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I’ve recently finished reading Leo Babauta’s The Effortless Life (not an affiliate link). For those of you who haven’t heard of Leo, he writes on his blog Zen Habits about living a simple, mindful life and by creating positive habits by taking small steps one at a time.

The Effortless Life speaks about having a life that is fluid and mindful. It’s about making conscious choices to really live in the moment, appreciate the things you have and create a peaceful, natural way of living.

It’s getting away from a life of stress, the need to always be “productive” and to constantly be busy and moving. He argues that when you move towards a slower, mindful lifestyle, you’re actually more creative and living a richer life because you’re focused on doing only those things that bring you joy.

The more I read the book, the more I realized that his six guidelines align perfectly how I want to live and learn with my family. I’d like to break down Leo’s six guidelines of living the Effortless Life and show how they translate to learning effortlessly with your children, too.


Six Guidelines for Effortless Learning

 1. Cause no harm.   Children are damaged every day when their desires and needs for the way they learn best are disrespected and ignored. We harm our kids when we don’t allow their interests, passions and talents to be the core foundation of their learning

This doesn’t mean that what you believe is important for your children to learn should be ignored. But it does mean that if your child is angry, upset, frustrated or resistant to what you’re asking them to learn, you need to consider if the damage to your relationship is worth it.  

2. Have no fixed goals or plans.  Did you ever make a list and then fail to do what was on the list? How did it make you feel? Did you make a list the next day, tell yourself that no matter what, you’d complete all your to-do tasks THAT day, and then fail again? 

What if you made a completely different type of list?

Maybe this list was full of great suggestions for things you wanted to get done, but if something else more important or exciting came up, you knew that you could do that instead and it wouldn’t mean you had failed? What if you were open to the day and all the wonderful, exciting opportunities that came up without worrying checking things off a piece of paper or following a prescribed curriculum with your children?

3. Have no expectations.  Schools have something called “grade level expectations.” They expect that each child at the end of a numbered grade will acquire proficiency in certain skills. But they miss a key aspect of human nature.

We’re not all alike!

We all have different talents and skills. We’re never going to be at the same “level” as everyone else. Why would we want to be anyway? Wouldn’t that lead to a pretty boring world?

When you expect your child to do certain things, like read well by the end of age 6, do multiplication effortlessly by the age of 8 and take on Algebra when they’re 13, then you’re setting up expectations that may be beyond what your child is ready for or even needs at the moment. When you step away from your child and really see all they are learning and doing, that’s when you’ll get better at releasing your hold on the learning expectations you have for her.

4. Don’t create false needs.  This is similar to the above guideline. Does your child NEED to read by the age of 6? Does he NEED to memorize every state capital?  What do they need in their lives? Some things I can think of are: food, shelter, love, respect, intimacy with you and the family, a way to create and produce, having their questions answered, doing meaningful work, and discovering and fulfilling their unique purpose in life.

When you think your child needs to learn something, ask yourself the question:


Why do they need to learn it? Do they need to learn it now? Is there a way to learn something while keeping the needs of your child first?

5. Do nothing you hate.  But we all need to do things that we don’t want to do right? Isn’t that a part of life that’s impossible to get out of? There may be things in the moment that are not as exciting for me to do as other things, but whatever I do, I make sure that it’s helping me accomplish or do something that is important to me.  If it doesn’t lead to me accomplishing something that brings me joy and purpose, I avoid it at all costs.

I do the dishes, laundry and clean the house because I like to make a cozy, warm environment to live in.  I don’t always like it in the moment, although I’m learning how to slow down and even appreciate and be thankful for those things I used to dread before. If we truly hate something, there’s almost always a way to stop doing those things, or get someone else to do them for us.

But what about our kids? Aren’t some things important for them to learn whether they like it or not?

I believe that when you connect important skills – those skills that will truly be helpful to them in their daily adult lives no matter what they do as a career- to things kids already love doing, then they’ll have a natural, authentic reason for learning those things. When they find a reason to read for their own pleasure or knowledge, they will read. When they see how getting better with numbers will help them budget for something important, figure out the best deals,  or even play awesome new games, then they will learn math. 

Surround your kids with things they love, introduce them to new things they might grow to love, and be amazed at the wonderful amount of learning they do every day.

6. Don’t rush.  Schools rush everything.  They set schedules on a bell system. There’s no regard for completing something, for meditating, and taking time to dream, and plan and create. There’s a certain schedule and curriculum that must be met or else the school, teacher and students are seen as failures.

You don’t have to rush learning with your child.

 Learning takes place all day long. When we get agitated that our child isn’t reading fast enough, we squander the time we could spend playing, creating, and doing other things with them. Sometimes it will seem like your child is plunging ahead full steam with a new skill they’re learning, and then it seems like they stand still for a very, long time in the same spot.

Enjoy the time you have together.  They will be out on their own before you know it. Take time to live in each moment as much as possible. Embrace the fact they are learning all the time.

7. Create no unnecessary actions.  When we pack so many activities and projects into our lives it creates unnecessary actions. We don’t eat as well and gain weight. Then we need to exercise even more. We rush around and don’t take time to keep things straightened. Then we spend unnecessary time looking for things that are lost. We bring so many things into our homes, that it causes unnecessary time keeping them maintained and clean.

What unnecessary actions are we taking with our kids?

Requiring them to do things that are really just busy work? Packing so many things in our schedule that we get sick, stressed out and start fighting with each other?  Bringing so many great “learning resources” into our homes that we rush through each one in order to get through them all so we haven’t “wasted” our money?

Think about each thing you are doing. Is it bringing you joy?  Is it something that aligns with your unique purpose and calling in life? What things are your children doing? Are they doing things that bring out their uniqueness?  Are they only doing those things that really matter?


Photo Credit: docentjoyce

How can you bring about more effortless learning in your home?


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