How Do Kids Learn?

Let's be honest.

If your grade school teacher assigned a four page report on aquatic life and took you down to the library to find some books to research, would you have felt the thrill of discovery (unless you were a nerdy kid like me)?

Probably not.

But what if you had the opportunity to learn about fish in other ways?

What if...

...your dad took you boating on a river or lake one Saturday, fishing rod in hand?

...you took a vacation to the beach, picked up shells, and poked a blade of dune grass at stranded jellyfish and crabs in their holes?

...you made a trip to an aquarium...or even a trip to the pet store to stock a small aquarium in your room?

...you learned to snorkel or scuba or found one of those places that lets you swim with the dolphins?

...your mom brought whole fish, lobster, or octopus home from the grocery store and let you dissect them?

We can probably agree that any or all of those activities would be more meaningful, more memorable, and way more fun than a trip to the library. (Gasp! There...I admitted it.)

Sadly, in traditional school we never even made it to the library for most subjects.

Especially once we got past grade school, field trips and hands-on activities were considered a waste of time.

My experience with history was fairly typical. We sat in our hard little chairs at little brown desks while the teacher read to us from a textbook—names and dates of dead people. I did not know who those people were or why they were important. There weren't even any good pictures—just small, fuzzy ones in black and white. In my mind, those people and the things that happened in their lifetimes were absolutely unrelated to my own life and interests.

Is it any wonder I hated history?

But what if, instead, we'd...

  • tasted Native American pemmican,
  • built a teepee on the playground,
  • made a navigational astrolabe and learned to use it,
  • lashed together a travois,
  • re-enacted an event, or
  • tried our hand at using an atlatl to throw a dart?

Think of the discussions we might have had about food preservation, low impact housing, early modes of transportation, and tangential velocity!

Instead of just reading about world explorers, what if we'd made astrolabes out of soda straws taped to paper plates, using our plastic protractors (that's math, right?) to mark out the degrees and sighting in the North Star? To think that the world was explored by brave men who risked unknown oceans in tiny ships with instruments that were not technologically advanced, yet were elegant in their simplicity! Those are men I might like to read more about.

What if we'd re-enacted segments of history, actually experiencing what it's like to push a bill through Congress or how it might have felt to live in Jamestown, in Plymouth Colony, or through the Civil War?

Closer to home, what if we'd heard from our own parents and grandparents what it was like to live through the Great Depression, a World War, or the Civil Rights era?

When we lecture students about history, we inform them about events that happened to someone else—someone dead and gone whom none of us knew personally. They may listen politely, but it is hard to relate to someone else's story. It happened to them, not to us.

However, when we experience history—or any other subject—for ourselves...when we see it first-hand, hear it, smell it, taste it, and get our hands dirty with it...then the experience becomes our own.

As Benjamin Franklin once wrote, "Tell me, and I forget. Teach me, and I remember. Involve me, and I learn."

We understand why a subject is important when we've felt for ourselves the need for new skills. The challenge of our own limitations inspires us to grow and change.

We remember what happened when events become part of our personal experience, because they happened to us!

And when we are actively involved in learning—when we're allowed out of our hard little chairs and away from our little brown desks—learning is more meaningful, more memorable, and also more fun.

Whether we call this type of education discovery learning, immersive learning, real-life or real world learning, it is vital to give our children the adventure of learning as a lifestyle for a lifetime.

This course is about how to introduce that excitement into your child's educational experience.