If Einstein reunited with the girl so pretty time flew and made him realize everything is relative... If Paul McCartney reunited with John Lennon for one last jam session.... If Moses re-united with the burning bush....
It might be something like what just happened in rural Minnesota: Dr. Peter Gray met up with the woman who kindled his lifelong work on the way kids learn when adults aren't actively "teaching" them. As perhaps America's most famous free play researcher, Peter writes on his Psychology Today blog, Freedom to Learn (which quotes from the opening of his book, Free to Learn -- he believes in freedom AND learning):
I’ve learned from hundreds of great teachers over the course of my life, but if I had to pick the single greatest it would be Ruby Lou. I met her the summer I was five and she was six. My family had just moved to a new town and, at my mother’s suggestion, I had gone door to door, by myself, up and down both sides of the street, knocking and enquiring, “Do any children about my age live here?” That’s how I found her, right across the street. Within a few minutes we were best friends, and we remained so for the two years that I lived in that town. Ruby Lou was older, smarter, and bolder than I, but not too much so, and that’s why she was such a great teacher for me.
That book made a whole lot of us come to realize that teaching and learning are not confined to a classroom. One of Peter's fans, Dick Gallien, loved the message so much, he made it his mission to track down Ruby Lou. And he did!
Peter and Ruby Lou started chatting by phone and email, and when Peter was in Minnesota to give a talk a couple of weeks ago, he and Ruby Lou finally reunited in person -- for the first time in 68 years. Peter still recalls:
How she taught me to ride her bicycle before I had one (she told me to start at the top of the little hill on the street between our houses, so as to pick enough speed to keep upright as I learned to pedal), how she inspired me to climb higher in the evergreen tree in my yard, how I learned from her my first serious lesson about death and its impact, and how we took adventures together on our bikes after my parents bought me one.
He put those stories in his book "to show what a normal childhood was like back around 1950; or, really, what a normal childhood was like throughout human history until the last three decades or so."
And so the two (and Ruby Lou's husband -- Peter's wife had not come on the trip) went back to visit their hometown.
What fun! The town has barely changed. Our houses and yards are pretty much as I remembered them, except the big evergreen tree we climbed had been cut down. The slope on the road is definitely shallower than I remembered it to be, but steep enough to increase at least somewhat the momentum of a bicycle going down it.
Children, even five- and six-year-olds, were allowed to play outdoors freely with one another, and go on adventures, without adults present; and in that way children acquired confidence and learned skills that cannot be taught by adults and are hard to learn when adults are around.
Peter has spent the past five or six decades trying to give kids back that chance to learn from each other and from life, fun, small risks, and adventure. That's why he is a co-founder of Let Grow.
In honor of this very cool reunion, why not try to let your child and some other kids of at least Peter and Ruby Lou's age (well, as kids, not 75-year-olds) play together sometime this week, without an adult.
And tell us hear how it goes! People need these stories, they need to hear that what Peter and Ruby Lou had was not dangerous or crazy or impossible. It was simply education and joy disguised as free time, and we can give that back to our kids. - L.
Ruby Lou on the famous bike!
Peter and Ruby today.
All photos reproduced with permission from Ruby Lou and Richard Wolens.