How you think is more important than what you know.

Written by Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool and founder of Steady Mom

A note from Jamie: I’ve been thinking about this post and its message recently. It originally published on March 21, 2011. Hope you enjoy it!

We live in a distracted world. So do our kids. Information rapidfires at us from multiple directions, faster than we can process it. In fact, it’s impossible to process it all anyway.

When it comes to education, we’re encouraged to focus our efforts on the skills our kids need to learn: how to read, how to write, the five paragraph essay.

Check, check, check.

“Oh no, Stacey can’t read yet?”

“Uh oh, no multiplication tables memorized?”

The foundation of our school system, back when it originated, centered around having children learn these specific skills.

But the world has changed. If we want to send our kids off with the best chance for a full and fruitful life, we must change too.

The transformation we need to make starts in our heads, with the more than 10,000 thoughts trickling through it each day.

Teaching our children to think is the key. Here’s how.

1. Thinking Positively

Our world reeks of negativity, and we’re not always aware of the effects. They come spilling out of us: in our thoughts, our speech, our fears. But we don’t help anyone by joining ranks with the negative.

If we want our children to have the edge they need to live a joyful and productive life, a life that transforms our hurting world, it’s time to think about what we’re thinking about.

Each and every day, as homeschooling families, we add another brick to the construction of our family culture. Do we come to the breakfast table with fears and worries or do we come expecting our children to succeed in whatever path they’re led to in the future?

Through the thoughts and beliefs we nurture we model to our little ones life’s possibilities. We model what we believe they’re capable of.

2. Thinking Critically and Analytically

11 years ago as a college senior, I sat chatting with my English adviser, a mentor I admired and trusted. I nervously told him some of my concerns about graduating with an English degree. I had no plans to teach and wondered if I would ever find a job I loved. He encouraged me.

“Jamie, you’ve been given a gift that many with more “practical” majors haven’t–the chance to learn how to think. Employers in many fields are desperate for this quality–applicants who can think analytically, who can reason and come up with new ideas.”

Looking back over a decade later, I can see how right he was. (Thank you, Dr. Stokes!)

Skills are important, don’t get me wrong. Individuals with many skills make great employees and can get a lot done.

But individuals with many ideas start new endeavors. They make great leaders and visionaries. Don’t discourage your children’s ideas–don’t steal from them their ability to dream.

3. Thinking like a Leader

Leadership is not the ability to be a manager or run a business. It’s the ability to think for one’s self and then take action, thereby creating a life that serves others and makes a difference.

That means each of our children, no matter what their unique personality, has the ability to be a leader.

I first understood this truth when studying the philosophies behind Leadership Education, which states that there are three types of education. The first is the conveyor belt model, which teaches children what to think, so they can graduate and get a job. The second, the professional type of education, seeks to train experts by teaching them when to think. Outside of their narrow realm of expertise, these graduates must rely on other experts.

But leadership education focuses instead on teaching children how to think, so they will be prepared for their unique and personal mission in life–a mission of influence, a mission that changes the world.

Most of us, as homeschooling parents, didn’t grow up with that type of education–at least not from our schooling. If we have it, it’s because we’ve earned it ourselves.

Our souls sense–maybe just a little, or maybe with a desperate urgency–that our kids can have more. That they deserve more. That our world in desperate need means they must have more.

We tremble in our boots at the thought that we could be the ones to offer it to them, the ones to mentor them on their journey. We’re scared, then we’re brave; we dare, then we falter. We take a baby step of purpose, laying those bricks with sweat, tears, and prayer each and every morning.

I don’t know how to teach high school science, my algebra is rusty, and it’s been a while since I bored myself with the five paragraph essay. But here’s what I believe: My children (& yours) have seeds of genius inside them, God covers my many mistakes with amazing, daily grace, and my kids will blaze new life into dusty trails wherever their future leads them.

The foundation for that success, the type of life success that really matters, begins with this key idea:

How we think is more important than what we know.

How do you keep yourself focused on what really matters in homeschooling when it’s so easy to be distracted by your teaching to-do’s?

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.


  1. Wow. Well said, and so true. I’m still on the homeschooling fence, but keep writing like this and I might just jump off.


  2. Posts like this illustrate why I’m so glad you’re the editor of Simple Homeschool (smile).

  3. I really, truly needed this today. We are struggling with some tough financial decisions right now, and are very aware that situations may lead us to enroll our son in school next year. To make sure he is prepared (just in case) and that the transition (if it has to happen) is smooth, I have been reviewing the state curriculum standards for his grade level, and panicking pretty heavily since, although we have covered all the math and reading, our history has focused on a different time period than he would have covered in school this year.

    The three types of education you mention have calmed me though, because we have taught him how to learn. And that will be more important than the fact that he knows more about The Reformation and Martin Luther than he does about early American history and Thomas Jefferson.

    Thank you.
    Sarah B.B.’s latest post: On the Vernal Equinox

  4. I loved this! This post goes beyond just homeschooling and reaches those who need a new vision on life. I really appreciated reading this, this morning.

  5. Love it, thanks for sharing!

  6. Great post! I particularly love the 2nd to last paragraph about what you believe and God covering my mistakes. I think I might need to post that sentence on the wall! Thanks for sharing!
    Jenni’s latest post: At the End of the Rainbow Rice

  7. But individuals with many ideas start new endeavors. They make great leaders and visionaries. Don’t discourage your children’s ideas–don’t steal from them their ability to dream.
    My kids are all now grown, but we homeschooled for 8 years. This statement above is awesome! Encourage your children to dream, explore, and to not just thinnk, but to think outside the box.
    My 2 younger kids spent the last 2 years in high school, and their teachers loved them because they were interested in learning and knew how to think on their own. Even if you choose, for whatever reasons to not homeschool all the way through, you can teach them this skill and they will carry it with them.
    Great post!
    Living the Balanced Life’s latest post: WAHM- The Struggle with the Juggle

  8. Love these thoughts on leadership! You really gave me a new way to think about it. Thank you!

  9. One of your best posts yet. Am printing this out for my homeschool journal to reflect on. Thank you, Jamie.

  10. I’ve started to learn this lesson: that if I am joyfully engaging in the work that God has for me as a mother, that by the virtue of the children being predisposed to being with me, that they will follow me into my life. And if I am being and doing all things unto God with all my might, that the children pick up on this. I love learning, reading, new ideas, spirited debate, God’s Word, philosophy, math. I love the possibility of TODAY. I am so thankful that they seem to continue in their natural love of learning and I have a little something to do with that. What a privilege! I have 3 little mirrors following me around all day to diagnose what kind of person I really am, so by God’s grace I can become what I want them to become.

  11. thanks for this- I need a little inspiration!
    priest’s wife’s latest post: Choose Your Own Excuse

  12. Jamie,
    I sure wasn’t taught this either, but I feel honored at the opportunity to teach this to my children. I too believe that God has a plan and purpose for everyone, and that it is our job as parents and educators to help water the little seeds so they can blossom and grow. Thank you for inspiring us to help make the soil fertile for the children to thrive!

  13. I heard a fantastic teaching this weekend on how thinking resiliently is one of the most important skills we can teach our children. Basically saying when all their normal coping strategies don’t work – what will our children fall back on? And what we all fall back on is what we believe. That is how they defined resilience. It was very thought-provoking for me as a home-educator.
    misha leigh’s latest post: Beauty Sees What Beauty Knows Part One

  14. So true and so encouraging. Thank-you!
    Rachel at Stitched in Color’s latest post: piecing for Good

  15. a hearty amen from me. I too am an English major who didn’t pursing teaching (ha! look at us now, huh?) yet saw the value in learning how to think critically and to write it down. kudos to your prof. who encouraged you to not worry about your future.

    I’ll be bookmarking and sharing this post, for sure.’s latest post: Confessions of a reluctant Christian unschooler

  16. You explained that so well! I have a friend who makes fun of me because I was homeschooled but he admitted that he only does because he feels that he was robbed by NOT being homeschooled. He feels that by learning how to think, I received a huge advantage in life.
    Mary’s latest post: Try Something New this Easter!

  17. Great post Jamie, I remember this from last year. It’s what got me into the TJed. I love this philosophy of learning.

    This has always been my fathers philosophy. He used to say “People don’t know how to think for themselves anymore.” When I was younger and in high school that was the one thing he drilled into me “If you just THINK about what is being said and apply it to how this could work for you then share it with others you and the people you share it with will have a better understanding.”

  18. I enjoyed this post. As the parent of a teenager trying to choose between a music and an English major, I get lots of input from well-meaning people who say, “What kind of work will he do?” At least he won’t be limited to being a dental hygienist! I hope that by teaching him how to think, reason and work hard, he will do any kind of work he wants to do – whether or not he has that specific skill set now, I know he can acquire it. I would like my children never to be limited by their education, but for their horizons to expand by means of education.
    Jen @ anothergranolamom’s latest post: Homeschooling to Adulthood: Teaching Kids to Clean

  19. This is really beautiful Jamie, and so, so true. We can’t fill up our kids with all the facts in the world, and that shouldn’t be the goal. We can equip them to live a life of learning and creative critical thinking.

  20. “How do you keep yourself focused on what really matters in homeschooling?” I read inspiring blogs like Simple Homeschool! Thanks Jamie.

  21. First of all, very well-written and thought-provoking post. One thought that comes to mind, though, is that it isn’t necessarily an all-or-nothing choice; we can help them develop strong math and writing skills AND raise kids to think for themselves and walk as leaders. I certainly see this with my son who is now in highschool. We laugh because it seems my siblings and I are all on the “anti-establishement” side of life and I’m certain this came from our mom. In the same way, I see my kids growing up able to question, dig deeper, discuss, stand apart… simply because that is what I do. But knowledge and skills are also important and can help equip us for influence in our communities.
    Kika@embracingimperfection’s latest post: If You’re Walking Through A Valley:: and five tips to help you come through victorious

  22. A passionate and beautifully articulated post! I agree, forming minds that enquire, can research and create is the real work of homeschooling and it is the children who do the work! We guide, give suggestions and nudges (sometimes BIG nudges!) but they are the ones that have to make the connections and truly learn. That is why it is hard and beautiful.

    I can be scary to think of all the ‘things’ our children need to learn but when you realise that most information is arbitrary, that this book is as good as that one or that this period of history is just as fascinating as another then you become free. We have the time to read ALL the books! What they learn isn’t as important it is that they learn that really counts. The world doesn’t need more conveyor belt, switched off students (as an ex teacher I’ve seen my fair share) but people who are energised and excited by life and learning. That is my goal, it’s lofty but it is certainly one worth striving for.
    Emmalina’s latest post: today in pictures

  23. I realized this principle when I started taking online college classes for myself. It was more important that I knew how to think than to simply regurgitate information. I was preparing my mind for what God’s plan was for my life.
    Aadel’s latest post: What the Kids are Reading March 11-18

  24. I find it intriguing that homeschooling so encourages leadership when the kids spend more time alone or in small groups than other school systems. Do you think part of it is simply less time being trained to be a follower? All groups require a leader. In large crowds, a bigger proportion of the kids must be followers.
    Jean’s latest post: Crossing state lines

  25. Jamie–this is one of my favorite posts of yours. When I read this the first time, I wrote down your words, “How we think is more important then what we know” on a post-it note, and stuck it on my fridge. It’s been there ever since. THANK YOU.
    Rose’s latest post: Paris, baby, Paris.

  26. You have so simply put what our own personal homeschooling philosophy is in my home. Teaching our children to think on their own will take them anywhere they need to go. Thanks so much!

  27. I have read Leadership Education and it was the beginning of my kids and I to be life learners and not just worried about cramming and memorizing facts. I hope by reading all sorts of classics and mentoring them that they will learn how to think. Thanks for this post!!

  28. Thank you for this post! I needed it today, of all days. I live in a state that requires standardized testing, and I just got the results for my children. The results fall exactly in line with our philosophy of home education, yet I am almost in a panic! I want to run to Amazon and buy up a bunch of grammar books for grades 1, 3, and 5!

    When I stop and reason through these scores, I can see, “okay, yeah, our little plan is working!” It isn’t traditional by any means, but exactly where we are putting our time and emphasis is exactly where we are seeing the greatest gains. The lower scores are in “conveyor belt” areas where we specifically decided to hold back a bit. I can’t let a required test rob me of my peace of mind. We have a plan, and it is working. We just have to keep working the plan!

    Thanks again for some much needed perspective!

    • That is so true, Fran. It must be hard to have scores and numbers staring you in the face like that – it takes such courage to choose a different path, and you’re choosing it! Pioneering the way forward for your little ones. Keep at it.

  29. Ma.Dhares says:

    Thinking critically is very importyant especially when making decision…If you are going to decide something, make sure you are always ready for the consequences it can give you…
    Ma.Dhares’s latest post: Chamonix Accommodation

  30. This has a lot of benefits for now and I am sure a lot of people can relate to this…
    Nicole’s latest post: Baltimore

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