• Karen MacLean

Mobilizing all our senses

”Mobilizing all our senses to learn about the world and ourselves makes for dynamic, generative learning. Learning what a forest is by walking, running and skipping through it can be a whole-body experience. Smelling the leaf mold underfoot, hearing the wind in the leaves overhead or the crackle of twigs as we walk, feeling the wind on our skin and the changes in the levels and textures of the forest floor as we run: all this gives us the input to produce a detailed, complex understanding of what a forest is. “



Last week I wrote about the importance of letting children mobilize their entire bodies for learning. The examples I gave were rather simple; learning about the spaces in which people move, by merely experiencing and exploring them: the nature that surrounds us in the city and in the countryside, cityscapes and workplaces, societal institutions such as government and health care.


The critical reader might object that there is much more for children to learn than just that – we have reams of academic subjects that they have to master, for example – and older kids can’t just go on field trips all the time.


True, but strengthening children’s natural tendency to learn with their whole bodies forms a powerful point of departure both for more complex learning – about the forest and its ecosystems, or local government and its policies, or power plants and electricity and sustainability; the sky’s the limit. The power of this point of departure is twofold. On the one hand, children are learning with their whole bodies, forming knowledge at levels they don’t even know about but that will stay with them for a long, long time.


Beyond that, however, is the fact that a lot of the wonderful things we adults have in mind to teach children will make a lot more sense to them when they are contextualized by the real world. And when things make sense – when the meaning is apparent, not just asserted – then children will engage, and thereby learn, much more and much more deeply.


Snail Academy wants to be part of a transition, from indoor schooling, to indoor schooling supplemented with outdoor schooling, to imagining schools in a whole new way, where schools support children mobilizing the full power of their learning machines (i.e. bodies), and draw on the world at large for learning experiences.


The first step in that transition is to begin to weave outdoor schooling into the fabric of our schooling, bit by bit. Getting out of the classroom to smell, touch, taste, hear and see the world, and to locate our bodies and their capacities in it. The next step - if we can even begin to imagine such a step - is to let indoor schooling recede as much as possible, till schools serve only as homebase, while we spend most of our time on the go, mobilizing our fantastic learning machines.



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