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Who are the branches on your learning tree?

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Dale-Blyth.jpgAs fall starts, three unrelated events have caused me to wonder about how well we know and support our children's learning throughout their lives.

Event 1: Last night I was playing around on and saw my family tree filling in before me. I learned things about my family tree that I hadn't known before.

Event 2: My oldest granddaughter starts school this fall and her parents decided to home school her for kindergarten. Where are my son and his wife going to find 30 hours a week to devote to her learning and development, I wondered? Thinking about this made me realize just how much work it takes to be a teacher and how much time and support they give our children. Upon reflection, I am excited by the new opportunities that role can provide and my roles as a grandparent in helping her find joy in learning and develop the skills so essential in life.

Event 3: The Minnesota State Fair ended last weekend and with it all the 4-H projects and ribbons, summer camps and myriad other summer learning opportunities young people have. As always, 4-H learning was very much in evidence at the fair.

tree-outline.jpgThese three events have me thinking about the many summers I spent growing up swimming, playing board games and baseball in my neighborhood in Illinois. Who were the people who made those learning opportunities possible? Who invested in making sure we had a pool and park with an open baseball field? I will probably never know.

Like a family tree, a learning tree would illustrate all the people who supported our learning throughout our lives. Who are the teachers -- formal, informal, family and non-family -- who have helped me to learn and develop as I have? Who opened up a whole new branch of learning to me? Whose excitement for learning was contagious? Whose challenge did I rise to meet?

Who are the people doing this in today's society and are we investing in them and their work? The evidence for supporting nonformal learning has been growing for years. Or are we perhaps pruning the learning trees of our children back too much?

Too often we take for granted the people on our learning tree. As a culture we even tend to make school this time of year less about the start of the learning season, and more about the loss of summer freedom and the buying of school supplies. But my daughter is a school principal and I can see her excitement for a new year and her effort to prepare the teachers, the building and the climate. It makes me thankful for people like her in many professions.

So as I begin this fall I hope you will join me in thanking the people in our lives and the lives of our children, grandchildren and the neighborhood children -- the people who help them learn whether in school or out of school, in math or in sports or in life. Let us recognize both the importance they played in our lives and the importance they are playing in the lives of all our children and youth. And as we switch seasons to new teachers and new youth workers and new opportunities this fall, let us thank those from the past as well as those taking on the role anew. Our biological family tree would not help us to be who we are without the many people who are branches in our learning tree.

Who are the members of your learning tree? What role are you playing as a branch in the learning tree of young people today? How well do you think we know and support our children's learning throughout their lives?

Dale Blyth, Extension professor, School of Social Work, College of Education and Human Development *

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