By Patricia L. Fitzgerald 2016-06-10 05:34:34
Embracing and exploring opportunities for lifelong learning. Between articles about learning styles, learning disabilities and Professional Standards training requirements in this month’s School Nutrition, you would be forgiven if you’re left feeling like education is…well, work. It certainly can be, especially when it’s happening at…well, work. Don’t misunderstand or take offense; work-related learning can be stimulating, engaging, rewarding—even, at times, a downright delight! But we also want to take a few pages to discuss the joys of learning that have absolutely, positively nothing, zero, zip, nada to do with your school nutrition career. That’s right, folks, there are people out there who take up educational pursuits purely for the fun of it! Ready to join their ranks? FEED YOUR HEAD When work is over—for the day, the week, the school year or the career— and our family and household commitments have been met, we have at our disposal a varying number of hours of leisure time. How we spend this time is entirely at our discretion. We can choose to binge-watch “Law & Order” reruns or we can engage our brains. Admittedly, that’s a bit glib. (And, admittedly, the occasional “L&O” marathon may provide exactly the rest a busy brain needs from time to time.) But we should take care not to fall into bad habits with our leisure time, as we often do with our diet and health routines. (Just close the “Angry Birds” app and back away from the smartphone.) Life is short, and every birthday is a reminder that it’s getting shorter—and that there are no do-overs. That should be reason enough to put our inherent curiosity and creativity to better and more regular use. But we have even more reasons! Between the aging of the Baby Boomer Generation and the rise of information-sharing technology, interest in and access to lifelong education opportunities appear to be at an all-time high. Research into the long-term effects of lifelong learning is only just starting, but experts already identify several benefits, starting with a strong likelihood that a stimulated brain may be the key to a vibrant life in later years. In Learning Later, Living Greater, author Nancy Merz Nordstrom identifies other benefits, as she invites her readers to experience the sheer joy of learning something new. Lifelong learning helps develop natural abilities, some of which might not be readily apparent until uncovered in the right environment. It also opens the mind, allowing us to see the other side of an issue, while increasing our wisdom. “It enables us to put our lives in perspective, increasing our understanding of the whys and the whats of previous successes and failures,” explains Nordstrom. Lifelong learning helps us to adapt to change, find meaning in our lives and keeps us involved as active contributors to society. It opens the door to making new friends and establishing valuable relationships. Most of all, lifelong learning creates a curious, hungry mind. “There’s a big world out there, just waiting for our exploration,” notes Nordstrom. “Our drive and desire to learn fuels itself, and we keep going, constantly looking for more.” What exactly is your brain craving? You may not know until you stumble upon it. But there are two primary ways you can tempt it to take some nibbles. You can learn a new skill or expand your knowledge. Let’s begin with learning that teaches new skills. “Skill building” may sound like workplace-related learning, but don’t get hung up on the name. In this context, a skill is merely any new activity you master—or at least attempt to master. LOOK, MOM! I DID IT MYSELF The home front is a natural place to begin. You may want to concentrate on learning skills that will give you greater independence around the house. How many run-of-the-mill repairs can you handle before you call in a contractor? Can you change the flapper in your toilet, unclog a garbage disposal, install a light switch, patch a hole, replace a light bulb in your car, silence a squeak or prep a paint job? There’s immense satisfaction to be had in learning these skills, so much so that the umbrella term, DIY (do-it-yourself), echoes those benchmarks of childhood where we learned we could be independent from our parents in various ways, from tying our shoelaces to getting our own breakfast. We may not realize how much we continue to crave that sense of independence and satisfaction as an adult, until we’ve learned a DIY skill—and saved money and aggravation in the process. The …For Dummies and Complete Idiot’s Guide to… book series are good places to start in learning various how-tos, especially if you have the leisure of time. If you’re under pressure to fix a problem ASAP, the Internet is a treasure trove of step-by-step guidelines, often in video, often taught by experts who are putting themselves out of a job. Also check in at the nearest big-box home improvement chain; many of these offer free mini DIY workshops at the store on weekends. The DIY movement has generated something of its own spin-off. Type “life hacks” into Google, and you will discover hundreds of practical tips and secrets that make routine (and often annoying) tasks easier. From folding a fitted sheet to applying a dot of nail polish to separate your keys to using a muffin tin to serve condiments at the backyard BBQ, these simple solutions can be an unreasonably satisfying source of pride when friends start calling you “MacGyver.” Other home-based skill-building is centered around hands-on activities that are more pleasurable than purely practical. Gardening. Home decorating. Woodworking. Cooking. These are definitely to-each-his/her-own tastes, as the joys of planting are lost on the person who hates dirt under the fingernails, while the delights of perfecting a rump roast may never be understood by one who sees the kitchen as a place of anxiety and misadventure. THE ARTIST’S WAY Perhaps you want to learn a skill with absolutely no inherent practicality whatsoever, but one that is immensely soul-satisfying. The creative arts may be calling your name. Music, dance, theater, writing and visual arts hold a fascination for many. We don’t even have to be very adept at the “skill” to get enjoyment from it. Research on the many values of arts education periodically makes headlines, as public schools struggle to find the time and budget to teach beyond standardized tests. There’s emerging research on the rewards of such learning specifically for adult audiences, too. Many of us learned to play an instrument in our youth, but failed to keep it up over time in the wake of competing demands and interests. Do you long to pick it up again? Or perhaps you never learned, but always wanted to. It’s not too late. Many of the same instructors who give private lessons to your kids and grandkids will happily be paid for the privilege of teaching you, as well. Sure, you can turn to digital media for instruction, but this is one area where live lessons have a definite edge. Ask the music teacher at school or the choirmaster in your church, or stop by an area store that sells instruments and sheet music for recommendations of tutors. Select the instrument that literally makes your soul sing—if that’s the oboe or French horn over the more conventional piano and guitar, so what? It may narrow your options a bit for finding appropriate instruction, but if it’s one you truly love, you’ll be more likely to put in the practice it will take to make a “joyful noise.” Remember also, that your voice is an instrument and most communities have ample opportunities to raise that voice in song, including places of worship. Maybe your secret passion is to paint or draw or sculpt or go further with your smartphone camera. You can find many good tips from books and the web, but these sources are best when you have a basic skill set that you’re looking to fine tune or advance. If you’re starting from scratch, you’d be advised to seek out real-time, live opportunities for learning. Start by checking out offerings at a local community center. In larger suburbs and urban areas, art galleries and museums sometimes offer classes and workshops. Again, the art instructor at your school may be another good source of recommendations. If you’re just dipping your toe in the visual arts arena, you might want to go slow at first, seeing if your enjoyment and/or aptitude live up to expectations before you invest heavily in related supplies and equipment. Crafting is another artistic pursuit that many find appealing and arguably somewhat easier to master. This includes various types of needlework, sewing, scrapbooking, jewelry-making and the like. Don’t dismiss these as anything less than bona fide skill sets, as anyone who manages to stab themselves with knitting needles can tell you. Because of the popularity and accessibility of crafting, your best instructor may be a friend, family member or colleague, rather than a trained professional. Most people with a passion for crafting are equally passionate about sharing that love and their expertise with others. TEACH ME HOW TO… There are so many other skills to learn! Unfortunately, we don’t have the space in this article to explore more of them in depth. But seek out opportunities to try your hand at: • Learning another language. It’s immensely satisfying to break past communications barriers, whether it’s with a neighbor who is deaf, a coworker new to this country or because you need directions when traveling abroad. • Improving your writing skills. Maybe you want to start a blog. Perhaps you long to write a novel. Maybe you just want to get better at writing clever limericks and other word play to delight your students during special cafeteria promotions. • Exploring new ways to get physically and mentally fit. Stand-up paddle boarding is a skill. So is bowling. So is yoga. So is Zumba (especially if you lack rhythm!). So is meditation. Do we really need to address the benefits of learning any of these—and many more? BUILDING YOUR OWN MIND PALACE As we noted earlier, a love of lifelong education isn’t just about learning or improving our proficiency with various activities. It’s also about continuing to acquire knowledge. Author Robert Fulghum made a lot of money on a book asserting All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Well, that may be true about what we need to know. But what about all that we want to know!? This month’s online extras include suggestions on the many sources we can tap for educational programs that will expose us to new and unexpected fascinations, from art history mysteries to surviving a zombie apocalypse. Visit www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonus for these tips. (Tips for learning---not for the actual zombie apocalypse.) We’re constantly expanding our knowledge base. We learn when we read novels. We learn when we browse the Internet. We learn when we have open and honest discussions with others who have different experiences and points of view. We learn in our places of worship. We learn when we travel. But we can also be more intentional in our learning and exploring the journeys our curiosity can take us. What will you learn this summer? Patricia Fitzgerald is editor of School Nutrition and senior director of Digital and Print Communications for SNA. Learning to play the guitar is high on her personal education bucket list. BONUS WEB CONTENT Eternal Satisfaction of the Curious Mind Community colleges. Community centers. Places of worship. Places of entertainment. You might be surprised where you can find educational programming geared to adult learners. Check out our suggestions at www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonus.
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