Experiential Learning can be described as learning from doing. John Dewey, the philosopher and educational reformist, said, “give the students something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.” Experiential teaching is a method of creating an environment in which children become participants — not just observers — in the learning experience. D.A. Kolb (1984) wrote that experiential learning is a way to link the concrete “here and now” experience to a more abstract environment and is the source of both learning and development.
Students, and in particular those with special needs such as autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability, learning disability or physical limitation tend to thrive in educational settings that make learning concrete and real. Even though the needs may be different, most have common features. Learning discrete skills, such as isolated math facts can become an abstract memorization task that has no part of a real world context. It becomes just rote memorization with no meaning. Our job as educators and parents is to help the students generalize new skills to the natural environment so that learning has a meaning. Generalization of a skill must take place if mastery is to occur. In other words, if a child knows basic addition facts only when someone shows him or her a flash card with “2 + 5 = ___ “ written on it, then the skill has not been generalized to the natural environment so that it can be used in everyday tasks. In other words, make it real.
The perfect time for natural environment kind of teaching is during the summer. The students have a few weeks off and learning should continue so they do not forget or regress in the skills they will need during the next school year. This is the perfect time to shift some of the discrete types of skills over to a real world application. The types of discrete or specific skills they have learned in Math over the last school year could include:
- Basic Math Facts
- Money and Consumer skills
- Map skills
With summer fast approaching, it is nice to have ideas for ways of incorporating math into summertime experiences. Here are 8 ideas for summer activities that will be the springboard for helping your child begin to integrate discrete math skills he or she has learned into real world tasks.
1. Earn money through doing chores & start a savings account
Whether through washing the dog, helping mow the grass, helping clean the basement or painting a fence, provide your child with some work-related way of earning money in order to build functional money skills. Take him or her to the bank to open a savings account. The experience will teach real world banking skills that may help instill healthy spending/saving habits.
2. Holding a yard sale or a running a lemonade stand
“If a pitcher of lemonade costs $1.50 to make, how much money will you earn from selling 8 glasses of lemonade at 50 cents a glass?” Build a lemonade stand and bring the math word problem to life. This is the way children with special learning needs learn best. It’s also fun and a great way to make memories.
3. Using Map skills to Chart out a Road Trip
“Are we there yet?” Road trips are perfect ways to teach math skills. In addition, they teach real life functional skills. “How long will it take to get to Aunt Libby’s if we drive 60 miles per hour, and it is 300 miles away?” “How many miles will it save it we take a detour around town?” Many math skills can be taught in one road trip. Do not waste the opportunity — create ways of experiencing math.
4. Build a small patio using tile bricks
Everyone loves summer projects. Here is an idea for one that will not only beautify your backyard but also get your children involved while strengthening their math skills. Picture this: you have a 15 ft. x 15 ft. area of ground on which you would like to build a patio. How many one foot square tiles will it take to cover this much ground? Use graph paper to plot the design, and figure it out with your child! You not only end up with a child who has experienced the real life importance of measurement skills, but you also get a new patio out of the deal.
5. Build a fort
Wow, what better way to learn about measuring and basic geometry skills than building a fort! From measuring angles to measuring inches and feet, building projects are great ways to use real life skills to build math ability. Use graph paper to sketch out the fort. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate building, start with something simple and easy enough for the child to be able to play a big role. Remember, the child should not be acting as an observer but as an active participant. Taking part is the only way to learn.
6. Plan and buy groceries for the week
What a great life skill! Start with a budget, go through the Sunday paper, clip all the coupons and make a list. Determine which store has the best prices, and calculate the prices using the coupons. Budget the amount, making sure to include tax. This helps the child learn the value of money, the role of tax on goods and the value of sales and coupons. It will be a long shopping day, but what a great life lesson it will be.
7. Plan and purchase items for a party
Let’s have a party! Create the opportunity to teach calendar skills, money and measurement skills through this fun activity. Plan the time and date on the calendar. Use this to help the child learn how to count down the days, weeks, and months. You can even break it down further into time segments like hours and minutes. Next, plan the budget, including decorations, food and entertainment costs. Divide these into the number of guests to determine exactly how much it will cost per person to host a party. Now, calculate the measurements. Be creative. How many balloons would you need if you want to have one balloon per yard around your driveway? What a great way to learn measurement skills! See, even a party can be educational and filled with math lessons.
8. Use a calendar to chart out when school starts back
This is a simple project, but you can cover many different types of skills involving time. Help your child use time and calendar skills to determine how many months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds he or she has before going back to school. It will be fun for the child to see that he or she may have over 6,000,000 seconds off before starting back to school.
Summertime is a time for family and friends. It is a time to relax and renew relationships with your children. It is also a great time to begin instilling in your child the importance of math. Try creating experiences that will show your child that math is more than a classroom activity—it is a skill he or she will use in everyday life.
Dr. Cindy Golden is the editor of the online magazine, Special Needs Resource Magazine (www.snrmag.com), specializing in providing resources to educators and parents of children with special needs. She is a popular speaker at local, state, regional and international conferences along with providing training in several topics, including The Special Educator’s Toolkit, to school districts and groups of educators.