Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Lifelong Learning: It's not just for senior citizens

I have two daughters, both of whom were homeschooled.  I chose to homeschool for a variety of reasons, but one of my primary goals was to develop a love of learning within each of them, that would last throughout their lifetimes.  I wanted them to retain that childhood curiosity that made the world and everything in it endlessly fascinating.

When we began homeschooling, we followed a very traditional approach.  My dad was a public school administrator, teacher and coach.  My mom taught in an all-Amish public school.  My brother, and most of my aunts and uncles, and even my neighbors were all teachers in the public school system.  Family gatherings were usually filled with endless conversation about the “school business.”  When I announced that I would be homeschooling my daughters, I received support from all those teachers, along with stacks of textbooks and workbooks that they had accumulated over the years.

For the first 6 weeks, my oldest daughter loved her lessons, and eagerly completed them.  My younger daughter wasn’t ready for textbooks or workbooks yet, but she liked sitting at a little desk with her paper and crayons, as her older sister did her schoolwork.

Then we made the mistake of visiting the library to look for a book about dogs.  So many books… fiction, non-fiction, picture books, books about dogs, cats, trains, stars.  Books that were hilarious.  Books with amazing covers, and even more amazing pages inside.  We carried armfuls of books home with us.  In 2 days, we had finished them, and went back to get more.  We brought large tote bags with us.  The bags were filled, the books were checked out, taken home,  eagerly read and put back in the bag to be returned.  We began to visit the library daily.

Kylia, my oldest worried that she would soon have read all of the books in the library, and then what would she do.  The librarian assured her that it would not be a problem, because new books were arriving each week, and no one had yet read all of the books.

As the weeks passed, they were filled with hours of reading, and field trips to see things we had read about.  We cooked foods that were mentioned in stories.  Our family visited historic sites that had been shown in the library books.  We made crafts, did science experiments, went to programs at museums and the wonderful Cleveland Metroparks, and we completely forgot about all those textbooks and workbooks.

At the end of the year, we had boxes of photos, crafts, dissected owl pellets, dried leaves, recipes and a seemingly endless list of books we had read.  As the years passed, the girls grew up, and their interests changed, but their passion did not wane.

My oldest daughter is now passionate about trains.  She works for the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, and has read every book she has been able to find about trains and the railroad industry. She asks the experienced train mechanics and conductors and trainmen hundreds of questions.

My youngest daughter is an artist and a musician.  She reads books about art and music, and studies artists and musicians, especially guitarists.   She attends concerts, visits galleries and scours the Internet for information about favorite musicians and artists.  Her days are filled with hours of playing the guitar, and hours of sketching.

Although these are their passions, their interests are not limited to trains, art and music.  They share information with me about a wide variety of topics that they have read about or heard about, and we discuss them.  I feel confident that they are lifelong learners.

Because I am passionate about learning, I set up a Google alert for news about “lifelong learning.” As an educator, speaker and learning consultant, I like to read what others are doing to inspire the desire for learning in children and teens.  I soon discovered that the term “lifelong learning” is nearly always used when referring to learning opportunities for senior citizens.  How sad!

I’m glad the learning opportunities are there for seniors, however, I would like to see just as many opportunities for other age groups.

One of the things I notice about the classes and activities for seniors, is that nearly all of them are described as “fun” and “interesting.”  And the seniors often comment that they really enjoyed these classes, and they are eager to try out the new skills they learned.

The senior citizens do not have to worry about grades or tests or making mistakes.  They are there to learn, and they help each other, and they have fun.

If our children all had the opportunity to learn, just for the joy of learning, what a difference it would make, and maybe we would become a nation of passionate, lifelong learners.

Passionately learning everyday,



“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” ― Henry Ford

“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.” ― Isaac Asimov

“You'll never know everything about anything, especially something you love.” ― Julia Child  
(I read the above quote in a voice similar to Julia Child's and couldn't stop laughing.)

“I read my eyes out and can't read half enough...the more one reads the more one sees we have to read.” ― John Adams

"Learning is not a product of schooling but the lifelong attempt to acquire it."   

- Albert Einstein

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