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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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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The Five Joys of Winter

If you’re anything like me, you get a little thrill every time you hear the phrase Winter is coming. In fact, one of my summer loving friends (Thanks, Tes!) said it to me as I was bemoaning the heat. It lifted my spirits.

I thought I’d pay it forward.

So as we head into December, I thought I’d write a little blog post to raise the spirits of my summer-loving friends. There are joys in winter if you look hard enough.

The lighting is always great for pictures.

As a somewhat so-called amateur photographer (hey, isn’t everyone that nowadays?) I love taking pictures of my children. This is especially true in the winter because with the overcast weather, the lighting is always perfect. There is no harsh sunshine messing up the contrast. And, let’s face it, it’s a great time to get dressed up.

A good book is all the rage.

I don’t know why summer is considered the time to read. Oh wait, I know. It’s because schools are closed. But seriously – there isn’t a worse time to read than the summer. All that talk about lazy days of summer is just that. Talk. Summers are busy and long. And loud. And bright. Winter is the time to curl up with a book. A good cup of coffee (or tea) and a good book – that’s what winter is for. The neighborhood is quiet because people are in their homes, the days are shorter and life is just more peaceful in general.

Options are limited.

Oh, we love our choices. But at some point while choosing between five brands of toothpaste we realize too many choices exhaust us. Now don’t get me wrong. I love capitalism and the creativity it inspires – I have a deep respect for entrepreneurship and the market. However, I have limited time for any given task. So I appreciate the winter for automatically limiting my choices – there are only so many things that we can do when it’s cold outside and gets dark early.

It’s a good time to get back on track with homeschooling.

Apart from Christmas, there are few distractions in the winter. And once that’s over, we have that long, blessed month of January with no celebrations. I love it. It’s also a time of year most people are thinking about starting anew with their resolutions – lose weight, get on a good schedule, eat right, save money – you know what I mean. This atmosphere makes it a wonderful time to get back on track with your homeschool – especially if you’ve been winging it a bit during the holidays. January is like a fresh new week, except it’s a whole month! I look forward to it every year.

All that snuggling!

My kids tend to be all bustle and run in the summer. Even the older ones. Something about all that sunshine drives them a little crazy, I think. And people are – in general, in my anecdotal experience – more pugnacious in the summer. But in the winter, the usual prickliness vanishes and my children are the sweetest things ever. Also, ever since I’ve read this post, I’ve begun to think more about the last times and cherish them as much as the firsts.

So you see? All’s not bleak. There are joys in the winter you can look forward to. What would you add to this list?

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Time Linking – A Technique to Stay on Track

I write much about schedules, templates and other ways I use to stay on track, not just with homeschooling but also with blogging. I have many fingers in many pies, it seems. But if there is one thing that has helped me to stay on task with these various activities I undertake, it is this: time linking.

It works because it uses associations.

Associations are powerful drivers of action and memory. Ever feel compelled to eat or cook just because you smell food? Who can’t recall an exact memory from years ago because of finding oneself in a childhood home?

This happens because that place, that time has developed strong connections in our mind with a specific thing. We can use that same strategy to stay on track in our homeschooling.

How to Use Time Linking

If you think about your day, chances are you are doing certain things at specific times. For me, I have to write in the mornings. I work best that way. I can’t, for instance, pick up a book and read at five in the morning and I cannot write at seven in the evening. In my mind, each of those time blocks are linked with specific actions.

It’s the same with homeschooling. The hours between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. are the hours when we deal with difficulties the children might be facing and move on to more involved work in science or history.

We don’t do anything else during those hours. If we want to watch something that is related to those subjects, I still prefer that we wait until after 11 a.m. to get it done. It doesn’t “feel” right to turn on the television before noon. In my mind (and in my children’s minds) that time block is linked strongly with sit down work.

Customizing Time Linking

It is best if time linking comes together organically, but that doesn’t mean you can’t impose any structure. Take your normal day and see how it unfolds naturally. Then see if you can tweak it a bit.

I will warn you against getting started too soon on this. Toddlers seem to march to the beat of their own drummer, so if you try to impose time linking on a toddler or preschooler, it could be rough. We don’t do formal sit down work until the child is ready, which is much later. Time linking for a toddler works for nap times and lunch/snack times. No more.

Customizing time linking to your schedule will get things done, but keep you from feeling like you have to be the one pushing your children to get things done. Instead, it will begin to feel habitual and incorporated into your lifestyle.

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For the Love of (Organized) Chaos

Homeschooling and unschooling both work because of the chaos they cause. Children, by nature, tend to be chaotic. As we get older, we begin to like the calm, the regular, the predictable. And into that step our children. This is good although not always fun.

Chaos Can Be Beautiful

Telling someone like me that chaos can be something to look forward to is not easy. I like my organized, scheduled, predictable life. But a book came across my path recently which did exactly that.

In The Chaos Imperative, the authors Brafman and Pollack talk about a term that I have grown to love – organized chaos. Because when I think about it, that’s exactly how our days look: yes, we do have some basic things we do each day. The children are responsible for making breakfast and some chores, but for the most part, they have to choose and figure out how to add meaning to their day.

Throughout the book, the authors call attention to the fact that it is not careful planning that leads to intelligence and creativity but rather some form of confusion or “white space,” as they refer to it. One specific example they mention is Japanese schools and their long recesses. Another is the neurobiology of how we get our ideas when we are being truly creative.

Organization IS important, but…

The caveat of course is that life is not to be one hazard after another. They tell the readers to “organize serendipity” – basically, create environments where people have some structure, but then within those, set time aside for micro white spaces.

That is what I set out to do with our style of classical unschooling. Too much structure brings me down, as do arbitrary rules, even when the children clearly need them. So I give them just enough and let them figure out the rest.

If you want to know more about how I apply organized chaos, read my books here:

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Everything is Not a Commentary (How Not to Read a Book)

I’ve been thinking about perceptions lately. It takes me back to my literature classes in college. I remember being enamored by the idea of metaphor, by the idea that I was seeing something of the writer’s mind – something that wasn’t quite there on the paper, but something the author was perhaps hinting at.

It ruined me as a reader.

How Not to Read a Book

My husband and I are re-watching the series Vikings lately. It’s been quite the experience. For one, I am struck by how much more on the second viewing, I am beginning to see the characters as just themselves – fictional, with maybe some historical setting, but fictional – and less as representations of something else.

I think the reason many people get in arms about books lately is because they’ve been taught that everything represents something else. Everyone is a symbol, we’re told. What is the author really trying to say here?

Sorry, Freud, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Everything is Not a Symbol or a Commentary

I think it’s important I teach my children this as they read. Sometimes a story can just be a story.

I can be frustrated with Athelstan (fictional, remember) as a character in Vikings, for instance, as a mealy-mouthed priest caught in the crosshairs of his crisis of dual faith, worshiping both Odin and Christ. I can even be irritated at the fictional representation of King Ecbert (fictional – don’t forget!) for being enamored by pagan customs without making the leap into anger at the people who wrote the story to show Christianity as weak and powerless. (By the way, I write this as a Christian, in case anyone is wondering.)

That’s just an example off the top of my head, but there are countless others. Just consider this list of books banned worldwide. Consider that we are now scrubbing all politically incorrect messages out of literature. Consider that Sweden is now burning copies of Pippi Longstocking because she “broke too many rules.”

You’ve got to be kidding me.


Why all the uproar? Is it because we believe we think too much and therefore see deeper into the text and others see too little? As homeschoolers, at least, we should be above this. After all, the homeschoolers I know and respect are the ones least afraid of conversations with their children.

Stop shunning books because you’re afraid of the symbolism in them or what they represent. Instead, hate them or love them for what they are. 

Everything is not a metaphor.

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