The Power of Experience

Earlier this school year, Covenant’s third grade students, under the leadership of their teacher, Anne Woodard, experienced the world of the hunter/gatherer.  Through this experience, students came to a deeper understanding of what life was like for humans who hunted and foraged to sustain themselves.

Their hunter/gatherer experience arose out of the third grade history curriculum and began in the school’s prairie.  In the school’s tallgrass prairie, Mrs. Woodard and Katie Mohler, Covenant’s Outdoor Classroom Director, helped students to connect to the hunter/gatherer by teaching them how hunter/gathers navigated by the sun and the stars.  Students were fascinated to not only learn about navigation, but they also learned that when there was no wood for a fire, hunter/gatherers would collect dried animal dung and burn it.  Their experience continued in the school’s woodlands, where students took found materials (stuff just laying around) and worked collaboratively to build shelters.

At Covenant, students go beyond simply reading their textbooks and taking a test.  Instead, they are provided with carefully chosen and integrally designed opportunities that bring a depth and richness to student learning.

This depth and richness comes through experiences that demonstrate the connected nature of God’s creation and allow students to confidently explore their gifts and all of God’s creation in meaningful and creative ways.

In this case, students took this experiential opportunity in directions that the teacher did not anticipate, moving themselves from hunter/gatherers to barterers to developing businesses to support the village they were creating in the woodlands.

Well-designed experiences reflect the interests of the students, allow them to learn to work collaboratively and let them take the lesson to the depth that they desire.

Back in the classroom, students had the opportunity to share about their learning.  In doing so, the children were asking questions of one another and thinking reflectively and critically about what they had accomplished.  While they shared, students continued to make connections.  For example, they speculated as to why people in ancient times might barter for goods rather than have a monetary system.

“So much learning,” third grader Isabella said, “We learned all this about history and we didn’t even open our textbook yet!”

Continuing their work, students drew maps of the village they had created in the woodlands and produced drawings of their group’s shelter.  After sharing everything they had learned, the children then wrote about their experience, in letter format, as a means of communicating what they had learned with their parents.

This post provides just one example of experiential learning, but experiential learning grounded in an integral curriculum is found throughout the school.  This one experiential opportunity connected to the third grade history, science, math, writing and drawing curriculums, while also engaging the whole child spiritually, intellectually, socially, artistically, emotionally and physically.

John Roberts, Head of School


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