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I Learn by Doing

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By MAGGIE SCHUMACHER  |  Moonshine Ink

It’s that moment when you think my son hasn’t heard a single word I just said as he is spinning in circles around the room and throwing a ball into the air. The next day, while outside playing baseball, everything you said the day before (when you thought he wasn’t paying attention) is recited back and followed by a quick fire of questions to boot. It has been moments like these that have prompted my exploration of learning styles and reinforced my strong sense that finding the right-fit school and program is important to a child’s success.

My husband and I recognized our son’s hands-on, kinesthetic learning style early on and — watching his experience in preschool, pre-K, kindergarten, and first grade — we experienced how some programs, especially those where the teachers understood and supported his learning style, made a significant impact in his development. We recognized that our traditional education system with extensive desk time and focus on a teacher can be effective for some students, but is not best suited for a kinesthetic learner like our son.

Reflecting on my own homeschooled education, I remember how my mom had an amazing way of creating an environment of curiosity and full of questions while helping us find our own answers. She empowered me with the knowledge that I could learn anything I wanted, how and where to find the resources to support my self-directed learning, and the value of perseverance, grit, determination, and how to get back up after falling down. These skills have served me well in my adult life and are something I feel is important to instill in both of my boys.  

Some of my favorite educational memories were the opportunities I had to be outdoors, learning by doing, through real life experiences — versus learning from textbooks. One year my siblings and I worked with a team of students to learn about the Oregon Trail, The Donner Party, and Sutter’s Fort. Over a six-month period, we chose historical figures who traveled to Sutter’s Fort and learned everything we could about them. We made clothing authentic to the 1840s, learned what and how they cooked, learned skills like candle making, blacksmithing, woodworking, and more. We kept journals of our travels west and completed our experience by spending two days and one night at Sutter’s Fort acting as the docents for visitors.

A year ago we moved our son to Forest Charter School. His time there has been an excellent hybrid of class time with his supervising teacher and independent study. His teacher, my husband, and I work as a team to support our son’s individualized learning needs, which allows us to have significant involvement in his education. His teacher offers academic direction, support, and self-directed exploration in the classroom, and we support him in expanding his opportunities outside of school, while focusing on the areas and interests he is passionate about.

As a working mom with a son who loves his collaborative class time with friends, this program has been an excellent fit for our family. He attends school Monday through Wednesday and has two daily opportunities to leave class. He also has an optional Thursday enrichment class. Fridays are dedicated to independent study.

On our independent study days we focus on his learning style to support and not hinder his development. We practice spelling in creative ways like throwing a football and spelling a word when we catch it. His ability to focus and retain information is vastly increased when he is active. He is often found standing at our kitchen table doing math while drumming his pencil or spinning around.

My son is passionate about the outdoors, especially crystals, gems, and entomology. We spend a majority of our time on independent study days to delve into these interests. We go for hikes with nets, magnifying glasses, journals, and observation jars for insects. We also search for unique rocks, stones, and sometimes even find crystals on our neighborhood trails.

Independent study days also allow us to spend time at museums, explore new places, and provide the time and space for my boys to direct their learning by choosing what they want to explore that day.

Each child is different and unique, so providing emotional, developmental, and educational support is essential to them thriving. We are grateful to be living in Truckee/Tahoe — the small town community, adventurous outdoors, and many educational options to support our children are part of what makes this a great place to raise our two boys. My hope for my curious, determined, passionate, and energetic boys is that they have a love of learning that is vibrant and strong throughout their entire life, not just their school years.  

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December 13, 2018