“You must never feel badly about making mistakes, as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons…
…but it’s not just learning things that’s important. It’s learning what to do with what you learn and learning why you learns things at all that matters.” Princesses Reason and Rhyme in Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth
I can’t believe we’ve already completed five weeks of school! This school year is really flying by, (at least for now).
This week, I want to focus on the importance of hands-on activities.
I’ll be upfront, and say that this is the primary reason we switched away from Sonlight–hands-on activities are not an important part of their program, and they’re up-front about that (it is my understanding that they’ve changed that a bit this year, so it’s still worth looking into). I thought I was OK with it at first–I figured I could just add in my own activities. And then I discovered how much work finding and planning all the activities is. So, while I did have plenty of activities for special units, and special days, it really wasn’t a weekly thing for us. You just can’t do it all!
My Father’s World, on the other hand, offers plenty of opportunities for hands-on learning, not only in the history part of their programs, but Bible and science as well. I shared last week the teepees and wigwams Turkey and Bunny made while we were learning about Native Americans. Now, I realize that a lot of people think crafts like this are just busy work, and have no real value in education, but I completely disagree. For example, making the wigwams not only helped Turkey and Bunny visualize what an actual wigwam looks like, it also gave them an idea, on a much smaller scale, of just how difficult it would be to put together a real wigwam.
This week, when doing one of our read-alouds in American Pioneers and Patriots, we read about an oiled paper window in a house. This concept was, naturally, foreign to Turkey and Bunny…windows are glass and nothing else to them. So, we talked about why they would have had paper windows at all, (mainly, a lack of glass), and what the benefit of oiling the paper would be. After our discussion, we took two sheets of paper, and coated one of them in vegetable oil. We then held our two samples up to one of our glass windows, so that we might observe how they are different. It was easy to see that the oiled window let in much more light than the plain paper.
Then the real fun began. We took our regular paper, and put it under the kitchen faucet. It didn’t take long to see that paper and water don’t mix, and only the slightest touch created a huge rip in the “window.” We then repeated the experiment with the oiled paper, and even after it was left under the water for a good length of time, we really had to work to puncture the “window.” This led to a good discussion about the properties of oil and water, and how they interact, (or don’t), and really demonstrated to them why this was the chosen type of window for the Pilgrims. Simply reading about it would not have provided this kind of understanding for them.
The same is true with science. This is one area where Sonlight does offer plenty of hands-on activities and experiments, and even though we’re no longer using that curriculum, I still think that it does a great job of really getting students involved in science. (The DVDs are also a bonus, especially in cases where the experiment doesn’t quite work, usually due to teacher error!)
Beautiful Feet also does a good job in this department, both in the experiments they suggest, and in the books that are part of the curriculum, as there are many hands-on activities in the course of daily readings. For example, this week, as we’re wrapping up our study of Archimedes, we learned about centers of gravity/equilibrium. We then tried balancing different items on our fingertips, as suggested in Archimedes and the Door of Science, ranging from simple pencils and spoons to toys. Turkey and Bunny had a great time predicting where the item needed to be held to balance, (and Turkey, in his future engineer way, was usually right), and then carrying out the experiment.
As you can see, there are many different ways to incorporate hands-on activities, for a wide range of subjects. Sure, sometimes these activities are just for fun, but more often, they’re activities that *are* fun, but are really implemented for the benefits they provide in the learning process.