I am jealous of my kids this week. They had their last day of school and all of the shenanigans that come with it. They have had extra recess. They have had treats and prizes. They have had fieldtrips and game days.
Remember all that stuff from when you were a kid? Gosh, those were fun days! These kids are so lucky!!
I have had lots of smiles all week as they came home and told me what wonderful surprises they were treated to each day. Meanwhile, they have also been lugging home their backpacks full of the projects and assignments that they have worked on throughout the school year. It has my been job to archive these creations: artwork, short stories, science projects, writing exercises, math worksheets, book reports, and more.
As I picked through each piece of paper and noted the date it was completed before I studied the work, I became captivated by the arc of each child’s learning curve over the course of the year (my son finished first grade and my daughter third). I was truly amazed at how much each one progressed in the course of nine months. Both are so much better at reading, writing, and math—somehow, that is still “The 3Rs”—than they were in September. That makes me a proud Daddy.
But what really got my envy going—other than the extra recess, of course—was my realization of how much new stuff they have learned over those months. Cool stuff! Stuff that makes their world so much more interesting to them and stuff that makes them seem a lot smarter than their parents. LOTS OF STUFF!!!
My six-year-old brought home this big diagram he made showing the life cycle of the caterpillar/butterfly and taught me about its anatomy. He learned everything you could ever want to know about mealworms. He learned fun facts about the koala, octopus, and lorikeet. He learned how to draw Pokémon characters. He can make Haiku poems now, too. Oh yeah, and he learned all of that 3R stuff, too. In ONE school year!
My eight-year-old learned coding to make robots. She just did a report—researched it on the computer at home with no help–on invasive species, specifically the Asian Long-Horned Beetle. She learned how to do cartoon drawing and Venn diagrams. She has all of these cool ways to do math problems that I never dreamed of. She learned all about story structure and wrote several stories. She created a play for a competition. She learned to write in cursive. She learned all about how bats use echolocation to find their way in the night sky. She learned about fish anatomy and how to care for a hamster. She became a budding astronomer.
And this was just the stuff they learned in school during these months. My daughter learned tons more on the piano and memorized some big songs for recitals. She learned about singing songs, too. She learned how to make jewelry and how to prepare tea. My son memorized the best players on almost every NBA team and all of their best skills. He has also become a walking encyclopedia of Pokémon knowledge. They both learned how to play basketball and the techniques for all of the main swimming strokes. They learned about soccer, track, and tennis, too.
Learning Learning Learning. It is constant with these kids! They just keep adding to their repertoires. Every day they master more and more of their worlds. It is absolutely amazing to me.
And though I am as proud a parent as the next guy, I say all this with no special sense of pride or boasting. I imagine every kid’s list is about this long. They are all wonders to me!
No, what props up in me as I tick off their many new learnings from this year is not pride but envy. I am jealous of how much they have learned and how quickly they are able to absorb such newness into their worlds. I can’t help but compare myself to them and see how short I fall in the learning department.
I took Developmental Psychology in college, so I understand that the capacity for such amazing feats of learning by kids is wired into them. They are made to learn so much in such a short time. But I also think that we adults usually let ourselves off the hook once we learn enough to survive in this world. We don’t rise to the challenge to continue our education and increase our mastery of these lives. I know that I have been guilty of this laziness.
I am sure that if you gave me a day and pressed me for a list of all the subjects I want to learn more about and all of the new skills I want to learn, I could make that list a mile long. I think of myself as extremely curious. Yet I look at these kids and their learning, and I feel like a fraud by comparison.
Am I really as curious and ambitious to learn as I think I am? What the heck have I learned in the last year???
I can already feel my failings because the first thought that comes into my head was how excited I was when I had my daughter teach me all about the phases of the moon cycle–words like waxing and gibbous now have meaning for me—last month when she was doing an assignment for class. We tracked it on all of the clear nights, and I was giddy with the new knowledge. Me, learning from a third grader.
I learned more about American history this year through some intentional reading and documentary film-watching. That has been eye-opening and has left me wanting to know more. I have spent a lot of time learning about the book publishing industry, which I will continue to learn about in the coming year as well. I have learned more about government and politics than I probably wanted to know, including this week learning more about impeachment. I learned all about the world of Harry Potter, again thanks to my daughter. And though I have read some other excellent books, I can’t claim to have learned a lot more. I would be reaching if I made the list any longer.
That is a pretty pathetic list when you put it up next to my kids’! Can I still call myself intellectually ambitious and a lifelong learner? Oh, I hope so. I don’t plan to stop anytime soon, but next year I definitely need to pick up my pace. But that’s next year. It’s Summertime now! Don’t I get a break?
How about you? How much have you learned in the last year? Open up your journal and walk yourself back through the last twelve months. What new subjects or skills have you really taken on? I mean things that you have put in an effort to know more about or skills that you did not have before and made a point to add. Start with the knowledge. What subjects have you studied up on this year—books, articles, classes—that have added to your lexicon of knowledge? Were they topics that you have long wanted to know about or things that you just stumbled into? How interesting was the study? Did you find the addition of new knowledge exhilarating and satisfying? Did it get you excited to learn even more about that topic or about other things? What about new physical skills, like cooking, a sport, a musical instrument, or a craft? When did you last learn one of those kinds of skills? How did that type of learning affect you compared to “book learning”? Which do you prefer? Is it just more difficult to learn new stuff as you get older? At your age and stage, is learning still appealing to you? Appealing enough to actually make the effort to do it? What would you like your next topic or skill to be? What is one small thing you can do this week to get started? Leave me a reply and let me know: What have you learned lately?
Life is a lesson,
P.S. If this resonated with you, please pass it on. Share the gift of self-knowledge!