online videos. I would love to know if they help you make learning (and doing) the dance of shiva easier.



  6. Hi,
    Our eldest son and youngest are both dominant kinesthetic,
    We were always told in primary school at parents evening that he is bright but has poor concentration,wonders around the class touching things and LAZY..
    He was in the gifted for literacy,but got by,
    Now he’s at a grammar school and hes been tested with below average in autitory memory and visual memory ..and that of a 12,3month ..average for non verbal reasoning …maths tho he just this yr seems to get v.well ,science practical fine written seems to write verylittle ,so this will affect his exams as he’s got nothing to revise .
    English has gotten worse through time ,as he doesn’t remember the bigger picture same as History but he is pretty cool there and spelling as well as reading ..he’l get there ..but kinesthetic learning is pretty difficult ..he has lost alot of self esteen and confidence but there are so many people with this style of learning ..thanx for your ideas you have put out x

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