Importance of a Hands-On Experience in the Elementary Classroom

by Christine Bartsch

Hands-on learning, more formally known as Experiential Education, reflects a teaching philosophy that promotes learning by doing. The strategy allows children to practice guided tactile learning in which they absorb knowledge not only by listening, but by experiencing. Experiential learning is praised as a top teaching method by higher educational institutions, especially those in the fields of science, art and technology. This strategy also offers numerous advantages to students in elementary classrooms.

Inspiring a Love of Learning

Hearing a lecture or even watching a teacher perform a physical demonstration of a concept, cannot instill a passion for knowledge in a student as deeply as hands-on experience can. Learning by doing allows children to become personally invested in their own learning process. Becoming actively engaged in their education builds confidence, as the lessons require students to rely on their own abilities to obtain knowledge. That confidence and self-reliance inspires children to embrace the learning process and enthusiastically seek out additional knowledge.

Encouraging Experimentation

Once a concept has been taught and demonstrated, the time comes for students to demonstrate their comprehension of the lesson. However, the opportunity to demonstrate knowledge is often given to students in the forms of worksheets, quizzes and tests. This system adds pressure of performance and an attitude of evaluation to a time of learning that should instead be treated as a practice period in which mistakes are allowed. In contrast, hands-on learning allows students to experiment as they test concepts with tactile equipment, learning as much from their failures as their successes.

Aiding Comprehension

By definition, hands-on learning requires students to engage in the education process using multiple senses, including sight, hearing and touch. Known as multisensory learning, the hands-on teaching strategy engages the senses in a way that promotes learning comprehension on multiple levels. This practice allows students to understand information and also to use it. For example, a young child may verbally acknowledge understanding basic math facts, but is unable to solve problems on an addition worksheet. Manipulating tactile math blocks allows that student to better comprehend the concepts by actively utilizing acquired knowledge.

Improving Knowledge Retention

From tying a string around a finger to writing a reminder, it is common practice for humans to create tactile cues to aid their memories in retaining important information. Hands-on learning extends that simple practice into the classroom setting for much the same reason. Tactile equipment that can be handled by the students increases the likelihood that knowledge learned in the classroom will be retained. The joy and excitement that comes with engaging multiple senses through experimentation encourages students to participate in the learning process more often and for extended periods of time. This results in increasing the amount of practice a student engages in, which in turn improves knowledge retention.

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