• Karen MacLean

Whole-body learning is not just for forests

We have asserted that outdoor schooling is more than a temporary solution to the challenges facing us in a time of corona: it is a fantastic supplement to indoor schooling! And more than that, we insisted that outdoor schooling has the potential to radically alter the way we teach and learn in primary schools!



That’s quite a claim to make!


One of the reasons we believe this to be true is that indoor schooling focuses mostly on a limited selection of our senses –our eyes, supplemented by a spot of listening – and a very limited part of the body. Indoor schooling squishes all our learning into the head (and the left or the right hand depending) and lets the rest of the body and its senses lie fallow. This is a big problem!


Human beings have a body and senses for a reason – it is one of the world’s best learning apparatuses. Our sense of smell may not be as keen as a dog’s and we don’t see as well as cats, but the combination of all our senses working together makes a powerful learning machine. Sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch are the five senses we are most aware of. But there is also proprioception – which lets us know where our bodies are in space – and equilibrioception, which helps us move about without falling over. Then there are our internal senses that let us know when to eat and breathe or take a break, when we are hurt or tired.


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.


We are not necessarily aware of all the information we have amassed and organized and the knowledge we produced about “forest”; that would be overwhelming and ineffective. The miracle of our bodies and their senses is that they do all this work on the QT, while we are running about and having fun in the forest, and afterwards on the backburner as we go about the rest of our day, and during the night, when we catch our z’s.


And whole-body learning is not just for forests! The same goes for learning about the rest of the world – built and grown urban spaces, both local and more distant. Workplaces, government spaces, places of production, places of learning and exploration. All the spaces that adult humans inhabit are important for children to experience, with all those senses on the alert. Experience and explore, building bodily knowledge of these spaces and who inhabits them and how they feel and function.


If it sounds overwhelming to venture into this kind of learning activities (not to mention integrate them in the school schedule and curriculum) Snail Academy is here to help!


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