1/18/10

Engaging the WHOLE child in Learning Makes for Long Term Retention

I have recently made a HUGE discovery in teaching my children that has revolutionized the way I think about my own teaching and reminded me of the key to teaching. Often when we walk the 3 blocks from our apartment to our car, Nora, my 2-year old, begs to be carried. I remembered that she is often deeply engaged in my stories when I try to get her settled for bed, so I offered to tell her a story to distract her from wanting to be picked up. In the 7 minutes it took to walk at a her slow 2-year-old pace, she lived though a "kitty" birthday party filled with mirth and packed with lots of candy, cakes, and presents. In looking at her eyes, you would have thought she was right there at the kitty party as the kitty's very own guest at the table. It was then that I realized, that we all love and live out stories in our heads, isn't that why as adults we love books? Books transport us elsewhere, to another world. I also realized through this experience the incredible value of the imagination in young children and how very little we use and engage it as educators. We watch this wonderful tool wither and die a slow painful death as we become less and less able to engage them thought this world of non-reality and amazing possibilities.
"The Arts" to the educated people is often lauded as a necessity and even thought of as an essential part of education. Yet, in conversations with people over the years I have come to learn that although art and music ARE essential, most people have no idea why they are so imperative for the education of their child and do a very bad job at explaining this "WHY". This is reminiscent of other such LOVES of educatedparents such as Einstein videos, Montessori, science toys, or theatre. They are regarded in high esteem but upon further investigation there is very little ability to explain the inner workings of why they are so affective with children. So what makes the arts so powerful?

I use to teach at a charter school in DC called S.A.I.L, School of Arts in Learning. At SAIL, I had to teach history, science and social studies by engaging the child's whole body and not simply their heads. To teach about the scientific method I got crickets and we explored the statement that they "would eat just about anything" for 2 weeks. Each night we would place a different item in with the crickets and see if they'd eat it. And sure enough, they ate most things we put in the aquarium. Children were alive with questions and participation. One time, in teaching about the Great Wall of China, children created a giant wall across the room with shoe boxes and while sitting around it wrote letters back home explaining their hardships in building this wall. When learning about immigrants and the significance of ElisIsland we built a boat and an intake center in the class in which people were welcomed to the US. Children again wrote letters home and journal entries about this life-changing experience as immigrants.

Th arts, acting, ,music, movement are so effective in teaching children anything because they feed the child's imagination which are active late into childhood if used. They are so effective because their bodies move and every muscle and cell in their bodies also has the ability to learn and retain information but only IF engaged.

I will forever remember the only memory I have of 5th grade. The science teacher had us rub various types of food on brown paper bag paper to assess the fat content of the food; the larger the grease stain the more fat it had. This single project is the one memorable education-based lesson I remember from this year. How can that be? and why? This makes total sense to me. This project engaged my hands, and not just my head. My hands remember doing this. Same applies to High School. I attended MarymountSchool of NY, a private girl's high school and here too, the lessons that have followed me all the way to age 36 are the ones in which more than my head was engaged. I remember dissecting a fetal pig, painting a landscape for the first time, going to see a play about the Great Depression; all of which I remember in great detail. Engaging the child's whole body when teaching is what separates one from remembering the lesson enough to pass a test, or enough to remember for a lifetime.








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