Fall. I love how the season lends itself to drawing inwards and reflecting on the year so far. I love how the world curls up for a long sleep. And I love sweaters and boots. This fall, however, is the first time I will not be going back to school, and despite my relief, I also find myself a bit nostalgic for the sense of discovery that a new school year always promised. I don’t want to go back to days of sitting in rows of desks or complaining about homework that feels like busy work, but I don’t want to lose one of my favorite things about fall. So, I’m going to do back to school like a grown up, and I want to invite you to join me. This is my fall to do list, to preserve the best parts of going back to school, and to cultivate the sense of wonder that ought to have been the aim of education all along.
1) Go to a Museum
Field trips were always the best part of going back to school anyway, and now you don’t have a worksheet to finish by the end of the day. So grab a cup of hot coffee and your classiest sweater and head to whatever museums are in your area. Museums are full of discoveries to be made, even if it is just observing art critics as they wander through an art museum, or watching children take delight in the wonders of a science museum. Make sure to do a little research, most museums have deals or free days if you go on certain days of the month.
2) Watch a Documentary
In school, second only to field trips were movie days. Some teachers even let us brink blankets to class on movie days. Documentaries are the perfect way to learn about something new, even when you’re exhausted after a long day at work. If you’re looking for somewhere to start, I recommend Somm, which follows four young men as they prepare to take the Master Sommelier test, or Buck, which tells the story of world famous horse trainer Buck Brannaman. Even if you aren’t all that into wine or horses, the films do an incredible job of drawing you into the stories of these people on a human level, and there is something inspiring about watching people who have dedicated themselves so completely to their craft.
3) Read a Book
This one is kind of a no brainer, but especially now that no one is telling you what you have to read, taking the time to find books you enjoy and diving into them is one of the best ways to bring an element of discovery into your life. As the weather gets cooler, it’s the perfect time to light a fire, make a cup of tea, and enter another world. If you’re in need of a suggestion, check out The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry. It’s a subtle work of genius about the beauty in the small things and being yourself, and is perfect for settling into cooler weather with.
4) Go for a Drive
I know it isn’t a strictly intellectual activity, but it certainly can inspire a sense of discovery, which is a critical part of education. Crisp air, colorful leaves, and the pumpkin flavored hot drink of your choice make for a Saturday where you can find “what may tranquilize every care, and lift the heart to rapture! When I look out on such a night as this, I feel as if there could be neither wickedness nor sorrow in the world; and there certainly would be less of both if the sublimity of Nature were more attended to, and people were carried more out of themselves by contemplating such a scene." –Jane Austen, Mansfield Park.
5) Get Out of the Car
In German, knowledge about a person or place that you have actually experienced is Kenntnis. Dr. Leonard Sax, in describing this idea talks about a time when he accompanied Swiss third graders on a field trip through the forest. The students were blindfolded, walked toward a tree, told to touch and smell (some also licked), and then walked away in a different direction. When the blindfolds were removed, the children were all able to point out their tree (Sax, 29). Despite the fact that our brains are more developed than a young child’s, we as human beings still need multi-sensory interaction with the real world in order to keep growing and learning. Whether its going to a pumpkin patch and picking out pumpkins, collecting red and yellow leaves, or picking apples in an orchard, make sure to spend some time outside, absorbing fall with all your senses.
Sax, Leonard. Boys Adrift. Basic Books, 2007.