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Learning By Doing: The Power of Experiential Learning For Struggling Teens

The current educational curriculum focuses on scholastic achievement. Schools emphasize academic learning, and don’t touch upon experiential learning.

Many students struggle with learning, social, and emotional disorders. Adolescents cannot thrive in traditional academic environments. Experiential learning teaches teens to discover, apply, and solve abstract concepts. These programs also take place in a safe and nurturing environment.

What is Experiential Learning?

Experiential learning refers to non-traditional education that involves, essentially, learning by doing.”

Experiential learning teaches struggling teens to solve problems using a hands-on approach. This type of learning is more interesting, and it helps to engage a student’s many senses. This helps with retaining knowledge and putting abstract concepts to use.

Experiential education, which takes students into the community, helps students bridge classroom study and life in the world and to transform inert knowledge into knowledge-in-use.”

experiential learning
Who is Experiential Learning For?

Experiential learning helps teens that “struggle academically because they are unable to attribute meaning to a concept.” These students struggle to process information in a traditional academic setting.

Experiential learning helps teens that suffer from:

  • ADHD
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Nonverbal Learning Disorder
  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty connecting with peers
  • Difficulty interpreting nonverbal social cues
  • Anxiety
  • Trouble focusing
  • Behavioral Issues
  • Psychological Issues
  • Psychosocial Issues
What Does Experiential Learning Provide?

Experiential learning provides an alternative academic approach. “Experts in brain development recommend that teenagers use various parts of their brain in order to round out their development, and found that outside-the-classroom experiential learning provides this variety. It also adds value and interest to a teenager’s life, making them more confident individuals.”

Experiential learning allows struggling teens to feel accomplished. This helps in the classroom, family relationships, and social situations.

Adventure Therapy

Adventure therapy uses experiential learning activities in outdoor environments for assessment and intervention at an individual and group level.” Struggling teens learn new ways to cope with negative behaviors. They also learn how to approach situations in a different way.

Adventure therapy includes:

  • Fun and engaging activities that involve real obstacles.
  • Activities sequenced for success. They provide participants with a sense of self-efficacy and mastery.
  • Problem solving activities, ropes challenge courses, outdoor adventure activities, and extended overnight expeditions.
  • Rock climbing, rafting, caving, bushwalking, backpacking, canoeing, rafting, and skiing.
  • Group therapy.

Teens learn how to build life skills, gain confidence, and overcoming impossible obstacles. They are able to approach academic issues in a new way with newfound values.

Wilderness Therapy

Wilderness therapy emphasizes the development of social-emotional competencies and coping skills through group-based adventure experiences that are facilitated by a psychologist.”

Wilderness therapy includes:

  • Adventure activities (bushwalking, cross country skiing, white water rafting).
  • Overnight training expeditions.
  • Weeklong outdoor expeditions.
  • Problem-solving activities.
  • Group therapy sessions.

Wilderness therapy helps teens with problem solving, socialization, and positive coping behaviors.

How Parents Can Engage in Experiential Learning

Parents can help struggling teens by being present. Turn off video games, read together, cook together, and build and fix things together. “All of these real experiences are learning experiences, and are not related to a screen.”

Parents can also work alongside their teens in adventure and wilderness therapies. Working together builds trust, communication, and helps to rebuild toxic relationships.

Experiential learning helps struggling teens feel confident and accomplished. Adolescents are able to thrive in academic performances and real-life situations.

To learn more about wilderness therapy, click here.