Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Skiing With The Grandchildren

Shawnee Peak in summer

This is the third winter during which, together with their mother and their other grandfather, I’ve been teaching four of my grandchildren to ski. Their mother was a racer during high school. The other grandfather is a retired principal who once coached a ski team. Their father comes as well when he can take time off from interning to become a teacher and running a contracting business. I’m a retired history teacher and former ski instructor.

On a winter evening

We started with the older two, both girls, when they were five and four respectively. Last year, we began with their brothers — twin boys who were nearly four years old then and who will turn five in a couple of weeks. This year is more fun because all four can now ski on their own. No longer am I in perpetual snowplow with a child between my legs. No more must I follow one while holding a harness. All that was hard on my aging body.

One of the twins starts to get it

This year I can I can get to know each of them better individually as we ride up on the lift together and talk. Then we slide off and experience the sheer joy of letting gravity pull us back down the hill as we shush from side to side — all the way to the bottom. We ski right back onto the lift because there are no lines to wait in. It’s up-and-down all morning, then into the lodge for lunch.

Granddaughter learning
Every Tuesday is homeschoolers’s day at Shawnee Peak in Bridgton, Maine and we pretty much have the mountain to ourselves as homeschooling families from southern Maine predominate. We arrive about ten in the morning and leave around three in the afternoon — just as busloads of public school students arrive and noisily fill up the lodge. Every week I’m struck by the contrast in demeanor between homeschool and public school kids.

One of the twins on the "magic carpet"

There’s a sweetness about homeschoolers; they look me in the eye and smile. Public schoolers seldom do as they’re almost entirely absorbed with one another. Homeschoolers respect grownups while public schoolers tolerate them, much preferring to interact only with each other and reluctantly permitting interruption by adults. It all brings back memories from twenty-five years ago when I used to race home from my classroom, get into my ski-instructor outfit, then race to Shawnee Peak to meet the public-school group of six to ten students I taught for six weeks.

Grandson picking it up
Usually I’d be assigned a group of beginners we called “Never-evers” because they’d never, ever been on skis. There was no “magic carpet” back then — the outdoor conveyor belt that carries skiers up a short, gentle, beginners area with barely enough slope for gravitational pull. We would have to select a flattish area between the lifts and practice just walking on skis.  Then I’d teach the “snowplow” or “wedge” or “pizza slice” as that beginning posture is variously called, before venturing to the bunny slope.

As when teaching anything to any group, some picked it up very quickly while others didn’t. Some took the entire six weeks to make it down the bunny slope by themselves. The fast-learners were quickly bored so I would pass them up to intermediate groups with other instructors while I continued working with the slow-learners. However, such common-sense ability-grouping was vehemently resisted in the public middle school where I taught US History. There, we were expected to teach students of varying abilities all together in one classroom because that was the sacrosanct “middle-school philosophy” of progressive educators. Maybe they’ve realized by now that philosophy only holds the fast learners back, but I doubt it.

After several years as an instructor, skiing lost much of its allure for me as it became associated more with work than with fun. I only did it because one of the benefits was that my own children got season passes I could not otherwise have afforded. Shawnee Peak is only ten minutes away so they skied several times a week. In the intervening fifteen or so years since then I’d skied only about a dozen times.

It’s different now. I’m still instructing but the fun is returning. The grandchildren love it and their excitement is infectious. They spontaneously split off into small groups with other homeschoolers of similar ability, each supervised by a parent or grandparent when necessary. Some stay on the bunny slope while others take different lifts to intermediate or expert slopes.

In one such group with my oldest granddaughter, I asked the names of the other girls and told them mine. One girl asked for my last name, explaining: “We’re not allowed to call grownups by their first names.” Charming. This is my second extended experience with homeschoolers since retiring from public school. Their numbers are growing fast and I hope it continues. They’re such a pleasure to work with after thirty-four years in public schools.


Peter said...

Yes, of course home schooled children are more apt to be well-schooled and polite. With the advantages of low student to adult ratio, and a teacher who knows the child inside and out, unconditionally loves the child, and has a perfect relationship between home and school, teacher and parent, it would be surprising if they were not.

Anonymous said...

"We’re not allowed to call grownups by their first names.”
No wonder you thought I was a former student.
In the private prep for Boys school , first names for ANYONE not a student wasn't even a question.
In the subsequent honey-and wheat germ private school (9-12 with "advanced" level classes), it was ALL first-name-basis.
I had an unfair advantage growing up. I was taught to ski The Arlberg Technique, for FREE, by a pro ski instructor, My Dad.
Laced boots, in bear trap bindings, on Northland skis, with REAL metal edges screwed on, and PAINT on the tops!

Tom McLaughlin said...

"Laced boots, in bear trap bindings, on Northland skis, with REAL metal edges screwed on, and PAINT on the tops!"

Me too, except I'm not sure what brand the skis were. My boots were leather with laces though and the skis were wooden 210s. It's so much easier now. And snowmaking keeps the ice to a minimum. Good things those. I'd be falling more and hurting too much to continue with this old body if there were as much ice now as there was then.