Note: This is the ninth and final post in a continuing series on learning styles in small groups. Click any of the previous posts to read:
- Overview: Why Learning Styles Are Essential for Groups
- Visual Learners in Your Small Group
- 6 Ways to Serve the Visual Learners in Your Group
- Auditory Learners in Your Small Group
- Serving Auditory Learners in Your Group
- Reading and Writing Learners in Small Groups
- 4 Ways to Serve Reading and Writing Learners in Your Group
- Hands-On Learners in Small Groups
Here’s the dilemma: because hands-on learners are typically uncomfortable (or unimpressed) with the idea of helping a bunch of people talk about abstract concepts for 90 minutes each week, there are relatively few small-group leaders who demonstrate that learning style. And because people generally lead others based on the way they prefer to learn, it can be tough for veteran group leaders to structure their groups in a way that is friendly to hands-on learners.
This is the same dilemma we saw with visual learners, but to a much greater degree.
Fortunately, this dilemma doesn’t have to end with an impasse. There are ways to help and support kinesthetic, hands-on learners in any small-group experience. Here are some of the best in my opinion.
Get Up, Stand Up
Sitting still for longer than an hour can be annoying for many people, but it’s especially irritating for hands-on learners. Kinesthetic learners often rely on physical motion to stimulate their intellectual and emotional reactions, and the opposite can happen when they’re physically at rest for long periods of time.
That doesn’t mean you have to start each group meeting with 10 minutes of calisthenics (although that’s not a bad idea). Rather, structure your group meetings so that people have an opportunity to stand up and walk around at least a couple times.
If your group meetings include a worship experience, for example, encourage people to stand. Or, take a bathroom break halfway through the discussion. Or, use an icebreaker that involves physical motion. Or, subgroup into smaller units and encourage people to gather together in separate locations around your meeting space.
All of these activities will help your hands-on learners knock off some rust through physical motion.
Give Them Something to Hold
I mentioned earlier that physical motion often triggers intellectual and emotional activity for kinesthetic learners. For that reason, your hands-on group members will do much better during the “sit and talk” portions of your group meetings if they have something in their hands to hold, bend, squeeze, or throw.
Therefore, consider making one or more of these items available during each of your group meetings: a small ball, pipe cleaners, clay or Play Doh®, a Rubik’s cube, and so on—anything that can be physically manipulated while a person participates in a discussion. You don’t have to make a big deal about these items; just make them available and let people know they can grab them if they’d like to do so.
Here’s another advantage of these items: if kinesthetic learners don’t have anything to hold, they may pull out their phones to do the trick. And that can lead to all kinds of distractions.
Emphasize Mentoring Relationships
Paul’s admonition to “follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1) sounds just right to hands-on learners. Rather than trying to follow vague guidelines for accountability within a group, hands-on learners do well when they can be in a “do as I do” relationship with other Christians.
This applies when the hands-on learners are the mentors as well as the mentees.
Go Out and Serve
You need to have kinesthetic learners in your small groups because they will often be the ones pushing the group to “practice what we preach.” One of the best ways this can happen is through service projects and other “outside the group” events.
Help your hands-on learners (and everyone else in the group) actually experience what they’ve been learning by going out into the world and making an impact for God’s kingdom.
Go Forth and Lead
Thank you for staying with me over recent months as we’ve explored the importance of learning styles in small groups. We’ve covered a lot of ground and explored a lot of ideas. In the end, though, I hope you’ve come away with some practical, helpful ideas for serving the different members of your small group.
If so, don’t be shy about sharing those ideas below!
Sam O’Neal is a Content Editor on the Adult Ministry Publishing team at LifeWay. He has a passion for seeing discipleship and full-bodied Christian education done right in the local church—especially in the context of small group communities. Sam is also the author of The Field Guide for Small Group Leaders.