What exactly is a Hands-On Homeschool? What makes a curricula hands-on? Why does it even matter if my curricula is hands-on or not? If you have a struggling learner, a sad, angry learner, or a dull, boring classroom-style homeschool you might need to introduce more hands-on into your homeschool. It’s pretty easy to come up with a definition. Hands-On Homeschool = Touching + Doing = Learning. But I think we can go a bit deeper then that and identify three different ways that hands-on learning can be used effectively for different students and varied settings. Let’s talk about it.
Hands-On to Reinforce Learning
A couple days ago, I chatted about Toys, Puzzles, and Games in the Homeschool and I think those learning aids fit neatly into the first category of Hands-On Learning. In this case, Hands-On learning refers to using a supplementary resource to reinforce concepts you have already introduced through the written or spoken word. A great example of using hands-on to re-inforce is the use of lapbooks. First you read the material, then you write the material in a visually interesting way, then you cut and paste the material into a striking visual arrangement.
This is learning three ways at its best (auditory, visual, kinesthetic). Another example of hands-on learning for reinforcement is the use of math manipulatives. First you talk about and demonstrate a concept with numbers and objects, but then you hand over the objects — the manipulatives — to the student. They practice the new concept in a hands-on kind of way.
Hands-On As Necessary Sensory Input
Some children just need to touch and feel everything. These children definitely benefit from the first method of reinforcement, but they also sometimes just need to touch and feel for the sake of sensory input. My son found his stride in Scripture Memorization because we rolled a ball back and forth while saying every other word of a verse. Sometimes, we used a good toy truck the same way. Sometimes we jumped up and down as we said our verses.
None of these hands-on styles of learning had anything to do with the actual material being learned. However, engaging his body in movement and touch provided much needed kinesthetic input to entrench the material being learned into his brain. It’s like a special kind of hands-on magic, and some kids are just wired this way.
Hands-On As the Fun Factor
Let’s face it. Learning from textbooks, videos, and white boards day in and day out can be boring! My favorite teachers from my own childhood are the ones who let us build paper covered wagons, (Mrs. Park) construct dioramas (Mrs. Cook) and eat the sandwhiches she made by following our directions (Mrs. Deadman).
Sometimes it is easy to slip into the Mom routine (don’t make a mess, don’t get too loud, don’t throw things in the house) and forget to get into the teacher mode (clean up your mess, don’t wake up the neighbor’s baby, and only throw things in the house if you are trying to memorize a Scripture verse.) At the elementary ages, almost all children will enjoy the freedom and materials to create something with their hands as a break from “regular” learning.
Sometimes they don’t even know they are learning! My oldest children now insist that they have always “hated” school but they talk fondly of the hours they spent acting out our read-aloud stories in costumes or puppet shows and creating learning pockets for history or sitting at the table for hours with construction paper, scissors, glue and a wild imagination about the Romans and Britons in battle. They didn’t even realize that those fun activities were part of school. That’s the best kind of learning!
In spite of the potential mess, I have a special affinity for hands-on learning myself and have come up with a list of curriculum and materials I think fits that mold. Lapbooks, Notebooking, Math-U-See, Primary Arts of Language (IEW), Touch Math, the Discovery Scope for Science, Apologia Science, Apologia Bible, Timberdoodle Everything; these are all curriculum or supplies that we use on a daily or weekly basis that encourage Touching and Doing as a method of Learning. Hands-On Homeschool.