Back to School

By Kendra Shimmin

You may have managed to get the kids back to school, but what about you? What are you learning, or what projects are you working on during this fall semester?  The weather is cooling down and we may find ourselves unable to socialize the way we have done during patio season. Now is the time to learn a new skill, find a hobby, or discover creative talents.

Even though I was fortunate to keep my job and work from home at the beginning of this pandemic, I found myself a bit lost after I closed the laptop for the day. I’d like to say I used my early evenings wisely, but I didn’t. No, that 4:30 – 5:30 p.m. time slot when I would normally have been standing on a platform listening to notices of delays on the line, or perhaps painfully squashed against a stranger on the subway, became the hour for jigsaw puzzles while sipping on a beverage and munching peanuts.

Luckily, the better weather soon came along and I was able to get outside after my work day and have a bicycle ride or a good long walk. But now as we’re returning to the cooler weather with no end in sight to this dire and unprecedented health crisis, I’m determined that my post-work hour will be spent productively. I’ve already signed up to learn Italian on Babbel, and I’m very enthused, or should I say entusiasta! The lessons are bite sized 15 minute segments, so I usually do at least two or three every weekday, along with some review sessions.

Do it for work. I think we have all received a wake-up call about how precarious our employment situations can be; my thoughts are with my friends in the hospitality industry. Whether you’re unemployed, have been furloughed, or perhaps even fully employed, but wondering for how long; this is a great time to make yourself more attractive to a prospective employer, or maybe solidify your current position. There are so many soft skills that you can use now and in the future. Perhaps consider training for a side hustle if you like to be kept busy. The resources are plentiful and a quick google search of your interests will bring forth numerous websites for your perusal. My favourites are: the University of Toronto Continuing Studies, LinkedIn Learning and Udemy.

Do it for fun.  Discovering something creative and perhaps not related to the day job will also serve us well. Maybe it’s the time to dust off that expensive camera that never gets used and capture some of the lovely fall colours, or dig out the musical instrument from the basement. offers various lessons given by famous people in their areas of expertise. Cooking with Gordon Ramsay or Wolfgang Puck sounds like a wonderful idea, or perhaps creative writing with Margaret Atwood. Let’s not forget exercise which is so important for our physical and mental health. Although we may not feel very comfortable in a gym at the moment, YouTube is a massive resource for all types of exercise, yoga and dance videos.

Do it to create new neurons. We may have missed out on an overseas vacation this year. In my opinion a vacation is necessary to create new experiences and learning for mental well-being. Different languages, different currency, different people, not to mention exciting new food. However, by learning anything that is new to us, we’re also helping our memory and concentration which is more important as we age. There have been numerous studies about the benefits to the brain of learning a second language or a musical instrument, but even doing the humble jigsaw puzzle enhances visual perception, improves coordination and even develops critical thinking. Perhaps I wasn’t wasting my time after all!

Kendra Shimmin is the Manager of Membership Services at the Insurance Brokers Association of Canada. A firm believer in life-long learning and a relatively recent graduate of the University of Toronto Creative Writing certificate program. Beyond the writing and the language learning, a potential guitar player and a self-confessed Toastmaster nerd.