Lifelong Learning Classes Have It All!
By Ivy Hendy
Older people have accumulated many memories in their lives, but for most, a favorite reminiscence is using the playground swing. Swinging comes at the very beginning of our learning, when the world was new, and we were gaining confidence in ourselves. Do you remember what it feels like? To attempt to use a swing there is the decision to sit on the swing board, the resolve to pull back as far as possible and the motivation to push forward rising to the highest height attainable. Soaring through the air on a swing can bring on the feeling of shooting off of terrestrial grounds, losing control and trusting to our innate playfulness.
For folks age fifty and older there isn’t any better plan to follow than developing their swing set skill as a way to relieve stress and stay in touch with the ebb and flow of life. All we need to do is nurture the spirited independence that we had on the school playground. Although as we age using a swing might only be a state of mind, just the remembrance of things past will bring a multitude of benefits: mentally pulling back on the swing inspires spontaneity, pushing forward will encourage new perspectives. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
Each year as the start of traditional school begins, brick and mortar stores and on-line merchants bombard parents with sales of products for back-to-school supplies. Attending school used to be seen as an entirely age-based activity intended to prepare children and adolescents to become adults and begin their careers. But there are growing groups of senior citizens who are stretching the boundaries of exactly who and what school is for. It is obvious that there are some abilities like using a swing, riding a bike, or learning new things, that are always remembered. Advocates of classes tailored to older adults, called ‘lifelong learning,’ enthusiastically assert that retirement doesn’t mean retired brains.
An example of this dynamic way of thinking is what 1,800 older people in California’s greater Sacramento area are doing through participating in classes given by the Renaissance Society. What better way to broaden one’s horizon and connect to the world’s wonderment than to take a class? As we age, voluntarily going to school is no longer a mandatory obligation complete with the grind of inescapable assignments. Happily, taking classes as an older person has been transformed into a category similar to playing-on-a-swing. It’s fun!
Like other non-profit lifelong learning organizations, the Renaissance Society is tailored for a back-to-school experience with class catalogs and supportive email updates. Run by a large group of dedicated older volunteers who have a myriad of skillsets, these men and women offer their knowledge and expertise because of their love of sharing with community. Such dedication means that the classes they present are guaranteed to be enjoyable and fascinating.
Affiliated with Sacramento State University, the Renaissance Society is on hiatus from its physical classroom locations on the university campus; all classes are now conveniently on-line and open to a much broader populous. The qualification for participants to sign-up and take a class is simple. With an emphasis on inclusion, admittance is not by educational level but by age. Having the same minimum membership age as the AARP (50) will get you in, even if you happen to not have one gray hair on your head!
In the twenty-first century, the term “aging in place” doesn’t have to mean a sedentary life with little to no stimulation. For the seniors who have enrolled in lifelong learning classes, excitement and motivation come along for the ride. A residual benefit is that you stay connected to the world around you. For retirees who find themselves with time on their hands, taking classes not only enriches minds but fends off possibilities of boredom. The classes give senior citizens experiences they encountered long ago in their school years, but without the stress of grading and the advantages of many more class choices.
Some of the many subjects offered by the Renaissance Society are classes in literature, photography, gardening, economics, android and iPad basics, the influence of food, local to world history, classical music, popular music, writer’s and book groups, the sway of politics, learning to do art, and much more. The classes are given in an informal manner and mercifully, judgment is mitigated since no academic credit is involved. The sheer variety of classes offered captures the imagination of seniors, many who admit that they were introduced to a subject they didn’t know they were interested in until they took the class!
With the wisdom of hindsight, most older people know that it isn’t the age on the outside that will determine one’s fate, but the feeling on the inside that is the calculus to a person’s future. Active participation in lifelong learning classes will add to the joy of playfulness, curiosity, and fearlessness so universal in the young.
If taking classes isn’t something you’ve done since you were a kid, you’ll be surprised to find that enrolling in a class will quickly bring back a spirited agelessness. Ask any lifelong learning participant and they will tell you that their involvement has not only enhanced their lives but also encouraged the skills necessary to adapt to our changing society, staying young at heart, pumped up and swinging from their seat boards.