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It’s All About Education: Kids Learn Through Experience

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

 

“Kids love to sit at desks all day and do paper-and-pencil tasks!” said no one ever. If you went to school, what did you like best about it? What were your favorite subjects? How did your favorite teachers connect with you? 

Chances are, you loved the classes in which you were able to do something you enjoyed, whether that was reading or performing science experiments. Like most kids, you probably relished being able to try new things and work collaboratively with classmates. Your favorite teachers may have made an effort to get to know you as a person, while making learning interactive and fun. 

Great teachers know that children have individual differences and preferences, and they try to engage their students. They also know that children at various developmental stages learn in different ways. Most youngsters learn better through experience than through rote memorization. People have been teaching children this way for thousands of years.  

For example, when a man takes his daughter fishing for the first time, does he read her a book about it? Does he take out the fishing gear and label each of the parts of the rod and reel? Does he explain the uses of each of the various lures? No. He takes his daughter out to the pond, baits the hook, and lets her try it. 

Throughout history, parents and employers have helped children and young adults to gain skills through guided practice. Before the industrial revolution, children learned how to run a homestead by assisting with household and farming chores. As apprentices to blacksmiths, bakers, seamstresses and numerous other tradesmen, young adults became skilled tradesmen themselves. 

Kids learn by doing: the young woman who learns to fish comes to appreciate the value of being patient and quiet; each time she accompanies her dad, she learns a little more about which gear to use and when. She learns to identify the different kinds of fish and acquires an appreciation of ecosystems and the environment. She sees fish eat the frog eggs, while frogs eat insects, and she learns about the life cycle. 

Similarly, young children gain knowledge about their world through play. Pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom states that, “children desperately need to have a multitude of whole-body sensory experiences on a daily basis in order to develop strong bodies and minds.” Through unstructured play, children learn motor skills, develop the ability to manage their emotions, and gain proficiency in navigating complex social interactions. 

Kids, especially young kids, learn through play. Last week, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told MSNBC, “But in the 21st century America, we need a rigorous curriculum. And at the age of 4, kids can learn in a way they can’t learn later. They are particularly receptive to learning. So we have a rigorous curriculum, highly-trained teachers.” Mayor De Blasio clearly doesn’t understand how to prepare pre-kindergartners to achieve in school or succeed in life. Unfortunately, he is not alone. 

I’ve written before about the growing emphasis on assessments and standards in kindergarten. Phyllis Doerr, a kindergarten teacher in New Jersey, wrote an article in which she explained exactly how her students respond to mandated testing. It’s amusing, until you think about the time wasted in this classroom and others like it all around the country. Both students and teachers are frustrated, and the testing is not only providing no benefits, but also detracting from the educational experience. 

Teachers know that even older students need to play. One of the reasons the Seattle Education Association (SEA) entered into contract negotiations with the Seattle Public Schools this month was because they wanted thirty minutes of recess for all elementary students. (The school system agreed to this point, although the teachers ended up striking for other reasons.) 

SEA President Phyllis Campano said, “We’re really glad the school board understands that recess is important for kids and it’s important for kids to learn.” Too many politicians and policy-makers don’t understand that play is not just about fun; it is the way that children learn about our world. 

If all young children were allowed to spend their days learning the way they do naturally, through play and exploration of their environment, schools might not need as many behavioral modification charts, social skills groups, stress reduction exercises, or even remedial reading classes. Unfortunately, until we change our practices on a larger scale, we’ll never know. 

Lauri Lee is an independent consultant with over twenty years of experience in both public and private education, with learners from infants through adults. With experience in teaching, marketing, communications, social media, development, admissions, and technology, she is able to synthesize many of the issues facing our educational system today. She lives in Providence, RI with her family, a big dog, and a small cat. She blogs at http://www.AllAboutEducation.net and you can follow her on Twitter at @fridovichlee. 

 

Related Slideshow: RI Experts on the Biggest Issues Facing Public Education

On Friday November 22, the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University, the Latino Policy Institute of Roger Williams University, the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, the Providence Student Union, and RI-CAN: Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now will host Rhode Island leaders in the public and nonprofit sectors for a symposium on "the civil rights issue of the 21st century, adequacy and equity and the State of Education in Rhode Island."

Weighing in on the the "three biggest factors" facing education in the state today are symposium participatnts Gary Sasse, Founding Director of the Hassenfeld Institute for Leadership; Christine Lopes Metcalfe, Executive Director of RI-CAN; Anna Cano-Morales, Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees, Central Falls Public Schools and Director, Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University; Tim Duffy, Executive Director, RI Association of School Committees; and Deborah Cylke, Superintendent of Pawtucket Public Schools.  

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Sasse

"Provide a state constitutional guarantee that all children will have access to  an education that will prepare them to meet high performance standards and be successful adults.

Bridge the gap between the educational achievement of majority and minority students.  This will require the implementation of a comprehensive agenda for quality education in Rhode Island’s inner cities."

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Sasse

"Revisit school governance and clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the state, school districts , neighborhood schools, and school teachers and school administrators.  Develop and implement a system to hold schools responsible for student outcomes."

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Sasse

"Build a consensus and buy in of all stakeholders around  the education reform initiatives being advanced by the Board of Education."

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Metcalfe

"Set high expectations and raise our standards across the state for anyone that contributes to the success of our students. From adopting the Common Core to discussing rigorous teacher evaluations, conversations around creating a culture of high expectations have to be at the center of the work."

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Metcalfe

"Expand opportunities and start earlier - we must ensure that all kids have access to a high performing public school of their choice, which includes full-day kindergarten."

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Metcalfe

"School facilities - with an aging infrastructure, underutilized buildings and the need to provide fair funding for school facilities for all public school students regardless of the public school they attend, this needs to be a top issue tackled by the RI General Assembly in 2014."

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Cano-Morales

"Meet the academic potential of all students but especially with regards to urban schools students -- 3 out of 4 are Latinos in Providence, Central Falls, and Pawtucket." 

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Cano-Morales

"Connect through specific best practices the academic successes of our students to careers jobs. Investing in schools is economic development as a whole for Rhode Island. " 

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Cano-Morales

"Increase the access to -- and completion of -- higher education and post- secondary opportunities.  Poverty? Struggling families? Education and access to careers and competitive wages is the best antidote."

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Duffy

"Providing adequate funding is critical -- and there are going to be pressures on the state budget, which mean stresses to meet the education funding formula.  With the predictions of the state's projected loss of revenue with the casinos in MA, education funding could be on the cutting board, and we need to ensure that it's not.  Do we need to look at strengthening the language of the constitution to guarantee funding?"

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Duffy

"Implementing the common core standards will provide continuity -- and comparison -- between states now.  With over 40 states involved, we're embarking a new set of standards here."

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Duffy

"Accountability and assessing student performance -- how that it's driven by the common core, we'll be able to compare the best districts in RI against the best districts in say MA.  That's the intent of the Common Core is a standardization of how we hold the system accountable."

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Cylke

"Issue one is quality.  Your quality of education should not be dependent on your zip code.  And the reality is, certain cities are distressed, or whose property values are not as high, I know each town has a different capacity to fund education. There's an absolute, clear relationship between the quality of public schools, and economic development of states. There's irrefutable evidence that quality public schools can make states more competitive."

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Cylke

"Issue two is equality.  In West Warwick and Providence, the per pupil spending is around $16K.  In Pawtucket it's $12.9.  What's wrong with that picture? If I'm in charge of overseeing that my students are college ready, they need to be adequate funding.  A difference of $3000 per pupil?  We're talking in the tens of millions of dollars -- more like $25 million in this case.  An exemplary school district is Montgomery County, MD -- they have roughly the same number of students, around 145,000 -- there's one funding figure per pupil. There's equitable funding for all kids."

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Cylke

"Issue three is Infrastructure.  A critical issue is whether the state is going to lift its moratorium in 2014 for renovations for older schools, ore new construction.  If that moratorium is not lifted, and those funds are not available, it is critical to us here in Pawtucket. The average of my schools is 66 years, I've got 3 that celebrate 100 years this year. These old schools have good bones, but they need to be maintained.  These are assets -- and this is all interrelated with the funding formula."

 
 

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