Hands on and Playful learning- Nature Play

The Benefits of Hands-on Learning for Children

Hands-on learning is the process of learning by actually doing and experiencing something, rather than just being told about it. The term “hands-on” is used because these activities usually involve the physical use of the hands – for example children might use manipulative such as counting cubes and sorting objects to understand mathematical concepts, rather than just being taught the theory via books or pencil and paper exercises.

Hands-on learning is particularly important for young children, as this is how they are programmed to learn. Children learn from observing, copying, and experimenting with their hands and body as soon as they are born, and play continues to be the most important way of learning new skills until they reach school age and beyond.

It’s More Fun and Engaging

Children can develop skills much faster when they’re having fun. For example, teaching the alphabet and basic letter forming skills can quickly become boring for young children with traditional pencil and paper or flashcards.

Instead, allowing them to use a tray of sand or shaving foam to trace out letters with their fingers, or providing play-dough or clay to form the letters is a fun activity that won’t seem difficult or intimidating. Not only is it more enjoyable to learn about letters in this way, children are also more likely to remember how to form the letters better than more traditional literacy exercises.

Allows Learning from Real Experiences

Boring and mundane activities for adults can become fun learning experiences for young children. In their early years, Toddlers love to copy their parents with basic tasks around the house like sweeping and folding clothes, and while their initial attempts may not be exactly helpful, they’ll be learning important physical and behavioural skills to use in later life.

Using actual experiences to learn concepts and skills is much more effective than simply being told about them, as in the proverb: “Tell me, I’ll forget; show me, I’ll remember; involve me, I’ll understand.” If you ever doubt this principle, just think about how many people learn to drive from reading a book!

Encourages Interaction with Nature

Spending time outdoors engaging with nature and exploring activities such as farming and gardening are wonderful types of hands-on learning for the early years.

Interacting with nature has been proven to be important for people of all ages, aiding optimal physical and mental health. It’s potentially even more important to encourage a love of the outdoors from a young age and encourage natural experimentation and interaction with the world outside the classroom.

Being outside certainly provides more opportunities to run around and burn off steam, which as any carer of young children will know is a necessity to keep them happy and reduce behavioural problems, as well as staying healthy and active.

Allow Exploration of all Five Senses

Anyone with young children will know that mess is inevitable but messy play is not just an inconvenience for adults – in fact it’s an important way for young children to learn about the world. Activities such as messy and sensory play allow children to make their own discoveries about materials and carry out their own mini experiments to learn about the world.

Messy play can be a multi-sensory experience, involving sight, touch, smell, sound, and even taste. Engaging multiple senses has been shown to help children learn and remember more effectively.

Exploring different tactile materials such as sand, water, paint, dough, and slime can also be a social activity and can encourage language development as children learn new vocabulary to describe the texture and properties of different materials.

Engage Multiple Areas of the Brain

During early childhood the brain is developing fast, with the first six years being recognised as a critical period for development. The brain is split into two sides or hemispheres, with each side responsible for different skills, as well as controlling the opposite side of the body.

The right side of the brain, most active during early childhood, is engaged by visual and spatial activities, as well as anything involving creativity and the imagination. The more analytical left side that deals with skills like logic and mathematics does not start to develop in most children until the age of 10 or 11.

When multiple activities such as talking, listening, and using the hands are combined, it activates more areas of the brain than a single activity. This helps to aid learning and recollection in the same way that multi-sensory play does.

Builds Fine Motor Skills

Any activity that involves the hands such as cutting, sticking, sorting, moulding, or manipulating helps to develop the fine precision that is needed for important real-world tasks like tying shoe laces and writing with a pen.

Hands-on activities helps children to strengthen the muscles of the hand, improve accuracy, and learn functional skills that they will use for the rest of their lives.

Benefits of Learning Through Play

When it comes to learning during the early years of a child, parents, educators, and experts are always looking for interesting and unique ways to come up with better techniques that would ensure that children can get the most out of their learning sessions.

These learning techniques go beyond ensuring that the child is able to get better grades in school. It has more to do with creating an environment that would enhance a balanced growth and development at a time that is most crucial in the life of a child. A better learning/teaching method would also contribute to equipping them with the necessary life skills.

What is play-based learning? Play-based learning is as the name implies is learning that involves playing. There was a time when the chalkboard and plenty of talk was considered the ideal method of teaching a child. However, children have a naturally inquisitive nature that inspires them to consistently explore their world. This makes it extremely difficult for them to sit through a lengthy classroom session where they were expected to follow specific directives.

The play-based learning method factors in the naturally playful nature of children and finds a way to incorporate play into the learning of foundational numeracy, literacy, and social skills. So, where a child would have sat through a regular class learning how to add and subtract numbers on the board, they would probably be learning those exact skills in a make-believe supermarket.

Apart from learning how to add and subtract numbers, this faux supermarket situation will also help the child learn how to negotiate as well as socialise. This means that with each learning session, the child is able to get more out of that class.

Why is learning through play important?For starters, the goal of learning is to ensure that we can evolve and get the most out of each lesson. In this case, we are dealing with children and since they are still in the developmental stages of their lives, it is important to look for alternative methods that would help us achieve this goal. For the early learning years, the alternative method is learning through play.

Other than achieving our learning goals, why then is it so important we integrate play into learning?

1. It makes learning a much more realistic concept for them
As we have already established, children learn better through physical exploration. By including play in the learning process, you can provide them with the resources that engage all of their senses thus making learning more real to them… as opposed to a concept on the chalkboard.

2. It allows the child to express their individuality
By actively engaging the child, you can draw out their personality. When that happens, the child becomes more invested in the lessons that are being taught. This ensures that the outcome of that learning process is more effective for both the teacher and the child.

3. It helps educators develop a much more personalized learning package for the child
One of the best things about integrating play-based learning into preschool and kindergarten classes is the fact that it can help ensure that children are provided with a personalised learning package that has been specially adapted to suit their needs.

Educators can do this because, with play-based learning, they get a better understanding of each child. This stems from the opportunity provided to observe the child in their natural learning environment before developing learning solutions specifically suited to them.

Is play-based learning effective?If done right, having a structured playtime included in a school’s learning program can prove to be very effective in shaping the development of that child. This is because playing is very important for the brain development. Through play, a child can explore new concepts. With this exploration, new pathways are developed in the brain.

Also, when it comes to the transition between home life and school life, play-based learning helps the child integrate faster especially in their early learning years.

Play teaches children life skills, enriches their development and helps them to make sense of the world around them.

In recent years, there has been a surge in the trend of play-based learning. You may be asking yourself what is it and how can it help my child?

Your child deserves to have everything they need to thrive in both their educational needs and their welfare needs. This is where Hands on learning comes in, as it allows your child to get first-hand experience and explore the world around them. They’re able to learn and grow both intellectually and physically as play-based learning encourages them to develop their fine motor skills early.

This more hands-on approach can encourage a deeper understanding and appreciation of the lessons we’re teaching, and it also broadens your child’s problem-solving skills by using practical methods that have fast results.

As your child plays, they participate in an unstructured child-centered free play. The educators supervise and observe to see what is holding your child’s attention, and they can then build their lessons around the objects that hold this child’s interest. The goal is to build play experiences that are interesting and stimulating while still subtly incorporating any goals or lessons.

This is a breakaway method of traditional learning. While traditional learning does work, play-based learning can be a more effective means to expose your children to learning experiences like gardening, mindfulness, cooking, and yoga. They would not have these experiences in a traditional classroom, and we want to change that. We believe that your child can learn more by experiencing and trying new things, and it is this idea that we’ve built our curriculum around.

What are the 3 types of play? The different types of hands-on activities that encourage play based learning and each of them serve different purposes. The types of plays available for learning is not limited to the three that have been listed here. However, these three were chosen specifically for their usage in classrooms as well as their adaptability for children between the ages of 2 and 5.

1. Child initiated play
This is a spontaneous play-based learning initiated by the child. It requires minimal participation of the adult and frees the adult in the equation to observe the child’s activities.

2. Adult initiated play
In this scenario, the adult in this equation initiated the play. While the direction of the play is being guided by specific instructions aimed at promoting learning, there are still a lot of fun elements and playfulness. The session is not entirely left to the whims of the adult.

3. Guided play
In this type of play, it doesn’t matter who initiated it. At the end of the day, the adult involved guides the child on the kinds of activities to engage in without being as specific. So, in this case, you could say that it is a 50/50 effort from both parties. It is the adult’s role to properly guide them down the right path whilst not restricting the child’s creativity.

Learning Through Nature Play

Before you bust out cue cards, worksheets, and activity books, know that being outdoors is inherently educational. Furthermore, “[k]ids learn by doing, manipulating and playing.” Typical educational learning such as flashcards, worksheets, activity pages are very limiting.

Backyard learning is fun, simple, cost-effective, and really engaging! Actually, the outdoors can provide better learning than within the confines of a desk, paper, and pencil.

While technology and academics have their place in our children’s lives, it is essential that our children play outside. The benefits of time in nature are too great to ignore.

Create a fun and exciting backyard playground for your child or your daycare for free or for few dollars! You don’t need expensive toys and fancy equipment to have an outdoor play area that will thrill your kids. These inexpensive ideas will make your yard the funnest place in the neighborhood. Jackie from Happy Hooligans

The natural play area in our backyard and it’s where the most care-free and magical moments of our day take place. The old-fashioned simplicity of our outdoor play area makes it an enchanting place for kids to play, explore and learn. Most of the play features in our backyard cost next-to-nothing. In most cases, I’ve used items from around the house, thrift-shop finds, and various bits and pieces from nature to create this outdoor play area for the kiddos.

Tight-ropes, pulleys, water walls, balance beams… all just pennies to make, provide countless hours of fun and learning.

They spark the imagination, challenge gross motor skills and co-ordination, and encourage critical thinking and creativity. To find her post in it's entirety Click Here


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Get Outside & Connect


A healthy lifestyle is a gift you can give to your kids and share with your family for the rest of your life. Save children from nature deficit disorder. You can start at any time of year. Pretty soon, you will realize that you have established the habit of getting outside every day. Get outside and connect with your family, yourself, and nature today! Use this list of 52 outside activities for kids to help you get outside every day, having fun and learning through play. You may also like this collection of outdoor learning and nature activities for kids.

  1. How to create a Nature Journal

  2. Spy on Squirrels

  3. Take Your Camera For a Walk

  4. Go Green

  5. Fun and Educational Shadow Activities

  6. Go on a Heart Shape Nature Scavenger Hunt

  7. Be Kind to Mother Earth

  8. Hug a Tree

  9. Take a Hike

  10. Bird Watching Activities for Kids

  11. Nature Sensory Bin Scavenger Hunt

  12. Walk and Balance on Trees

  13. Fly a Kite

  14. Search for Signs of Spring Scavenger Hunt

  15. Plant Sunflowers

  16. Investigate Worms

  17. Plant Spring Flowers

  18. Collect and Paint Rocks

  19. Make a Pledge to the Earth

  20. Nature Scavenger Hunt

  21. Go Fishing with Magnets Outside

  22. Observe Bees

  23. Search for Signs of Summer Scavenger Hunt

  24. Pick Flowers and Make Suncatchers

  25. Go, Berry Picking

  26. Water-Wise Sprinkler Play

  27. Search for Signs of Autumn Fall Scavenger Hunt

  28. Have a Picnic

  29. Explore a Shore

  30. Build a Sandcastle

  31. Go Bouldering

  32. Visit a Splash Pad

  33. Play in a Creek

  34. Rock Balancing Stone Stacking Art

  35. Climb a Tree

  36. Search for Signs of Autumn

  37. Go for a Bike Ride

  38. Roll down a Hill

  39. Visit an Apple Orchard

  40. Go on a Nature Hunt

  41. Visit a Corn Maze

  42. Visit a Pumpkin Patch

  43. The Benefits of Outside Free Play

  44. Catch and Count Falling Leaves

  45. 10 Ways to Have Fun Outside with Fall Leaves

  46. 10 Tips for a Safe Bonfire with Kids

  47. Collect Press and Preserve Fall Leaves

  48. 20 Ways to Play in the Rain

  49. Make Shadow Art

  50. Human Sundial Shadow Science Experiment

  51. Rainbow Rainy Day Art

  52. Search for Signs of Winter Scavenger Hunt

Get outside and connect with your family, yourself, and nature today!

Visit the Learning Center at The Rhythms of Play - Their Learning Center has a wealth of educational resources you can use to help children learn through play, all day--winter, spring, summer and fall!

If you and your child love being outdoors consider the alternative of a Forest School.

What is Forest School?

One of the current positive trends in education at the moment is the increasing popularity of Forest Schools.

This brand of learning has a fantastically wide range of benefits. It is the type of learning that many of us try introduce to our own kids on family days out and holidays: making dams, climbing trees, building fires. The sort of thing that everyone believes we all used to do when we were young, but children have for some reason stopped doing in the modern day.

Forest School is a child-centred inspirational learning process, that offers opportunities for holistic growth through regular sessions. It is a long-term program that supports play, exploration and supported risk taking. It develops confidence and self-esteem through learner inspired, hands-on experiences in a natural setting. The process helps and facilitates more than knowledge-gathering, it helps learners develop socially, emotionally, spiritually, physically and intellectually.

It creates a safe, non-judgmental nurturing environment for learners to try stuff out and take risks. Forest School inspires a deep and meaningful connection to the world and an understanding of how a learner fits within it.

Forest School’s learner-centered approach interweaves with the ever-changing moods and marvels, potential and challenges of the natural world through the seasons to fill every Forest School session and program with discovery and difference. Making each session and every experience a valuable one. Ultimate List of Forest Schools USA
Find a Forest School near you! UK

Forest School Activities using Great Books

Even though we love just exploring and enjoy observing nature, you can add in forest school activities to enhance the experience. If you can’t find or afford a local program, there are some really great forest school books full of activities like building and making fires, shelters, foraging and more.