Online Learning versus Learning with Nature, by guest blogger Catherine Ross

“As a child, one has that magical capacity to move among the many eras of the earth; to see the land as an animal does; to experience the sky from the perspective of the flower or a bee; to feel the earth quiver and breathe beneath us; to know a hundred different smells of mud and listen unconsciously to the soughing of the trees…”, wrote Valerie Andrews in her book called ‘A Passion for this Earth’.

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Photo Courtesy: Philippe Put

Some of my earliest childhood memories are of playing games like hide and seek and blind man’s bluff with the kids in the neighborhood. We were a bunch of 8-10 kids who would gather in the biggest garden available (which was, luckily, ours) or the park every evening around tea-time and spend at least two hours together. We would either play one of the above mentioned games or simply make up new and innovative games of our own, squealing away as we chased each other. And the feeling of accomplishment which came with emerging as the winner in such games was unparalleled – we would strut around the house all evening, proudly proclaiming the same till our moms shut us up!

Another vivid memory is the annual treat of going out camping with dad for a weekend in our summer holidays. My younger brother and I used to start badgering him a week before the summer vacations actually began – eventually he would have to give in and then off we would go, with our sleeping bags in tow. One particular summer, dad was out of town for the entire duration of the holidays and we were particularly morose until our mum came up with a brilliant idea – we ended up camping with our tents and sleeping bags in our very own backyard!

However, if you ask my kids today what activities they enjoy the most, they would probably say it’s the PlayStation game ‘EyePet and Friends’, ‘Temple Run’ or some such online or mobile game. Playing outdoors would never figure in their list of activities at all, let alone favorite activities!

A study carried out in the USA titled – An Investigation of the Status of Outdoor Play – came up with the following major findings:

* Children in the USA today spend less time playing outdoors than the previous generation.

* The number of regular play activities is higher for indoor activities than outdoor ones (96 per cent kids watch television regularly, 81 per cent play online games every day).

* Obstacles to playing outdoors focus on the child’s increased use of television and computers at home.

Then comes the question: Does it matter? After all, one should change with the changing times. In the present age of tablets, smart phones, cable TV, Facebook and YouTube, is it actually important for today’s kids to know the difference between the daisy and the chrysanthemum, a fowl and a chicken?

My answer would veer somewhere between a yes and a no. I don’t think kids would be affected as adults if they don’t know the difference between two different species of plants; what would matter more is picking up qualities like problem-solving skills, cooperation and teamwork, which they could have picked up while getting dirty climbing trees and splashing through mud puddles with other kids of the same age group. These little joys of childhood learning are slowly but surely disappearing today.

I, being a homeschooling mum to my two kids, definitely feel we are better off with the internet at our disposal today. And though some parents may not agree with me, I do feel children can benefit from educational games, provided they are regularly monitored as well as used in moderation. One, they get a sense of accomplishment while clearing the different levels of a game. It spurs them on to try harder and inculcates self-confidence in them. Two, it does help to improve eye-hand coordination as well as gets them more tuned into how a computer works, which undoubtedly, is something one must know in this day and age. Also, certain games do test the reasoning abilities of the kids, thus sharpening their logical power.

However, outdoor activities in the lap of nature teach things which online learning cannot match. First of all, outdoor games are multi-sensory activities wherein you can touch, hear, see and smell things. It is an imaginative process, where there are no pre-conceived ideas and you can change rules to suit your needs. Interacting with other people in person develops a certain level of empathy and understanding between fellow beings plus improves communication skills, which is impossible in the case of online learning. And last but not the least, kids build up their immunity levels and keep themselves fit with all the running around. Would all this be possible if they were cooped indoors all day, with a touch screen tablet in their hands? No way!

So when Richard Louv writes: “We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when our world is made whole. In my children’s memories, the adventures we’ve had together in nature will always exist…”, I completely agree with him. Because it is possible to strike a balance between the time our kids spend indoors and the time they spend outdoors, in order to make them have the best of both worlds.

After all, in the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt. That’s the fun of it. Don’t we owe it to our kids?

Author Bio: Catherine Ross is a full-time stay-at-home-mum who believes learning should be enjoyable for young minds. An erstwhile elementary school teacher, Catherine loves coming up with creative ways through which kids can grasp the seemingly difficult concepts of learning easily. She believes that a ‘fun factor’ can go a long way in enhancing kids’ understanding and blogs at http://kidslearninggames.weebly.com/

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Encouraging Unplanned Learning by guest author, Catherine Ross

One of the biggest defining factors of a school education is that the learning that happens there is almost always planned. Teachers begin with a curriculum, from which they formulate lesson plans. During the lesson, all learning is directed to fit into the structure advised by the lesson plan. Teachers have a clear goal when they begin, and then test the students to see whether the goal has been achieved. At the end of the year, there is a clear record of what the students have learnt, and to what extent they have learnt it.

However, the learning does not stop when kids leave the classroom. It continues in the playground and after school hours, perhaps with more interest and involvement than ever expressed in the classroom! When kids capture and observe a worm that they dug out of the backyard, or experiment with various structures to figure out how to make their wooden blocks building sturdier, they are learning very important lessons in science and math without even realizing it. This alternate, unplanned way of learning comes naturally to kids and requires no formal structure or process at all. This is unplanned learning, and based on my experiences I have come to believe that it is the more effective and enjoyable form of learning for all involved.

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Photo by James Emery

Unplanned learning can happen anywhere, and at any time of the day. It can happen with kids who go to school, as well as those who are homeschooled. It can happen on a lazy summer day or while you’re vacationing in Hawaii. It can happen between any two individuals. It is inexpensive, exciting and stays with the learner for much longer. However, it does require a few basic conditions in order to be effective.

Imagine a classroom setting, where the teacher is discussing insectivorous plants. A student, excited by the topic, asks the teacher more about how the insects are tricked into landing on the plants. However, the teacher, equipped with a lesson plan and limited by time constraints, tells the student that the question is not related to what they are supposed to be learning. While this began as a perfect opportunity for unplanned learning, it progressed in a way that was demoralizing to the learner and may even dampen the student’s natural desire to learn. While unstructured learning does come naturally to kids, certain experiences may reduce the frequency of their occurrence and sap the joy of learning and discovery from their lives.

However, as a parent, you are in the perfect position to encourage unplanned learning right at home. Here are a few things that you can do to get your child learning by leaps and bounds, and enjoying every minute of it.

1. Take every interest of your child’s very seriously. If your daughter is fascinated by horses, take her to the library to pick out books on horses. Better still, take her to a stable where she can pet, feed and interact with them and get her questions answered by the caretaker. Apart from learning more about horses, your daughter will be practicing her reading and social skills and learning lots about animal behaviour in general!

2. Look out for learning opportunities. When you are at the grocery store, allow your first grader to pay for your things and collect the change. When your child asks you a question, encourage him to do research instead of answering it directly. While waiting at a doctor’s office, give your child reading practice (and a few lessons in life science) by helping her sound out the posters on the wall.

3. Create a healthy learning environment.Instead of waiting for learning opportunities to come your way, create them on your own. Buy your children educational toys such as tangrams and let them play learning games online. Plan trips to a zoo, a nature center or/and a museum. Make regular trips to the library. Do fun science experiments at home. Supplement these learning opportunities with interesting discussions and additional reading material, especially if they show an interest in the subject.

And very importantly, never ridicule a question of any type. If you don’t know the answer yourself, find out together. Show your child that learning does not just happen with textbooks and worksheets. You will plant the seed for a lifelong love for learning in your kids, and they will be ever grateful for it.

Author Bio: Catherine Ross is a full-time stay-at-home-mum who believes learning should be enjoyable for young minds. An erstwhile elementary school teacher, Catherine loves coming up with creative ways through which kids can grasp the seemingly difficult concepts of learning easily. She believes that a ‘fun factor’ can go a long way inenhancing kids’ understanding and blogs at http://kidslearninggames.weebly.com/