Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Never Stop Learning

Welcome to the August 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Life Learners
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have talked about how they continue learning throughout life and inspire their children to do the same.


When I was younger, I used to secretly believe that others were judging me for the amount of "formal" education I had completed.

I graduated high school, then I pushed my way through two and a half years of community college. With an associate degree to hang on my wall, I was ready to be done. I was burned out on school. I didn't want to take on gigantic loans in order to complete a four-year degree. I didn't even know what I'd major in if I did keep going. And since I was about to move out of my mama's house and into my own apartment, with my then-boyfriend-now-husband, I knew I would need to devote my time and energy to working and paying the bills.

I was at peace with that decision on a personal level, but since I had so many friends who got a Bachelor's and beyond, and since I worked with so many people who had so much more education than me, I always found myself wondering on some level whether it was really enough. Would people respect me more if I had a higher degree? Would I get paid more? Would it be worth the time, energy, and money to pursue more schooling? Should I go back?

Ultimately, I never did go "back" to school. Well, I'm currently working on a certificate program, but I never went back for a B.A. And I'm not sure that I ever will.

But that doesn't mean I stopped learning.

On the contrary, I think that the most important things I know now are things that I have taught myself in the years since finishing high school and college. (I don't actually remember much of what I learned in school, to be honest... I was always good at writing essays and taking tests, but not at actually retaining information for long-term use.)

Most of the things I pride myself in knowing now are not subjects I set out to learn about. Not formally, anyway. Most of them are, to me, life skills. Things that, as I grew and understood myself better, I realized I needed to know more about in order to become the kind of person I aspired to be. Things that can be taught in a classroom, but that really need to be experienced in real life in order to fully have a handle on.

When I first moved out, I honestly didn't know how to cook. This was despite growing up with a mama who cooked for most of my younger years, despite voluntarily taking a cooking class in high school. Sure, I could bake cookies and pumpkin pie. I could make macaroni and cheese from a box and heat up frozen veggies. I could boil frozen tortellini and dress them with jarred marinara sauce.
But I didn't know how to cook. And I realized that if I wanted to be successful and happy as a vegetarian, I needed to learn how to cook. Real food. And so I did.

My mama is fond of saying that anyone who can read is capable of cooking. And that is so completely true, at least in my experience. I bought cookbooks and found recipes that sounded appealing. I looked up cooking terms on the Internet when I didn't understand them. I got into the kitchen and, by golly, I learned how to cook! Sure, I failed on a number of occasions along the way. I burned things, undercooked things, turned out a few meals that D and I couldn't eat more than a single bite of. But the more I practiced, the better I got. And while I'm certainly no expert chef now, I can cook the kind of food I like and want. And I am relatively confident that I can pick up any new cookbook, any new recipe, and have a good chance of successfully reproducing that meal on my own.

Teaching Bug to knead bread.

For me, that's the way a lot of learning has happened over the years: a willingness to discover new skills + lots of reading and researching on my own time.

When I wanted to learn how to knit, I took a class to help me get the basics down. I followed the class up with lots of practice and a bunch of pattern books. I'm not a particularly talented knitter, but when I have the time (not often, these days), I can follow almost any pattern and produce something workable.

When I decided I wanted to learn how to can things, I bought a book, hit the farmers' market for some produce, and made a few jars of jam. I've burned a batch or two, but I've also become proficient enough that I haven't bought jam from the store for years.

When I wanted to learn more about yoga, I started out with DVDs and books, then eventually graduated to taking live classes. I can practice now at home, on my own, building strength and flexibility on my own schedule, when I need to decompress or just get comfortable in my own skin.

When Bug watches me practice, he usually wants to practice too! Which then encourages me to practice more often!

When I was pregnant, I picked up tons of books to learn how to give birth. After I finally figured out which books were the good ones, I learned the basics but ultimately learned that I'd have to rely on myself, since birth is truly not something you can learn ahead of time (although classes and reading are a great way to prepare yourself!). And when I opened myself to trusting my intuition, I learned that I could, in fact, give birth exactly the way I wanted to. All of my parenting "skills" have been acquired in much the same way: listening to my intuition and reading any and all books that seem to speak to the kind of parent I want to be.

When I wanted to start making Halloween costumes for my son, I went out and bought a sewing machine. I poured over the instruction manual, learned how to read patterns, watched a few videos on YouTube, and eventually turned out a pretty decent costume. Since then, I've made pajama pants for the entire family, and I'm looking forward to some other sewing projects in the future.

These skills have served me so much better than anything I've ever learned in formal school. And I learn more every day, simply by continuing to remain open to new experiences.

This is not to say that there is no value in formal education; there is plenty, and different amounts work for different people. But school is not the only place where learning takes place, and learning doesn't stop once we've got that diploma hanging on the wall. We are so much more than the sum of our degrees and certificates.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting! Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
  • The Financial Advice That Saved My Marriage — Shortly after they got married, Emily at Natural Parents Network and her husband visited a financial planner. Many of the goals and priorities they set back then are now irrelevant, but one has stuck with them through all of the employment changes, out-of-state-moves, and child bearing: allowances.
  • Lifelong Learning — Survivor at Surviving Mexico--Adventures and Disasters writes about how her family's philosophy of life-long learning has aided them.
  • Inspiring Children to be Lifelong Learners — Donna from Eco-Mothering discusses the reasons behind her family's educational choices for their daughter, including a wish list for a lifetime of learning.
  • Always Learning — Kellie at Our Mindful Life loves learning, and lately she's undertaken a special project that her family has been enjoying sharing with her.
  • We're all unschoolers — Lauren at Hobo Mama embraces the joy in learning for its own sake, and wants to pass that along to her sons as she homeschools.
  • My children, my teachers Stoneageparent shares how becoming a parent has opened doors into learning for her and her family, through home education and forest school.
  • Never Stop Learning — Holly at Leaves of Lavender discusses her belief that some of the most important things she knows now are things she's learned since finishing "formal" schooling.
  • Learning is a Lifelong Adventure — Learning has changed over time for Life Breath Present, and she is more excited and interested now than ever before.
  • Facebook: The Modern Forum — Dionna at Code Name: Mama explains why Facebook is today's forum - a place where people from all walks of life can meet to discuss philosophies, debate ideas, and share information.
  • 10 Ways to Learn from Everyday Life (Inspired by my Life in Japan) — Erin at And Now, for Something Completely Different offers tips she learned while living in Japan to help you learn from everyday life.


  1. Love that last line: "We are so much more than the sum of our degrees and certificates."

    Boy have I learned this in the last few years. I always thought so, but I also always thought I had to go to school to get an 'education' and then a 'job' and then work that job until the end. Not only did I become more and more unsure if that was really the path for me, I eventually (now) am not doing anything of the like.

    I've learned so many things and I'm not incredibly proficient at much, but I do a pretty decent job, and others seem to think I know so much lol. Just about everything I know/do today is not something I learned during my education, but what I've pursued over the last 3 years. And much of my real life skills (cooking, working with others, being respectful of differences, active compassion, etc.) are things I learned on my own.

    I love the process of learning so much more now that I learn at my own pace, when I want, how I want, and what I want! :)

    1. I can't even tell you how many of my friends from high school went on to college and obtained four-year degrees... and are now working jobs that have absolutely nothing to do with the subjects they studied and majored in! I'm not trying to imply that their education was a waste, but I do think it's interesting we are pressured at such a relatively young age to pick out a vocation we'll want to work forever.

  2. You've just explained why I thoroughly love the concept of unschooling. Now if I could just deprogram myself that kids "need" to learn all of the rest of stuff we traditionally learn in school . . . :)

    1. The struggle is real! It probably won't be surprising after reading my post, but I'm planning to homeschool/unschool my son. I think there is a lot of value in some of the stuff I supposedly learned through traditional schooling, but I think the way that most schools go about teaching (meaning, to pass a test) is pretty flawed, and it certainly doesn't encourage long-term retention of facts. I wish I had been able to spend more time studying some subjects and less time with others, and I think that is one way where homeschooling can really shine.

  3. Thanks for sharing. A lot of what you say resonates with me too; there really is so much of value to learn in many informal situations and though formal learning has a place, it can be very much overated. I love your picture of doing yoga with your son. I try to do yoga everyday, but often without my children present, however I shall now try yoga with them around to see how they respond to it! A valuable life lesson to them I imagine. It sounds like you've learnt a tremendous amount since leaving formal education, that you're a really proactive learner. Well done, what a great example for your son.

    1. Thank you! :) He doesn't always exercise with me, but he does love getting in on my yoga sometimes (especially when I'm taking pictures!). I hope he'll grow up appreciating physical exertion and mindfulness exercises, rather than having to discover them on his own later in life (as I did).

      I think my son inspires me to keep learning and growing. I want to learn new skills so that I can be a better mother, and I hope that he and I will continue to motivate one another as time goes by.

  4. It really is so true — no matter how much schooling you have, what's important to you is what you USE on a regular basis, and for many of us, that has little to no connection to what we learned in formal school. I still appreciate my academic background and the ways it prepped me to think critically and approach research and such, but I wholeheartedly agree that people can self-learn those skills and be successful adults. I've learned so much more OUT of school than in.

    I hope my kids think long and hard about whether they need any kind of formal schooling, and if so, what kind and how much, rather than just go along with what seems expected. I know for a fact that they could grow into perfectly happy, competent adults without any at all.

    1. There are definitely some things I really appreciate learning about in school; school is where I learned how to write, and where I learned how to really read critically... although, I feel like I absorbed those skills much better because I have always been interested in language and books.

      I'm totally with you. I plan to keep schooling at home early on, but eventually my son will be able to make that decision on his own. He's so smart already, and I know that he could absolutely thrive if left to study and learn at his own pace, but I definitely want him to have the option to attend regular school if he so chooses. And if he does, I hope that I'll have provided him with a foundation that enables him to decide what kind and how much is best for him.

  5. "I think that the most important things I know now are things that I have taught myself in the years since finishing high school and college."
    THIS. Our society is so focused on formal learning/learning through school and institutions, that we forget that some of the most important learning takes place outside of schools. Your post was like a breath of fresh air for me. I so rarely hear people talking about the importance of skills learned outside of school, but for me, these are some of my favourite skills, and the ones of which I am most proud. For instance, speaking Japanese, babywearing/using baby wraps, media analysis, and using positive disciple are skills that I use often, and I learned all of these OUTSIDE of formal schooling.
    I love that picture of you and Bug doing yoga! It's so, so sweet. I aspire to be as awesome as you, man.
    Kudos to you for going out there are chasing your goals. I'm proud of you.

    1. Thank you! I love knowing that I am not alone in my thoughts. Our society focuses so much on formal schooling that people seem to forget that we learn plenty of useful things on our own. And some of the things we rely on the most and use every day are not taught in school; school did not teach me how to cook (well, foods class taught me some basics), or how to parent (that's still a work in progress, since I don't think I'll ever learn everything there is to know about parenting).

      Come to think of it, my psych teacher did do some yoga with us during class, because she thought it was valuable, but at that age I wasn't really receptive to it... and a few postures once a week isn't the same as immersing oneself in a regular practice. And in retrospect, that particular teacher (whom all of the students LOVED) was not always on the good side of the administration, so I imagine that yoga wasn't exactly an approved part of the curriculum.

      Anyway, I think you're already pretty awesome. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!