On Experiential Education

Since school is back in full swing at Val in Real Life HQ, I’m diving into experiential education today. Although, I use the terms “school” and “full swing” loosely because when your approach to expanding your children’s knowledge is experiential education, your entire life is a learning experience. And while that is actually true for all of us, kids and adults alike, obviously it’s something we pursue with purposeful intent here.

Fred and George agree…seeing the real deal is much better than just reading about it.

For us it’s always difficult to define a beginning and end to our school years. It really becomes simply a calendar issue for reporting-to-the-state purposes so officially we have rung in the new educational year. In reality we’re pretty much doing something educational year-round…and not just during designated “school” hours…and not along a rigid curriculum. This gives us a less-intense but more constant rhythm to our year as opposed to a boom-and-bust cycle.

We tend phase between unschooling, roadschooling, and the slightly-more-formal homeschooling as necessary to fit our needs. So yes, we have a couple of textbooks but those are the springboards from which we explore the rest our surroundings in the unschooling and roadschooling sense…but they’re just the beginning of our exploration, not the end. And the great thing about books is that they’re portable. As in, you can read anywhere but there’s only one place you can see the Grand Canyon or geocache the E.T. Highway or paddle the Okefenokee Swamp…so why be chained to a desk?

But really the whole point of this Real Talk post was to share some other bloggers’ great articles that fit in with our experiential education philosophy and why we’ve embraced it. The larger theme here is the power of travel in our learning process but for me these pieces, when knitted together (or in my case, “Pinned” on a board), illustrate the beauty of experiential education…

Travel as a learning experience…

Fred and George sporting their shiny new Junior Ranger badges at Ft. Pulaski.

Putting it together…

These posts may seem quite disparate but I liked the breadth they cover in terms of what travel can do for us. Certainly the role of travel in education as displayed in these writings is not age-dependent. You’ll notice they aren’t specifically child-centric posts because in truth, we all learn through travel. I know I’m getting a lot from it and I see Fred and George connecting many dots about the world that they probably wouldn’t if not for their experience. It’s not to say that valuable travel can’t be done in addition to a traditional school setting, but their experience would certainly be much less extensive if we were only able to travel during school breaks and then it would be about escaping our everyday lives rather than enhancement.

So these are just a few of many great posts out there that help me articulate why we do things the way we do here, mainly in that the best learning doesn’t happen sitting indoors behind a desk. What I think they show is that to have a full, rich understanding of our world, history, people and life, you have to get out there and dive into it with all of your senses personally. Reading or hearing about it can only get you so far. True understanding of anything somes with experiencing every smell, sound, taste, touch, and sight for yourself.

While we may not have the rush of back-to-school mania every autumn, we find other ways to make sure we Gather No Moss and that means embracing experiential travel education. Whether near or far from home it’s all about seeing things in real life which you know is a bit of a theme here… 🙂

How have your travels educated you?

Exploring U.S and Georgia history in Plains.

Fred and George taking in a science class at Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center.

An explosion of sensory input at Great Sand Dunes.

Hiking, geography, and civil war history all wrapped up in one field trip to Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield.

Fred’s first island adventure at Cumberland Island National Seashore that can only be reached by boat.

The only way to truly know the cold of the Rockies is to go there…

Not all classrooms are created equally…nor do they need to be age-defined. Here we learn from naturalist Cathy Sakas in the Okefenokee Swamp along with other curious folks of all ages.

Another perk, getting to play pool with adventurers like David of Family on Bikes.

A tour of Glen Canyon had Mr. Fred tuckered out on the Colorado River.

Not all things travel well however. Some subjects are better left at home…

 

We love the freedom to run free in the world, learning along the way.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 7 comments
Laura - August 21, 2012

Val,
First, thanks for including me in that auspicious group! One of my biggest regrets as I look back over my sons’ education is I did not move my younger son into the experiential school which would have suited his learning style. Fortunately, he is one of these kids who is smart enough to succeed and learn in a traditional setting. It was actually on a trip I discovered he would have thrived in a less traditional classroom. We were walking along the footpath which circles the Tidal Basin in Washington DC: we were cold and damp after a long walk to the Roosevelt memorial. I wasn’t sure the walk was worth it. Sure, I enjoyed how the art and architecture echoed the WPA projects and artistic style of the 1930’s and the historic blurbs but I was pretty sure it was lost on Evan who was probably tired of my narration of at the sites we were touring. My fifteen year old mumbled from deep inside his damp hoodie: “I think I’m learning more about American history on this trip than I have in all my years of social studies.”

Reply
    Val - August 23, 2012

    Laura, that’s a great story. Pretty much sums up the education conundrum. Getting out to see the world certainly has a huge impact on my little minions. Plus they’re not stressed out like they were when they were in public school so they’re actually able to absorb instead of just get by. I wish I could say I had it all figured out from the get-go but even once we started homeschooling, it still took awhile to break out of the curriculum-heavy mindset.

    And next time I’m in DC, I want you to come along as a tour guide! I would have loved your narration…
    Cheers!

    Reply
Wandering Educators - August 21, 2012

Indeed, the best way to learn anything is by doing! We wholeheartedly embrace that concept. And, it’s one reason why unschooling works so well for us. Great article (and links!)

Reply
    Val - August 23, 2012

    Yes, you’re one of the first sites I found that helped chart our course here in figuring out the possibilities. Fred and George are definitely better suited to unschooling. It’s a great fit for us too! Thanks for stopping by… V

    Reply
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