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The Importance of Hands-On Learning in Early Childhood

Hands-on learning is a vital part of childhood because it’s how young children start learning skills informally before entering formal learning. 

Little ones begin to use their hands from an early age. It is through handling things, in a practical way, that they begin to experience the world around them. 

Let’s explore why hands-on learning is important for preschoolers as well as some simple activity ideas.

What is Hands-On Learning?

Hands-on learning is simply learning by doing.

The process of learning this way takes place through action. The brain is stimulated in multiple areas through practical learning experiences.

Through hands-on activities, children are encouraged to learn through exploration. Hands-on learning develops thinking skills.

The senses are engaged through physical participation in learning. Through their seven senses, children develop an understanding of their world and engage with different learning styles. 

Small child touching a pear on a tree

Hands-on learning promotes fine motor skills and allows children to learn through their mistakes. It provides real opportunities for children to experiment and learn about the world through play.

Examples of Hands-On Learning Activities

Here are a few examples of the kinds of activities that encourage a hands-on approach.

  • Playdough
  • Building blocks
  • Sand or sensory trays
  • Water play
  • Obstacle courses

The Three Learning Styles

These are the three main ways children learn, by taking information in through their senses:

1. Visual Learning

Visual learners prefer to look at things to inspire learning. They usually have the ability to concentrate well on an activity.

They enjoy looking at picture books.

Visual learners like colours and shapes. Playing with patterns and sorting shapes are a part of their learning pathways.

2. Auditory Learning

Auditory learners enjoy listening and talking. They enjoy music, rhymes and having stories read aloud to them. 

They also prefer verbal praise.

Auditory learners sometimes have a tendency to lose focus, because they are easily distracted by the sounds around them.

3. Kinesthetic Learning

The kinesthetic learner loves to be involved. Physical interaction is an important part of this learning style. 

Touching, feeling and working with things by manipulating them are important to a child with a kinesthetic learning style. 

These learners like to try things out and be directly involved in what they learn. They need the stimulation of being a physical part of their learning, trying out new things and interacting through a hands-on approach.

The Benefits of Hands-On Learning in Early Childhood

What is the importance of hands-on learning for preschoolers?

Hands-on learning is the natural way preschoolers learn. When the hands are busy, the brain is active.

Here are some reasons hands-on learning is so vital for early childhood development.

  1. Hands-on learning stimulates growth of the brain. The right side is stimulated through visual stimuli, creativity and using the imagination; the left side through problem solving, spatial awareness, sorting and organizing.
  2. Hands-on learning encourages multi-tasking through listening, speaking, touching and using the senses to explore the environment.
  3. Hands-on learning engages children in problem-solving strategies.
  4. It allows young children to interact with the learning materials and make mistakes as they learn in a practical manner. Valuable learning takes place through making mistakes.
  5. Hands-on learning is more realistic and less abstract for young learners.
  6. It helps to develop critical thinking skills and create learning opportunities to use all seven senses. It is a practical approach to learning.
  7. Hands-on learning is a very good pathway to improve fine motor skills.

Albert Einstein said:

‘Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.’ 

How to Encourage Hands-On Learning

Any activity involving the use of hands, or of a practical nature, is going to stimulate learning.

Allowing children to experience some messy play creates natural opportunities to play with water, sand, squishy dough and building blocks. 

Young child playing in mud

Shopping for toys and games becomes more selective for parents and teachers wanting to create hands-on learning activities. Look for toys that encourage building, sorting, pattern making and other practical activities.

Parents can create an area of the house where it is possible to set up a sensory tray or table. The sensory table encourages experimentation with texture and shape. Classrooms can also have sensory stations set up.

Using items like toilet rolls, cardboard boxes and other creative waste to make things could be part of this designated area.

Learning about nature and enjoying walks in the park stimulates an interest in the outdoors.

Take time to point out different things on a nature walk. Collecting interesting objects along the way encourages learning about the natural world.

Allow children to bake, lay the table, help with chores, and learn to measure and count by being part of activities at home. 

Children love to be involved. The home and school environments provide many learning opportunities.

7 Hands-on Activities for Preschoolers

The following hands-on activities are easy to plan and implement.

1. Baking

There are many simple cookie dough recipes that are ideal for children to make and bake biscuits.

Weighing, mixing, cutting with cookie cutters, spreading icing and decorating the finished product are all part of learning to bake and being involved in the kitchen.

Child mixing ingredients in a bowl

2. Gardening

Sowing seeds, watering them and watching them grow is a wonderful way to help children appreciate nature.

This can be a potted plant exercise or a patch of the garden they call their own to grow things in.

3. Playing with Blocks

Wooden blocks create all kinds of learning opportunities. Sorting, stacking, making patterns and learning about balance are among some of the building block activities. 

Lego fits into this category, but only for children who have passed the stage of putting everything into their mouths.

4. Art Activities

Finger painting, potato printing or stamping activities are messy, but typical hands-on art activities. Playdough and clay modelling are perfect for strengthening the muscles in little fingers.

Child finger painting

5. Create an Obstacle Course

This could be a simple outdoor activity using car tyres to climb over and hoops to climb through; bean bags to toss into buckets and beacons to run around. 

Have little family races or timed competitions using the outdoors as the focus. Add some hopscotch to your outdoor activities.

Here are some simple obstacle course ideas.

6. Scavenger Hunts

Collecting things is always fun. Send the children off with a bag or a bucket to collect different things outside or inside. Draw pictures of the items to collect.

Items collected on a nature scavenger hunt

Have a colour hunt and get the children to collect items in different colours. For example, something red, blue, green and so on.

7. Water Experimentation

Allow children to pour, measure and play with water. Play with different containers during bath time and provide helpful hands-on experiences with water.

Hands-on learning combines the use of the senses and the important concept of learning through play. This method of learning challenges the brain into thinking and solving problems.

The wonderful positive factor of hands-on learning is it lends itself to all three learning styles. It promotes the early development of both sides of the brain, increases neural pathways, and begins developing young minds at the very early stage of learning. 

Hands-on learning is the ideal learning tool for children.

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