Georgina has had 8 years experience teaching both mainstream and special education. She has created her own website www.sensupport.com which makes learning resources to help children with Special Educational Needs. Here, she gives advice on how you can use real life experiences to enhance children's learning opportunities.

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

– Benjamin Franklin

Imagine that you are working with a child that has no previous experience of a lemon. They don’t know what one is.  Now, give them a picture of a lemon. What will they learn from that picture? It’s yellow, it’s round. Even if they’re not able to verbalise its features, they will see them.

Now give that child a toy lemon. What else will they learn now? That it has small dimples on the skin, and they will be able to put the size into perspective.

Now give a child a real lemon and see what they can find out. They will learn that they can squeeze the lemon slightly. They can dig their nails in the skin and find white underneath. You can help them open the lemon, where they will discover that the inside has segments, that it is wet, it is sticky, and it tastes sour. They can squidge the lemon and listen to the sound it makes. Plus let’s not forget the smell! By giving children a real lemon over a picture or pretend one children have gone from using just their sense of sight to using all of their senses to find out about that one item. Consequently, the learning opportunities are far greater.

Real life experiences are invaluable to children’s learning. Why?


-          Increase motivation – wouldn’t you be far more interested in investigating a real item rather than just looking at a picture?

-          Improve behaviour – the more your children are engaged, the better their behaviour is likely to be.

-          Develop Communication & Language – experiences give children something to talk about. Make sure you model using lots of different words to describe things.

-          Develop Understanding of the World – this is an area of development that depends on children experimenting and finding things out for themselves.

-          Develop other areas - by helping to develop language you are in turn supporting other areas of learning. For example, to progress in Mathematical Development: Shape, Space and Measure children need to be able to compare size, weight and length and talk about it. This is going to stem from children having had an experience to talk about.

So how do you offer these opportunities?

-          Give children real items to experience, not just pictures or models. Put real food in the role-play area, and on occasion give them a few real coins to play with so that they know what these feel like, rather than plastic money.

-          Take children outside – let them feel the leaves rustling beneath  their feet. Let them experience a wet and windy day – put your coats and wellies on and go outside and have fun. The learning opportunities will be huge.

-          Use the parents in your setting – get them to come in and show / share what they know. Get them to bring pets in and let children feel, stroke, and hold them. Where possible, see if you can offer children the opportunity to see a real fire engine. You’ll be amazed what the parents in your setting might have to offer.

In order to grasp a good general knowledge of the world children need to learn through experiences. Quite often the experiences you provide are going to be those that the children are not likely to get at home. So, next time you plan an activity make it as real as you can. The children will gain so much more from it. Not only that, they’re going to absolutely love it!

If you are looking for additional advice and support, you can follow @sen_support on Twitter and on Facebook or email Georgina on admin@sensupport.co.uk.

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