Thursday, September 4, 2008

In Defense of "Hands Off" Learning

I do not love science projects. In most instances I do not even particularly like science projects.

I realize this is both shocking and offensive to the majority of homeschooling, and for that matter, non-homeschooling parents. That's exactly why I want to get it into the open from the outset. This has been my invisible "elephant in the room" that the rest of you can't see and don't notice, but that follows me around to every homeschool gathering trumpeting obnoxiously in my ear.

Maybe it's the rebellious teenager in me insisting on having a say, or perhaps it's the overworked, overtired mom who just wants to read in peace for whole minutes on end, but, either way, I am about to commit homeschool blasphemy.

I do not like this idea of "hands-on" learning.

Okay, okay... before you click your browser window shut and label me an ignorant fool let me at least explain my position.

I am not necessarily proud of my stance and neither is it based on sound research nor deep conviction... so you can relax. This little article does not seek to sway you from your allegiance to beaker, abacus, and modeling clay.

I seek only to unburden my humble bookworm of a soul.

Please notice that I did not write, "I do not believe in the benefits of 'hands-on' learning," but only that I, personally, don't care for the practice.

Before beginning to write this article I ran a Google search on the phrase "hands on l..." No sooner had I typed the "l" than a list of suggested searches appeared before me. Allow me to recreate it for you here:

hands on learning.....7,980,000 search results
hands on learner.....2,370,000
hands on learners.....2,880,000
hands on learning style.....698,000
hands on learning activities.....920,000
hands on learning program.....498,000
hands on learning games.....541,000

All this before I even hit the "Enter" key to begin my search.

"Very interesting," I thought to myself, "but not everyone is a hands-on learner." So I ran another Google search, this time using the phrase "hands off l..." The list of suggested searches was quite different:

There were 1,290 results for lyrics to a song entitled "Hands Off," and 356,000 results for "hands of love affair," whatever that is! And when I fully typed out the phrase "hands off learning," nothing jumped onto my screen to guide my search.

Needless to say I feel both unrepresented and overlooked and that the need for this article is paramount. The un-kinesthetic teachers/learners of the world must be given voice!

I do not dispute that many valuable lessons are learned by "doing" in school and, especially, in real life. I just don't see the point in "reinventing the wheel," by artificially recreating experiments that have already been performed, from which information has already been obtained, and about which many interesting and helpful things have already been written. Why should we do these experiments when we can just read about them? After going over these kinds of science lessons in our science readers I never feel the urge to gather the supplies, perform the experiment and then clean the mess, all for the sake of finding out the science text writers were right. What they said would happen, happened.

Please don't misunderstand me. When I hear of the exploits of all of you kinesthetic teachers/learners I am always inspired. It's true! I am inspired to hunt down my children's safety goggles, pack them a nutritious lunch and send them straight over to your house for science class! I would so much rather curl up with them in front of the fireplace on a gray, wintry day and read about God's wonders in the earth, the sea, the universe.

Do I ever perform science experiments with my children? Yes, I do. With all those search results eagerly waiting to proclaim the superiority of hands on learning I have to err on the side of caution. Maybe you "doers" are onto something and, if so, I want my kids in on it. So, from time to time, for the purpose of modeling the scientific method, we dig out supplies and perform an experiment about the laws of motion, the water cycle, photosynthesis, etc.

Similarly, in math, if my children are not grasping a concept after reading about it and having it explained, I will pull out a visual of some sort and demonstrate the concept physically. For instance, I have found it necessary to demonstrate the "why" of borrowing in subtraction with groups of 10 cotton swabs bundled with bread ties for all of my children in the 1st or 2nd grade. As you can now see, I do make use of hands on learning techniques, but generally, as a last resort.

I love to read. I love to write. I love to talk. I love words. I absolutely love how they come together to teach, to inspire, to encourage, to express. It's not that I think other methods of teaching/learning are inferior, it's just that I find I have a bent toward my passion... and it comes out in my teaching.

So judge me now. And, if you find that I have committed a heinous heresy in my diatribe against hands on learning, sentence me as well. Only allow me a good book to read, a note pad and a pencil. Else I will beautify your prison floors with scratches of words to reveal my thoughts and romanticize my imprisonment!

...and, as usual, that's my $0.02!


Jody said...

Oh my goodness I didn't know I wasn't the only one who felt this way LOL. Unfortunately for me my youngest son is so much a hands on learner *sigh*. Thankfully though it's not in every thing that he needs hands on learning and once he gets a concept I don't have to keep going with the hands on learning.

I am so much like you in that I would rather read about something then actually doing it. So glad I am not alone LOL.

mom2four said...

LOL, this is sooooo funny!!