Learning by doing refers to learning experiences that connect what students are taught in school to real-world issues, problems, and applications.
Hands-on learning at preschool simply means the children are active learners throughout the day: exploring with materials, learning by doing, moving throughout the classroom, and interacting with one another.
The teacher acts as a facilitator – not by telling the children what to do with the materials – but by asking questions that challenge them to use them in new and creative ways. A teacher skilled at hands-on learning will often begin her inquiries with how: How can you build that bigger without it falling? How can you make sure those plants grow healthy? How can you all play together so everyone has a turn?
Most of us experienced hands-on learning when we were children in preschool and kindergarten, and it contributed greatly to our fond memories for those early years of learning. Scholars in early childhood development have written extensively on the value of hands-on learning, arguing that it’s developmentally appropriate because young children discover best through their senses, through movement, and through their sense of wonder and curiosity about the world around them.
Young children are learning and developing quickly. They are playing, learning and experimenting. They are also beginning to get a sense of their own identity and how they may be different from others, such as noticing boys and girls. Some children benefit from being at a nursery or playgroup at this age. Organised activities help develop their learning in an informal setting. In turn, this is preparing them for more formal school life. Cultural identity is important. Children need to have people around them that they can identify with and who have an understanding of their cultural and ethnic background.
How do young children learn?
Children learn through all their senses by:
• tasting, touching, seeing, hearing and smelling
• watching and copying people close to them they learn language and behaviour
Learning through play
Play is one of the main ways in which children learn. It helps to build self worth by giving a child a sense of his or her own abilities and to feel good about themselves. Because it’s fun, children often become very absorbed in what they are doing. In turn, this helps them develop the ability to concentrate. Providing children with a range of playthings will help them learn in a number of ways:
• Sand and water play can be an early introduction to science and maths, eg learning that water is fluid, not solid, and that it can be measured in different sized containers.
• Playing with dough, drawing and painting pictures, dressing up, playing with dolls can encourage creativity, imagination and expression of feelings.
• Building blocks, jigsaws and shape sorters can help with recognising different shapes and sizes, putting things in order and developing logic.
• Playing ball games, dancing, running, climbing all help to develop body movement, strength, flexibility and co-ordination skills.
• Games help with turn taking, sharing and mixing with others.
• Singing, playing simple music instruments help to develop rhythm, listening and hearing.
It’s important that learning is fun at this age. It needs to be about doing things with them that they like. They might find unusual ways of doing things – for a toddler, building blocks aren’t just for making towers, and paint can be used without a brush! Show them how things work, but if they want to experiment, let them.
Don’t push your child too hard. Children develop in their own ways and in their own time. Try not to compare them to other children. You can also encourage reading, by reading to and with them. Look at the pictures together; this will help younger children make sense of the words.
It’s also good to talk to them a lot, about everyday things while you are cooking or cleaning. This will give you a chance to teach them how things work and they will be able to ask you questions. Get ready for lots of “why’s?”
What is the importance of play for pre-school children?
Anyone who spends any amount of time with pre-school children understands that providing them with opportunities for play provides so much more than a few minutes or hours of ‘fun’. Play also allows children to relax, let off steam, develop social skills such as concentration and co-operation, encourages the development of the imagination, develops motor skills and teaches self expression.