Skiing with the grandchildren

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tommclaughlin
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Skiing with the grandchildren

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The rest is here.