Reuters – “Working with hands helps develop kids’ brains”

This short article is a great reminder that technology is NOT the “be all and end all” element missing from school – it’s an important part (tool), but there are other neglected pieces we need to re-emphasize to make our schools what they could and should be. Reuters has a story making the rounds this week about one of the most important parts:

Working with hands helps develop kids’ brains - Playing online vs. hands-on activities tied to cognitive decline, study says 


“With woodwork, metalwork, craft, music or car mechanic classes dropped by many schools and children wanting to play computer games at home, the UK is becoming a “software instead of a screwdriver society,” said the report, commissioned by the Ruskin Mill Educational Trust.      

“Working with one’s own hands in a real-world 3-D environment is imperative for full cognitive and intellectual development,” said the report’s author Dr. Aric Sigman.”


This is a very important part of the “Messy” learning this blog is supposed to be about. Note that for various reasons we have gotten away from the “hands-on” part of school as well as the physical activity / motor skills part … and while I’m on my soapbox I should note that this malaise is especially true with our most “at-risk” students since their schooling is more apt to be literacy centered instead of student centered.

Learning is messy!

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9 thoughts on “Reuters – “Working with hands helps develop kids’ brains”

  1. I agree with the importance of hands on activity, but I think it went by the way side long before technology entered the picture. Restricting students to pencils and books in school has been the norm for some time. With such powerful “tools” as our hands (rich in neural connections), it is a shame we limit their use in education. Why not take a balanced approach, including both hands-on exploration and technology in the classroom.

    As an occupational therapist, I am always trying to embed physical activity and motor skills within the school day. Reclaiming recess is urgent. Losing recess is always the first consequence for any school offense. Why? Let’s be more creative in our consequences and keep recess as a vital aspect of the day. The kids who lose it are the ones who need it most!

  2. I agree Beth. I think another part of this is the notion that the schools already get WAY more money than they need to do the job. The backers of restrictive “programmed” learning see it as also a cheap way out. You can cut everything else and leave it up to the family and whomever else to provide PE, Art … and make students proficient in Reading, writing, math. People will be thrilled, is the thinking, when that happens and won’t care about losing those other pieces.

    The fly in the ointment is that it doesn’t work. Kids don’t have enough schema for reading without those other pieces.

  3. This illustrates the problem of thinking of computers as merely appliances that deliver digital information. Computer software that allows students to create things should be considered part of a well-rounded “real” education that includes screwdrivers, paint, musical instruments, microscopes, cameras, etc.

    Learning on computers SHOULD be messy – it’s our own fault if we only let students use computers for text-based activities, pre-canned software and to search the Internet, and then call that “technology.”

  4. Sylvia – You are right … in my school district, at the elementary level, “computers” are once a week led by a non-certified “computer-assistant”. Since elementary teachers don’t get prep periods most teachers want the computer teacher to have students run software that is engaging enough to keep them out of their hair for 30 minutes so they can grade papers and the like. It’s a bad situation for all involved.

  5. This post seems to reinforce what we’ve been hearing and reading about children who are spending more time online and less time doing anything else, including hands-on activities, interacting with other people, physical activity, etc. I know that it is especially true that young children enjoy working with their hands, but I also know that many teachers avoid kinesthetic activities because they are “messy” and a little too chaotic (for the teacher).

    A balanced approach is always best, allowing for each learning style; that’s why it’s important to use all the tools available for learning. And, of course, those classes that lend themselves to working with the hands, such as art, should be as much a part of the core curriculum as reading, I think. Let’s hope studies like these will be a wake-up call for those who think technology is the “be all and end all” element, as noted in the post.

  6. Technology in the classroom has become a difficult situation to address. How much is too much, and how little is too little? As someone who is in the process of becoming a teacher, it’s hard for me to know how I will decide to run my own class eventually. On one hand, I feel that technology has taken the place of personal interaction and continues to consume our society in the way of video games, cell phones, computers etc. Children are growing up in an age where summer vacation involves sitting in front of a TV all day playing video games, instead of engaging in outdoor activities and forming new friendships. This is sad to me, and I think that something needs to be done! However, I also think that technology can be incredibly useful and stimulating in the classroom when used correctly. There are several games, movies, or programs that can aid in learning and engage students on a level that is very familiar to them. In this way, I find technology to be beneficial, but there must be limits and they must be enforced. Students should and need to experience both worlds: the one that is technology driven, and the one that is not. I think that balance is the key and teachers should try to incorporate both scenarios into their classrooms. Technology is certainly useful and applicable, but I also think it’s important to maintain personal interactions by using methods and techniques that existed before the tech wave!

  7. The conversation is interesting and leaves me wondering about the diversity of knowledge not only between the students but the diversity of knowledge between us as teachers as well. There really are so many teachers that are “turned off” to technology because of a variety of reasons and may not be providing their students with any exposure in their class at all.

    However, I think the message from this conversation is clear…balance seems to be the “end all and be all.”

    Old vs. New
    20th Century vs. 21st Century
    Reading a book vs. Reading Online
    Writing on Paper vs. Writing Online
    Collaborating in a class vs. Collaborating Globally
    Chalkboard vs. Smartboard
    Hands On vs. Virtual Manipulatives

    This makes me think of a Habit of Mind ~ “Begin with the end in Mind.”

    “What do I want my students to know after a particular unit of study and what strategies will I pick and choose to empower them to that end?” A little of this and a little of that.

  8. I think it’s a trend US schools have been in for a long time. My Dad was the FFA, Metal Shop and Floral design teacher until 1988 when the school decided that kids didn’t need those electives anymore and along with the car repair shop decided to do away with them. The trend of moving away from hands-on vocational skills in our school has been a slow one over time in my neck of the woods anyway.

    Now we complain that kids don’t want to take over the family farm, that getting a car fixed is getting more expensive by the day and all other vocational jobs that are needed in a society are getting more expensive.

    I’ll never forget when we were sitting at a restaurant a couple years ago and a man approached my dad and said “You probably don’t remember me, but I had you as a teacher in metal shop.”

    Dad did remember the guy who graduated in 1982 and is now a professional marine welder on large ships making a good 6 figure salary.

    I agree that doing away with vocational skills and hands-on learning is a disservice to our students at all levels. Then we complain because none of us (including me) understands how to fix our own is a little hands-on and a little computer skills these days. 🙂

    School should be messy!