Having a busy four year old boy, hands-on projects go from being vaguely desirable to essential. I've been a bit nervous about hands-on projects as, in many ways, I would prefer to learn from a book but for active, little people there has been little option.
Here is a little about what I've learnt about hands-on projects.
The final outcome is less important than learning along the way
The learning comes from the process of doing the project not from a perfect end result which is just as well!
We recently made a "castle" from boxes. I've seen far more beautiful model castles but this provided an opportunity to talk about the structure of a castle as well as the deficiencies of our model, in particular, its lack of a dungeon.
Be realistic about mess
Hands-on projects and little children do involve mess. We use the kitchen table covered with an oil cloth for painting projects but some of the most messy projects have to wait for the summer when they can be done in the garden.
More than one child can be involved
Hands-on projects can be used at different levels. This particularly applies to hands-on science. Today, Middle Son did a demonstration to show that carbon dioxide will prevent a candle burning. He looked at the science but the younger children watched and heard us talk about oxygen being needed to support combustion.
Projects don't need to be long
Over-long, complex projects can be overwhelming. We've taken to doing a ten minute science activity mid-morning, mainly, for my four year old to enjoy but also for Youngest Daughter, aged 6. None of these projects take more than 10 minutes to prepare, many much less and 10 minutes to carry out.
Learning about ice and melting by making an ice tower.
Youngest Son has times when he has to occupy himself, for example, playing quietly with puzzles or toys while I hear his sister read or explain maths to his brother but hands-on projects are something where he is an active participant.
Investigating how to melt ice.