The Power of Hands-On Learning

"​What the hand does, the mind remembers." – Dr. Maria Montessori

If a child is able to use their hands to discover, their discoveries become more meaningful to them. The concepts they learn are much more rooted than any rote memorization could be, because in using their hands, they experience their learning. They are an active participant.

Active Education

If you picture a traditional classroom, you would likely see a teacher standing at the front of the room near a black- or whiteboard, speaking to children who are lined up in desks, memorizing facts, or attentively looking at and listening to their instructor.

In recent years, concepts such as “table groups” and “flexible seating,” where children can sit in small groups, or choose where they sit, have allowed for some redesign throughout the classroom.

In addition to the arrangement of the environment itself, many teachers and administrators have also looked to hands-on or nontraditional classroom experiences like “project-based learning,” “design thinking,” “the maker movement,” and “the flipped classroom,” for ways to engage children in their learning.

These shifts in education are a reminder that schooling isn’t one-size-fits-all. Individual needs can be addressed when we take the time to step back, assess what we are doing, and make the decision to move forward with purpose. Need some guidance for change? Read on!

Making Changes

If you are unsure where to start, let me give you one powerful idea. Start with the child’s hands.



The child’s hands.


Let me explain.

If you can make a change in learning, begin with just one simple step. Try this: begin by watching hands. Hands are smart. Really smart. Just like our heads. Often, however, this seems to be forgotten.

If you ever have the opportunity to observe someone learning a new skill, I would challenge you to watch their hands. It is through touching and manipulating that information is taken in through the hands and delivered to the brain.

Use Your Hands!

Adults seem to think that it is okay for younger children to work with their hands when they are learning. Think about it: Sandboxes, water tables, play-doh! But somewhere along the way these manipulatives get a bad rap for being “childish.”

Why? If you’ve ever seen someone participate in an activity they love, you’ve very likely seen them using their hands! You’ve likely witnessed someone building with tools, fixing up a vehicle, or playing an instrument. How about someone turning the page of a book, digging in the dirt while gardening, or making food?

Why should learning through math, science, history or languages be any different? Utilize an abacus for addition, measure velocity when launching a marshmallow with a spoon, tea-dye a map, or handle pairs of objects that rhyme. Whether formal or informal education, using your hands helps!

In the Montessori Classroom

Dr. Maria Montessori was a scientist who spent time observing children. In doing so, she realized that children wanted real-world, hands-on application for learning. Not only did they want it, they experienced joy in using their hands.

Through experimentation and careful calculation, Montessori developed materials for children to use. These lessons intentionally foster self-discovery and serve learning goals. Over 100 years later, the observations she made then still hold true. Regardless of subject matter, children enjoy, and benefit from, using their hands to learn.

In a Montessori classroom you will see hands-on learning EVERYWHERE! A child washing a table is learning care of their environment while also preparing their hand muscles for similar movements in writing. Placing cubes on top of one another in the pink tower allows children to learn precision of movement while also allowing their body to experience, physically, the difference in 1 cubic centimeter ten times over! Not only this, but it is also teaching the basics of the mathematics base ten system. Rarely is a lesson in a Montessori classroom taught for one purpose only, and usually, with time, the hands-on learning leads to multiple objectives.

A Personalized Journey

Learning is not a race with a finish line. It’s a constant stroll through a variety of experiences that all necessitate different paths and use different materials.

Whether Montessori is your muse, you want to improve learning for your students, or you just personally like to get your hands dirty, don’t wait! The world is waiting for you. Explore! Dig in!

Interested in learning more about hands-on learning in the Montessori classroom? Join us in our upcoming professional development course, Hands-on Math: The Montessori Way!

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