A Learning Slap by a Wheel

Have you ever had one of those learning experiences that pretty much slaps you in the face and wakes you up from a stupor that you didn’t know you were in? It generally never happens in an academic learning environment. This rude awakening generally happens in a life situation. This happened to me the other day. My son did this to me and I don’t even know if he realizes it.

My son has a fascinating relationship with learning. He is a tinkerer. He learns by doing. He reminds me of the Aristotle quote “for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” I like to call him a fearless learner (even though he does not like academic learning...hmmm interesting topic for another day). He is always taking something apart and putting it back together with different parts and pieces. I encourage this wholeheartedly. He has complete reign in my tool box and he has a place in our backyard where he simply takes things apart and puts them back together in interesting and different ways.

Sometimes he is successful and sometimes not so much. He even loves the “epic failures”. Quite often I go out there with him and mess things up as well. There is one particular time that I want to tell you about. This is the time when I got proverbially slapped in the face with what I like to call “a learning wake up”. Here is what happened, I call it the wheels.

My son came to me and said, “Hey dad, I want to put my skateboard wheels on my scooter and my scooter wheels on my skateboard. What do you think?” Generally I encourage this type of shenanigans but today my past experience as an aircraft mechanic must have kicked in. I thought of many ways this would fail because parts are machined to fit this or that, the size difference of the wheels are too different blah, blah, blah. I forgot that failure, investigation, creativity and trial and error are great ways to build a solid relationship with learning. Thankfully I didn’t voice my opinion on how silly of an idea this was. I simply said “go for it buddy. Show me what you come up with.” I expected him to come into the house an hour or so later telling me it didn’t work and then we would talk about why it didn’t work and come up with some ideas how we could change this or that and it may work. Of course I would impart vast amounts of knowledge and look like super dad because I am so experienced and educated (sarcasm definitely implied).

He went to his place in the back yard and grabbed up some tools. Not more than 15 minutes later he comes into the house with a skateboard that has scooter wheels on the back and a scooter that has skateboard wheels. Pow. Did you just hear that proverbial slap in my learning face. The master just became the student. My son said, “come on, let’s see how they work on the ramp.” That was awesome!!

We all develop a relationship with learning and how we learn. What we do to foster this relationship really matters. As a dad, designer and professor I took away some valuable lessons from this experience.

  • Always encourage creativity.

  • Encourage creativity within yourself as well. Sometimes we have to put our past experience away and simply wonder what if…

  • Learning is a relationship. As with any good relationship be open to growing the relationship with new experiences.

  • Enjoy the process. The learning process has many twists and turns. Enjoy them.

  • Be clear on the beginning (start with a skateboard and scooter) and the end (skateboard wheels on the scooter and scooter wheels on the skateboard). Everything in between is variable.

  • As a teacher, instructor, designer, or professor create a space and make time for creativity and informal learning you never know what will be discovered.

  • Most of all as a parent love your children enough to let them fail and watch what they come up with! You will be amazed.

Have you had one of these experiences? Share your slap in the face learning experience if you've had one.

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