Heart to Heart: Learning outside the classroom


Dear Adele,

The Ontario government and the Teachers’ Federations’ are at loggerheads over a contract, and rotating strikes are causing me concern about my teenagers’ learning this year. What ideas do you have to deal with this political situation beyond our control?

No Control


Dear No Control,

It is always upsetting to face situations over which you have no control, especially when it impacts those you love and care about, and involves your children. Good parents everywhere must feel for you as the seemingly endless run of conflict between the government and Ontario teachers has been occurring for decades, and families and children are affected every time. We all have to wonder if there is not a better way?

That being said, rest assured that Ontario teachers are among the best in the world, and are doing what they can to educate our children in circumstances often beyond their control too. Not every teacher wants rotating strikes. Not every teacher agrees the issues presented as the most crucial, are in fact representative of their biggest real classroom challenges. Not every teacher actually has any personal power to alter the status quo. If you have any experience with unions you will understand.

So I suggest when you have to do something with your lemons, you make lemonade.

You would do well to remember that education and learning is not like filling a measuring cup with 8 ounces of water each year for 14 years, with graduation confirming your child has consumed his 14 cups of H2O fluid. Think of his time between age 4 and age 18 as a period when he breathes in all kinds of smells from all kinds of sources every minute of every day. At graduation you can assume a child has been breathing in and out every second of his or her life, for all those years and has experienced a ton of odours. Some children know the smell of cat urine while  some do not. Some know the smell of cannabis while others do not. Some could  recognize the fragrance of every flower in an English garden, while others could only distinguish a few.

The life experiences of every waking minute of their journey from childhood to adulthood constitutes their education. Often the experiences they have outside traditional classrooms are more important, and more impactful than what they are exposed to in any single grade in a school system. When you look at the education of your youngster and look at how the totality of his or her life experiences help create the human adult you are entrusted to raise and the ultimate man or woman he will become, detours and roadblocks like snow days, PA days and strike days become much less important. Indeed they actually can provide you an opportunity to create experiences of tremendous value to your child, to his thinking and his character development.You might even come to relish them, believe it or not,and consider them as a chance to add to the depth of the file folders of knowledge your son or daughter is building in his or her brain.

So tell your teenager that their learning during the ‘Strike’ will happen a different way for a while, with varied types of learning experiences being set up by you and a few other parents. Also, offer your child the choice to participate in the experiences you are arranging, or to sit on a straight back chair inside your office with a bottle of water, a brown bag lunch and a paperback novel which you must approve, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., while you earn a living working at your desk.

Then reach out to a few other parents and adults who can create a phenomenal alternative to learning as your children know it in traditional schools. Three or four sets of parents will need to connect and take turns facilitating interesting learning days for three or four adolescents. Potential for eight supervisors now exists if parents of four adolescents connect and team up. More could be  recruited from the seniors in your network or possibly hired from the university students you know who would love to earn a few bucks for a couple of days fun sharing knowledge with some young people. Some of the parents might be homemakers, some may be able to work from home while the teenagers carry out suggested assignments, and others may be able to use a few vacation or personal leave days. ‘When the cat's away, the mice will play’ is an old adage parents must always remember when dealing with their children. Supervision is a must in my books for any extended periods of time, day, evening or night. A trusted competent adult is mandatory.

Get the adults together and set up a timetable for their facilitation of a day, with suggested educational activities to enrich their children's school curriculum. Agree that free access to television, movies, cell phones, video games and the like will not be allowed by any parent on their day as facilitator and supervisor. Agree on the rules for attendance, participation, costs, respectful behaviour etc. Then brainstorm for amazing unusual learning activities for adolescents. Their assigned grade level will not matter for these kinds of activities.

How about a parent with a history major at university, taking the gang to the War Museum for the day on public transit, interpreting and expanding on all the written information cards there? Another day or two let that same parent show several great war movies available on Netflix perhaps and then run discussions on them helping the group increase their knowledge and understanding of history. This activity could be repeated for many school Strike Days with unlimited potential to interest and motivate teens to study and read more about the history depicted in films about World War 1 such as ‘1917’, World War 2 such as ‘Dunkirk’, the Vietnam War, the Civil War, or more recent conflicts in Afghanistan to name only a few ideas.

How about a parent with a science major background or profession taking the group to any science museum in town by public transportation, such as the Museum of Natural History and expanding their scientific knowledge area by area? One could spend days doing that. How about buying a science experiment kit and spending a few days doing crazy experiments while letting a knowledgeable parent stretch the minds of the group, with his or her knowledge and explanations?

How about a parent into music history planning a day to introduce the group to some genres of music that might be unfamiliar to them. Music of all kinds is available on YouTube and could be cast on a television screen all day long. The same could be done for dances and the group might even be able to learn to dance a dance, like a Cha Cha Cha!

Teenagers could study eight lessons of beginner bridge available on YouTube and become self directed learners while learning the game from a pro on a series of lessons identified by a parent. With little help, such courses run themselves and a parent supervisor could still get some work done at the dining table while their teens work at teaching themselves this world class game at the kitchen table. They can develop independence, skills in collaborative and cooperative learning, thinking skills and computer skills. Once mastered even at the most basic level this game which has mesmerized strong minds for centuries, will be social skill for a lifetime.

Any of these ideas could be even better with an added excursion to walk neighbourhood dogs, to have a skate at a nearby outdoor rink, or to swim at a local indoor pool during a public swim. Include a stop at a long-term-care home or retirement home to chat for an hour with residents who rarely get a visitor. Finish off all days with an expectation that their gang of four must have a simple meal ready for the hosting family and themselves by the end of the day. Leave the recipes, ingredients needed and let them discover they can actually make, serve and clean up a great nutritious meal of homemade chile, a Caesar salad and freshly baked chocolate cookies for everyone to enjoy!

I will stop there with creative group learning ideas to fill a few strike days for your teenagers of average or better ability from sixth grade through twelve. Get those creative juices flowing with a few interested and competent parents and this educational detour will lead you and your adolescent down some incredible previously untravelled paths along which your progeny might find a passion for something which was never thought of before.

‘When one door closes, another one opens’, they say. You, dear No Control, just might open a door leading to a study or career choice that will light your child’s fire like no classroom lesson has ever done before!  Now that would be quite a significant outcome for any rotating Strike day I would say!

‘Keep on truckin’ No Control. Your children will get through this very small hurdle in life, as will you. How you and your progeny deal with life challenges like this can make your youngsters stronger and bring out the best in them. May the strikes end soon, so our teachers can get back to doing what they love to do — teach our children about how to do life well, with knowledge at the core of it!

Sincerely, Adele

I'm looking forward to your questions! Email me at maryadeleblair@gmail.com and please put Heart to Heart in the subject line. Note that all columns will remain anonymous.

Photo: Pixabay