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Monday, February 14, 2011

How Activities Ruin School

Several months ago I spent 30+ hours of my free time making a desktop wallpaper. It was a fantastic project. I learned a ton about Gimp and ended up with a sweet-looking computer background. Win!

My Sonlight Desktop (did not take me 30 hours)

The only way I learn how to use a computer program is by sitting down and using it. I have an amazing auditory capacity for remembering stuff. I am also an intensely visual person. But if I don't get a chance to actually do a technical task, I'll never learn how to do it. I am absolutely all for certain hands-on learning experiences.

In high school I had an incredible world history teacher. I loved going to his class. He made learning fun and inspired me to work really hard. For one assignment, I created an 8-page magazine about Martin Luther. I wrote articles. I drew pictures. I poured hours into the thing.

And today?

I don't remember any of it.

I'm not alone. One homeschool mom emailed the following about "silly activities":
They are time-wasters, in my opinion. I'd rather spend time discussing the content than making a craft to 'remember' it. Kids remember things that mean something to them without those activities.

I completely agree.

Sure, if your children want to spend 30+ hours making something because they enjoy the topic or want to express themselves, let them go for it. But there is no academic benefit that warrants you taking the time out of your busy school day to do some forced hands-on activity in a vain attempt to reinforce a lesson. None. Arts & Crafts are wonderful things to do as part of fine motor skill development, creative expression and artistic development. But hands-on activities are definitely not worth the effort as a memory aid.

Don't let needless hands-on activities ruin your school year. Let your children play quietly with Legos or doodle while you read. Encourage your children to take time out of their day to develop their artistic expression and technical abilities. By all means, add Art to your studies. But, please, do not fall prey to the pressure to add activities to your History studies.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


Amy said...

Glad to know I'm not the only one that thinks a ton of crafts are a bit silly. I mean, my kids like creating things now and then, but it's usually not related to school topics. And 2 weeks after all those hands on projects, where do they end up? In the garbage, right? What does that teach kids? Sorry, I'll step off my soapbox. :)

Anna K said...

Boy, oh boy. I just love your insights. Next year will be the first year that we officially homeschool, since my son will be kindergarten age. I have a friend that sends her son to public school. Several weeks ago, she showed me all the arts and crafts projects that her son did in a year. I was amazed by all of it ... and then a little scared. (1.) Getting everything together to do stuff like this and then this quantity of projects throughout a year sounds expensive and daunting for a homeschooler and (2.) My son does not love doing art projects. They are not by a long shot his favorite thing to do most of the time. I couldn't wrap my mind around how I was going to get all this together and them if I should MAKE him still down and do craft projects on a regular basis. (As silly as that sounds.)

Another friend who who homeschools recently gave me some wise words, though. One of them was to fight the "But they're doing this in school, so we have to do this at home" mentality. That's part of the reason we are homeschooling -- So we don't have to do everything schools doing. This includes every single solitary math problem, when the child has already mastered the concept or a million craft projects that we're all miserable doing.

Thank you so much for this post!

Leah said...

Thank you for this article. You just helped me make my decision regarding whether or not to use Sonlight....we aren't. You see, you neglect to realize that MANY children are hands on learners and that those activities that may or may not end up in the garbage in two weeks, really help them to focus and learn. You may learn one way, but not everyone does.

The Hibbard Family said...

Today, this post is almost bringing me to tears. I have friends who are so fantastic at working crafts and activities into their curriculum. Not only do such things not come naturally to me, I also so incredibly do not enjoy them. So, I fight the feeling that I am neglecting an aspect of my children's education. I feel especially like a failure on days like today - Valentine's Day - because I just don't do all the fun, cutesy crafts, decorations, and parties.

The truth is, I know in my heart I don't have to be like my friends. But, I still feel guilty sometimes that I'm not. I feel like my kids are missing out and will resent that. Your post reminded me that such things are all in my head. I had to stop and think about what we DID do today and how special it made the kids feel. It's really freeing for someone else to reinforce what I know in my head to be true.

Oh, and if I may address your statement, Leah - one of my dearest friends is one of the most crafty, hands-on people I know. Her family thrives on crafts and activities, and they learn best that way. They have also used Sonlight for six years and would be first in line to tell you that they can't imagine using anything else. That's the beauty of Sonlight - I've never seen a curriculum (and I've been exposed to a lot of them!!!) that has been so easily shaped to fit nearly every learning style conceivable. So, I definitely wouldn't write it off simply because of statements like these. I would only write it off if you prayerfully feel God leading you in a different direction.

Lisa said...

I read Leah's comment and shook my head in agreement. While we do use Sonlight (and don't plan on switching curriculum anytime soon), I do add in activities and lapbooks from time to time. The thing I've realized is that the things that my children and I are most likely to remember are those things for which we have created our own lapbook.

We're all different...God has seen to it lol.

Anonymous said...

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se7en said...

Oh I can't wait to read the follow up post to this one!!! I have to say that my kids do heaps of arts and crafts and most of them have absolutely nothing to do with their curriculum... they are certainly not doing them to "as part of fine motor skill development, creative expression and artistic development." They are doing them because they are fun!!! And a great way to play together and make memories together... have to say: Arts and Crafts are fun especially when you don't do them by the book, any book!!!!

Miss Janet said...

Thank you very much. Your posts inspire me. They help me not to worry about typical homeschool mom stuff! :) There's nothing normal about me or the way we homeschool.


Mandy said...

I hope what this post means is:

It is not necessary to force my kids to do hands-on activities for every subject every day. It is fine to do them when they interest my kids and they fit into our schedule.

Sonlight provides plenty of ideas for hands-on activities (way more than my family could ever complete), and they are there to serve us - not the other way around. I can complete a week of school with my sons and do all or none of the activities and they will still learn a lot. If my children benefit more from hands-on activities, great. If not, we don't have to do them.

I love the freedom to choose what fits with my kids' learning styles and our schedule! I don't have to be a slave to the curriculum - instead I can mold it to fit my family. Sonlight provides it all, in my opinion. I couldn't be more satisfied.

Robin E. said...

Ack, I had a long old comment typed up and lost it when I tried to submit. Anyway, the gist of it was my experiences as a student and a teacher is that I agree, Luke. Great post.

Kim said...

Luke, you quoted ME in your article. I feel famous. Well, at least Sonlight famous :) And of course, I agree completely with you! Well put.

Teresa said...

Dear Leah,

I noticed your comment on the Sonlight blog today. For what it's worth, I have to tell you I completely agree with you on the craft thing, although I do use and love Sonlight. I have used Sonlight from the very beginning, with the Pre-K package. I can't say enough about the wonderful books they put together in the elementary grades. (We are currently using Core 5). We have had so many memories "living through" these stories, many of which literally brought me to tears. Fortunately, there are many good programs to select from today. I just felt compelled to tell you if there are things you really like about Sonlight, don't let the craft thing discourage you from using it. It really is a well organized, literature rich program. All in all, I had a horrible public school experience. The only thing I remember about one of my classes (I don't even remember if it was Social Studies, we didn't really have History) was a salt dough map of Africa we made. I actually received an "A" on it and I actually had fun and learned a thing or two about Africa. I've heard many complaints about S.L. not using hands on activities. This has never bothered me, there is no perfect curriculum and there's nothing wrong with supplementing. For several years now, we have used Amy Pak's (Homeschool in the Woods) Time Travelers History unit studies, coordinating it with what we are learning using Sonlight. (Sonlight uses her timeline figures.) I can not say enough about how much fun we have had and how much we've learned using these right along with Sonlight. I have also seen websites entirely devoted to great ideas to supplement Sonlight. (I think it was called Sonlight gravy.) My children LOVE history and they retain so much! For the first time in my life, I LOVE history-it's our favorite part of the day. The other thing I tell new homeschoolers is don't let other moms intimidate you with what they are doing. It's great to get together and learn from each other and toss ideas around. But you need to decide what's best for your family. Sorry for the long e-mail. I was just hoping to encourage you and I'm glad you posted that comment! I think I may post one myself later.

Best Wishes,

Caleb said...

Hi, I'm Teresa's son, and I wanted to 'ditto' on her comments. We love Sonlight, but I disagree with the assumption that hands on activities don't have any meaning in the academic world. I have really enjoyed the activities provided by sources like Amy Pak. I feel that I've really retained a ton of information not only by reading, but by "living through" our literature (using hands on activites!). One of the many fun memories I have was making 'hard tack' while reading about sailors! I understand it may involve some work before and after, but it's worth the effort!


Caleb Cook

Caleb said...

Hi, I'm Teresa's son, and I wanted to 'ditto' on her comments. We love Sonlight, but I disagree with the assumption that hands on activities don't have any meaning in the academic world. I have really enjoyed the activities provided by sources like Amy Pak. I feel that I've really retained a ton of information not only by reading, but by "living through" our literature (using hands on activites!). One of the many fun memories I have was making 'hard tack' while reading about sailors! I understand it may involve some work before and after, but it's worth the effort!


Caleb Cook

Kim said...

I think Luke's comments have been taken out of context. He is talking about "needless" activities and specifically activities related "History studies." So was I when I wrote the email he referenced to Sonlight.

I am using a curriculum other than Sonlight this year that has what I called "silly activities" in it. For instance, we are learning about Alabama today and I'm supposed to make sweet potato pie with my son. I hate baking and I hate sweet potato pie. And we have suggestions like that at least twice a week. Not necessary in my opinion. But I can't help feeling like we're 'missing something' if I don't do those things.

That's not an issue with Sonlight. The compelling book selections cause a child to retain the info without making cookies, cakes, pies and crafts. Those sorts of activities add unnecessary time to our day and I skip them most days. But it makes my current curriculum seem weak. So I end up supplementing with books from the Sonlight list. Should have stuck with Sonlight in the first place.

I am in no way saying activities aren't important in subjects like Science - where an experiment is often crucial to understanding the concept. Neither is Sonlight. Just look at their Science curriculum. But baking bread and gluing cotton balls to construction paper aren't the things we do in Science (well, sometimes, I suppose baking bread could be considered science . . .). Luke even said in this article that technical tasks have to be done to be learned by him. I would consider Science technical.

I hope maybe this helps clear some things up. Hopefully Luke will comment at some point later, too.

Unknown said...

Crafts that reinforce what we are learning in Sonlight history lessons are useless?

So far what I have experienced is my 6 yr old does not remember what we read together about history. We MUST craft about it and talk in the process for her to remember. I am in my third Sonlight core and am just starting to add in hands on craft history lessons. This has become necessary for our family, for my dd to help her connect with the material in a tactile way.

You cannot totally dismiss a significant way of learning.

pretty disappointing post.

SonlightBlog Reader said...

Not surprising considering Sonlight does not have hands on activities. However, I really didn't think that Sonlight would stoop to condemning something just because they don't offer it.

Luke Holzmann said...

Good stuff, friends. I'd like to just paste this response in for now since I'm posting elsewhere. I didn't want my blog readers to be left out <smile>. And don't worry, I'll get to your specific comments later today.

Activities do not ruin school. I didn't mean to say that in my post. What I was referring to in my post's title (how hands-on ruins school) is the needless pressure to find something that loosely ties to a topic so it can reinforce the lesson. It's not worth the time. And those kinds of things--as far as I'm aware--do not have an academic benefit that makes them worth your effort. If you know of something that says otherwise, I'd love to read it!

Sonlight absolutely wants to support families who enjoy/benefit from hands-on activities. That's why we offer so many of them in our younger Cores and continue to develop them. But, unlike the activities I was writing about in my post, we try to make them time-effective and tied to the topic at hand.

Also, as I mention in the beginning of my post, some things require hands-on interaction. Please don't overlook that fact.


Luke Holzmann said...

Okay, I was going to go through and address your comments one-by-one--as I usually do--but it's now late in the day and I'm have trouble figuring out what more I need to add or clarify or address or answer or... whatever <smile>. So, if you like me to talk more about something pertaining to this issue, please comment or drop me an email. I don't want to "leave you hanging," but I feel like it's all been said fairly well already.

Thanks, everyone, for jumping in here! I have very much enjoyed your feedback.


Anna K said...

It's interesting how different people interpreted Luke's posting in such different ways. I love what he said and I came back to look today to see what other comments were posted. I was surprised by the range of what people said and how differently people read what he said.

In a nutshell, here's what I got from it: Crafts and hands-on activities definitely have their place and are important -- But do we really need to feel the pressure of having to come up with SOMETHING hands-on or craft-oriented to go with every lesson? My almost 5 year old loves anything about knights and castles. I could sit there and read non-fiction books about knights without him getting bored -- And I am amazed by what he retains just by reading to him. I don't think that he would neccessarily get anything out of doing an art project for this. In fact, he would probably be protesting the whole time and asking, "Can't we just read more about knights and castles instead?"

That being said, we have done a lot of other subjects and I have incorporated reading a book, watching a short non-fiction video and then doing a project. (It could be an experiment or it might be drawing something, building a model, etc.) Sometimes, like when we were learning about planets, he wanted to draw a picture of the planets and their moons, the asteroid belt, the great red spot on Jupiter, etc. Another time, when we were learning about skyscrapers and their construction, we built a model one with a dug out foundation and the building itself out of marshmallows and toothpicks. And guess what? I think he definitely learned a lot by doing these things. He enjoyed these projects and is still proud of them.

I think the point is to know your child and what is going to be helpful and not to just pepper our teaching with tons of craft projects because we "have to." I have not used Sonlight before, but from everything I see, Sonlight seems to give students a rich, well-rounded education. We'll be using it next year.

Teresa Cook said...

Boy, this is a hot topic! I posted an overly lengthy comment yesterday and just wanted to clarify.........first, I am now enjoying, no Loving, history, for the first time in my life because of our Sonlight readers. Between all of my children, I spend about 2 to 3 hours daily reading for History, and we love it! If we had never done a single activity, we still would have had a wonderful learning experience. However, the "extra" activities we do pertaining to history have been great fun and have added to what we've learned. I would just encourage any new home schooling moms out there, don't worry about what your friends are doing, and if you are adding on hands on activities, do it because you and your children enjoy them and are having fun, not because you feel like you have too. I'm glad God made us all different, it's much more interesting. Maybe I can share a craft idea and someone can teach my child Greek. Ha ha Sorry for another overly lengthy post!

momamia475 said...

I have homeschooled for years now and with 5 children, have seldom been able to use any one thing without adjusting it to the child being taught. Hence, the beauty of homeschooling. I am using Sonlight with my two youngest and everyone is loving it. When we start feeling, booked down:), I will have an arts day. We sometimes adapt it to our history or science but we do it mostly for fun. I have had lapbook classes, notebooking classes, and history craft kits but I try to stick mostly to my Sonlight schedule. I have come to trust the way they have Bible, History and Read Alouds relate and reinforce each other. The timeline book is one of my children's favorites and we use it to do informal testing and reinforcing what they learn. Dad comes home and I have them tell (narrate) what the figures are in the timeline book. If my child is artsy we draw a picture about something they read. I guess when it comes down to it, I see arts and crafts as more of a creative stress reliever for my child. All of us are unlikely to learn much when we are overwhelmed or unhappy, so there is where I put the value of crafts. God created us all differently and so He gives you permission to add something to Sonlight or "my word" SKIP a book:) I have thought of ditching my math text for a while and just sit on the floor and teach my kids to count money, tell time, tie their shoes or any number of things my parents taught me without the help (or hindrance) of a book.


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