The Learning Journey

As I watch Adrian’s pencil continue across the page, I’m thinking about the messiness of learning in this period of his life.

March 24, 2020 | | Headwaters Nest

I’m looking at Adrian’s smooth forehead as he bends over his math homework at the kitchen table. Another semester is almost under his belt. He’s working on quadratic equations, unworried. His pencil goes across the page in tiny staccato movements.

I can almost see the numbers tumbling behind my son’s eyes, falling into place. There is something about the numbers on the page that, even looking at them upside down and through the looking glass of time, feels satisfying in the small math-y corner of my brain. I remember that feeling and prompt him: “Aren’t these equations satisfying?” He looks at me like I’m a bit off, and then goes back to his equations.

How do we learn? What makes something stick in our brain? Some learning, like forming a decent ability to apply math skills, requires the average learner to accept a formula and apply it over and over. If you use the formula, you will come to an answer – a correct one! How often in life can we practise an activity with such elegance and ensured success? I feel a small smile when I see Adrian go from question to question on his page, knowing that deep inside that logical part of his brain, he is discovering that formulas in math, and perhaps in life, will work.

Some formulas can work in less exacting worlds – to a degree. Playing with the formulas of language and sentence structure, for instance. Place the elements of language together correctly using the formula and you will create a grammatically correct sentence. Most can master this task. However, how do you become a master of language, characterization, the ability to evoke emotion, and convince a reader they are in another world? There is no formula for conveying meaning as much by what is left unsaid as by what is said – that takes experimentation. That kind of learning is hard to define and it requires time. Like fine art or music or even sport, mastery can take the famous 10,000 hours or more, and truthfully, a lifetime. Stepping away from formulaic solutions can make us afraid and uneasy. We’ll make mistakes.

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  • As I watch Adrian’s pencil continue across the page, I’m thinking about the messiness of learning in this period of his life. Along with his teenaged friends, he is at the experimentation stage, with more at risk than a poorly constructed sentence or a flopped piece of art. They are testing themselves. What do I like? What do I want to do with my free time? My money? What do I put in my body? How do I convince someone I am right for the job? What do I tell my parents and what do I withhold? Who am I?

    These are the kinds of questions that take time to answer, and the answers can change over time. The solutions are often untidy. They can cause arguments. I won’t argue with Adrian over the quadratic formula – it’s proven, and it’s clean and easy once you’ve mastered it. But how to act in this world, what are the consequences of those actions? These are the questions he is wrestling with right now. These learning moments have caused some tears, for all of us. In the car, over the dinner table, or as a door slams in my face and the headphones slam over his ears.

    Often he makes decisions that require me to breathe in, breathe out, count to 10 and, most importantly, step away. (Not all decisions are his yet. On some his father and I have been explicit – not acceptable in our house, no negotiation, and while we have his back and will discuss his feelings, the answer is still a hard no.)

    When Adrian started high school, he asked which subject would be the most difficult for him. I responded, “None of them.”

    “You are learning to learn,” I said. “It’s not the subject matter. It will be about relationships, prioritizing, making decisions.” He looked at me (no, wait, he rolled his eyes at me). “But which subject?” he asked again.

    “None,” I said. “You’ll see.”

    So here we are, entering the “relationships,” “prioritization” and “making mistakes and learning from them” stage of life. It will be a lifelong journey. I’m still making imperfect choices and messy mistakes, and I sometimes long for black and white, formulaic solutions. As I watch Adrian grow, I repeat to myself over and over that there is no one formula for living, and the minute I try to impose one, all of that essential creativity and intuition will be lost.

    Ultimately, it’s what makes life interesting, the lessons in understanding that are messy and memorable, that make you want to exult, or cry and repent, “I’ll never make that mistake again!”

    Adrian is in that sweet spot where formulaic learning and experiential, experimental learning are coming together in his growing brain. I can only imagine the potential behind that beautifully smooth forehead, ready to explode in a million synaptic leaps into his own, perfectly imperfect learning journey.

    More Info

    *Editor’s note: This story was written before the fallout of the coronavirus hit our community. Many of the businesses and organizations mentioned here may be temporarily closed or offering alternative customer service options.

    Help with daycare costs

    The teacher strikes this year have left many of us struggling to find care and activities for our kids. Many community resources have popped up (thank you, from the parents and caregivers in the community!), and daycares have welcomed many kids into day programs and found ways to help our kids, making life a little easier. The cost, however, is not so easy. The Ministry of Education is providing financial support to those who have incurred expenses due to labour disruptions. An online portal walks you through eligibility and a short application form.

    Equine movement therapy

    Drive down the pretty rolling hills of Airport Road and eventually you’ll come upon Caledon Equestrian School. There’s lots happening at this farm, including The Pegasus Program for kids and adults with special needs. Run by a certified therapeutic riding instructor and dedicated volunteers, the program provides movement therapy to physically and mentally challenged students. If you’ve experienced the bond between horse and rider, and the social interaction that happens at a farm focused on the love of horses, you’ll know what a boost to the mind, body and spirit they can be. Sundays noon to 4pm.

    Explore books – and the MoD

    Sunflower School director Heather Jackson, RECE, is leading a number of story readings at the Museum of Dufferin this spring. Books such as Bear and Wolf by Daniel Salmieri (soulful illustrations) on April 2, and Spots by Helen Ward (rhyming and fun) on May 7 make for a treat of a morning. After the program (10am to noon), all participants are welcome to explore the museum. This is a free program for children aged two to four years accompanied by parents/caregivers. No sign-up necessary.

    High school e-learning

    High school kids who like to learn online, or wish to learn over the summer, can consult their guidance counsellor to see if the provincial Learning Management System is for them. A number of school board approved, online credit courses are available for students from Grades 9 to 12. The system is teacher-mediated and tools such as chat, discussions, blogs, whiteboards and quizzes help keep students on track.

    ODSS doubles up the honours!

    For the first time ever, commencement for the 2020 grads of Orangeville District Secondary School will be held in the spring (June 25), rather than fall. That means two commencements in one year (2019 and 2020). Donor graduation awards are important for students as they begin their postsecondary journey, but due to the double-up, some donors cannot contribute to both commencements, so ODSS is hoping the community will step in to help with the transition year. If you are interested in recognizing the achievements of a young adults, please contact [email protected] for more information.

    About the Author More by Bethany Lee

    Bethany Lee is a freelance writer who lives in Mono.

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