Involve Me and I Learn
Getting Children Involved with the Outdoors
By James M. Bullock
Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. Over 200 years later, these words crafted by Benjamin Franklin remind us that he was not only a scientist, philosopher, author, inventor and one of the Founding Fathers of our great country; his utterance could easily serve as a modern-day mantra for outdoor and environmental advocates everywhere.
Without question, encouraging your child to go outside and be active along with reinforcing the positive impact of personal fitness and environmental responsibility is highly recommended parental advice. However, children need much more than words to modify their behavior andacquire knowledge, especially when it comes to being engaged in the great outdoors. Whether it comes from mom and dad, a science teacher or soccer coach, children learn by involvement and participation much more successfully than by simply listening to your good advice.
“Hello, is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me. Is there anyone at home?" While these lyrics ripped from legendary rockers Pink Floyd and their record entitled “The Wall” surely had nothing to do with the subject at hand, the words do seem to reflect a familiar theme in homes everywhere as parents, fraught with frustration, feel they are talking to the proverbial brick wall when speaking to their children about being more active outdoors. Well, in parenting, particularly when it comes to leading a more active lifestyle, there can be too much dependence on speaking as the primary means of getting children to learn new behaviors.
Sandra Rief, a respected educational specialist, reports research that suggests children retain:
• 20% of what they hear
• 30% of what they see
• 50% of what they see and hear
• 70% of what they see, hear and say
• 90% of what they see, hear, say and do
As you can see, children retain information by listening, seeing and doing much more successfully than by listening alone. While many factors contribute to the way a child processes, retains and applies new information, the active ingredient here is the “doing” as involvement sparks interest and allows learning to thrive at an accelerated and lifelong level.
Mr. Franklin’s well- penned words have found application and affirmation in other disciplines (yes, parenting is a discipline!) including big business and basic education.
A Message from Madison Avenue
"Ninety-nine percent of advertising doesn't sell much of anything."
The marketing magicians of Madison Avenue will be quick to tell you that listening to a particular commercial message isn't likely to change someone's opinion on any particular topic. Admittedly, millions upon millions of coercive commercials and billions of dollars later, the media has indeed shaped our view on a variety of things. However, business big wigs realized some time ago that consumers have effectively “tuned out” their commercials and become comfortably numb (another Pink Floyd reference!) to what they were attempting to communicate. Recognizing that words alone will not get us to open our wallets as wide as we once did, savvy marketers introduced things like “retail theatre” where promoting a product becomes an adventurous interactive immersion experience. A trip to the mall is now a multi-sensory hands-on journey packed full of stimuli where you can hear, see, touch, taste and smell before you buy. Mega-Retailers such as Apple, REI, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela's, Disney and Build-A-Bear just to name a few, have embraced experiential retail - all deliberately designed to get us to interact and become more educated and engaged with their products.
If you have ever shopped for a new car, then you may recall just how important the “test drive” was in the sales process – both for you as an end user and to the sales person trying to close the deal. They want you to smell the rich imported leather, hear the hypnotic purr of the engine and buckle up behind the wheel of the car to actually “experience the ride” personally. It’s hard to stir the senses through the TV or radio. So what’s a retailer's end game? Actually, not much different than a parent's goal. Inform and influence by getting their audience physically and emotionally connected because they know that then and only then will you be in a better position to not only buy what they are selling but become a lifetime advocate.
Parents, much like those cleaver marketers on Madison Avenue, need to recognize that as you look to influence behavior in your own home, getting kids to “test drive” different outdoor activities - soccer, baseball, Girl Scouts, clean up a park and so on - and immersing them in the natural world around them will not only elevate their outdoor aptitude but put them in the best place possible to understand just how fun, fulfilling and far-reaching an active life outdoors can really be.
A Lesson from the Schoolyard
"The knowledge of the world is only to be acquired in the world, and not in a closet."
- Lord Philip Dormer Stanhope Chesterfield
Call it active learning, experiential learning or simply a more hands -on approach, most educators today will agree that there needs to be much more emphasis on using multi-sensory techniques to reach a child. A fundamental principle of active learning is that students are engaged and take responsibility for their own learning by being active participants and involved along the way, rather than passive recipients and obtaining information by verbal presentations alone.
The most effective teachers, coaches and leaders not only possess knowledge about certain information but also have the ability to apply this information in practical settings “in the field” where the students and young athletes engage in direct, hands-on learning. Remember how much you looked forward to school field trips? Instead of just hearing about fury animals or rare relics from far- away places from the podium of a classroom; just watch how much a child’s eyes light up and how quick they are to share their experience with everyone they know after a trip to the zoo or museum. All the sights, sounds (and smells!) of the wild kingdom can only be truly absorbed by actually being there to take it all in. Young children learn from their experiences and use all their senses to gather information about the world around them.
I for one remain eternally thankful for all the many great teachers, coaches and mentors throughout my life and, of course, those impacting my children’s lives today who understand that words and words alone will not adequately reach a child and the highest levels of learning can best be acquired from hands-on experiences in the real world.
Now, back to Benjamin Franklin. While I can’t say for certain if Ben was a good listener, I do know one thing for sure; this great American innovator, who brought us so many things including bifocal glasses, the Franklin stove and let’s not forget the lighting rod and those famous experiments with electricity, could not have changed the world without being involved.
So to moms and dads everywhere, continue to speak to your children about the personal benefits and boundless possibilities of leading an active and engaging life outdoors but history has shown that action does indeed speak louder than words. We must continue to challenge our children (and ourselves) to be hands-on participants rather than passive recipients. Because involvement, more than anything else, capitalizes on a child’s experiences for the acquisition and future application of knowledge. Who knows, perhaps your cute little couch potato just may be the next great inventor of our time.