Learning experiences are the heart of teaching. A learning experience is any interaction with a student that leads to understanding new information. That may sound broad, but God’s creation is so wonderfully complex that learning can happen anywhere and at any time. Learning experiences aren’t limited to planned lessons; children can learn through spontaneous activities, dinner table conversations, grocery store shopping, or independent playtime.
Children’s minds are basically blank slates—they are constantly gaining new information. Education should gradually build on this foundation with new information and help children develop important learning skills. Successful learning experiences encourage children’s confidence and willingness to learn. Let’s explore some effective forms of learning experiences and tips for continuing successful learning.
6 Types of Learning Experiences That Work
The standard format for teaching—reading, lecture, homework—may be convenient and easy, but in reality, it doesn’t always work. Some students don’t learn well from this method, and not all kinds of information can be taught effectively using this approach. These alternative types of learning experiences can help you create a differentiated learning environment that fits your children’s needs.
1. Use manipulatives.
Manipulatives are valuable tools when teaching abstract ideas or ideas that you can’t readily observe. We rely on them most for teaching math, but you can use manipulatives as a placeholder for any abstract or intangible concept. You can teach grammar concepts by building sentences out of word cards. You can teach the water cycle with cutouts in a circle. Sensory bins that involve letter and shape tracing are also a type of manipulative.
2. Take a field trip.
Field trips offer unique opportunities for learning. They take children outside of their familiar environment and put them in contact with experts on a topic or give real-life applications to what they are learning. Additionally, field trips can include a variety of places or applications. They can be at museums, science centers, zoos, art galleries, fire or police stations, or water treatment plants.
Role-playing with information provides a more immersive learning experience for children. Role-playing requires high-level thinking skills to accomplish an objective. Children may learn by acting out their lives as if they lived in a particular time period. They may also explore the functions of government by pretending to create a law with their siblings. This is a great opportunity for siblings to work together to learn or for you to participate in their education in a different way.
Research and writing projects can be customized to create extended learning experiences about a range of subject areas and even about writing itself. They can be as long or as short as you want them to be, and the research component doesn’t have to involve extensive writing. These types of learning experiences do take longer than others, but they are still valuable types of learning experiences.
Most experiments are a part of science labs. Labs and experiments give children a chance to test out a concept they have studied—like combining chemicals to test a reaction or growing plants in different light levels—or to explore something for themselves—like dissecting a plant or animal specimen or observing objects under a microscope. These hands-on experiences differ from static manipulative exercises. STEM activities offer another kind of experiment and are closely associated with science or math.
Guided discussions are useful in exploring worldview development or morality questions that might come up in a reading or literature, science, or history course. They’re also effective for foreign language studies, provided that you’re capable of holding the discussion in the target language. You can often jumpstart a guided discussion by asking questions about the implications of a certain action or choice of a character or historical figure or ask for alternative choices that could have been made.
Tips for Creating Successful Learning Experiences
How do you know which kind of experience to create? What if you’ve developed a plan that should work but hasn’t yet? Remember that teaching is a creative practice that involves observing what works and trying new things.
Match learning experiences to your children.
Create and choose learning experiences with your children’s interests and preferences in mind. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t teach about the Revolutionary War if your children have no interest in history. Instead, it might mean some out-of-the-box thinking to find a way to engage your children’s interests. If your child has an interest in sports, you might start the discussion with sports that were popular in the colonies. Then you could explore how colonists’ perceptions might have changed towards certain sports associated with England.
Create a success-focused environment.
Your homeschool environment includes everything in your home, schedule, and even curriculum. Creating a successful learning environment may mean making adjustments to one of the three to support your children’s confidence and ability to learn. This doesn’t mean making your home learning-focused 24/7. Rather, adjust your homeschool space to the needs of different learners. This might mean minimizing distractions or moving children closer together to allow collaboration and cooperation. It might mean making sure your schedule allows room for downtime. It might mean choosing the curriculum that lets you choose and adapt instruction.
Eliminate barriers to learning.
All children have areas where they excel and areas where they struggle. It is important for children to learn to work past those struggles, but they quickly become barriers if you focus on them too much. A barrier to learning may be a learning disability, learning deficiency, perceived inadequacy, or even an over-emphasis on perfection. A barrier can be anything that prevents your child from performing as well as you know they can.
Many barriers, like perceived inadequacies or perfectionism, can prevent your child from even trying to learn because they think they can’t or they think that what they will do just won’t be good enough. You might adopt a learning accommodation when eliminating barriers, especially if your child has a learning disability. You might also choose to not show your children their grades, or you might avoid certain kinds of learning experiences. For example, a child who struggles with reading and writing doesn’t need to complete reading or writing learning experiences outside of reading or English studies.
Make learning experiences measurable.
The learning experiences you create should be able to tell you and your children how they have developed over time. You can give children a grade or a number to represent how well they did, but a good grade isn’t the goal. The goal is to show your children or anyone else that they are learning information and growing out of difficulties and struggles. Assigning a grade is one way to show progress, but you can also work towards accomplishing a list of objectives. Some types of learning experiences, like writing projects or experiments, can work well with rubrics.
While you certainly can design learning experiences for your homeschool, you shouldn’t have to create them all from scratch. One way to make your homeschool journey smoother and easier is by choosing a curriculum that offers you multisensory learning experiences that have already been created for you. With enough learning experiences available to you, you can pick and choose the experiences that will work for your family and your unique journey.
BJU Press materials offer a variety of resources and suggestions for creating learning experiences for your homeschool that you can choose from to customize your teaching. Learn more about our textbooks and available resources!