Maria Montessori had it right. Children – and adults – learn by doing, not by listening. It is the active engagement in the environment that creates new neural pathways in our brain, which is what learning means. New connections are made only when we act.
The belief that children learn by listening is not correct. To sit them down and talk at them, especially when they are very young, is not how we should be teaching them. Giving them things to explore and interact with is how they will be engaged and successfully with learning. A toddler pushes the chair, and it moves, and then she pushes the table, and it does not. Her first physics lesson in mass and force and acceleration.
Even later on, when we are able to sit and listen to information being presented and explained, it is only by the action of thinking that we learn. We have to solve a problem with it, and it has to be our own problem. We must apply the information to our current understanding and use it, do something different with it. Getting new information is like getting a new tool – if we never build anything with it, we don’t get to keep it.