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12 resources for giving you smarts

On Monday we talked about the importance of being lifelong learners, especially in our roles as parents. Next week we’ll be discussing topics related to making schooling goals for our children, along with our awesome responsibility of teaching the next generation.

But for our own health, we grownups need continuing education, too. There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t be regularly learning something new, even with small children in the house. Kids mimic what they see at home, so if we want them to be eager learners, soaking up the stuff of life, we need to show them how it’s done.

Yes, there are those unique seasons when personal time is at a premium (such as having a newborn), but for the most part, engaging in some sort of education is not only possible, it’s incredibly beneficial.

Think of it as exercise for your brain. Here are some useful ways to get a great workout.

Learn about food, health, and nutrition

I doubt any of us purposely wants to feed our families harmful ingredients or neglect their health by passing up nourishing foods. Here are some great resources for learning more — these things have both well-educated information and practical application ideas.

1. Healthy Homemaking and Real Food on a Real Budget

Both of these e-books by Stephanie Langford were very eye-opening to me! I loved learning more about the science behind healthy (and not-so-healthy) foods, and how best to feed them to my family.

Healthy Homemaking: One Step at a Time gave me small, digestible steps for making slow but steady progress for a healthier home. Some of it I was already doing, but her research gave me additional reasons to keep on the path. It’s very easy to read, too.

Real Food on a Real Budget: How to Eat Healthy for Less does an excellent job giving practical ways to eat wholesome, nourishing foods a bit more frugally. If you’re like me, you like the idea of clipping coupons, taking shortcuts, and getting good deals at the grocery store — but far too often, these things involve processed, boxed foods. Stephanie is at her best here — she’s the queen of being both frugally-minded and an advocate of healthy eating.

Here’s my previous interview with Stephanie.

2. The Real Food Cleansing Guide

Lisa Byrne is our health contributor here on Simple Mom, and she always gives such great insight on how moms can practically take better care of themselves. In The Real Food Cleansing Guide, Lisa gives us step-by-step instructions on how to go through a healthy detox without using fancy supplements or expensive shakes. After all, as she says, “Real food is perfectly made to keep us healthy, energized and vibrant.”

3. Sign up at your local YMCA

We signed up for a family membership at the Y this fall, which means all five of us can go for one set price. Yep, even the three-month-old enjoys its benefits (namely, being held by someone other than Mom and Dad).

It’s not as cheap as it used to be, but the Y is a frugal alternative to a health club or gym, and they almost always have additional classes for children at low or no cost.

My husband lifts weights and runs on the treadmill, I take yoga and Pilates, our toddler enjoys playtime with other kids his age, and our five-year-old is taking beginning ballet and gymnastics.

It’s especially fun when we all go together, doing different things that benefit us all. Oh, and we also enjoy the pool.

Explore ways to deepen your marriage

Photo by Rebecca Krebs

4. A Simple Marriage

Corey Allan is the relationships guy around here, and he’s got great insight about marriage and parenting for both men and women. A Simple Marriage is a tool for married couples to work through together, and it gives practical tools and insight for deepening a good relationship and strengthening a so-so one. I like to think that Kyle and I have a great marriage, and we had a good time going through this e-book together.

5. Attend a marriage workshop

Six months into marriage, Kyle and I attended A Weekend to Remember, put on by Family Life, and it was fabulous. It’s not group counseling, nor do you have to participate in small groups. Instead, we enjoyed seminars taught by seasoned couples on a wide variety of topics, worked through a book together, and had an intentional date night one evening, talking through some the issues brought up earlier in the day. Highly recommended.

6. Read a book together

Kyle and I routinely read a book together. He’s an auditory learner and I learn visually, so normally I’ll read out loud while he listens, and usually in bed right before lights out. We read all kinds of stuff — marriage books, yes, but also books on theology, history, and parenting. For fun, we throw in the occasional Dave Barry or David Sedaris essay collection. Libraries are your friend for this exercise.

We learn something new together, and we communicate in the process. It’s a win-win for both our brain and our relationship.

Pursue a hobby

Photo of Emily Freeman by Dawn Camp

7. Take a cooking class

There is no shortage of cooking classes here in Austin. Ask for a calendar of classes at your local gourmet or health food grocery store, or perhaps ask around at the farmer’s market. Informal classes at your nearby university usually offer cooking classes as well.

8. Take a sewing, quilting, or knitting class

Head over to a fabric or craft supply store — they almost always offer classes for beginners through advanced hobbyists. The more independent the store, the more detailed the class, I’ve found.

9. Take a photography class

Community colleges offer regular photography classes, but there are also plenty of online courses on the Internet. For Kyle’s birthday this summer, I gave him a four-week photography class from Better Photo, and he loved it. There are also good classes from individual photographers — Willette and Angie Warren both offer courses online, and The Creative Mama frequently showcases different online courses from photographers.

Strengthen your skills

10. Learn more about blogging as a business

I’ve used Darren Rowse‘s 31 Days to Build a Better Blog to enhance my work here on Simple Mom, and I’ve given it to the editors on the other Simple Living blogs as well. I highly recommend it.

This e-book gives you 31 tasks, one per day, designed to help you take your blog to the next level. It’s a nice marriage of both the what and the why — each day there’s something to do, but Darren also teaches why that task is so helpful.

The steps aren’t rocket science, and I already knew most of them, to be honest. But I’m so busy, it really helped to have something that told me what to do, a step at a time. And I saw this blog improve from the steps I took.

11. Learn more about money management

Photo by Aldo Gonzales

My favorite financial guy is Dave Ramsey, of course, and the reason is because he breaks down the mystery behind money management into something any average Jane can understand. He makes it much easier — it’s almost fun.

I highly recommend taking his Financial Peace University, a 13-week class designed to give you all sorts of knowledge and practical steps about how to take control of your financial life. If you don’t have a location near you, you can take it online. Kyle and I took it together online awhile ago, and it was life-changing.

12. Learn a new language

We used Rosetta Stone software to learn the local language where my family and I most recently lived. I used it to help learn Albanian when I lived in Kosovo as a single, and I used it to teach my high school students there English. It’s a great program. Very intuitive.

Just learn something

Photo by Pierre Vignau

Follow your interests and do anything to deepen your knowledge on the topic. Check out a book at the library. Sign up for Audible and start listening to books in the car or while you clean the house. Take some university-level classes from The Teaching Company.

Don’t wait until you have more time, because something else will always come up. Even little things make a big difference — browse through Wikipedia (yes, I know it’s not always correct), listen to podcasts, or watch a documentary on Netflix.

Here, I’ve also listed some of my favorite books and podcasts — this list changes often.

Now it’s your turn to share your idea. What are some classes you’ve taken? Books or blogs that have taught you something new? Podcasts that regularly get you thinking? I’d love to know.

Also: Yep, I have a few affiliate links in here. They’re all for things I truly use and recommend.

Reading Time:

5 minutes





  1. Prerna

    Lovely post, Tsh! I read.. lots.. whenever I get the chance. Even if it means taking a book with me to the loo. I read, make notes and an action plan. It helps me if I have a plan to work towards and checking things off gives me a sense of achievement.
    Thanks for sharing the resources. I’d been toying with the idea of the 31DBBB by Darren Rowse. Think its time for me to get it and use it.

  2. Ilse

    Thanks for the reminders and great ideas on stretching our minds! Where did you find Rosetta Stone software for Albanian? My husband is Albanian, and I’ve been struggling for the past 5 years to learn his native language! All I’ve been able to find are a small bilingual dictionary and a couple of grammar books.

  3. Tacy @homemakinghabits

    Just have to say- yay for the shout out to The Teaching Company! My husband and I watched an Art History lecture series together that was great. We’ve also downloaded individual lectures that intrigued us… several on Homer’s Odyssey that were fabulous.

  4. Elizabeth

    I just joined our local ymca and love it – the kids love playing too. And, my Y offers a digital photography class as well as all the other recreational activities. I only wish I’d joined years ago!

  5. Tabitha (From Single to Married)

    What a great list – I’ve been working on about five things you mentioned! 🙂 The hard part for me is now finding the time (with a new little one). Thankfully, my husband watches him on Saturdays so that I can attend an art class (water color last semester, drawing this semester). Love trying new things!

  6. Amanda Morgan

    Great suggestions! I’m looking forward to checking out several of them! And I agree — You will never have MORE time later. You have to make the time for what you want most!

  7. Amanda Morgan

    Great suggestions! I’m looking forward to checking out several of them! And I agree — You will not have MORE time for all of this later. You only ever have time for the things you choose to make a priority.

  8. Sarah Clachar

    Great list – as a foodie I’m excited about the homecooking website.
    I also heartily second the Y sign-up – or some sort of family exercise. Tons of research shows how exercise boosts brain power for old and young alike. But don’t let the fact that there is no gym or Y nearby stop you. I’ve got lots of good tips squeezing in family fun and exercise on my website

    Also should be on your list – go to the library. I know a lot of your readers go there for their kids, but libraries have so many great resources for adults – free classes, reading groups, movies, audio books (great for when your cleaning or dishwashing) and – oh yeah! Books!

  9. Lisa @ WellGrounded Life

    Thank you for the mention! I love your ideas– will in particular be checking out the Teaching Company too.

  10. Hannah

    I love this post. I’ve been trying to implement some goal-setting in my own life, not just for my own mental/physical health but also to model to my kids. I recently joined a training program for a half marathon, something I”ve never even come CLOSE to doing before. I also second your recommendation for the Teaching Company series of lectures.

    And hey, you’re in Austin! Hello there! I wonder if we’ve bumped into each other. Isn’t it a grand place to live … I mean, for eight months out of the year? 😉

    • Tsh

      You’re being generous with eight. I say more like five… but then, I prefer cooler weather.

      • Hannah

        Touché. And this is my least favorite month of the year because, having grown up in Massachusetts, and being the recipient of various mail-order catalogs that splash my mailbox with smug sweater-wearers, I KNOW what September is supposed to feel like.

  11. Alison @ Femita

    Currently almost all of my free time goes into Writing articles, coding, promotion. There’s always so much to do and I have learned heaps just by looking for answers on the internet. I used to think php was some kind of secret language spoken by geeks worldwide, now I’m customizing and writing coding like it’s nothing.

  12. Jack Smith

    I would also add the series “Finance for Kidz” for understanding money management, as well as to teach your children about money. I read it, and I was completely floored by how easy the author (Prof Dheeriya) explains complicated financial concepts. If you haven’t tried it, you should give it a try, particularly if you have children.
    Thanks for a great article.

  13. Lynda

    Thanks for a few books to add to my library request list! Food is one of my big interests now–well, I’ve always been fond of eating 🙂 — but with a one-year-old who is just beginning the eating adventure, I want to be sure I’m not starting him into bad habits–too much sugar, etc. Unfortunately we aren’t millionaires, so I also need to watch how much is being spent. Healthy Homemaking and Real Food on a Real Budget sound like good reads for me!

  14. Paula@Simply Sandwich

    Thank you so very much for the informative post. When I was working full time I had a 3 hour commute each day. I used to get books to listen to in the car to keep my mind learning. Now that I am home full time I see that I need to keep that up. Thanks for the inspiration!

  15. priest's wife

    What a wonderful article! Probably the best thing we can do for ourselves and our kids- have them catch us reading or knitting or whatever- as I say a lot- “I’ll help you after I finish this row!”

  16. Gelatt Family

    Gotta say “Woot!” for the shout out for the Weekend to Remember. My wife and I attended one 2 years ago, and it took us from a good marriage to a great one. As you probably know, a great marriage helps to achieve a Simple Life, right? Great blog you have here, and thanks for the Weekend to Remember mention! Love the Real Food book, also. Gonna go download that one!

  17. Kama @ Tootlee

    I’ve been looking for a gymnastics class for my girls, but I hadn’t thought of looking at the YMCA. The local gymnastics school is far too expensive, so maybe I’ll have to check into that. Thanks so much for the great idea, Tsh!

  18. Jessica Sprague

    I love this post. I think that it’s essential for moms to continue to learn things, to keep our brains active AND to be better parents in return. I offer online classes in Photoshop, photography, digital scrapbooking, photo editing, etc. that are perfect for simple moms! I would love to invite your readers over to recharge their brains!

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