Monday, July 11, 2011


Experiential learning.

I've encountered this term a number of times in the past 5 years. I've heard of it from school administrators, teachers and even parents. I've read about it in books, online fora and blogs. And with two daughters who are enrolled in progressive schools, I've actually experienced it.

So what is experiential or active learning?
"Active learning takes place with experiences. As students have various experiences, they pick up knowledge. Students will learn more about zoo animals by going to a zoo than by reading about a zoo in a book. Students will learn more about fall leaves by collecting them than by listening to a teacher talk about what they look like. Experiential learning includes all senses, such as sight, smell, sound and touch, to create an overall learning experience." (Source: Active Learning for Children)
Experiential education is often contrasted with didactic education, in which the teacher's role is to "give" information/knowledge to student and to prescribe study/learning exercises which have "information/knowledge transmission" as the main goal. (Source: What is Experiential Learning?)

And so in the spirit of experiential learning, my daughters and I have been to Sta. Elena Fun Farm to see farm animals in action. After seeing what a carabao looks like, my then 4-year old daughter exclaimed, "Oh, a carabao is different from a cow!"

The carabao at work. :)

The carabao at rest.
Do you know what a chrysalis is? I don't. At least not before my daughters pointed out that it's a pupa, the third stage in a butterfly's life cycle. Years after visiting the Marikina Butterfly Farm, they can still remember it because they actually saw a chrysalis.

What about the different rooms in a house? It might be a little boring for a 3 or 4-year old to read about it. But learning becomes more exciting when there's a house visit! 

The usual "What do you want to be when you grow up?" is a source of an animated discussion especially if a doctor or a dentist (or even a lawyer!) is invited to talk about what he or she does.

Who are the community helpers? Have you met them? My daughters did when they visited a fire station and met real firemen.

And how do you explain fractions to a 4 or 5-year old child? You invite them to a pizza house! After seeing how the pizza is cooked and sliced, the teacher can now start explaining the concept of fractions, and hopefully, before the pizza is all gone!

Is your child having problems mastering left and right, forward and backward? My daughter happily told me that she enjoyed a game in class where they were grouped in twos. To pass through an imaginary maze and reach the finish line, her teammate has to follow her instructions. "One step to the right. Two steps to the left. Two steps forward..."

Oh, and this one is a favorite. How will your child remember the different parts of a fish? By "inviting" Mr. Tilapia in class! How do you explain the difference between a living and non-living thing? Let the kids observe mongo sprouts grow side by side the "it's-not-alive" stone.

Of course, there are times when the subject matter could not, for practical reasons, be the subject of experiments, field observations, field trips, games, role playing. This is where imagination comes in. And so when my daughter was asked to bring a picture of an animal that lives in cold places, she also showed this picture to her classmates: 

and ended her show and tell with this question--"Doesn't Barkie look like an arctic fox?"

*If you want to know more about experiential learning, you may check this, this and this. But if you're really, really interested in it, you may want to check out John Dewey's book on Experience and Education.



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