Developing Self-Discipline

This is my concluding post in a three post series entitled Discipline in a Love of Learning, Freedom Based, Interest-led Homeschool. You can read my first two posts here and here. You can find the series summary here.

creative messy counter

In my last post I talked about drudgery and discipline. I didn't set forth a plan for teaching your kids to apply themselves to drudgery. Instead I asked a bunch of questions that challenged the assumptions people have about children who are given large amounts of freedom in their learning and education.

On one level people are ok with kids "being kids", having time to play, discovering their interests and all that. Many people even question much of what is taught in schools. But the "real world" looms large and scary, and because most adults can't answer, with any honesty, the question "why do I have to learn this?" from their children, they take comfort in the belief that, compulsory education, if nothing else, at least teaches kids self-discipline, something they are unlikely to learn on their own.

My belief, and personal experience, is that children absolutely can learn self-discipline in a love of learning, freedom based, and interest-led homeschool. And I believe you can raise children, without compulsory schooling, who will grow into adults capable of fitting into the real world where not all work is interesting or inherently motivating.

(Please note: A lot of homeschoolers have a compulsory schooling mindset, they take the subjects and requirements of schools and apply that to learning at home. This post is not about learning-at-home vs. learning in a school. This is a post about a freedom based education.)

Children can learn to apply themselves to difficult tasks, and become self-disciplined adults by:

  1. participating in normal family life. The comings, goings and doings of a family require discipline, and eventually self-discipline.
  2. investing large amounts of time, energy, and effort in designing their own studies and self-directing their learning.

Point one is easy enough to see.

Involving children in home life, not just involving them but depending on them, at age appropriate levels for pet and animal care, cleaning, laundry, chopping wood, cooking meals - good old-fashioned chores - develops self-discipline.

Chores are things that have to be done, yes, but you can grow a family culture of meaning, purpose and even fun around these activities. It's within your power to do that. We require our children to participate in home life, but we can also inspire them to serve (or not) by our own attitudes towards service. (I am so convicted about that right now.)

Training children to take care of their personal health and wellbeing also develops self-discipline. Personal hygiene, exercising every day, eating well, hiking together on the weekends are a few examples from our life.

In our family, there are a lot of activities our children do that develop discipline. They do these activities because they are a part of the Tougas family and the Tougas family does these things.

This is character training and habit formation. And although it is not "academic" it teaches the skills that transcend subject and circumstance. That's the goal.

family hiking in the snow

The goal is not the knowledge acquired in grade three or grade four but the skills you learn acquiring those facts.

And my argument is you can acquire those skills other ways.

You can acquire those habits and character traits in the context of a robust, intentional family life.

Most people will not quibble with this point. It's somewhat intuitive because family life is thousands and thousands of years old, whereas mandatory education is only a couple hundred years old.

To see this principle illustrated, all you have to do is look back through history at all the people groups worldwide who have lived without formal schooling, and learned to apply themselves, largely through the means I just explained, to the hard work of adult living.

You learn to do by doing. And children have been learning how to be disciplined by observing the adults in their tribes and societies and by participating in family life for millennia.

The point people quibble about is number two because most people have no grid for that. It was never offered to them.

A brief reminder, point number two is this:

Children can learn to apply themselves to difficult tasks, and become self-disciplined adults by investing large amounts of time, energy, and effort in designing their own studies and self-directing their learning.

Here are two reasons (I seem to like two's this discipline series) why people have a hard time with this premise:

1. When children are young "applying themselves" looks like a whole lot of play and childhood exploration.

Because of the structures and standards of modern day schooling many people are uncomfortable with school-age children spending most of their time "playing". They should be learning. They should be "on the track" preparing for adulthood.

You have to learn the stuff of elementary school, to be prepared for high school. Then you have to get good grades so you can graduate high school with honors, so you get into a good college, get a degree which will give you a good job, which will pay you well, and allow you to retire... to do the thing you really want to do with your life.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) this is not the track to success it once was but people live and educate as if it still was the reality. Or maybe it was always just a myth?

homemade fairy dolls

If allowing children time to play is hard the next point will be even more difficult to swallow.

2. When children become a young adults, after a childhood of creativity, exploration, and play, "applying themselves" looks like a whole lot of intense study into things adults might question as valuable or worthy.

You've got to kind of expect this, especially after you've given young children time to develop interests, and don't box them into subjects. School subjects are constructs, "real" in name only.

Adults don't go through life thinking of their days and activities in terms of "now I'm doing math, now I'm studying history, now I'm having phys ed." No, they balance the checkbook, read for the pleasure of it and to learn about something they're interested in, and work out because it feels good.

Even so, when well meaning adults see young adult students spending heaps of self-directed time on things that don't easily quantify as "American History, Chemistry, or English" they get a little panicky. What about the success track as laid out above?

(Perhaps at this point I could direct you to a different success track. Let's say the story of Steve Jobs who spent heaps of his young adulthood "playing" with electronics.)

Here's the rub. It's hard for people to understand when another person, child or adult, is invested in and personally driven to do something they themselves don't value, or can't see as valuable in society.

And yet these outliers, these people who pour energies into solving problems other people didn't even know existed or make art that modern day sensibilities don't get, these are the very people, all through history, who are society's movers and shakers.

Even if people question the assumption that the conveyer belt education system is "the track to success" (success by who's standards? by what measures?) they assauge that cognitive dissonance with the belief that by conforming to the system you at least learn self-discipline.

My question is: Do you learn self discipline with compulsory education?

Children, teenagers, and adults of all ages are self-motivated to learn the things they want to know, or need to know, to reach their goals. And when you give children the environment and permission to actually do this they learn to be disciplined. They learn that discipline helps them accomplish what they want to do.

The real problem then is not the lack of discipline but the lack of self-knowing and inspiration.


I want to illustrate this but I'm not good at hypothetical examples. I tried writing some and they fell flat, so I'll tell you what this self-discipline, arising from self-directed learning, looks like in my home.

  • Designing and sewing a skirt. Making progress every week even when it's difficult to do all that pinning and stitching. Ideas are wonderful but then the work must be done and the work requires discipline.
  • Training for a 5k running race.
  • Crying, yes crying, through the final stages of a project. Tears that tug at my heart strings, but tears I am nonetheless unable to do anything about. I did not assign this project, nor can I remove its burden (though I can do a few extra chores to buy a child more time). In our experience, as young adults and emerging young adults see ideas through to completion there will be blood (ok, so there hasn't been a lot of blood), sweat, and tears. This is the time for that.
  • Establishing a taekwondo practice routine.
  • Sewing a birthday gift for a sibling (with an obvious deadline). Again, ideas are wonderful but then the work must be done and the work requires discipline.
  • Learning to read, even when it's hard. Being allowed to come to your own conclusion that this skill matters to you (not because of school shame) and then working at it.
  • Structuring your own school time, as a young adult, and sticking to it. "Showing up" day after day to do work that is tedious because you value it. Which brings the word tedious into question. (The work appears tedious to me because I can't imagine sitting down and doing it.)
  • Finishing what you start, even through difficult and uninspiring spots. Motivated by a commitment you made and payment upon completion. This applies to art commissions, doll commissions, and other obligations our kids choose.
  • Learning Japanese. Finding a language program, preparing your own study material, following through because you want to.
  • Programming with your Dad for a few hours a week not because "you love programming" but because computer programming fits with your strengths and interests and is an accessible way for you to earn the money you need to purchase an iPad. It's a skill that helps you meet a goal, and when you have goals you are driven.

My role in these scenarios is to offer encouragement and support. To secure resources, find mentors, accommodate the schedule (sometimes I do extra chores if the kids are under a deadline), bring fresh perspectives, and offer a lot of "you can do it" messages in the difficult spots.

The student designs and chooses their own "assignments", or projects. I don't have to convince them of its value, they chose it. The motivation to do the work is intrinsic. Self-discipline.

Our children, your children, are scientists, writers, readers, sewists, tinkers, do-ers, makers, artists, and athletes. They have ideas and inspiration all the time. They learn self-discipline by following through on some of these ideas (you can't make every idea a reality).

Children learn self-discipline through the perspiration of interest-led learning and living.

An important note about ages and stages.

I've mentioned this already but I must return to it again. A child's work doesn't look like work. It looks like play.

Crayola coloring set

They will be having fun and you will wonder, "how will they learn to apply themselves when they are enjoying themselves so much?" (Perhaps if you find yourself asking these types of questions you need re-evaluate your assumptions and beliefs about work, discipline, and joy.)

Only in recent years, as our children moved through the ages of 11, 12 and 13 has self-discipline been applied to anything that looks "schoolish". And even then it starts small.

Celine reaching her high school years, what we also call the scholar phase, was not an arbitrary age decision, "you're 14, you're in high school". Celine has reached this stage because, after a childhood of love of learning, she is choosing to go deeper, to be much more disciplined in reaching her goals.

There are days when I say "we don't have to do school today" because our schedule is crazy or whatever and she continues with her studies anyway. Regardless of whether her parents say it must be done or not. That is what is called self-discipline.

Trusting, through the childhood years, that interest-led learners will one day apply themselves to difficult study can be a nail-biting experience. Though I bet your children are already applying themselves to study, it just might be a certain skill set or knowledge you don't value.

Just remember, the development of self-discipline when a child is young looks like a meaningful contribution to family life and concentrated play, exploration, and discovery.

You have to give it time to unfold. You can't rush these things.

Tips & Strategies

Maybe you are worried that you don't see self-discipline developing in your children. Or maybe you just want to "do something" to make sure it's happening.

I understand that concern. That's a good concern. We want to raise children who will become independent adults, self-sufficient in the context of community and family.

  1. Open your mind up to possibilities, don't be hemmed in by "subjects". Are you looking for your child to develop a discipline around say, writing, while ignoring the other self-initiated work they do?

  2. Teach your kids, through example, how to be self-disciplined. What are you doing right now to model the self-discipline you want them to grow into?

  3. Make sure family life has meaningful and hands-on responsibilities for children. Your child's contribution should be needed, respected, and encouraged.

  4. Build a family culture of identifying interests and talents, cultivating ideas and projects, and then doing the hard work (the perspiration) required to make those ideas reality.

Jump start the process

Do something amazing as a family. An activity or project that teaches sacrifice, discipline, hard work, service to other, overcoming obstacles, etc. Do something together that teaches the character traits you want to instill in your kids. Choose a concrete goal and then go for it - as a family.

Let's Talk

I spent hours and hours writing and editing this series for you. I've attempted to answer, in depth, a common misconception I encounter (in coaching, conversations and educational practices, both at home and in schools) about interest-led homeschooling - that children don't develop self-discipline when given the freedom to study their own interests.

I hope this will help you in your homeschooling and give you more confidence in your methods in the face of questions or outright criticism from well-meaning (or otherwise) family and friends.

Please feel free to add any of your own observations in comments. I know your students apply themselves to what they love. Tell us about it!

What did I miss? Do you have more questions? Feel free to ask and if I have time I will answer them today in comments or build them into future posts.

« Drudgery & Discipline
A Christmas Interlude »
  • Sarah Mast

    Sarah Mast on Dec. 6, 2013, 3:06 p.m.

    This series was so well-done, Renee. I also loved the practical ways your children have learned 'self-discipline', and the point about self-discipline with compulsory schooling.

    My only other comment is that responding to these myths, or at least in my experience, really has to do more with a complete paradigm shift, or 'thinking overhaul'. It's like these ideas are so far from the realm of what's normal/average, it's actually hard to comprehend. I took it upon myself to begin researching homeschooling seven years ago, and with that brought books (and importantly, the ideas behind the books) from everyone like Susan Wise Bauer to John Holt. I was so interested in it myself, I couldn't stop learning about it. The ideas were so different to me, but also made a lot of sense, so I kept on reading. I think if I wouldn't have had that exploration (that has lasted years, and is still ongoing, like reading your blog!), then I would have trouble with these topics. I just wouldn't understand them. Once I understood this way of thinking, I of course wanted it for myself, and my family! 

    So, how this relates to me and those who might bring up these myths in our own lives, is to really go back to the core of what you talked about in this final post--the value of what is worth pursuing to the invidual. I've very much had to 'relearn' or 'unlearn' a lot about value and worth. 

    Sarah M


    • renee

      renee on Dec. 6, 2013, 3:24 p.m.

      You are absolutely correct Sarah. It's a complete paradigm shift and as such I have no disallusions about "convincing" the skeptics and critics. That's not my job. I usually don't discuss these things with many people in person, except the choir and I love hanging out with the choir! 

      My main goal in writing this series was to assist newbie and nascent interest-led homeschoolers with a been-there experience and perspective, as well as a logically laid out questioning of the assumptions we have about education, work, discipline, etc. The assumptions we might not even realize exist in our thinking. 

      I want to encourage and empower homeschoolers to live the freedom that is available for them in their homes, in their family life. And if by reading through this series a few homeschoolers feel more confident about their path I will have succeeded. I don't feel homeschoolers, of any stripe need to defend their actions to people, unless they want to. Some of us are wired for that kind of engagement, others' aren't. The goal here is inner confidence, confidence in your children and in your choice to follow a interest-led path. A confidence that will let you relax and enjoy homeschooling. I am so passionate about this because joy based homeschooling is so wonderful, I want to share that message.

      The paradigm shifting for family and friends may never come, but that's not the goal (unless it is, and for some people, like myself, my aim is to rattle people's cages a bit - literally cages) But not all homeschoolers are called to this. I feel called to encourage homeschoolers, teach people about homescholing through example and the pen, and to blaze a trail, to be a freedom-fighter for other homeschoolers (smile).


      • Sarah Mast

        Sarah Mast on Dec. 6, 2013, 3:44 p.m.

        "The assumptions we might not even realize exist in our thinking. "

        YES! Wonderful. Yes. You're doing it. I love being in this choir :) 

        Sarah M



      • Kristy Gonyer

        Kristy Gonyer on Dec. 6, 2013, 7:35 p.m.

        "I want to encourage and empower homeschoolers to live the freedom that is available for them in their homes..." You certainly succeed in that Renee! Although we aren't homeschooling yet (since there are no children in the home yet) I really enjoyed this series. The more time I spend in the world of compulsory education (as a science education coordinator) the more I have become disillusioned with its goals and methods. These posts are a nice confirmation of what I begin to believe more every day about what it is truly important in children's education. I am definitely taking notes for the day when we will hopefully be homeschooling our own children in the future, and gratefully knowing that we will have great resources such as this when we get there.


  • Constance

    Constance on Dec. 6, 2013, 3:49 p.m.

    Thank you so much for this series. I think that for a lot of us, we know that the way we're doing things is the right way for us but when you're surrounded by families who public school, it's easy to doubt yourself! It's nice to know that when those doubts creep in I can feel the support of others who are living and educating the way we are. So often I start to think that we should "do school" only to be shown by my children that they're doing great the way we've been living.



  • Nana

    Nana on Dec. 6, 2013, 8:09 p.m.

    Two comments:

    The list you made to show what self-discipline looks like in your house (from the designing to the programming)  - could be adapted for one in my house too! The ideas are the easy part...

    I love your kitchen helper's fancy schmancy look. She's got style, that dear girl.

    love, Mom




  • Susan Moeller

    Susan Moeller on Dec. 6, 2013, 9:03 p.m.

    I love this series! Thanks for Renee, for a thought-provoking, well-done, thoughtful set of posts on a significant topic!



  • Susan Moeller

    Susan Moeller on Dec. 6, 2013, 9:05 p.m.

    This also made me think a lot about the things that I see my children applying themselves to that are not inherently valuable to (I'm not a musical sort--bummer), and monster hunter on wii. Those are sel-chosen pursuits, and I am now looking for ways to honor them, as much as or more than the honoring I do when the kids work at things I assign.



  • Heather

    Heather on Dec. 7, 2013, 2:21 a.m.

    Thanks for this great series!  Your posts, as well as the discussion in the comments, have been helpful and encouraging to me as a  homeschooling mama of little ones.  

    I'm about halfway through Peter Gray's new book "Free to Learn", in which he offers many insights into the development of self-discipline through free play.  So far I'd say it's a worthy read for anyone interested in how children develop the skills they need (for the "serious aduld world") in an atmosphere of freedom and play.  His book elaborates on many of the points you've mentioned in this series, and may be of interest to other readers who want to explore this topic further.


  • Sandi

    Sandi on Dec. 7, 2013, 6:43 a.m.

    Thank you for all the effort I know must have been required  to write this series. There is so much here to think about. I hope to add more but still processing and thinking. I am mulling over a few thoughts and questions. I have a very unique learner in my mix and struggle daily to help him along.



  • Catherine

    Catherine on Dec. 7, 2013, 2:10 p.m.

    Love this series!

    Our own homeschool journey has slowly evolved from 'school at home' in the beginning (which made everyone crazy, especially Mom!) to a self-directed, interest-led learning style that works for us.

    My daughters are all very different, the oldest just shy of 16, spends hours upon hours singing and practicing guitar and piano; all of which are largely learned on her own, from books, with tips from mentors, and through watching youtube videos.  She has a gift, but she also has disciplined herself to hours of 'drudgery' when need be. And many are blessed by the work she does.  

    Her younger sister is into art and writing and spends her hours upon hours drawing and creating dragons and other fantastical creatures from clay, or writing books on the laptop (who could dream of a better 'Language Arts' program than this?).

     The youngest, just 11, is still experimenting with many things- drawing, sewing, sculpting, learning about birds, and studying herbs and herbal medicine because of a book series she loves. She is also the most 'academically minded' of them all at the moment, and grabs the math book even on non 'school' days and does lessons 'just because'.  

    That's how interest-led, self-directed learning has worked thus far in our household.  And I am so glad for voices like yours which encourage and inspire others to at least consider that there may be a better way to learn.  

    Thank you :) ,



  • Shelly

    Shelly on Dec. 7, 2013, 2:34 p.m.

    Just a quick question about self-discipline: what can be done if a child wants to do nothing but play on his tablet all day? I've got this issue with my son. I've tried getting him books that he'd like at the library and art supplies (he's a very gifted artist), but for the past couple of months, he hasn't wanted to do anything but play on his tablet. He did get some origami books the other day, and he made several things, but that was short-lived and he's back on his tablet again! My girls are so good at keeping themselves busy with cooking, reading, writing stories, and playing ”school”, but sometimes I really worry about where he's taking things.


    • renee

      renee on Dec. 7, 2013, 5:43 p.m.

      Shelly, I don't know how old your son is and I have no experience with significant device use before age 10, but here's what we do for tablets and technology in our home.

      Our kids have nearly unlimited access to non-consumptive technology in support of their goals and education. What do I mean by consumptive? Is this activity consuming media only or is it a part of a creative process, educational pursuit, or project? See this post by Damien for more on that. 

      Research, reading, writing, designing, etc. All these things are done on devices in our home. We don't limit that type of activity. There are always natural limits to this activity though (whether it's reading a book or tablet, if they are books it's the same thing in my mind). Meals, family chores, outdoor activity. You couldn't be on a tablet all day in our house, even if you wanted. There are natural breaks related mostly to our health and wellbeing - cooking & eating, exercise, etc. 

      As for consumptive media on devices - which includes gaming, watching mindless youtube cat videos, etc. that is limited by us. Our kids "bank" that time with outdoor time. One hour of outdoors= one hour of gaming, for example. Starting fresh each day. But even when they've been outdoors they don't always use all that time for gaming, it just depends on what else is going on?

      Is there enough else going on in your home for your son? Boys especially often need lots of phyical engagement and are less content to be self-productive with activities girls often gravitate to. I say this from personal experience and coaching observations, generalizations here I realize but still something to htink about. 

      We don't limit our kids connecting with others online either (except in that we watch and limit where they are doing this). We don't tell Celine, "only 2 hours with friends today". The time limits itself based on what else is happening. Her day is very full of activity, much of her own choosing and some "family life" stuff, and she squeezes in time with friends wherever she can. B&L don't use their devices for connecting with people too much, though Laurent likes Instagram

      A couple last thoughts, our kids will binge on certain activities that we aren't so keen on from time to time. Depending on the activity we often let it slide and with enough other exciting activities in and out of the home it will auto-correct. They get bored with it.

      If, however we see habits and traits developing that concern us and that are potentially addictive (this applies to food as well) we establish limits for our kids. Until they are able to self-regulate we help them regulate. But we don't go around setting a bunch of limits from the get go, things are evolving and changing in family life and we adjust as we go. 

      I'll end by saying if you are worried by all means establish limits. Limits are good, they are the boundaries within which we experience freedom. 


      • Shelly

        Shelly on Dec. 8, 2013, 11:47 p.m.

        Thank you so much! I think the ”banking” idea is great! I might give him the choice between playing outside and doing anything that doesn't involve electronics. (He's 13, and the most educational thing he plays on his tablet is Minecraft.) I'll have him start ”earning time” tomorrow.


        • renee

          renee on Dec. 16, 2013, 4:53 p.m.

          Shelly, I hope you don't mind me adding more to the conversation here but I'm going to give you something else to think about (smile) with regards to your son's Minecraft interest.

          When you told me how old your son was it made me think you might want to consider another approach besides labeling his interest as not-inline-with-your-educational-goals for him (and therefore something to be limited) and turn the whole thing in a different direction.

          Your son is getting to the age where we (I say we, as in our family) expect our children to direct considerable portions of their education. If you have similar goals you might find our experience helpful, which I share below. Your son may be nearing the transition age, if not there already, to deeper study. Maybe you can go there with this Minecraft interest?

          If he is so keen about this why not make it his schooling?

          Not playing minecraft per se but designing and executing a project around that interest or studies that springboard off that interest. The possibilities for this are endless. Instead of limiting his interest you could challenge, encourage, light a fire under his bum (smile) to take that interest and do something bigger with it than just "consume" a game.

          Last January, after asking Celine what she thought about her curriculum (that I had so carefully constructed the previous fall), what we could improve upon etc. She told us she was interested in one main thing - role playing games. Not exactly a school subject... instead of limiting this interest, which at first I didn't see much value in, we turned it on its head and we told her that if that was her interest it could become her schooling, in the form of a project. She was welcome to take a non-project approach also but a project gave her interest a framework we could work with. I was inspired along the lines of Project-Based Homeschooling by Lori Pickert.

          From January till the end of summer Celine's role playing game project was her homeschooling.

          Celine's role playing project was undertaken by Celine with support from her dad and myself. As parents, we each played different mentoring roles according to our own strengths and interests. With Celine, we helped her conceive a project idea (she loved role playing games and wanted to do something with that but wasn't sure where to go with it, so we talked about a lot of ideas with her).

          The project was to create her own rpg. If you are unfamiliar with rpg's I'll just say there are so many things involved with an rpg so the possibilities were endless, and it was all up to Celine.

          For six months Celine worked on the project which involved creating graphics (learning a new graphics program GIMP), choosing and researching a time period for her game (feudal Japan), devising game mechanics and much more.

          A huge part of the project was simply learning to work with mentors (us), participate in report progress (this is a very important skill for self-directed learners to learn, especially kids who haven't been tested - how can you show me what you've accomplished, studied, learned? What do you know?), and break a large idea down into bite sized pieces.

          The goal of the project was to create something, a game. The educational goals were much bigger than that though.

          As much as Celine loves gaming and role playing games, at the end of her summer break she wanted to do something different and then choose more "scholarly" studies inspired by her project research.

          Now, most of her school time is spent studying Japanese (the language). Also in the process of working on her project Celine re-discovered hand drawing (not just computer graphics) and now spends a lot of time doing that also.

          The project is on hold but it was a launching pad for other learning. This is totally fine. The project was always hers to begin with and if she wants to take her learning in another direction she is free and encouraged to do that. Our "requirement" as parents is that "something" is happening - a project is being worked on, a subject (or two, or three,... ) is being studied. The object of these affections is her choosing.

          Our children learn to own their learning, to take ideas and run with them, by being given the chance to do that and being mentored in that direction.

          I will say, this was not necessarily an easy transition for me. And the project, even though it was chosen by Celine, was not all hunky-dorey easy. Some of the biggest things we learned (doing this together as a team - Celine's interests leading and her father and I supporting) was how to actually do this. And that is valuable learning in and of itself.

          I say this part just to encourage you that if you decide to try something similar - let your son take his minecraft interest and design a course of studies around it or create a project with it - it could be bumpy simply because you're all learning new skills of communication, project management, time management, etc.

          But it's oh so worth it. The growth from Celine's "project term" has been tremendous.

          Can you take a "consuming" activity interest like playing a video game and turn it into a creative activity? Validating your son's interest in this game and steering it a direction where more learning and development are going on (I realize minecraft has some educational qualities "built in").

          An interest or even on obsession, in and of itself is not bad, (unless of course it's pathological or destructive, but that's not what we're talking about here). It's what we do with that interest, that knowledge or skill. Are we creating value in the world or just consuming something?

          These are great conversations to have with your kids. They get it. Inspire them to be the "creators" of the world. And this will involve playing and mimicking even the work of others, in the beginning. Creating something is always is more work that just consuming but it's also infinitely more rewarding. Help your kids do the hard work it takes to experience those rewards. Work with them. Brainstorm together. Think outside the box of "this is a good interest, this is a bad interest".


          • Shelly

            Shelly on Dec. 16, 2013, 5:59 p.m.

            Renee, you are a genius! After reading your comment I decided to google minecraft homeschool, and lo and behold, there is a minecraft homeschool class (4 total) that would take 20 weeks combined. The advanced class is advertised as being sufficient to replace other curriculum, and they are graded on their progress ( I personally don't grade anything other than his math tests right now, but the state will like it.) Another great feature is that it's very inexpensive (we have eleven kids), and you pay for it monthly since each class is a month long, so if he wouldn't want to continue, there's no long term commitment. Not all of the assignments are online either, so there's some variation. I'm definitely going to try it. I just called him (he's at his grandma's), and he's so excited. I'm also the same person who was telling you how our daughters are alike, and I just want to say thank you for the post about your daughter's rpg curriculum. I'd been at a loss with what to do with my daughter for next year (10 th grade) because she's completely uninspired by her mainly textbook- driven (her choice) curriculum this year. After reading your post, I asked her what she's interested in, and she jokingly said Sherlock Holmes. I told her if she wants, we could try to come up with a Sherlock Holmes curriculum for next year. What a springboard that was! She has a lot of high school requirements to meet, and I think we can cover them all (except math). This is what we've come up with (I'm breaking it down as the state will: Literature- reading the Sherlock books will fulfill the classics requirement, Writing- so many possibilities; a high school requirement is to write a ten page composition- possibly a Sherlock type short story? Grammar will be covered in the editing and revising, Social Studies- find an appropriate approach to studying (preferably not textbooks) psychology and sociology, even the Sherlock books will offer a glimpse into this era in England,Science- use living books to study kinesics (the science of body language) - we're also using Teaching Astronomy through Art, which is unrelated but is an interest of hers, and she will do some sort of logic study. There's not too many options here for a related hands-on project, but that's fine. She's very resourceful. Anyway, sorry for the long comment, but we never would have come up with this without you!


            • renee

              renee on Dec. 16, 2013, 6:16 p.m.

              Shelly! YEEHAW! I am doing the happy homeschooler dance right now. Not because you think I'm genius, though hey, I'm flattered. But because you've got some seriously creative out-the-box homeschool ideas flying around your home right now. Ideas that are inspiring to your kids! That take what they love and what they are interested in and help them build an education around that! That is my passion!!! I'm so psyched for the possibilites for your home and for your kids. Thanks for your feedback to my comments. It makes it worthwhile for me since I spend a lot of time writing for the purpose of supporting and encouraging other homeschoolers. Yippee! I'm very excited about all the potential in these projects for your kids and you (smile).


      • angie

        angie on Dec. 10, 2013, 1:53 p.m.


        Can you recommend any design programs/software (so un-techie, don't even know the right terms!).  My boys are 11 and 8 and love all things drawing, building, designing and express that often on paper and with legos and keva planks...would love to provide something on the computer (which they also love, but mainly just want minecraft) that supports/expands those endeavors.


        Can't easily express how much I appreciate your wisdom, well-thought-out posts and encouragement.  You are helping me so much.  Thanks!



        • christyb

          christyb on Dec. 13, 2013, 4:11 a.m.

          Angie - I'm not much of a techie, but I had to jump in.  My girls (12 and 8) love the program Scratch.  It's a free programming "environment" out of MIT, and it's quite intuitive.  You can buy books on things to do in it, but there's lots of free resources, too.  It's a real programming language where kids can do things as simple as make an image move, all the way up to programming their own games (and more, I'm sure).  -- christy


        • renee

          renee on Dec. 16, 2013, 5:04 p.m.

          Angie, I wish I could but my knowledge is really limited there. Damien manages that part of our kid's education and he uses pretty techy stuff or designs projects himself for the kids based on their needs and interests. He's my techie ace-in-the-hole. 

          I do know that this is an exploding area of education -teaching kids to create not just consume with technology. Khan Academy has an easy introduction to a coding tutorial and activity I hope to do with my younger two. 

          Christyb's suggestion looks great. If I were you, I'd google it "computer programming for kids" or computer programming for homeschoolers" or computer design, etc... I'd e-mail my homeschool support group (I belong to an e-mail list). Check CurrClick to see if they have any course materials. 

          I love where you're going with this. I think you'll want to read this comment to give you an idea of how we can support our kids' interests. 


  • Wendy

    Wendy on Dec. 7, 2013, 3:01 p.m.

    So much great content, Renee! Echoing others above, thank you for all of your time and effort in putting this series together. I've been thinking about it all week; I'm looking forward to reading it several more times to really internalize it. 

    I can't really seem to verbalize all of my questions yet, but one that keeps flitting around the periphery of my thoughts is in regards to my just turned five year old--he taught himself to read over a year ago, which perhaps makes me unintentionally think of him as older and more "mature" than he actually is. I am struggling with him always wanting to be "entertained" (perhaps just my perception of it) or wanting my assistance every moment of the day. I'm wanting him to PLAY, and he does--just not much as I think he should I guess. And, in reality, I'm just looking for some time to feed my creativity and it's not happening as much or as often as I would like. (I'm going back to read your posts on some of this soon).

    I guess the question that kept flitting through my mind this week was "what did this age look like for Renee's kids, and how would she have handled it?"

    I so want to see my kids learning in the way Celine is in a few years--maybe I'm expecting to much independence at this point?



    • renee

      renee on Dec. 9, 2013, 1:22 a.m.

      Celine at age 5 was fairly independent because that is her personality. Not like my hands were free though, I was busy with her younger brother (3) and sister (1). Celine is a quiet introvert. My other two are not that way at all! So I really think this all depends on your child, birth order, personalities etc. 

      If you really need a child-free time each day for creativity, rest, reading etc (you are in good company if you do, I needed a break each day from the kids) institute a daily quiet time. If this is new in your home it will take some training and teaching. My friend Jamie Martin has written a lot about this at her blog Steady Mom. I am in totaly agreement with a daily quiet time for young child. I think 5 is young (smile). even when my kids didn't need a rest, I needed a break from them!

      Outside of this time though, depending on your child, they may want to spend a lot of time with you. This doesn't mean you need to play with them all the time though. I wasn't a big "play" mom. I crafted with my kids, I did nature walks and outdoor activities, played games (counted as school!), etc. but didn't do barbie play, doll play etc. Just not my thing. 

      Kids, of all ages, go through spells of "entertain me". And how you handle it really depends on the situation, your child, etc. Often this happens in our home during a lull in their interests.

      You asked me how I would handle it, well, my concise answer is this, each of my kids was different. The oldest is a quiet introvert, the youngest - my most social and interactive - had 2 older siblings to play with. I did stuff with my kids everyday. Stuff that was "play-like" I guess - outdoors, reading together, crafting, but I certainly didn't spend all day doing it! 

      Attached homeschooled children take time to develop independence (I would say they are slower to mature, if you call it maturing, in this regard) and when they do you will both shout for joy at the freedom and mourn a bit at how little they need you (smile).

      Give it time but also find the right fit for your child's needs and yours. It will always be a give and take, for both parties. 


  • JenP

    JenP on Dec. 7, 2013, 4:43 p.m.

    Thank you! Once again, you give me a reassuring glimpse into the future. My oldest is 8 and spends much of his days playing Lego's, folding paper airplanes, reading about dinosaurs, etc. It's fairly easy for me to see the value in these things, as like Sarah said above, I've done a lot of reading about the nature of how kids learn. But my husband and mom have not read the same things I've read, and are more likely to question how much they're learning. I struggle with how to respond. I'd like to say "read these books and then we'll talk" :) Obviously with my husband, his input matters a great deal to me, and we spend a lot of time talking about these things, but he still has a more academic point of view. Anyway, I do appreciate this discussion, always lots of food for thought here at FIMBY! 


  • JenP

    JenP on Dec. 7, 2013, 4:49 p.m.

    Oh, and I also wanted to say that I needed the reminder to model self-discipline, perhaps more than usual this week. And I'm brainstorming ideas for a family project, handmade Christmas gifts are a given right now, but a good project after the holidays might be just what we need to get through the rest of winter. 


  • Liz

    Liz on Dec. 8, 2013, 1:44 p.m.

    I have to echo the comments of others - thank you for taking the time to channel your thoughts into words. This is where we are at right now in our homeschooling. With two boys (8 and 4), we did the "school at home" thing for some time (and the eldest even chose formal school for a bit because of it).  But, in the last few months, I have read everything about interest-led learning and my husband and I are so excited to begin this path with our children. But, it's scary (especially with regards to "college" and all that seems to represent) and we have had to do a lot of "unlearning."

    I am truly grateful to the book, Project-Based Learning, and to the specifics you have outlined in your many blog posts, especially the idea that interest-led and gentle discipline are not exclusive. I also love that interest-led does not mean unschooling. My husband and I can provide lessons as long as we keep the goal of self-directed learning in mind.  These thoughts have eased this worried mother's soul and it is so helpful to have a starting point from which to adjust for the needs of my family. But, I do have a question...

    With books that you want your children to listen to, is there a particular time you implement this? (My thoughts are during/after lunch). And, what happens if a child is not intersted? Do you require they stay in the room, but do not "need" to listen? They can be working quietly on an activity as long as the story can still be heard? Any advice?


    • Lori

      Lori on Dec. 8, 2013, 9:03 p.m.

      Liz, I know you're looking for Renee's answer, but I can't help but chime in.  I think it is absolutely fine for kids to be working on something else when I am reading.  I do my read aloud time in the evenings.  I require them to be in the same room as me, and they have to work on something they don't need to concentrate intently on (such as reading).  Some things they have brought to the family room are sketch books, chess and sewing.  I would also approve of Legos, but not something that requires conversation, such as a card game.  

      My dad has picked up on our evening reading time and offered to do the reading one night a week.  I love having a chance to do my own hand sewing during this time!  Funny though, he got annoyed when my son went to get a new pencil from across the room while he was reading.  I think I'll have to explain that we are not replicating a classroom, and that people can still listen when moving, within reason, and that we mean no disrespect!  


      • Liz

        Liz on Dec. 10, 2013, 1:22 a.m.

        Thanks for the input. Our family LOVES Legos, so I think that may be a good way for my younger son to stay focused and get used to the idea of listening aloud to a book without pictures.


    • renee

      renee on Dec. 9, 2013, 1:03 a.m.

      I have the same thinking as Lori. 

      One of my kids (ok, the boy!) finds it almost impossible to simply sit still and listen to a story, unless it's right before bed. Through the years they have drawn, sew, knit, played leog, etc while I read to them. I ask them not to do noisy activities and when they were little when things got rowdy it was my sign to stop (smile). When they were little and we were reading picture books they didn't do this so much since they were engaged with the pictures. Even now though they like snuggling up real close when I read to them (smile).

      With these "active body" parameters, I've never had, that I can recall, problems with kids not wanting to listen to stories. If a book is really not their thing, I don't continue (and if it's part of my curiculum planning, I just find something else that works instead). We've read through an amazing variety of more dense and light hearted books and they have been engaged with nearly all of them (that I recall), though some to a greater degree than others. 

      I think the timing is really up to you. We've done our read alouds at various points through the years. When they were really little we read in the mornings (because I was pretty bagged in thh afternoons). Early elementary, right after lunch and now I read to them (just Laurent and Brienne now) in the evenings. This is part of our school time. Our school time happens throughout the day. 

      As for your ideas of lessons, you're exactly right. Self-directing learning is the goal but that doesn't mean you can't engage your kids in lessons, that are directed by you. There are many ways to engage your kids in parent-directed activities and I cover many of those in my homeschool methods post. 

      PS. I hope after Christmas to dive deep into the college discussion. If I can just discipline myself like I did with this series, it might happen. 


      • Liz

        Liz on Dec. 10, 2013, 1:35 a.m.

        Thanks for the detailed information with regards to age and reading aloud. It's helpful to have some ideas to try and figure out what works for my family. I am looking forward to reading your thoughts on college. While my husband and I do not think one has to attend college necessarily, we are a bit afraid that we will limit their life choices. But, I guess that might be the drive - if they want to go, they would catch up with what they needed.  And, perhaps this might be a moot point in 10 years when my eldest is college-age, since so many colleges are offering free courses. One could cobble together enough skills and certificates to start their own business and forge their own path. Thanks again for the posts and have a wonderful Christmas!


        • renee

          renee on Dec. 10, 2013, 1:40 a.m.

          Liz. so pretty much you said all I have to say about college. (I'll just say it in about 2,000 words!)

          "if they want to go, they would catch up with what they needed.  And, perhaps this might be a moot point in 10 years when my eldest is college-age, since so many colleges are offering free courses. One could cobble together enough skills and certificates to start their own business and forge their own path." Exactly.


  • Sydney

    Sydney on Dec. 9, 2013, 2:52 p.m.

    You're doing a great service to homeschoolers!

    I am sure that as a remotely-located-in-a-country-where-you-don't-speak-the-language homeschooler you must have run into the problem my question is about to pose:  What do you do when you've exceeded local resources?  For instance, my eldest is really into robotics.  At 10, with a local team, she attended and won a Lego First League competition.  She has owned all the Lego robotics-related products and has pretty much run the gamut as far as that goes.  Thing is, there seems to be a huge gap between Lego First League and university-level robotics teams.  Nothing.  At least where I live. Same goes with her Japanese learning.  She's done the online classes and the next step up around here would be a private tutor -- or an exchange program, except that she's only 13 -- but we can't afford it.  So when a child has run out of options when it comes to a certain interest, what to do?  Have you ever experienced this?  A lack of funds to continue to the next level?  A lack of resources?

    Also, what about children whose interests are constantly changing -- or, rather, being added to the list?  Do you think this could be a symptom of a deeper issue?  My eldest's interests are wide-ranging, amazing and...rapidly changing (or, like I said, rapidly multiplying).  There is "I feel happier when I'm learning something new" (said that last night while learning about population growth and doing her physics lessons) but there also seems to be too much at once perhaps?  I mentioned in my other comment some of her recent discussions but that list also includes, in just the past few days, a request to learn more about US History (she knows nothing), a desire to learn more robotics (as above) and electronics, a request at lunchtime today to learn Russian History and a desire to visit a gaming exhibition to learn more about all the different consoles and their systems.  As you see, all these cannot be put down on a schedule for the next few weeks.  These require time, energy, funds.  What role can self-discipline play in actually settling on a couple of topics per semester, for example?  You don't need to answer now.  Perhaps these are questions you can work into future posts?


  • christyb

    christyb on Dec. 13, 2013, 4:25 a.m.

    I will need to come back and read this post again (and again), Thank You so much.  Your words here are exactly what I'm struggling with the past few days... extreme feelings of fear and panic that she's not doing enough, I'm not doing enough and no one's ever going to get anywhere.  This 11 - 12 age thing is really tough, having words from someone with older kids is so genuinely helpful.  I guess if I think about it, I feel like it's not her searching for who she wants to be and where she wants to focus (will she ever find something she's passionate about?!) that is the problem, but it's me, trying to figure out what I'm supposed to do while she's doing that.  (It doesn't help to have a late-evening discussion with MIL, who's generally supportive of our ideas, with her aghast that our 6th grader has never written a report and I don't plan to "make" her do so in the near future.  Things went downhill from there.)  Thank you so much for your support, even when you don't know you're doing it for some of us.


    • renee

      renee on Dec. 13, 2013, 1:52 p.m.


      another thought for you. When I get panicky about "will it all come together" it's usually because of a key issue or root problem with something. It will manifest itself as "nothings working like it's supposed to!" but in reality it's usually a sore spot of mine (exactly as you say) and not as widespread as I think it is. So in those situations I like to try to isolate what really bothering me and deal with it. And if it's an area of the kids' education that I feel is lacking than I try to address that as well, but only one thing at a time vs. "nothings happening as it should, get out the workbooks, assign the reports, we're doing school 5 days a week, now hop to it" kind of thing.

      My response in a panic can be to freak out and try to make sweeping changes when all that's really needed is tweaks to discrete areas. 

      Also, as you know, 11 year olds will not always know or be inspired about what to do with their time and interests. We go through spells in our home like that often. High interest & motivation and then lulls. In the lulls I might do more parent-led activities and lessons until something strikes the kids and then their off again. Or, we might let the lull just ride itself out, and all live with the discomfort for a while until the child self-directs (often with some help from us) into a new project or phase. 

      Your daughter may be in an early transition to scholar phase or it could be a long transition and transitions are hard. (Oh and just because she switches to scholar does not mean she's going to start writing reports either. tee, hee!)

      If you haven't read Leadership Education I highly recommend it. I read and re-read Transition to Scholar (and will probably re-read it again) to help me through that bumpy time. 

      Just a few random thoughts this morning....


      • christyb

        christyb on Dec. 13, 2013, 4:04 p.m.

        Thank you so much, Renee.  Lots to think about.  Tweaking is a perfect suggestion, I think that will be step one, along with more exploring on my own part. -cb


  • Lori

    Lori on Dec. 22, 2014, 12:50 a.m.

    i absolutely loved this series and agree with it wholeheartedly! I do have a question,though. Do you require your kids to do math and writing? I know my girls never had issues with this, but my boys would rather do anything other than write or learn written math. I feel these are definite skills needed throughout life,and I don't know if I could ever trust them to get to the point of wanting to learn these!


    • renee

      renee on Dec. 22, 2014, 1:14 p.m.

      Yes, I absolutely do require writing, math (and reading). How I teach those, how the kids learn those, the materials we use, etc. change through the seasons but for math we mostly we use straight up math lessons of some kind - mathusee, teaching textbooks, now my kids use Khan. And for writing I follow, loosely, the Bravewriter methods. 

      You can find more specifics on my Curriculum & Methods page, also Math and Writing.


  • Jennifer Gauntt

    Jennifer Gauntt on April 17, 2018, 12:51 a.m.

    HI! I stumbled on this post from a Google search. My son is struggling with reading and both my boys struggle with being disciplined to do their homeschooling. Thank You for writing this, it was inspirational. I wanted to know more information if you wouldn't mind sharing- on HOW you developed and encouraged each child's strengths/ interests into where it became part of your lifestyle such as the programming and artistic endeavors, or language learning etc. My boys are young but I find I don't know how to ENCOURAGE them in learning what they would like to know and pursuing that further. Any help you can give or perhaps a link to a post you have already written on this subject would be so greatly appreciated, and if not I understand.- Thank you!


    • Renee

      Renee on April 21, 2018, 2:17 p.m.

      Hi Jennifer,

      Welcome to my blog. I'm glad you stumbled over here. This is a long reply, it's in 2 comments.

      My son also struggled with learning to read. I've talked about that in a few posts on my blog over the years (which might be the posts that brought you here):

      That struggle to read can affect motivation and self-discipline for sure, so self-discipline is kind of like a ball of tangled yarn that you sometimes have to unravel slowly and patiently to understand. :)

      Exactly HOW I developed and encouraged each of my kids' in their individual strengths and interests to grow those into significant learning endeavours and projects through the years has been the work of my homeschooling career. Which is another way to say it's hard to summarize easily. I've been wanting to write a course/e-book/guide to this type of education for years. Maybe someday (she says fingers crossed).

      Here's a super brief summary of HOW it's worked in our home.

      How to kickstart & sustain a self-directed homeschool environment:

      • Reframe your thinking and expectations. Be open to all sorts of learning opportunities. Think outside-the-box. Learning is everywhere.
      • Define the goals for your homeschool journey and how you want your homeschool days to feel.
      • Study your kids. Know them really well. What makes them tick? What do they love? What do they struggle with? What are their personality types? etc.
      • Know yourself. What do you love? What motivates you? How do you operate best? How can you bring that to homeschooling?
      • Design a life/homeschool routine/schedule to make your goals possible and that accounts for who you and your kids are. Whatever you do, however you want to live and raise kids, it's going to be lived out in the day-to-day actions. Make a life that allows for that. For example, self-directed learners need time to explore stuff, and they may also need significant parental help from time to time "finding themselves".
      • Be an investigator, detective, questioner, seeker and advocate for your children. Opportunities are all around us, they are inherent in our human design. Tap into all that to see the potential for self-directed learning and how specifically you'd encourage your child. Every child is different and will need different assistance with discovery, motivation, overcoming roadblocks, etc. You are uniquely qualified as a parent to do this because of your love for your child, and your intimate knowledge of this person.
      • Find support for the path. A group of like-minded families, maybe your spouse/partner, online communities etc.

      All of this is a journey, it's not a one-step thing, an overnight process.


    • Renee

      Renee on April 21, 2018, 2:21 p.m.

      Part Two:

      This doesn't answer all the "what do you do when..., how do you handle, etc.." questions. But I have found that understanding my own expectations and knowing my children well, and acting like an investigative journalist (to get to the bottom of issues) and then being a resource person and facilitator (in supporting their education) has helped us answer all the "what about..." questions that pop up over the seasons and years.

      You can find all my homeschool-related posts through my Homeschool Help page. If you scroll down to Homeschool Help Divided by Topic I think you'll find Philosophy and Curriculum & Methods most helpful for your question.

      Last year I gave a presentation on Project Based Learning which addressed similar issues - how to encourage children in learning what they would like to know and pursuing that further - within the context of project (which is a fabulous method for developing self discipline). You can find all of that here, including the video and a 9 page outline.

      I think that presentation and notes could be really helpful since it lays out a lot of the "how".

      If you'd like more specific and direct help I also offer one-on-one homeschool coaching.


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