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8 Engaging Hand-On Activities for Early Learners

Hands-on learning activities are a powerful tool for early education, offering numerous benefits supporting cognitive development, fine motor skills, and creativity. 

Rather than passively receiving information, hands-on learning activities engage multiple senses and promote a deeper understanding of the tasks that they are given. 

By incorporating these activities, teachers and parents can create a more engaging, effective, and enjoyable learning experience for all children, particularly those who learn best through active, hands-on engagement. 

These activities make education and learning interesting and engaging for younger children, as they actively involve them in the learning process. This approach not only makes learning fun but also prepares children with the skills and confidence they need for future success.

Activity 1: Origami Fun

Origami, the Japanese art of paper folding, is an engaging and educational activity that provides a host of developmental benefits for early learners. 

By improving hand-eye coordination, sequencing skills, mathematical reasoning, and fostering creativity, origami becomes a "no-brainer" in early education. Moreover, it enhances social skills and cultural awareness, making it a well-rounded educational tool. 

Simple and delightful origami projects suitable for young children are making origami dogs, butterflies, frogs and flowers. 

Activity 2: Sensory Bins

Sensory bins are another tool for stimulating the senses of young children. It's a hands-on experience that enhances their cognitive and motor skills. These bins are filled with various materials that children can touch, feel, and manipulate, like rice, beans, or water beads. Children can explore different textures and sensations. 

To make sensory bins extra fun, have them themed to encourage imaginative play. For example, a farm-themed bin might include toy animals, dried corn, and hay, while an ocean exploration bin could feature blue-coloured water beads, seashells, and small marine animal toys. 

Activity 3: Playdough Play

Playdough is more than just a toy; it is a powerful educational tool that fosters creativity, enhances fine motor skills, and provides a fun, hands-on learning experience. The acts of squishing, rolling, and flattening the dough help develop the muscles needed for fine motor skills, which are essential for tasks such as writing and buttoning clothes. 

Manipulating playdough enhances hand-eye coordination and encourages creativity, as children use their imagination to create different sculptures and designs. Playdough activities can aid in emotional regulation, providing a soothing and therapeutic outlet for children to express their feelings and focus their energy.

DIY Playdough Recipe

Making playdough at home is easy and ensures that the playdough is safe and free from harmful chemicals. Here is a simple recipe to try:


* 3 cups all-purpose white flour
* 2 tablespoons cream of tartar
* 1 cup + 2 tablespoons table salt
* 3-4 tablespoons cooking oil (canola, coconut, etc.); start with 3 and if the dough is a little dry, slowly work in a little more
* 3 cups hot water
* Optional: Food colouring


  1. In a large bowl, mix the flour, cream of tartar, and salt.
  2. Add the cooking oil and hot water to the dry ingredients, starting with 3 tablespoons of oil.
  3. Stir the mixture until it begins to form a dough. If the dough is too dry, add a bit more oil until it reaches the desired consistency.
  4. If you want to add colour, divide the dough into portions and knead a few drops of food colouring into each portion until the colour is evenly distributed.

Activity 4: Nature Walks and Scavenger Hunts

Nature walks and scavenger hunts are fantastic ways to engage early learners in outdoor exploration. These activities promote physical exercise, enhance mental performance, and develop language and recognition skills. 

By incorporating themed scavenger hunts and following safety guidelines, you can create a fun and enriching experience for a child to connect with nature and encourage lifelong learning.

Ideas for Nature Scavenger Hunts

Here are some themed ideas to get started:

  1. Colour Hunt: Give children a list of colours and ask them to find natural items matching each colour, such as green leaves, yellow flowers, and brown rocks.
  2. Shape Hunt: Focus on finding items with specific shapes, like round stones, star-shaped leaves, or square patches of moss.
  3. Texture Hunt: Encourage children to find and describe items with different textures, such as smooth pebbles, rough bark, and soft moss.

Activity 5: Storytelling With Puppets

Puppets are effective storytelling tools that enhance language development in young children. Using puppets in interactive storytelling allows children to "see" the story, understand its structure, and build background knowledge, all while having fun. Creating simple puppets from household items like paper bags or cardboard boxes is fun. 

Puppets also help with social development. Additionally, they allow children to express emotions comfortably and enhance listening skills while improving motor skills. 

Activity 6: Building With Blocks 

Block play, whether open-ended or structured, creates a platform for children to develop crucial skills in a fun and interactive way. By incorporating various types of blocks and diverse challenges, educators and parents can support holistic development in early learners. Learning through play creates a fun and dynamic approach to learning new things. 

Different types of blocks cater to the varied developmental stages of early learners. Wooden blocks, for instance, provide a tactile and durable option that supports fine motor skills and coordination. Foam blocks, on the other hand, are lightweight and safe, making them ideal for younger children who are just beginning to explore building and stacking.

Open-ended block play offers a wealth of developmental opportunities for children. Through free building, children are encouraged to unleash their imagination. Integrating storytelling with blocks allows for the creation of intricate scenes and narratives, promoting language development and imaginative play. Activities like colour and shape sorting enhance cognitive abilities and deepen understanding of classification. Structured building challenges add another layer of engagement, as children replicate patterns, tackle height challenges, and construct bridges, all while honing attention to detail, spatial reasoning, and basic engineering concepts.

Activity 7: Sensory Art Exploration

Sensory art exploration offers young children a hands-on experience that engages their senses and fosters creativity and self-expression. Activities such as finger painting and collage-making are a great way for children to explore different textures, colours, and materials in a safe and stimulating environment. 

Benefits of Sensory Art

* Promotes Self-Expression
* Fosters Creativity
* Develops Fine Motor Skills
* Enhances Sensory Awareness

Tips for Setting Up a Mess-Free Art Space

* Use washable materials for easy clean-up.
* Protect surfaces with tablecloths or newspapers.
* Provide aprons or smocks to prevent clothing mess.
* Set up a cleanup area with soap and water.
* Supervise children closely for the safe use of materials.

Activity 8: Cooking and Baking Together

Cooking and baking with children is a valuable hands-on learning experience that promotes a range of skills, from math and science to literacy and life skills. Engaging young children in the kitchen teaches them valuable lessons about food, nutrition, and the importance of following instructions.

Simple and Safe Recipes for Young Children

  1. No-Bake Cookies: Combine oats, peanut butter, honey, and cocoa powder in a bowl. Shape the mixture into small balls and refrigerate until firm. This recipe requires no cooking and is safe for children to prepare with adult supervision.
  2. Fruit Kebabs: Provide children with a variety of fresh fruits such as strawberries, grapes, and pineapple chunks. Let them skewer the fruit onto wooden skewers to create colourful and nutritious kebabs.
  3. DIY Pizza: Use pre-made pizza dough or English muffins as a base. Let children top their pizzas with tomato sauce, cheese, and their favourite toppings before baking in the oven.