True confession: just about everything I’ve learned how to do in my life has been fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of learning.
I learned to skate by falling down and picking myself up, and got the fundamentals of hockey from a girls’ pickup team encouraged by a local dad with a houseful of daughters — in figure skates, no helmets (not recommended). All very informal.
I learned creative cookery as a single mom, concocting new casseroles from leftovers and odd bits at the bottom of the fridge. Now, I can whip together a darn good meal with a pinch of this and a pinch of that, measuring nothing. All very informal.
I learned to write by taking over an arts column in the Express, thanks to some prodding from then-editor Donna Macdonald, back in the 1980s. A thousand columns and four novels later, I think I can call myself a writer — but getting there? A lot of informal help from other writers and the odd book.
I wanted to go to school, but life got in the way. I may have just a Grade 13 education, but I think I’ve learned a thing or two along the way — all very informally.
The theme for this year’s Family Literacy Day (January 27) is informal and non-formal learning. The difference is subtle: non-formal learning occurs in a learning environment, but unlike structured learning with certification — that post-secondary degree I never got — it happens through workshops or community programming, kind of like Mr. James and his all-girl team of hockey neophytes.
Informal learning is the stuff of daily activities. It’s random learning: need to know how to change your oil? Get out that Chilton Manual and figure it out. Want to look up where to order something, and that big, scary world of “online” is all there is? Master that Mouse and Get Googling. Try, and learn.
Informal learning is how your kid learned to tie her shoelace. It’s how you learned to take a number at the blood clinic, when you saw someone else take one. It’s how you figured out that a pinch of cayenne would have been a better idea in your Friday Surprise Casserole, rather than a tablespoon.
It’s great that Decoda Literacy Solutions — BC’s literacy organization — in partnership with ABC Life Literacy Canada is choosing to celebrate these taken-for-granted forms of learning. For many in our community, formal, institution-based learning is out of reach financially, inaccessible for reasons of family or other obligations, or just plain intimidating.
Recognizing and celebrating that learning goes on all the time, everywhere, makes us all success stories. Because we’ve all picked ourselves up off the ice, received a thumbs up for that casserole, or found out we could become good at something just by doing it.
In Nelson, Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy (CBAL) is all about non-formal learning through one-on-one tutoring and family literacy programming. CBAL and the Nelson Public Library are celebrating Family Literacy Day by celebrating reading — another way we can learn informally.
This month, you can nominate your favourite book in the categories of children’s, young adult, and adult nonfiction or fiction (my favourite way to learn about almost anything). Nomination forms are available at the Library, the Learning Place, Otter Books, and in the Nelson Star. Nominations close on January 27 — Family Literacy Day. You can share your faves, and you might win a bag of books!
Look in this paper each week for great suggestions from your neighbours, and get inspired. And — informally, happily — you might even learn a thing or two.
Check This Out runs every other Friday in the Nelson Star.