We’ve all had that feeling that childhood passes by too quickly. We parents wake up one day and our kids no longer want to play with us, and we feel like our recollection of this golden time of endearing neediness has slipped away. Well, what if there were a way to work against this feeling? To make the memory of our children’s childhood feel slower, broader, deeper, richer? A quick dip into the history of memory, of mnemonic techniques, can offer a guide as to how.
1. Keep Track of Firsts. The key to expanding the sense of richness and breadth of our interactions with our kids is by quantifying and recording what we do with them. Keeping track of what you do, the effort you put in, what you teach your kids and how, when they have firsts (first time watching Mary Poppins, first time whistling, first time eating curry and so on) helps in a number of ways. The biggest plus is psychological. I use a daily planner and a journaling smartphone app to keep very basic, sketched-out notes about what my wife and I do with our kids each day. I include anything that felt unusual, special, out of the ordinary.
2. Diversify What You Do with Your Kids and Where You Do It. Expanding our memory of our children’s youth is more about the diversity of interactions and their locations, and about recording them (in a journal, app, through video and photos, and so on) than anything else. We tend to get lazy and engage in the same things every week, sometimes every evening. A Peppa Pig episode on the couch before bed. Pancakes for breakfast on lazy Sunday mornings. Our kids enjoy these habits, they are easy to slip into, so why change? The “why change” question is answered by a look at how we remember. We remember things that are unusual, distinctive, out of the ordinary, as if they are highlighted, standing out, whereas quotidian matters feel like one long continuum when we think back on them.
3. Changing Locations Helps Us Remember Activities. We also remember things we did in diverse, new places better than places we spend a lot of time. Even if we do something we love, for instance biking with our kids on a favorite path in the woods near our home, if we do the same thing 100 times, in our memory those 100 times will merge into one pleasant recollection. If we go to 100 different locations, each one will settle into our memory more distinctly, because it was new.
4. Borrow the Ancient “Memory Palace” Technique and Focus on the Weird. The “memory palace” technique is a memorization approach that dates back to ancient Athens and was taught throughout Europe until the early 20th century. The shorthand version of it is that things we wish to remember should be associated with the weirdest, most surreal, silly images we can think of, because we remember weirdness better than normalcy. You’d probably remember the time you were out fishing and a trout jumped out of the river and into your boat, right? Well, if that happened every time you went fishing it wouldn’t be noteworthy, would it? Seek out new, different, surreal, silly, weird activities and moments, and they’ll be treasured in your memory, and your child’s, much more vividly than anything “normal.”
These techniques are just part of my new book, Superpower Your Kids: A Professor’s Guide to Teaching Your Children Everything in Just 15 Minutes a Day. It’s limited-edition, available only in June for backers of a Kickstarter campaign for the book + a tie-in smartphone app. The book looks at how we parents can borrow some techniques used in teaching at university level and scale them down to inspire a love of learning in young children (age 3-12 or so). But that’s just part of it. As much as the book explores tricks to teach our kids in a way that feels, to them, like playing (and each new piece of knowledge or experience wins them a new “superpower”), a section also is especially for us parents. If we can expand, deepen and “slow down” our happy memories with our children, then that is a gift for parents when our kids are get older.
Noah Charney is a professor, presenter, columnist and Pulitzer-nominated best-selling author of more than a dozen books. An American, he has lived for more than a decade in Slovenia with his family and hairless dog. You can check him out on Instagram, Facebook and Ted.
Images: All images in this post were supplied by Noah Charney