Learning by Doing: A Lesson for All Ages

Earlier this month, a Forbes article on unconventional and experiential learning caused a stir in education circles. The writer Jason Ma pointed to the overly theoretical and impractical approach taken by most U.S. universities, and then described a new trend that is changing how we approach higher education: alternative, experience-based learning. The article goes on to profile higher education institutions across the U.S. that are taking exactly that approach, incorporating personalized and experience-based instruction. The result? What Ma describes a “a sound combination of mindset and skill set” that prepares young adults to enter the workforce and give back to their communities. At TYO, we could not agree more that ‘learning by doing’ is the most effective way to learn. And not only does it apply, as Ma points out, to university students soon to enter the workforce; in our experience, learning-by-doing is the best approach for teaching all ages – from teaching environmentalism to 4-5 year old children in our Core Child Program, to building the leadership and communication skills of university students in our Youth Service Learning program, to teaching mothers in The Women’s Group IT and fitness.

Last week, our Core Child Program offered a great example of that. As part of our curriculum, children learn about caring for their neighborhoods and the environment, both at a local and global level. An important part of that is water cleanliness and conservation, which is a particularly acute issue for residents of Nablus and across Palestine.

We could teach water conservation by reading about the issue as a class, watching relevant videos, and holding discussions. Or, we can actually learn by doing – and that is exactly what happens at TYO. Through classroom activities, children learn about the importance of water to our health and the environment in addition to celebrating its centrality to our daily lives.


With Nablus's hot summer weather coming in, many of last week’s activities incorporated playing with water. Four-year-old children in Core teacher Haitham’s class played a water relay race: filling a cup of water from a communal bucket, running to fill a bottle on the other side, and racing back to tag their next team member. The goal was to fill their team's water bottle first – i.e. to conserve the most water when transporting it.

The activity required patience while carrying the water, concentration and small motor skills to pour it into the bottle, speed to race back, and teamwork to cheer on and encourage team members. After the activity, children used the water bottle they had filled to water the plants surrounding TYO’s center.

Children learn about water not only through classroom activities; outside of class, they also practice basic hygiene routines and learn about an economic and appropriate use of water for those. Before and after eating and art activities, children learn to wash their hands with the help of our Core program volunteers. Through learning to appreciate health and hygiene routines, the children learn to value water, as well as their own health and themselves. Additionally, at the end of snack time, kids pour their unused drinking water into an indoor plant, again to learn that water can be conserved and reused.

watering plant

Our learning-by-doing approach means treating every moment as a moment to learn; we know that an effective education extends beyond classroom walls into daily routines and life experiences. TYO’s Core curriculum teaches children day-to-day habits that build life skills like gender equality, self-care and self-worth, and respect. Not only is learning-by-doing the most effective way to teach – it is really the only way to do it.

- Niralee, TYO Core Child Program Manager