30 years ago, I, like many from my generation, sat down on a chair and desk in my nursery classroom every day – 5 days a week, went through the norm of being in a school and came out fine. Fine and alright but not great, because if you ask me what I learnt I wont be able to recall much, except for if you ask me about a field trip or an actual interaction with my first best friends. So how come, from the most important years of my life, I remember so little of my schooling? Why do I only remember the ‘fun’ things? The answer lies in some follow up questions, that I am now able to link, being an early years educator myself: Why do we continuously evolve the learning and teaching in the early years? What is so magical about these years? What is it about early years teachers and them putting so much importance on these experiences and hands on learning? All learning is hands on learning, right? We use both our hands for everything; I sat down, I held a pencil; so then how do we differentiate between doing tasks and experiential learning?
These are legitimate questions, just like what is the difference between hearing and listening? Looking and seeing? Doing and feeling?
The answer lies in using our senses. ”Use your listening ears”, we hear this often in a nursery classroom, so what does it mean exactly? When we take the little ones for a nature walk, they can run and look and listen, but we tell them to pause and we remind them ‘don’t forget to touch, to listen and to see’. Tuning into our senses is easier when the body can physically feel the environment as to when they see all this is in a picture. They can not hear the bird tweet in the picture and while this may be possible in a video, they cannot feel the texture of the flower petals or smell the fragrance. Children respond more to experiences that involve all their senses and can enjoy the process of learning. We have hundreds of nerves from the top of our head to the tips of our toes, what a waste if we do not use them to learn something new every time we touch!
I once sat in a training where the group was divided in two. One group was given pictures of an orange while the other was given real oranges- the only task given was to describe what was in front of us. In a room full of adults, the adjectives used to describe the picture were mostly limited to orange and round where as the group which had the opportunity to touch and smell it went as far as to describe the texture and talk about how it felt and smelt in detail. This tells us lots if we want to listen and understand. If such a small difference can bring about such a big change in learning and that too in a mature adult mind think of what it does to a child’s process of learning. Take from it what you may-
“How do you spell ‘love’? said Piglet.
“You don’t spell it, you feel it”, replied Pooh.