As any homeschooling parent will tell you, finding the best resources to educate your child is the biggest challenge that these parents face. Finding the right curriculum, the right textbooks, the best tutors, and locating experiential learning opportunities (hands-on education, field trips, etc.) is enormously time consuming. And so often you keep wondering if there aren’t wonderful resources out there that you simply didn’t find.
Where to start?
Most parents begin with the major websites for homeschoolers. These easy to find sites offer prepackaged curriculum based on certain educators, or learning philosophies. Many of these are wonderful, but following a prepackaged curriculum goes against many parents’ goal of creating a customized education for their child. For many parents, that was their initial motivation for beginning to homeschool in the first place. The cookie-cutter curriculum of their local public schools simply didn’t work for their child. And beyond wanting to customize their child’s education, many parents have begun to learn the power and effectiveness of “experiential learning.”
The 3 key benefits of experiential learning.
A Chinese proverb states: “Tell me and I will forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand.” Experiential learning is involving the student, hands-on, in the education process. Very simply, it is learning from experience. Students touch, feel, move and do as they learn. (Scientists call it “kinaesthetic imprinting”.) By using this technique, students gain whole body learning of a subject in physical, mental, and behavioral dimensions. The reason that more and more homeschool parents are seeking out experiential learning opportunities for their children, is that it is simply THE most powerful way to educate your child. Period.
1. It keeps the child engaged longer
Keeping children engaged in the learning process can be a bit of a challenge. And if your child is ADD or ADHD, then it is an enormous challenge. Children simply are not designed to sit in one place for prolonged periods of time. (Neither are adults, but that is another topic.) So it often takes the child a lot of concentration just to sit with their studies, let alone focus on what they are studying. However, if you involve a child physically in the learning process, they can easily stay with it for hours on end, without become distracted or bored. This means that they are more focused, so they are taking in information better, and they are getting more hours of education than through traditional learning methods (like reading, listening to a lecture, or computer programs). Both of these points are a huge win for parents.
2. It puts information into long-term memory
Initial learning and memorization occurs in the “front brain” or the cerebral cortex. This is where thought and reason reside. This is also the home of short-term memory. Long-term memory resides in the cerebellum (also called the “mammalian brain”). For a child, or anyone for that matter, to move information from their short-term memory to their long-term memory there are two basic methods. One is the more traditional method of: repetition. This method is slower and more labor intensive, and it also requires more patience on the part of the child. The reason this is the traditional method, is that it was the first method that scientists discovered, many years ago. Recently, scientists have found a second, and faster, way to move information from short-term to long-term memory, and that involves adding emotions. When a memory is accompanied by a strong emotion, it creates a stronger imprint on the brain and is more likely to be stored in the long-term memory.
An unpleasant example of this is walking into work one day, and your boss calling you into his office and telling you that you are being downsized. The strong emotion of shock imprints all the details of that morning into your brain. For years to come you will remember what you did that morning before work, what you wore, what the weather was like, what your boss was wearing, etc. Back to a more pleasant reality, this same mechanism works for education. No, you certainly don’t have to scare your children to elicit strong emotions, but more pleasant emotions such as fun, happiness, curiosity, and excitement will take what they are learning and put it in their long-term memory. Again, this is whole body learning: mental, physical, and behavioral. And it works so well, corporate trainers have started using it to train employees. It’s not just for kids.
3. It is simply the Fastest way to learn
As stated above, there are two methods to put information into our long-term memories. Repetition and memories paired with emotion. This is another reason that experiential learning is so powerful. Instead of spending hours repeating something over and over again (Remember practicing your scales for your piano lessons? Or learning your multiplication tables?) we can learn it once (with emotions) and it will stick. This may sound too good to be true, but that is simply because the old way of repetition is still so widely used. It’s the public school way of learning. And so we’ve become conditioned to believe that it has to take a long time to learn something, but it doesn’t. By learning in this way your child will have a more positive experience with learning (it will be fun), and they will be able to cover more information because they won’t be re-learning the same thing over and over. It’s a win-win for your child!
Choosing subjects where you can begin using Experiential Learning.
Now that you have become aware of the concept and benefits of experiential learning, you probably want to know how you can start using it with your children. It naturally applies better to some subjects than to others. Math, for example, is a one of the more difficult subject to use experiential learning, though not impossible. History can be taught experientially by visiting historic sites, especially ones with period actors reliving life during that time. And if your time and budget allows, travelling overseas to Florence, Vienna, Cairo, etc. would imprint powerful, lasting images and knowledge on your children. Also visiting touring exhibits like The Dead Sea Scrolls, or Ramses II is a wonderful teaching experience. The downside to this is that a lot of travel is often required, and it can be expensive.
A subject that many people don’t realize can best be learned experientially is: foreign languages. It’s also a subject that many parents neglect because they don’t know how to teach it themselves, and they don’t know that there are resources out there to help them. But foreign language is vitally important in giving your child a well-rounded education, as evidenced by the fact that all major colleges and universities require students to study foreign languages in order to earn a degree. Colleges also look favorably on students who have had foreign language experience prior to applying for college.
How to begin using Experiential Learning.
If parents consider foreign language education for their children, they often turn to computer programs. These can be a good place to start your child’s education. Children can learn basic vocabulary and some frequent phrases with these programs; however, experiential learning is key if they are to learn to truly speak the language and be able to remember it for years to come.
There are also a large number of overseas language immersion trips that are available. During these trips, students travel to a foreign country and stay for several months literally being immersed in the language and the culture. These are immensely productive and are wonderful experiential learning opportunities. However, they can be rather expensive, and for your child to gain the most benefit from these trips, they need a firm foundation in the language of the country they will be visiting. Otherwise, they will struggle and the experience will not be as positive as it could be.
An experiential learning tool that many parents have not yet discovered are: online tutors. This literally is the way of the future. Thanks to the easy and affordability of video teleconferencing, your child can now connect to tutors across the country or across the world. You can video conference (Skype) with a teacher in Europe for around 2 cents per minute. You are no longer limited to settling for the best (or only) tutor within 20 miles of your home. You can now easily find and give your child the best tutors in the world, literally. And what better way to take advantage of amazing international tutors than to have a native speaker teach your child French, Italian, or any language you can imagine. And it’s an actual video conference, so you child can see and talk to the teacher. It’s not just a phone call.
Experiential learning is an amazing tool to use in advancing your child’s education. The will learn faster, remember better, and have more fun than you ever thought possible. Keep your eyes on open for opportunities where your child can experience math, science, history, and foreign languages. And look for places where you can supplement their education with online tutors! You can find language teachers, math tutors, and even musical instrument and voice teachers.