Experience and Education, Firsthand Experience
This article involves children in firsthand experiences. Basing children’s learning on content that can be experienced firsthand guarantees a measure of meaning. Children are not asked to gain knowledge secondhand, by listening to someone else tell them about a distant place or time. Rather, children are involved in touching, taking apart, tasting, and smelling things in their here-and-now world. By doing so, they are the ones who are receiving information directly and making sense of it.
Piaget’s work fully documented that firsthand experiences are necessary if children are to learn, think, and construct knowledge (Piaget & Inhelder, 1969). When children actually handle objects in their environment, they gain knowledge of the physical properties of the world in which they live. As they experiment with a wide variety of objects and materials, they learn that some things are heavy, others light; some are rough or smooth, others sharp or rounded. These concepts cannot be taught through direct instruction, but can only be learned through firsthand experiences.
When children engage in firsthand experiences, their minds are as active as their bodies. By handling objects and observing things in their world, children begin to compare them. They classify and sequence objects and things, relating new information to their existing ideas of how the world works, fitting it into their schemes or ideas. When information doesn’t fit their existing ideas, they change these or create new ones. As they do so, they are constructing their own knowledge and storing it as concepts, rules, or principles (Piaget & Inhelder, 1969).
Then, too, when children act on their environment, they are figuring out how to do things. They learn how to balance blocks, care for themselves and others, and become part of a democratic group. Through daily, firsthand experiences, children have the opportunity to confirm or change their ideas about how things work and what they can do with the things in their world. These initial, often incomplete and tentative, hypotheses and schemes about their world are the foundation on which all subsequent learning is built.
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