Adventures in Learning

I have never been physically adventurous; never dived off a high cliff, surfed a rolling wave or bungeed into an abyss; I don’t like heights and get no thrill from the thought of a roller-coaster ride. I don’t believe it’s fear that holds me back. It’s lack of interest and opportunity: I never sought it and it never sought me.

When I was very little I earned the nickname “Possum” because, apparently, I was a climber and constantly getting into mischief. I soon had that knocked out of me by a combination of physical and verbal admonitions. Perhaps this contributed to my dislike of heights, but I think my disinclination for the adrenalin rush of physical activities was inborn.

Fear probably does contribute to my reluctance to participate in other height related activities such as parasailing, hang gliding, gliding and hot air ballooning. Each of these does have a certain amount of appeal and I think I would love the experience, if I was brave enough to take the leap. One day perhaps.

Not only were my explorations through climbing curtailed, I was also discouraged from conducting my own investigations and from asking questions. While my parents encouraged reading through library membership and giving books as gifts, my father was often heard to say, “What you don’t know won’t do you any harm.” Though I read avidly, self-selected material was almost exclusively fiction. Non-fiction was the realm of textbooks set for study in boring school subjects with enforced memorisation for regurgitation in exams and then promptly forgotten.

Fortunately, I gained some sense of the limitations of my own experiences and thinking and endeavoured to avoid limiting my own children in similar ways. Only they will be able to say how much their experiences and learning were restricted. Neither is into extreme physical challenges and I certainly didn’t provide them with opportunities that may have encouraged such activities. However, I did encourage them to be curious, to ask questions and to investigate. I closed the door on thinking that revered ignorance and opened the one for adventures into learning.

It is important for parents and teachers to realise the impact of their attitudes, expressed and otherwise, on the developing attitudes of their children. There is a lovely poem Children Learn What They Live by Dorothy Law Nolte that expresses it rather well.

Below is a list of a few further ingredients that I consider essential for maintaining the fun and adventure in learning throughout life. I’m sure you will think of many more.

Children learn best when they have time to:

  • play,
  • choose,
  • grow and develop,
  • think,
  • problem solve,
  • make many attempts,
  • develop independence,
  • create,
  • be,
  • question,
  • wonder,
  • imagine,
  • explore, and
  • discover

in an environment of respect and encouragement that is unhurried and non-competitive.

While I often say that children are born scientists, constantly exploring the world and conducting experiments to find out what works, we can sometimes take their discoveries for granted as their investigations confirm for them something it seems that we have always known; for example, that something dropped will fall. However, any question that a child asks can be a springboard into further learning. It is the questions asked that have driven science discoveries and understandings: questioning, wondering and imagining.

It is these adventures into the unknown, the exhilaration of learning, that drive me and that have inspired my response to the flash fiction challenge by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch to In 99 words (no more, no less) write an adventure, experienced or witnessed. I hope you enjoy it.

As she reached for the unicorn-shaped balloon the man smiled and winked. She hesitated, accepted the balloon, and pushed back through the small audience. Something made her turn. The bystanders, the man, and the balloons were gone. Puzzled, she scanned the crowd for her mum. A sudden gust puffed out her skirt and, as she clutched the unicorn, lifted her high and away: across the city, over the fields, beyond the horizon; and back. She gazed at the patchwork unfolding:  beautiful, connected, serene; and recognised herself a part. As she descended all was as before. Only she had changed.

And if you are wondering about a unicorn-shaped balloon, it is possible:

Thank you

 

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

40 thoughts on “Adventures in Learning

  1. Pingback: Called to Adventure « Carrot Ranch Communications

  2. Charli Mills

    I believe what we hear as children do shape our responses (nurture) yet there remains a part of ourselves that is innate (nature). Probably, by nature you are not an adrenaline junkie. But how interesting that you’d grow up to defy the message “what you don’t know won’t harm you.” You became a teacher. I love your flash and the lesson it contains!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks so much for you comment, Charli. I’m pleased you enjoyed the flash. I’m definitely not an adrenaline junkie. I’m still trying to catch up on those childhood lessons I missed out on! But I do my best. And I have some help. 🙂

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  3. julespaige

    Sometimes parents are unaware of the limitations they place. My folks were so busy working to pay bills and chose areas for living I ended up living too far from the schools I went to participate in after school activities. So activities were restricted to what they, my parents wanted to do on their limited time off. Which didn’t always match up with what I wanted to do – like camping or going to our local High School football games.

    My adventures in my youth were more of just traveling from here to there. Usually on the subway or buses to visit friends that lived out of state. Which I did sometimes by myself.

    I did like it last year when I went to Kentucky with my husband while he was working and I got to explore the city we were in by myself. I’m with you 100% on sky diving and roller coasters 😉

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for sharing your experiences, Jules. We don’t all have the same opportunities, that’s for sure. Perhaps that’s why I spent so much time reading and writing. Other opportunities weren’t open to me. I never felt disadvantaged when I had a book in my hand though. 🙂

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  4. Bec

    Hi Nor, what a touching post, but it’s always sad to hear about how your thinking was restricted when you were young. I’m thankful you were able to overcome that to be the free thinker you are now! And yes, I always tried to think creatively – exactly as I was instructed (he he).

    Lovely FF too, I think you captured the dream-like experience really nicely. Cute balloon!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Bec. It’s a good thing I finally learned to think for myself! Glad you do too!
      Thanks for your comment re my flash. I’m pleased you enjoyed it.

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  5. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    Great post Norah. I empathise with your lack of desire to do these height things. Interesting though that you don’t see that it is due to fear but possibly conditioned learning. I totally agree with that poem. It works. Politicians have got that sussed as well as they work on the principle tell the people often enough and they will believe it. I think we have come a long way in regards to giving children a good self esteem and allow them to question much more than we were allowed to. I was thinking parallel universe as well with your flash which I thought was delightful. “…all was as before. Only she had changed.” Wonderful lines and so true of life in many circumstances.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks so much for reading, and for your lovely comment, Irene. I think there’s a few of us who aren’t too keen on heights.
      I appreciate your thoughts regarding my flash. I am fascinated by the different interpretations. Thank you.

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      1. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        I find the different interpretations fascinating from a writers perspective as we think what we have written is so clear and then it is interpreted in a way that is not how you meant it at all. I remember the first time it happened I was a little upset that I had failed in making it clear but I have since realised we all come with our own knowledge of the world and once we place that on top of the writing it can become whatever the reader wants. That is what imagination is I guess.

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  6. Lisa Reiter

    Gorgeous post Norah and a spooky little flash as I’m writing about parallel universes at the moment – had she changed or just shifted sideways into another world? Sorry – I’m off in my own world at the moment. A dizzy day-dream at the best of times! However, I fully empathise with this post – I think I learned more from the extra-curricular opportunities i had than the basic schooling – many of these were adventurous and at 18 the county council sponsored me to go on an Outward Bound Course! Lol – Damn thing was televised – I must remember to dig that out and digitise it for a laugh!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Yes, please, do dig out that video and digitise it for us! What fun – for you! I wouldn’t have liked it at all. I’m pleased you survived. 🙂
      I appreciate your interpretation and extra thoughts about my flash. I hadn’t thought of it that way. I was just thinking that she had a better understanding once seeing the big picture. I like the idea of parallel universes. Sometimes I feel I step fluidly between a few! 🙂

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  7. heatherbwriter

    I think what’s interesting is that our perspectives can change at different times in our lives too. When I was younger I would have loved to have done a parachute jump, but couldn’t afford it. Now, I find the thought of it terrifying. I wonder whether it’s because I didn’t sense the dangers involved when I was younger.

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    1. Norah Post author

      It’s hard to know, isn’t it? Sometimes I think that if we don’t have the experiences when we are younger we are less inclined when we are older. I know that’s how it is for me anyway. Thanks for sharing.

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  8. jennypellett

    Yes! Children learn by taking risks, definitely. And I think, a little competitiveness doesn’t hurt. Makes them resilient when things don’t work out the first time. My son was an action packed toddler and young lad but I taught him early on to consider how he was to get down from something if he decided to climb up it in the first place. He only ever fell from the parallel bars once and he was an avid tree climber, but from then on, cautious. A good lesson. There is too much cotton wool padding around kids these days…let them live, I say!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jenny. The experience with your son reminds me of a picture book by Helen Piers called “The Kitten Who Couldn’t Get Down”. He could get up all right, but couldn’t get down. His mum patiently taught him.
      There wasn’t a lot of cotton wool padding when I was growing up. But plenty of stern warnings! 🙂

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  9. Caroline Lodge

    I have been influenced by something I heard once: we all need good experiences of daunt. I love that word – daunt, not the same as fear, but in the same room.
    And Georgia O’Keefe said something like ‘I have been afraid every day of my life, but it has never stopped me doing anything.’
    Children need adventures and to be scientists.
    Thanks so much for this Norah.
    Caroline

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for those words of encouragement, Caroline. “Daunt” – that’s a good word. Thank you for sharing it. O’Keefe’s saying reminds me of “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” I wonder how great was the fear if it never stopped her doing anything. I imagine it would be quite debilitating to live a live in constant fear.

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  10. colinandray

    I am a great believer in the concept that our perspectives on ourselves, and our view of the world in general… comes from our upbringing. Given that our parents are potentially our greatest influence, it makes sense. I also believe that the only way those perspectives/standards can change is via significant emotional events. When I ponder my character traits, I only have to look at my parents, and a number of significant events in my life, and I know why I am… the way I am! 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      That’s very true. Perhaps the change can occur through determined effort as well as significant emotional events. I know what you mean about looking back at my parents to see who I have become.
      Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

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  11. Steven

    I am also not exactly physically adventurous either, but I would consider a reasonable portion of your examples as… mildly extreme. I have found that you can still be physically adventurous without going to such extents (and keeping your two feet on the ground).

    For example in the last few weeks I have taken up the task of morning and/or evening walks (fitness walks, not casual walks). These walks are quite long, lasting perhaps 90 minutes or so (which isn’t long-term sustainable with other commitments so I will likely reduce this down to something much shorter). However the length of these walks means that one gets tired of travelling along the same routes and this has made me want to explore different streets in the neighbourhood. Such boredom from travelling known routes has essentially made me become more “physically adventurous”.

    I can also expand on this a little further. On a few successive days, I passed a Scrub Turkey at around the same time in the same area (next to a bushy public reserve). The next day I didn’t pass the Turkey (wrong time of day I guess), but I decided that I would venture into one of the trails a little to see if I could find it or hear it scratching around the scrub. I couldn’t, and so I turned back to the street to keep walking. Before long, my daily walks on the street had included a detour with a bushwalk in this reserve. Each time, I would either travel a little further on a known trail or I would take a different trail to see where it would go.

    Not “extreme”, but definitely “physically adventurous”.

    In your story at the end, I like how you have described that nothing has changed but herself. The way you have put it, it sounds much more poetic.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for sharing your physical adventures, Steven. I like the sound of your investigatory sidetracks. 90 minutes is a long time to walk, but I know “they” tell us we need to do it. I always feel guilty that I never make the time. I’d rather do other things. However I did get my Wii fit out again this morning and cycled and ran around the island a couple of times. The “view” is good and I can listen to TED talks as I go, though I didn’t this morning. While I’d love to be out walking in the nature reserve as you describe, I’m not keen to get out and walk the streets of the neighbourhood.
      Poetic! What a lovely compliment. Thank you. 🙂

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  12. Annecdotist

    I think it’s interesting that, since fear can sometimes stop us doing things we want to do, it gets an overall bad press, as if we should always try to overcome our fears. Fear can contribute towards keeping us safe and I think that sometimes even some “irrational” fears aren’t worth the hassle of getting to grips with. (Though can hardly believe I’m saying this as a former clinical psychologist!!!)
    I enjoyed your flash and great to see the good old unicorn being resurrected, though don’t think I’ll bother making my own!

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    1. Steven

      I would guess that fear is an evolved response, exactly as you have put it… for keeping us safe. I think in some animals it is relatively easy to identify fear (whether it is in the eyes of an abused pet, or the panic in a herd of zebra crossing the crocodile infested river). Presumably in us humans, the adrenaline rush has been closely tied in with the emotion of fear.

      Then in other animals (such as insects) it would be difficult for us to recognise any type of emotion, but I think one would have to assume that they have the ability to experience fear (or their own version/concept of it). Wave your hand near a resting fly and it is hard to say that it is fearful, but it definitely seems to become more alert. Maybe that is just because of the sensitivity of its visual system, but perhaps a fly gets some other sort of “rush” from this visual stimulation.

      Presumably fear can not be experienced by life forms without a brain (or equivalent). I would find it difficult to believe that a bacterium could be truly fearful of something else, yet I seem to recall seeing video of such organisms attempting to “flee” from other “hostile” cells. Chemical messages perhaps – maybe the first steps in the evolution of fear?

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      1. Norah Post author

        Thanks for adding that interesting side information, Steven. Perhaps there is more still unknown than known. I have read about a plant’s response to different situations e.g. grass being cut (not sure whether it was considered fear as such) and was quite amazed.

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    2. Norah Post author

      Thanks, Anne. I appreciate your letting me off the hook with my “irrational” fears. And you’re right, of course, fear does exist for good reasons.
      I just felt I had to put a unicorn in the story, though it wasn’t a Marnie story. Then I had to make sure a unicorn could be made with balloons. Seems “they” can make anything. But I’ll not bother making one either!

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  13. Sacha Black

    Lovely post Norah I share many of your values when it comes to children and allowing them to discover. I don’t care much for sky diving but I do like the odd running obstacle course and rock climbing although truth be known I prefer bouldering! Which is more lower to the ground (no ropes) test of skill.

    This post is quite well timed alt he boy asked his first full length question: is it eating?

    Which was in reference to a baby deer that had wandered into the garden to eat our bushes!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Sacha. I’m pleased you enjoyed the post. Running! I was never into that. Though I did come third in a race at school once. There were three in the race and I was a loooong way back! 🙂 I don’t think bouldering would suit me either. Though it does sound a little more suitable than rock climbing. I have always said that I’m not a mountain goat. I must admit that I do like clambering over the rocks at the beach in search of tiny creatures though. 🙂
      I don’t know whether to be more amazed by your boy’s question or the deer in the garden! I guess I better go with the boy’s question. How delightful, and what a great question to ask. I wonder what was behind it. Was he beginning to realise that other things are living, like us, and need to eat, or something else? It’s wonderful to have a window in to the developing understanding. Enjoy!

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