Modelling self-directed study

A mother’s home education

Our children are learning all the time.  It’s a well-worn adage we home educators use.  Of course, we learn all the time too, but adult responsibilities mean I learn things like how to navigate new online banking software, or exactly how late I can leave the house and still make it to choir on time.  It’s not exactly life-altering or perspective-shattering stuff here.

I hope I’m also teaching my children about how to learn intentionally – how to pursue their interests or make something they need to know interesting; how to make the most of their study by making sure their minds are fresh and their bellies aren’t empty and their environment is free of distraction; how to retain the information by creating something or finding a new perspective or changing an old behaviour.  This kind of intentional learning is not something I’ve made a lot of time for myself.

Yet I know as a parent that I cannot ask my children to do as I say and not as I do (at least not without having a fight on my hands).  If we wish to see something in our children, we must first become the something we wish to see.  We must feed the soil in which our little beauties blossom. 

Rediscovering your interests

As I spend January making lists of resources for the school year ahead and sketching goals for the children, I’ve also added my name to the mix.  I too have subjects I need to learn more about and would like to know more about.  Like, how can I make improving my daughter’s working memory more fun for her? And how do I help my son change his perspective on his ADHD and consider it a neurological superpower?  But also what should I be doing now to mitigate the aches and pains of the aging process (watching my loved ones age has been one of those accidental educations that I’d like to be more intentional about)?

I’m full of questions and I’m sure you are too.  And yeah, Google is always an option, but Google will also give you the answer it thinks you want based on your search history.  That’s not a balanced education.

To get myself asking some burning questions in order to help rediscover my interests, I wrote down four broad topics – personal development, career development, financial development and relationship development.  And then I brainstormed ways I wanted to improve in those four areas of my life or questions I needed answering. 

Planning for intentional learning

Personally, I’m an introvert and a bookworm, so my list of resources for my questions is all books.  They’re cheap second-hand and I can tackle them at my own pace and it’s also how I learn best ( I literally slept through most university lectures and still passed thanks to the textbooks). Your list might look like local classes, online classes, correspondence classes, You Tube videos (also Google though, so…), podcasts and blog posts.

With your list of resources in hand, it’s time to set some realistic goals.  I am not going to buy all the books on my list at once because my interests change and so will this list.  I know my reading sweet spot is two books per month.  I also know I can’t read non-fiction before bed without falling asleep mid-sentence and thus totally ruining my reading sweet spot.  That makes my goal one non-fiction book each month to be read at some point during the day.  Maybe your goal is headphones in and podcasts on while you cook dinner and maybe only for a few nights of the week.  Or one class per month at the local college.  Or one whole course per quarter.

Things to consider when making your realistic goals:

  • How do you learn best?
  • What can you afford?
  • Will there be additional expenses – travel, accommodation, etc?
  • How much time are you willing to dedicate to it?
  • How much down time do you need to digest something before moving on to the next thing?
  • What is the right season of the year or season of life to learn this thing?  You can bet I won’t be reading about climate change during the winter blues.
  • How are you hoping to put this knowledge to use?

Making it stick

My short-term memory is a well-exercised muscle after years of cramming for tests.  But my long-term memory is weak, ya’ll!  Having an interest in the subject helps to some extent, but I needed more help to make the most of what I read.

Last year I searched how to remember what you read and found this article with this nugget of wisdom I immediately put to good use:

There are three kinds of book owners. The first has all the standard sets and best sellers — unread, untouched. (This deluded individual owns woodpulp and ink, not books.) The second has a great many books — a few of them read through, most of them dipped into, but all of them as clean and shiny as the day they were bought. (This person would probably like to make books his own, but is restrained by a false respect for their physical appearance.) The third has a few books or many — every one of them dog-eared and dilapidated, shaken and loosened by continual use, marked and scribbled in from front to back. (This man owns books.)

Why is marking up a book indispensable to reading? First, it keeps you awake. (And I don’t mean merely conscious; I mean awake.) In the second place; reading, if it is active, is thinking, and thinking tends to express itself in words, spoken or written. The marked book is usually the thought-through book. Finally, writing helps you remember the thoughts you had, or the thoughts the author expressed.

Mortimer J. Adler

I’m more of a type 2 than a type 3 book owner.  I have many a dog-eared book but never before had I desecrated a book with pencil or *gasp* pen!  But I was reading Sharon Blackie’s If Women Rose Rooted and it was so good and such a meal of a book to digest.  I needed this advice!

I’m currently reading Move Your DNA by Katy Bowman and it’s not my copy so I can’t write in it.  Instead I’m taking notes.  If your long-term memory is weak like mine, I highly recommend taking notes.  And even if your long-term memory isn’t weak, take notes in front of your children from time to time anyway!  Whether you’re watching a video or listening to a recording, take notes.

Your notes might be words, but they can be pictures or you can record voice memos on your phone.  It all comes back to how you learn best.

Other tips for success:

  • Choose a reasonable time to ‘study’, ideally when your children can take note but not when they need your attention.
  • Choose an environment that won’t distract you.  Does your bedroom make you sleepy?  Does your desk remind you there are bills to be paid?  Does your living room remind you there is tidying to be done?  Are your children making too much noise?!
  • Turn your phone off
  • Have a drink, snack, comfy blanket on hand – make it enjoyable!
  • Set a reasonable goal for the session – one chapter, one section, 20 minutes.  Don’t strive to do too much in one sitting ad you’ll run down your ability to focus which defeats the purpose!

Modelling the cycle of learning

It’s best to review your notes later the same day.  Consider how the information could or does impact your life.  Acknowledge any feelings the information conjures up in you.  Emotional connections enhance memory formation. How will you use this new information? To create something, shift your perspective or change a behaviour?

My diary has sections called ‘Today’s Focus’ and ‘Free Space To Grow.’ This is where I put reminders about adjusting behaviours or thoughts I’ve suddenly had with regards to what I’ve read.

As home educating parents I’m sure you know most of this information already!  We do this for our children every day.  But I hope it’s been a useful reminder that you and your interests matter too!  Make time for them.  It benefits everyone in so many of those accidentally educational ways.

Tell us what you’re looking forward to learning next.



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