Whenever I made one of those mistakes you make when you are growing up (the usual stuff: silly coloured hair, ill-chosen boyfriends, falling off ridiculously high heels whilst drunk….) my amazing Nanny Rene would often sigh as she wisely said ‘Well, you live and you learn!’
In thinking about how children learn best I think my Nanny Rene had a point. Many of the children that I have the pleasure and privilege to work with often don’t have access to the life experiences that make education accessible. The majority of the children that I meet are loved enormously but for a number of social and economic reasons are unable to do ‘life stuff’ like visit the seaside or go on holiday to faraway places. An example of this is when we tackle reading comprehension tasks. Often the children can’t engage with the text to make meaning as – although they can read the words – they don’t have the life experience to back up their reading to make it personally significant. The impact is also evident in writing as many children don’t have a bank of experiences to build imaginatively upon. Coming back to the ever astute Nanny Rene – if you haven’t lived it, it’ll be much harder to learn and use it.
I often use Nanny Rene’s mantra to explain why we do what we do at Rushall. Our current theme is Ice Worlds. We are using this theme as the vehicle to teach a creative curriculum. At the start of every term, before the children come back to school, we decorate the school to become the theme. As the children arrive at school their faces are amazing as they discover and explore the new world in which they will live and learn for the term. We also add in as many relevant, challenging and new experiences as possible. For Ice Worlds this has included a visit from Husky dogs and a pop up ice rink. I believe that this makes learning truly multi-sensory as they can write from real experiences and with authority about how the fur of a husky dog feels and how their breathing after pulling a sledge sounds. They can share facts that they have learned first-hand about how ice is formed and melts. Language skills develop in a meaningful way as the children have the experiences to ‘pin’ semantic links too. This beats any text book, DVD, teacher talk or demonstration as it is memorable and exciting. As living it to learn it forms part of a rich tapestry of real world encounters.
Many schools worry that their budget won’t allow for a brand new learning environment every term with a menu of experiences and encounters to make the unlived burst into life ready to be learnt. I would ask you if you can’t afford not to. We owe our children the chance to sample everything and, by living it have the opportunity to learn it in the most realistic and memorable way