Why We Love Fingers in Dirt

At Symbols, we believe in a multisensory approach. This is in part because different children learn differently. One way that a child can learn is by being a tactile learner.

What is a tactile learner?

Tactile learners are closely related to kinesthetic learners. The main difference is that the tactile style is more moderate, involving fine motor movements rather than whole body movement. These learners absorb information best primarily through the sense of touch. They learn best through hands-on activities. Since this is the case, tactile combines easily with kinesthetic activities, both of which are under-utilized much of the time even though they appeal to most kids. This is likely because in a classroom setting, teachers don’t want students getting up and moving out of their seat, and typically don’t want them getting their hands dirty. At Symbols, we believe that if it’s the best way for your child to learn, they can absolutely get their hands dirty!

What do we mean by “fingers in dirt”?

At Symbols, we use our fingers to learn even if it means getting dirty. Another aspect of this refers to the sensations: dirt has a certain feel to it that makes it easy for us to recall it’s tactile information. We also often use sand as a tactile activity, where the student traces letters in sand.

The finger motions that a child does while tracing helps their brain retain the knowledge more. Saying the knowledge out loud while tracing with their finger also really strengthens their fact recall. Kids can remember what it feels like to write a word, and then prompt themselves to remember what it looks like. Activities like tracing in the air and in rice (where the letters disappear) build this skill. Since the letters disappear, this is not a visual technique- the point of tracing in rice is for the texture, since this tactile information goes to their brain through a certain pathway.

Other Tactile Activities

Another example activity for a tactile learner (which would also work for a kinesthetic learner) would be full body tracing for letter shapes. Tutors often work from the largest possible motion, down to the smallest. The trajectory might look something like this: First, the tutor may ask the student to try and make their body into the letter shape. Next, they could trace the letter using their arms. After this, they may be asked to balance on one foot and trace the letter with their leg. After their body has been used, they may trace the letter on different surfaces, or they may try writing with a pencil on paper over other surfaces.

An activity like this would work well for teaching a sight word family where some elements change and others don’t, like the ere sandwich grout (words like there & where). A student would write the first letters (th or wh) on something bumpy, and the repeating segment (ere) on another surface. This differentiates the part that changes from the part that stays the same.

There are many other fun tactile activities that our Orton-Gillingham tutors use in their lessons. And if your child isn’t a tactile learner, but instead a visual or auditory learner, we have activities that cover that as well. Stay tuned…

Rob Wahl