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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

To do or not to do... hands-on activities

My good friend Jimmie, in her post, not only shows how in many ways we agree, but has provoked an extremely lengthy response from me on the merits of hands-on projects, which I decided might make for a happy post all by itself and possible continuation of discussion here :)  or not.  Either way ;)

In her post, Jimmie quoted something I'd posted awhile ago in answer to this question:  "I guess my question is when you read the books do you have activities that you do or implement to go along with them or is reading enough?"  A few words to first give a little context; to quote myself… ;)
”Though it might seem crazy, a child doesn’t really need a lot of hands-on activities to learn things or make connections when reading living books!!”

Hands-on projects are not necessary to a child’s learning when they are reading living books, is the idea I’ve expressed here, and I have to say that I agree with myself  ;)

First, this implies the idea that the children are of living book reading age. :) Second, when I say hands-on projects, I'd like to define those as crafty activities that are usually planned ahead with the intention of reinforcing a concept being taught.  These can be fun, perhaps even helpful, but I still maintain they are most often unnecessary when using living books*.  What I'm not referring to is handicrafts (basket weaving, sewing, wood carving, etc. see below) which are an absolute delight to most children and especially those in our family.  :)

However, like Jimmie said and I’ve said elsewhere and Charlotte Mason says and so-and-so also says and… <grin>  It is ABSOLUTELY necessary for very young children to get their hands onto things to learn – especially when it comes to abstract ideas (like math). And I would venture to say not just abstract concepts like math, but in those early years it is vital to experience all things outdoors and there ought to be much opportunity for hands on play with *things* very much apart from books. (As an aside, CM actually says NOT to read too much to a very young child!)  BUT, as Jimmie has defined in another post, getting their hands onto things can be different than pre-planned ornate hands-on projects. I am all for the first, and less excited about the second. But that’s just me. :)

I require my kids do lots of things apart from reading books with their hands ;) that probably do not classify technically as ‘hands-on’ learning projects though they are all very hands on:
  • nature study
  • various art
  • sketching
  • handicrafts (wood carving, cookie deco, fimo clay, beginning sewing, etc)
  • learning an instrument
…and occasionally these things naturally connect with the things they’re learning about in their books.
But, most times the activity is completely independent of their book learning.

NOW. I think all those hands-on projects are great for the people and children who love them! Absolutely!
Especially when those hands-on projects can in someway benefit others (making gifts, repairing something, etc). And if they reinforce a concept being learned elsewhere, why not?!  Excellent.
I just don’t do it. But, I don’t prohibit it either… I just don’t specifically plan them into my children’s education.  (Except when grandparents visit, they are not only encouraged, but specifically required to do crafty things with my kids, heheh!)  That doesn't mean lots of hands-on activities don't occur quite spontaneously, that is what I LOVE!  When my kids come up with their own stuff!  That is completely and utterly satisfying.  :) 

I’m not saying that what we do is the way it should always be done, it’s just the way it works in our family (for many reasons: a non-crafty momma, multiple children, a strong CM focus, limited craft supplies available, etc., etc.). Families ought to find their happy medium in these areas and then feel confident they are doing their best… and STOP worrying! We cannot teach our children everything. They will continue their learning all throughout their lifetimes, just as WE teachers are still learning!

It’s part of the beauty of life. :)

PS.  Children with special learning needs are always the exception.  Their education must be tailor fit to them in SO many ways, and I know from friends who have this kind of exceptional kids that hands-on activities are often VERY helpful!


Silvia said...

You have described this wonderfully.
I agree with you. I do not thing the crafty things are needed for learning, a different thing it is when children are involved in hands on learning.
If others learn with and from the crafts, that's fine.
We do some, many are of their own creation, but I do not put crafts or projects at the core of our learning.

I was also writing a post in my head but had no time to type it. But thanks for this differentiation between hands on learning and crafts, and for specifying about learning from living books when children are of that age, before that age, they learn about the world through their senses, no doubt.

Another thing I wanted to add is that most of us who hs, because of the amount of time we spend with our children, are meant to, in the long run, do many hands on things as you say with grandparents, cooking with the my case the girls in the afternoons are always with paper, glue, scissors, etc.

Unknown said...

I never throw in crafty. I just never can seem to do it. We do crafts, but not to go with a lesson. We color, cut, bake, make....etc. Glad I am not the only one :)

amy in peru said...

:) it is fun to be among friends... especially when we see things from so similar perspective! thanks for being my friend Silvia! ;)

Yes. Hands on for fun but not at the core... the main reason for this is, like Jimmie has mentioned the activity itself can be a distraction from what you're really trying to accomplish! ;)

Your not the only one! :) We are all different... that's part of the fun! We're all actually in the process of producing tomorrow's diversity!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Amy! My boys aren't into "crafty" but are very hands-on with life in general. I also love CM's idea of living books being enough in and of themselves. Of course, if you can get out and live life, visit a "living" place, etc. Great! But often the book itself is enough without all the trappings and certainly without the worksheets!
It's easy to get overwhelmed by the wealth of really wonderful ideas out there, but comforting to remember that they can be a side dish and not the main meal of our school day.

Jeanne said...

I'm with you, Amy. Just sayin'...

amy in peru said...

you're right! it's really awesome when life makes connections for you, when you can 'happen' onto something that reinforces what they're learning, but not forcing it makes our job easier! :)

I think you are super-duper!

Debbie said...

Hi Amy,
I've been busy " elving " so I hadn't seen this post! I LOVE it of course!!!
As you know we are an all hands on deck homeschooling family.. project related or not! I agree though, that a hands on project is not ALWAYS needed to cement a certain connection or lesson. I remember seeking out really neat ( more artsy) hands on activities to go along with certain topic's when our two were of elementary age and so many of our homeschooling days were spent making, learning, reading ,discussing, etc. Not only was it great for the kids, but I was inspired by them too! I could go on at length HERE but instead if I may direct your lovely readers to more creative seeds on hands on homeschooling here:
and here:

ps. I'm so glad you picked up where Jimmie left off! A topic after my own heart for sure!

Debbie said...

amy said> you're right! it's really awesome when life makes connections for you, when you can 'happen' onto something that reinforces what they're learning, but not forcing it makes our job easier! :)

Omgosh. That used to happen to us all the time.. we would just " find the right book" or a field trip would already be planned, or the best one ( and I had no idea) The King Tut Exhibit just happened to be at the Museum of Science when we were studying Ancient Egypt! Sweet Serendipity at it's best!

Richele said...

Wow, what interesting conversation!

Living books often inspire my guys with their own projects during free time. Their ideas are waaay more creative and much more fun than anything I could ever come up with.

Usually living books just make me hungry.

call*me*kate said...

I agree with you - I belive that each family finds their own path. I used to feel guilty for not having a hands on project for my kids and then I'd feel guilty when I saw them making their own projects, with no help from me. I mean, let's beat ourselves up more than necessary, right?! I realize now that it's fine for them to go off on their own and create - that's what they've always done and I now have two extremely creative artists (my younger two kids). Interestingly enough, my oldest (my experimental child, poor thing) probably got the most forced hands on projects and he never like it nor did he do very well. He's an incredible reader and that's all he needed. Now I'm going to go over to Jimmie's - I haven't visited there in awhile.

Have a lovely Christmas!
- Kate

call*me*kate said...

Arrgh! I believe, not belive! Nothing like ruining a comment with typos!

- Kate (blushing)

Rebecca in TX said...

I think many people do "hands-on learning" because they are trying to make the learning real. Are not the ideas or knowledge from living books, born in the minds of the author and transmitted through the means of the book, the real thing? The craft cannot transmit the idea but instead be only a kind of response to it. When the craft is preplanned by someone other than the reader, it is no longer a response expressed by the one who read the book and is disconnected from the ideas in his or her mind. I do not plan crafts to go along with the reading either, but that does not mean it never happen. Sometimes it is a natural response to the ideas being read. While reading Little House in the Big Woods, my son was fascinated with the concept of the smokehouse, something completely foreign to him. On his own he created one from construction paper with bamboo skewers for the wood. The ideas were the real thing, the craft was the symbolic representation. The response should not come from an external source (the teacher), but instead directed by the one doing the reading (the student).

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