Hands-on learning, or experiential education, allows students to learn by doing. When students experience key concepts and skills through hands-on learning, they gain a better understanding of them.
Rather than simply listening to teachers tell them about a concept, students in hands-on learning situations gain more experiences to rely on when they need to remember information or processes. And, those hands-on learning experience stay with students far longer than words from their teacher.
We have rounded up some of the best hands-on learning activities for elementary school students, to help you create amazing learning experiences for your students.
A social studies and mathematics lesson all in one, Mud Bricks is an engaging hands-on activity for elementary school-age students. While making the mud bricks, the spotlight is on fractions and measuring.
Students will measure one cup of dirt and 2/3 cup of water and dump them into a bowl. You may choose to add food coloring, though it is not necessary. Once the students have created their mud by mixing the dirt and water with their hands, instruct them to fill an ice cube tray with it. You can incorporate fractions into the tray filling as well, by asking students to fill 1/3 of the cubes, and then 1/2 of the remaining cubes, etc. Be sure students pack down the mud with their thumbs.
Depending on the amount of time you have for your lesson, you can allow the mud to dry for a bit before emptying the tray, or students can carefully overturn the tray after all of the cubes are full of mud. Once the mud bricks are out of the ice cube tray, the spotlight of the lesson shifts to social studies. If you have been learning about ancient Egypt, the students will have the opportunity to create their own pyramid using their mud bricks.
Care for Canines
If you have a family dog, chances are your kids think of him or her as one of their best friends. And because kids love their dogs and other pets, lesson plans that incorporate animals are usually really popular. That’s one reason I personally love these dog-related lessons. In fact, I recently used one of them to teach my daughter about animal behavior and responsibility.
The American Kennel Club’s “Basic Care for Canines” lesson can help you teach your kids about proper grooming techniques, how to keep the family dog safe, and other responsibility-building traits but also offers opportunities to discuss how our dogs are different from us.
Incorporating your own dog into the lesson, for example, by allowing your child to brush the dog while learning about the importance of grooming, will make it even more engaging and fun for them and Fido will love it, too.
Salt Dough Maps
Making salt dough maps is an amazing hands-on learning activity for elementary school age students that lends itself to nearly any social studies unit. Whether you are teaching geography or learning about people in another part of the world, salt dough maps are a hands-on activity a few times over.
First, kids use their hands to mix together 4 cups of flour, 2 cups of salt, 2 cups of water, and 2 tablespoons of cream of tartar. Then, kids will trace an outline of the map onto cardboard, using a map you’ve already cut out for them. Next, instruct students to take balls of dough and flatten them into the map outline. It helps if the kids first make the map flat and then build up elevation, using physical maps to guide them. After a day or two, the dough should be dry and students can paint it. You may want the students to paint the map to represent elevation, to differentiate between countries or territories, etc. Be sure students include a key so that map viewers will know what each color signifies.
Students may include pins or small flags to label landforms, cities, battles, landmarks, or anything else that matches the concepts and events they are learning in social studies. If the salt dough maps are for a geography unit, be sure to have students compare and contrast the landforms and topography of each map. They may create a list of questions based on their observations, which easily lends itself to a discussion.
Fog In a Jar
Fog In a Jar helps students understand how fog forms. Materials for this hands-on science experiment include black paper, a gallon jar, colored warm water, matches, and a gallon-size bag of ice.
First, have students tape the black paper on the back of the jar so that they cannot see through it. Then, instruct students to fill one third of the jar with colored warm water. Students should then stand back as adult helpers or teachers light the match and hold it over the jar opening. After a few seconds, the adults should drop their matches into the jars and then a student should quickly cover the top of each jar with the bag of ice. Students should then record their observations. Please note, if the cloud did not form, you should repeat the experiment as needed until one appears.
Hands-on activities provide valuable learning experiences for elementary school children, no matter the subject. Consider the concepts you are teaching and how to deepen learners’ understanding by using amazing hands-on learning activities for your students.
Author bio: Jamie Strand loved being homeschooled. Today, he teaches at a local community college. He created SciCamps.org with a friend in order to make it easier for kids throughout the U.S. to find science and math camps in their area. In addition to teaching, Jamie loves spending time with his wife and young daughters.
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