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Do the Hokey Pokey: Get the hands involved in learning

Get the hands involved in learning

In the gardening shop I looked up to discover a sign over my head.  “What if the Hokey Pokey is What It’s All About?”  For whatever reasons, I started to laugh. Uncontrollably.  My husband came from across the store to see what could be so funny.

For weeks afterwards Mark and I had a running joke with “What If…?”

Later I realized that the reason I perceived this sign as so humorous is that the words contain a basic question.  What is this fundamental truth?

Let me back up a little.  During this time of the Hokey Pokey joke, I was researching current findings on brain development.  The hand working with the mind being understood as perhaps the most essential element to optimum brain development.  The words from the song, “put your right hand in” and “put your left hand in” may be the keys to creating learning success for all of our lives.  

Almost a fourth of the real estate in the sensory motor cortex of our brains receives sensory information from the hands.  Another fourth of the sensory motor cortex deals with input from the eyes, ears, and mouth.  

Basically, our hands dominate sensory input into our brains.  Whenever we can involve the hand in learning we should.  It’s as though we double the input, and thus learning and memory when we use our hands.

Once we get the hands involved in learning, and idle curiosity is satisfied, the hands and the mind guide all the other parts of the body to engage.  “Put your leg in, put your leg out.”  As we extend our self-control to all parts of the body, we “shake it all about” to gain a full experience.

Hopefully, we’ve all experienced of being intensely interested in something that made learning exhilarating and challenges thrilling. Understanding new concepts in those conditions come easily.  This idea of fun learning is referred to as “being in flow” by learning researchers.  When we put our “whole selves in”–– we are fully engaged in an interesting activity.  It’s as if we are doing the “Hokey Pokey” as we turn ourselves around and poke and prod ideas from different angles.  

The engagement in a self-selected activity that absorbs the entire personality is perhaps our most powerful learning tool, for children or adults. “Put your whole self in and shake it all about,” and learning is fun, easy and productive.   

Researchers who look at happiness in older and retired populations say that three factors contribute to a healthy long life: stay involved in your community, be involved in personally meaningful activities, and laugh often.

Young or old, the meaning of life might be summed up as the song says: “Do the Hokey Pokey. That’s what it’s all about.”

Laugh. Do personally meaningful work.  Be part of your community.  “That’s what it’s all about.”

Kids Talk TM is a column dealing with childhood development issues written by Maren Stark Schmidt.  Ms. Schmidt founded a Montessori school and holds a Masters of Education from Loyola College in Maryland. She has over thirty years experience working with children and holds teaching credentials from the Association Montessori Internationale.  Contact her at  Visit  Copyright 2018.

Written by Maren Stark Schmidt


Maren Schmidt is a certified Montessori teacher with the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) and holds a Masters in Education from Loyola College in Maryland, as well as a BA from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in Interpersonal and Organizational Communications. Maren founded a Montessori school and has over thirty years experience working with children.

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