What are some of your most memorable learning experiences growing up? A field trip to the zoo? Dissecting a frog? Getting messy during a big art project? My guess is most of the things that made an impact on you as a child, or teenager, did not involve sitting at your desk or in front of a computer.
Hands-on learning is an invaluable part of a child’s education and has been shown to help bridge the achievement gap for many students. As a Kindergarten teacher, I have seen the positive impact of hands-on learning in my own classroom. In the fall, we studied bats and ended our unit with "bat cave day." Students spent the day learning in our dark “cave”, and experienced what life might be like as a bat. They had to rely on teamwork to measure the length of different types of bats as well as use their critical thinking skills to find the best way to work in our “cave” for the day. Most of all, it made learning fun and they are still talking about it several months later.
Students also participated in the Measurement Olympics during math this winter. They learned about measuring time and distance while participating in some winter Olympic events, such as curling, speed skating and even the bobsled! They applied their skills to “real life” situations and they loved being able to take part in the same sports they were seeing on tv each night. The integration of both math and social studies made this a very memorable event for our class.
The same strategies can be applied at home with these ideas for incorporating hands-on learning with your children:
- When students need to practice their spelling words, ask them to write their words with expo markers on your windows, or in shaving cream on the kitchen table.
- Instead of watching a tv show about nature, find a local trail and take a nature walk. There many child friendly field guides that you can take with you, use them to spot different species of birds and types of trees. Or get a little dirty and look for insects!
- On a rainy day, challenge your child to build something using only recyclable objects (paper towel rolls, cans, bags, boxes, etc.) This incorporates critical thinking, science and basic engineering skills.
- Participate in a family fitness competition. Each family member has to complete a series of events (running, push ups, shooting a basketball, etc.) with a winner declared at the end.
- Take your child to a local museum - many have great hand-on activities for children, such as The Franklin Institute, The Please Touch Museum, The Academy of Natural Sciences and even The Philadelphia Museum of Art. Check their event calendars for special kid-friendly events as well.
- This summer, help your child create a photo journal. Children can take their own pictures of activities they enjoy or of their family vacations. Print out the photos and put them in a journal, then encourage your child to write a caption for each photo. It becomes a creation of their own, plus a great family keepsake!
- Plant a garden! Have children pick out which types of plants/flowers they would like to grow (older children can even research those that grow best for the area they are working with). Then, plant and take care of the garden together. You can assign “jobs” each week and even document the growth with photos or a journal. They will learn more about plants, plus the responsibility of taking care of a garden.
- Volunteer together! Find a local organization that needs volunteers (SPCA or local animal rescue, local soup kitchen or food pantry, etc.) Children will learn about service to others and the difference they can make by giving their time to help those in need.
The ideas can be as endless as your own imagination! I am sure you will see a side of your child come out during these activities that you may not get to see each day. You will also build lasting learning and memories with your family.