Rachel Carson is one of my very favorite authors. In “The Sense of Wonder”, she recounts introducing her nephew Roger to the countless curiosities they encountered together in nature, “We have let Roger share in our enjoyment of things people ordinarily deny children because they are inconvenient, interfering with bedtime, or involving wet clothing that must be removed or mud that has to be cleaned off the rug.” She reflects that these moments experiencing the beauty and wonder of nature would “mean more to him in manhood than the sleep he was losing.” She wrote this in 1956.
Today, as I speak with educators I am hearing the term, “experience poor”, come up more and more. They tell me that their students are lacking the real-life experience that we know provides a critical frame of reference for understanding what they are being taught in school. And increasingly, classroom teachers are being asked to do so much that they feel they don’t have the time and resources to get children out of their chairs to learn through experience.
Yet we know—from so many studies—that we humans learn best through experience. Hands on education that is rooted in the local community fosters students’ connection to place, boosts academic achievement and improves environmental, social, and economic vitality.
Imagine trying to learn to master a recipe without a kitchen, measuring cups, or even ingredients. Or harder yet, imagine trying to learn that recipe with no prior cooking experience. This is what we are currently asking our children to do. They may memorize the recipe for a period of time, but they won’t learn to cook.
So many teachers I speak with are eager to help their students engage more in their lessons. And they know that inquiry, exploration, and experience are key to driving up those engagement levels. It might get messy. It might take longer. But hands-on learning is so worth the effort.
KidsGardening has launched a new grant program this year that will make it a little easier for teachers to encounter nature with their students. Our partner, The Klorane Botanical Foundation, is sponsoring a grant in Chicago, IL, Kansas City, KS, Los Angeles, CA, New York, NY, San Francisco, CA, and Washington, DC to build or expand garden classrooms students can get outdoors and learn with their hands in the dirt. The Budding Botanist Grant will help our youngest citizens learn about plants, explore their world and inspire them to take care of the life they discover in their local ecosystems.
Rachel Carson also said that, “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder…he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it.” Let us each try to be that adult for at least one child and provide more opportunities for her/him to get out into the world and experience the joy of learning.