Educating through experience

School Ways

There are a number of seemingly innocent comments that were said to me throughout my childhood that I still remember decades later and which had a lasting effect on me to this day. They were not profound comments, mostly said in passing, and with no real malice, but nonetheless, they struck a chord.

One that frequently comes to mind was from a substitute teacher I had in fifth grade. She was visiting from Australia and spent a few days with our class. Upon quizzing us on a number of topics and curriculum areas, she matter-of-factly announced to us, and with obvious disdain, “Girls, your general knowledge is appalling!” Throughout the remainder of her time with us, she took us to task for our lack of worldly experiences and what she perceived to be our lack of curiosity and interest. Well, I took it all personally and to heart.

I immediately made it my mission to ensure that I was henceforth well informed in all areas—literature, politics, geography, current and world events. What I, as a child, took as an insult provided the impetus to better myself and seek the knowledge that I so clearly lacked.

It wasn’t until I was much older, wiser and full of life experiences that I finally acknowledged she was right. We were a woefully ignorant group of 10 year olds. But it was a different time. Our parents sent us to school to be “educated.” Nobody cared about giving children “experiences.” There were no trips to museums or theatres and few family outings; there was no educational television, no endless supply of books. Mostly, we were left to our own devices and not always with the best results.

Sure, for the most part we were independent and resilient kids, mainly from large families and somewhat street savvy, but we were lacking in experiences beyond our own daily lives.

What I realized when I became an educator myself is that children really do need to be exposed to many and varied experiences to truly understand their world. Their curiosity should be encouraged and their knowledge developed beyond the textbooks, the never-ending tests and the confines of the classroom walls.

True knowledge and a love for learning come from our own experiences. How can a child develop a love for classical music if he never hears it or experiences the beauty and magic of an orchestra? How does a child develop a love for and desire to work with animals if she never cares for or interacts with them? How do children develop empathy and compassion for others of different races, religions and cultures if they don’t explore beyond their own small communities?

Children don’t know what the world has to offer if they can’t see it or read about it. Help your children to be involved in their community and all that it has to offer. Hampton Roads is a diverse area with a wealth of museums, theaters and parks, many of them at no or minimal cost. Visit Mariners’ Museum, Virginia Living Museum, Virginia Air and Space Museum, Harrison Opera House, Chrysler Museum—all offering an abundance of culture and history on our own doorstep.

Young children are altruistic by nature. Assist them in volunteering at the Foodbank or at their church—anything that takes them out of their comfort zone and opens their eyes to a different point of view.

The list is exhaustive! The opportunities for new experiences are endless. It’s a big, exciting world out there, so take advantage of it and watch your child grow as a result.

About Dorothy Knox 5 Articles
Dorothy Knox is Head of School at Hampton Roads International Montessori School in Oyster Point Park. She can be reached via email at or at 873-8950.

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