5 lessons homeschooling has taught me about exercise

A couple of weeks ago, I started exercising again. I hate even typing that sentence because it means that, even after getting into relatively good shape and running a 10k for the first time, it should be clear that I must have quit exercising if I had to “start up” again. And while I didn’t really “quit”—-I had a lingering, mystery virus that derailed me—-it sure felt like I was starting from the bottom when I finally laced up my running shoes again and hit the road.


Another time I had “started running” (again).


I’ve lived this pattern most of my adult life: 1. Get motivated. 2. Exercise like crazy (and tell everyone I know all about it until they are ready to scream or unfriend me). 3. Get hurt/sick/busy enough to get derailed for  a week/month/year. 4. Feel bad about myself until I circle around to #1 again.

But one thing that hit me as I was again circling around to  #1 in my “Stages of Fitness”, was how much my experience homeschooling has helped me deal with these relatively small setbacks. Yes, this teacher has been schooled.  Keep reading if you want to know what lessons I’ve learned to take to heart.

1. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

This is an often-shared piece of advice in homeschooling circles. It helps those of us who start panicking over the progress (or lack thereof) our kids are making in any given subject by reminding us to step back and look at the big picture. I daresay that most homeschooling parents would say that they are more interested in raising curious, intelligent, and literate children, and not just trying to have kids who are on lesson 45 of their grammar book by February 1st.

I love how this advice applies to fitness and exercise. My ultimate goal is to live a long, healthy, active life, not just fit into my “skinny jeans” or even finish another 10k, right? In the grand scheme of things, getting derailed from any exercise program for a bit of time isn’t the end of the world–just pick up and keep on going. This long-term goal keeps me from acting like a missed workout is the end of the world.


Another goal? Being fit enough to swim away from sand sharks.

2. Get the hard stuff done early.

I’ve learned that if we don’t do our hardest subject (math) first thing in the morning, it looms over our heads like a gloomy (math) cloud. And then, by the time we get to tackling it (math), we’re all tired, cranky, and that one subject (math) take about five times longer than it should.

For me, at least, the same can be said for running. It is much, MUCH better for me to get up and run out the front door before I do anything else (OK, sometimes I do need a sip of coffee first).


Getting out early also means running by this before the tourists are out.

The same goes for my 30-Day Shred days: I’d pop on that Jillian Michaels’ video before the kids were even out of bed, get it done in under a half hour, and then collapse in front of my laptop feeling a wee bit smug that I was “done” for the day.

3. Pick a curriculum that works (for you).

I will never reveal how much curriculum I’ve purchased because someone else raved about it, only to then resell the barely touched books because it just isn’t right for us. It’s just too embarrassing and makes me look a bit gullible and indecisive. But, when a friend tells me about a great curriculum they are using for spelling (a subject we’ve been pathetic at covering), it’s easy for me to overlook the fussy manipulatives, the multi-step daily instructions, and the steep learning curve in an effort to just “get something that works”. But it doesn’t work if it just sits on the bookshelf, does it?

I was reminded that I need to be wary of “hot trends” in exercise too, especially when all the warning bells should be ringing: This Isn’t Right For Me (e.g.,  Zumba). I just stopped myself from purchasing P90X (but look how pretty their bodies look!) when I realized that I’d never, ever push myself that hard for a six-pack. Never.

4. Grades are just one measure of success.

We don’t “do” formal grading, though I obviously check the kids work and, when pressed by them, will give them a letter grade. But, even if they were in school, I’m sure I’d be telling them that it isn’t only about the grade. It’s about effort, and enthusiasm, and retention.

I don’t get graded for running (thank goodness!) or situps (ditto!), though I’d say that any time I step on that cursed scale, I feel like I’m giving myself a grade. I lost 3 pounds? A+!!! Gained 5? FAIL!

I’d never let my kids feel like their intelligence is all about a letter grade. And I’m not going to let my fitness progress be defined by a number on a scale, or the size jeans I’m wearing, or even how many sit ups I can do.

5.  If everyone is crying, I’m doing something wrong.

I admit to posting Facebook updates that read something like, “If one more kid cries over their math workbook, I’m going to call the public school in the morning!” Teaching my own kids subjects like history, science, and math can be, simply, Not Fun At All.

BUT, I don’t homeschool to have sullen, miserable kids around me all day long. I want to have fun with them.  I want to see them light up when they learn something new, or we do a fun experiment or project. I want to give them breaks to play, pet the dog, or just run around the house.

That’s why I run/walk. For me, running nonstop is torture on my asthmatic lungs and my knobby knees. But running with walk breaks is just more fun for me. It gives me time to catch my breath and look around outside. It allows me to run longer and farther which feels like a victory to me. It keeps me from crying, sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively.


See? Smiling, because I know I’ll be walking in 3 minutes.


And it also gets me to a certain level of fitness that allows me to then go for a long bike ride with the family in Acadia National Park, or scooter down the street with my son, or even kick my girls’ butts in a Just Dance dance-off in our family room.

No pain, no gain? Yeah, I’m with this to some degree. But if that also means “no fun”, I won’t be sticking with it for long.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to start homeschooling this morning. Maybe that’s another lesson I’ve learned that I can apply to exercise: Step away from the computer if you really want to get stuff done.

ScreenShot2012-09-27at74056AM I’ve partnered with Harvard Pilgrim on this sponsored post (and others to come!), though the thoughts, opinions, and advice expressed are my very own. Want to find even more ways to be well? Check out HarvardPilgrim.org/CountUsIn. 

Year 7 Homeschooling: Feeling more confident, yet less sure

It’s hard to believe that I’ve begun my seventh year homeschooling—I should be an expert by now, right?!

And, in some ways, I am. I know what type of schedule works best for us. I know that we’re good for a few hours and then—wham!—the wall has been hit. I know that I shouldn’t freak out when one child wanders off to play while I’m working with another, nor should I try to keep three kids sitting at a table for hours in front of workbooks: This just doesn’t work for us.

And, I even feel like I have picked out great curriculum choices for each child that is best-suited for the way they learn. In fact, our first week has been notable in that there were no tears, no huge dramatic scenes of “I can’t do this!“, no threats (from me) to “Do it or else!” as I scramble to think what that “else” could be.

So, yeah, great first week, right?

So why am I’m having a hard time feeling like, “This is it! We’ve found our groove!

Maybe it’s because Belly will tell anyone who asks, “Yes, I’m definitely going to high school” (in just, gah, three short years!)

Maybe it’s because a couple of friends have opted to send their kids to school, which always shakes me up.

Maybe it’s because I worry that we’ll never quite fit into this predominantly conservative Christian community, especially as the kids get older and topics get brought up in conversation. I hope my kids don’t lose friends because they don’t share the same beliefs as so many.

And maybe it’s because the first few days of public school—the photos of kids at the bus stop, the cute stories about sweet teachers, the early days of little homework but lots of friends—make me kind of wistful for my days in school.

Let’s face it: It’s hard to swim upstream when everyone else is swimming down. And though there are definitely some shiny moments that make it clear why we’re doing this, I sometimes feel like, at some point–like it or not–the current may be too much, and I’ll find us swimming with everyone else.

But, until then, if you ask, I’ll say, “Yes, things are going great this year.” And I will mean it.

Is there bullying in homeschooling?

I read an interesting article last night called An Unschooled View on Bullying by writer Kate Fridkis. I almost didn’t read it because of the word “unschooled” in the title since I wouldn’t consider us unschoolers, but I was intrigued by the topic of bullying since it’s been on my mind lately.

Is there bullying in homeschooling? And I’m not talking about teasing, which the author readily admits she did. But, as she states, “We were far from perfect. But we were far from cruel. The very overweight girl wasn’t teased for her size. What kind of person would do that?” 

In the six years we’ve been homeschooling, we’ve made a wide range of friends and acquaintances. Sometimes, my kids love the kids they meet, sometimes they would rather not see them again. When we meet a child whose behavior bothers them, we talk about it. This isn’t to say that feelings don’t get hurt: Oh, yes they do. Friendships end and people feel left out of groups—but I wouldn’t call any of this behavior  “cruel” and I certainly wouldn’t call it bullying.

In our large coop, sometimes the girls form loose little groups that hang around together at lunchtime. I remember my oldest telling me that she prefers to play with the group of 10-12 year olds that likes to run around and play, but there is another group of girls that likes to sit and talk about clothes. That made me laugh since I know she is right on the cusp of moving from one group to the next.

Oh, and there is no question she’ll be able to move from one group to the next when she’s ready. These are not “cliques” as I remember them with their “you can’t sit here/play with us/talk to us” rules.

In the six years we’ve been homeschooling, I’ve never seen bullying in any of our circles.

My oldest daughter begins sixth grade in September—middle school. While talking to a good friend who happens to have a daughter the same age as mine, he said, “Be glad she isn’t going to middle school. If you can keep her out of any grades, keep her out of the middle school.” I know all too well what he means. Middle school, though I was never outright “bullied”, was not a good place for me. It was a much worse place for many others who were teased, picked on, and shunned.

But why don’t homeschooled kids bully? Or do they?

Contrary to what many news articles will try to make you believe, these are all normal kids. They love electronics, they play sports or dance or do gymnastics, they hate to clean their room. Most of them give us a hard time over doing schoolwork. They have friends who go to school and friends who don’t. They attend sleepovers, go to summer camp, get asked to parties, and ask for an iPod Touch (already? sigh).

They are not always under the watchful eye of their parents. Yes, most homeschoolers let their kids out of their sight. And many of these kids have access to email and can chat with each other out of earshot of any grownup.

What makes it different? And what lessons can parents of kids in school learn from this?

I’m not suggesting that everyone quit school and homeschool. It’s definitely not the lifestyle for everyone, nor is it even feasible for most families. And I’m certainly not suggesting that my fellow homeschooling parents have some advanced parenting skills or that we are somehow “doing it better”. Believe me, we don’t know what we’re doing either.

But what is it that makes a confident and well-liked 11 year old say “SURE!” without hesitation or irony to a sweet 9 year old’s request for a sleepover, and not roll her eyes and wonder why this little person thinks it’s okay to talk to an older kid? What is it that makes the kids of the devout Christian homeschooling family AND the radical unschooling family get along without incident in our coop? What is it that makes it unthinkable that any kids in our coop would tease the little boy with Down Syndrome, or  laughingly mimic the child whose speech is often impossible to understand (who happens to be my own son)?

There is nothing “better” about homeschooled kids. They are regular kids with regular fears, problems, insecurities, and preferences. And yet, bullying is just not an issue. Why?