Pfft, did I really just say that? I lied. I hate getting brightly coloured gunk stuck to my hands and I lost interest in Lego when building a square doghouse was deemed insufficiently entertaining. Though come to think of it, I do quite like colouring in.
I also love learning new things. The problem is that, after 17 years of formal schooling, I still have a HECS debt of around $11,000 to pay off as well as a mortgage, bills and two growing boys who think half a cow makes a nice morning snack.
Despite my lack of funds, an acute and chronic shortage of time, and a general inability to leave the house in the evenings without a 10-point action plan, the knowledge itch remains.
Over the past few years I’ve become creative about how to feed the need to know. I thought I’d share with you a few ways to feed your brain for free while the kids are sound asleep in bed (and before you collapse from exhaustion as well).
(Note: By ‘free’ I mean that you don’t have to leave the house, pick up a credit card or ferret around for your PayPal password. You will, however, need internet access for most of these.)
1. Listen to a podcast
I’m fairly new to podcasts but I’m now addicted. They don’t chew up as much bandwidth as videos because it’s just sound and no image and you can listen to them while you’re doing other things, like commuting to work or moving around doing housework in the evenings.
Do a simple Google search for “[insert your passion here]” + “podcast” and get listening.
My current favourite is the Australian Writers’ Centre So You Want to Be a Writer weekly podcast.
2. Watch a TED talk
TED’s tagline is ‘ideas worth spreading’. They host videos of talks on a wide range of fascinating and frivolous topics including ‘Why I make robots the size of a grain of rice‘, ‘The beauty and diversity of Muslim life‘ and ‘10 things you didn’t know about orgasm‘.
3. Sign up for a free online course
MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses) are run by universities all over the world, including Stanford, MIT, Harvard, ANU and University of Melbourne.
I’ve found it a bit more challenging to actually finish any of these courses as the ones I’ve enrolled in have set times and readings to complete, which is difficult when everyone gets sick all at once or work creeps up on me or I just couldn’t be bothered.
If you prefer structure and accountability, these free online courses might be the way to go.
4. Catch up with world affairs
No, I’m not talking about whether Gwyneth Paltrow has come up with another stupid and dangerous health tip, or how many children Brangelina have adopted or birthed this week.
Get outside your comfort zone and find out what’s happening in the rest of the world. It might help put your own problems in perspective and remember how lucky we really are in the western world.
Many of the best online rags have put up pay walls (which means you have to pay for their best content), but many still have a certain number of articles per month you can view for free, or certain types of content.
Try out these ones for starters:
- The Economist (three free articles per week)
- SBS World News
- National Geographic (they’ve also got a great kids section)
5. Follow a few blogs
Blogs may have start out as ‘weblogs’ or diaries, but these days everyone seems to have a blog, from Joe Bloggs next door who has absolutely nothing useful or interesting to contribute, to I F*&$ing Love Science, the dozens of interesting blogs run out of the NY Times and Brain Pickings, with it’s ‘free weekly interestingness digest.’
Similar to the podcasts – pick a topic you’re interested in, Google “[insert your passion here]” + “blog” and get reading.
If you’re interested in Australian blogs, consider starting with the winners of the AWC’s 2014 Best Australian Blogs competition. Unlike many blogging competitions, the winners are decided by judges rather than the popular vote.
6. Create your own short course
Pick a topic you’re interested in. Now head to your local library and find a beginner’s textbook, or a Dummies ‘how to’ guide. Borrow it. Read it.
It probably has a ‘resources’ or ‘further reading’ section. Pick a couple of books from these sections on the same topic. Head back to the library. Read those ones too.
When I was on maternity leave with Son #1 I decided to learn a bit about philosophy. I read sections of probably 3-4 books. I’m no expert, but it certainly kept my brain going. The beauty is that you can stop reading whenever you get bored, or you’ve had enough.
My current project is learning everything I possibly can about the history of parenting. You can follow my progress at at my history blog here.
Any other suggestions for free brain food you don’t have to leave the house for? Tell me in the comments section.