When I was ten years old, my parents took me and my sister on a tour of Europe. We had a VW Campervan, with a top that tilted up. Me and my sister got to hide in roof at nights, sleeping in our own secret space. The things we saw and the places we went to are stuck in my memory, in a sunlit haze of special (or at least interesting) moments. Later, when I was eighteen years old, I toured with some dance student friends around the Netherlands and Northern Germany. We were looking for work, for a contract, so we had lined up auditions at various dance companies. That tour was a relentless and sadly fruitless slog around Europe, but it was a great experience. I got to audition for the Pina Bausch company, so it definitely wasn’t all bad. Travelling as a child or young adult seems to leave a very strong impression in your mind. It becomes part of the making of who you are. You feel like you want to continue to travel, to look for new experiences and new places. You feel brave.
We’ve been lucky enough to travel quite a bit with our children, living overseas, and taking them on a Road Tour. I guess what we are really doing as we travel is making memories. Remember when? Remember how? Remember what? Of course, you can always travel more locally to make these memories – people prefer different approaches – but in a world of international travel, it’s just too tempting for me. There’s a lot of interest in memory at the moment, so it’s really interesting to consider the question “how do I make something memorable?” There are all kinds of cool systems you can use (the Roman Room, number rhyme systems). I taught myself memory systems to pass my finals at university – they’re fun to learn and I wish I’d known them earlier. Really, though, the best place to start with any questions about memory is with the things you remember from when you were a child. Why did some things stick and some things not? They’re interconnected, obviously; when you remember one thing that triggers you to remember another. But they also seem to rely on sensory input. I can ask children to memorise something, insist on it, work with them on it. But I’m best to get active and inventive to do it. It’s a great idea for children to memorise stories and poems – it’s a good discipline, and it starts with nursery songs and rhymes. You give them props, you let them wiggle. The more multi sensory you make it, the better they remember it.
Interestingly (to me at least) I’m not so great at remembering dates and numbers – perhaps that bit of my memory is full up with all those words? But anyway, if I really dredge back into my memories of childhood, it is the strength of the sensory input that seems to help me remember. It is about whether I was interested or not. When I look back at the way the kids took in knowledge during Road School, although facts were certainly a feature, it was more about creating long term memories. Ones that last a lifetime. It was like weaving together themes, to create wider structures for memory. ‘Looking at the big picture’ if you like. As we travelled, we talked about (amongst other things) the history of the twentieth century in the locations where it happened. You don’t forget the Berlin Wall if you have spent time jumping across an invisible version of it, or if you’ve touched a chunk of it at Checkpoint Charlie. You definitely want to read more about the wonders of the human and natural world when you’ve visited museums and aquariums. Although it’s an awful lot more of a challenge to do this kind of thing in schools, I am a still a believer. Experience is fundamental to learning. Find a way to bring it to life. Dream big. Get hands on whenever you can. Make it A Grand Tour.