Thursday, October 13, 2011

What Is Emergent Learning?

Learning is rich and complicated.  Discovery does not happen in discreet, neat, 
one-dimensional episodes or compartments. 

Skills, information and experience are acquired in many layers, simultaneously.  Sometimes an “aha moment” takes center stage-- learning to write a letter, for instance-- but in the shadows, behind that major acquisition, are lots of other meaningful experiences, all adding up to growth for a child.  
Here at Dodge, we often share stories of experience in order to illustrate what experiential, hands-on, emergent learning really looks like, and why it is important.  We often tell these stories in an e-mail, at the end of the day.  
On a recent Thursday morning, I shared the following story with Spruce Room families and friends.  Luckily, I had documented some of the story with photos too.  A picture is often worth more than words...

My hiking group was an all girl group (on purpose), and I have to say that one of the beauties of the small group hike is that it affords children the opportunity to get to know each other better.  Lot's of social and emotional learning occurs in small groups.  Ostensibly, these hikes are a great way to get kids to look deeper at things, to see and experience more.

Today was a great example of the cognitive benefits of a small hike.  We looked closely at coyote scat (which contained apples) and the girls made the logical leap that the animal had been eating apples in the orchard.

Later, we found whole apples among the moss, deep in the woods.  After some shared detective work, the girls located wild apples growing way high up in the crown of an old tree.  

The girls found ants crawling on a rotten apple, and the kids surmised that the insects were eating the apple and they urged each other to "just let them eat--don't squish them." 

All of this constitutes cognitive learning along a path of truly emergent curriculum-- apples being the "theme"-- but so much more was going on.  
The children were communicating, making eye contact, posing questions to each other, problem solving as a team, calling each other by name and enjoying the give and take of conversation.

By the end of the day, they had learned a lot about apples, and each other.  
Now they have a firmer footing in social relations when we return to the classroom.  
All a wonderful part of growing up.