Five Catalysts to Connect us with Community-Based Learning

Catalysts + Communities: connecting children to learning

National awareness days, weeks and months are excellent catalysts for learning, like National Moth Week which takes place each July!

When engaging children in enriching learning experiences, the key to successfully identifying educational opportunities for your family is by providing relatable context. Not only are good learning experiences grounded in a familiar physical and cultural situations, they are also timely and should align with the seasonal and calendar-dictated events and natural phenomena that take place throughout the year.

Summer is, of all four of the seasons, perhaps the most opportune season during which to engage children in community-based learning. Traditional students have lots of freedom once school is out for the summer, and along with the pleasant weather comes fascinating natural events and endless community events, both big and small. All of these things can serve as catalysts for learning, helping to either spark curiosity in a new subject or deepen children’s understanding of a topic of special interest to them.

Catalysts for community-based learning come in all shapes and sizes, and no two are alike. Common catalysts for learning include seasons, holidays, current affairs and events, phenology, anniversaries, and special awareness times (days, weeks, months). Each of these catalysts can provide engaging and exciting learning for families, and opportunities are available throughout the summer (and the rest of the year as well!) for learning about almost any topic. In fact, there are some fantastic examples of catalysts for community-based learning coming up during the next few weeks here in western Massachusetts – each of which represents one of the categories into which such experiences typically fit.

Holiday: The 4th of July is fast approaching, bringing with it countless community celebrations and rich learning opportunities that support studies of American history and the idea of freedom. In addition to serving as a day to mark the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the 4th of July can lead to explorations of chemistry (what makes fireworks explode?), community/civics (who is marching in our parade?), performance art (see a theatrical reading of the Declaration of Independence!), and many other topics.

Current Affairs: All around the world, human interference with natural processes has caused a decline in bee populations. Essential to every ecosystem as pollinators, bees play an essential role not only in our food systems, but in the complex workings of habitats across the globe. Families can use this current hot topic as an opportunity to learn together about bee habitat by creating a bee home, learning how to keep bees, and even participating in community harvest celebrations, like Warm Apiary’s Honey Festival. Creating some bee habitat near your home can help children to learn not only about bees’ needs but about the interconnectedness of all parts of nature, too.

Phenology: Explorations of phenology take place year round, as changes in plant and animal life are constant. Summer is especially rich in such opportunities, and one way to explore phenology is by watching a creature’s metamorphosis right before your very own eyes. Raising tadpoles is a great way to see metamorphosis, and though frog eggs are long since hatched, some toads mate into the summer months and even if eggs aren’t readily available, tadpoles can still be easily found. Another opportunity includes monarch caterpillars and their transformation into beautiful butterflies.

Anniversaries: Often, the anniversary of an event calls for celebration, reflection, and/or raising awareness. Sometimes, anniversaries serve as reminders of important historical events, while other times they serve as cause for celebration of something less historically important, but nevertheless educational! This year, for example, marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of the young adult novel, Harriet the Spy. Celebrated with a special exhibit at the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, the anniversary of the book’s publication brings with it opportunities to learn about class, gender, and friendship, in addition to the literacy skills that reading and discussing a text helps to support. Think about upcoming anniversaries that can inspire you to engage in resources in your community.

National Awareness Day/Week/Month: Every day, week and month can be connected to a national awareness campaign. National Moth Week, for instance, is a great catalyst for learning about local species and their native habitats. Locally, we’ve been celebrating several Bee Weeks. Piti Theater Company’s upcoming Bee Week Springfield (the third of three local Bee Weeks) brings awareness-raising community-based learning events to the area, making it a great example of an awareness event-driven community-based learning opportunity. Each Bee Week has brought theater performances, workshops, celebrations, and other educational events to the area, offering families a chance to participate in many different modes of learning and raising awareness about the plight of the honey bee.

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