The role of gesture in children's science learning

Have you ever wondered why you gesture when explaining science ideas to children?

Our research, jointly led in collaboration with learning scientists and informal science learning (ISL) practitioners, across the UK and US, has helped reveal how gesture in adults, and children offers an invaluable window into how we understand and communicate science ideas.

This research is informed by, and contributes to, emerging theoretical claims that the way we think is embodied, meaning it is intrinsically linked to the way we sense and move in the world. Here, the gestures we create – that point to or represent the real or imagined environment around us – offer a powerful, and accessible, means to examine the embodied nature of how we think and learn.


We carried out a detailed analysis of the way that children and adults interact, and communicate with, science exhibits across multiple science centres and museums – from a simple balance board to cutting-edge digital, whole-body, interactive experiences. This included a video analysis of over 200 young children (3-6 years old) as well as parents and practitioners interacting with and talking about science exhibits.

Lessons for diverse communication in children’s science learning

The Move2Learn project has helped us recognise the diverse ways in which children communicate science understanding, as well as the potential for adults to use gestures more purposefully to explain ideas.

 The research has further implications for how we can design exhibits better, building in action experiences for children that can later help them to recall and communicate science ideas through gesture. It was also clear how digital interactive exhibits present exciting new opportunities to capture and dynamically represent children’s movements, to improve embodied approaches to learning.

 So next time you are talking science with children, ask what the hands are saying.

Find out more

For further information on the project and underpinning research, and links to free training and practical resources, visit the Move2Learn website.

Project information

Project Partners:
University of Edinburgh
Glasgow Science Centre
University College London
Illinois University
Frost Science
Children’s Museum Indianapolis

Project leads: Andrew Manches (University of Edinburgh), Sara Price (UCL), Sharon Macnab (Glasgow Science Centre), Judy Brown (Patirica and Frost Museum, Miami), Chad Lane (University of Illinois), Susan Foutz (The Children’s Museum).

Contact: Andrew Manches 

< Back to Science Learning+ page