Creating Authentic Experiences

by educator on January 30, 2012

I was reminded today just how important authentic experiences are for children.  We opened a new learning center in our classroom: woodworking.  A week ago we told the children that we would begin woodworking and that they would have to earn their way into that center.  A few of the children were excited, but for the most part I don’t think most of them understood the concept of “woodworking” and assumed it was going to be another “block” center.  Today we had a few students who earned their stars to get themselves into the center.  They ran over and were aghast upon seeing “real” tools.  “Miss Sarah!  We get to use real hammers and nails!”

The looks on their faces – I wish I could have captured that excitement!  The first two children in the center immediately got to work and began planning their creation.  Tape measure in hand they measured the pieces of wood communicating with each other the entire time:

“Should we put the door here?”

“No, maybe over here so the police cars can get in and out.”

“Do we want to add stairs on top of the roof?”

The conversation continued for quite some time and then they got to work.  They couldn’t wait to start using their tools. Safety glasses on, the hammering began.  They quickly learned the importance of hammering the nail in straight.  Split wood, bent nails and nails emerging through the sides of the wood were a few of the results from their first experience.  However, they took it all in stride and were so proud when they got those first four pieces of wood nailed together.  Upon hammering in a nail one child with a proud look on his face said, “That was the first nail I ever hammered!”  Talk about a “Wow!” moment!  What an amazing experience to witness.

This was just the first day of a very brief woodworking activity.  I cannot wait to continue tomorrow!  My thoughts at today’s conclusion:

Children value authentic experiences.  When we make learning as real as possible the children gain so much more.  Showing pictures or even videos of people engaging in woodworking activities does not compare to having the opportunity to experience the activity firsthand.  It brings to life Confucius’s quote: I hear and I forget.  I see and I remember.  I do and I understand.  Provide as many authentic experiences as possible for your students.  Those are the memories they will carry with them for a long time to come.


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