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September 1, 1997

To help soften the transition to school days, our family took an end of summer outing to Ontario's Science Center last weekend. Day trips, as most parents know, have a number of variables that determine success or not, and at our house, methods and motivations are important for the desired outcome. This time, we were going at the kids request, to a hands on learning center, something we thought most appropriate in light of the children's next destination - back to school.

We spent the day being taught in the most creative of ways and made a number of discoveries that were new. That we each eat about a tonne of food a year, that a sneeze travels out of our mouth at up to 160 kilometers an hour, that a coffee tree produces about 50 cups of dripped coffee a harvest, that wasp saliva made the earliest paper, that memory fades in 20 seconds unless you give it undivided attention, and that in the environment of touch and do learning, the kids seem to have a more teachable spirit than mom and dad.

At the maturing age of somewhere past 30 and not yet 40, should I still be striving for the openness of a child's curiosity ?

After nine hours of sampling everything from rock climbing to the astronaut's chair, my attention span had long been spent. At closing time, we pulled our still enthused children away from the learning centers they saw as attractions and crossed into the twilight of a near empty parking lot while they chattered away with adjectives that assured us the day had been a roaring success. I've been musing about the qualities of a teachable spirit ever since.

Somewhere I've picked up a memorable quote that says, "the day we stop to learn, is the day we start to die." I don't think any of us consciously choose that decline, but I do know that it's easy for barriers to build that leave us feeling bored, dulled and having little to contribute to the world around us.

There is something about being willing to interact that starts the ball rolling in the education process. Just watch my children at the Science Center as they touch, grab, and jump to volunteer for an experiment, while this mom would prefer to stand with arms crossed, a safe distance from having her hair stand on end during the trademark electricity demonstration.

Every day, I encounter people who enter my world with the purpose of interaction. Some want, some take, some give, and there's been a number who do make my hair stand on end. And the choice is mine to continue to learn or to turn on a wounded receptor, or slip into mundane auto-pilot. For better or for worse, most of my learning opportunities are now encountered through people who exert an influence on me, and my response or lack of it becomes the interactive learning process. It's so easy to be passive, to listen but not hear, to nod yes but act no, to protect rather than process, to hide rather than reveal.

Often, interactive learning is a wonderment of delight, and sometimes, well, it just makes you cry for recess. What it comes down to is no one can push my teachable spirit into action but me, and I know I'm wonderfully alive as long as I continue to learn.

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