Keeping the Brain Alive

Yes, my brain is pretty dead after grading a stack of 10-page research papers, but after seeing all the twenty-somethings at school today, I have to say that their brains are pretty dead, too.  We had a hard time stringing words together, but we got through it by watching a video of a David Mamet play (Spanish Prisoner, if you’re interested) to go along with our Drama Unit.


Christine’s Philadelphia • see original post for more info

So today, while I held my last office hours at school and the internet went out (Panic in the Library!! Panic in the Library!!) I resorted to that old-fashioned entertainment device: a newspaper (having tucked a couple of sections of my New York Times in my bag).  I read from their Education Life issue from April 13th (yeah, I’m a little behind in my reading), about  “Ten Courses with a Twist,” where I found this diagram:


This is from a course from Carol S. Dweck of Stanford University whose “groundbreaking research has helped shape current wisdom about success and achievement — that failure and recovering from it are more valuable than sticking with what you already know how to do. Dr. Dweck tells students to tackle something “they have never had the guts to try.”  Her research shows that mind-set is critical at times of transition, and those “with a ‘growth mind-set’ see that struggles can be overcome with effort, strategy and good instruction.”  Hey, if it’s good enough for incoming Stanford freshmen, it’s good enough for me.  By the way, anywhere from 140-200 people try to get in the 16 spots in the class.

Amish Sunshine and Shadow

Why I do bring this all up, especially at the end of the semester when all the teachers/parents/students want to do is find a good beach, a cold drink and go slightly comatose for several hours?  Because after listing to NPR’s report that quilting is good for aging and combating memory loss, I thought could learn something. (LISTEN *here*)

Quilting keeps us on our toes because, as Denise Park, the Neuroscientist who was interviewed said, “people who learned a new skill – quilting, photography – had significant brain gains [in memory] – which held up after a year.”  She continues to say: Quilting might not seem like a mentally challenging task, but try it. If you’re a novice, you’re cutting out all these abstract shapes, you are trying to piece them together in reverse order and manipulate the images. It’s very demanding and complex.”  

And now you know what neuroscientists think about what we do all day.


So when I’m stuck on a project and it’s giving me fits, I should remember Dweck’s advice and try to cultivate a “growth mind-set” all the while knowing that the manipulation, cutting and sewing my patches is keeping my brain active and healthy.  Or take it from my friend Lisa, who hosts our Summer Quilt Retreats in her home. . .


Quilting! It’s a Win-Win!

 Now go cut some abstract shapes and piece them together in reverse order.

13 thoughts on “Keeping the Brain Alive

  1. How fascinating Elizabeth! You continue to stimulate and motivate me! Not just as a quilter but a teacher too! I am going to do some further research on Carol Dweck! I might even impress some people at my work place! Happy sewing- you’ve earned it!

  2. Great post. Wish I could come to your summer retreats. I’ll bet that you all are a stimulating group of people and not just with regard to quilting.

  3. Nice graphic. I might show that to my Generation 1.5 ESL students. Our theme this semester involves courage, taking big risks, perseverance, and the stories that parents tell their children about themselves. We’re reading Big Fish and tall tales. This is so true: “failure and recovering from it are more valuable than sticking with what you already know how to do.” When we do grammar drills in class, failure and recovery are a constant :>).

  4. You always amaze me with the topics and how you tie them into quilting. Between all my quilting and sudoku hopefully my brain will keep on working for a good long time.

  5. I was so pleased they used quilting in that piece, giving the art/skill the respect it deserves! Thank YOU for sharing the NYTimes article – you’re always so good about that. Now I’m off to exercise my brain a bit (tee hee)!

  6. Great post. (I don’t say that out loud very often!) I read the NPR article on quilting and brain health. Of course the point is not to keep quilting, but to keep challenging ourselves, right? If we just keep doing the same thing over and over, that won’t do much for us. So, try something new today! 🙂

  7. I’m so glad to read that I am stimulating all of those brain cells. So…why is it that I can go to another room and forget why I went there?????

  8. I hope this is true of knitting. I guess I had better try some more complicated patterns to stretch my brain.

  9. I know I’m young at heart when I try a failed block for the second or third time in a row, determined to understand what has escaped me during the previous attempts. Thanks for an inspiring and thoughtful post! Wish I was one of your students.

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