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Why Hands-On Learning?

by Lisa Cheaney-Hogan MEd., OCT, BEd., BASc., E.C.E

As educators, we have observed that not all students learn the same way or at the same pace.  The most recent question in education is, ‘why do we continue to teach the class as one whole entity instead of meeting these individual needs?’

There are seven different learning styles documented.  As humans, we are made up of a combination of these learning styles- however, we all have a unique combination of these learning styles.

Perceptual learning styles are the means by which learners extract information from their surroundings through the use of their five senses. Individuals have different “pathways” that are specific to them. When information enters that “pathway” the information is retained in short term memory. Repeated exposure and use promote retention in long term memory. The seven perceptual modes (pathways) included in this theory are print, aural, interactive, visual, haptic, kinesthetic, and olfactory. (, 2014).


Refers to seeing printed or written words


Refers to listening


Refers to the sense of touch or grasp


Refers to verbalization


Refers to the sense of smell and taste


Refers to seeing visual depictions such as pictures and graphs


Refers to the whole body movement

 (, 2014).

Although we are a jigsaw of learning styles, it has been noted that the act of using our hands, as learning tools, assists in the consolidation of our learning needs.  Have you ever heard of the saying, ‘retrace your steps’, when you have lost something? This phrase encourages one to use a hands-on approach to relocate an item. 

As we propel our children to become 21st century learners, we seem to be removing a key part in our teaching techniques…the hands-on aspect of learning.  Hands-on learning goes beyond the use of play-dough and crafts and should (and could!) expand to light boxes, sensory bins, exploratory learning, the use of recycled items, cooking and baking, trips, nature walks, inquiry, planned and purposeful outdoor play, etc.

With our need to hurry our children along and introduce them to the latest app that will stimulate this hands-on learning, we need to be providing real tangible items for children to relate to, not just a screen.   Technology has its place in regards to hands-on learning and allows our children to experience and see things that they may never, otherwise, get to experience BUT it cannot replace the notion of hands-on learning. It simply compliments it.


How do I incorporate hands-on learning in my classroom/home?

  • LISTEN to your children – they will let you know, through play, what they are interested in
  • Provide everyday objects on table tops, in centres, in sensory bins to promote usage and exploration
  • Don’t be afraid to get dirty! Soil, sand, flour, water, salt, powder, food colouring, glitter, rocks are great tools to heighten senses
  • Create purposeful hands on learning activities that are child directed/led
  • Remember to provide a lead into the activity/material and a consolidation piece to create a meaningful experience
  • Hands-on learning lessons/activities works best in SMALL groups – it allows children to explore more thoroughly which them allows for processing time and deeper questions to take place
  • Make hands-on learning a PRIOITY! It should not be another thing to be added into your day but incorporated into your day.
  • Have fun and join in! As educators in early childhood, we are so blessed to be able to see the world again through a child’s view – take advantage of this opportunity

As a new mom, I see my little one fully engaged in hands-on learning. From feeding to play and everything in between, I have the opportunity to stimulate cognitive development.  It has been an honour and privilege to be able to watch her grow and develop, while she learns through her senses.

Take every day as an opportunity to reflect, re-try and rejoice knowing that hands-on learning is a developmentally sound practice that continues to grow in awareness and understanding in our early childhood world and beyond! 

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Say no to crafts and yes to creating

I love this! Offering a variety of materials to children opens up a world of possibilities. It allows children to be true artists – creating wonderful one of a kind pieces of art; learning about the process and not the end result; encourages self-expression, self-confidence; enhances fine motor development. Why must we, as educators, think children want to glue pompoms on a pre-cut rabbit shape or glue eyes on a pre-cut face? Why are we stifling their creativity?

Throw those old lessons out and let the children create what they want. You will watch magic happen when you do. Share your experiences with us. Let us know how the activity turned out. 

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Educational Toys


Do educational toys really exist, or do toys lend themselves to the extended growth and development of the individual child?

During my research I have come across some controversy.  Each individual child is born with the innate desire to explore the word around them.  Providing various mediums can and will enhance a child’s abilities to interact with their environment, which will help them to gain strength and accomplish all the milestones of life.  There is no scientific proof that educational toys alone can foster, promote, encourage all this growth.  What educational toys can do is help parents and teachers alike, stimulate interest in areas that a child may need help in.  These toys can also help the parent or caregiver measure a child’s comprehension and can better assist the child’s development by providing activities that will aid in the natural progression of the child’s learning ability.

DNA can and usually does play a large roll in all our abilities to learn and develop, however we can assist that development with the use of toys.

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Educational Toys

When purchasing  a new toy, here are some questions to ask yourself?  How old is my child and what is the age suggestion on the box or toy container?  Age appropriate toys are important to help your child be successful.   What is my child interested in?  What am I trying to help my child learn through this toy?  Does this toy have more than one use for teaching and learning new skills.