We’d all love to be the sort of people who know how to talk about politics, philosophy and art at a dinner party (right?!), but the reality is, once there are tiny humans in the mix, not only is it hard to find the time to keep up with those things, it’s also sort of hard to find time to be at dinner parties. That said, making an effort with lifelong learning is a great way to keep in touch with the people we were before we had kids, and exercising our brains is good for so many things. So how do we get ourselves into the habit of lifelong learning as parents? We’ve pulled together some of our top tips – and don’t worry, you don’t have to swot up on politics, philosophy and art if that ain’t your bag.
Most of us strive to be well-rounded and informed people with interesting and intelligent opinions that we get across in adult conversation. But when our days suddenly involve nappy changes, maths homework, conference calls or cooking dinner for several fussy eaters, it can be easy to lose sight of the things we’re passionate about. The things we’d want to have an opinion about if they came up in conversation. When you’re younger, it’s easy to keep learning. Often you’re bombarded with new stuff at school, college, university, from your parents or peers.
But in post “formal” education adulthood, it can be trickier. We have to take learning into our own hands. We have to seek out resources for ourselves, even when we’re juggling a million other things. It’s worth adding it into the juggle though. Speaking to Harvard Business Review, Liz Wiseman, a leadership adviser, argues that working and living on a continual learning curve serves people well in a fast-moving world. So how can we fit it all in? Is it about undertaking a Masters degree or signing up for a course that’s going take years and cost thousands? Absolutely not – it’s much more simple.
What do you want to learn?
First of all, you’ve got to identify what you want to learn. And the great thing about being a lifelong learner? No exams. No assessments. No grades. No requirements to learn or curriculum to stick to. That means you’re able to learn exactly what you want to. So start with what interests you. What have you always wanted to know more about. Quantum physics? Pottery making? SEO? French cooking? Anything that sparks your curiosity or interest is worth pursuing. Maybe you want to play an instrument, or speak Spanish like your in-laws. Perhaps you want to learn more about the animals of the Saharan desert or turn your hand to social media marketing. Whatever it is, there’s a way to learn about it…
Read all about it
Alright. We know this is obvious. But it’s the best place to start. Get into the habit of always reading something – no matter how small. Audiobooks count too! Charlie “Tremendous” Jones said: “You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the books you read and the people you meet”. And he’s right. There’s something to be said for taking care to choose books that are going to help us further our learning. That doesn’t mean we need to totally throw out reading for fun (we’d never advocate that!) but maybe it’s about rotating fiction with non-fiction, or even when reading fiction, trying something that shines a light on an experience that’s different to your own. Pursue your interests, but stretch your brain and try new things. Historical biographies, non-fiction that challenges your thinking, and the classics are great places to start.
Listen to podcasts
There are a lot of experts in the world. And a lot of those experts are sharing their knowledge via podcast. So whatever it is you want to learn about, there’s almost certainly a podcast to help you. Lifelong learning doesn’t have to be as structured as learning at school was. A quick search on whatever platform you use to listen to podcasts will help you find the right pod for you, while more general series will help you improve your broader knowledge and those talking points. We love Philosophy Bites, This American Life, Start with This, The Lazy Genius, Every Little Thing, The Climate Question and Reasons to be Cheerful.
Say you don’t know
Kids ask a lot of questions. Their innate curiosity can be…challenging…at times. But actually it can be a great way to cultivate your own lifelong learning. If your child asks a question and you don’t know the answer, find out. As long as you’ve got the capacity and the mental strength and energy to do so, learning together can be fun and sort of lovely too. While we know some of their questions may be more inane, every once in a while you get a gem that creeps through the net – a genuinely interesting question that it’s worth finding out the answer to. If that happens, use the internet, head to a library, ask an expert, use whatever resources are at your disposal to learn together. It’ll satisfy their need for answers (as long as they haven’t wandered off with a finger up their nose in search of a snack) and it’ll give you a good bit of general knowledge of random pub quiz trivia too. Win, win.
Make a learn list
A learn list is an essential tool for anyone who is really dedicated to lifelong learning. It’s basically a list of all of the things you’ve ever wanted to know. These might be questions about things that really interest you like Spanish culture, or it might be the sort of questions you feel like you should know the answer to, but you’ve never dared ask because you felt a bit silly. Top of our list? Why is the Hundred Years War called the Hundred Years War if it lasted 116 years? Something we’ve always *meant* to find the answer to, but just haven’t got round to.
Attend a lecture or workshop, or take a class
One of the silver linings to the pandemic (and we’re aware that there have been very, very few) is that lots of these things are still either taking place online, or are now being screened online when they’re happening IRL. Places like The British Library have a back catalogue of free events, while the HowTo Academy hosts lectures and workshops that allow us to expand our minds on topics that cover everything from creativity and happiness to neuroscience and and politics. With Masterclass you can learn how to cook with Gordon Ramsay, how to write songs with Alicia Keyes or get an acting…well…masterclass from Samuel L Jackson himself. On Skillshare, you can let your creativity run riot and learn to do watercolours, or you can get the lowdown on creating stylised digital portraits. Futurelearn is home to online courses from top universities and colleges that you can access for free or really reduced costs. Basically, the options are endless. Each of these courses, workshops or lectures vary in duration and intensity – so you can pick whatever works for you and fits into your lifestyle. And don’t forget there’ll be local options taking place near you too.
But why bother?
When life’s all go, taking the time to learn can seem like an unnecessary addition to an already stressful life. But it is so worth it. Lifelong learning helps you keep your mind engaged and body active. It gives you new perspectives on the world around you and offers new experiences, trains your brain to handle a new challenges and keeps your neural pathways firing on all cylinders. It’s also exciting and rewarding – learning can give you a buzz like nothing else – and the way the world is evolving means that even if you didn’t love learning when you were at school, you’re able to tailor your adult learning experiences to work for you and the way you learn best. No matter how knackered you are (and we know you’re knackered), there’s almost certainly something you’re curious about. Lifelong learning allows you the opportunity to explore that curiosity for no-one other than yourself. And who knows what doors it’ll open along the way…