At the Whole Life Learning Center, we are deeply committed to a learning process that ignites learning excitement and calls forth the unique genius of each Learner. Let’s jump in on the first five (for the full list see last week’s post).
“If a particular subject matter or skill is worth bringing to the children, its essential energy must be worthy of our attention.”
I’ve already discussed the essential energy of Whole Life Learning, similarly, we can look at that of the curriculum itself and use that as a compass as we plan lessons and activities for each class. So what is the value of learning about Texas? Why is it worthy of our attention? Well, WLLC is in Austin, Texas and as I said before, I believe that place-based education, connecting with the roots and rich cultural history of a space, does nothing short of making us more whole.
Next we look at how that comes through in each individual subject matter. Of course, we’re not constantly referring to Texas in every math problem, but we’re looking for the subtle ways to weave the theme throughout our classes. So if the goal of math is to perceive patterns and the way energy or things can be exchanged and understood in units, then we keep this in mind for every lesson whether we are with the 7-9 year olds or the 11-13 year olds. Perhaps as the youngers explore the four operations they refer to a cowboy who is continuously trying to keep track of his ever-changing herd of cattle. And the olders are calculating perimeter and area to figure out how much fencing is needed and how much space the cattle need and have, starting with squares and moving into more complex shapes.
You can see how we begin to integrate the curriculum through cultural connections and can imagine how many stories would easily fit into the subjects of social studies and language arts. For example, when introducing the history of Texas I would set up a visit from my good friend Clark Childers and his dog, Sally. No, he’s not a descendant of someone from the Alamo, he’s an author of a children’s book about the history of Texas, written in rhyming verse. He could do a reading, which would launch us on a journey of many potential explorations; from understanding our local geology by learning about the geological past when Texas was under the ocean, to learning about the many explorers that walked this land and the many battles that were fought here. Over time we could memorize the whole historical poem and even turn it into a little play of sorts, (surely Clark would love it!)
In addressing the Activity of Learning, Enki Education refers to the importance of experiential learning, as opposed to spoon-fed facts. In Enki, experiential learning must go through the three-fold process of learning: open intake, digestion/explorations, and understanding or skill mastery. So first, the kids would get to simply sit and listen to Clark’s reading of Texas, The True Story of the Lone Star State. Then that would set up a road map for our social studies explorations, i.e. literally creating a giant map of Texas and charting the people, routes and places we learn about. Finally, we could use that completed product and all the others in a performance for parents.
As I mentioned, within the activity of learning the process of discovery is essential. So rather that simply saying in a science class, “Texas used to be under an ocean and that’s why we have limestone everywhere”, we would introduce the three types of rocks through a fun song set to the tune of “Row, row, row your boat”: “Sedimentary rock has been formed in layers, often found near water sources with fossils from decayers…” Then we would go out to explore and see what kinds of rocks we found. With all the limestone, where is the water source? We would surely inquire…
Another vein of Clark’s (and Texas’) story is about the many cultures that have inhabited this land – this brings us into the topic of Unity and Diversity. Looking at the Native Americans, the Spanish, French, the pilgrims and settlers from England, the Mexicans, the Texicans, and the Americans, we can see them not as foreign subjects, but as essential characters in our play that connect us to our roots, to who we are as Texans today.
We integrate body, speech and mind to be sure we are offering a whole, integrated experience. For example, a warm up before one of our lessons may involve skipping around the room while passing a beanbag between hands and singing, “The stars at night are big and bright deep in the heart of Texas…” Or when introducing our Cowboy, Tex, we’ll go outside and all turn into a herd of cattle that are constantly splitting up and consequently changing group sizes, but hopefully always adding up to fourteen “Moos!” In honoring body, speech and mind in our learning processes we are giving attention to sensory integration, communication, self-expression and the arts, and flexible thinking within any particular subject area we approach.
We aim to mirror child development by understanding that there are developmental threads within the unfolding human that can be plucked in harmony with the way we approach a topic or activity. For example, we would plan to read the great Texas tall tale about Pecos Bill with all four age groups. (He was a baby travelling West in a wagon until he fell out and was raised by coyotes, and then had an adoptive human father, a cowboy named Tex). The youngest group would get to see a hilarious puppet show that would bring the story to life, but this wouldn’t quite work with the olders. They would explore tangents like the drought that Pecos Bill solves by riding a cyclone back down from Oklahoma. We have actually been in a severe drought so we would explore the effects of that in our science curriculum and open up the space for connections about our own water choices (it’s much easier to conserve and install cisterns than it is to ride a cyclone!) We could also research where Bill got his name and search for the Pecos River. And the oldest students, who are mastering the art of expressing themselves through creative writing, could have the opportunity to write their own tall tales.
There are four more elements of holistic learning that are part of our school’s DNA – tune in next week for the next installment of how we rock progressive education, here in Austin, TX.