My office is across the street from an elementary school for kindergarten through 2nd grade. This week a little girl with beaded braids and a pink backpack waited at a crosswalk for the Atlantic food truck making its first delivery of the school year to stock up her cafeteria. The driver stopped at the crosswalk, gave her a friendly beep of the horn and waved her across. She skittered across the street and into the school building.
What was a quiet street all summer is now a bustling place of kids with fresh notebooks and unmarred erasers smiling, laughing and talking. I can almost smell the newly sharpened pencils.
I remember that back-to-school feeling. Equal parts excitement to head into something new and dread to see the summer end. I think about that little girl with the beaded braids and pink backpack and know when this school year is over, she will have learned so much more than she knows today. She will learn new things about math and science, she will read stories that captivate, surprise or confuse her. She will know new friends. Learning will change her.
It’s been decades since I bought new school supplies and made my way over the crosswalk. I haven’t stopped learning though. It’s just taken new forms. I read books, watch Ted Talks and You Tube videos, talk with people, listen to podcasts, google – all the things most adults do when we need information.
But it’s been a long time since I intentionally committed myself to a learning environment. It’s so risky to do that, so time consuming, sometimes so expensive. I’m middle-aged, and even an expert in some things. so it’s uncomfortable to start over, to know nothing, to trust a teacher to lead my learning process. That little girl with the beaded braids and pink backpack doesn’t know how brave she is.
I started horseback riding lessons this week. It took a while to get on the schedule because during the summer it’s mostly children taking lessons during the day. That’s right. I signed up to learn something that mostly kids do. When I went to put on the riding helmet, we had to make adjustments to the strap because it was sized for a child.
And getting on the horse… well, that wasn’t pretty. Those guys in cowboy movies practice way more than you think. Getting off was even worse. I limped/waddled back to my car after the lesson and thought, “Learning something new is hard. And embarrassing. But, boy, was that fun.”
Maybe you’re like me and expect to have, or at least look like you have, some control. Learning requires risk and times of not feeling like you have it together because you definitely don’t have it together.
We accept awkwardness and setbacks in the learning process of children – their handwriting is crooked or their shirt is on backwards or they picked a weed and called it a flower. We embrace their learning process, congratulate them on the attempt and offer kind instruction when it’s helpful. We can still do that for ourselves too.
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