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Active Learning

Child-focused Education Powers Joyful Learning

By Carolyn Fox, head of the Lower School on the Hillsdale Campus of The Seven Hills School, and Patti Guethlein, head of the Lower School on the Doherty Campus of The Seven Hills School

Acting on a goal to help 4-year-olds truly understand the concept of paleontology, a thoughtful pre-kindergarten teacher may fill aluminum pans with tempura paint, line the classroom floor with paper, and ask her students to take off their shoes and socks. 

The young students then take turns walking, jogging, or tiptoeing across the paper, all while their teacher points out the differences in footprint colors, sizes, and shapes. Through child-focused lessons like this, young children begin to grasp why paleontologists study how prehistoric animals walked, lived, and moved about the earth.

In another example, an elementary Spanish teacher may push desks and chairs aside and welcome students to stand in the middle of an empty classroom floor. He may read a passage containing Spanish verbs while his students morph into the various actions, dancing upon hearing the word “¡Bailen!” and jumping up and down when they hear “¡salto!”

From the simplest impromptu lessons to the most elaborate projects, relevant learning experiences that engage each child last a lifetime, driving home the point that active, inquiry-based learning can’t exist without intentional, compassionate teaching.

A rich first-grade lesson about bird and monarch migration may start with a magical transformation of child into bird and butterfly. Taking wing, the students may enjoy “migrating” from one classroom to another, or from one building to another, with a growing understanding of the distances, collaboration, and time elements involved in migratory patterns. While the children become the winged creatures they are studying, they will undoubtedly learn—and retain—more.

Active learning also takes on a number of identities, depending on the varieties of learners so succinctly outlined by developmental psychologist Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences. For some children, active learning is more active in a literal sense. Recognizing a child’s need to stand and wiggle through a lesson could be an opportunity to invite students outdoors for a future lesson, where a new world of understanding and cognition is just a step away.

These spirited invitations built into the curriculum tap into individual gifts through an ever-changing atmosphere of movement, academic confidence, and sheer fun. This is just a glimpse at how exploratory learning, play, and social-emotional health go hand-in-hand. The most effective elementary education takes place in environments where teachers serve as guides, collaborators, role models, and mentors.

Young students thrive when they are actively involved in their learning communities and when they feel safe and supported as they step boldly into new concepts, ask new questions, and make first-time connections.

Patti Guethlein is the head of the Lower School on the Doherty Campus at The Seven Hills School in Cincinnati, Ohio. Carolyn Fox is the head of the Lower School on Seven Hills’ Hillsdale Campus.

Learn More About Lower School EDUCATION

Carolyn Fox
Carolyn Fox
Patti Guethlein
Patti Guethlein