Am I a “bad” homeschool mom if I don’t use hands-on projects?
And the answer is no, you are not.
- I’m crafty, and I think they are fun.
- My daughter is Miss Creativity. She enjoys doing artsy projects.
- Motivation for homeschool increases when we add hands-on projects.
- They are a wonderful use of free time.
If reading a living book and looking at a diagram are enough to solidify the idea, what is the purpose of a craft?
- What concepts or skills are most important to you?
- How will you know if the lesson has been successful?
Amy once said , “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!!”
No, that’s not crazy, Amy. That’s correct.
As I commented on Amy’s blog post, for very small children, using hands-on manipulatives is essential for understanding abstract ideas. That’s why doing science experiments and experiencing nature first hand are so important. In math we also want to provide many concrete, hands-on examples of what the Arabic numerals are representing.
What if the living book and the diagram were not enough to solidify the learning?
Then you can evaluate whether a hands-on activity would truly help the concept to come alive for the child. You have to be ruthless here and honestly consider whether the activity is busy work or actually demonstrating and reinforcing a key concept.
More food for thought about hands-on and hands-off.
- Hands-on or Hands-off Learning, a video hangout with Bright Ideas Press
- Teaching History to Hands-off Learners
So, let’s talk. What are your thoughts on hands-on projects? Have you ever found yourself doing a project that turned out to be more busy work than real learning? How do you evaluate your hands-on projects? Have you ever felt guilt about not doing hands-on projects?
I concur with you and Amy. Hands on projects are not necessary. I believe they are abused specially among homeschooling families in the early years. Sometimes they are plain busy work, or as you say they get as complicated that you forget what was the point of making that in the first place.
As you I find they are a great motivator, and I specially like the crafts and things that come spontaneously or the ones that have a use (we were making our own cards). I also like using hands on manipulatives at this time with my daughters, they need them to learn the abstractions, you were right.
Our goals and approach to learning does not rest on hands on projects but it is aided by manipulatives and crafts, yes. I remember that passage in the CM series where she talks about the absurd of a five year old making a paper butterfly when taking a walk outdoors and seeing one is the real thing one needs to do. Does this mean not to do paper butterflies? NO. I think it means that exploring nature and having a first hand relationship with it, others and God are priorities to CM and to us, the crafts come after and when we see fit.
you forget what the point of making that in the first place was. (I can’t never write in English properly, argh!)
No problem, Silvia.Your English is just fine. I know all about learning/using a different language. And thanks so much for your lengthy comment. I am affirmed by your agreement!
You are very sweet! 😉
We love hands on around here. However, I do sometimes drop a project when it gets to hard or is not needed. I think it is important to keep the love of learning alive in your homeschool and part of that is reading the needs of your homeschool on any given day.
JDaniel4's Mom says
I think it depends on your child’s learning style. Hands-on may be the best way they learn.
Sarah at SmallWorld says
My youngest two are 4th and 8th grades now, and hands-on projects are pretty much a thing of the past. My 8th grader is really not interested, but I do try to do something now and then with my 4th grader. For sure, though, the kids really remember projects we’ve done in the past. They may not remember much about Lewis and Clark, for example, but they remember the salt dough map of their journey we made, and that triggers their memory of the whole adventure.
Melissa Telling says
I believe that hands-on crafts are great to use with younger children because they ARE fun and often they will be remembered much longer than a lesson will be. For instance, when I was in third or fourth grade, my mom let us build a long-house out of sticks and bark. It was supposed to be a quick project, but it ended up taking all day and turned into an entire village complete with people and a hand carved canoe. (My mom didn’t normally include hands-on crafts in “school” time and my sister and I took advantage of the opportunity.)
When I was grown up, my mom reminded me of the study we had done on Michigan history, which included a study of the local Native Americans. I had completely forgotten everything else, but I remembered all about the Natives and their long-houses. And I did also remember learning about the Michigan flag because we had to color one.
I was always a quick learner, and I can gurantee you that I did not NEED hands-on activities in order to learn the lesson. But having an EVENT to remember it by- a memory of something that actually happened TO ME- really solidified the lesson in my long term memory. Stories are a good substitute when we can’t experience something for ourselves, but we really learn best by doing.
This quote by Richard Maybury, author of the Uncle Eric Series, sums it up well:
“Experience creates models automatically . . .This is why classrom instruction via lecture is the least effective way to teach and hands-on learning by doing is the most effective. We are made in such a way that we build models autmatically by doing. Typically, classroom instruction is like teaching someone to play Monopoly just by making him memorize the rules and then giving him a test on those rules. . . Unfortunately, some models are impossible to learn using hands-on process, so one method humans use to substitute for real world experience is telling stories. Stories are used to demonstrate and illustrate ideas.”
Now, I do see where activities can sometimes get out of hand, and if you are spending most of your time planning, preparing, and executing hands-on activities there won’t be much time left for learning. So, you do need to be selective. But doing a few “useless” activities might add more to your child’s education than you realize. I think the problem most homeschool mothers have is that they try to facilitate all these activities on their own, rather than letting their children do them. Not only does this lead to burned out “gulty-feeling” moms, but it also limits what the child can learn. So, part of being selective is choosing activities children can do on their own.
Great point when you say the problem is most homeschool mothers try to facilitate all these activities on their own. I agree.
I like your thoughts on being selective. That is a key word.
I think we use projects as much as possible, but if the week is getting too busy or stressful we tend to drop that first.
Now I need to head off to help kids make Christmas bookmarks to hand out.
I have often seen the same thing you are speaking of with hands-on curriculums…that the hands-on gets in the way of learning. I have seen art projects, for example, that in the end might look like a certain artist’s works, but it arrives at it by an entirely different process, which may be counterproductive. You can see how an artist’s work looks by looking at them. The only value I see in trying to reproduce it, is learning something about the process and if the process is different, well, that is counter productive. I have seen this in many areas, not just art.
We use tons of hands on activities, because 1)my dd is super creative, and 2)the biggest reason… they are FUN, and keep the learning FUN & interesting! And that is reason enough for me.
I say that if the child isn’t interested in “hands on”… then no, don’t do it just for the sake of “hands on activity”.
If the child WANTS to do it, then yes, learning WILL take place.
I am a product of the public school system ( a little private school mixed in as well), and I remember PLENTY of craftsy activities that I could’ve cared less about.. so to me, homeschool is about tailoring the learning to YOUR specific child/children. And if that means NO hands on, then so be it.
But if “hands on” is for your child.. then by ALL means go for it to the max!!
Barb-Harmony Art Mom says
I think it also depends on the child. I have so many different personalities and learning styles among my four children that what is a welcomed project to one is just a tedious waste of energy to another. I have one child who grasps things from reading and processing by writing better than any hands-on project could ever hope to achieve. Then my visual-spatial learner practically devours any hands-on project with eagerness.
One thing I might mention is that often I find that I can use hands-on activities after I realize that one of the kids is not understanding a certain concept. I use them to remedy a hole I find in their thinking.
Sometimes I yearn for some good old crafts with my daughter who adored crafts as much as Sprite. 🙂
While I am new to homeschooling, I’ll confess that my approach to hands-on activities – and nearly all of homeschooling – is to look at my daughters and see what they need. My eldest simply doesn’t get excited about hands-on projects. I’ve tried them as a way to get her to spark to learning a bit more, but where I’ve had the most success with this is via unit studies and journals that she can make her very own. My middle daughter, in sharp contrast, takes a hands-on project and RUNS with it. She adores every step of it – even the “extra” ones that she does just because she wants to. I figure if I’m taking my lead from them, it will turn out all right in the end…
When I was a teacher, we would consolidate the theme with 1 hands-on type activity. Many parents ended up doing most projects for their children at home, so it was important that children worked in class, creating their presentations. This type of work gave an opportunity for children to work in their different ‘gifteness’ or learning styles. I think that some children’s learning styles make hands-on activities a vital tool, especially younger, kinesthetic learners who need to do the learning.
We have enjoyed many years of hands-on activities as we learnt at home. They have often been the best moments of our homeschooling.
As my high schooler has matured, her desire to craft and make things has developed. She gives a creative touch to her power point and typed presentations. Also, she has chosen subjects that allow her to express herself in this creative way, but with definite career-orientated skills.
And, like-wise, my middle schooler seems to enjoy working on the computer, adding images and formatting her document as much as she enjoys doing hands-on activities.
Somewhere inbetween, creating lapbooks or making notebook & minibook combinations seems to satisfy the desire to express their knowledge while using their hands.
I think that hands-on activities could ultimately be relevant to “age & stage”.
“I think that some children’s learning styles make hands-on activities a vital tool, especially younger, kinesthetic learners who need to do the learning.”
I have one of those.
Sometimes we use a hands-on project instead of a book or worksheet or ‘curriculum’ I find my visual/kinesthtic learner who can’t read yet, Often I let him work on a hands-on project while I read to him or talk to him about the ‘lesson’ or ‘topic’ of the hands-on project. Rather than read to learn it then do a project-I teach it as we do the project…does that make sense?
Christine Guest says
this is off topic, but I’m awarding you the flexible blogger award. See http://homeschoolblogger.com/curiousities/783904/
That’s funny, I also gave you The Versatile Blogger Award just a little bit ago and was coming to tell you!
I also enjoyed this post and agree that hands-on projects are definitely not essential in most things. Like the quote “cake is still very delicious without icing.”
Thanks for posting on this topic. I have felt bad about not doing the hands on crafts and lapbooking but I think it is mainly because I love crafts (more than my daughter) and I don’t get to do them. Also, we struggle sometimes with getting our subjects done in a timely manner because my almost 8 yr. old daydreams or whines and complains that her sister doesn’t have to do “school” and just gets to play(sister is 4)
We do tons of hands-on projects here. I think they are essential to us because my kids love them and they break up longer projects and keep it fun. For me as well as them 🙂 For me, creativity is very important and I think they learn a lot of problem solving by working towards getting the results they want and can apply skills learnt in one project to another.
Part of the reason I home educate is to give them more time and opportunity to work on creative projects. My main problem is where to put all the things they’ve made when they’re finished…
An unexpected read but one that I needed tonight. Thank you! I believe I’m what they call Type A (ahem), and I avoid Hands On as much as possible because they are little and legion, and I am tired. 😉
And thank you for the seemingly endless resources you have posted here. Such an encouragement!
Jimmie, You KNOW what I’m going to say:) YES! Easy ladies, I’m KIDDING… I think believing one is a BAD homeschooling mom because of a lack of hands on projects is silly… We all have our own special set of strengths ” gifts” we bring to the homeschooling table. I happen to believe we are ” made” to create and that’s what we’ve been teaching our children for the last 11 years… we are born to ” make ” something of our lives… Why not start em young? It’s true, many ” projects” related to a lesson may or may not bring the point home any better than a living book, video or a trip to a museum or gallery, but I still believe a little something is lost on the child ( especially during the wonder years) who only has the rare opportunity to play and experiment with a the multitude of materials and supplies available today for hands on learning or just for arts sake. I know that many parent’s don’t feel they are creative enough or skilled enough to teach art so hands on projects ( with a planned lesson or without) are a wonderful place for them to begin to get familiar with different art medium, supplies, and crafts that are popular today as well as those that are old fashioned Country Crafts from time gone by. Wood working, knitting, clay work, decorative painting, simple nature crafts and gardening with children opens up a whole world of creativity for everyone involved… Check out Sharon Lovejoy’s books for gardening with children.
Mother nature provides the best inspiration and models for young artists too! Just look at nature journaling…What better drawing foundation for the young budding artist than to go outside and draw what they see? I used to love it when our daughter would come inside from being out doors and immediately try to make or draw something she saw… a bird, and insect, the sun and the moon etc..
If you’re still afraid to put on your artists cap then find local community art classes or sign up for co-ops so your children can experiment get messy! No more homeschooling mom guilt… Just fun!
I’ll let you in on another homeschooling secret… Many of our homeschooling mornings have been spent round’ the dining room table, in p.j’s immersed in some sort of hands on activity…Children don’t need to be taught to be creative… they are born that way and just need encouragement…In our home school world… the more hands on the better… planned or free time. This box is way to small for the passion I feel about hands on projects/art in homeschooling so I’ll jump of my Creative Pulpit ( for now) and close with one of my favorite quotes.
” you yourselves must be filled with wonder and when you have acquired that, you are prepared.” ~ Montessori
To see how I REALLY FEEL about hands on homeschooling… read two articles I wrote about just that here:
Great post Jimmie!
You’re so good at helping us see the big picture – goals for learning. I get so busy with the kids that I can lose sight of the big picture.
Hands-on for us depends on the child. I can see that the young ones need it more than my oldest has. So far we haven’t done hands-on things consistently, except for science experiments, but I can see that will need to change as the young ones start “school” with us. I don’t like hands-on myself, but I’m getting better at tolerating it, or maybe even enjoying it… a little bit.
Melissa Telling says
I agree with everything that has been written so far. But I wanted to add that we should not forget the other side of hands-on activities. Sometimes we use hands-on activities to enhance our lessons, but some hands-on activities ARE the lessons. (These are the things which normally get labels “arts & crafts” or “lifeskills” and include things like drawing, painting, knitting, cooking, building, etc.) And because these activities teach skills which, I believe are as important as the academics, I make all my children participate no matter what their learning style.
I want my children to have an education that prepares them for life, not just one that prepares them for college. So, in our homeschool, drawing is as important as writing because I believe both are equally necessary communication skills. Some mothers may see papier mache as a messy time waster, but I see it as a useful skill which my children may be able to use in the future. (Why spend $20 on an ugly pinate for your child’s birthday when you can make one yourself?) We may be cooking an “authentic” Viking dinner because it adds something to our history or geography lessons, but we are also learning cooking skills. And ALL of my children are learning to cook- even the boys.
So, when I evaluate activities, I not only ask “Will this add to what we are learning?” but also, “Are there any skills we can learn from doing it?” And sometimes we do projects based on this alone.
Having said all of that, there aren’t many projects going on here lately. I am a firm believer in doing what works, and in the season our family is currently in, there isn’t as much room for hands-on. But I’m not going to feel guilty about it. Not even when I come look at Jimmie’s blog and see all the cool things they are doing. 😉
Melissa Telling says
Hmm, didn’t see Debbie’s post until after I posted. But I agree with that too. lol!
amy in peru says
Well… what a wonderful topic and invigorating ensuing discussion! this has been fun to read! 🙂 And of course, now I MUST jump in!
A few words to first give a little context, so, 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 agree with myself 😉 First, this implies the idea that the children are of living book reading age. 🙂 However, like Jimmie said and I’ve said elsewhere and Charlotte Mason says and so-and-so also says and … It is ABSOLUTELY necessary for young children to get their hands onto things to learn about them – especially abstract ideas. 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 is 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 would probably not classify technically as ‘hands-on’ learning projects though they are all very hands on 🙂
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.
I think 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 the reinforce a concept being learned elsewhere, why not?! Excellent. I just don’t do it. I don’t prohibit it… I just don’t plan them into my children’s education.
I’m not saying that what we do is the way it should 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. I hope all my little italics tags work, but if not please forgive? 😉
I find it funny that I am online and reading this discussion this week. We have recently(this year) begun to year-round school so we took the whole month of December off to do “hands-on’ activities. We are reading lovely Christmas Picture/Living books, and doing a Christmas Carol study from the Hymns for a Kid’s Heart series. Then we are spending ALL of the rest of our time making our gifts this year. I wanted to focus less on “what am I getting/let’s spend money”, and to put the focus back on giving to others as Christ gave of himself. This has worked wonderfully well for several reasons: my oldest dd is ridiculously crafty…she can and will make anything into a craft project without any help from me, I personally love crafts myself :O), and my littlest is Kinder age and loves to play with manipulatives. So we are using the supplies we have to bless others, and are enjoying ourselves.
However, during school time we’ve moved away from as many crafts (Little House Unit study) to CM living books. We are still doing them, but are realizing that the books themselves will naturally lead the children to experience the time/idea and they will “play” with the idea without concrete crafting organization by me. So I guess this comment is to say I agree with all of you. LOL.
Well said everyone! I am also a crafty person and with a BA in fine arts it is simply a delight to make something rather than speak or write about it. I love color and shape and design and especially laying out information in a fun way to explain something. SO hands on projects especially lapbooking and notebooking really is easy for me and very appealing. I rest at the end of a school day by cutting and crafting preparing for the next lessons. I have three boys and it is a pleasure to see they also love to use their hands…BUT within their skill level and interest. Sometimes my ideas just have to wait. As it was said above it is very important they own as much of the project as is possible…especially the idea of it! I learned early on that too much cutting for a 5 year old makes the project a dreary lesson indeed. So all comments above about age, learning style, (including yours as a mom…you matter too in the equation) or even the material itself; does it lend to a project? I say a hearty AMEN to!
The question I ask myself is does it enhance the learning we are trying to get in that day?
But, do I always know what learning should be happening? No, it is one of the great comforting ideas I learned from CM….That we can trust that the child (she calls it nature) the holy spirit to nourish his/her mind as he/she is brought to the banquet of ideas we serve each day in our schools. You can read the same book to a very bright child and a mentally challenged child and they are both mentally nourished.
There is no need to feel guilty or pressured to do anything that you and your child do not need to learn. I find courage in facing the empty holes and the fault finding onlookers with the peace that I have asked God what He is asking of us, listened to my children so that I may challenge and delight them and considered my own frame an its resources and limitations and followed up the info I have from those sources. And when I fail….when the project was a flop we don’t do it again.
Grace grace grace for all who are adventuring onward. The gulit only slows you down. Run for the prize it is yours for the running for because of Christ you have already won!!! Now to enjoy the race…:)
Good to know. I hate hands-on projects. Truly dislike them. Unfortunately, it seems to be the main way my right-brained, dyslexic learner can do anything. There is my challenge. How does a left-brained Aspie blend her literal, logical, analytical thinking with a right-brained creative, artistic, hands-on learner?
Always a challenge. Always.