Open Books

8 ways to pursue a lifetime of learning

Sure, most of us want to be intelligent, well-rounded, informed people with an interesting opinion and an ability to conduct an adult conversation. But sometimes that’s hard when your days mostly involve diaper changes, Goodnight Moon, and Charlie and Lola.

As a student in school, it’s easy to learn new stuff — you’re bombarded with it. But as you dig into the trenches of parenthood, it’s easy to move into survival mode. Your brain can turn to mush if you’re not proactive.

Part of our family’s mission statement is that we want to be lifelong learners. This means that in order to thrive as well-informed people, my husband and I need to seek out quality information in the midst of parenting young ones.

Here are a few ways to pursue lifelong learning.

1. Read.

Get in the habit of always reading something. There’s no possible way to read everything available, so start your “to be read” list now. 3,000 books are published per day in the United States alone, and you can find a tome about any topic imaginable.

Don’t wait until your kids are older, you get enough sleep, or you have more time — something else will inevitably come up. Start with a goal of one chapter per day.

Libraries make reading affordable, as do used bookstores. Audible‘s huge audiobook selection also makes it easier to “read” books while running errands and working out.

2. Read quality.

woman reading
Photo from

“You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the books you read and the people you meet.” –Charles Jones

Sure, you could read anything, but why? With so many options out there, there’s no reason to waste the brain God gave you with twaddle like celebrity magazines, poorly-written romance novels, or cheesy self-help books.

I’m all for light reading during certain seasons, but even then, there are thousands of brilliantly-written fiction books and quality magazines from which to choose.

Pursue your interests, but stretch your brain and try new things. Historical biographies (David McCullough is a brilliant writer), non-fiction that challenges your thinking, and classic literature are great places to start.

3. When you do watch TV, watch quality.

I don’t watch much television, mostly because I don’t have time — I’d rather be doing ten other things. But I do enjoy a good movie or Scrubs episode, and I could watch Ina Garten cook all day.

Make sure that:

1. Your TV is off way more than it’s on, and that

2. When it is on, that you’re watching something interesting.

Don’t waste your brain and your time watching fluff. Pick out a few shows you enjoy — maybe three per week — and only turn on the TV for those. Then turn it off, and go do something else.

4. Surround yourself with other learners.

“You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the books you read and the people you meet.” –Charles Jones

The people you befriend makes a huge impact on your attitude and your lifestyle choices. Do your friends encourage you to pursue quality interests? Are they also interested in the world around them?

Life’s too short to spend time gossiping or discussing the latest episode of Entertainment Tonight. Find friends that support your desire to fill your mind with healthy brain food, because they want the same thing for themselves, too.

5. Be around people different than you.

group of friends talking
Photo by Marjon Kruik

It’s easy to get tunnel vision when you surround yourself only with people from the same background, worldview, or life stage. Leave your comfort zone and make friends with people you least expect. You’ll be surprised at how much you could learn.

Get to know your elderly neighbor. Be friendly with the person from another country in the airline seat next to you. If you’re a Christian, do you only have Christian friends? Be proactive and meet your neighbors, and hear about life from their perspective. You’ll be challenged.

6. Keep up with the news.

Don’t bombard yourself with hours of news updates, because you’ll either get overwhelmed or depressed. But do stay in touch with the real world, even if you never leave the house except to walk to the park.

Put a news feed on your iGoogle page, so that you can easily glance at the top headlines. Browse your city’s newspaper, either in print or online. Subscribe to quality blogs.

Make sure and read international news as well. Give yourself a global perspective, too.

7. Make a list.

Once you have a few spare minutes, it can be hard to remember those things you want to learn about or try. The kids are in bed, the kitchen is clean, and — what is it I want to read? I can’t remember.

As you think of ideas, write them down. Keep an ongoing list of books you want to read, websites you want to explore, or hobbies you want to try. Then refer to this list often. Keep it somewhere prominent, like in your home management notebook, on the fridge, or at your desk.

8. Say “I don’t know” to your kids.

exploring mom child
Photo by Woodley Wonderworks

When your kids ask you something and you truly don’t know the answer, admit it. And then discover the answer together. Search the internet, head to your library, head to the museum, or call someone on the phone.

You’ll show your kids that you don’t know everything, and that certain things are worth the trouble to learn. Plus, it’ll be a fun bonding experience to learn something new together.

9. Just do something.

When it comes down to it, just trying something is a good start. Refer to your list, and check out one new website daily. Try an unexpected book from the library, and keep it on your night stand so that it’s visible and easily accessible.

Make a point to try one new thing a day. If you find your answer, or if your interest wanes, move on — no harm done. But if you dig deeper and find more interesting questions, or if the intimidating book turns out to be a page turner, then you just might be on your way to adding another dimension to your life.

Never stop learning. Set a good example for your kids. And make the most of your life.

What are you learning about right now? What’s something you want to explore?

top photo source

Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. You are so right about reading quality and turning the TV off…

    A great resource for learning I just discovered was “itunes-U” at the i-tunes store or google it – you can literally download millions and millions of quality lectures on any topic from hundreds of universities. I was completely overwhelmed at first so decided on just one or two topics before I went exploring – podcasts are fabulous fun, I listen while I drive.
    .-= se7en´s last blog ..Sunday Snippet: A Massive Giveaway Winner… =-.

  2. Hi!
    Several years ago, I realised that I actually loved t0 learn foreign languages. Ever since I’ve learned english and spanish and now I am studying italian. Next in the line is german and turkish. So now I’m only reading literature in its native language and this has taken my language skills to a higher level. Not to mention that travelling around Europe is a blast!
    And for those who may wonder, it’s also a very affordable hobby. I just pay a monthly intuition (approx. 90 euros) to the school and the books are bought from amazon in half the price I’d pay in any bookstore.
    I’m also toying with the idea of beginning a post-graduate diploma but…that just isn’t fulfilling enough, it seems more of a chore!
    So…buongiorno ragazze!

  3. I LOVE this post, Tsh! I always say that one of my main jobs is to inspire my children, but how can I do that unless I am inspired myself?!

    We’ve found YouTube and Wikipedia invaluable for those times when mommy “doesn’t know” and we want to discover something together.

    .-= steadymom´s last blog ..Why You Should Read Aloud to Older Kids =-.

  4. Great list! You’ve reminded me that I want to cut out TV. We used to not watch much at all but lately, with Tivo, we watch a lot of our “favorite shows.” And with a little one on the way, we’re re-evaluating the use of our time so I appreciate the gentle reminder!

  5. Wonderful Post!

    I totally agree with the reading. Shortly after having my son I stopped reading. When I finally got the time to start again months later, it was as if a lightbulb went off in my head. I couldn’t believe I’d muddled through those months without reading a thing.

    I now always make time to read to myself for 30 minutes to an hour as I’m waiting for my 2 year old to fall asleep, after I’ve read his night time book to him. He falls asleep more easily with mommy in the room and I get to catch up on my reading!
    .-= Satakieli´s last blog ..Past, Present and Future =-.

  6. I want my children to have a lifestyle of learning, so it’s important to show them that in myself. Several years ago I wrote my first NaNo Novel (50,000 word novel in 30 days). I’d never written fiction before but I had fun and more importantly it inspired my daughter to try it. We’ve both participated 5 years in a row now and she’s a great writer.

    Working on my blog and moving it to self-hosted helped me learn a lot. Again, the kids watched me struggle through tech stuff that I didn’t understand. I think that it set an example to them to keep trying and keep learning.
    .-= Tiffany´s last blog ..Weekly Menu, Grocery List, Recipes – Week 10 =-.

  7. I discovered earlier this year, and I’ve been downloading the classics, read by volunteer readers, for FREE ever since. There are hundreds of titles, nearly all of it tried-and-true literature, and you can’t beat the price!
    .-= Amy G´s last blog ..Traveling =-.

  8. “days mostly involve diaper changes, Goodnight Moon, and Charlie and Lola.”
    OMG is your middle name Madame Cleo?!

  9. I am a lifelong learner – love to learn. I loved this post – especially the advice to hang out with people different than you. so true!
    .-= Denise´s last blog ..make room in the van for these =-.

  10. I have really rekindled my love of reading since becoming a mama. I find nothing inspires, stimulates or relaxes me more than a good book. It is nice to have a few different ones going at once – all with a different topic or difficulty level.
    .-= Shannon´s last blog ..Fall Menu Plan – full of greens =-.

  11. Thanks for a helpful and inspiring post! Our time is too precious to waste; there is so much we can be learning and doing.

    I love to read and enjoy finding new books and authors that cause me to think outside my normal box. I hope to do more reaching out and learning from people who are a bit different than my typical friends.

    Most of all, I can pass these ideas along to my girls so that they can be ever growing and learning as they age.
    .-= Tracey´s last blog ..Saving Money Two Ways =-.

  12. I’m with you Tsh! I figure, if we aren’t learning, we aren’t living.

    A while ago I started collecting & organizing homeschooling resources (Homeschooling for Free) for my kids, but *I’m* the one who has learned the most from all the cool stuff I find! 🙂
    .-= Amy Andrews´s last blog ..I hate stuff. =-.

  13. About a month ago in the middle of the night, I had this crazy idea to learn how to play the dulcimer. My husband asked me to give it three months and if I still really wanted to, we could shell out the cash for lessons and a rental. I still want to, but I’m glad he’s helping me to not be impulsive 🙂 Either way, I can tell my brain is still working; otherwise, why on earth would that have popped into my head?
    .-= Meghan´s last blog my dad, on his birthday =-.

  14. As always, another great post! Thanks so much for your hard work 🙂

  15. Excellent post! I’ve been reading all about being a better mom.

    I just compiled a “syllabus” even:

    It’s funny how I have a university degree, but now I just wish they’d had a Motherhood major. Oh well, I’m making up for lost time now…

    I’d love to see a list of your recommended parenting books.
    .-= The Secret Life of Kat´s last blog ..Tell Me About Your First Computer… =-.

  16. I followed the advice of Elizabeth George and chose five areas to become an “expert” in. I use that term loosely…

    So, I choose books on Family (motherhood, marriage, etc.), homekeeping, homeschooling, writing, and mentoring. I have an ongoing amazon wishlist and regularly check to see if my library has the books I want.

    I also love history and doing Tapestry of Grace with my kids this year has been great! I am learning so much through the teacher’s notes they have and in reading books with my kids!
    .-= Angela Mills´s last blog ..Too Many Books? Here’s One Solution! =-.

  17. I have to admit that I do enjoy some really trashy tv, but I limit the number or terrible shows I watch (actually, since I don’t have cable, I limit the number of shows I watch altogether!).
    I have realized that continuing to read is really important. Yes, my time as a new parent is limited, but it’s great exercise for my mind to read just a little bit in a good book each day.
    .-= Tiffany´s last blog ..Motherlove Nipple Cream =-.

  18. This story really resonates with me! A month or so ago I was posting on a forum asking moms and dads what they did to keep themselves learning. We can definitely lose ourselves in the monotony if we don’t challenge ourselves!

    I’ve found turning off the TV and reading something new every week to be the best way for me. If I can grab a bubble bath after everyone’s asleep, I read for twenty minutes. Thank you so much for the suggestions. 🙂
    .-= Megan´s last blog ..What in the World is a Modern Milkmaid? =-.

  19. Thank for for the great post! This is my first time on your site, and I really love your content and style.

    I particularly enjoyed your quote by Charles Jones. Dave Ramsey uses this quote often, and it has become ingrained in my head to the point that I hear it when I’m choosing my next book to read, or dreading a meeting or social event when I don’t feel like interacting with new people.

    And I love your approach to telling your kids that you just don’t know the answer to some of their questions. My four-year-old son just told me yesterday “But you know everything!” when I replied that I didn’t know the answer to one of his million questions. I’ll definitely use the opportunity to discover the answer together next time!
    .-= Dustin | Engaged Marriage´s last blog ..When Should Newlyweds Buy Their First House? =-.

  20. Loved this post. We must be kindred spirits. .. just two days ago, I made a list to get me out of my non-reading slump that came with the busyness of this season.

    Reading Goals for the weekend:
    10 pages- Bible
    20 pages- Brideshead Revisited (a novel- and a fairly quick read)
    5-10 pages Nonfiction/Devotional material/Inspiring Book (Right now I’m reading “The Best Things in Life” by Peter Kreeft)
    10 pages Science textbook (for my job)
    0 pages- Facebook homepage (haha)
    .-= tacy´s last blog ..What’s Your Frame of Reference? =-.

  21. I love this post! I’ll be printing if off to put on the fridge.

  22. Thank you! This post is exactly why I keep coming back to your blog Tsh. I don’t naturally think of specific ways to simplify my life and I truly appreciate your perspective, as well as other readers’ comments. I find that I am interested in learning too many things and can get easily distracted. I love Angela’s comment above–becoming an “expert” in 5 things is something I can embrace.
    .-= Stacie @´s last blog ..How to Have a More Content Baby =-.

  23. I absolutely LOVE this post! Sometimes I do think my brain is starting to get mushy.

    I totally agree about the reading. Our public library has really poor selection for adult reading, and we definitely don’t have the money to buy new books all the time, but I can find tons of quality, thought-provoking reading online in a wide variety of topics.

    We’ve been turning the TV off so much more lately, and I don’t even miss it. I have one or two shows I make space for, but beyond that, I’d rather be reading or writing.

    And I absolutely 100% agree with making it a priority to hang out with people different from yourself. There is so much to learn from others!

    Fabulous post, Tsh.
    .-= Megan at Simple Kids´s last blog ..Free Range Kids Week: Recalling the Freedom We Had =-.

  24. You are so right Tsh! I have been thinking very hard about the “quality” of what I am putting into my mind lately as I am reading Free Range Kids (excellent book for parents BTW). I know we as parents don’t want our kids putting junk into their heads because we know that it DOES have an affect on them, so why do we think that it won’t affect us?
    I am going to quit watching the shows that are scaring me into being an anxious & fearful parent and evaluate how I feel in a month or so.
    .-= Tashia´s last blog ..Get Your Kid’s Winter Gear on eBay Right Now! =-.

  25. Great post!

    I think telling your kids “I don’t know” is a great way to let your children know that learning never ends, even when school does. What a wonderful opportunity to learn with your child!
    .-= Christina S.´s last blog ..The Effectiveness of Online Education =-.

  26. The library is such an amazing resource! I’ve always been interested in finding out more about the history of the Irish (a large part of my ancestry), because of the library I’ve found so many great Irish history books and it fuels my desire to go to Ireland someday. I love being able to continue to learn even though I finished college.

  27. Before I had children I would read and read and read. Between parenting and law school I don’t have much free reading time. I use Goodreads to keep a list of what I want to read. I try to use my last 10 minutes to read something.
    .-= LaToya´s last blog ..Bible Story Sundays: Noah’s Ark =-.

  28. I love this post! Hopefully we all feel like we learn something new everyday, good or bad. Right now I am trying to learn more about positive discipline and raising children (the hardest job I have ever had).
    .-= Annie´s last blog ..Possessions =-.

  29. Wanted to make a suggestion for everyone. After having kids I found I couldn’t complete a book. My solution – About 18 months ago I started reading my husbands’ Economist magazine. It is wonderful!! It meets so many of the criteria on your list. It helps me stay up on what’s going on in the world. Since it’s a magazine I can read just a few articles at a time. It is a British publication and thus I believe presents a little more balanced view of American politics. It has articles covering issues from around the world, business and technology. The letters to the editor provides me with other people’s perspectives. And most importantly, I get to exercise the non-mommy parts of my brain! The absolutely only drawback of this magazine is it’s somewhat expensive (a year subscription is over $100), but it is published weekly not monthly and thus I believe makes it well worth the $. Heck, getting to think about something other than getting everyone to their activities on time, changing diapers, what’s for dinner and hey I have clothes to fold – that’s worth the money to me!

  30. YES! I just love this post! I think that reading, reading, reading is a really big key to keep learning. And I can say from personal experience that in my life – the people who I know who can’t STAND to read are also the same people that seem to know the least about – well, ANYthing! So yeah, read and stay informed! And make it a goal to learn something new daily or weekly.

    Right now, I am learning CSS – and it’s a big, big world! I also try to keep pushing my boundaries with my crafts and fav pastimes. I have such a love for learning and have thoroughly enjoyed watching that grow in my own children, as well!
    .-= Amber´s last blog ..Dreaming of a Farmhouse Table =-.

  31. When I was 6 months pregnant I sat my finals for my Post-Grad qualification. I was so proud that, even with “pregnancy brain” – I would find my car keys in the fridge! – I passed with flying colours. I find appreciate learning so much more now I am older than I did when it was a necessity at school.

    I am always trying to learn different things and am relishing the challenges that my young daughter is bringing now she is in her “Why?” phase!

    I also agree about turning the TV off. There are very few shows I genuinely feel deserve my time that could be spent on other things.
    .-= 280 Days´s last blog ..Material Memories =-.

  32. Argh- that stressed me out just reading it – the last thing I need is more ‘to do’ on my ‘to do list’!! there are some good suggestions here certainly!
    .-= jer´s last blog ..The Anyone-Can-Do-This Bread Recipe =-.

  33. Thanks for this good post. Reminds me that I’ve been slipping into TV watching a little too much these days. I stuck to three shows last year and now it’s back up to five. Gotta cut back.

    I’ve been learning a lot from the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s a fascinating look at success and the factors behind it. Can’t wait to discuss it next month at my church’s women’s book club.

    And speaking of learning, today I went to the zoo with my husband and son and I learned that lobsters do not say hello to each other when they meet. Instead they spray a little urine in each others direction to identify themselves. How odd. But you are right, if you are looking for it you can learn something new each day!
    .-= Rachel´s last blog ..What Missy Calls Pretty =-.

  34. Loved your tips. Basically it is a good reminder to make active, wise choices and that is always a good thing! I found your blog last week and have signed up to get them via email and am really enjoying your posts so far, thank you so much!

  35. Thank you for this post Tsh! And thank you for all the wonderful, beautiful, SIMPLE ideas on your blog. I only visit about five blogs regularly, and SimpleMom is one of them. I really appreciate what you have to say. You’ve challenged me to keep my focus on what’s important and DO what I KNOW I should do. 🙂
    .-= Jessica M.´s last blog ..Entertainment, Honour-style =-.

  36. Thank you for this wonderful post. For me reading and learning has always been important beside my family work. Actual it is a part of it. At the moment i try to learn better English. So your posts are double helpful for me!
    .-= Micha´s last blog ..Herbststrickerei / knitting in autumn =-.

  37. Great list of ideas! You mention libraries (yeah!!), but many now provide free audiobook and e-book downloads too – for readers on the go (usually through a service called Overdrive) Gotta love FREE!
    .-= Krista´s last blog ..Another Step Forward… and this and that =-.

  38. Love your post. I seriously need to frame it and put it on my desk for some gentle reminders as I go through my day.
    I think it’s important to read all sorts of stuff–novels, biographies, online editorials. But I also see value in reading the “trashy romance novel,” too. In SOME of the more well-written ones, I’ve gotten hooked on an historical time period that I’ve then researched through other modes. Or, I just simply enjoy reading them.
    As an English educator, I think it’s okay to teach kids that we can read all types of reading material, some just for silly fun. When reading becomes NOT fun, that’s when kids avoid it.
    .-= Parenting Ink´s last blog ..The Morning Rush =-.

  39. I love this article. I love to read and I am totally guilty of not reading quality as much as I used to. Unfortunately by the time I read for almost an hour with my kids (yes that long I have three young children and they all have different interests) I can not even get through a chapter of my book before I am out cold. I have to make a commitment to read more! Really what kind of example am I setting for my children if I am not practicing what I am preaching. Thanks for sharing.

  40. Great post! I sometimes feel that my brain is turning to mush since becoming a stay at home mom. Sometimes when I am taking I suddenly find myself at a loss for the right word. I love to read and usually ensure I get a short bible read in the morning and of course lots of Alligator Pie and kiddie books but I need to ensure I am reading for me too!
    .-= Jenn @ Beautiful Calling´s last blog ..Preserving Fruit & Peach Raspberry Crisp =-.

  41. I love your blog; it’s so inspiring and really makes me think about myself!

    I gave you a blog award – check out my blog to grab it! 🙂
    .-= Kristina´s last blog ..How Lovely I Feel! =-.

  42. This is great list, only thing I do different is, when my kid (4 yrs) asks something, I take a time to explain (most of the time) right there, while he still has an interest, it is the best time to learn, when we are interested. I am learning a lot of stuff with my child. 🙂
    .-= Zengirl´s last blog ..20 ways to be romantic for free (almost) =-.

  43. Hi there! I’m a new reader and I really enjoyed this post…I was wondering if you could speak more to the concept of the family mission statement? How did you go about doing that and what is your final statement?
    .-= Jenny´s last blog ..October’s Focus: Columbia Refugee Garden =-.

    • Sure thing — I wrote about it here and here. I’ve also got an entire chapter devoted to it in my book… though that won’t be out in stores until fall 2010. 🙂

  44. Thanks for the wonderful article! I do most of things on your list, but I never realized that those are ways to learn. Thanks for helping me out.

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