Daily Consistency Is A Myth

Daily Consistency is a Myth
Photo by Jackman Chiu on Unsplash

Consistency gurus always get me down. That is when they’re not making me feel like an automaton.

“Wake up early every day.” “Work out / meditate / read / write first thing in the morning.” Continue for forty years.

If that is the measure of success, I’m afraid I’ll never reach it.

Life isn’t Consistent

I realized the idea of daily consistency was insane when I came to the conclusion that as a family we tend to eat way more on the weekends. We also tend to be out of the home visiting friends or doing things on the weekends as well. And no one (least of all, me!) wants to cook.

So I designated a day late in the week as a a big cooking day. We do no school on that day. We pretty much do nothing else except cooking and laundry.

This one day makes our week look ridiculously lopsided. But it’s the only way our life works smoothly.

Scheduling: Still a Good Idea, If It Works

I write much about scheduling and using a template to organize your homeschool and overall it is a good idea to have a vision. But trying to stick to daily consistency is a recipe to make yourself feel guilty and burnt out in no time.

Nothing, but nothing in nature is that consistent. (Okay, yes, the sunrise. But I’m not the sun.) Or we’d all still be mowing our lawns in the winter. So why do we insist on it from our schedules?

Instead, find out if you’re one of those people who thrives on a routine and how best to work with your personality. Take the time to find out your children’s personalities. And then craft the ideal homeschool.

Unless you want to buy into that waking up at five a.m. to work out for forty years advice. In that case, rinse and repeat.

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Don’t “Pace Yourself”

Don't Pace Yourself
Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash

Sometimes even the most well meaning people can give us the worst advice. A few months ago, I wrote about one that drives me nuts. You can read about how I don’t “trust the process” right here. Today, I want to talk about another piece of bad advice: pacing yourself.

As I mentioned in my previous post, doing something consistently does not mean that you need to do it everyday. It’s the same with pacing yourself.

Picture, for instance, beginning something new, realizing you’re quite excited about it and then having someone else tell you, “No, just do a chapter today. Pace yourself.”

Bad advice!

The problem with bad advice is that it always sounds so careful and wise.

Well, yeah… I could get bored with this, you think. Perhaps I had better just read 50 pages a day. No sense in immersing myself in it today and getting bored tomorrow and abandoning it completely.

But have you noticed the disinclination self directed learning has to pacing itself?

Self directed learning – whether done by you or your children – follows its own rhythm. It is exciting, obsessive and not interested in external schedules. In fact, trying to get it to “pace itself” can hinder it more than help it.

Think about the last time you had a burning question – an online argument, for example. Or a conviction you couldn’t shake. Or a book you couldn’t put down. How much faster did you learn and how much did you retain from it?

I can almost guarantee you learned more in a day from your obsession than you would have had you done a little a day every day.

Here’s What To Do Instead

Work as much as possible with your natural inclinations and let the children do so as well.

Craft a curriculum that works with their individual personalities.

Let them be bored.

Realize that interest is cyclical and goes through waxing and waning cycles. If they’re obsessed with something and then lose interest, it might come back soon.

Don’t push for mastery too soon. To develop what we call grit, children need to try out a few different things and play at them before they’re ready to settle in and work hard at it.

Instead of forcing a top down philosophy of learning and education, try to trust your own organic sense of self direction and see if you can work with it. Don’t pace yourself. Go all out. Exhaust yourself. Then recover, refresh and come back.

That’s how the best learning occurs.

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Consistency Doesn’t Always Look Consistent

Consistency Doesn't Look Consistent
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Open any book on habits and sooner or later (sooner, in most cases) you will come across the admonition to “be consistent.”

Then will follow reminders to wake up earlier and “eat that frog” earlier in the day. And perhaps a reminder or two to join an accountability group to stay on track.

There’s only one problem with this advice: it may not work with your personality. But that’s only a problem if you let it be one.

Consistent doesn’t mean daily

When scheduling our homeschooling, I make sure to leave time for goofing off. I do this because I know I need it as much as the children do. And even with that we find ourselves dumping the schedule and running off to play on some days.

When I check out books from the library, I include some that look interesting, but I do not put restrictions on myself to read them all. I know I will quit some after the first fifty pages because they don’t hold my interest.

At any given time, I have about five or six obsessions running through my head. My current ones are writing, frugality, reading history, brushing up on the two foreign languages I know and working on Latin.

But I don’t practice these daily. In fact, the moment I try to establish some sort of a schedule to be able to “be more consistent” with these interests, they become a little tiring.

What I’m Not Saying

I’m not saying everything in your homeschool has to be the result of passion. And I’m certainly not mouthing platitudes such as “follow your bliss.”

But I am making the point that it’s okay to relax a little when it comes to scheduling your children in their endeavors. Consider longer timelines – weeks, months, years. Not days. As long as something gets done over a month, don’t worry about the day to day work.

Most interests tend to be cyclical. Your desire for consistency does not need to take on the mantle of a dictatorship to be fruitful.

My daughter will eventually come back to cartooning and writing, even if she takes a break from it for a few days. I’m certainly not going to ask her to do it everyday. Yes, she loves it, but if I force her to pursue that interest in a top-down way, she might just grow to hate it. I know I would.

While scheduling for passions and interests, be sure to leave room and time, not appointments and programs.

Consistency doesn’t always look consistent. And it certainly doesn’t have to be daily to be effective.

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How Unschooling Changed My Philosophy of Reading

How Unschooling Changed my Philosophy of Reading
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People don’t know what to do with me when I tell them I’m a classical unschooler. The world, it seems, constantly wants to peg us down as either belonging to the classical philosophy or radical unschooling.

We are something else entirely: we memorize, but not too much. We value play and self direction. And because we see the value in rabbit trails and strewing, most of what we learn tends to happen through great conversations.

Taking My Own (Unschooling) Advice

Sometimes, we tend to lose focus, too, though.

I have also been fooled into buying curricula at various times. “Perhaps there really is some secret to this – some system – to learning I haven’t figured out!” I’ve thought. There is some deep understanding that others have that I don’t!

But soon I realize it’s not true. And I tire of knowledge that seems to hang there, disconnected from each other, details of grammar that can’t be applied and put into practice immediately.

So I recently decided to take my own advice when it came to self directed learning. Why not, I thought, use the unschooling advice of simply introducing something of interest instead of trying to remember all the details of how it happened?

Enter Reading with Purpose

The philosophy of unschooling says that it is enough to simply offer readers and learners a “taste” of something. You are not looking for mastery, you are looking for interest. If there is some desire, the learner will pursue it himself.

The classical method says that there are three stages of learning – the grammar stage in which you are just acquiring the basic information, the logic (or dialectic) stage when you put those discrete pieces of information together and then the rhetoric stage when you formulate your own opinion on the matter.

Putting these two together in my classical unschooling philosophy has been the focus of our learning and reading this year. And it made a big difference to how I personally read.

This philosophy leaves me (and my kids) free to explore. It doesn’t matter that we don’t quite “get” it all. We don’t go deep, we go wide. We expose our minds to information we’re interested in and then, when it matters, we go deeper into the rabbit trails.

The best thing about it? It removes fear. Because you read widely, and you read for interest, there will always be something that captures you and chances are good that something somewhere connects to something else.

That’s how the best kind of learning (and reading) takes place.

To see what I’m reading, follow my Goodreads page.

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Homeschooling Isn’t For the Kids

Homeschooling Isn't For the Kids
Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash

There is a going joke in our family that homeschooling isn’t for the kids.

“I didn’t choose homeschooling for you!” I will quip. They will laugh because they know what’s coming.

I mean, of course we all know how I feel about homeschooling and how much I believe it’s the best way to educate a child. But here’s what I believe just as strongly: we chose homeschooling for us as much as for them.

Homeschooling is for the Adults

There’s an adage in the business world that the best thing in life when you’re working hard to make money is not what you get, it’s what you become. This is true of homeschooling as well.

While you are teaching, spending time, researching and learning together, you become something you could never have had you simply carted the children off to school.

If parenting is a second chance at childhood, homeschooling is your second chance at getting a real education.

As your children are learning, you will catch a spark and should you choose to pursue it, you will learn more than you ever did in your years at school. I would know – I have spent 22 years in classrooms. It’s one of the reasons I hate them so much.

Enthusiasm Restored

I wrote a little while ago about how I realized we were not on the right track when I couldn’t muster up any enthusiasm over “school.”

In a desperate desire to “stay on track,” I had let our education become limited to completing worksheets. I had forgotten the rabbit trails, searching the internet to answer random questions. I had forgotten the power of conversation.

Remembering my own enthusiasm changed everything.

It wasn’t that I removed my children from the equation; it was that I allowed them to learn as they learn best – from little pieces of knowledge gleaned from here and there woven together through conversation as I went about my day.

I let them learn as they asked questions, developed curiosity, interest and desire. Basic worksheets took less and less time in our day.

This happened because I reminded myself of a basic truth: homeschooling isn’t for the kids; it’s for the adults.

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How to Get Your Kids Interested in Anything

One of the “rules” of our classical unschooling method is that we expect passion. We assume that each of our three children will be passionately interested in something that is meaningful.

But here’s the caveat: it has to be personally meaningful. It has to mean something for them.

As a result, we don’t enroll our children in sports or music lessons unless we see interest.

How to Teach Interest

As it turns out, it’s impossible to teach interest. You can only share it and see if they will take to it.

My husband is an amateur guitar player. He plays only what he likes and is completely self-taught. From the looks of it, he truly enjoys practicing. So he finds a song that is about his level, learns how to play it online and stays with it until he has mastered it. He claims he has no talent. (I would disagree.)

My daughter expressed some desire to learn guitar, so we enrolled her in a class. But she had no interest in it, so we did not push it.

She does however watch me write this blog. And we read a lot together. So what does she develop an interest in but writing fantasy stories!

An intuitive speller and strong reader, she has taken up writing stories as her interest.

It Takes Time

Unfortunately, this is one of those things that can’t be pushed. My almost eight year old son, for instance, has almost no interests that we can discern yet. Okay, he loves playing video games and seems technically inclined. He has strong math skills.

We might introduce him to coding the same way we introduced my daughter to guitar. After all, we do want to help our children find their interests and it helps to introduce them to a wide range of them. I don’t think any parent would disagree with that.

Where we part ways with most is in pushing them to learn something they have no desire in.

The Best Way to Get Kids Interested…

…is to have something in your own life you’re passionately interested in and introduce them to a variety of such things. See what sticks.

It really is as simple (and as difficult) as that.

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Scheduling: Something’s Gotta Give

Some days are easier than others. As I write this, it is six in the morning and I have no desire to do any school. We have been trying to sell our house and move and, so far, we have not managed it.

I don’t take well to transitions. If anything, this attempt has shown me my weaknesses: inflexibility, a certain lack of being able to tolerate hardship and a tendency toward depression.

Add in the holidays and it is a fatal combination for getting anything done.

The One Rule of Scheduling

One thing that has helped me is knowing this: we have limited time. And thus, we must have priorities. This one rule of scheduling has saved me hours of heartache.

Sure, I don’t always want to do what needs to get done. I’d much rather procrastinate or chase the shiny new thing that grabs my (current) interest.

But then I remember that I can’t do it all. I must choose.

The Good News

I know, I know. All that sounds awfully serious. Limited time, priorities – I might as well be your mom.

So here’s the good news: the fact that we don’t have all the time in the world means that when it’s time to have fun, we literally stay away from all work! 

If something’s gotta give, when it’s time to play, it’s time to give up on work. The fact that you have already allotted a time slot for work means you are now free to spend your leisure time as you would like.

I have to remind myself of this often.

In the evenings and during my down time, I sometimes catch myself acting what I call “lazy.” I might be lazily thumbing through Instagram or Facebook.

“Get up and do something!” I hear my internal voice command.

But I tell it to shut up. Because this is what scheduling means. As long as I stay on task through the day, my leisure time can be indulged in guilt-free.

And so my weaknesses do not hold me back. Even through this difficult time.

Sometimes, inflexibility can be a good thing.
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How to Win if You Worry

Worry is ubiquitous. It is also entirely normal and can sometimes be helpful.

It’s okay to worry.

The Worriers and the Warriors

According to writers Bronson and Merriman, the world is divided into two types of people.

There are worriers and then there are warriors.

Some of us enjoy competition, like taking risks and perform better when challenged. These are the warriors.

People who worry, on the other hand, tend to perform worse when circumstances require them to compete against each other or even themselves.

They don’t like challenges and prefer to remain in the safe, solid areas of existence.

By now, you already know which category you fall into. So in the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I tend to be a worrier.

How the Worriers Can Beat the Warriors

Now that the bad news is out of the way, here’s the good news: because worriers tend to be focused on small details and anything that can go wrong, they have an advantage warriors miss.

But this advantage only comes to play when the challenge is repeated more than once.

This means that if you tend to be more of a worrier than a warrior, you are likely to hang back a little and watch. While watching, you notice the things that could be hazards. You try, you fail. You try again, you fail again.

Here’s the thing: each time you try and fail, you literally fail better. 

What Does This Have to do with Homeschooling?

Quite a bit, actually. If you are a worrier, now you know what to do. You can do something enough times in order to succeed.

If your child is a warrior, give him some competition and watch him blossom. If he’s a worrier, give him measured challenges and make them repetitive.

Worriers and warriors can both win, just in vastly different ways.

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This Year, I Will Make More Mistakes

My daughter and I tend to have this in common: she does not like to make mistakes.

I can recall countless times sitting down at the table with her, doing math.

“Come on, what do you think is the answer?”

A pained expression on her face. “I don’t know.”

“Okay, I know you don’t know. Just try.”

“I don’t know.”

She sits there frozen in time, unwilling to answer, unwilling to do something because her best guess could be the wrong answer.

And I realize I tend to be a lot like her. I realize she gets this aversion to making mistakes from me.

Earlier this year, we moved to an apartment to be able to sell our house. Thinking that an empty house is easier to be shown and seems more inviting to buyers, we downsized for a few months into an apartment half the size.

It was a mistake.

Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t earth shattering and it definitely wasn’t something we couldn’t recover from, but it was a mistake. (We could have just as easily chosen to remain in the house and show it.) And that mistake did cost us some money.

Why Make Mistakes

They tend to do that, however.

Mistakes end up costing you something, otherwise you wouldn’t recognize them as such. The problem comes when you decide you want to stop making them.

While not wanting to make too many mistakes is a good idea, the desire to completely stop making mistakes can cause you to become immobile.

As I tell my daughter, you can either get no points for leaving the answer blank or give yourself the possibility of getting the right answer.

Not choosing is also a choice.

Attempt it. At least try something. The biggest danger in making mistakes is the fear of making another.

Overcoming the Fear of Making Mistakes

Every time I am afraid of making a mistake, I have learned to engage in an exercise. It’s a mental exercise of sorts, but I can also use paper.

I quickly write down some of my biggest life decisions – the ones that matter, the ones that I see all around me.

I conclude that of those decisions, some have been mistakes, sure, but most of them – by God’s grace – have worked out just fine. And if those have worked out fine, my track record for making decisions is not that bad.

It might seem a little goofy to do things this way, but it works.

It works because it removes the dread of the unknown.

Where otherwise there was only overwhelming fear and an aversion of getting it wrong, I now have some assurance of the possibility of perhaps getting it right. Or making it right.

So this year, not only will I be making more mistakes, I will be teaching my children to make more mistakes.

It is the only way to remove the sting of fear from them.

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How to Wait Well

I don’t know about you but I hate waiting. And fortunately for me I’ve been doing a lot of it.

Yes, you read that right.

Waiting Well

The life of a homeschooling parent involves much waiting.

First you wait for the child to be old enough to be able to homeschool him. Then you wait for him to “get it” as you’re teaching something or develop an interest in something.

And then of course there are those long days (and short years!) when you’re waiting to get to the next stage, the next step, the next homeschooling year.

But here’s the thing: pretty soon, it’s over. No matter how long homeschooling days seem, they will end. There will be a time when the children move out. It’s important to remember that.

The happiest, most content people I know are those who know this; they know how to wait well.

Some Practical Ideas

I have written an earlier post about how most moms don’t manage time well because of boredom. And it was suggested to me that I write another post with some suggestions of how we might do better, so we’re not bored.

First, I’d suggest reading this post about why homeschooling moms are happier followed by this one about ten things to do when homeschooling gets lonely.

Second, I will share what I do. I play. While this can mean video games, I’m using the word “play” in a much bigger sense of the word. I turn much of what I do into a game in my head.

The easiest game in the world is a checklist – write things down and see how many you can cross out in an hour. Attach a reward to it. I create endless games like that. Frugality is a big one for me – something I have written about elsewhere.

Learning to wait well is a skill – one that we need as desperately as our children. Watching you wait teaches them far more than you think.

One of my dreams is since I wrote The Classical Unschooler is to create a curriculum for the entire family. This is would include books for the parents to read that are related to what the children are learning. I think such a curriculum would eliminate boredom and deepen learning.

But you don’t need to wait for my curriculum. You can start on your own. Just pick out a book written for grown ups related to something your child is studying. Read it. Discuss it. Go deeper into the topic if it interests you. Join a book club. See if it sparks a passion. Find ways to feed that passion and share it. Start a blog.

Just try it. It might just be the ticket.

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