Experiential Learning at Inly: Learning By Doing

By Julie Kelly-Detwiler, Assistant Head of School

Education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment.” —Maria Montessori

As I walked through campus this week and felt the energy of our students and their drive to be outdoors in what has suddenly become summer, I am reminded anew of how fortunate we – and they – are to be in a school that values experiential learning.

Experiential learning (“learning by doing” or “hands-on learning”) permeates every part of the Inly curriculum at all levels. It is an approach to education that actively engages students in relevant, authentic experiences that reinforce academic lessons or teach life skills. These hands-on experiences deepen a student’s understanding and have a lasting impact. Through experiential learning, students make discoveries and experiment with knowledge on their own instead of relying solely on the experiences of others.

EllynAt Inly, we refer to experiential learning that happens outside of the classroom as “field studies,” and this is exactly how we approach and think about them. Our field studies are integrated thoughtfully into what our students are learning in the classrooms, and naturally extends their learning out into the world. And because we thoughtfully plan our year to move with and productively harness our students’ energies and passions, you will see our students outside as much as possible at this time in the year. You might see them gardening, conducting science experiments or treasure hunts, exploring the new trails on Sunflower Hill, or engaged in group initiatives on the low ropes course. You might also see the volunteer parent drivers and buses in the parking lot, prepared to take our students off campus for service learning or rowing, or to explore Boston, a museum, or an ethnic market.  At this time of year, you might also see a group of 8th grade students at the Greenbush train coming home from the MIT technology studio, NuVu, in Cambridge or some 7th grade students dressed in business casual outfits, about to set off for a day at their internship site. And soon, you’ll see our 3rd through 8th graders carrying duffel bags as they set off for their end of year excursions.

There is a natural and carefully considered progression to these experiences as our students mature. But each experience, from the very beginning, requires a sense of responsibility and independence. In this stretching of themselves, they become more independent, more self-reliant, more confident and more capable. This learning carries back into the classroom and into their lives.

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