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Hands-on learning gives kids something to hold on to


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It should have been obvious all along that project-based learning is the best way to prepare a child for the adult world.

People need to get their hands dirty. If they can’t see, touch, smell, hear or taste something, they’re probably going to have a hard time remembering it — at least with any permanency.

Think about it. If you’re like me, the things you remember with any sustainability probably are the very things you learned hands-on or by applying it in real-world ways.

When I was in college, I sat in class hour after hour learning about newspaper pagination from a textbook. But it wasn’t until I was scrambling to put a page together for our school newspaper that I finally figured it out.

It took one night of mistakes, nail biting and the fear of what would befall me if I failed to get the page together in time that it all came together. I knew how to put a page together from that day forward and never ran into another issue.

Real-world experience is what project-based learning is all about. The Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. has adopted the practice in earnest, understanding that students need to use their senses.

School teachers and administrators have credited project-based learning with recent rises in standardized test scores.

It’s easy to see why.

My wife and I have been working hard to help our daughter, Ashlynn, 6, understand how money works. We pay her for chores. She socks away the money in an envelope.

Can she afford the My Little Pony toy at the store? If so, is she willing to spend a large chunk of her money instead of saving for something better, more awesome and more expensive?

We hope this real-world practice teaches her not only about counting and managing money, but also about the value of patience and sticking with something for a long-term payoff.

Ashlynn has surprised us a handful of times by saying no to instant gratification. Sometimes we need to remind her that if she blows a chunk of her money now, she’ll be that much farther behind as she saves for the next must-have toy.

It hits her where it hurts.

It’s the same thing as if your child participates in middle school football. You can teach plays, teamwork, rules and point values until you’re blue in the fall — but until it matters on the field, they’re probably not going to grasp what it all means.

Learning a new language? Just ask anyone who is bilingual about how much easier it is to pick up when you immerse yourself in a culture where that language is all anyone speaks.

I guess my point in writing this column is to help you understand that the school system really is getting it right when it comes to educating your children — and it’s getting better. But there’s another reason for this column: As your child’s first and most important teacher, you need to make sure hands-on learning is a part of that child’s world.

Read to your children, but take every opportunity to act out what you’re reading or to give your child examples of what it means. Find ways to make your child an active participant in the story. Try to make passive experiences more real.

Don’t just read about the eating habits of crickets. Drop a grape into a hole-punched jar holding crickets and see what happens.

Make it real for the kids.

Paul Minnis is a senior reporter at The Republic. He can be reached at 379-5638 or pminnis@therepublic.com.

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