It has been a long time since I have been able to run any sort of distance because of health issues. But the other day, as I was reflecting back on my years of homeschooling, I started to see some parallels between homeschooling and running.  There are significant lessons I have learned that very much relate to lessons learned when I used to train for races. I am writing them down here to remind myself of these truths and perhaps encourage you along the way.

One of the most important things you need to learn when you first start racing is how to pace yourself. You need to maintain a sustainable pace in order to utilize your body’s energy stores and finish in your desired time. I think you need to find your “pace” in homeschooling as well. These homeschooling years are often referred to as being a race, a journey, even a marathon. In order to maintain our energy stores, properly refuel ourselves and finish strong, we need to find our pace – a rhythm to our days that keeps us moving forward. I had good running days where I felt strong and enjoyed it (even one 13 mile run in the pouring rain). I also had really crappy runs where I felt sluggish and putting one foot in front of the other felt like an insurmountable task.

The same with homeschooling! I’m sure you can relate. There are days when we are enjoying learning, feeling refreshed, and keeping some sense of order. Then there are those not-so-good days when everyone is cranky, there are meltdowns, and the house looks like a tornado went through it and all I can think about at the end of it is taking a nap. There have been years that I have run myself ragged constantly reinventing the wheel, continually changing this, tweaking that. I felt like I was running in place and never getting anywhere. It’s hard to find your pace when everything is always new.

After years of homeschooling that way, I FINALLY I made the commitment to follow Charlotte Mason’s methods completely. The first months were not easy. It was an adjustment for ALL of us. I wanted to change things again. I worried that I was the problem and was doing something wrong. I kept thinking “I can’t be doing this right if it is so hard.” But I kept persevering, and one day it changed and everything started to feel natural. I started looking forward to all the beautiful art and well-written books we were going to experience each day. I started keeping a commonplace book and natural journal. I started seeing how much I was changing. That day I “hit my stride” and have been enjoying the run ever since. And my kids? Well, when we started back at school this year it was just a natural shift. None of the normal back to school stress or adjustments. The routine of morning time, tea time, reading, narrating, and journaling is the atmosphere that feeds our souls. When you find your pace, those bad days become less frequent. You feel stronger, encouraged, and even joyful. There is a peaceful flow to our days. I found myself thinking, “I can keep going.”

So how does one find their optimal pace in homeschooling?

Here are a few tips I got about finding your optimal running pace from Run To the Finish and have applied them to homeschooling.

Step 1: Stop going out too fast and stop trying to speed up later! It’s better to be consistent.

When I ran my first 10K, I was so excited that I jumped out of the gate in a full sprint. The race was set up for people to either run a 5K or to repeat the course and run a 10K. I didn’t realize this ahead of time, so when I saw that finish line I got SO excited! But my elation was quickly crushed when I realized I was only halfway done. That last 5K felt like 100 miles! I had run so fast the first half that I was literally sick and dragging to the end.

In the next 10K I wasn’t going to make that mistake again, so I kept telling myself to slow down. The problem was I was going so much slower than normal that by the time I realized the race was almost over I needed to sprint to make up my time, but wasn’t able to.

Having a hard time finding your rhythm in your homeschool? You may be going too fast, pushing everyone along or going too slow and trying to speed up later.

There have been MANY years that I started too strong out of the gate and tried to do TOO much, pushing my kids to do more than they were ready for, and we were all exhausted by October. There were years I added too much to our schedule and we were frantically running from one thing to the next and always felt rushed. Busyness led to burn out. By the time May rolled around, I felt like I was dragging over the finish line.

There were also years that I had to speed up later. We took too many breaks, followed too many rabbit trails, added in too many extras. I found myself rushing at the end of the year to try and “make up time.”

Here’s the key: be consistent!

Yikes. Consistency? Oh, how hard that is! It’s not thrilling or glamourous. It is the routine day in and day out that produces results. It was a hard blow when I realized our homeschooling was lacking rhythm because of MY lack of consistency. I needed to build habits in our days for ME.

Here’s what that looks like in the running world:

“Studies have shown that the negative split is LESS likely to produce PR’s than running a consistent pace throughout the race. In order to do that one must spend a little more time practicing tuning in to the body during training and learning how different paces feel. First this helps with goal setting and second, it leads you away from the watch. Additionally, once you begin running by feel, it becomes easier to back off on planned hard days and push on planned easy days because you can trust your body.” – Run to the Finish

Running by feel, trusting your body, more time practicing….Hmmmmm…

Consistency in our homeschool days helps us practice. We and our children are working those habit muscles so that we can learn to trust ourselves and school “by feel.” I talk with many homeschool moms who struggle with doubt. I used to as well. I was always wondering if I was doing the right thing, enough, missing out on something better. By consistent practice, we can learn to trust ourselves and make those necessary pacing decisions to help our children. We can push on some days and relax on others because we can feel what is right. We can only learn this through practice. That means we need to be home during our school week. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be in a co-op or sign up for that art class. But if you are away more than you are home, it will be challenging to learn your pace. You can’t learn your running pace if you stay in bed in your pj’s instead of going out there for your morning run. In the same sense, you can’t find your homeschooling rhythm when you are always in the car and not home.

I once heard a wise homeschool momma say, “How would you feel if your child was in school and their teacher was putting in as much consistent effort in her work as you are putting in yours?” Ouch! I’m called to consistently lay the feast before them, not educational cereal because I was too tired or unprepared, but a feast of living ideas. This takes diligence on my part and building the necessary patterns in our home to make it happen.

Step 2: Pay attention

“Turn off the music and head out on at least one solo run per week. Without distractions, you are forced to pay attention to how the run feels…yes I know this might actually remind you that running is hard. Begin rating each run with the Perceived Exertion scale of 1-10 with 10 being a full out sprint.” – Run to the Finish

Tune out the distractions? Ugh! Another hard thing to do. You know…the phone calls, the appointments, the computer. All the things that interrupt our daily rhythm. Of course not all interruptions can be avoided, but they can be diminished. I have to leave my phone on the other side of the house. I only schedule appointments in the afternoons. I don’t get on my computer till our day is finished. This keeps me focused on my important job of educating my children.

How else do we get distracted?

The voices

When running a race, those voices are screaming, “This hurts. You are never going to make it. You aren’t strong enough.” Part of long distance running is the mental battle. When I was running and started to hear those thoughts, I would start planning out my meals for the week, which is hilarious since I hate cooking! But it was enough to silence those voices for a while. What about those homeschooling voices that whisper doubts, fears, and say things like, “They are never going to learn this. You are messing your children up. This is too hard for you.” I doubt making a grocery list will get rid of those voices. This post talks about how we need to reach up to God and reach out to others. Give light to those thoughts and fill your mind with truth.

Then there’s “the others”

In running, it is often the people passing you that make you think you are never going to finish. In homeschooling, we often become distracted by what the others are doing. Their home schools look more fun. Their houses are neater. Their children are learning 4 languages and doing calculus in elementary school and you are over there like, “What sound does the A make again?” Tune out the others!!!! If you need to take a break from social media, do it.

You can’t pay attention to yourself, your children, and how your homeschool is doing with all those distractions. On the running website, she suggests practicing mindfulness. Start documenting how you feel at the end of your homeschool day. What felt right? What didn’t go as well as you hoped? Were there any surprises? When did your children show interest in what they were learning? Where have you seen growth? Asking yourself these questions will help you find your rhythm and learn to trust yourself.

Step 3: Treadmill Running

“It might not be your cup of tea, but treadmill runs help teach you what maintaining a specific pace feels like. By setting the pace and then following it for a duration, you’ll notice quickly if you’ve been striving for a pace that’s too fast overall, maybe too slow or that being consistent feels different from your normal vacillating pace outside.” – Race to the Finish

Now I’m not going to tell you to homeschool on a treadmill. Ha! But I will say that having a pace set for you does help in finding your own rhythm. I know this to be true in my homeschool because for many years I was “winging it.” A little bit of this, a little bit of that, this curriculum for this subject, another complete system for this kid, little accountability, nothing to guide me…you know what that felt like after a while? Like I was constantly running on a treadmill but I wasn’t the one controlling the speed or incline. Craziness really!

I wrote A Gentle Feast for myself first. It was such an unbelievable difference to have the pace set out for me. I knew when we were getting off track. I found myself covering more rich subjects in less time. My kids were retaining more than they ever did. I found a flow to our days, and I had a guide to set the pace for me. Just like running on a treadmill can help you learn your pace so that you can go outside and maintain it, my hope is that you will take A Gentle Feast and find the pace that fits your particular family and make it your own, using it as a guide to keep you on track.

Step 4: Set your mind, not your watch

“On any given day a run can feel harder or easier based on training, nutrition, weather and life. By looking solely at the watch a run could quickly be deemed good or bad, but learning to run by feel means you have the ability to adjust training. Studies have also shown that often our perceived idea of how a run will feel impacts the entire body. Spend a few minutes before each run {during that dynamic warm up} getting your mind right for either the intensity of a speed workout or the duration of a long run. Remind yourself that you can lean in to discomfort to help your body change and that you can do anything for an hour. Setting expectations about the run and tying those in to the feel of each pace ensures that on race day you’re able to keep pushing when others might pull back because you know where the discomfort lies and that you can pass it.” – Race to the Finish

Oh, I just love this. There are so many good tidbits in this tip that relate to homeschooling. Yes, your homeschool day will feel harder or easier at any given point based on a variety of factors. So what is your measuring stick? Can it be solely your feelings? Can it be a “watch” – some outside goal that you think you need to measure up to? Is it that you checked off all the boxes? I think this tip brings up a good point. It is often “our perceived idea” of what we are thinking about our homeschool that impacts EVERYTHING. Spend a few minutes before your day starts to set in mind with the right perspective. Pray, meditate on scripture, read a book of homeschool encouragement, whatever helps you set your thoughts on the right track. Charlotte Mason talks a lot about the power of our thoughts and the courses we allow them to run.

“But one custom overcomes another. The watchful mother sets up new tracks in other directions; and she sees to it, that while she is leading new thoughts through the new way, the old, deeply worn ‘way of thinking’ is quite disused. Now, the cerebrum is in a state of rapid waste and rapid growth. The new growth takes shaped from the new thought: the old is lost in the steady waste, and the child is reformed, physically as well as morally and mentally. That the nervous tissue of the cerebrum should be thus the instrument of the mind need not surprise us when we think how the muscles and joints of the tumbler, the vocal organs of the singer, the finger-ends of the watchmaker, the palate of the tea-taster, grow to the uses they are steadily put to; and much more, both in the case of the brain and all other organs, grow the uses they are earliest put to.” – Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children

“Remind yourself that you can lean into discomfort.” I talked about this concept of leaning into the pain in this post. It has been proven that when we become fearful or anxious during childbirth we actually feel more pain than if we are able to breathe and lean into the contractions. It’s ok to have difficult moments in your homeschool day. Don’t let fear, doubt or anxiety cripple you and trap you. Breathe, let yourself feel, be honest and kind to yourself.

“Setting expectations about the run.” Have you set expectations in your homeschool? A dear friend once told me, “unrealistic expectations are premeditated disappointments.”  Do you have the unrealistic expectation that every day will be perfect? Do you have unrealistic expectations of what a certain child is able to accomplish? Do you have unrealistic expectations about all YOU can have on your plate? Have you let “the voices” and “the others” keep you from setting goals based on the personhood of your children? Look at your week or your day and think through your “run”.

Prepare your mind for what lies ahead, set expectations, and remove distractions. Listen to the Holy Spirit, pay attention to what you’re seeing in yourself and your children, and be consistent.

It is possible to find your pace in homeschooling and run the race finishing strong.


Julie H Ross

Here’s a picture of my last race:( (It was a Halloween run – I don’t normally dress like Wonderwoman LOL)