Experience is the best teacher…at least that’s what I’ve been told all my life.  I also remember the countless times I heard my mother say that I always had to learn by experience.  That comment was usually made after a very humiliating experience helped me set better parameters for my behavior.  I especially remember being “double dog dared” by my friends to see if I could jump over a four foot-high hedge that lined our front yard.  Well, one of my feet did clear it!  The result was two sprained wrists which had to be bandaged for a week or so.  What made it more humiliating than ever was that it happened the day before I took my tests screening me for the gifted program for St. Louis Public Schools.  I had to draw and write during those tests!  I also had to answer the tester’s question, “Why did you try that?”

            I’ve seen advertisements showing people using virtual reality headgear on TV.  I ask myself, “Is that really experiencing the situation?”  I know that I could practice my piano pieces in college on a make-believe keyboard (desktop) when it wasn’t possible to get to the practice hall.  However, I think that depended more upon muscle/motor memory.  Would it have been as effective had I not had the original experience of feeling the keyboard?

            I listen to my students talk with such authority about what they can do based upon their video game experiences and their 3-D devices.  Yet, I am alarmed at how little self-control they come to school with in the realm of physical activities encompassing both fine and large motor skills.  We have even had to give remediation in tricycle riding, stair climbing, sliding down slides, and picking up and throwing objects of various shapes and sizes.  In the past, we usually only had to teach ball catching, skipping, and balance activities as well as tumbling and rolling.  Tying shoe laces has become a non-issue since parents have discovered Velcro.  What will happen if their child ever needs to tie a life-saving knot?  Kids whose parents won’t give in to the Velcro solution just walk around with laces dragging along behind them.

            Perhaps it is because the “virtual experience” is so life like, these students have very little perseverance for attaining skills that aren’t automatic.  In fact, developing such skills as writing, coloring, math operations, and ordering things in the environment is taking more and more time.  I can understand why less academic learning may be taking place across the nation if more time is being spent teaching students skills that children used to have when they first came to school.

            Is it due to less time spent outside in the real world?  Could it be from overly-protective parents who can’t bear for their child to experience any sort of pain or frustration?  Has our nation, on the recommendations first made by Ralph Nadar, sanitized and bubble-wrapped every experience of life so our offspring will not “learn by experience?”  It seems to me that we are doing a great disservice to our young children.

            Two pictures in our local newspaper really gave me pause.  Listed as examples of students learning and experiencing STEM activities (the current educational buzz word for gaining more funds), fourth grade students were stacking blocks and cups!  Those were once considered learning centers in our pre-school and kindergarten programs.  I certainly hope the educators in charge extended the activities to envelop thinking skills such as having a goal in mind and having to design and redesign the product to meet the goal.  (Example: building a marble track of various shapes, sizes and levels which would allow a marble to reach the end in a certain time, and reworking it until the goal was met.)