What does ‘inspire, not require’ really mean?

what does 'inspire, not require' really mean? ~SimpleHomeschool.netJamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool, also blogs about motherhood at Steady Mom

Monday mornings at our breakfast table usually start the same way. The kids munch away on their cereal while I kick off a new week by reading aloud our learning manifesto, which hangs in a frame in the same room.

This may sound like a glamorous moment, but I assure you it isn’t. There’s the typical amount of yawning, chewing, and interrupting, but one part of my declaration always seems to grab their attention. The kids’ voices join in as I speak out:

“We learn because we are inspired, not required!”

Inspired, not required. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But what the heck does it mean? And does it really work–if so, how?

Leadership Education

The phrase ‘inspire, not require’ originates from an educational philosophy called Thomas Jefferson Education (also known as Leadership Education). It’s one of the seven keys of great teaching as they define it:

“If the purpose is to train leaders, it’s important not to force the young person through their learning experiences. Force in learning kills the spirit, dampens the passion and destroys the zest and life of learning. Force trains followers, not leaders.”
~ Oliver DeMille, A Thomas Jefferson Education, page 42

Why I choose to inspire, not require


When I initially considered homeschooling, I was in the midst of a healthy dose of chaos from having a four-, three-, and two-year-old in the house.

I spent what felt like long days in survival mode–starting to teach the basics of kindness and character. This took up most of my reserves of time and energy, and I couldn’t stomach the idea of adding another level of “requirements” as well.

This doesn’t mean that life is a big free-for-all in our home. We have certain areas that most definitely are “required” — they fit into the character and responsibility department. We require kindness, manners, and mutual work that blesses the family.

But that worksheet about what sound “SH” makes? Not so much.

What this really looks like: An invitation

Inspire, not require at its core means modeling from Mom and Dad. It means doing and learning the things yourself that you want your children to do and learn.

I recently started brushing up on my math skills, which have languished for quite a few years. I’m reading the NYTimes Bestseller Math Doesn’t Suck (I know, great title) at the dining table, chatting about it with the kids. Jonathan likes to check in the back of the book to see if I’ve gotten the answers correct. This is one of the first steps in my plan to inspire the kids to increase their formal study of math.

Remember how good it feels to be invited to do something? To go to a birthday party, to speak to a group, to write an article, to be asked out on a date?

I like to do the same with my children. I invite them to study, to learn. An invitation makes something a privilege.

In a few months, I’ll be inviting my children over the age of nine to study math with me. When my children reach the age of eight they receive an invitation to begin baking lessons with me.

Before Christmas I invited Trishna, Jonathan, and Elijah to make their own handwriting books. When they complete the entire alphabet, they know I’ll invite them out on a date to celebrate their accomplishment with a hot chocolate and a treat at the local coffee shop.

All three have eagerly been working away–by their own motivation and at their own pace. Just today I overheard one child say, “I love handwriting.” Insert happy mama’s sigh.


Here’s the great part of an invitation–you can turn it down. That’s part of inspire, not require too–letting your children tell you when they’re ready, and when they’re not.

What about core subjects?

Inevitably when I talk about inspire, not require, I hear some version of this statement: “This sounds good for free, discretionary time, but surely I can’t inspire my kids’ reading instruction, math, or writing.”

It’s really true: You can inspire, not require core subjects. Doing so just means you have to be willing to go at a different pace from a traditional classroom. I‘ve noticed that by letting my children choose these things, they have retained an enthusiasm that enables them to catch up to or surpass their peers–when they’re ready.

And that requires me to let go and trust the process. Which can be scary, let me tell ya. It can also be downright breathtakingly beautiful.

What about meeting legal requirements or if I need to put my kids back in school?

It’s true that in some states or countries certain academic requirements must be met. My answer is to meet them (or to move. ;))

But have you taken the time to stop and evaluate those requirements? For example, even if you had to prove formal math study you could accomplish that with a page of math a day, leaving you many hours for inspired learning.


This philosophy works well for our family because, as far as we can foresee, we are committed to homeschooling long-term. We’re not concerned with keeping up with certain standards “just in case.” We have embraced a completely different paradigm of education.

If you think you might need to put your children back in traditional school at some point, you might be interested in research done by Raymond and Dorothy Moore, pioneers in the early homeschooling movement.

After reviewing over 20 studies that compared children who entered traditional school early and those who entered at a later age, Dr. Moore had this to say:

“Comparative studies of early and late school entrants indicate that late school entrants generally excel in achievement, adjustment, leadership in general, social-emotional development and motivation. These studies suggest that children remaining at home until later than average, do better than average. These studies have been made of high, middle, and low socio-economic status youngsters, and measurements have been taken at virtually all grade levels with substantially the same results.”

What if you hate everything I’m saying?

We have found what brings peace and joy to our family and homeschool–and we love it. You should find that, too, and it could be something completely different!

Is what you’re doing adding life and energy to your family? Are your children falling in love with learning? Can you continue this pace long-term? If so, keep doing what you’re doing!

Inspire, not require is an art, not a science. A flow, not a system. We discover it as we move forward in faith and courage, and we recognize it by the spark it ignites in our homes.

What does “inspire, not require” mean to you?

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. i love this post. i’m teaching my 4 year old (oldest) to read right now. I’ve happened across the perfect curriculum for her love of scribbling and “writing letters” and now she really is writing letters and always wants to head to her ‘desk’, a table in the great room which she’d claimed as her own, so she can work on her letters. I actually have been intentionally ending each lesson a bit earlier than she’d like so she leaves wanting more every time. I’m going to start classical schooling at home next year, but I think I’ll have to read more about Thomas Jefferson education too.
    sarah’s latest post: How to Cook Brussel Sprouts You Will Crave

  2. I found this post to be entirely INSPIRING!
    We play a lot of games at our house and my kids will beg for “more math bingo!” whereas a math worksheets elicits big groans.
    Rachel @ 6512 and growing’s latest post: she who is determined to miss nothing and he who is greatly tolerant

  3. I have recently been wrapping my brain around this same concept. My daughters handwriting is really indecipherable sometimes and most of the time I felt like I was banging my head against the wall with all the ways I was trying to get her to just sit and practice. I decided to try copy work again (which she hates) only this time I explained we were doing it so that she could focus on making the most lovely letters and let the author worry about all the spelling and grammar and punctuation. Also, I sit and do my own copy work right next to her which I think made the big difference for her. She sees me doing what she is doing and it is more meaningful for her. Plus, she is interested in how I write more but finish first and asks for tips like how to avoid the tail of her g on the next line. Communication has appeared where there was only a roadblock before, oh, and she has performed beautiful handwriting from day one of doing this. She was always capable of it just never inspired to do it before now.

    • Depending on your daughters age, maybe try teaching her cursive writing. My daughter is 7 and her handwriting was horrible. She has autism and with that comes fine motor muscle fatigue. She couldn’t write for more than five minutes because the pressure she placed on the pencil would cramp her hands even faster and her hand writing would get worse and worse as she went on. Since beginning cursive, she places less pressure on the pencil, has less pain in her hands and has been able to write for up to 15 minutes without issues or complaints. She wanted to learn to “write like you mom”, so cursive became a part of our daily writing. We use the “Handwriting Without Tears” books and she has so much fun with them. I plan to continue to use them with her and introduce them with my son when he’s older. He wants to be just like sissy, so he often thinks he’s bigger than he is. They have journals as well, so we can still do copywork to build those skills without having to focus on each letter individually. We use copywork to build grammar, usage and mechanics skills and talk about why certain words are used in certain ideas. 🙂

  4. Big hugs! Love this post! This is basically where we are at. Been reading a lot of John Holt stuff lately 🙂

  5. I love this, Jamie! I have read many books on this topic but here’s where I’m at: I feel I don’t have the time to spend on my own education. My family is on a special diet that requires a LOT of time in the kitchen. And due to health issues I am quite tired. I find myself overwhelmed at the thought of investing my time in myself in order to inspire them. Granted, my kids are only 5 and 3 😉 But they will be older sooner than I know! Any suggestions/thoughts?

    • Perhaps the special diet preparation time IS your investment in your education during this season? And it’s beautiful that your children are so young because you have such a wide buffer of time, years really, to gather ideas about how this could look like and how it could meet both your and their needs. I would recommend starting by reading Leadership Education by Oliver and Rachel DeMille.

  6. I love this.
    We are not “officially” schooling yet – my children are still young – but this is also our approach to learning. It is so much more valuable, and children are so much more invested, when they bring themselves into it autonomously, I think.
    Your manifesto is brilliant. I think I might borrow it… xo
    meghann’s latest post: pizza night

  7. I love this! 🙂 I’ll be starting my oldest in Kindergarten next year and this is exactly the approach I’m going to take. We’ll be using the Charlotte Mason method. I’m very excited but at times will feel overwhelmed–I also am due to have our third baby in September! So when I think about how daunting it all could be, I just remind myself that we don’t have to meet any standards, just our own, and we can go at our own pace. I love “Inspired, not required”! I’ll definitely put that on my wall!

    Love the blog!
    Catie’s latest post: A Few of My {Recent} Favorite Things

  8. I love the ideas behind the Thomas Jefferson educational model. Someone else named Marilyn Howshall wrote books much earlier describing the same model and that is where I started. I can give you a great example of this idea of the parents being the model.
    I am always searching for sales and coupons. Little did i know my sons were paying attention. My 14 year old is very into gaming and decided that he wanted to record his gaming to put on youtube. With much research and several coupons later he was able to purchase the software at 50% off. My other son, 8 years old, asked if he could help me look for the best sale items in the flyers. He learned division and how to use the calculator and how to shop.
    Being a big fan of John Holt, the Moores and all those who support this style of education, it is great to see it working.

  9. This is a very helpful post. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  10. thank you & amen!!
    we had wandered toward “schoolishness,” mama coercing the bigs to sit down & do some math, while the littles played happily & freely. insert grumpy children & frustrated mom. the peace wasn’t happenin’.
    SO. now we play outside. we bought them lunch trays to sled with. we play chess. my daughter makes all our birthday cards & has gorgeous handwriting. why? because SHE wants it to look pretty. & how she beams when she gives her cards!!
    jamie, THANK YOU for giving me PERMISSION (by great example!) to do what works for us. to not worry about the standards & what other age-mates are reading.
    our family is just that: our family. God-inspired, God-lead, & when mama’s listening full of God’s peace.
    jill’s latest post: throwing up in church.

    • You’re so welcome! And lunch trays to sled with? How cool!

      Love this: “our family is just that: our family. God-inspired, God-lead, & when mama’s listening full of God’s peace.”

  11. The perfect post at the perfect time for me! Thank you!

  12. This post is inspiring 🙂 We do ‘require’ some things…but I’d like to shift in your direction
    priest’s wife (@byzcathwife)’s latest post: Sex & the Married Priesthood: Ceasing Marital Relations within Marriage a "Praiseworthy Thing"?

  13. This is why I love that you’re the editor at SH. Loved your last three paragraphs especially. Is what you’re doing bringing joy and peace to your home? (assuming that’s your goal) Is it sustainable? Do you feel motivated – as mama and learners to greet and move through your day?
    renee @ FIMBY’s latest post: Take me to Your Dungeon Master

  14. Thank you, Jaime! The Leadership Model is new to me and completely foreign to me and opposite of how I have always thought. It definitely feels right and peaceful. Taking my time reading through Charlotte Mason and Leadership Education. So thankful for your posts on how to put these theories into practice!
    Heather Doyle’s latest post: "J"

  15. Inspiring is so important. Thanks for sharing your ideas. I’ve been telling homeschool moms for years that it is so important to inspire, rather than require…especially at young ages.
    kerry’s latest post: Super Bowl Dip {Monday Meals}

  16. Love this article! 🙂 Just wondering, have you posted your family’s learning manifesto anywhere? I think we need one, but I’m having trouble thinking of everything that needs to be included (and what needs to be left out)…

  17. Jamie, thank you for being an invitation to consider homeschooling this way while leaving the door open for individual style and preference. One of the biggest reasons I love this blog is that it demonstrates new (and old) ways of learning without claiming to have arrived at a perfect method that we should all strive to achieve. I’m not in a place where I’d feel comfortable with your approach, though I love the sound of it.
    Many thanks!

  18. Hi Jamie,
    I’m becoming more and more interested in the idea of “inspire, not require” the more I read your posts about Leadership Education. I’m currently doing more of a blend between relaxed Classical and Charlotte Mason (with plenty of my own twists thrown in as needed to make it work for my kids). I want to learn more about the practical, day-to-day aspects of how to “inspire, not require”. Is there a specific book you recommend that gives concrete examples/guidance on how to actually put it into real life? I’ve looked into buying TJED book several times, but never have bought it because it looks like it is more about the philosophy and not so much about how to actually do it. I will likely only ever buy one book on the topic (I’m working under a tight budget), so I want to make sure the book I buy really includes the nitty-gritty details.
    Thanks for any advice on which book to buy!
    Sarah Smith’s latest post: Ways to Deal With (Our Own) Anger and Irritability

    • I know what you mean. I have read some of the Thomas Jefferson Home Companion and it is useful for involving the community and mentoring the classics, now I am reading The Thomas Jefferson Education main book which is about philosophy. The Leadership Education for The phases of Learning is more about what to stock in your house and walks you through the core needs..
      laura’s latest post: Serendipitous

  19. I love this! I have always approached our homeschooling this way, but this year it’s been difficult especially with my 4th grader. We have a new baby and this is my 5 year olds first year joining us in homeschooling. Baby is fine, kindergartener is slowly finding his way, which is perfectly fine, but my 4th grader no longer wants anything to do with school. She’s only completed about 9 weeks of our curriculum and the year is over half way through. We’ve never really finished and entire curriculum in one school year, but we’ve never been this behind. She just doesn’t feel inspired and I’m having a hard time letting this go. This post gives a lot to think about. Thank you!

  20. Love every word of this post. You’re restoring meaning and delight to learning. Sharing!

  21. I’m having trouble “inspiring” my high schooler. 🙁 Any suggestions? Given to his own devices, he’d play minecraft or team fortress 2 all day and night. Or just sleep.

    • Candace, I was struggling with the same thing as my girls entered the teen years. All the approaches that worked for us went out the window as first the older and then the next developed a slouchy, grumpy, don’t-care-anymore attitude. They didn’t want to go back to school necessarily, although they were open to it, they just didn’t want my control over what they were learning. For awhile, that made me even more controlling. I don’t recommend that unless slammed doors and tearful outbursts are your thing.

      Then I dug into material about how teens learn and what inspires them. Here are my recommendations:

      Free to Learn by Peter Gray, his premise applies to every age including parents.

      The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn, really inspiring. Get your kids to read this one!

      Free Range Learning by Laura Weldon, the second half of the book is the real goldmine with lots of open-ended ways to learn joyously. Also, check out this article by the same author about successfully homeschooling teens: http://lauragraceweldon.com/2012/05/24/successful-teen-homeschooling-two-vital-factors/

  22. Anyone else with teenagers that are hard to motivate?

  23. We share a similar philosophy. My daughter just turned 7 and we are just learning to read – at her pace. I love to read and reading opens up the world. It’s too important to me to rush it or cram it at her!!

  24. Anna Vaschina says:

    Very cool 🙂
    I haven’t thought of it in that way. Whilst I’m not free to go that way completely it does inspire me to move in that way when things get stuck.

  25. We love to inspire instead of require too! We are relatively recent to homeschooling ( 18 months) but your words ring so true to my ears! My youngest child who is 3.5 yrs is so independent in her work although she is not yet consistent ( whether colouring or playing with sand or learning her phonics) and I have been amazed to watch that since she has never visited a school…she is more inspired to learn and doesnot view it as a chore 🙂 My oldest (a gifted child) was in school for 2 years and the experience nearly sapped his instinctive love of learning on top of making him emotionally unwell!! (not to say everyone will have a similar experience with schools) .

  26. Love this post Jamie. I love all your posts about Leadership Education. It is so helpful for so many to hear about how this works for different families.

    For those with teens who have developed a “teenager” attitude – give them a copy of Thomas Jefferson Education for Teens (and read it yourself too!). The book is full of inspiration for teens (and adults), calling them to find their mission and what they have to offer the world, and how to get themselves a fantastic education so they are best equipped to fulfill their missions.

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