Do kids really learn by doing?

Do kids really learn by doing?

I parented in an era when letting kids ‘learn by doing’ ruled. When I measure my parenting by this mantra, I failed. I had one child, and she liked doing things with me. She liked me to show her how to do things, so I did.

Doing it all “wrong”

But I looked at the other mums, and they didn’t do this. So I felt guilty. For example, other mums let their kids ‘learn by doing’ that playdough turned brown if the colours got mixed together. I wanted my daughter to enjoy the pretty colours; I didn’t think she’d be excited by the idea of brown playdough! So I taught her to keep the pink and green playdough separate. I knew I was doing it all “wrong”! But it felt intuitively right for us.

Helping is not hurtful

When she was still quite young, I studied for my degree. In studying a Child Development unit, I learned about different ways that children learn. One of these was an educational method called ‘scaffolding’. Not all kids ‘learn by doing’ as their primary learning method. Some kids learn by being shown step by step with supported (or scaffolded) learning from someone more skilled. 

This knowledge was like opening a new door for me! It affirmed my intuition as a mum. It confirmed that I wasn’t being a bad mum when I engaged side-by-side with my child in the learning process. I wasn’t wrong to help her do things. Structured activities were ok. It freed me from guilt, and it released me to imagine more ways I could use this method proactively.

Go your own way

From her solid base of scaffolding, my daughter felt confident to branch out into new places by herself. She flourished. Her learning flourished. Our relationship flourished. And she grew to become one of the most independent learners I know. She still values structure in her self-learning. 

Scaffolding is widely accepted now, so I’m not saying anything new. My point in this blog is not to say that one way is right and another is wrong. Rather, I use this example to highlight the important lesson for every mum in any era: Know your child. Work with the child you’ve got, the one you know. There are many learning styles, and many ways to motivate children. Most children will respond to different methods at different times. Read widely and experiment with other styles if they sound useful. It’s about understanding who this person is, who is entrusted to your care. It is an occasion for us mums to learn by doing!


There is a verse in the Bible that says, “Train up a child in the way they should go, and when they are old, they will not depart from it.” If you desire your child to keep your training into adulthood, it makes sense to help them learn in a way that’s effective for them.


Lexia Smallwood, MOPS Office Coordinator

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