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Experience is the Best Teacher

What type of environment do you want your child to take into his or her soul?

Have you considered that the natural relationship children have with their environment greatly affects their education? God has woven into each child a particular way of relating to the things around him or her. If we don’t understand this relationship, then we may be inadvertently miseducating our children.

Children learn primarily through observing, engaging, discovering, and imitating what is in their environment. This is most clearly seen in the early years of a child’s life, from birth through pre-school. There is no teacher standing over the child, lecturing or putting things on a board. The child experiences his or her environment in its raw form and learns from it. The sights, sounds, tastes, and relational interactions are new and wonderful. The child takes in all these marvelous experiences and processes them. In the midst of the processing, the child begins to incarnate what is learned or absorbed from the environment, such as words, behaviors, expectations, etc. This absorption and learning is especially seen in the acquisition of language. All over the world, children learn their first language largely without the help of one sole teacher. They are immersed in a language-rich environment and learn how to communicate within it at an early age.

Learning from one’s environment is natural for mankind, as seen in the Garden of Eden. We have no record that God created man with an inherent understanding of all things. Also God did not sit man down in a white room, lecturing to him or putting ideas into his head. It is more likely that God placed Adam in the garden to learn and understand more about creation through experience. Imagine all the sights he saw, sounds he heard, and things he felt as he explored his new home. Each new experience helped him understand more about its source and contrast it with the things around it. Thus he could distinguish that a bird moves through the air making high-pitched sounds and a lion moves on the ground making low-pitched sounds. As the man walked with God around the garden, he absorbed more from his environment through his relationship with God. He began to understand how each creature in the garden worked, was cared for, and interacted with the other creatures in the garden. From his relationship with God, the man learned the value system of the garden and how he was to manage it as God’s representative.

Both God’s pedagogy for the first man and a child’s natural aptitude for learning from his or her environment should speak volumes for how children should be educated. Children primarily learn through experiencing their environment. They desire to hold division, experience the beauty of language, and be able to manipulate grammar. I don’t believe that children ever lose this desire to experience what they are learning. There is not some magical age when they no longer care to be experientially connected to what their minds are engaged in. Yes, they may progress from the concrete to the abstract in algebra or the contemplation of some idea. Yet even at this level, they will seek to experience it as much as possible.

Another implication of children’s relation to their environment is that they will absorb and incarnate their surroundings. Not only will they take in the material they are working with or instruction they are receiving, they will also absorb the lighting, walls, furniture, and floor. Wherever a child is learning, ask yourself, “What would this child absorb and incarnate if I took the teacher out of the learning space?” What priorities and values will the student learn from their environment, and are those what we want them to learn? Educational environments range from industrial and efficient to natural and beautiful. What type of environment do you want your child to take into his or her soul?

As educators, whether at home or in a professional environment, we must consider a child’s natural tendency and desire to learn from and through his environment. Are we facilitating a child’s first-hand experience with what the child is learning, or are we simply telling the child what we know to be true? Sometimes we may not have even experienced the truth ourselves and thus we are giving away a second-hand story at best. Perhaps this is why some children find learning so boring. Most people desire to be in the center of the story or experience rather than on the outside looking in. I want to encourage you to change one thing about your teaching environment or the materials you use, bearing in mind what you want your student to incarnate.

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