I’ve shared my thoughts before about open-ended learning and why I think, it’s the way to go with
most all of the projects I do with Pari.
Just as a refresher – for my own sake – I’ll phrase my understanding of open-ended learning.
The experts describe it as process-based, child-driven learning wherein the child has freedom to do and make where his/her imagination leads him/her.
Go on to read why I’ve embraced this approach after much self-correction. I also share an example from our homeschool experience.
In an open-ended learning environment or a project, the child is not bound by a set of rules or instructions. He/she does does not work under the constraint of producing a particular result or striving for THE right answer. The outcome of the process can be ‘anything’. There can be many answers to a problem. All he/she has to do is ‘seek’ the outcome or the answer that appeals to him/her. Here’s a brilliant read about Convergent Vs Divergent Thinking on the Imagination soup blog.
The parent or the teacher or any adult who’s the ‘facilitator’ is merely ‘that’ – a facilitator – and does not pass on his/her own idea of the ‘final product’ or the ‘answer’ onto the child.
The main objective of open-ended learning is to let the child explore his creative instinct and imagination and basically enjoy the process of learning; be open and curious about it.
Having said this, as facilitators and teachers to our own children, we know that there will be many projects and lessons where we do need to define the learning theme, the process and even the learning objective.
After defining all this, do we still have the scope for open-ended exploration?
Yes, absolutely! And that’s the fun and the challenge for us facilitators.
Infact, realistically speaking, for most of the lessons or projects that we do with our kids we do have some sort of intention – literacy, math, gross motor/fine motor skill, physical agility or focus/concentration, or artistic skill or….
Well, we adults are always full of objectives. I tell ya! And, well, the intentions are well meaning but the approach is the key.
Even when the project is loaded with objectives, we can still make it very open-ended. Really! Rather, I would say, if we do want to achieve those well-intentioned learning objectives for our children, moulding the lesson to fit his/her interest and giving him/her the ‘control’ – is the best bet to nurturing curious, enthusiastic young learners.
I’ll share one example of open-ended project that could have become an out and out closed-ended if I had not consciously intended it to be.
One of the books that Pari absolutely loves is an alphabet book about the wild life, flora and fauna of Africa. We’d picked this fabulous book during our recent South Africa trip. She reads this herself and I go through it with her, too – to discuss our Safari stories and jog our memory about the animals that we’d seen ourselves in one or the other encounter.
There’s always so much to talk about from any page of this book. The difference in spots on the body of Cheetah and Leopard; the Kelp plant and how its long stems float below the surface of the water; the African elephant in all its glory and how it’s different from the Indian elephant. All these make for very interesting story-time! Yeah – a mere alphabet book, when Pari’s way past alphabets!
The other day, I thought she could do an interesting art project integrating facts from this book.
How about making an otherworldly creature? A creature that would have features of different animals all combined into one! It could live anywhere SHE wanted it to – under water, in the sky, in burrows – wherever.
And, this is what she came up with. She drew the animal from imagination. To add unique characteristics, she referred to this alphabet book of African animals.
She could do as she fancied. She was not bound by any specific look nor by mama’s instructions!
This art+writing project helped reinforce her ‘knowledge’ when she noticed the spots of Cheetah vis a vis leopard.
When she drew the Kelp, we jogged our memory about the under-water plants – something that we’d read on another day, from another book.
The writing exercise was integrated with the art and yet proved a unique tool to help articulate her ideas and imagination. When you write something down, you gain clarity.
This whole exercise could have become ever so close-ended if I had asked her to simply write down the facts that we discussed – Cheetah Vs Leopard, facts about Kelp and water plants and so on and so forth. That might have sounded heavy and study-like. As if, she needs to learn ‘these specific lessons’.
She did anyway learn all those ‘lessons’ by way of painting the other worldly creature” and writing about it. But the approach was non-academic, light and open-ended. She learned without me having to ‘teach’. She ‘taught’ herself and did not even realize she had ‘learned’.
It has taken years for me to let go of my urge to give instructions to Pari or to correct her every now and then so as to make the project look pretty or to achieve the learning objective I intended for her. But, I learned. And, I changed. It felt like an awakening. Seriously! Nothing less. And now, nothing else will deviate me back to those past faulty ways of mine.
The more I let go of my çontrols, the less stressed out I feel and the more çreatively she thinks and enjoys!
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This is a Part 1 of this article on open-ended learning. I’ll share the Part 2 soon.
While we’re on this topic, I’d like to remind you about my Personalized Kids Story books giveaway that are a unique tool for encouraging love for reading – in an open-ended way. Enter the giveaway now. There are 5 prizes to be won and only 4 more days to go.