Active Learners

We all know the benefits of having experience. How can we make sure our children start gaining experience from a tender young age?

words melissa teh

Growing up, one of my favourite pastimes was to act out television commercials. My mother encouraged this by taping down various advertisements for me to watch repeatedly.

I would then put myself in the shoes of the actors, experiencing with them surprise at a diamond ring pulled out of nowhere or relief as I quench my thirst with my glass of Ribena meant to be the red wine on TV.

By the age of about five, I already had what seemed to me a wealth of experience lived through just these television commercials and my imagination.

On hindsight, this trained not just my creativity but also helped me understand the importance of hands-on learning as opposed to merely absorbing facts.

With so much to learn from so many new experiences, more pre-schools today are making use of experiential learning tactics in their curriculum.

As parents, you may have seen “experiential learning” as a term thrown around in educational brochures but what does it really mean?

Little Investigators

The idea of experiential learning was developed by American educational theorist David A. Kolb. According to him, experience is transformed to learning. Kolb’s experiential learning cycle consists of four stages which follow each other in a sequence and cycle.

The first stage (concrete experience) is when the learner experiences a certain activity such as a chemistry experiment or a field trip. The second stage (reflective observation) refers to the period when the learner recollects and thinks about the experience. The third stage (abstract conceptualisation) happens when the learner comes up with a theory to better understand the observations formed. The fourth stage occurs when the learner then takes this theory to plan for a new experience.

Essentially, experiential learning means doing something hands-on so as to understand the situation first-hand and then learn to develop methods to improve or change the experience. This trains children to be their own investigators instead of taking their textbook knowledge for granted.

Modern Classroom

As time goes by, education changes and improves. Gone are the days of instructive teaching whereby the teacher merely imparts information. Today’s little learner can benefit from a range of developed educational structures.

“Compared to 20th century students who were made to be quiet and listen, the 21st century experiential learners ask questions and become involved. This inculcates inquisitiveness, self- confidence and problem-solving skills,” shares Patrick Terence Lim, a programme specialist from Odyssey the Global Preschool.

Experiential learning approaches also work especially well for young children who appear to be less adept at grasping abstract concepts. Actual experiences help inspire interest and offer children the opportunity to share their own side of the story.

“The children also express what they have learned through a variety of ways, like writing, drawing, video recordings, project showcases and presentations, which are experiences that enhance their total learning,” Lim explains.

The technology made available today also serves as a bonus which pre-school educators can make use of to enhance experiential learning.

“In the 21st century classroom, technology and social media are used a lot. Classrooms are equipped with iPads and smartboards. However, it is important not to totally depend on electronic devices which are devoid of love or emotion,” cautions Lim.

Natural Curiosity

Experiential learning taps on the natural curiosity of children. Allowing them the opportunity to experience for themselves a trip to the zoo instead of just reading about it, enables them to ask questions and find their own answers too! They, then, make the transition from passive listeners to active participants.

“Children do not want adults to give them the answers. They want to be the discoverers, the experimenters, and the theory builders. They want to ask their own questions, collect their own data, and arrive at new and wonderful ideas,” says Ruth Wilson, a professor emeritus of special education at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

Allowing children the space to explore and express is what will give them the vocal and creative edge. It also proves to them how learning is more than dull reading and writing.

“Pre-schoolers respond well to experiential learning. They learn best through visuals and the touch and feel concept. Children are more receptive when the learning process is enjoyable,” shares Stacy Yeo, the principal of Brighton Montessori River Valley Centre.

Start From Home

New positive experiences are meant to be relished, especially for young children when they approach everything new with a wonder and curiosity. This curiosity ought to be encouraged as much as possible and such support can start from home. “Experiential learning is all about the hands-on experience. There are ample opportunities for parents to work on such experiences with their children at home through activities like role-playing, baking or cooking. Sessions like these spark curiosity on how things work,” suggests Yeo.

The list of possible experiences is possibly never-ending so it’s time to rouse your little one’s enthusiasm for lots of healthy fun and exploration!

Melissa Teh — Rumoured to have learned to speak even before she could walk, Melissa has had an affinity with words and language since her toddler years. Now an English Literature graduate from Nanyang Technological University, she believes that writing empowers her to express her individuality in the form of her memories, ideals and opinions. Beneath her dreamy exterior is a passionate bookworm who strives to be confidently versatle, hopefully powerful and always meaningul in her own writing.

This text was originally published August-October 2014 series of little magazine.

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