I’ve never understood why I was taught to think of Autumn as a metaphor for closing down. Okay, so my early school was rural. In this season tractors hauling crops regularly passed our gates, and after 3.30pm many of us roamed amongst the workers gathering things in. We even helped, occasionally, especially if fruit was involved. Yes, days were getting shorter and winter was approaching.
But, and it’s such a big but I was tempted to set it in capitals, at the same time as harvests were happening, soil was ploughed, harrowed and sowed with crops for the next year. In the UK, it’s one of the busy times of the agricultural year.
The same rule applies to learning. Autumn is the beginning of the new academic year. Remember the noise and excitement of that first day at school, the energy: the excitement?
Working in the FE sector on short courses, I’ve learned that September and October are still the main time when people think about signing up to learn something. Are we wired to look for classes in autumn, or just following a pattern established in childhood?
Either way, now’s the time when I begin to check in with the office to see how the pre-enrolment numbers are going. What will be popular? How busy will the next few months be?
Busy, busy, busy, that’s my view of autumn. Okay, so the days are shortening, but far from life slowing, in the classroom, the energies and excitements of the summer are being re-focused. What better way to keep spirits up, as the light levels drop, than to learn or practice something?
It’s easy to feel that once we reach adult-hood we can, or maybe even should, put ‘school’ away. Not so. While it may be tricky to fit learning into the busy modern lifestyle, once tried, many stick with it. They discover that joining a group of focused and enquiring adults can be stimulating, fun and stretching.
Aside from the chance to make new social connections, there are long-term health benefits to returning to classes as an adult. In a Radio Times article from April 2016, Ellie Walker-Arnott reported that:
A Scottish study has tested over 600,000 factors in a group of 79-year-olds regularly since they were 11. It found that a quarter of brain ageing is down to genes while three quarters (75%) is dependent on our lifestyle choices.
One of the lifestyle choice the studies advocate is on-going education.
Learning something new changes the micro-structure of your brain and sees its size increase in certain areas, rather than shrink.
If you do similar sudoko challenges every day for 10 years it won’t work different parts of your brain, it’s got to be something new. Life drawing is a good option, as each picture is a fresh new challenge. As is learning a new language. Whatever you choose, continuing to learn as we age can have a “dramatically positive effect.”
Autumn thoughts, it seems, should be active.
* Illustration at top of page, ‘Blackberrying’ by Angus Racy Helps.