Is It Educational?

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Why is it that when we talk about children’s activities, we so often try to link it to educational outcomes? When children are engaged in activities there is often a concern or a conversation among adults if the activity is educational. What does the term educational actually mean? The Merriam- Webster dictionary defines Educational, “As the knowledge and development resulting from an educational process.”And more specifically, “The field of study that deals mainly with methods of teaching and learning in schools.”

Accepting this definition---that has been globalized to mean formal public school education---means educational activities are only pursuits that follow the methods and practices used in formal schooling, but the definition is inaccurate in terms of how people actually learn. Learning is available to all people, big and small, in most moments of their daily existence. Using our senses, we are gathering and processing information. Some of this information we already have experienced and therefore “know.” The other information we gather is new or we make a new connection to the information we “know” and formulate new ideas and conclusions I would call learning.

The formulation of conclusions based on these sensory experiences helps us move though our daily existence with efficiency, as we do not have to learn every skill anew every day. This line of thinking made me want to look one step deeper into the definition of Education, where I came across the root word educate.

The meaning of the word educate offers a different perspective on learning. The beginning line in the definition of educate, sounds the same as educational, “To train by formal instruction and supervised practice especially in a skill, trade, or profession.” Going one line deeper, another more interesting definition says, To develop mentally, morally, or aesthetically especially by instruction.” What I find interesting about this definition is the fact that instruction can come from many sources. 

In child directed education, instruction and development can come from many sources. The co learner, environment, material, process, experience, peers, senses, and many other factors could be the instructor and inspire children to develop mentally, morally, or aesthetically on their learning journey. 

This makes me wonder why especially in school age care, and to a lesser degree in early care and education, we feel the need to prove that the activities children participate in are all educational all the time? We know that child directed, play, and inquiry based educational models function just as effectively or better than the traditional “sage on the stage model” but we still feel the need to label what the children do each day to prove it’s educational worth.

If our worth in working with children is determined by a label or outside source do we really believe in the method we employ in our practice? I am really talking to the school age folks out there. In school age care we are using methods that are based largely on the model of formal school, when children need time and space to explore their wonderings and learn in a different way. I call this “The School of Applied Knowledge.” 

Children learn and regurgitate many facts and figures in formal education. But this method has some shortcomings when it comes todeveloping mentally, morally, or aesthetically. The school of applied knowledge is the space where children can use the information gained in formal school and employ it for the purpose of deeper understanding and application to an interest. The process of going on this type of educational journey creates a deeper acquisition of knowledge and greater satisfaction in learning because it has meaning and a purpose.

It may sound as if I am discounting the need for formal education. It is great at training compliant factory workers. It is a model that is outdated in a society where factory work is declining. In 1910 thirty-two percent of the population was employed in factory work and in 2015 the percentage was down to nine percent. The need for this type of learning is disappearing, and the need for creative inquiry based “outside the box” thinkers is increasing. 

In school age care we may want to consider not worrying if everything we do is educational but concern ourselves if we are giving children the opportunity to learn and learn how to learn, a skill that is always in style as the society and work changes over the course of a lifetime. More time spent in the “School of Applied Knowledge” will help young children enjoy the adventure of learning and we adults can stop wondering if everything is educational.