As I’m sitting at my desk getting ready for my first conference of the year- now entirely virtual- my main priority isn’t packing, figuring out what to do with the kids, or prereading lectures. I’m entirely absorbed in figuring out what my next craft project will be. While that might be the last thing on your list, getting crafty with your hands should move up the list as we batten down for a long time sitting and watching screens- and I’ll give you 5 reasons why, and every section title is a link to a study to back it up.
Action improves memory: Humans are made to move, and this has been studied repeatedly in many different ways. As a side note, this is why kids do better in school with more recess. Our bodies and minds are so intricately connected that the study I have linked shows that even just talking with your hands generally improves recall. Movement helps your brain form memories.
Fidgeting helps sustain attention : Fidgeting is your brain working to stay on task, and increases the length of sustained attention that we are capable of. The word fidget might bring to mind kids and fidget spinners, and I think it’s a good point- in general, the interventions we give kids to keep them on task can also be incredibly helpful for adults as well. Any teacher will tell you there’s a point of diminishing returns with fidgeting, so we all need to be careful to choose a fidgeting activity that doesn’t interfere with the primary goal of whatever you’re trying to pay attention to. As a side note, music also improves sustained attention and in a non conference setting, music is the first thing I reach for when I’m trying to get work done. (Currently writing this to F2020 by Avenue beat which as a caution has a lot of swears in it)
Meditative movement improves working memory : Now, in this study’s context they are specifically looking at DahnMuDo, which is a Korean martial arts tradition, but yoga, qigong, tai chi are also part of what are traditionally considered “meditative movements”. A search for “knitting” didn’t turn up any studies but when I think of meditative movement, my definition is “any movement that helps settle down the brain”, which would definitely include knitting, crochet, weaving, painting, and more. I have a friend who sorts electrical connectors to help his brain settle down and that’s a meditative movement as well. Incorporating this type of movement not only helps improve working memory, which is the mental scratchpad we use for moment to moment memory, it also helps improve emotional regulation and decreases stress. For me, hand work (knitting mostly) is the only way I survived grad school- because it kept my brain in one place long enough to listen to that many lectures.
Art can help connect concepts after learning: Color and creativity use different parts of our brains, and can help us synergize what we’re hearing and learning to find the things that work together. I’ve also linked this specific case study because it’s about non-traditional note taking. Writing things down in meetings isn’t the method that works best for everyone, and we all need to keep this in mind as the new school year starts. You might retain information better in doodles with occasional words, as a song, as a game you create later, or by working with your hands. I often take notes in a lecture by “liveblogging” it on some type of social media, and I would bet the people around me in traditional settings think I’m goofing off . We all learn differently!
Recreational activities assist in recent memory recall and decrease anxiety : Technically this is an alzheimer’s/dementia study but I think it’s important to bring together the idea that our hands can help us remember. Every day tasks help us remember, and help improve working memory and emotional regulation. Never underestimate the power of doing normal things that need to get done. Dishes, gardening, anything your hands remember how to do without you will help you think through your day and improve your memory while you do so.
As we all move forward with our zoom meetings, online classes, and pandemic impacted lives, keep these points in mind…. And find a good fidgety project to keep in your hands.