by Mike McHugh
From the earliest days of a child’s intellectual development, during the so-called pre-school years, he learns many important skills by merely doing or modeling what his parents do. The child who learns to dress himself, for example, masters this skill through the process of doing the task for himself with a minimal amount of guidance and correction from his parents. It is, in fact, doubtful that even an older child could master the ability to dress himself properly merely through the process of a lecture or by written instruction. Although there are times when a child must learn about a subject, at least initially, by listening to a teacher, the basic principle still remains true that students learn best when they can actively participate in their own learning.
How strange it is that most teachers, including many involved with home education, have overlooked the fundamental truth that children learn best by doing as opposed to merely listening. One of the best methods that teachers can employ to stimulate the interest of students in a particular subject, is for them to permit learners to be active rather than passive in the learning process. The word “teaching” comes from the Anglo-Saxon derivative taecho, meaning, “to show how to do.” How vital it is for parents, and other educators to recognize that the art of instruction involves more than telling; in reality, the teacher who talks less and shows more will often be more successful in the end.
Students love to do things. The wise teacher will, therefore, fashion his teaching plans in recognition of the fact that Almighty God created students with the natural inclination to be active. It is, after all, activity in the learning process that naturally sparks the interest of students. Such activity can range from something as simple as having students measure the outside dimensions of their home in order to calculate its perimeter, to engaging students in an extended hands-on building project in order to demonstrate certain principles of design or mathematics. Regardless of the precise scope of a student’s hands-on instruction, the goal must always be to provide each student with the opportunity to personally and intimately relate to the subject that is under consideration. Whenever possible, students should be given the opportunity to work on real educational projects in the real world.
Even after students pass into their adult years, we can still expect them, in principle, to prosper in their development as workers as they learn by doing. As one studies the Gospels, a clear impression is given of the frequency with which the master teacher Jesus Christ encouraged His own disciples to participate in their own training or instruction. In the pedagogical school of Christ, He commonly did for His students only that which they were unable to do for themselves. At the beginning of His ministry, He entrusted to His disciples the work of baptizing converts to His cause (John 4:2). Later on, Jesus sent forth the twelve disciples to go into all the cities of the land, to proclaim the message of repentance and the imminent coming of the kingdom (Matthew 10:5-7). The Lord Jesus also gave to the twelve, and then to the seventy, instruction as to how to overcome adversity as they went about proclaiming the Gospel; but left many of the details for them to work out under the direction of the Spirit.
Instructors that make the effort to provide their students with meaningful activities, will commonly find that the interest level of students will naturally increase. As previously mentioned, students do need verbal instruction and guidance, however, teachers should endeavor to encourage their students to personally investigate and solve as many of their own learning problems as possible. Real education takes place at the point in which a student gains the ability to actively work through a problem in order to understand the answer for himself. Hands-on learning, if properly incorporated into the learning process, is one of the best ways to equip students to take ownership over their own education.
One of the primary benefits of home education is that it allows for a greater flexibility in the schedule of teachers. For this reason, parents must take advantage of the additional time that they have available to them by spending more time showing their children how to comprehend subject matter, rather than merely telling them about it.
Copyright 2008 Michael J. McHugh
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