Dolly Merritt: Learning new lessons

I'm looking forward to going back to school. When I return to the classroom this month, however, I won't be studying, nor will I have homework. I won't be receiving a degree or certificate and I'm not enrolled in adult continuing education courses, though that's on my to-do list.
My higher learning will be coming from students and teachers as I begin my seventh year of volunteering at an elementary school.
My role is sort of a grandmotherly one, giving a selected child one-on-one attention.
I observe, listen and help whenever needed, though the "helping" part can be a bit sketchy when it comes to new ways of learning. Have you tried helping your grandchild with math homework lately?
In addition to gaining a wonderful new friend, I receive the bonus of refreshing information I had long forgotten and observing that things "ain't what they used to be."
Gone are the days when a child who didn't understand a math problem could feel humiliated at the chalkboard - no longer in existence - as I was on a few occasions. Today's younger children use hands-on ways to learn about numbers.
Stacks of small plastic blocks help pupils add and subtract; children write their number problems on individual boards using magic markers, and then discuss their answers; and fake dollars and cents are used to learn about spending money.
Educational games on computers are another teaching tool, enabling students to learn math, writing, history and so many things while having fun and increasing their technical abilities. Slides and films were the only nod to technology when I was in school.
I've also observed that field trips have changed.
One fifth-grade class visited an adventure park where brave students could enjoy a zip line - a suspended cable that propels the user from one end to the other.
Learning destinations have also included the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore, and George Washington's Mount Vernon estate in Virginia.
I remember, as a second- or third-grader, going on a field trip to the fire department nearby. In all fairness, I did enjoy a trip to Gettysburg, where I learned about the Civil War through observing an electric map - no longer in existence - when I was in the seventh grade.
In addition to the newer ways of learning, I've noticed a more relaxed atmosphere in the classroom.
Your grandchildren who are in the first grade can be free from anxiety on the first day of school if they are referred to as "friends" by their teacher and are invited to sit on a rug while she reads to them from a rocking chair. This practice - a far cry from the "sit up straight at your desk" edict - was a normal part of reading time in that particular class.
Did you know that stuffed animals are sometimes welcome in the classroom? Remember when the teacher had a drawer full of "distractions" she collected from pupils during the day?
Surprisingly, the children abide by the rules when it's time to put their fuzzy "pals" away.
So, as I anticipate another year of learning, I can acknowledge that things "ain't what way they used to be."
Thank goodness.