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Season 3, Episode 24:
Why is Experiential Learning Needed in Education?


Marina Robb

Hosted by: Marina Robb

In this episode, Marina discusses: 

In this last episode of Season 3, I’m sharing about why education needs to be more experiential, outdoors and practical.

In particular looking at what life experiences are important for child development, and indeed adult development and to encourage you all to support more outdoor time for young people!

  • Why education needs to be more experiential and practical.
  • The importance of direct experience.
  • Linking embodied learning to subject learning.
  • The wholeness, nature-centric model.
  • The Circle of Courage Model – 4 Life Experiences.
  • Spring-time inspired ideas e.g. nest robbers.
  • Imbolc and the teachings from nature at this time.

Music by Geoff Robb: www.geoffrobb.com 

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(transcribed by AI so there maybe some small errors!)

Hello, and welcome to The Wild Minds Podcast for people interested in health, nature-based therapy and learning. We explore cutting edge approaches that help us improve our relationship with ourselves, others and the natural world. My name is Marina Robb, I'm an author, entrepreneur, for a school outdoor learning and nature-based trainer and consultant, and pioneer in developing green programs for the health service in the UK.

You're listening to Episode 24? Why is experiential learning needed in education? Today is the last episode in Season Three. Thank you so much for your support. And please keep sharing this podcast so that we can grow this community. In this last episode, I'll be sharing about why education needs to be more experiential, outdoors and practical. In particular, looking at what life experiences are important for child development, and indeed, adult development, and to encourage you all to support more outdoor time for young people.

I'd like to give some gratitude today about learning and how great is to be able to continue to learn throughout my life and in particular to books, isn't it amazing that we can read and just discover and digest and reflect on so many things because we can access a book and you know, just increase. So many different ways of knowing that we never would have done it had we not picked up that book. So that's my gratitude.

But today, I really want to share with you a little bit about why I think education needs to be more experiential and practical. And not just the wise, the kind of research that goes behind it more really thinking about obvious things like sitting down at your desk for eight hours a day for children, is really hard for so many young people and to imagine kind of sitting there and receiving all this information from a teacher at the front of the classroom is a very, very kind of didactic way of learning so that you're there and you're speaking and you're telling somebody what you know, it's very one way rather than a sense of really being in your body and experiencing something and having a living experience of making something or moving your body outdoors to run and discover something particularly thinking in that sense in the early years being able to move and not being asked to sit down and I know great early years practices, of course, providing lots and lots of stimulus and ways of playing and moving. But just really thinking about the importance of the experience. You know, there's ways of knowing where we can learn things from books, perhaps, or from teachers.

But what about the actual experience that comes when you touch something or feel something within an emotion or a sensation? What about when you're actually using your hands to make something and yeah, maybe it doesn't work out the way you think it was gonna work out but you had a go and all the different parts of you that might be stimulated from that experience. So I really do feel that education needs to incorporate much more experience and much more opportunities for children to use their hands and to make the link between a subject that might be in a school like maths or English and to make the link with something proud. To call, for example, a child could go on a stool or go on a walk, and collect objects that they find and start telling a story about what happened to this little pine cone.

And the journey it went on and be very, very playful and, and the kind of experiences it might have had this little pine cone. And then from that, they will have a much more embodied sense of language that they can translate in use in perhaps a piece of writing, for example. So linking the practice the actual doing with some kind of learning maths, for example, for the little ones, just even running around and looking to see if they can find out how many things in the playground are as long as this piece of string, so they have a sense of length. And then then you might add on that that piece of string is, in fact, 10 centimeters, or 30 centimeters, for example. So I love this idea of a kind of embodied experiential education. And I think that we really miss that in current day education.

So I'm encouraging people to think about the importance of being physical when they're learning. Also the importance of the emotional like, what's going on, in terms of how we might be working with another person? In our group, for example, what does that bring up having to negotiate having to share having to figure out together problem solve? What kind of skills does that afford us? But also what's the feeling of that and how we can actually develop skills and improve our own abilities to self regulate through those kinds of experiences, for example. And then what about not just developing our thinking cells, you know, our cognitive selves, but actually using that ability to think in imaginative ways and in creative ways.

And I'm going to talk about that a little bit and see if we can give some examples of that as well today. And, of course, this idea of spiritual and I'm using this idea of spiritual today, in the idea of discovering something that is, or inviting, you know, the noticing, for example, right now outdoors, the Hazel trees, if you know what a hazel tree is, they obviously produce hazelnuts, but before that, not at this time of year is a tiny weeny little red flower. And it is so beautiful, and so hard to see if you haven't noticed it. So there's something quite amazing and incredible about actually discovering that, especially if you've got a little magnifying glass, for example, but also spiritual in the sense of a feeling of a sense of connection, a sense of beyond what I can know and understand as well.

And the kind of feeling like God, isn't this amazing? Isn't life, amazing? Feeling. So if education could really look to develop curriculums that actually considered those elements, I think we'd be richer for it. So my work is based on a kind of wholeness model. So really seeing the humans as a whole person that has many aspects to develop. And I've talked about that, and continue to talk about that in a lot of the podcasts and a lot of the guests that I'm speaking to. And of course, this wholeness model is really thinking about different ways of learning the way different ways of knowing different ways of discovering ourselves and the world around us. And we could say that alongside the things that I've just spoken to, like physical aspects, emotional aspects, thinking aspects, spiritual aspects.

We also are beings like animals that are fully dependent and reliant on our senses. And, of course, when we're inside, it's very hard to have our senses stimulated. So the touch of water, the feel of mud on our fingers, the smell of the fire, the smell of a cup of tea that you've made from nettles, for example. All these senses are stimulated, even running and moving, we are moving in relationship to everything around us. And that develops our sense of balance and our sense of knowing where we are in the world and all these things build a sense of confidence and self esteem, but also this other way of knowing in the imagination, I think more than ever, we need to be working on understanding that humans have an incredible capacity to imagine things that aren't good.

But also to imagine things that are amazing and the possibilities of what we may become, or our role in life or purpose in life. And I think that education has a place where we can really start looking at that, about our role as humans, and the ways in which we can contribute, whether that's to our family, to our friends, to our community, to our schools. And we know that when we actually contribute, we actually start to feel valuable. And so there's this kind of, to and fro of receiving things from people, but also being able to give things. So this model is also based on working outdoors and being outdoors and being in connection with the seasons. So when we think about outdoor learning, we're thinking about take taking our learning out of doors and, and in this sense, really linking it to some of the subjects that we might be learning at school.

And when we think about Forest School, these are the two kind of areas that I like to kind of work in. We think about Forest School, we're also doing that, but we're not so concerned about a specific learning objective. We're much more concerned about the development of self worth and self esteem, and confidence. But of course, from my perspective, if I wasn't thinking about outdoor learning, or forest school, I would just be standing right back and thinking, isn't this good education? You know, isn't this good pedagogy, the way we learn? And the way we develop? Isn't it really important that we can actually learn not just in the classroom, but anywhere else? And when we do, don't here we are, we're learning all the time.

But also, this idea that we need to of course, build our own sense of self, and develop a confidence that we can actually be in the world that we have worth we have dignity as we are and that we don't need to always be changing for an external reward or an external goal that someone's placing on us, you know, is it really possible that we can become 16 year olds, 18 year olds, 50 year old, and feel that we don't have any worth because we didn't succeed because of some external marker. And it's no wonder that we have a massive crisis of mental health, and even to the sad, sad possibility of taking our lives, because we can no longer feel that this life is worth living.

And I wonder what kind of messages that we've either given to ourselves or we've been given over our lifetime, that has that can get us to that place. So I'm going to talk a little bit about of a model that we spoke of with Roger in the podcast last week. And it was a circle of courage model. And this model is an old model that comes out of indigenous wisdom and teachings, and it comes from the Lakota tribes of Northern America. And it's a 15,000 year old model. I've referred to it in the last podcast. And it talks of the circle of courage. And it talks of four life experiences that we need to have to have a decent sense of self. And when I'm thinking about planning, work, that is or programs that is for young people, or even adults, in a way we're trying to think about using these four experiences as part of our planning.

But also, you know, this is just one model. And the model isn't the territory. I love that the model isn't the territory, they're kind of metaphors for other ways of looking at the world and looking at your life and looking at ways of working. So remember that this isn't about being definitive, this is about giving maps to explore. So this model talks about the four experiences that you need to have a decent sense of self and one of them is really about this feeling of belonging, feeling that you have a place and for me that is very much connected to a place in in the outdoors knowing that you're part of the natural world that you are part of a living system and that you As a human as a division and as an individual, have a place.

But it's also belonging to a society feeling that you belong to a culture or a place that you belong to a family and belong to a school. And I'm not going to look at what happens when we don't have that. But I think we can see in the current cultures that we're in, particularly in the West, that we don't enter this world with a real sense of belonging, a real sense of attachment, and feeling tethered to something and that we are really welcomed. So part of running the work, whether that's in a school or in the outdoors, is to really make sure that we help people to feel welcome. And that is going to come down to how we are as practitioners, it is going to come down to our experience of feeling welcome, and what are the elements that are needed to help a group feel welcome. So for a moment, you could go to a place where you have not felt welcome, or whether when you were in education, the way you were spoken, to really encourage you to feel separate, to feel excluded, rather than feeling this belonging.

So we need to feel that we belong. And as we increasingly begin to think about what are the kinds of actions practical actions that we can do to support a change in our society, and then a change in the way that we may be thinking about our living world to climate changing from a fossil fuel based society into a more sustainable, renewable, regenerative society. Belonging is very important, feeling that there is a reason to do this, that we are part of this living system. And we have the backing of the natural world if you like, which we are part of to make those changes and to contribute. So really important to me, this feeling of belonging, another experience is mastery, actually a sense of accomplishment, and feeling that we can I accomplish things in our life that we can complete things that we get a sense of, I did it.

And again, the work within outdoor learning, and for a school provides so many opportunities to actually succeed, and also to determine the things that you want to do to have a have a place within deciding what you're going to be doing in those sessions. And to actually have this sense of mastery, we need to have a sense that we can do it in our life, and to not feel that, that we're useless. So that's a very important other experience that we need to have to have a decent sense of ourselves. A third one, is this experience of feeling independent, that we are actually responsible for ourselves. And this leads to a sense of autonomy. And again, how are we doing that in our education? What are the models that encourage this sense of independence? And, again, if we're being directed all the time, to what we're supposed to do and what we're supposed to complete?

We never have this feeling of agency. And the models that I work with are really noticing that noticing, when are we when are we providing non directive experiences, and when are we providing directive experiences. And it's not that there is one or the other is better than but it certainly has a different result. So this independence is not individualistic. This is not about saying that we're not tethered to the community and the people around us this is not about developing people that are surviving on their own, we're talking about a sense of being responsible. And in that comes the freedom and the opportunity to be generous, and to actually contribute. And again, we need to feel that we have our own sense of power in the world, and that we can affect change and that we can influence people and that our voice does matter.

And I think this needs to be woven into the programs and it's certainly woven into the programs that we deliver within both of my organizations, which is Circle of Life, rediscovery and the outdoor teacher, but it's also common to good practice, so forth, and I wanted to just share that another life experience is generosity. This has also been a theme through this podcast so far. And it does link to a feeling that we are good that we know our own goodness. And I'm thinking again about a kind of image in a forest school where the children may be, prepare some hot chocolate and give it to the group so that they're there, and they're offering something to the group. I'm thinking that we, as adults, one of the most amazing thing to be an adult is to be able to be generous to know that you can pass on your skills that you can give your time that you can share things that have mattered to you, and you know, your own goodness.

And actually, that's really important and, and it links to the way we want our culture to be that we were, we want our schools to be that we are generous, that we're not just competitive and fighting against each other, that we are actually wanting to help each other and actually move someone along and that we can get joy from that. That's not me also trying to say that we wouldn't have those other feelings that will come up of envy, and wanting that for my own and all that because that's also part of being human and understanding that we have those feelings as well that need tending to, and that when we tend to those feelings, we actually find gems in there. There's treasures in those darker feelings as well. So these are the kinds of for life experiences. And they linked very much to the way that the programs are run. Good pedagogy is run.

And you know, I'm very grateful to this circle of courage model that helps me to think about my practice. And of course, there are many other models, which also support that. Now, we're in early spring, or we're just about to get there. And it's a classic time to think about, what might we be inspired to do in our playgrounds in our woods in our around and I can hear already, the birds starting to tweet. So things that we might do is play games, pretending to be birds and hiding are hiding our babies and going out and feeding them. And there's lots of really great games like nest robbers, and Sparrow hawks and games that allow us to embody practice, and feel very much from a human perspective, of course, but feel what it might like to be a bird and in that start to have a real sense of the dynamics that this idea is that we aren't just on our own, that we are, as I keep using that word tethered to everything else that's going on.

So while the bird is gathering state seeds, the bird is also aware that a sparrow hawk might come in and grab it. So there's a sense of awareness of what's going on out in the natural world as well, but that we are also food for another person or another creature in the woods. So this is a kind of very embodied way of talking about this 10 tagging or thinking that we spoke about in the last podcast and also starting to really draw up into what is systemic thinking, what is ecosystemic thinking, and that I feel that our education now particularly around climate change, really needs to be welcoming in this, this much more systemic way of thinking, much less linear, much more understanding the web, obviously, of life, but understanding how things are linked to everything else, and that we are also very, very much part of that. So we may play games, we may go out this time of year and it be muddy and wet.

And certainly if we were working with the early years, we want to be using the mud and playing with the mud and perhaps playing with the sticks and building little homes and doing all kinds of different things. And I like to start from a kind of very pay based place because that is generated from the young people. And then from that, we can start to pull out some of the learnings that might be appropriate if you were doing this within an educational place so that we pull out some of the curriculum if we wanted to do that. So lots to think about why education needs to be more experiential and practical and the opportunity to really build self worth and self esteem and confidence and to know that when we actually go outside and we actually give a given opportunity A tea is to engage our own ideas, engage our own thinking and move and cooperate.

That actually, there, there are huge benefits that come from that in our work. So I'm going to end there. And I want to just end with remembering that right now, at least in this part of the, the Earth's hemisphere, it's a time of what was known as Imbolc, or Imbolc, is how it's written. And it's a time that we're really aware of that the earth actually is quite cold. And the seeds that are under the earth are just beginning to emerge, certainly in the next few weeks. And this word actually means in the belly of the mother, because the seeds of spring are beginning to stir in the belly of Mother Earth. And it's a time when even the sheep, if you've been walking around, are pregnant, and they're going to be feeding their babies this beautiful milk. And this is a time when babies are born.

So we could say that this is a beginning of a new cycle. And you know, it's worth on the back of the new year, to really kind of revisit some of the things that you want to be spending time doing in this year, or spending time giving yourself these amazing spaces just to experience something directly. And it's a time to really remember as well that, like the seeds like our lives, we do need the energy to kind of break through and begin something new, it's not easy to make change, it's not easy to do things differently. And we need a kind of power that is in us and all of us to push through. And to do something differently and to actually start to really know that you know, something, know that you have these values that actually matter to you. And that you can in very small tangible ways, make these steps to changing something that you actually want to change. And part of that energy and that power is to say yes to things and to say no to things.

So, again, for me, the natural world helps us to to remember that we are part of nature and that we to have these things going on. And with that, I wish you well. This is the end of season four. Want another great season. We'll be back up on March 11, where I will be joined by more interesting thinkers and practitioners in the nature based field. We will be discussing punishment and rewards how biomimicry may help us design more healthy systems. More on what it means to be wild, and interviewing an Anglican priest who is also an ecological activist.

Thank you for listening to this episode of The Wild Minds Podcast. If you enjoyed it and want to help support this podcast, please subscribe, share and leave a rating and review wherever you get your podcasts. Your review will help others find the show.

To stay updated with The Wild Minds Podcast and get all the behind-the-scenes content. You can visit the www.theoutdoorteacher.com or follow me on Facebook at theoutdoorteacherUK and LinkedIn, Marina Robb.
The music was written and performed by Geoff Robb. See you next week. Same time, same place.