Contextualizing Learning

I will admit, it would be easier to go to a store and buy a workbook for each of my girls to work on during the summer. It would be easier to print worksheets off the internet that the girls would mindlessly complete as they wait for screen time restrictions to be lifted. I know, however, this is how school feels to them, mindless completion of meaningless worksheets and workbook pages. I have always wanted something different for them.

Since the end of May (2020), I have tried to create a space for them to explore ideas, concepts and experiences of their choosing. In creating this space, they have their individual paths carved out each week, developed independent of one another in which I discussed here.

Our lived worlds offer multiple contextual situations around which learning can and should happen. My husband and I? have been very intentional about highlighting the work of the Lord and His word in action in the girls’ everyday lives. This same intentionality should occur around academic learning as well. Past and recent events of police brutality led my oldest to study its patterns and look for literature to help her wrap her head around different events. Having an appreciation of others and wanting to engage with them in a new way has prompted my little one to want to learn Spanish. Shoutout to my friend Karolin for taking time out her days to teach Samora Spanish. We’ve been able to capitalize on the naturally occurring contexts in our lives to promote language, mathematics, history and more.

As part of the planning template for the girls to develop their learning paths, Practical Life provides an intentional look at caring for the environment and those in it. This began as ideas such as, clean my room or help daddy in the yard to praying for people. It grew into preparing care packages for the homeless. The beauty in this practical life experience is it came from the hearts of both girls who shared independent of one another. They spent the week planning, praying and preparing care packages for the homeless.

By week’s end, they had written 42 notes of compassion, love and encouragement and packed 42 care packages containing 9 items each. They had computed mentally, applied multiplication and division, as well as addition and subtraction. They had solved equations, applied order of operations (funny story – in purchasing the pop tarts, I totally misapplied the order of operations. Seeing the package said 12, I quickly multiplied by 4 to make 48, which would have been more than the 40 they originally wanted to create. However, pop tarts come two to a pack, making 6 packs come in a box. I had purchased 24 packs of pop tarts instead of the 48 I thought I was purchasing. That made for a teachable moment as they made sense of why they were short pop tarts) and used estimation. No worksheets needed!! So much rich mathematics through contextualizing their learning spurred by choice. (Cue the mind-blowing gesture.)

It’s a moment they won’t soon forget I’m sure. There isn’t a worksheet that could do that. This makes me wonder, what other contextualized learning opportunities could be created through the lens of student choice?

Dedicated to John Stevens, whose kindness funded this missions project and others to come. The Lord sees my friend.


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