On this day children and adults are more alike than any other day of the year. They are returning to school or work, beginning new journeys and anticipating the new year ahead with similar feelings of excitement and apprehension.
As we all head “back” most of us are in Summer Brain mode, that open, casual and generous style of thinking. It is too bad Summer Brain is not particularly valued after Labour Day as little Johnny is told to stop daydreaming and that expansive feeling earned while sitting on the end of a dock is replaced by sitting in endless meetings for John the executive.
Remember that dreaded school exercise “What I did for Summer Vacation”? Remember how ill-prepared we were? We knew it was coming but when it came time to face the page – nothing but the thinnest of memories and the barest of details, fading like the summer heat. It was an exercise in engaging children’s minds, to ease them into a structured and orderly way of thinking and to stimulate their curiosity and creativity. Today, we adults could use a little creative engagement of the mind as we face the to-do list that has built up over summer and the challenges of the new business year.
That’s the thinking behind Summer Brain, a collaborative, mindful exercise designed to evoke memories and frame them in non-linear forms for rich storytelling around ideas and experiences. The point is to build communication and learning skills by re-creating memories and discovering, through conversation and creativity, the things that matter and the moments that count. These are exercises designed for children and the curious, creative child in all of us. Substitute children for co-workers and family for team or department and you now have an exercise that levers Summer Brains into fresh, new content that will activate new ideas and stimulate new thinking for the new business year.
"We all seem to be busier than ever with more to do and less time to think.” says Andrea Diezyn, Executive Director, Sylvan Learning Centres in London, Ontario. "In the digital age we are bombarded continually with images and information, distracting children’s’ attention and making learning more difficult,” she continued. “It is so important to teach our kids to stop and reflect on their experiences and learn how to communicate their thoughts verbally and in writing.”
“Summer Brain” does exactly that with three creative, interactive exercises.
1. Picturing My Summer
The goal is to get the images in your mind out on the page. To start, organize some scrap cardboard, crayons, markers scissors and glue. Ask each family member to gather the magazines read over the summer and the mementoes of summer like tickets and trinkets. Use your favourite search engine for an image search of the places and objects that represent your summer memories. The last item to gather or print is a duplicate set of your summer photographs. You’ll need the duplicate set because you’ll be cutting and pasting your favourite bits from these treasured images.
The idea is to replicate summer memories with creative picture-making. You could create a collage with the magazines, mementoes and photos or create a postcard with pictures and cardboard. Try making a movie. The only limitation is your memory and imagination. Take as long as you need and remember it’s about creativity and fun, not perfection.
When everyone is done have each family member tell their picture-story. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to talk about the memories that come flooding back.
Parents should be the active listener and ask questions like “why is this an interesting memory for you and what is it you don’t want to forget about this memory?” The life lessons to listen for will be in your child’s responses.
2. My Sense of Summer
The intent is to recreate the smells and tastes of summer. Start with your favourite smells (probably the hardest one) and create a list of five. When everyone has done it pick your three favourites, then ask each family member to help find the object of the smell (like freshly cut grass) or something that represents the smell. Then do the same with tastes. Use the pictures again for stimulus and representations of favourite smells and tastes. Each family member then describes why it’s their favourite and where they were when they experienced it. Parents, ask your children what they were doing and who they were with when experiencing these wonderful tastes and smells. The life lessons will be in seeing and understanding what’s important to your children.
3. My Best Summer Moment
Here, we re-create the best moments of summer with a creative writing exercise. First create a list of three favourite moments of summer. Next, each family member describes their three favourite moments. The other family members respond with “What I remember best about your best moment is…” to provide more information and a different perspective. Then each person picks their best moment of the three and writes about it. Think like a journalist; who was there, where were we, what made it best, when was it and why is it my best moment? Remember to use all the senses practiced in the earlier exercises. The life lessons will be in understanding what makes a moment special and important to your family.
“Another important parental lesson in "Summer Brain" is that it allows parents to observe how their child prefers to communicate best,” offered Andrea. A mother of two, Andrea advises that if a child chooses to remember with photos, colourful drawings, and internet images, he or she is likely a visual learner, retelling events verbally or remembering music or sounds indicates an auditory learner. Acting out events, creating scrapbooks or building models suggests a tactile or haptic learner. With this understanding parents can then help their child develop study habits that mesh with his or her personal learning style. Sylvan Learning Centre's website has a useful Parents’ Resource page with more information and a quiz on children’s learning styles.
Now shift your perspective from parent to professional and consider how Andrea Diezyn’s important points about distraction, the need to slow down and learning styles applies equally well to the workplace and our professional development needs as it does to children. Consider how, by simply changing the topic or viewpoint of the exercise, we enrich the content, stories and plans by which we grow our businesses through mindful engagement of the people responsible for them.
Picturing My Summer becomes Picture My _______ on Summer Brain and works as an exercise for brand experience evaluation, a review of a promotion or a new product/service launch assessment. My Sense of Summer becomes My Sense of (insert brand name here) and converts to a good customer experience optimizing tool, examining the role, importance and expectations of your product or service in your customers’ lives. Lastly, My Best Summer Moment becomes My Best business/brand Moment, a far more illustrative year in review exercise that will help explain moments of success. Redesign the questions to suit your topic but don’t forego them as the insights, stories, data points and potential best practices that will emerge from the discussions will be invaluable in the months ahead.
Each of the exercises applies one or more of the Renaissance tenets of creative thinking and human potential and is designed to reach and unlock the limitless inner child in each of us. Try one or more of the exercises with your children and with your co-workers alike, just don’t tell the little ones it’s good for them.