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Hands-On Learning is for Everyone

You are invited to our Hands-On Creativity Fair By Paige McKinney

When I first started homeschooling my children they were quite young, 5 yrs old, 2 yrs old and my youngest was still on the way! We had just moved from North San Diego County where my oldest had spent a year in a joyful, sweet preschool that was a blend of Waldorf, Montessori and Reggio Emilia. I had hoped to find a public charter school or a private school we could afford that embraced a hands-on approach in South Orange County. But the choices in South Orange County were very limited at that time. I was disappointed to discover after talking to local school administrators, and teachers, and from touring both public and private schools, that kindergarten had changed from my own experiences of a hands-on, fun environment to a place where most kids were expected to focus and sit for long periods of time, in the name of developing academic skills.

I found myself wondering why so many educators I had met and personally talked to thought the best way to develop academic skills was to force young children to sit for longer periods of time when we know they are not developmentally capable of sitting still, watching a teacher talk, and not being allowed to interact or speak?

When did academic skills only relate to a child’s ability to read fluently by the end of kindergarten, or to recite the alphabet on demand?

What happened to crafts, nature walks, and outside time to build the motor and social skills necessary to succeed in school?

Why were the benefits of play not recognized for their ability to build problem-solving skills, which correlate with strong academic skills in children?

Why is the intuitive approach of hands-on learning that many of us experienced in own kindergarten years now something that we have been expected to shelve away from our own children, while we wait patiently for new brain research to bring it back to us with a stamp of approval?

Why is hands-on learning so often viewed as something only very young children can acceptably engage in, yet I could cite so many examples of when it had helped me delve deeper into my own learning and mastery of skills?

Why are we as a society so focused on making children behave like mini adults in school, with so many rules to memorize and follow, while there are so many adults who are trying to get back to feeling like they did in their childhood, happy and free?

How could I reconcile these things in homeschooling my own children, so they could grow up with the chance to play, feel happy and free, and still find the path to building an academic path if that’s what they chose?

I decided to focus on duplicating my own kindergarten year, what is often referred to now as, "Old School Kindergarten". My own kindergarten year was full of piles of construction paper crafts that brought immense joy to me, and which my parents dutifully pinned up. Paper crowns, paper badges, paper calendars, memory games made of paper squares of barnyard animals with alphabet letters and numbers that we glued onto more colorful construction paper to make cards. I don’t think my kindergarten teacher would have called what we did, “Hands-on Learning”, to her that was just how kindergarten kids learned best and well, mostly, how they transitioned us to being away from home and at school.

We squished Play-doh between our fingers at tables, we sat at together in little chairs made just for us. We collected leaves outside during nature walks around the border of the school fence that we enjoyed stomping our feet around, in a line, pretending to be soldiers. And we created wax paper crayon rubbings with those leaves later, at our same little tables. We strung beads onto thick pieces of string, and restrung them; again and again, and again, noticing patterns, learning shapes and colors. And when we weren’t crafting, we were listening to stories read aloud while we played with puppets and stuffed animals.

We also played outside, learning how the games of freeze tag, Mother May I, and hopscotch worked.  Friendships were made this way, laughing, collaborating, making up stories. I don’t remember everything, and I do remember a few rough spots (namely, not wanting to leave my mother and my baby brothers to go to school), but mostly, I remember having fun in kindergarten (first grade was a different story, the days longer and some of the fun beginning to be left out).

When I reflected on my early memories of kindergarten, I knew I wanted my children to learn their ABCs, their numbers and shapes by participating in all kinds of crafts and craft experiences, in this hands-on way.

I was lucky in that my closest mom friends, whom I had met in La Leche League when my oldest was a baby, had already decided to homeschool. And so, my kids’ friends were already meeting in a park day setting and we just seamlessly continued meeting with them. I was part of homeschool playgroup with other moms who were doing all of the hands-on fun activities that our own kindergarten years were composed of, and we discovered new things about ourselves in the process. While our kids were fostering friendships by playing and climbing, and riding their tricycles, blowing bubbles, rubbing leaves between wax paper, and stringing beads, we learned that we liked to do things with our hands, too.

Some of us took up jewelry making when we saw our kids stringing bead, it was inspiring us to look at our idea of what constitutes jewelry from a different approach. Some of us learned that listening to audiobooks about history while walking around the park helped us retain those details better than just reading books about history. It helped us realize that learning styles are a real thing we are lucky to spend time considering as homeschoolers! Some of us learned that we liked to doodle along with our kids, because we had discovered solutions to problems we hadn’t figured out how to solve before; the simple act of doodling was maybe somehow important to centering oneself. Some of us learned that we while we don’t like messes we do like doing crafts if we don’t have to clean them up!

All of us realized that hands-on learning is for everyone.

On that note… please join us for our upcoming Hands-On Creativity Fair in Costa Mesa and meet homeschool vendors and parents who are offering activities, workshops, class demos (including outdoor nerf dodgeball sessions!) and find ways to bring hands-on learning into your homeschooling experience, for your kids, and for yourselves.

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