Children learn from many different activities and teaching styles and of course the best way to teach children is dependent on each child. However, many children find that hands on learning is instrumental in helping them to deeply retain information. For instance, if you want to teach a child to throw and catch a ball, you tell them what to do by describing the task. Then you will throw the ball and show them how to do it. Finally, you will allow them to try to complete the task. This approach of listening, watching, and doing only works with hands on learning and a degree of independent work from the children. Allowing them the freedom to explore and discover. You may have to repeat the first two steps numerous times, but having all three can be essential to retention.
What is Hands on Learning
Hands on learning involves touch and sometimes, movement. For example, rather than telling a child that a shape is a square, they hold a square object in their hands and feel the corners and sides. In Math it could mean using manipulatives and number wheels, in Science – experiments, in English – certainly in the Steiner Waldorf tradition – it could take the form of clay modelling and form drawing.
A group of children using Maths Manipulatives, image via Waldorf Family
What are the Benefits?
Hands on learning has many benefits for children depending on the subject matter and activity. Science, math, physical education, geography, and even history can all benefit from hands on learning. In addition, hands on learning is a natural learning medium. Babies intuitively learn their environment mainly through touch. As children get older, they use modeling clay or playdough to build or create people, land, and animals. The hands on learning does not have to stop for older children, but it often does. There are still ways to include learning through hands on experiences in older children’s classroom environments. In a science class, completing the experiment is much more helpful than simply computing mathematical equations for theoretical answers. The experiment can test the hypotheses and is a concrete way to teach the concepts.
Fine and gross motor skills can also be enhanced through hands on learning. Using hands on learning in the classroom can help students improve handwriting and pencil grip and the aforementioned science, social studies, or math skills. So when you have a hands on learning task in English the benefits to fine motor skills cascade into all the other areas. Younger students learn the feel of the pencil and pencil grip through tactile input. They can also strengthen weak muscles, by increasing muscle tone, pencil grip often gets more stable, and motor skills become more defined. So for example telling a story in English then inviting children to model a figure from the story not only enlivens imagination but is helping muscle tone and motor skills – which is going to benefit pencil grip. Consider the things you do by touch alone. How would you wash your hair, or cook a meal if you had no gross or fine motor skills and had not experienced tacile learning? While brushing your teeth or hair may seem like second nature, you cannot do it if the tactile input is off. You feel uncomfortable, and the result is usually less accurate.
How Can I help?
Incorporate as many hands on experiences as possible into your child’s day. Allow them to help make dinner, knead bread, model with clay or beeswax, teaching them knitting and let them cut the vegetables. Each of these activities has a different feel. Yes, making bread may take a bit more time, but it could certainly be a Saturday or Sunday afternoon event. In addition to cooking, gardening has many different textures and tacile inputs, as well as the benefits for our mental health. Working with soil, water, seeds, and picking vegetables and herbs can help children strengthen their muscles through gross and fine motor activities.
There are dozens of ways that hands on learning activities might help children improve their learning and life skills. Many students simply retain information better by tactile feedback. These students would learn even more deepliy through movement, touch, and manipulation.