Independence & Fulfillment Article:

Back to school - for seniors, too

September is back to school time, but not just for kids. Older adults can take advantage of a myriad of lifelong learning opportunities as far ranging as taking a cooking class, being tutored in computer skills or visiting a public library.

Research shows that older adults can benefit both physically and mentally by continuing to learn throughout their lifetimes. A survey by AARP showed that adults over 50 want to stay educationally active, but have different expectations and demands than younger learners.

According to the survey, most older adults prefer informal learning settings to traditional classrooms. They want information quickly and want to put it to use right away.

The Healthy Aging Partnership, a coalition of more than 35 nonprofit and public organizations in the Puget Sound area, has these suggestions for fun and simple ways to keep learning this "school year."

  • Although signing up for community college or university courses is always an option (and classes are often free for students aged 60 and older), consider shorter-term classes offered through local community or senior centers, Parks and Recreation departments, libraries or clubs
  • Love Thai food? Determined to eat healthy meals without sacrificing taste? Ready to can those backyard blackberries? Cooking schools abound in the Puget Sound area. The Yellow Pages lists dozens of them. Natural food markets and restaurants often offer free or low-cost cooking demonstrations.
  • University alumni associations sponsor dozens of intriguing lectures each year, and you don't have to be a member to attend. For example, the University of Washington Alumni Association offers a history lecture series on topics like the American Revolution, science lectures on issues such as global warming and oceanography, and business-related lectures featuring top local business executives.
  • Travel offers a wealth of learning opportunities. Organizations like AARP, Elderhostel and university alumni associations provide group excursions to places as close as the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival or as far away as the Greek Isles.
  • Hands-on learning is appealing to 9 out of 10 older Americans, according to the AARP survey. To "learn by doing," consider trading instructional skills with a friend or neighbor. If you're an expert knitter, teach your craft to a friend in exchange for her teaching you to paint. If you've always wanted to learn to fix your own car, ask a neighborhood mechanic to share his skills in exchange for your tutoring in woodworking.
  • Find an educational activity that you can share with a grandchild or other young person. You might be able to tutor a teenager in math or reading and, in return, learn how to gather information from the Internet or use a computer word-processing program.
  • Charities and community service organizations can pair educational and service opportunities. Learn about the latest research into fighting cancer when you volunteer to help the local American Cancer Society with a fundraising event. Stay on top of legislative issues facing older adults by participating in AARP's political action activities. Keep your reading and teaching skills honed by becoming an elementary school tutor in the Washington Reading Corps.

For other information on lifelong learning opportunities, or for answers to any of your questions about life as an older adult, call 1-844-348-KING (1-844-348-5464) or visit the Healthy Aging Partnership web site at www.4elders.org. HAP is generously supported by its partner agencies and by Comprehensive Health Education Foundation and Public Health Seattle-King County