You may have heard the following expression:

“What I hear I forget;

“What I see I remember;

“What I do I know.”

“Learning by doing” is the focus of 4-H youth development programs. Most of us participated in traditional learning in school. It was led by a teacher at the front of the room whose job was to transmit knowledge. Our job as students was to take in the information presented and learn it. This is known as the didactic method of teaching.

Hands-on learning and learning by doing have become commonly used expressions in education and youth development. These expressions reflect a more involved process know as “experiential education.”

“Current research on youth development clearly points to the advantages of authentic instruction, involving ‘active knowledge construction’ by learners.” This same research also indicates the importance of developing life skills, such as communication, problem solving, and thinking.” (Heads On, Hands On, 2003 NCCES; NCSU) The 4-H youth development program focuses on the development of these and other life skills.

In 4-H we utilize the experiential learning approach in order to engage our young participants actively in the process of learning. In this approach, the learner is the center of attention, rather than the teacher, and it involves a cycle of learning known as the 5 E’s. These are Engage, Explore, Explain, Extend and Evaluate.

Take for example a group of 10-year-olds learning about flight and airplanes:

First we will Engage: Show them examples of paper airplanes and stimulate their thinking about things that fly.

Next we will Explore: Fold some paper airplanes. The children are encouraged to try different techniques and research what might make the airplane fly better.

Now we will Explain: Process the learning experience. Which airplanes flew best? Why? What would you change? 

Then we will Extend the learning: How does what they’ve learned apply to real airplanes. Do they think that designers try different things before settling on the final design? 

And finally we will Evaluate: Explore what has been learned about airplanes. Compare what they knew at the beginning of the experience to what they know now. This is the learning.

Teaching youth to explore and learn is what we’re all about in 4-H. Come join us.

Heather Gordon is Extension Agent, 4-H Youth Development, Jackson County Center N.C. Cooperative Extension.