“Why do I have to learn this? When am I ever gonna use this stuff?”

Maybe you’ve heard those complaints at your house a time or three.

I can remember wondering, myself, when I was ever going to have to add or multiply fractions, diagram a sentence, or describe the workings of an internal combustion engine…and then I grew up and needed to double a recipe, write and edit my own blog posts, and explain to our mechanic why I’d brought the car in for a check-up.

We do need to know so very many things in order to function comfortably in an adult world, but there’s such a big gap between the time we learn things and the time when we need them to live. That’s why I beat the real-life learning drum rather often and humbly suggest that whenever we bring real life to learning, we bring learning to life.

Whenever we bring real life to learning, we bring learning to life. Click To Tweet

Let me offer two huge reasons why it’s well worth your effort to break away from traditional textbooks and put up with the sometimes messy and schedule-challenging process of educating from real life whenever possible.

Learning from real-life experiences closes the gap between learning and doing.

Instead of reading the dry instructions and descriptions of what others have done–things for which the child has no point of reference and therefore no real interest–it makes sense to pique students’ interest by creating a need to know and then immediately providing the answer and letting them see for themselves, in their own experience, how and why things work as they do.

Some education professionals refer to this as the constructivist learning theory. Here are some quotes I found online at various educational websites:

  • “[T]he theory of constructivism suggests that learners construct knowledge out of their experiences. However, constructivism is often associated with pedagogic approaches that promote active learning, or learning by doing.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constructivism)
  • “Constructivism is basically a theory — based on observation and scientific study — about how people learn. It says that people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world, through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences.” (www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/constructivism/)
  • “A reaction to didactic approaches such as behaviorism and programmed instruction, constructivism states that learning is an active, contextualized process of constructing knowledge rather than acquiring it. Knowledge is constructed based on personal experiences and hypotheses of the environment.” (www.learning-theories.com/constructivism.html)
  • “The latest catchword in educational circles is “constructivism,” applied both to learning theory and to epistemology—both to how people learn, and to the nature of knowledge.” (www.exploratorium.edu/education/ifi/constructivist-learning)

Well, how about that? “The latest catchword,” huh? Learning by doing and personal observation, right? Somehow even in describing an exciting way of learning, these experts have managed to squash the excitement right out of it. *sigh* If these researchers and writers would step out of their clinical learning simulations and into the real world of working with children, they might learn (constructively, of course) that the best time to teach a child how to tie his shoe is when the shoe is on his foot. The best way to teach a student about nature is not a stuffy biology text but a trip to the zoo or an internship with a local rancher, breeder, or vet. The best way to teach history and geography is on field trips. And the best way to learn any sort of work skills is by doing that work yourself. It’s not new, and if it’s “the latest catchword in educational circles” it may be an indication that those circles are only just now catching up to what many have always known–to prepare for real life, you can’t beat on-the-job training and the “school of hard knocks.”

The reason is simple. I am unlikely to remember the experiences of strangers. I may or may not remember what my friends have told me, but I will always remember what I have experienced myself, especially if the experience was particularly meaningful, memorable, or fun.

Learning comes to life when we are involved in our own educational process.

In the last few years, I have learned to:

These were not things I was taught in school. These were things I needed to know…sometimes rather desperately…because I could not accomplish my personal plans and goals until I acquired the skills to move forward. I learned to play the harp because I had always wanted to, and suddenly I realized that I was the only one standing in my own way. I learned to write a novel because I’d always wanted to, and suddenly I realized I had a story to tell. I learned the other skills in the process of completing projects that were important to me. Sometimes I found a mentor. Sometimes I read books and watched tutorials online. Other times I just set aside time to experiment until I figured things out. And you know what? Now that I’ve learned to do these things, I’m really proud of the results and happy to help others learn, too!

It’s the same way with our children. There are topics that fascinate them–things they’re good at. They want to feel capable and productive. They like to proudly share what they’re working on or what they’ve completed. Guiding them to acquire new skills and learn while immersed in their own experiences and then helping them find ways to share their accomplishments with others is a delightful way to learn!