The Road to Children Knowing Deeply

He sensed the coming of a new neater world, a tamer world, a world of boundaries and surveillance, where everything was known and nothing needed to be experienced. (Richard Flanagan, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, p. 80)

I didn’t expect to find ideas in the powerful, beautiful and sometimes harrowing-to-read recent Booker prize-winning novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North that would make me think about issues in our profession! However, the quote above led me to ask several questions.

Contrasting knowing and experiencing reminded me of the belief that children learn best from ‘hands-on, minds-on experiences’ – that is, that they need to immerse themselves (sometimes literally!) in order to learn. Do we still believe that children need to experience in order to know? Can virtual experiences using technology be as powerful as hands-on experiencing?

Are educators as invested in offering children firsthand experiences as they were in the past? If not, what are the repercussions? Does it matter? Do decisions about the use of technology with children need to take into consideration the critical importance of firsthand experience?

Flanagan’s words also led me to recall many educators who do not have children reporting that some parents do not take their views seriously because of that. They assert that at times some parents appear to respect and value first-hand experience of child rearing more than professional knowledge gained through formal study. Do you have to experience child rearing firsthand in order to have sound views and knowledge about it?

The quote also made me think about the inclination of some people in the broader community to believe that they are experts in the areas of children’s learning and development and in early education. As a result they de-value professional knowledge and skills. Is this because every adult has had eight years firsthand experience of being a child, and many are also experiencing being parents of a child?

Think about what happened in your service today or what you have planned for tomorrow. What will children experience firsthand, and what will they learn about in ways other than experiencing? What is a good balance between the two?

Maybe you will decide that much of what you offer combines both experiencing and learning about. Don’t children want and need to learn about many things they won’t or can’t experience firsthand? What are some examples?

You can know about something without direct experience – for example, by reading about a country you’ve not visited, going to a lecture about the latest surgical techniques, or having friends who are skateboarders. However, firsthand experience – visiting that country, going through surgery, skateboarding — enables you to know differently and more deeply – to go beyond knowing about to knowing. Are there implications for learning opportunities for children?

Referring to Flanagan’s words, whatever we may think about knowing and experiencing, something we definitely want to avoid is children’s worlds being overly neat and tame!

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Anne Stonehouse

Anne Stonehouse AM lives in Victoria and works as a consultant, writer and facilitator of professional learning in early childhood. She has published many books, articles and other resources for educators and parents. Her main professional interests are the nature of good quality curriculum for babies and toddlers and family-educator relationships in early learning settings. She was a member of the writing team in the Charles Sturt University-based consortium that developed the national Early Years Learning Framework. She is currently engaged in a number of projects related to the national and Victorian Frameworks.

2 thoughts on “The Road to Children Knowing Deeply”

    Rita Johnston says:

    Anne, your comments reminded me of the many times parents were concerned that their child would miss out because they were taking him/her out of preschool for a 3-4 week holiday, often overseas. What I observed was that mostly the child came back showing a remarkable amount of developmental growth, much more than I would have expected if they had spent that time with me. On the other hand I also had children who were planning to go to see the Eifel Tower and London Bridge when they grew up because we explored these place through books and other media right where we were.

    Clare McHugh says:

    Interesting and thought-provoking piece Anne. We were just discussing in the office the use of video games. How many older generations first flexed their financial (and psychological) muscles as a child banker in Monopoly? In recent years the much maligned (in our house) Call of Duty video game gave pause for thought. Based on WWII battle fields it came into its own on an Australian French school excursion when one avid teenager found himself on familiar landscape in Normandy. He understood the beach landing and the difficulties of the terrain in a way that no lecture or real life visit would have conveyed if he had not already spent many hours attempting to ‘land’ there.

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