Why Use Hands-On Materials? My 6 Favorite Reasons

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Why I think hands-on activities are awesome

Building with small wooden blocks

Anyone who’s known me for any length of time knows that I love making creative materials for teaching. So, one of the things that I have been super excited to talk to people about is why I believe it is important to use hands-on materials.

In our digital world, so many teachers are going full-on digital. And, digital’s awesome, by all means use digital resources in your classroom. They relate very, very well with your students as they’re growing up in this amazing digital age.

But sometimes I see schools go so far in that direction that they just completely miss out on all the benefits that hands-on activities have to offer.

For example, at one of the training schools that I’ve recently worked with, everything is digital: the textbooks, all of the games, and activities like find and circle a picture on the smartboard. And, again, a lot of that’s good, but it’s just not the same as a lot of the cool things that you can do with hands-on activities.

Please understand, I’m definitely not poo-pooing the idea of digital, by all means integrate digital in your classroom. It’s also a very important tool to have in today’s classrooms.

But I am advocating that you shouldn’t leave hands-on materials behind in this process.

So, let’s talk about some of the most amazing benefits in my opinion for the use of hands-on materials.

1. Hands-on materials do an amazing job of allowing students to use multiple senses to learn.

First, I believe that hands-on materials really do an amazing job of integrating some of the different learning styles better because they’re engaging multiple senses. As scientists and quite a few teachers have observed, this leads to much better retention of the material.

A great example would be flashcards. You can engage people who are more auditory by going over the words aloud. You can engage the visual learners with the images on the flashcards so that they have something to see to help them learn. And both of these can be done on the computer as well.

However, the biggest difference is being able to touch things and this great for people who really need that tactile or kinesthetic experience in order to learn better (which is actually most of us).

And again, although there are some things that you can do with smartboards to provide some touch-based learning, it’s not always the same as with physical materials because usually it just involves touching a screen like circling or moving a picture.

It’s not the same as throwing flashcards on the floor and having students race to find the correct card. It’s not the same full body experience that you can get with physical materials.

So that’s probably my favorite reason for using hands-on materials.

2. Hands-on activities are just more versatile.

I think about things like cutting and pasting, coloring, finding and slapping the cards on the table, playing a card game like “I Have, Who Has,” and the list goes on and on.

There are just so many different types of activities that you can do. Whereas with the digital materials, you’re more limited in a lot of ways. Again, some of them you could totally do, but with others you just cannot get the same experience.

Like cut and paste activities just don’t have the same feeling when they’re done on a touch screen. Color by number, (or color by letter, color by word, whatever skill you’re working on) is another of my favorites, and it’s another one that can be done if every student has a tablet.

But it’s still not the same experience as it would be with paper and crayons.

Color by number

3. You can engage more students at a time with hands-on activities.

Smartboards get fussy if you have more than one finger on them at a time. I’ve seen my students run up and try to play with one during our break time, and when you have three or four kids trying to touch it at the same time, it’s not moving at all because the poor computer is so confused about what to do when there are so many little fingers all over it.

Whereas, with a hands-on activity, that’s never a problem since you can design activities that are for individuals, for pairs, for small groups, for big groups, for the whole class, anything. It doesn’t matter at all.

You can design these for any size group of students where everyone can have a chance to participate at the same time, rather than having to watch their classmates go up the board to do activities one by one.

While I have done some excellent games and such via smartboards, there’s no easy way to get around the fact that only one person can actually touch it at a time. So when it comes to more physical games, they just don’t compare with being oldschool.

4. It lets kids move around more.

Building with big blocks

Additionally, going back a bit to some of the points made about learning styles, it also just helps (especially young learners) with getting some of that energy out.

If you design an activity that allows students to move their whole body around, you’re going to have a much less wiggly, crazy class than if they’re having to sit and watch each other do exercises on the smartboard or even individual tablets.

They’re going to be able to move, to get out of their chair, to go DO something, rather than only getting to sit and listen.

Sitting and listening is important for students to do, but we all know that only sitting and listening is a recipe for a class full of crazy, rambunctious students who just need to get out some of that physical energy.

5. They’re cute fridge décor for parents.

A final kind of side benefit is that a lot of parents enjoy seeing what their kids bring home from school. Of course, they’ll always have some kind of worksheet or homework that they’re bringing home. But if we do a nice little cut and paste activity, a fun game like Bingo, or something else tangible that they can bring home, it’s a really great way to show what we’re doing as teachers and what they’re learning as students.

With the Smartboards, you can post the lesson to a group that the parents can look at to see what was taught, but it’s not the same as having a nice item to stick on the refrigerator. It’s just so cute and adorable that parents just want to show it off for a little while.

Girl cutting yellow paper

6. Gets students away from screens for a bit.

This reason is just more of a personal pet peeve, but I still wanted to include it. But take it with a grain of salt if you want.

I feel that personally, students these days are overstimulated by electronics. There are so many screens around. A lot of them have phones, tablets, computers, TVs, and so often I worry that the students are not getting enough time spent on non-electronic activities.

So, I just really also like to do hands-on activities because it’s a great opportunity to mix things up. They’ve spent so much time in front of screens all week, so it’s a good time to just go, “You know what, let’s just have fun. Let’s do something that we can touch, that we can really get our hands on. And let’s not stare at a screen all day.”

Let’s show them that there’s fun to be had outside of an electronic device.

What do you think?

So, I’m quite certain that there are a ton of other benefits to using hands-on materials and activities that I didn’t talk about today. Feel free to leave some thoughts in the comments. I’d love to hear what other teachers think.

Why do you like hands-on resources? I’m assuming that if you’re coming to site like mine with a strong emphasis on creating resources that you probably do like hands-on stuff. So…

What are your thoughts? What kinds of resources do you enjoy using? What are some of your favorite hands-on materials or activities? And what other benefits do you see in your classroom?

These are just some of my thoughts on using hands-on activities and materials. Hope to hear what y’all have to say as well!

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