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Apply School Lessons With Experiential Learning At Home

Being a parent and a back-up teacher is a double-time responsibility in the era of COVID-19 — and overwhelming for a lot of us.

The good news is that superhero teachers are creating engaging virtual classrooms, interactive videos and quality assignments for their students. As parents, we have got lots of good material to work with and schools are ready to support parents when we reach out.

But there are still concerns over whether young students are getting a rich “experiential learning” experience with distance learning. Experiential learning helps connect lessons taught at school to real life experiences — and it is one of the most important things a great classroom teacher does. It includes fun field trips, science experiments, caring for the class hamster, acting out a skit, doing art, music or planting a garden.

Here’s more good news: We can do this at home, without pressure of trying to create more “school” activities or turning ourselves into teachers via Pinterest. That’s too much pressure and not necessary.

Guidelines for encouraging experiential learning

  1. There is no right answer to hands-on exploration. These are experiences, not a lesson or a test.
  2. Provide materials and moments that encourage your child to look more closely, listen curiously, smell and taste and touch, if it is safe. In other words, awaken your child’s senses.
  3. Don’t make it complicated. Do what you usually do, with some additions. Keep it simple and stop; leave them wanting more!
  4. This doesn’t have to happen every day or right after online school. Enjoy spontaneous moments that connect your child with “what the teacher showed you.”

No costly materials are needed for experiential learning. Here is a list from a preschool teacher: pipe cleaners, construction paper, modeling dough, markers, glue, child-safe scissors, a small stapler and watercolors.

You can also reuse empty boxes, cans, straws, and envelopes for a wide variety of craft ideas. Locally, we are lucky to have Materials Exchange Center for Community Arts. MECCA, 449 Willamette St., is dedicated to diverting scrap material from the waste stream and into our community's creative endeavors.

Ideas for experiential learning at home

Simple and quick:

  • See how tall the block tower can get before it falls over.
  • Have stuffed animals act out the story the teacher read.
  • Create 2- and 3-dimensional shapes with play dough.
  • Little artists may like to paint with you a watercolor ocean (glue on some goldfish and grass).
  • Make pipe cleaner letters.
  • Write a letter to someone in a country they learned about.

Sometimes a longer project might be possible:

  • Make a mess planting seeds in a box. Beans are a great choice — they grow fast enough to keep their interest.
  • Cut out magazine pictures of animals, vehicles, colors and sort them into envelopes. Later glue a collage or use a stapler to make a book.
  • Bake cupcakes with lots of measuring cups and spoons!

Or just get your bodies moving:

  • Time yourselves racing down the hall.
  • Take a walk and collect leaves to glue between wax paper.
  • Guess if a stick tossed in a puddle will sink or float.

After your child says goodbye to the classroom and closes the computer, the main idea is to take what your child learned virtually and intentionally experience it in the real world. Be creative and curious, explore, and get dirty with your child through play!

Maren Peterson-DeGroff is Parenting Now’s Program Manager for Make Parenting A Pleasure, as well as a parenting educator and Children’s Program coordinator. 

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