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The Importance of Experiential Learning

written by: eliles • edited by: Wendy Finn • updated: 1/5/2012

How do children learn best? Although there is much discussion surrounding learning styles most of us would agree that children learn best through concrete experiences.

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    Getting Hands-On

    When my daughter was about to start Kindergarten, I decided to visit the school she would attend. I spoke with three of the Kindergarten teachers and I asked them this question, "What kind of hands on learning do you do?" In general, the answers I received were something like, "We do as much as we can." Although I was somewhat disheartened, I wasn't surprised because in our area the public schools just don't do as much hands on learning as I would like to see.

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    Forget the 2nd Dimension 3D is the Future

    Experiential learning, concrete experiences, and hands on learning all mean roughly the same thing. Instead of getting a one of two-dimensional view of a subject, experiential learning involves giving the child a three or four-dimensional view of that object. For instance, if the theme for the month is life cycles, a one-dimensional activity might include a picture of a seed turning into a sprout. A three-dimensional activity would be actually putting a seed into some dirt and allowing the children to watch it grow day by day, discussing what is happening along the way.

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    Engaging the Senses

    Experiential learning is a much more powerful way to teach because not only does it engage the mind with facts but it also engages the senses. Engaging the senses makes the experience exciting and imprints it on the brain in a way that children retain more effectively than if they were to simply look at a picture. It also creates neuron connections in the brain. Think about something you learned growing up. In all likelihood, you will recall not only what happened, but the sights, sounds, and smells that accompanied that experience.

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    Positive Experiences for Better Fact Retention

    Concrete learning experiences also provide an emotional dimension to learning experiences. Positive experiences make learning fun and encourage children to want to learn more. Negative or non-impacting experiences usually feel like a chore to children and may contribute to dissatisfaction in learning. Being able to touch, feel, smell, and interact with an object is an exciting and positive experience for children that will be remembered.

    Imagine that a classroom is studying farm animals. What would the children learn if they read books, looked at pictures, and talked about cows? Perhaps they would learn the parts of the body, their color, what they eat. Now imagine a class that visited a farm where there were live cows. Now what would children learn? Not only would they learn the color, shape and parts, but the smell, the size, the feel, the behavior, etc. These facts would be better retained because all of their minds and bodies were engaged.

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    Preventing Behavior Problems

    In addition, experiential learning activities may help prevent behavior problems. Often, behaviors arise when children are bored. Despite the fact that many children may be capable of sitting in a chair and listening to the teacher for extended amounts of time, not all children are able to do so. Hands on experiences may contribute to fewer behavior issues because those children who usually act out due to boredom will be engaged in learning instead of negative beahviors.

    No matter what learning styles your children possess, hands on learning encompasses all abilities and styles. If a child is predominately auditory focused, than talking about the subject will suffice. If a child is a tactile learner, then touching the object will give her a more complete experience. Perhaps you have visual learners, then seeing the subject matter in its original form will be very effective.

    So, while it is difficult for schools to always offer these types of experiences due to resources or time, it is important for teachers to remember the importance of this type of learning and employ it whenever possible. Although these types of activities often take more time and work for teachers to set-up, the end rewards will be worth the efforts.