Every child should grow a bean… and do a ton of other stuff.

Last week I was sitting on a train, filling time, thinking about some of the things I think every child should do. I tweeted my list – without thinking too hard about it. I was trying for a broad sweep but it was top-of-the-head stuff:

The level of response counts as ‘very high’ on my scale for tweets. Not what I expected at all – but pleasing nonetheless. Mostly people contributed to my list by adding the things they value.. it’s joyful to see what people think count as experiences or activities every one should do.

I especially liked this contribution of 50 things from Stuart Guest (always good when people just share directly, nice and easy)

Top of my list is ‘Grow a bean’. I include this in most of my CPD on curriculum because I’ve seen too many lessons where children are engaging with ideas via worksheets and powerpoints, often with diagrams of things, when they’ve never seen the real things in real life. That’s fine when these things are inaccessible; remote. But plants – there’s no excuse. Growing a plant seems to me to be pretty basic and fundamental experience every child should have if they are going to grow up connected to the idea of plants as living things that are so important in terms of environment, sustainability, food production, etc etc etc.

Every child should grow a bean

There are also fabulous spin-off learning opportunities when a class of children all grow a bean each, thereby creating a range of specimens showing variation – a key idea in understanding all living things.

Then, I added the other things. Pretty random some might say… but I was only just getting started when the character limit was reached. ‘Inflate a sheep’s lung’!!?? That provoked some rather incredulous responses. For me, it’s quite a profound experience -it helps understand how a vital organ – that is normally unseen except in x-rays – functions; what it looks like and how the elements connect, beyond the world of diagrams, videos and pictures. A real lung you can see inflating with your own eyes is really something.

The main message here is of course that we need to consider knowledge in a broad sense – it must include the tacit knowledge we only gain through experience. That means, if we’re planning a knowledge-rich curriculum, we’re also planning an experience-rich curriculum and ignoring this is to the detriment of the learning process. It’s not simply because of added bonus experiential flavour; it’s because abstract ideas often don’t make sense or are over-simplified unless they relate to things that are tangible; real; experienced.

Of course some of these things are hard to do in a school – like making a fire. Arguably a residential forest camp or day trip isn’t a fundamental experience every school can offer; it might be something children do with families. So, there’s another layer of home-school partnership woven into this thinking.

Some people are triggered by ‘should’. As if that means ‘should be compulsory’ – but I don’t mean that. ‘Should’ acts as an imperative -as in, ‘you really should see the new Nolan movie’.

Some are triggered by asserting a list of ‘shoulds’ without evidence. Deep breath. You don’t need to prove the value of singing or reading novels or going to museums. These are things we value for their own sake; we are free – even obliged – as educators and curriculum designers to assert our values in the design process. The things we value don’t need to serve a verifiable outcome some time down track.

And some people – rather too many for my taste – add to lists of activities (explicitly and obviously so, I’d have thought) with the wishy-washy-ness of emotional outcomes or general dispositions. This isn’t good curriculum thinking. All children should.. feel free, happy and loved... etc. Yes. Of course – but how you engender that across a curriculum of things the children will do, requires a bit more thinking. You don’t trump the discussion with the power-play of loving the kids.. everyone loves the kids.

Anyway – it was an interesting response with some really great ideas down the thread – please do browse it. via the link above.

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