Classrooms provide a place for students to sit with their peers, ask questions and expand their knowledge. However, most classrooms have long followed a similar setup: rows of desks that face the front of the class, where the teacher lectures and records information on a chalkboard or whiteboard.
In this type of classroom, your child absorbs information passively, not actively. Class discussions are too broad to be effective, and critical reflection never has a chance to take shape.
An experiential education classroom, though, turns this structure on its head. We’ll explore this difference now.
Experiential Education in the Classroom
In an experiential education classroom, students are an active participant in the learning process. The class is structured differently, which leads students to think and act differently. This is alternative education. When your child is exposed to active learning, he or she begins to take independent steps to achieve a personal or collective goal with fellow classmates. Reflecting on classroom topics and starting to form responses as a community will serve your child well in later years. After all, what parent doesn’t want their child to succeed in future academic and professional roles?
The drive for more engaged community members is a large part of the push for experiential education, as is the drive to bolster the educational system across the U.S. and around the world. In fact, when Signal Hill Group questioned nearly 5,000 high school teachers in 2004 about the effectiveness of experiential education, they received highly favorable responses from the vast majority. About 92 percent believed it provided necessary student motivation, 85 percent thought it encouraged applying to higher education and 90 percent felt it helped with academic achievement.
Let’s take a look at how teachers can incorporate experiential education in classes from kindergarten to grade 12.
The earliest years are often the most critical since they instill the base desire to continue learning throughout life. If your child is in this age range, they will be curious about the world and will have plenty of questions. That’s why it’s the perfect time to start engaging minds and encouraging small group discussions.
Elementary school students would benefit from school gardens that give them hands-on experience with growing their own fruits and vegetables. From turning over the soil to planting seeds and seedlings to watering the growing plants, smaller children especially will delight in watching nature at work. School gardens can be outside or in a greenhouse since either setting will provide the perfect learning environment for young minds.
To foster hands-on learning in other subjects, teachers might also challenge students to design their own solar system, create their own songs or discuss ways to fundraise for those suffering in the local community or in another part of the world.
During the middle school years, your child will likely want to explore concepts at a deeper level. Middle school teachers could, therefore, include trips to local farms and farmers markets into the curriculum, where students can see the faces behind the produce. Working farms and markets will show them a connection with the farmers who grow the crops and the types of produce they focus on.
While some students may be hesitant to talk to adults, they should nevertheless be encouraged to express their curiosity. Engaging with local farmers, as well as other artisans found at farmers markets, will give your child the opportunity to ask questions. Learning about food production in the classroom and then coming to the farm or market will let students reflect on the deeper connection, such as how organic produce differs from commercial, and how a decrease in insect pollinators impacts plant success and crop availability.
Other subjects incorporate experiential learning as well. Your child will benefit from hands-on learning in politics through mock debates and student-run campaigns, geography through world cuisine and cooking lessons and English through student-planned plays and creative writing sessions. Some activities occur inside the classroom, while others offer students the opportunity to interact with the community and expand their views.
In high school, students are sorting out their interests, and they need to have the freedom to take initiative and think for themselves. Learning outside the classroom is a powerful way to engage, especially at an age when some students are beginning to lose focus. Boredom in the classroom transforms into motivation and piqued interest when students see the true connection between genes and plant diversity in nature, for example, or blood components and hospital blood bank protocols for patients.
For students interested in physical education, being tasked with running a fitness club at the local community center will help them plan, communicate and learn how to accommodate varying skill levels. For students interested in computer coding, being tasked with creating an app with real-world value is not only rewarding but potentially life-altering if it comes into widespread use.
Internships and practicums are an important part of experiential learning during high school, and they will provide your child with real-world experience at a critical time of life. Students need to engage, reflect and act for them to learn the intrinsic value; sessions that do not engage will struggle to propel that zest for learning.