It’s not just about the environment: A new way of thinking about early childhood education is emerging. With the addition of a focus on hands-on learning, this approach to early childhood education places kids in situations where they can learn by playing with materials and their surroundings.
This blog post will explore how hands-on learning is a more effective approach to early childhood education. It will also confront some common misconceptions that people have about this type of learning, such as it being too expensive or not effective enough. The post will also discuss what hands-on learning means for early childhood educators and parents.
What is hands-on learning?
Hands-on learning is an approach to early childhood education in which children are immerse in experiences where they can learn using their physical and emotional bodies to direct their learning. This type of learning takes place in natural, social and sensory situations.
Hands-on learning focuses on the development of the whole child, in which children understand that the people and things around them are dynamic, not static, and are constantly changing and creating. It emphasizes the development of the five mental processes children learn in the first three years: thinking, speaking, listening, reading and movement.
Why is it important to include hands-on learning in early childhood education?
Over the years, lots of research has been conducted on the various effects of different approaches to learning. One of the most important things to consider is the way in which teachers and parents engage with their children.
A common finding in education research is that many of the children with the most success in school have parents and teachers who engage in more direct and open communication, who provide a range of positive guidance and who pay more attention to their child. Often, these children also thrive in their relationships with peers and teachers.
For instance, consider a young boy who is in the top 10% of his class.
How does a hands-on approach help students learn?
Hands-on learning refers to activities in which kids are actively engaged in building, tinkering, and creating their own experiences. These experiences make learning easier because kids don’t have to deal with rigid textbooks and other such learning tools. Instead, they can use their own imaginations to bring meaning to their lives.
Hands-on learning helps kids learn because kids can:
Evaluate the way things work.
Hear and understand other people’s ideas.
Appreciate differences in what they see and hear.
Discover the subtleties of their environment.
Learn how to do things that would be challenging for them otherwise.
The importance of integrating play and learning activities into classrooms
Studies show that kids who have more hands-on learning experiences are better learners. They get more out of lessons and activities and they learn more. That means that an early childhood classroom needs to be as rich as possible. Too often, though, students in classrooms with relatively little hands-on learning activities get bored or frustrated. Hands-on learning is something that’s important not just for kids, but also for their parents.
Research shows that children learn to read better when they play with books as well as when they read books to themselves. Also, the more active children are in their play, the better they’re doing with motor skills and other aspects of their learning.
Common misconceptions about hands-on learning
When people talk about hands-on learning, they often make the common misperception that it’s not effective. If I were to talk to someone in early childhood education about this type of learning, the common refrain that would come back to me would be, “Hand-on learning is not effective!”
This phrase is heard over and over again. Hands-on learning is often met with skepticism, and often labelled as a poor early childhood education practice, especially in the United States.
But this isn’t necessarily true. Studies have shown that the use of these learning techniques can improve critical thinking skills, motivation, and preparation for later learning. Nannusays with these types of learning abilities also become more successful learners later on in life.
It’s too expensive
It is true that some of the most expensive preschool programs are generally not hands-on learning environments. It is also true that most children can learn more effectively and enjoy learning if they are involved in tasks that involve active engagement. Some studies suggest that very young children in high-quality programs have improved language and cognitive skills as a result of participation in activities involving direct instruction and practicing a wide range of skills and social behaviors. This comes as no surprise to any educator.
However, no study, from any source, has shown that the average amount of time a child spends in a preschool or kindergarten class is the primary determinant of their development.
It doesn’t work
There is a misconception that playing with LEGO blocks is not real learning, that it doesn’t require creativity or discipline. People who believe in this misconception can sometimes even go as far as to suggest that childrearing should be about creating a child’s potential instead of teaching them. I personally find this position ridiculous.
While I don’t think every child should be working with Lego blocks (as those are often too expensive for a family’s budget), I believe in the value of hands-on learning. That’s the kind of learning that’s foundational to a young child’s development.
It’s not appropriate for all children
Reasons to not do hands-on learning in pre-school:
For some children, hands-on learning is aversive. They feel anxious or uncomfortable. There are a few options to overcome this:
Find low-risk activities that are fun for a child
Allow kids to choose their own interests
Allow them to practice calming techniques
It might be challenging for a parent to bring their child to such a program or to leave their child there for so long, however.
Some teachers choose to offer non-hands-on experiences, such as coloring or story-telling. They provide a sensory diet and help develop the child’s non-verbal communication skills, making the child comfortable.
Children in these environments are taught problem-solving strategies that rely on emotional intelligence.
Hands on learning isn’t as engaging as traditional methods
It’s often hard for educators to give up the traditional way of delivering education in the early childhood setting, which focuses on a variety of learning activities. That’s why a lot of people feel that hands-on learning just isn’t as effective as traditional methods. However, this isn’t always true. For example, the focus on exploration that comes from an open-ended, hands-on learning approach is so appealing to most people.
However, this approach doesn’t appear to be as engaging or as fun for young children as the old method of structuring activities and labeling materials. In fact, an increasing number of educators are starting to feel that hands-on learning methods may be too rigid and unwelcoming to young children and parents.