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Tyler was a three year old boy. He was non-verbal, but was sometimes vocalizing, especially when he wanted to express his excitement and happiness.

Tyler loved to throw rocks and a plastic fish toy in the water and look at their splashes when they touched the water. He was choosing rocks of different shapes, and of different sizes. We could see a smile illuminating from his face with each splash.

Tyler pouring water out of a bucket

After each rock thrown in the water he would immediately run to the next rock he could find to make another splash.

Every time he was outdoors, he was on this mission to find water somewhere. He would run from place to place, exploring the woods and looking for water puddles. He would settle for a bucket with some water. He would never stop looking around until he would find what he was looking for. His joy was so intense when he would finally find water. The rainy days were for him like a gift from heaven.

One day, as he was running along the trail in the woods in his quest for water, he found one bucket filled with water: this time he was going to learn about numbers.

First there was a small bucket representing the number one, and then as we kept going along the trail, there was a bigger bucket representing the number two, and so on, until we found at the end of the trail the biggest bucket representing the number five.

Map drawing of buckets on the trail in the woods
Hand drawn map of buckets with water, rocks and fish

In front of each bucket, on the ground, were lined up the matching number of rocks and fish (made out of cardboard), ranging from one rock and one fish for the first bucket to five rocks and five fish for the last bucket.

Each number was also in a different color so we could differentiate them (e.g. the rocks and fish for the number two were painted in yellow, but the rocks and fish for the number three were painted in green).

Tyler was so excited to have found in his exploration of the woods what he liked the most: water, rocks and fish.

When he arrived to the first bucket, he threw the rock and the fish in the water. And then he soon discovered that there were other buckets on the trail. He kept running very fast from one bucket to another, and stopped at each bucket finding out how many fish and rocks he could throw in each bucket.

For the first time he counted aloud until “five” while counting the rocks by throwing them in the water. This was a huge step in his communication.

Tyler counting fish

At the end of the trail, he ended up by mixing all the fish and rocks in the last and biggest bucket of water; we played by throwing them in the water, making splashes.

The goal was to learn to count by counting and throwing the rocks and fish in each bucket of water. But there was no pressure on Tyler to learn how to count; we were simply playing with rocks and fish in the water and at the same time finding out about numbers by counting them and differentiating them by their colors.

We learned in the same way about letters, shapes, colors… We could learn the whole national curriculum by using water and rocks, we could for example learn about geography by playing with countries in the water, or learn about animals by throwing animal toys in the water…

The most important thing is to observe the child interacting with his environment. Observe him in detail.

  • What are his interests?
  • Does he like to play with leaves, sand, water?
  • How does he play with it: does he like to throw water in the air or to splash in it?
  • How does he play with rocks: does he like to throw them, or make piles?

So you can adapt the teaching to his interests and get him intrinsically motivated to learn. In fact, research has shown that using our interests to learn makes learning a more rewarding experience, improving our ability to learn and memorize information.

(Related Content: The Science of Learning)

Also observe the way the child moves. Does he explore, run, jump, walk, or does he spend his time playing in one place? Tyler was always running everywhere to find water somewhere and once he would find water, he would run to another water spot.

So you can adapt the teaching to his way of moving in his environment. Indeed, science has shown that moving increases our brain’s ability to learn, facilitating the neural connection involved in learning. (See: The Science of Learning above)

Because the way the child interacts with his environment, shows us how their brain works, it shows us also how they need to learn.

It’s all about finding out how the child sees the world. So you can be in osmosis and synchronization with him and you can adapt the learning to his natural way of being.
And then you’ll discover the joy of being, living and learning together in a beautiful environment.