5 Ways to Make Hands-On Learning Meaningful in Your Homeschool

I’m not the typical hands-on learning homeschool mom. We’ve never made a salt dough map, nor mummified a chicken bone. I’m not a fan of “craftivities” and prefer process art experiences over carbon-copy handprint turkeys. My children will do enough of these activities at classes and birthday parties, so I don’t feel the need to do them at home.

So how do I included hands-on learning in our homeschool? By keeping it simple.

In some ways, I’m a minimalist homeschooler. I do not lack in the books and stuff department, but I certainly keep my planning and cajoling to a minimum. However, I also want my children to do and make things. I think it encourages curiosity and life skills

It’s a frustrating predicament at times, but here’s a summation of my philosophy regarding hands-on learning.

5 Ways to Make Hands-On Learning Meaningful in Your Homeschool

This post may contain affiliate links, you can read my disclosure here.

Open Ended Hands-on Activites

As I said above, I’m not a fan of “craftivities.” The pre-determined outcome stifles any creativity a child might exhibit. Is it fun, especially for a young child, to create something when you already know what it’s supposed to look like?

Nevermind that the four-year-olds rendition will never match that of the adult teacher. If given the time and space, eventually they’ll want to get ideas and inspiration from other works, but I’ve never found my young children wanting a lot of direction, quite the opposite.

I think these are promoted for a few reasons, but I’m just not buying it.

Many will say it’s a lesson in following instructions. However, following directions and being artistic and creative rarely go well together. Perhaps they need some lessons in technique, but then they should be free to use what they learned in whatever way they see fit.

Also, I think this is another instance of it not being about what’s best for the children, but instead supporting the egos of parents and teachers. The teachers feel the need to prove they are doing something with the time children are in class, and parents want to be shown they’re getting what they paid for. It serves as proof for both stakeholders.

Let’s be honest though, none of this direction is needed, especially at such a young age. So let’s pull out the paper, scissors, and glue and let them create whatever they see in their mind’s eye. Preferably without excessive interference.

Things I have on hand for open-ended creations:

  • Recyclables
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Paint
  • Tape
  • Tissue Paper
  • Pom Poms
  • Rolls of Paper
  • Markers

Self-Directed Hands-On Learning

The best hands-on experiences, or any learning for that matter, are those not directed by a teacher or parent but those the child feels an internal motivation to complete.

If every day I pulled out a new project inspired by our studies, they would stage a revolt. They don’t want to do a project, especially one scripted, for every subject. I seem to get the most enthusiasm when the projects are more intermittent and spontaneous.

But the best hands-on learning is when they engage in projects without any prompting. When my older girls were younger, it was a regular occurrence for me to help transform a box into a dollhouse. Now, they make jewelry, knit, sew, and create on their own.

My children’s self-direction is encouraged by my openness to having the mess around. It’s very hard sometimes, but it’s important  I let them build the fort, cut the paper into tiny bits, and paint most anytime they like. I’m not so great at always having the materials within reach, but that’s because I have had a toddler for the past 16 years.

Meaningful Hands-on Learning
The older sibling taking the lead.

Participation in Hand-On Activites is Not a Requirement

It’s hard to be a homeschooling mom sometimes. We envision this fantastic project that will bring Medieval History to life, and it’s met with eye rolls and whines. It hurts! We’ve put so much thought and effort into planning this wonderful hands-on learning experience, but someone (or no one) wants to participate.

As much as it hurts, it’s best to let it go. What benefit is there to forcing a child to complete a project he doesn’t care about? None. They just become more resistant to anything you might suggest or strew in your homeschool.

Make it Simple to be Inspired

This recommendation is for all the moms out there, like me, whose children would love a homeschool project, but you aren’t the best at pulling everything together.

How do I make more specific hands-on learning happen? I order it.

There is something about having a ready-made kit arrive in the mail that excites my children, and they can’t wait to rip the box open and see what’s inside. So we’ve gotten several over the years, and they always make a great birthday or Christmas gift.

Here are some of our favorites:

My most recent find was the Hands-On History box from Book Shark. This box is just amazing. It has everything, right down to a box of glue dots. It correlates with their K-1 World History curriculum, but I think most kids would like the projects no matter what they’re studying.

I also think the projects would be appropriate for all elementary aged students. An older student could read the detailed guidebook and complete the projects themselves or help a younger sibling.

My four-year-old was jumping up and down to make the catapult, which is an in-depth project. However, I was so impressed with the instructions and the items included. We can’t wait to make the telegraph.

My four youngest worked together to complete the volcano. We took it on the deck and erupted it over and over again. Book Shark even included a small amount of dry, red tempera paint to dye the lava red.

It includes nine engaging projects:

  1. Ancient Egypt: Obelisk
  2. Vikings: Straw Weaving
  3. Medieval Times: Catapult
  4. Explorers: Sailing Ship
  5. American West: Log Cabin
  6. Inventions: Telegraph
  7. Inventions: Car
  8. Mountains: Volcano
  9. Deserts: Lap Book

You can see we went out of order, but that’s just our style. The Instruction Booklet gives detailed instructions, including diagrams, as well as historical background information for each project.

Kits and subscription boxes do come with an expense, but I find the learning they inspire is well worth the price.

5 Ways to Make Hands-On Learning Meaningful in Your Homeschool

Don’t Turn Everything into a Hands-On Learning Experience

Nothing will kill your child’s curiosity faster than making everything a hands-on project, not to mention you’ll burn out quickly. Also, the vast majority of things will eventually make it to the trash can.

Don’t pick projects for the wrong reasons, children are still learning even when you don’t have an Instagram shot to prove it.  So choose wisely with your children, and you, in mind. I don’t love science experiments, but my children seem to be okay even though they’ve never filled out a cute Pinterest lab report printable.

Hands-On Learning with Intention

Hands-On learning can be a great addition to our homeschools. It can break up the monotony and keep kids engaged. They learn new skills as well as expand their knowledge of a subject.

Choose your hands-on activities with intention. Since I don’t care for science experiments, we often get Tinker Crate or Groovy Lab Box to meet the desire my children have to build and experiment.

However, as with all of home education, we need to ask ourselves whether this book, worksheet, curriculum, or project is benefitting our children or if the purpose is to assuage our fears and insecurities as homeschooling parents.

Home education should benefit the child, therefore ask that question of your hands-on learning ideas before that trip to the craft store.

Book Shark is generously sponsoring a giveaway of a Hands-On History: World Cultures, be sure to enter below!

Celebrate in our Not Back-to-School Facebook Group! You can also join me in my Homeschool Mindset Facebook Group.


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About Bethany Ishee

Bethany is the mom of six, always-homeschooled children, who one day realized she'd lost herself in the process, probably under a pile of laundry. Her eclectic style of homeschooling draws upon Classical to Unschooling and everything in between.  While homeschooling her children and writing about learning outside of school, she tries to find time to read a book, drink coffee, and pay the bills.

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