Ceremonies, Traditions, & Awards, Volunteer Experience, Volunteers

Busy hands mean busy minds!

Girl Scouts is a major fan of experiential learning, also known as learning by doing. We believe it’s the best way for girls (and adults!) to try new things and build skills. But what does it mean, exactly?

What is learning by doing?

According to the American Psychological Association, learning by doing means “learning from experiences resulting directly from one’s own actions, as contrasted with learning from watching others perform, reading others’ instructions or descriptions, or listening to others’ instructions or lectures.”

In simpler terms, learning by doing can be explained as engaging in hands-on activities when mastering a new concept or building a skill. It’s been an important part of Girl Scouts since the first badge book was published.

Why is this our favorite way to teach girls skills? Because when your hands are busy, your brain is more engaged!

What does the research say?

There’s quite a bit of research to back up this idea. In a study by Purdue University, 8th graders were learning about water quality as part of their standard science curriculum. The researchers had half the students learn by traditional classroom methods while the other half were asked to build a water purification device to show they understood the concepts.

The study found that “in every area we tested, the students who were involved in a hands-on project learned more and demonstrated a deeper understanding of the issues than the traditional group.” Pretty impressive, right?

Why does hands-on work so well? According to an article in Scholastic called “Hands-On Is Minds-On,” when “you combine activities that require movement, talking, and listening, it activates multiple areas of the brain,” and the more areas of the brain that are activated, the better you retain knowledge!

This isn’t just true for youth. Adults can also benefit from the “busy hands, busy brain” phenomenon. The article mentions recent research showing “that people who doodle during business meetings have better memory recall” and that volunteers who doodled during a dull verbal message were 29 percent better at recalling details from the message.”

Not sure if you agree? Test it out! Next time you’re in a long meeting or need to retain some information from a lecture, doodle as you listen.

So how do we apply this with our troops?

By design, most of our badge requirements and traditional Girl Scout activities are hands-on. It’d be pretty difficult to master skills like canoeing, orienteering, or leading a flag ceremony from just talking or reading about them, right? And there’s no way to earn your Junior Simple Meals badge without getting your hands on some ingredients and whisking up some tasty meals. Girl Scouts is built to be hands-on, minds-on!

Think of some of our traditions and activities like teaching conflict resolution, problem solving, and teamwork through games, games, and more games. Or learning to care about our communities and be confident in our ability to help others by earning a Highest Award or Service to Community Bar.

Even simple activities like making up songs with movements about important concepts like the water cycle chant activity from the Brownie Journey WOW Wonders of Water are activating multiple parts of girls’ brains and aiding concept retention. Let 15 Brownies have a blast making their own movements and melody about the water cycle, and it’ll be days (if ever) before you get that chant (or the steps of the water cycle) out of your head.

So keep on with the hands-on, troop leaders. When you and your girls are planning your activities and choosing which badge requirements and skill building activities to do in your Girl’s Guide to Girl Scouting, focus on activities that’ll keep your girls moving, creating, and doing as they build their skills. Busy hands and engaged minds are the Girl Scout way!

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