To know God and to make Him known.

Juggling in the Margins

When my first two children were babies, I had one unique, pressing goal, in which I roundly failed.

I had planned to speak Italian to my girls at home to give them an immersive start, but found my vocabulary too weak to meet the demands of constant communication. Making it habitual was nearly impossible. With my third, I stumbled onto a magical notion. If I tied Italian to certain activities, I could form the basis of a habit.

I started with meals and street-crossing. I said things like, “Do you want more strawberries?” and “Hold my hand!” until my association of the language and the events made it easy to remember to just do it. And it worked! My youngest understood and responded to all the Italian I’d used with her until she realized that she was the only child speaking Italian and rejected it vociferously at age two and a half. Sadly, we are all reduced to the prosaic academic approach now, but the lesson stuck with me. Now I use it to facilitate my own learning.

If you’re like me, you put a premium on the time between teaching lessons, answering questions, changing out laundry loads, and triaging minor household emergencies. Rare are those moments when you and your brain can engage together in the activity of your choice. Oh, the books, the bubble baths, the secret stash of chocolate, the siren call of to fill those precious, fleeting moments of alone time? I practice the lesson I learned in my failed imparting of Italian: I pin my activities together.

My study goals for personal growth include several categories: Bible and commentaries for edification and communion, more advanced academic subjects to prepare for future teaching, great novels for joy and beauty, nonfiction books to add to my knowledge, news and analysis out of begrudging obligation, and foreign languages for sheer love.

Not intimidating in the slightest. Right?

For each category, I need to assign frequency. For instance, I consider academic previewing an occasional commitment. I might work through one algebra or physics book each year, just so my memory is fresh when we reach Challenge. Novels must be periodic, too, for the sake of my family; once I’m drawn into a fictional world and a plot, I will always fail to make dinner, and sometimes lunch. A few times a week each seems right for news, analysis, and nonfiction reading. Too little, and I lose touch; too much and I get bogged down. And so forth.

Then, I pin them to the times and activities where they are most likely to become doable habits. Books and journal articles can be read or prayer lists addressed during a walk on a treadmill (I don’t recommend the reading for actual runners!) I can squeeze in podcasts and webinars while I cook, clean, or break a sweat on a rowing machine. Getting two things checked off simultaneously is a big motivator for me. I like to do Bible study or some reading at the table where my kids do their book work. They are pretty self-reliant, but it serves as motivation if I’m modeling work habits alongside them.

And if your kids have ever had an extracurricular activity in common with mine, you know where I do all my language study. I have logged more hours of copy work in the ballet school lobby and more listening minutes in the car en route to class than I could ever have amassed in my free time at home. And the best part of tying my work into the existing framework of my day is that while my kids are upstairs for their mandatory afternoon “crew rest,” I can sometimes choose the avenue of brownies and Netflix, free of guilt.

Speaking of guilt, that is another lesson of homeschooling that has enriched my own learning process. In short, there needn’t be any! The more years I homeschool, the freer and further I get from the paradigm of grade level and achievement timeframes for my kids. Learning is a continuum, for them and for me, and for us together. In that light, all my learning categories and book titles and to-do lists cease to be weighty juggling balls threatening to bury me. Instead, they are bricks being laid, sometimes intermittently or in erratic patterns, but always marking a path and a journey.


CATEGORIES: Articles, Big Ideas: Truth, Beauty, Goodness and more!, Classical Christian Education, Homeschooling Life

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