Friday, January 21, 2011

Dogs of all ages really CAN learn new tricks! (and, p.s., people too) ;)

Definition of "learn:" to gain knowledge of a subject or skill by study, experience, instruction, etc (Webster's New World Dictionary).

When we think of the word 'learn,' perhaps we most often envision minor-aged children in school learning required courses and materials. I loved school--English, reading, and writing, in particular (gee, ya think)?! I do believe that these subjects provide good base knowledge and foundation and that they also have the potential to create a passion for knowledge and discovery within the hearts of our young people. I don't know why, when you think of the vast number of existing students out there, so few (in comparison) emmerge from the student setting with the desire to continue their quest for learning. Heck! There are loads of younger students who never even tap into the excitement of learning while they're young, let alone when they enter adulthood.

I was incredibly blessed to have a wonderfully well-rounded family. My parents and grandparents were encouraging and set good examples in all sorts of areas such as reading a variety of newspapers and mind-provoking magazines, listening to a wide variety of musical styles (including classical and jazz...which I'm of the opinion that every child should at least be exposed to regularly), supporting us regularly in our many school programs and performances, allowing and encouraging us to try physical activities such as gymnastics and soccer and taking us on regular outdoor excursions to discover the real Florida (nature hikes, river raft trips, camping trips, etc). These were but a FEW of the wonderful activities and resources that I was regularly exposed to as a child that encouraged learning and kept me engaged.

In addition, I had the additional blessing of being taught by some of the most amazing teachers! My 4th, 5th, and 6th grade enrichment teachers were the creme de la creme and seemed to look outside the box for exciting, new ways to teach us our lessons and inspire us to dig deeper into learning. To this day, I often think of Ms Fuleihan when I'm working with my groups of students and can only hope that I inspire some of them (if not all) to be their very best as she inspired me. I'm talking about more than the 3 R's (plus science and social studies); I'm talking about recognizing the need within myself to keep my brain active--to be in tune with both the inner longings of my heart and the external triggers that capture my senses.

As we grow into adulthood, I think we sometimes allow the day to day repetition of obligations to squelch that inner voice and dull our senses. Blinders go up. We fulfill our daily obligations and then plop onto the couch in exhaustion. From my experience (maybe some of you can relate), we have our beautiful babies and pour every bit of ourselves into raising them and doing what's right for them that we forget that it's important to give ourselves the gift of TIME and continued discovery. There has been a wealth of research showing the benefits of 'lifelong learning' as demonstrated in a much more vibrant later life. I say let's bridge that gap between learning as a student and rediscovering the importance of learning during retirement and challenge ourselves to learn new things throughout our entire lives!

I know it's hard for folks to think about mustering up the energy sometimes (so I hear; energy is not usually something that escapes me, lol). Be encouraged, though, learning something CAN mean buying a new surf board and hitting the waves (something a friend told me he did just today)! It can be a quieter activity. For example, I've have been wanting to learn how to crochet or knit for longer than I can remember. I've just never taken time to do it. Picked up a couple of inexpensive supplies from the dreaded Walmart a couple of weeks ago and pulled up some really great (and free!) basic instructional videos on YouTube! It was simple to get started and was something I could do when I felt like I wanted to be in relaxation mode with my family. I'm still only in practice mode but have already crocheted a couple of really cute 'tea pot blankies' and a bookmark. I fumbled a little bit at first but played the videos over and over a few times and the repetition won out! To top it off, both of my daughters are now really interested in learning to crochet along with me. It's a great opportunity for bonding.

Speaking of bonding, our whole family became interested in playing music quite a number of years ago. We've just dabbled a bit here and there with learning our guitars and playing around on the keyboards. In our son's last year of middle school, he became involved in percussion and that opened up a whole new world for us! We were blessed with a drum kit which all 5 of us enjoy playing around on. Our son, in particular, is doing VERY well because he made the drumline this year in high school and also takes a percussion class. I've voiced (and showed) my continued interest in drumming and he and I often take time out to practice rudiments together or just goof off on drumset and guitar together. He teaches me things that he's mastered. It gives he and I time to bond and keeps my brain engaged.

There are other things that have captured my interest that I've chased after with my learning cap on: vegetable gardening, household composting, various art mediums (my favorite focus last year was oil pastels), and experimenting with a vegan lifestyle. I've loved shooting pictures since I was a child but I'd really like to learn to take my camera off of automatic and shoot with varying settings and effects. Just remember during the course of your days to keep your senses and your heart open. Take note when your heart or your mind does a little flip flop when you notice something new. Maybe it's something you'd like to learn about or learn how to do! Remember that learning can occur by study, experience or instruction. It could be as simple a step as checking out a book from the library about a subject you've always wanted to learn more about. My husband has become a shining example of a knowledge-seeking warrior via library books! Most of what he checks out lately is related to health and longevity--learning how the body works and natural remedies for keeping our bodies at their peak as well as fixing something in our system when it gets sluggish.

**Warning!** Don't let others discourage you! I have to admit to being a squelcher of my husband's quest at first because it felt like he was embarking on this big SOLO adventure. Thankfully, we used our communication skills (follow my blog long enough and you'll know me for my soap box cause: communication...people in general suck at it!). I described my feelings to him that I felt left out and he told me that it was actually me who got him reintroduced to the excitement of reading and how he really wants to learn all he can about good health in it's purest form. We had good discussion and came to the conclusion that we both longed for this and wanted to make the quest together! I've also had MY quest for learning challenged. Not long ago, my son and I were practicing on the drumpad when a flippant comment was tossed my way that I didn't know what I was doing. Who knows why some people try to drag you down or belittle you but don't let it happen! Don't let your desire for learning be shot down! WANTING to learn something doesn't mean that you're going to be a pro within a few short lessons. In fact, if you can't afford to pay for lessons and you are going the self instruction method like we have to, it might take quite awhile to successfully learn all about something. But enjoy the ride; savor each step in the learning process.

It's been proven that learning knew things engages a larger portion of your brain and that the process, as I mentioned before makes for a much more vibrant life all through the advanced years. It also gives you opportunity to destress and unwind, to enjoy quiet meditation as well as establish new, lasting relationships and to enjoy the company of others with like interests. It gives you the opportunity to show your children the value of continued learning and to even find fulfilling, new things to learn and to enjoy doing together. Search your heart and think of something you've always wanted to learn how to do. Start by checking a book out on the subject. Put out the word through your social networking avenues to see if anybody you know can put you in touch with learning resources. If you can afford to take a class, find a local class you can join! Maybe you can get a small group of friends together and pool of you could teach everyone crocheting one time; the next time someone teaches how to cook a special dish; another friend could give a couple of lessons on gardening, or bocce ball, or creative writing, or yoga...the possibilities are endless! You just have to recognize the value in and the significance to continued learning and go for it~

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