People consider most kids active learners when they are younger. They use their senses to experience and process information.
Many use their entire body: they jump, run, and wiggle- all in the name of learning. However, there are many children who maintain this need to move as they get older.
These kids have a highly developed bodily kinesthetic intelligence and are, therefore, considered Body Smart.
This intelligence, to various degrees, is quite common among children, but many schools do not recognize or validate students who learn best through movement.
What Does it Mean to Be Body Smart?
Children with a dominant bodily kinesthetic intelligence need to move their bodies in order to learn effectively. This may include fine (small muscles) or gross motor (large muscles) movement — or both. These children often squirm in their seats, as it is difficult for them to sit for long periods of time. They need opportunities to touch things or act out what they are learning. Many of them fidget or tap their pencil in an attempt to focus. Body Smart students might study while walking or read while bouncing a ball. In short, for these kids, learning is a physical experience.
Lack of Support for Body Smart Students
Many Body Smart students struggle with learning, though. According to R. Dunn, “Two decades of research have verified that many students who do not do well in school are tactual or kinesthetic learners; their strongest perceptual strengths are neither auditory nor visual. These boys and girls tend to acquire and retain information or skills when they can either handle manipulatives or participate in concrete, real life activities.” However, many schools are not organized in ways to support these students.
Standardized Tests, Teachers, and Body Smart Students
Body Smart kids sometimes struggle when teachers and administrators face pressure to produce outstanding standardized test scores. Students must, then, spend more time in their seat preparing for tests that are verbal-linguistic and/or math-logic in nature. In an attempt to improve test scores, some schools eliminate or reduce recess.
Kids, in general, need this time to give their brain and body a break. Teachers must also deviate from activities and methods that are more creative and active in order to get down to the business of preparing students for these tests. In addition, many teachers themselves are verbal-linguistic learners and some utilize teaching methods and test preparation strategies that tend to lend themselves to this intelligence. Teachers who have this awareness will vary their approach in an attempt to bring out the best in Body Smart students, as well as students with other dominant intelligences.
Behavior Issues and Body Smart Students
Because Body Smart students must move and touch things, they are often in breach of classroom and school rules. Often, “good students” are viewed as those who sit still in their seat, quiet and focused, while “difficult students” are those who disrupt the learning flow. Though this disruption can take many different forms, it is usually by way of movement: tapping, touching, running, squirming, or fidgeting.
Hasan Saleem agrees: “Society is almost startled with what is perceived as hyperactivity, being called intelligence. Kinesthetic-intelligence is one of the basic human intelligences that has not been appreciated in our culture and has always been suppressed by civilizations.”
Because teaching materials are often set up to promote verbal-linguistic and math-logic ways of thinking, Body Smart students are often challenged to find their place in the classroom. Further, Body Smart kids are sometimes mislabeled as having ADD or ADHD, and many adults view them as having behavior issues. Unfortunately, a large number of these students are boys.
Boys at Risk
Just as not all girls sit poised in their seats, hanging on the teacher’s every word, not all boys bounce off the walls, causing trouble. However, boys tend to exhibit more physical behavior while girls gravitate toward more verbal-linguistic strengths, thus underscoring the differences between the way boys and girls learn.
According to Michael Thompson, Ph.d., co-author of Raising Cain, “… for the average boy, school is not as good a fit as it is for the average girl. More boys have problems with attention and focus than girls. Because of their higher activity level, boys are likely to get into more trouble than girls. And they are not given enough opportunities to move around- both in actual physical activity and in how they learn- because they spend too much time sitting and not enough time learning by doing, making, and building things.”
While challenges facing boys in general raise concern, they do not apply to every boy. When teachers bring this issue to light, they can consciously work to ensure all students receive fair treatment.
Body Smart Awareness
Awareness and balance are key in improving Body Smart students’ learning experiences. Body Smart students have a great deal of energy, but teachers can teach them to channel this energy appropriately. Further, considering a dominant bodily kinesthetic intelligence before resorting to ADD or ADHD conclusions may have a huge impact on all individuals involved.
Body Smart students are a minority group, but can affect the dynamic of the entire class. When parents and teachers are aware of this intelligence, teachers can employ proper strategies to address the needs of Body Smart students.