Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Experience: The Best Learning

I'm a big believer in experiential learning--experiencing things firsthand to really learn them. I'm not saying you can't learn things by reading, or by viewing. You certainly can. But often times, the actual sights, sounds, smells, and atmosphere of the experience are part of the context of the learning and you miss something by not actually being there.

My family took many road trips in my youth. We drove through every state west of the Mississippi river, and a few to the east as well. I've visited so many tourist traps and National Parks and roadside attractions in the Western U.S., I sometimes joke--like the old Johnny Cash song--"I've been everywhere." This was a blessing for me that I didn't necessarily understand or appreciate at the time. Actually stopping and visiting all these places is different than reading about them or even seeing pictures or video of them. When you experience them, you remember them differently.

And now I have the chance to take my own kids on these kinds of trips. We recently visited lots of great places around the southwestern U.S. for fantastic firsthand experiences! Here is a sampling in photos:

Extracting DNA at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science
Exploring cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park
Spruce Tree House at Mesa Verde National Park
Classic (awkward) portrait at Four Corners
Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park
Legoland California - a life-size X-wing from Star Wars made from
over five millions Lego bricks. (I want to make one too!)
Legoland California - Driving school
We had so much fun on this trip! And we learned so much by doing...

Driving through the mountains and seeing the switchbacks, the tunnels, the steep drop-offs is a whole new way of understanding them for kids who've grown up on the Great Plains.

Actually climbing down into a kiva in Mesa Verde National Park to see it (and smell it!) is different than reading about how native Americans built them 500 years ago.

Building sand castles too close to the shoreline and having them wash away as the tide comes in is a far more effective way of learning than just having Dad say, "You should start your castle further up the beach, kids!"


One of my favorite moments on the trip happened at the Grand Canyon. My daughter stood looking at the canyon with her mouth agape for a few minutes, and then turned to me and said, "I didn't know it was so...BIG!"

You got that right, sweetheart. You got it.

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