Experiential Learning

Growing up I remember hands-on learning as something that was incredibly valuable to me.  I liked to be active, on the go and busy. Now as a parent I am seeing the value in slowing down, and can truly appreciate the effort my parents went to when taking us out and about!

In the very early stages of schooling still with our preschooler, we are looking for ways to engage our child in learning while still sparking her need for play and imagination.  Over the summer she participated in three days of “Critter Camp” at the local nature center; she continues to explore and learn more about nature and asks to take hikes, read nature books, and visit outdoor learning spaces. Our library hosted a speaker who is a homeschool senior and advocate for honeybee education, preservation, and hobbyist beekeeping. They had hands-on models of bees, large posters of their environment and needs, as well as how we need them for our eco-system, and they answered questions about bees. Due to this learning opportunity, potentially in the spring we will add a beehive to our little homestead.

Recently another nature center in our area sponsored a “Meet the Raptor” program and specifically had a session for younger children.

Rachel the Peregrine falcon and Gonzo the turkey vulture were the guests of honor. I think this visit was perhaps more exciting for Daddy than anyone else. Although our shy preschooler didn’t ask questions, she watched and listened intently. After we left she began to process the experience and ask more about raptors.

As we try to implement experiences and hands-on learning, I am hopeful that it leads to organic growth of interests in our children. After taking our oldest to baby and parent music classes since she was an infant, she has a love of music and desire to learn how to play, sing, and enjoy music in our daily lives. I am curious to see what other types of adventures we can take.

I would love suggestions from others on what their early learners enjoy doing that is experiential and hands-on.

Teaching the Preschooler…Informally

With the push for earlier and earlier academics, sometimes parents feel their child may fall behind if they do not get started, even at such ages as 2 or 3 years old. Yet, as Adventists we are counseled not to start formal academics until the ages of 8-10 years old, depending on the child.

Does this mean we simply allow the child to exist and not take advantage of these early years when the brain is growing so quickly? No, it simply means we use informal methods of teaching. The child who learns to love learning will benefit their entire lives. In this article, I will be giving some examples of how a parent can still “teach,” but do so in a manner that will help their child rather than hinder him.

When considering early education (and even later education in my opinion), think of Deuteronomy 6:7, which talks about teaching our children as we go about our day. The idea is that we are to make learning a natural process. As we cook our meals, we can show how to cook. We can discuss about creating healthy menus. We can talk about why we eat a certain way, and even why we may prepare foods in certain ways. At the store we can teach price comparison and how to choose the best produce. **This is an example of how natural learning can be used for older children.

So applying this natural learning for the preschooler, here is a running list of some ideas:

  • Read, read, read: While reading, point out pictures, discuss colors, shapes, etc. Ask what is happening from the picture. Ask what they think will happen next. There is an endless variety of topics that can be easily learned about while reading.
  • Art: Be willing to allow your child to experiment and get messy. Again, there are art books out there of the masters. Reading about them and then trying to duplicate their art is a great art lesson, all natural. There are so many arts/craft books that one library cannot hold them all. There are limitless choices online. Pinterest has many choices. Colors can be learned, and different mediums such as water color, crayons, markers, plaster of paris, glue/paper, etc.
  • Science: This can be walking outside and learning the plants, learning how to plant seeds and take care of them till harvest. For older children, this can lead to learning how to preserve that food. (Oops, this is supposed to be focused on preschoolers.) Compare sizes of seeds, putting them in order by size, color, type of food/flower. Science can also be learned in the kitchen by cooking — measuring, comparing ingredients, and even tasting. Help them make charts with all this information. Help them make estimates of what will happen if you water one plant more than another. What if you water one seed more than it should be watered? What happens?
  • Math: There are series in the library that teach basic math skills. Again, cooking is a great way to teach math. Science can be easily combined with math with many activities. Math can even be used in art in studying proportions of various art displays. Just practicing counting while singing songs can be fun and educational.
  • History: This can be learned by studying the Bible, having worship. It can be learned by reading real life books on various historical figures. Creating a timeline together can be art and history while being fun. There are some wonderful missionary books on the early church pioneers.
  • Writing: With writing, I would keep things very informal since it is largely a physical development issue. If they want to “write,” then give them a large pencil or fat crayon with some blank paper. If they begin to ask how to draw or write a letter, then show them, but not until they ask. These preschool years really need to be child-led in learning. This way the parent knows they are ready developmentally and not being pushed. There are many inexpensive books out there that teach writing, beginning with drawing a line. Again, let the child begin by asking. You will see them begin drawing certain shapes and lines naturally. They will start trying to imitate your writing. So, of course, I’m going to suggest that you show writing by writing in front of your child. As you write, you can simply say out loud what you are writing about, if appropriate. When you make your grocery list, name out loud what you are putting on the list. You can even spell the words out loud. This makes learning all natural and fun. Plus, they see the practical application of the skill.
  • Play in the water.
  • Run and chase each other.
  • Take your child with you as you run your errands. Talk to them and explain. Today, I was taking my granddaughter somewhere. I missed my turn so ended up driving through this neighborhood with very large, expensive homes. She started asking questions. I ended up discussing values and how our values help us choose what we spend our money on. It was all natural and very important lesson for this little girl. She made a statement at the end that she was glad that Mommy and Daddy decided to spend their money on the family rather than a fancy house.
  • Sing, jump around.
  • Play child-led activities.
  • Do housework together.
  • Lay on the ground and look at the clouds. You can find shapes and discuss how clouds are made.

I could go on to list dozens of more activities. I hope these will give you some ideas to get started. The articles I shared in my last post gave some ideas that will also jumpstart your own thinking. The main idea is to live life with your child. Don’t park them in front of an electronic device. Instead, BE with them. Live with them. Interact with them. By doing these things, you can set a foundation for life-long learning and a brain filled with amazing abilities to learn and create.

E is for Exercise

Continuing with the NEWSTART acronym, we run along to the letter E which stands for exercise. My family is on vacation right now, a wonderful relaxing trip to the beaches of Florida. Even though we didn’t bring any school books along, homeschooling is life, so it continues. Discussions, historical sights, science lessons in nature, and definitely PE! Our favorite beach to go to is in New Smyrna because it has an outdoor racquetball court that we always take advantage of before diving in the ocean. Of course, there’s ball playing and boogie boarding and walks along the beach — all great exercise and loads of fresh air.

Having an active only child has ensured that I get my exercise. I have been his playmate all his life. Never one to excel in sports, anything having to do with a ball suddenly became my new life. Countless hours at the baseball field, hockey in the driveway, football at the park, and various games in the yard keep me in shape. In fact, as he gets older and plays more with his friends, my body shows it. Luckily for me, when he doesn’t invite me to the game of kickball, his friends do! Obviously, I have never had any trouble fulfilling the PE requirement for him for homeschooling!

How do you incorporate exercise into your homeschooling day? Towns often offer sports programs that homeschoolers can join. But, if your child isn’t as sports minded as mine, there are plenty of other options. Nature or neighborhood walks and bike rides would be at the top of the list. Many homeschoolers get together for park days or even hiking clubs. Audubon or local parks often offer programs that will get your child moving and experiencing nature at the same time. Fun activities like sledding, skating, or skiing are great in the winter. Have your child join you in exercising along with a video, and then join him in scootering around the block. The possibilities are endless for exercise!

My favorite part of the homeschooling journey is that we are traveling it together as a family. Enjoying exercise together is not only fun but good for every BODY! So, let’s get moving!

Benefits of the Outdoor Classroom

Here in the Netherlands two organizations worked together to promote going outside for learning by organizing an outdoor school day. They challenged schools to do at least one lesson outside on this day. We decided to join this special day with our homeschool, and we spent the whole day outside. In the morning, we went for a walk in the forest with three other homeschooling families. The afternoon we spend working and playing in our garden.

Both my children, but especially my son (three years old), love to play outside. My son often asks me, “Can I play in the garden now?” — even before breakfast or after dinner. I simply can’t say no to this. Being outside has so many benefits.

Today I want to share with you some of the benefits of playing and learning outdoors, particularly for preschoolers.

In the book Child Guidance, sister Ellen White shares with us:

  • “Next to the Bible, nature is to be our great lesson book,” Testimonies For The Church 6:185.
  • “To the little child, not yet capable of learning from the printed page or of being introduced to the routine of the schoolroom, nature presents an unfailing source of instruction and delight. The heart not yet hardened by contact with evil is quick to recognize the Presence that pervades all created things. The ear as yet undulled by the world’s clamor is attentive to the Voice that speaks through nature’s utterances. And for those of older years, needing continually its silent reminders of the spiritual and eternal, nature’s teaching will be no less a source of pleasure and of instruction,” Education, 100.
  • “The fields and hills — nature’s audience chamber — should be the schoolroom for little children. Her treasures should be their textbook. The lessons thus imprinted upon their minds will not be soon forgotten,” The Signs of the Times, December 6, 1877.

So, let’s use the outdoors for learning. The course of SonLight about the ‘ten principles of true education’ also emphasises the importance teaching in nature.

“Homeschooling is meant to be done in a natural surrounding where children learn naturally.… Teaching outside tends to quiet hyper students. At first there may be moments of distraction, but these moments will pass, or can often be turned into lessons.… Teaching outside will improve the five senses. Students will become more sensitive to seeing detail, hearing quiet sounds, smelling fragrances, feeling breezes and changes in temperature, and tasting nature through its smells. This will help develop in them a sensitivity to people, their needs… In their time of trouble to will be the little things that will help them to know how to respond to a friend or an enemy. Teaching outside offers time for personal prayer, thoughts and meditation. It offers opportunity for the Holy Spirit to speak gently to students through nature.” https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B1d_dY0vFt8ffm1wVjFNQ25tUWFsWFFnT1RnZ3hCbWhHcDdodkhBZW82akg0dERfcFpDbDg?amp%3Busp=sharing

There are also multiple health benefits from playing and homeschooling outside:

  • Sunlight: the sun supplies us with vitamin D and helps with sleep-wake cycle.
  • Fresh air: indoor air is more toxic than outdoor air.
  • Exercise: it strengthens muscles and bones, and it prevents obesity.
  • Healthy eyes: spending a lot of time outside in natural light protects against nearsightedness.

And, last but not least, the influence of being outside on mental health:

  • Better cognitive performance
  • Improved attention spans
  • Better behavior and mood
  • Increased motivation
  • Improved memory
  • Reduces stress, depression, and anxiety
  • Playing together with other children encourages social development like sharing, and how to negotiate and resolve conflicts.

Adult controlled play, such as in organized sports, and free play are not interchangeable, although both are valuable. Children learn better when they regularly spread their attention or can pause.

What is your experience with the outdoor classroom? Please share how you use your outdoor classroom and how it benefits your children.

Charlotte Mason Preschool

Charlotte Mason was a huge supporter for starting formal academics later. She spoke about the benefits of short lessons, rich living books, and lots of time spent outside. I love how her method of teaching supports early childhood development. It is my goal that my early learner is in love with learning! Currently I am working with my three-year-old, and want to share what a Charlotte Mason preschool looks like in our home.

After we have morning time with my middle schoolers, I send them off to their individual studies and work with my three-year-old. We read a short Bible lesson and then do her calendar board. Some days she will play with felts or do other hands-on activities during morning time. After her Bible and calendar time, we move to her “core” work.

I found a wonderful Charlotte Mason based preschool curriculum called The Peaceful Preschool. It is a literature and project based curriculum that is letter themed. I love the rich book suggestions and gentle hands-on projects for each letter of the alphabet. These activities include read alouds, phonics, counting skills, fine and large motor skills, practical life skills, and art skills. There are 26 weeks or 52 weeks of lessons depending on how much time you want to spend on each letter.  All of the lessons are pre-planned and include a weekly grid, book, activity, and field trip suggestions. It makes it really simple and restful for me as a teacher and offers flexibility for my child’s interests.

I chose to spend two weeks per letter so that we could move slowly through her learning. I love that I can add in my own manipulatives, activities, and books as we go along, depending on her interests.

Along with her letter themed activities, we are also learning about nature study. The Charlotte Mason method of education has a strong focus on time spent outside and in nature study. We love to go on walks; play in the dirt; and spot birds, flowers, and plants, and then learn about them. These nature activities can also be tied into the letter themes to round out their learning.

One thing to remember about early learning is that it doesn’t have to be fast-paced with lots of formal learning. Children learn through play, enriching books, simple activities, and lots of nature time. Keep it simple, let them grow within their developmental abilities, and provide a loving environment.