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Self-Education Resources for Busy Parents

Updated: Sep 6, 2020

"...self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is. The only function of a school is to make self-education easier; failing that, it does nothing."

-- Isaac Asimov

In previous posts in this series on parents' education, I've talked about why the parents' education is just as important as the kids' education, as well as how parents can get started in pursuing their own educations. Now I wanted to share some helpful resources for parents' education.

These are resources that I have found to be valuable in pursuing my own education:

  • Classics

  • Audio books

  • Writing in books

  • Commonplace book

  • Mentoring in the Classics

  • Math resources

  • Music self-education


Whether they were written long ago or in the modern era, classics are books that are worth reading over and over again because they have a depth that continually enriches the reader's education. For those of us who haven't read many classics, the classics from long ago can be hard to get into because of the language and writing style which are so different from that of modern books. A fantastic way to get started in reading older classics is with children's literature.

True classics from children's literature are not inane or boring; the lessons they have to teach are just as relevant to adults as to children. The language is generally more accessible in children's classics, yet they are still beautifully written. Here are 15 classics from children's literature that I have found to be particularly thought-provoking and useful in my own life as a parent:

And here are 5 quite accessible classics written for adults:

Lists of classics to read are just a starting point, but they can be very helpful for parents who need a little direction in how to get moving on their own educations. If you want more lists of classics to dive into, there are superb lists of classics in Thomas Jefferson Education for Teens and Hero Education.

Audio Books

One of the biggest self-education challenges for most parents is finding the time to actually sit down and read. I've already shared a few tips for finding more time to read here, but another thing that has worked fantastically for me is listening to audio books.

With audio books, I can easily listen to classics while doing other activities such as getting dressed in the morning, folding laundry, cooking, weeding, and cleaning. Audio books easily double the amount of time I can spend in pursuing my own education amidst my busy life.

Many high quality audio books of classics are actually FREE at Librivox! The only catch is that you need to pay attention to who the readers are, to make sure you select audio books read by people who you enjoy listening to. Some of my favorite readers are Elizabeth Klett, Karen Savage, Kara Shallenberg, John Greenman, and Mark Nelson.

Here are 10 of my favorite FREE classic audiobooks:

Writing in Books

"Write in your books. All of them! Your learning and growth - and therefore your success - are greatly increased when you are accompanied by an active pen. This is a key aspect of leadership reading because as you take note of the important things you are learning, you increase your own level of understanding..." from Turn the Page: Read Right to Lead Right, by Chris Brady

Although it took a bit of time for me to develop this habit, writing in my own books has made a phenomenal impact on my own learning. It pushes me to engage in what I am reading at a much higher level, and this greatly increases how much I retain from what I have read. If you want more guidance on how to write in the books you read, I'd recommend Hero Education by Oliver DeMille and Turn the Page by Chris Brady.

When it comes to audio books, I find it helpful to keep some paper handy for taking down quotes or ideas that strike me while I'm listening. At a minimum, I try to write down something about what I've listened to every few chapters, and make sure to pause the audio book until I have done so. Sometimes, I end up with a list of themes from the book; other times I may have a list of inspiring quotes. Regardless, the act of writing down anything related to the audio book greatly enhances my learning.

Commonplace Book

Commonplace books are a way of enriching and storing knowledge that were widely used in previous generations. A commonplace book is simply a journal in which you can copy down important quotes from the books you read, as well as your own reflections on those quotes. According to Wikipedia, " By the 17th century, commonplacing had become a recognized practice that was formally taught to college students in such institutions as Oxford...'commonplacing' persisted as a popular study technique until the early 20th century." Greats such as Milton, Emerson, Thoreau, Twain, and Jefferson kept commonplace books.

I started keeping a commonplace book over 3 years ago. I have found it to greatly increase the effectiveness of my studies. "Commonplacing" gives me a chance to really think about and internalize what I've read, and to crystallize my own beliefs about what I've read (or listened to, in the case of audio books).

I use Moleskine notebooks for my commonplace books, but any notebook would work well. Some people forego notebooks altogether, and prefer to do their commonplacing on index cards which can be categorized and sorted. However, I prefer using notebooks, and I keep a running list at the back of which books I've commonplaced within for easy reference.

I generally let a book sit for a couple weeks after I have finished reading it before I enter it into my commonplace book. This gives me a chance to re-assess whether I think the different passages I have marked are really worthwhile enough to enter into my commonplace book. Sometimes I get a bit behind, and the books-waiting-to-be-commonplaced turns into a large stack. Sometimes, sitting down to commonplace feels less pressing than a million other things. Nonetheless, once I take the time to commonplace, I find that it is enriching and definitely worthwhile.

Mentoring in the Classics (MIC)

Mentoring in the Classics (MIC) is a monthly subscription service for parents (or youths) who are pursuing their own educations. MIC uses one classic book per month to illustrate fundamental principles of self-guided education, character development, family culture, history, math, and more! The program uses videos, audios, study guides, workshops, quizzes, and discussions.

I've been using Mentoring in the Classics for about a year now. In that time, I've been mentored through a wide variety of books/readings including Dumbing Us Down, Les Miserables, The Declaration of Independence, and Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona. This program has made a huge impact on my own education. Mentoring in the Classics:

  • gives me an easy way to implement one area of focus per month in my own studies,

  • demonstrates the methods and beauty of family book discussions,

  • has greatly increased how much I get out of the books that I read, because it gives me much to think about for each book and this really increases my retention of information,

  • has helped me learn how to more effectively lead book discussions with my own kids,

  • has piqued my kids' interest, too; they have enjoyed listening in on several of the discussion audios, leading to meaningful conversations in my own home and inspiring my kids to tackle some of these classics themselves.

This program typically costs $25/month, but is currently on-sale for $10 for the first month and $15 per month afterwards. The DeMilles are also open to negotiating the price with people who are financially unable to pay the regular price.

Math Resources

I've made sure to include math in my own studies because I think math is important, and because I want to inspire my kids to pursue their own math studies as well. Although my formal education as an engineer included a lot of higher math, my math skills have gotten quite rusty over the 8+ years that I've been a stay-at-home-mom. Calculators and computers have also gotten me out of practice in doing mental math for everyday tasks.

In making math a regular part of my own education, I've found the following to be helpful:

  • Life of Fred math books - I have enjoyed these quirky books much more than other math books I've tried. I decided I needed to go back-to-basics to refresh my math skills, so I've started with the middle school math books; so far I've worked through the 3 Intermediate math books as well as the Fractions and Decimals books. Pre-Algebra is up next!

  • Math literature and chapter books - Reading math-related books has helped increase my appreciation of math. Thus far, my favorites have been Asimov's On Numbers, Flatland by Abbott, Archimedes and the Door of Science by Bendick, and The Rithmatist by Sanderson.

  • Accountability partner - A friend of mine, who also wanted to include math in her own studies, agreed to be my "accountability partner" for our math endeavors. We work through the same math chapters/exercises each week and encourage each other along the way. This has been a great motivator for me in making sure I work on math regularly.

Music Self-Education

Making music brings me joy, and I hope to provide fertile ground for my kids to enjoy making music, too. One of my own long-term goals is learning to play the piano. I don't feel like I have the time or money to invest in taking piano lessons, but that is not stopping me from learning how to play.

I have found the following to be helpful in self-teaching piano.

  • Making piano practice a routine part of my life: For me, the time when I can reliably practice piano is in the evening after dinner. I practice piano ~3-5 times per week at this time of day.

  • Hoffman Academy: Hoffman Academy offers FREE online piano lessons. These lessons help me get a more well-rounded piano education, including improvisation, learning the different keys signatures and scales, etc. (If you don't know how to read music, these lessons will teach that, too! They would be great for anyone who has never played music before.)

  • Suzuki Method Piano Books with CDs: I use my Suzuki piano books very frequently, and they have allowed me to gradually progress into playing intermediate-level piano pieces. When self-teaching, it is essential to get the books that come with CDs, so you can hear what the music is supposed to sound like. We also enjoy listening to the Suzuki Piano CDs anytime we want some simple-yet-beautiful classical music.

  • Once-a-year family recital: Because making music with others is a way to spread the joy around, once a year I invite my kids to join me in a holiday music recital. This provides a nice break from my usual piano repertoire.

  • Piano Keyboard with Touch-Sensitive Keys: I don't actually own a piano, but I do have a Yamaha electronic keyboard that I bought used about 6 years ago. My keyboard has touch-sensitive keys, which means that I can play louder or softer depending on how hard I hit the keys. This is an important part of being able to play piano. Craigslist and Ebay can be great places to find used pianos or electronic keyboards. There is some good info here about how to select a piano or electronic keyboard for the beginning student.

Have you started pursuing your own education? Do you have any self-education resources to share?

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