The Power of Rich Experiences
“Children Learn Best Through Rich Experiences” said the time-faded newspaper clipping of an ad I had placed way back in the late 70’s or early 80’s. At that time I was running a small in-home preschool and working to do my best to bring interesting learning experiences to the students. On the ad I listed some of the places my little 2 through 4 year olds and I had visited, like a heavy equipment company, a post office, a ride on a bus and a train, a music shop. As a certificated teacher, staying home for a bit with my own children while doing the preschool part-time, it was important to me to provide these experiences. I knew activities such as these would increase their understanding of concepts and vocabulary. As I looked at the ad, I realized that though that had been long ago, that statement was still valid for today’s kids. We all learn best when we are involved in novel activities and use our senses to discover new ideas and concepts. Setting up activities for ourselves and children which encourage this provides for rich experiences.
Later, when I taught again in the public school, I loved to expose children to ideas and activities outside of their own life circle — like Career Days in 4th-6th grade which introduced them to such diverse careers as meteorologist, airline pilot, baker, and air quality sampler. We developed a poetry activity which took all the classes on a walk through the school to encounter poems illustrated and displayed in various ways. And we provided a science lab in which students could simulate mountain building, touch and look at animal pelts and skeletons, and put together electric circuits and do many other hands-on activities. These experiences were “rich” in that they provided out of the ordinary opportunities to experience new ideas, vocabulary, and concepts — rich experiences.
Providing Rich Experiences
And now I am at a different point in my life. I am no longer running a small preschool, I am retired from teaching in the public school. Now I am writing children’s picture books. I believe that picture books are another opportunity to offer those important rich experiences for children. In my opinion, they are meant to be read to a child, not simply given to the child to look at or read for themselves. It is in the close, loving relationship of reading to a child and talking about the story that the seeds to good reading and comprehension are sowed. This presentation of the story is what involves the senses. And this brings up another component that I believe contributes to enriching experiences for learning — the involvement of a caring adult. When there is an adult who is not only interested in the child, but also in the activity and how the child will relate to it, the experience moves up several notches in usefulness as a learning activity. This is a good concept for parents and teachers to understand. We want to encourage development of proficient reading and concept learning. A first, crucial step towards that is to connect the book and the reading with a loving, interested human being who interacts with the child and helps him or her interact with the story. And this step isn’t only for babies. Even after the child is reading, he or she benefits from being read to.
In the development of a picture book, the author is able to use more advanced vocabulary, as the story, the pictures, AND THE STORY READER aid the child in understanding words that are outside of their proficiency. I have always disliked these teddy bears that read a story, or a computer that reads a story out loud. That might be fine once in a while. But it cannot and should not replace a parent, grandparent or animated story book reader (thank you librarians) who provide a rich learning experience. A real, caring person is doing a lot of things when he or she shares a picture book with the child. He or she is having a conversation with the listener about the story and the pictures, explaining the meaning of words, asking the child questions about what they are seeing and thinking about in the story, talking to the child about experiences that are similar to what happened in the story, and giving the child time to look and question and have fun with the story.
Recently I asked a retired teacher to review my new book for suggestions, before I sent it to the printer. She read it, but then she did something even more valuable for me to get important feedback. She shared it with her granddaughter. Her granddaughter is a preschooler. This book has lots of words that are much too advanced for her. But, because she had a loving, caring story-reader sharing it with her, this little one enjoyed the story so much that she is eagerly awaiting it to come out in book form.
Here’s how they shared it. They went through and talked about the pictures, first. Then they read the story and the reader stopped to let the child question and talk about and insert her own experiences and sounds to go along with it. They talked about it, they laughed about it, they created a rich, learning experience.
Continue To Challenge
Over the years, I have been deeply involved in trying to enhance children’s learning. And, along the way, I found out something. I, too, developed from doing this. My learning and growth were further developed as I interacted with these activities and these children. Recently I found another way to continue this development. I volunteered first at the California Living Museum in Bakersfield, CA. and then at the Sea Center connected to the Museum of Natural History in Santa Barbara. I chose these experiences as I have always been interested in Native California animals and in learning new things. I did what I always tried to do with children, I provided myself with learning opportunities outside of my normal everyday environment. In doing so, I allowed for my own personal growth. And, I could then teach others about what I had learned!
When children have been involved in the kinds of rich experiences we have discussed above such as:
-diverse explorations and activities both at home and in school,
-the sharing of picture books with a caring, involved reader,
-the opportunities to experience something outside of their normal environment
something, truly significant and astounding happens.
Their brains grow! Their brains grow! Their brains grow!