About Hands-on Materials

Healthy children love to be active and play; they are naturally drawn to touch and explore their environments. Why not collaborate with this natural instinct and provide opportunities for experiential learning? Especially basic math, such as fractions, geometry, algebra etc. should be taught with tangible materials – to keep the joy of learning alive!

The hands-on experience builds a foundation for the abstract concepts of books and results in deep understanding rooted in the body. This is the foundation for heart-based intelligence. Children can naturally develop skills, such as fine and gross motor, sensorial and academic skills, logical, visual, and kinesthetic thinking. Children can make use of their natural capacity to focus all energies on one activity in the present moment, and master the elementary and middle school curriculum with ease.

See here an example of a simple academic hands-on learning environment prepared for 40 children as part of the Spirit Rock Meditation Center Family Day::

Most child-centered educators developed hands-on learning materials, knowing very well that children learn by doing. New Learning Culture Consulting uses selected materials, elements, and teaching skills from Maria Montessori, Friedrich Froebel, the Reggio Emilia approach, democratic education, Boris and Lena Nikitin, Rudolf Steiner/Waldorf, Célestin Freinet, Elfriede Hengstenberg, Eduard Seguin, Rebeca and Mauricio Wild, Anne Beate Huber, Claus-Dieter Kaul.

Materials are available for each developmental stage. Some materials are interesting for children of all ages. For example, a square root board can be used for square root equations, and also to make beautiful mandalas.Topics, usually taught only on paper, can be introduced with hands-on learning materials: Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, Times-tables, Division, Fractions, Decimals, Percentages, Money, Geometry, Square-roots, Basic Algebra, etc. Also language and grammar skills, science, history, astronomy and so forth.

Many materials can be made at home with art supplies and “trash material” like egg boxes. Check the DIY-links. Visit my ARTICLES and BLOGS pages for DIY instructions to materials or register for the NLC Online Course.

When hands-on materials are provided in a self-directed learning environment with healthy boundaries, children can learn at their own pace while receiving error feedback and experiencing the direct results of their activities. This is very empowering and allows for intelligence and even brilliance to emerge.


Note: I list these links because I like them. I don’t get paid.

Maria Montessori
Montessori materials are developed for kindergarten, elementary and high school ages. They are basically divided into practical life, sensorial language, mathematics, biology, and geography materials.

•To create your own materials/DIY:
My blog and articles

• To buy materials:
http://www.earlyschoolmaterials.com (Made in US, family-owned business)
http://www.montessoriequipment.com (Affordable Materials made in China or Thailand, not clear from website)
http://www.nienhuis.com (Founder Albert Nienhuis collaborated with Dr.Montessori)
http://www.etsy.com (A global hand-made market place)

Friedrich Froebel
Froebel materials, the gifts 1-9 and occupations are developed for kindergarten ages, but can be provided for elementary grades, too. They train spatial, mathematical, and architectural thinking. Frank Lloyd Wright loved them! They clarify the concepts of two and three dimensions, building, constructing, structuring, recognizing, and creating meaningful patterns.
They can be used in three different ways:
– Forms of Life (to tell/hear stories in connection with the child’s life),
– Forms of Knowledge (to learn specific math, geometry or language skills)
– Forms of Beauty (to explore symmetric patterns, such as mandalas, and assymmetrical patterns)

• Philosophy:

• Materials:
(Scott Bultman’s company, Author of “The Paradise of Childhood: Froebel Quotes”)

Boris and Lena Nikitin
The Russian parents Boris and Lena Nikitin raised their seven children in the 1960s believing firmly in the natural ability to learn and adjust to environments. They transformed their home into play and learning environments and developed highly intelligent learning materials which are being used in European alternative schools. I haven’t found them for purchase in the U.S. yet.


The ReggioEmilia approach
The Reggio Emila approach originated for kindergarten in Northern Italy after WWII. Today a few alternative schools are continuing this approach for elemenatry children.
To summarize, Reggio Emilia is based on the following:
– Raising awareness for community through participation in the village/town events, and providing a community space and art gallery at the school
– Developing the child’s “One-Hundred Languages” (a famous poem by founder Loris Malaguzzi) through art, in fact the children are provided with an elaborate art studio that allows also self-directed learning.
– “Look at the child” is a descriptive term for teachers getting inspired by the child’s world and imagination, and allowing an emerging curriculum through co-creation with the child
– High awareness of “the environment being a third teacher”, next to the child, and the teacher.

• North American Reggio Emilia Alliance NAREA:

• Art Supplies:

• Materials

Rudolf Steiner/Waldorf
• Philosophy:

• Materials

Célestin Freinet
• Philosophy:

• Personal Writings:

Emmi Pikler and Anna Tardos
• Wisdom for being with babies:

Elfriede Hengstenberg
• Materials:

Rebeca and Mauricio Wild
• Philosophy:
“Raising Curious Creative Confident Kids” (book)

Eduard Seguin
• Materials:

Ancient Materials
• China: Abacus
• Incas: Taptana, Yupana

Child-friendly Furniture
http://www.communityplaythings.com (Made in US, family-owned business)

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