What Can You Make or Fix With Your Hands?

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What Can You Make or Fix With Your Hands?

How often do you work with your hands — that is, use them for activities that don’t involve typing, pushing buttons or tapping screens?

Do you draw, write or knit? Garden, cook or play a musical instrument? Build or fix things? Play sports?

What if you knew that those kinds of hands-on activities could help improve your mood, attention span and memory? Would you try to spend more time on them?

In “Working With Your Hands Is Good for Your Brain,” Markham Heid writes about why some experts believe we should be using our hands more:

The human hand is a marvel of nature. No other creature on Earth, not even our closest primate relatives, has hands structured quite like ours, capable of such precise grasping and manipulation.

But we’re doing less intricate hands-on work than we used to. A lot of modern life involves simple movements, such as tapping screens and pushing buttons, and some experts believe our shift away from more complex hand activities could have consequences for how we think and feel.

“When you look at the brain’s real estate — how it’s divided up, and where its resources are invested — a huge portion of it is devoted to movement, and especially to voluntary movement of the hands,” said Kelly Lambert, a professor of behavioral neuroscience at the University of Richmond in Virginia.

Dr. Lambert, who studies effort-based rewards, said that she is interested in “the connection between the effort we put into something and the reward we get from it” and that she believes working with our hands might be uniquely gratifying.

In some of her research on animals, Dr. Lambert and her colleagues found that rats that used their paws to dig up food had healthier stress hormone profiles and were better at problem solving compared with rats that were given food without having to dig.

She sees some similarities in studies on people, which have found that a whole range of hands-on activities — such as knitting, gardening and coloring — are associated with cognitive and emotional benefits, including improvements in memory and attention, as well as reductions in anxiety and depression symptoms.

Students, read the entire article and then tell us:

  • What is your reaction to the article? What is something new you learned about working with your hands? What questions do you have?

  • Tell us about a hands-on activity that you enjoy. What benefits have you noticed from it?

  • Does the article convince you to try more activities that involve using your hands, like cooking, making art, playing an instrument, building things or writing by hand? Why or why not?

  • “When you put in effort and can see the product of that, like a scarf you knitted, I think that builds up a sense of accomplishment and control over your world” Dr. Kelly Lambert, who studies effort-based rewards, said. What do you think about that idea? Have you observed a connection between the effort you put into something and the reward you get from it in your own life?


Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public and may appear in print.

Find more Student Opinion questions here. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate these prompts into your classroom.