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Now That Was An Experience That Won’t Soon Be Forgotten

Posted on: May 21st, 2012 by Stephen Hurley  2 Comments »

I think it’s safe to say that my two kids didn’t really know what we were suggesting when we told them that we were going to stay up late last night to attend the Victoria Day fireworks display at the local fairgrounds. Luke had a sense of what fireworks were; in past years we had witnessed some displays from a distance, and had heard the noise of fireworks from other backyards in the neighbourhood. But this was to be the first time that we were going to be fully present for an up-close display!

The anticipation grew throughout the day. In fact, three year-old Liam was primed right from sunrise, waking up early yesterday morning announcing to everyone the itinerary for the day: breakfast, Hilton Falls, nap, dinner at Nannie and Pop’s and then—fireworks. As each of the day’s events came and went, you could see both Liam and his brother checking off items in the mental list they had made. The day was going according to plan!

And anticipation grew for me as well. Whether it’s as a teacher working with a group of reluctant grade eight students, or a parent watching my children grow up, I’ve become quite fascinated with tuning into how young people experience the world. It’s not only emotionally compelling, but intellectually interesting as well. I knew that last night would be a memorable experience for all of us.

So the kids had a great time running around the field ahead of the show; I think that they both knew that this was the latest they had ever been up. But when the first bursts of light hit the sky, they were absolutely mesmerized. For the first five minutes they didn’t say a word and they didn’t move from the “safety” of our laps. As the show went on, however, they started to express their delight and wonder at what was happening in the skies immediately overhead. Eventually, they began to engage the rest of us in their excitement, “Did you see that?” and “Woah, wasn’t that incredible, Daddy?”

I’m pretty confident that “the-day-before-Victoria Day 2012″ was an experience that my children won’t soon forget. The slow and leisurely walk through the woods at Hilton Falls, the long drawn-out water fight at Nannie and Pops’ and the emotionally compelling (and sonorous) fireworks display all combined to elicit some pretty positive bedtime assessments: “That was the best day ever!” and “Wow, let’s do all of that again!”

I woke up this morning thinking about the conversation that some of us were having yesterday about Summer Learning Loss. What is that turns a simple moment in time into an experience? What is it that turns an experience into a memorable experience? And what causes a memorable experience to become a lasting part of the fabric of our lives? What can we learn from thinking about the unforgettable moments in our life? What, if anything, can be applied to our attempts to foster memorable, lasting learning in our students?

These are some of the questions that I carry with me today as we enjoy the last day of a glorious long weekend! 

2 Responses to “Now That Was An Experience That Won’t Soon Be Forgotten”

  1. I’ve been thinking about summer learning loss and the nature of learning. Sometimes learning is bold and experiential. Sometimes it’s a long, dull, banal habit of the mind that just sort-of sticks around. I’m not sure how I learned phonics, but I don’t imagine it was a powerful experience. Now certain books, on the other hand, were powerful. I can’t remember a specific scene when I became globally aware. However, I remember talking about social issues with my parents and engaging, pretty regularly, in community service.

    What I remember fondly is the freedom to learn in the summer. We probably watched too much t.v. However, we climbed trees and played baseball and went camping. I remember starting my own “projects” like designing a baseball stadium, first on paper and then as a model. We read books and painted pictures and sculpted. We visited museums and national parks. Some of those were “big” experiences, but some were subtle.

    • Thanks for the comments John. Adding to your thoughts, your powerful-experience/long-process dichotomy (probably not the correct word for it) reminds me that causality is a slippery fish in this conversation. I can’t guarantee what sort of effect a certain type of experience is going to have on a particular student, or on my own children, for that matter. And some of the experiences we have don’t reach full fruition until another experience comes along to help us make a deeper connection.

      So, I wouldn’t want us to get into a mode where we’re just focusing on the nature of the experience without attending to what is behind it.

      But there’s also something important that you bring up: just letting kids be…on their own…to imagine, plan and build their own learning and their own experiences. I remember the summer that I was convinced that I could build my own rocket ship. I settled for a backyard fort, but there was something about the imagining–both the space to dream, and the time to try some stuff out!

      With the Summer Learning conversation, I’m wondering: instead of making summer time more like school with “programs” and classes, whether there is some value in thinking about how we make school more like summer?

      Or perhaps, the effectiveness of one depends on there being a substantial difference in the other?

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