I have been feeling the disconnect in our learning for a while now.
As my boys have gotten older, the curriculum, learning materials, activities and ideas have become harder and harder to find.
There are plenty of traditional programs. Textbooks, worksheets, multiple choice quizzes – I can easily find those.
The problem is that my boys most certainly do not learn best with a traditional approach. Yes, their learning differences play a part in this dilemma, to be sure. But the truth is, in middle and high school, I also learned better with a more hands-on approach. In fact today, I only remember the projects and activities that allowed for creativity, movement and even a little mess.
This year, my boys are each selecting a continent and learning everything they possible can about it. The idea is that they can then teach each other what they’ve learned. My oldest in knee-deep in Asia, while my youngest is enjoying everything that Australia has to offer.
(Incidentally, I love this approach. It’s easy to maintain focus when each boy is only focused on one part of the world. Plus, they have been more diligent and creative in their study as they prepare to teach each other.)
I serve as a kind of hotel concierge in these projects. I give them options for activities and learning I think they might enjoy, and then send them on their way.
Knowing that both need a more hands-on approach in order to really learn and be able to “teach back” what they have retained, I have spent the last couple of months gathering as many ideas for hands-on resources as possible.
These are my favorites.
Hands-On Geography For Older Kids
Pin It! Maps
I know I have mentioned this resource before, but I have to say, Pin It! Maps continues to be a wonderful way for my boys to engage in geography. The maps are age appropriate and detailed. More than the maps, the pinning process is something both of my boys, despite their differences, enjoy. I am not sure why it is so mesmerizing for them, but I have been pleasantly surprised, over and over again, at how easily my boys engage in map work with our Pin It! Maps.
I actually bought the book, Hungry Planet (aff. link) for me – because I’m a nerd and I love this kind of inside look at other families and cultures – but it has sparked several different ideas for learning about the boys’ respective continents. It includes a look at a native family’s grocery shop for the week, a description of an average day in the life of the family, and a favorite local recipe. With my help, and using this book as a resource, the boys are each making a meal from one of their continent’s countries and sharing it with all of us.
Seriously, this might be my go-to, instant hands-on learning tip for every subject, not just geography (see picture below). It’s perfect for fun and easy practice. We have used this almost no prep idea to learn different river systems, key cities, and other geographic landmarks. They roll the dice and then locate the corresponding item on their maps. Super simple, super easy, and super hands-on.
I cannot leave out how essential poster-boards have been in my quest for hands-on ways to explore the world. At 2 for $1 at the Dollar Store, I have stocked up. Poster-boards allow my boys to display their work and act as a “cheat sheet” as they teach each other. Fonts are larger, crafts are included and overall, a poster-board allows for a better summary of what they have learned than any term paper ever could. This simple addition easily accommodates learning differences if needed, and feels more “official” to my sons. (For a more comprehensive example of how effective this can be, take a peek at my son’s Australia’s Awesome and Deadly Animals project. He is so proud of it and I am too!)
Geography is just the beginning, I think , in my quest for more hands-on, age appropriate learning. This is not only a more effective way to help my boys learn, it is significantly more fun and engaging for all of us.
For more on hands-on learning: