lightbulb in hands, hands-on learning.

There are a lot of buzz words bandied about in education these days.

Hands-on learning is only one of many.

Moveable alphabet puzzle diy. Photo by Suzannah Fernandes 2020
Physically moving the letters in words.

Now with online spaces such as social media, parents find themselves being told about a whole range of child development and educational terms and concepts. And…they all seem super important. I get it, it can be overwhelming. Today, I’m going to break down the popular term “hands-on learning” in language a parent without an education degree would understand and provide practical tips for how this term affects you and your child.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “hands-on” means ‘relating to, being, or providing direct practical experience in the operation or functioning of something (e.g hands-on training)‘, as well as ‘involving or allowing use of or touching with the hands‘ and ‘characterized by active personal involvement.’

Too technical? Try this:

“Hands-on learning” is being able to learn a skill, process, or fact by having a go and engaging with physical materials. It is the process of moving around objects, post-it notes or a paintbrush as you brainstorm, imagine and create. Sometimes, you just have to try and fail before it makes sense or the right way becomes clearer.

So what’s the big deal about hands-on learning?

child doing puzzle photo by Unsplash
We see the need for “hands-on learning” even in infants.

As stated in the article, Hands-on is Minds-on, “Kids learn through all their senses,” says Ben Mardell, PhD, a researcher with Project Zero at Harvard University, “and they like to touch and manipulate things.”  But more than simply moving materials around, hands-on activities activate kids’ brains.

..between the ages of four and seven, the right side of the brain is developing and learning comes easily through visual and spatial activities. The left hemisphere of the brain—the side that’s involved in more analytical and language skills—develops later, around ages 10 and 11.’

  “The more parts of your brain you use, the more likely you are to retain information.”

Judy Dodge, author of 25 Quick Formative Assessments for a Differentiated Classroom (Scholastic, 2009)

When experts look at good child development and then compare what is going on in most traditional schools, they see a stark difference. Hands-on learning has long been identified as being best practice for learning a task, especially in the early school years. Essentially, it is the opposite of rote learning, textbooks, worksheets and sit still and listen to teacher style of lessons. Which happens to be the way some traditional schools still operate. These days, most teachers know of the importance of a hands-on approach and adequately cater for students learning. Which is why it’s become a “buzzword”.

child using hands in garden. photo by Unsplash
“Kids learn through all their senses” Ben Mardell

What does this mean for you?

Whether you are homeschooling, or helping your child do their homework, you can provide hands-on versions of fact memorization or skills that your child is struggling with. For example: if they need to learn spelling words try getting them to create the words out of magnetic letters or newspaper letter cut outs. For number facts, get them to create multiplication arrays using small objects such as pebbles, so they can feel and see how the number is made. If they need to write a short story but are coming up short on ideas and inspiration, you could give them a box of objects or slips of paper with random names and they pick one out and that is what or who they have to write about.

using the sense of touch to learn the alphabet. hands-on learning photo by suzannah fernandes
Using the sense of touch to learn the alphabet.

If you have young children and want some more ideas for hands-on learning ideas, check out my Instagram where I often share activity ideas. Interested in getting monthly updates with writing inspiration and be the first to know about my writing projects? Click here to stay updated.

If you have any questions about hands-on learning, feel free to ask in the comments below.

In the meantime,

Stay joyful!


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