The Role of Formal and Informal Learning Experiences

During my fifteen years in education, I have realized that lessons on learning can be delivered in the most unexpected places.  Most recently, I got schooled during swim lessons.

For the past three years, my girls (ages 4 and 6) have taken a week or two of swim lessons at the beginning of summer.  Each year, we invest a good amount of money and hope in those lessons with the goal that our children will be successful swimmers throughout the rest of the summer.  And each year, we are proud of the accomplishments as our girls show off what they have learned with their teacher on the last day of class.

This year, we had the fortune of staying at a hotel with a swimming pool the week after swim lessons.  As a former member of my high school swim team (note that I used the word member and not star), I was eager to spend time in the water watching my girls demonstrate their new skills.  My excitement was short-lived when my girls preferred to hang on to my neck, play on the steps, or simply walk about the shallow end.

I was frustrated.  I was incredulous.  I knew they had the ability to swim, even if they couldn’t go very far, but they did not even want to try.   A time that was intended to be family fun quickly turned into crying chaos as I offered bribes, consequences, and anything else I could think of as I tried to get my daughters to swim.

Eventually, they complied and each swam a few distances according to her abilities.  But, despite my cheers and praise for what they had done, their smiles were diminished.

Later that evening, at dinner with my husband, I recalled a memory of a family vacation in the same city when I was close to the ages of my girls.   I remembered my parents saying that I was just tall enough to walk in the shallow end and I had played in the water for hours until my feet were raw.

And then it hit me.  My role as the mom was not to be the swim teacher.  My role was to extend the lessons they had learned from the teacher by providing many opportunities to be in the water, to be comfortable in the water, and to ENJOY the water.

Fullscreen capture 532013 13604 AM.bmp

I realized that what I know and preach about literacy is also true for swimming and for most every type of learning.  While skills and formal learning opportunities are important, they do not create lifelong learners.  Confident learners begin in the shallow end where they experience hours of bonding and play with a more competent learner such as a parent or caregiver.

Fullscreen capture 10292013 22702 PM.bmp

In his book Raising Confident Readers, Dr. J. Richard Gentry states, “The early advantage – setting the foundations for success with reading at home and making learning to read natural and easy – comes through informal teaching.”  He adds, “Whether you enlist the help of a good preschool or go it alone, what is important is that your child gets the informal types of literacy…early in life.”

Fullscreen capture 8202012 71247 AM.bmp

Mem Fox advocates the power of informal learning in her book Reading Magic, “So let’s help kids learn to read by reading aloud to them often, whenever we can, to make familiar what was once unfamiliar.  Then let’s read aloud again.  And after that?  Well, we’ll read aloud!  And all the while, we’ll be playing those teaching-without-teaching, fooling-around, being-silly games.

Fullscreen capture 2152014 92931 AM.bmp

This is the mission of ReadyRosie.  To equip and inspire parents and caregivers to create the informal and enjoyable learning environments for young children to experience their first encounters with literacy and numeracy.

With the exciting push for every child to have access to formal learning experiences through Universal preK efforts, we cannot forget the important emphasis we need to be placing in providing every child with informal learning opportunities.  We know that high quality classroom learning is crucial, but so are informal bonding interactions that place learning in real world contexts.

Shared by Candis Grover, Director of Literacy/Spanish Development for ReadyRosie. cgrover@readyrosie.com.

Standard