Learning Outside of a Classroom

It’s been quite a while since I was in a formal educational setting, but I find I am still learning something new every day. As a director of a non-profit, my eyes and ears are always open to ideas which will enhance my work, and sometimes these can come from the most unlikely places.

This week, my learning has been particularly rich and from very diverse sources.

I learned from a telephone chat with a peer in Maryland, who is preparing to retire after 30 years as director of a non-profit afterschool program.  She shared information with me about a multitude of things, from trends she is seeing in the needs of the current generation of families, to how she is preparing to leave behind a program which has been her “baby” for most of her professional life. The original purpose of the conversation was research for an article I will be writing on transitions, but in addition, I learned some things which will help me to better serve HCC families now, and will also help when the time comes for my retirement.

I also learned at a jewelry party! There, among a group of friends (many retired school teachers), I heard some of the “buzz” around town about HCC.  The women were talking about how impressed they were by activities they heard were taking place in our programs this year. They were raving about our global penpals, cooking projects, community service, and other interesting things the children are doing.  I learned from them how valuable it has been to ask our staff to share their hobbies and interests with the children this year, which led to many of these activities. I also learned that grandmothers and teachers have an interest in quality programs for children, even if they aren’t directly impacted, and they can be terrific advocates for programs they deem worthewhile!

Finally, yesterday I learned from a little boy from Philadelphia, who was waiting for his dad after our dance performance.  He and I were talking as I cleaned up, and he asked me what I meant by an “afterschool program.” I explained that it was a place where the children could go to do fun things after school while their parents were at work. He replied that he had done that for a while at his school, but all they did was play outside … he was intrigued that our HCC kids did dance, art, science, and other kinds of activities.  I learned from him that we cannot take for granted that all programs are equal, nor that they always meet the unique needs of individual children.  Though we have some children in our program who would gladly do nothing but play outside, for others, we need to stretch and sample until we find the kinds of activities which will spark their interests and talents.

This brought me to a real “aha!” moment.  We don’t need to make the school day longer for children in order for them to learn more.  We just need to make sure that they have learned to seek information and knowledge in every situation, to try new things, to explore their interests in depth, and to be thoughtful about things they see, hear and experience. 

In our program, we need to not only provide them with interesting things to do – we also need to show them how to make the most of those opportunities through observing, questioning, analyzing, internalizing and sharing what they see and hear and do. Most of what we learn comes not from textbooks or lectures, but from listening and observing and experiencing the world around us.

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