What does the Science Say About Experiential Learning?
Here at The Handwork Studio, we’re well-versed in the benefits of experiential learning. You could say we’re surrounded by them! So, we decided to reach outside our comfort zone and explore what hands-on learning looks like on a neurological level. (We can thank handwork-inspired confidence for this stretch goal!)
Before we begin, let’s revisit Experiential Learning. This approach to education was first discussed by prominent 20th century scholars and the Experiential Learning Model was formally developed by David A. Kolb in the 1970’s. At its simplest form, Experiential Learning is learning by doing. The learner embarks on a journey of action and interaction that leads them to a place of higher knowledge. At the end of the experience-based process, the student has not only learned a new skill and knowledge, but they have become a better learner, as well.
The Handwork Studio has over 28+ different programs grounded in experiential learning. From Woodwork to Set Design, Baking and Robotics, there is a path and opportunity for every child to learn by making. There is a medium and subject to compliment each unique set of interests! The Handwork Studio is entirely screentime-free, although your child may find some of their favorite shows given a shoutout in our Lights, Camera, Cake course. (Who wouldn’t want to learn how to make a chocolate frog!?.
1. The brain on connection.
Handwork breeds connection. When children work together over a Handwork project, we see collaboration with friends, focus, smiles, and laughter. On the inside, something profound happens. The brain receives one of its most basic needs: connection! As social creatures, we don’t just meet up with friends or family because we enjoy the interactions. Our brains perform at higher levels of cognition when connected. Connection also develops empathy. The type of connection forged by handwork leads to organic social situations. By sharing a singular purpose, social pressure subsides, allowing even shy campers to partake. Children can speak when they feel compelled or work quietly. Each child finds their comfort level, and their brain reaps the benefits.
One of our most connected programs at THS is Imagine Quest. Campers are sent on a magical mission to save their best friends from, you guessed it, a mythical creature! Imaginations are immediately gripped by the mystical nature of the quest and children are taught patience and how to make friends while working together toward a common goal.
2. The brain on trial and error/problem-solving.
At the Handwork Studio, children have the autonomy to explore their capabilities. When given the space to use trial and error to solve Handwork problems independently, we observe children practicing patience and developing perseverance. Wow! To see this type of behavior in children as young as five is impressive in and of itself. Inside the brain, more than just delayed gratification takes place. Neurons record the pathways that lead to an error and remove them. As this happens repeatedly, the brain becomes more precise and quickly identifies successful methods. If it seems like your child has become a better problem solver, it’s because they have!
A great way to develop problem-solving skills without even realizing it is through Superheroes vs Villains. Campers create 3D worlds for their favorite superheroes. Rooted in creativity, children conceptualize and design an ideal world and then evaluate which techniques best help them achieve it.
3. The brain on mindfulness
Mindfulness is one of the most significant benefits of handwork. We know that busy hands lead to a focussed, calm child, but just how significant is this? Mindfulness is one of the most vital tools in reducing stress. Stress harms overall health, but does it impact the brain? The answer is a resounding YES. Increased stress hurts memory, kills brain cells, and even shrinks the brain. What was most astounding to learn is that stress affects the actual structure of a developing brain, and the brain retains that structure for life! Too much stress at a young age creates a brain vulnerable to mental illness, whereas low-stress levels help form a resilient brain. The difference in structure has to do with the white and gray matter of the brain, which we won’t pretend to be experts on. Our neuro-curious friends can read more here!
The Fashion & Machine Sewing program allows campers to develop physical skills like sewing, while engaging the part of the brain responsible for mindfulness. By being required to focus solely on one physical task, the mind copies the body and becomes quiet, thinking only of the sewing. The children are taken through the entire fashion creation process from sketch to stitch in this course!
4. The brain on intergenerational bonding
The Handwork Studio’s back-to-basics approach creates space for your child to spend connected time with a loved one. You can watch them create memories and share family history and stories. What happens to the brain when two people, separated by generations, bond? Your child experiences the benefits of connection, but it is grandma’s brain that flourishes here—seniors who regularly engage with youth experience higher overall brain function and lower instances of dementia. While The Handwork Studio doesn’t quite offer summer camp for seniors, your child can bring the benefits home to them! (Remember, in 100 years, you might be a grandparent, too. It can’t hurt to ingrain this family tradition now!)
Theatrical Costume Design, while exciting and modern in appeal, promotes intergenerational bonding. In this program, children master the skill of machine sewing. The skill easily transfers from costumes to everyday clothing and accessories, allowing campers to join grandma in this traditional pastime.
5. The brain on confidence
One of the ways that experiential learning inspires confidence is through completion. When children begin a handwork project, they finish it. Completing a task is about so much more than the physical product. It is about starting something and seeing it through to completion. As adults, we take the general belief that we can accomplish something for granted. But, can you remember the last time you stepped into new territory and finished it? Can you recall that emotion and the sudden emergence of a new foundation that you were able to stand on, a foundation you built yourself? Handwork provides the opportunity to overcome challenges during critical learning years allowing confidence to become a part of their early lives. When a person feels confident, the centers in the brain that are responsible for positive emotions and motivation are activated. Quite simply, when you feel confident, you feel good, and those feelings are rooted in a clinically happier brain!
While each program leads to overall higher confidence in the campers, one of our favorite examples is Animal Adventures. Here, children learn and use robotics to help save animal species. The course teaches them to have patience, while trusting that their skills and actions can have a positive impact on the world around them.
As it turns out, when our children engage in experiential learning, they gain more than skills that last a lifetime. They gain a brain that will last a lifetime! Whether they use that brain to study other brains or to write novels remains to be seen. Parents can rest assured that their kids have the skills, the foundation, and the mind to accomplish any goal.
In this brainy exploration, we won’t use fancy words like synapses or chlorophyll (that’s science for brain food, right?). Instead, this is a light revisitation of the benefits of experiential learning through the lens of a science admirer. This is Your Brain on Experiential Learning!
Discover hands-on skills in 2022 with our summer camp programs!
The Handwork Studio, a fun, summer enrichment camp where kids learn by making. Since 2001, we've been the leading educators in teaching kids hands-on skills that you won't find in your school curriculum. Whether your child is interested in building, sewing, coding or design, we provide engaging activities for kids to embrace their imagination and think like innovators. Click below to find a summer camp location near you.