A few months ago, I attended an elementary school meeting that was primarily focused on showing several techniques for teaching young children to read. The information was good and I learned some new techniques in helping children acquire this skill.
At the end of the workshop, the facilitator opened it up to questions from the audience. I became keenly interested in one question that was asked by a mother who had a current son attending kindergarten to whom she was helping learn to read. This mother told the facilitator that her son was the active type. The mother expressed concern that her son did not sit still for very long without having to get up and move. The mother said the attention span of this child was not very long and it was difficult to get the child to even sit through one book. The mother asked the facilitator specifically how she could incorporate the tricks shown by the facilitator to a child that was more interested in activity than sitting down and learning to read.
I saw several hands go up in the audience in an attempt to help give this mother solutions. I heard many speak of setting up reward systems for the child. Some even spoke of bribery. At this point, I wanted so much to raise my hand and share my opinion, perhaps more my soap box honestly 😉 , but I didn’t. I remained quiet so that I could hear other responses. After several responses from the audience, the facilitator responded to the mother. The facilitator expressed her belief that learning to read was just plain work. The facilitator told the mother that learning to read may be difficult but just like any work, it was just something that her son would have to do.
While I do believe each person who expressed their solution had advice that may serve a purpose at times, I still felt like a big piece of teaching a child to read was being left out. I felt that the fun, exciting, and even inquisitive part of learning to read was not being discussed.
Did learning to read really have to be all about work?
Why couldn’t fun be incorporated into the mix?
Why did resorting to extrinsic rewards have to even be incorporated?
Couldn’t the learning be tailored to actually respond to this child’s more natural mode of learning?
In fact, according to neurologist and teacher Dr. Judy Willis, using physical activity, meaning, and interest strategies can help increase a child’s retention. When a child can find meaning in an activity, they are more likely to cooperate and learn.
I never did raise my hand that evening. Instead, I spoke to this specific mother after the workshop was done. I expressed to the mother that from what I was hearing that her son may BE what some call a kinesthetic learner. A kinesthetic learner is someone that loves to move and be active. I asked the mother what type of activities her son liked to do. She expressed that he loved swimming. I suggested several ideas of where swimming could be incorporated into teaching her son to read. I was so excited to even hear her start to come up with her own activities. It led me to believe that she understood what I was trying to say to her. Honestly, her son ultimately will need to spend some time sitting down and reading books but by incorporating other large motor skill learning activities into the learning to read experience, the son will much more likely be engaged and his attention span increased, thus leading to more success in learning to read.
In addition, the article, “How the memory works in Learning”, Judy Willis explains that learning retention can be improved when past memories are connected with newer memories. She further explains that “multi-sensory instruction” and “practice and review” will improve the memory storage in various regions in the cortex of our brain.
So, by offering our children, especially the kinesthetic ones, physical activity during their learning process, we are giving them an array of opportunities to remember the same information.
Why make it more difficult than it needs to be?
I left that workshop with more passion to create specific learning to read activities for these amazing active and fun loving kinesthetic learners. I am now more than ever determined to show that the work that must be done to learn to read can be fun, exciting and possible, even for the active, kinesthetic early learner.
Here is one physical activity that I posted that we came up in our household to help a kinesthetic child learn his or her high frequency words.