New year, new opportunities for learning
By Lou Fancher
New year, new you. Maybe your body is buff, but your brain needs burnishing.
In the Bay Area and online, itʼs hard to get a handle on the many opportunities for adult learning. Even narrowing the parameters and insisting that the interactions are human and nondigital, there are continuing education courses, guided hikes, parks and recreation center classes and businesses at which a person can learn to paint, cook, eat healthy, brew beer, throw a clay pot, take photos, practice archery or yoga, fire rifles, fly airplanes, learn Mandarin, become mindful and more.
With a little creativity — and a lot of trips to the local public library — thereʼs learning that is free or low cost.
At the Ygnacio Valley Library in Walnut Creek, a book group meets regularly and invites drop-ins to enter the discussion. Or join Sierra Club events, like a Jan. 11 presentation by Teri Shore about New Mexico’s Chaco Culture National Historic Park.
At Walnut Creek’s downtown library, regular Textile Makerspace programs provide sewing, knitting and crocheting workshops for beginners or skill-building group sessions where novices rub elbows with experts.
Opportunities that are especially valuable to ESL students and immigrants include English conversation practice every Thursday, but perhaps it could be reverse engineered to learn the language and gain an understanding about newcomers to America.
And a monthly Adult Coloring Night allows everyone, regardless of language, to express themselves freely. Coloring pages, pencils, markers and crayons are provided.
For something high-tech, 3D MakerSpace classes for adults and teens teach basic 3D operations and simple project design.
A few miles away at the Lafayette Library and Learning Center, learning comes in private computer and ebook tutoring from the libraryʼs resident technology expert every Tuesday and Thursday.
A social media series aimed at business owners includes “LinkedIn 2017: Whatʼs New & Matters to You” and other workshops. Tai chi lessons on Tuesdays; once-a-month group meditation instruction; nature journaling workshops and Contra Costa Master Gardeners presentations extend the offerings. That is in addition to the 90,000 standard books, ebooks, periodicals and other materials at the library.
Add the Science Cafe and Distinguished Speaker series, several book clubs and Sweet Thursdays author appearances — and you could stay for a week and be thoroughly enriched.
But itʼs not all libraries, because free learning can be found in other places, like Saint Maryʼs College in Moraga. During the schoolʼs Jan Term, students take and professors teach courses “outside the norm.”
A coinciding Jan Term Speaker Series, free and open to the public, has experts discussing modern slavery and human trafficking, a Grammy-nominated artist sharing stories of cultural and racial barriers and the bridges that cross them; an interactive consortium about death and dying; digital technology and a memoir of a successful businessman’s journey to homelessness and first-time author.
Looking for more? Head west — just hiking on a trail outdoors is an education — to Orinda Books. Contra Costa Countyʼs largest independent bookstore has been in operation for 40 years.
Led by owner Maria Roden, the events calendar brings in bestselling authors, top chefs, and experts from self-publishing to preparing end-of-life documentation to baking bread.
An outdoors jaunt or a book on the environment might cause a person to think about nature. To learn winter pruning of roses and fruit trees, gardening for life without pain, and other useful tips, check out Orchard Nursery & Floristʼs calendar of events.
Note that some classes are free, others have fees. Or consider Lafayette Community Garden: past courses have included raised-bed gardening, urban farming, stationery and dollmaking and more.
In Walnut Creek, the Gardens at Heather Farm and Ruth Bancroft Garden offer low-cost options (workshops and classes are under $30, some are free to members) and occasional free-to-all events.
The Bedford Gallery in the Lesher Center has free first Tuesdays, $5 guided public art walking tours and community participation days for each exhibition.
Valley Art Gallery on Botelho Drive in Walnut Creek and Lafayetteʼs Jennifer Perlmutter Gallery hold show opening receptions where artists and craft experts share information about their work and process.
The Lamorinda Arts Alliance hosts free and low-cost programs and presentations throughout Lamorinda.
Or, visit a historical society, attend a city council meeting or sign up for emergency preparedness training to learn about your community. Volunteer at a local nonprofit. Staff members and other volunteers offer experience, know-how and enthusiasm that cover a wide range of topics and are entirely free.