Hands-On Play Activities and Learning Ideas for Kids

Give a man a fish, and he will live for a day. Teach a man how to fish, and he will live for a lifetime.
Hands-on play is an important part of a child's learning process.

Hands-on play is an important part of a child's learning process.

When it comes to the idea of learning, I always go back to these powerful and inspiring words. The concept of learning by doing has never been more emphasized than when I became a mother. Now, having hands-on play activities and discovering new learning ideas for the little one have become a priority at home.

But why is it important to expose children to hands-on play activities? One of the biggest benefits of hands-on learning is that it forces a child to think, rather than depend on an adult to feed them the lesson or knowledge. 

There are many scientific studies that support the value of the hands-on approach in learning, including a UChicago research led by How the Body Knows Its Mind author and one of the leading mind-body connection experts, Professor Sian Beilock. Published in Pyschological Science, the study determined that a hands-on approach to learning helps to activate the sensory and motor-related parts of the brain. This, in the process, helps children develop problem-solving skills while more likely to retain the lessons, all because they were able to physically experience the learning process through play. 

In an interview published on UChicagoNews, Beilock said: "“In many situations, when we allow our bodies to become part of the learning process, we understand better.”

Current hands-on play obsession at home is this  Cubbie Lee toy Company Wooden Train Set .

Current hands-on play obsession at home is this Cubbie Lee toy Company Wooden Train Set.

Hands-on Play Through Building Blocks

At home, one of our favorite hands-on play activities is constructing things using building blocks. The little one is currently obsessed of her new Cubbie Lee Toy Company's Wooden Train Set. Okay, I'm not going to lie, the entire family is actually obsessed of this train set, primarily because it is made of premium wood—and nothing brings back nostalgia more than wooden toys!

For me, there's something so cathartic about building things with your hands, of being the creator who holds the power to build anything your mind could imagine. For the hubby, sharing the learning moment with the little one brings him back to his childhood days. "Oh, I remember how excited I was when I first built my first-ever train set! I was about your age," he recalls as we were all gathered on the floor trying to piece together the train set for the first time.  

For the little one though, aside from the novelty of a new toy, there's a sense of accomplishment to be able to sort out the 70 wooden pieces in this train set, follow general guidelines and successfully build a train set for the first-time in her life. For any six-year-old and given how elaborate this train set is (it even includes a bridge set), it's a major accomplishment!

"Look mommy, I did it! I helped build this train set and it looks so great!" she exclaims after the last piece was added. 

The joy on the little one's face after successfully building this train set says it all.

The joy on the little one's face after successfully building this train set says it all.

Hands-On Play is Not Easy

Although hands-on play is highly encouraged, it's often not easy, especially for children who have the tendency to quickly get frustrated and impatient. In the course of building this wooden train set, the little one had her moments of frustrations. "But daddy, it's not fitting right!" she complains with a hint of frustration. 

"Try another piece and look how the wooden piece curves," her daddy offers helpful tips without completely taking over the experience for the little one. As a parent, it can be very tempting to step in and do the activity for the child to keep tantrums at bay or save you the sanity from the thousand questions that may come along with the experience of hands-on play. But building a toy yourself defeats the purpose of helping a child develop better problem-solving skills.

Evoking childhood nostalgia, this elaborate train set comes with 70 premium wooden pieces.

Evoking childhood nostalgia, this elaborate train set comes with 70 premium wooden pieces.

But how do you keep a child from getting frustrated in the middle of a hands-on play activity? My mommy-tested trick involves being present while the little one is at play and helping her discover a solution to the problem for herself by asking her helpful questions.

For instance, to help her determine why pieces are not fitting right, I would ask questions like: "Why do you think it's not fitting right? Did you look at how the pieces are shaped together?"

By asking leading questions, I am able to guide the little one but still encourage her to continue to explore solutions to the problem. You'll be surprised at how kids often rise up to a challenge once they know they are being supported, so don't be too quick to feed them of a solution to a problem. 

Creative play is important to help a child develop problem-solving skill sets.

Creative play is important to help a child develop problem-solving skill sets.

Fun Hands-On Play Activities

Aside from building blocks, there are many other fun hands-on play activity ideas to try at home, including Cubbie Lee Toy Company's wooden shape sorters, tea sets and puzzles for babies and younger kids, to do-it-yourself crafts and sensory play activities, such as the following:

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For more fun hands-on play activity ideas, I often visit education.com as they have a ton of great learning ideas to kick boredom out and help your little one enjoy creative play. How do you encourage hands-on play with your curious little ones? Which hands-on play activity does your kid enjoy the most? Let's share ideas in the comment box below.  

Disclosure: *This post is sponsored by Cubbie Lee Toy Company, makers of premium wooden toys. We work only with brands we love, so we offer only honest opinions and reviews. To learn more about these wooden toys, check out their website or follow them on Instagram or Facebook.

The Power of Play: How to Raise Creative Children

"Mommy, can you play with me?" asks the little one as I was putting dishes into the dishwasher. Aside from "May I please have a snack?" (I'm not exaggerating when I tell you this tiny six-year-old can nibble faster than a Pac Man!), the question about play is one of the most recurring questions in our home. Understandably, as an only child, the little one turns to us for playtime—so we often happily oblige and take on the role of a playmate.

It's funny how mine and the hubby's idea of playtime are often in polar opposites. I tend to favor low-key activities, like playing house with dolls or doing crafts. The hubby's playtime is often more physical and leaves the house in chaos like it has just been hit by a roaring tornado! Often, it involves chasing each other around the house and wrestling on the bed. Ugh, the sight of the mess still haunts me!

Raising creative children means giving them opportunities to learn through play.

Raising creative children means giving them opportunities to learn through play.

But why is playtime so important in our home? For kids, playtime is actually learning time. There's an overwhelming number of scientific evidence that supports the idea of play encouraging learning and creativity at an early age. In fact, one of the play facts compiled by thegeniusofplay.org states "through imaginative play, children become more creative, perform better at school and develop a problem-solving approach to learning."

So, as a parent, I don't frown upon the idea of a child playing all day. If the goal is to raise a creative child, play should have a room in our home. 

What are some ways to encourage creative play? Here are a few mommy-tested tips:

Set up a safe space for play.

Apartment-living is often a challenge in terms of finding space. We don't have the extra room to turn into a play room, so we have to compromise and create a play area in the little one's bedroom where she can safely play with her toys. She loves setting up pretend house for her dolls inside her walk-in closet, so I've allocated some space for her do this. One thing I keep in mind is to make sure cabinets are securely bolted into the wall as children like to climb on furniture, posing a safety issue.

Invest in toys that allow a child to use both hands and imagination.

Construction toys, or those that require assembly, often challenge a child's ability to be inventive. Among all her toys, the little one is recently obsessed of Magformer's Shimmer and Shine Carnival set.

Magformers toys are magnetic so that, when pieced together, they can be built into different geometric shapes. The Magformers Shimmer and Shine Carnival set comes in 64 pieces with double-sided character cards of cartoon show favorites like Shimmer, Shine, Tala and Leah. Each card can be inserted into the magnetic square pieces to add a fun sparkle to any creation.

Magformers Magnetic Shimmer and Shine Carnival Set encourages problem-solving and creativity.

Magformers Magnetic Shimmer and Shine Carnival Set encourages problem-solving and creativity.

Magformers is such a fun toy to play, the little one could spend hours on the floor creating any of the eight design ideas shown on a fold-out idea mat that comes inside the box. Perhaps one of the reasons why Magformers is a big hit among children (even winning Creative Child Magazine's 2017 Top Toy of the Year Award), the concept of a construction magnetic toy is both challenging and rewarding. The little one sometimes find herself having to solve problems while figuring out how each piece connects when assembled, but also takes a tremendous amount of pride after completing a design.

"Mommy, mommy, I made a Shimmer and Shine genie ball by myself!" she once proudly announced. Her favorite to create, however, is the ferris wheel ride as she pulls her dolls out and pretend to get them into a carnival fair! How adorable is that?    

There is no doubt that finding the right toy that challenges a child's imagination creates more opportunities for the little one to be more creative.

Supervise, but don't be intrusive.

I sometimes am guilty of this. In an attempt to help the little one, I'd catch myself instructing her how to do things, rather than letting her explore and discover for herself. If we are to ignite creativity, we need to learn to step back as parents and simply give our children the opportunity to make mistakes, figure out what they did wrong and correct their own mistakes. 

I understand other parent's frustrations and eagerness to step in to show kids how things should be done, but I've discovered early that kids will surprise you with their creativity and resourcefulness if you allow them.

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Learn to say "yes". 

Ugh, this is tough, even for me! As parents, we often say "no" more than we say "yes." But by learning not to be extremely restrictive, I learned that I am giving the little one the freedom to imagine things and see the world from her point of view. 

For instance, when the little one asked to keep paper rolls and boxes so she could build a mini house for her dolls, my first instinct was to say "no" to more mess in the house. But I decided to go against my knee-jerk reaction and allowed her to keep them and build her "masterpiece." What a milestone accomplishment it was after she finished her creation!

As parents, I realize it is not our duty to teach our children how things are done in the past. Instead, it is our duty to protect their natural curiosity and love of discovery. If we manage to do this, then we have done our job in raising creative children who will soon move the world.

Disclosure: *This post is sponsored by Magformers Magnetic Toys. We work only with brands we love, so we offer only honest opinions and reviews.