The top educational goal for my 8- to 12-year-olds

The top educational goal for my 8- to 12-year-olds Written by Jamie Martin of Simple Homeschool

Jonathan and I sat at our local Panera Bread, enjoying a mother-son afternoon date. We ordered hot chocolate and played a favorite game to get started. But then he wanted to get down to the real fun he’d been anticipating.

I opened my laptop and we began his online weather course: watching multimedia clips and taking the quizzes involved.

After 45 minutes, guess who was bored? (Me.)

“Jonathan, we’ll stop at 4 o’clock, but we can come back to it another day.”

“Why? Please, can I finish the whole thing?”

What homeschooling mama could say no? Not this one!

And the whole experience got me thinking: “How many 11-year-olds beg to study and take quizzes on their Saturday afternoons?”

What I want to stress is this: I haven’t done anything incredible to make this scenario happen. In fact, my son’s progress is more about what I haven’t done.

Steve and I have simply created an inspiring environment and then let it work toward the development of our top educational goal for our 8- to 12-year-olds:

To fall deeply in love with learning.

Soaking up the last warm days by taking our books outdoors!

Why we’ve chosen this path

If you’re familiar with Strengthsfinders, you’ll understand when I say one of my top five strengths is being a LEARNER.

Finding this out about myself a few years ago made so much sense out of my experience in public school. (If you haven’t taken the test you might want to consider it!)

I loved to read and write and desperately wanted to learn. I was one of those kids hiding novels under their desks, secretly questioning why I had to hide them.

My experience of having a deep love of learning and of having to work around the system to develop it, has made me passionate about offering my own children the chance to develop their love of learning in freedom.

No hiding novels under desks required.

Love of Learning Phase

If the phases of learning are new to you, here’s a basic overview: 

  • Core Phase, ages 0-8
  • Love of Learning, ages 8-12
  • Transition to Scholar, ages 12-14
  • Scholar Phase, ages 14-18
  • Depth Phase, ages 18-22

The idea is that a child will naturally move to the next phase if and when they have fully mastered the goals of the previous ones, which is why all the ages listed are approximate guidelines only.

Previously I wrote about our family’s experience with Core Phase learning for ages 0-8. Reading that post first will help you understand this one, since all of us must have a secure core phase foundation for the other phases to follow.

The top educational goal for my 8- to 12-year-olds
One of our favorite learning games for understanding money

The Love of Learning Curriculum

“During this phase, the skills and tools of learning such as reading, writing, math skills, experimentation, library research, and oral persuasion, that will enable later scholarly habits, are practiced according to the student’s level of interest and desire and a fair level of competence gained.”
~ Leadership Education, Chapter 2

Here’s an overview of the Love of Learning curriculum, as it is described here:

  • Example
  • Environment
  • Opportunities & Projects
  • Work, Play, Study
  • Field Trips
  • The Library
  • Inspiring Parent
  • Mentors
  • Guidance
  • The Bookshelf
  • Mornings, Afternoons, Evenings
  • The Seasons
  • Exploring
  • Freedom, Fun, Family
  • Questions & Discussions

If this curriculum sounds like real life to you, that’s because it is!

Jonathan engrossed in this fabulous edition of a forever classic

Our family’s experience

I remember studying this book years ago, wondering how on earth letting my little kids play most of the time would lead to a desire to learn. But it turns out, it does!

I’ve discovered that ten- and twelve-year-olds, in the right environment, don’t want to be doing the same thing they were doing at ages six and eight. They slowly mature and develop new goals, particularly if they know there’s a mission out there waiting for them.

I have a 12-year-old now in Transition to Scholar Phase, an 11-year-old solidly in Love of Learning, and a ten-year-old still working through Core Phase.

Yet it hasn’t been all flowers and buttercups to get us here.

What we’ve given up:

Following such a different path hasn’t come without sacrifices. The main sacrifice we’ve made is letting go of the typical conveyor belt method of schooling.

We haven’t tried to “keep up” with the system, because we wanted a new system. While this has been freeing in many ways, it’s also required faith and a commitment to homeschooling long-term.

When allowed to develop naturally, children develop unevenly. They may be far ahead compared to grade level peers in one area, far “behind” in another. We’ve needed to step way outside the grade-level box. That’s been downright scary at times.

What we’ve gained:


In our home, we have an environment where learning is celebrated! It’s FAR from perfect, mind you, but that’s the beauty–it doesn’t have to be perfect to work.

I have three children who passionately love learning, who think one of best ways to spend an afternoon is curled up with a book or writing a new story.

Even my youngest, who at age ten is not yet a fluent reader, tells people that his favorite things to do are “playing and reading.” This response tells me that his natural love of learning is still alive and kicking, in spite of the fact that he hasn’t yet mastered the written word. I’m so grateful for that!

What about hard work?

But don’t kids need to learn certain things, like it or not?

We definitely teach our children the importance of hard work, but we do so in areas outside of academicscleaning and working for the family, baking and cooking, and focusing on character.

One day I came across a quote from a veteran homeschooling mama on a Thomas Jefferson Education forum that put it all together for me:

“Separate learn to work hard and learn to love learning. Let each of those be internalized on their own tracks. Then, in Scholar Phase, the two combine and the kid is ready to work hard at learning.”

IMG_1081 (1)
For our family, a subscription to Little Passports has been a perfect addition to Love of Learning Phase

Is it really that risky?

The results of the traditional educational system are far from stellar, and they certainly come with plenty of risks involved, too.

Following a new philosophy took tremendous faith and courage in the younger years, but now our family has started to see it working. Having kids who love learning makes a homeschooling parent’s job much easier…because they begin to educate themselves.

This allows me to get on with my own education and mission, all the while modeling the importance of learning alongside them. We live, love, and learn side-by-side, each of us in the way that best matches our phase of life.

And in spite of the challenges, I couldn’t imagine anything else I’d rather be doing.

Learn more about Love of Learning Phase:

How does your family seek to instill a love of learning in your children?

This post contains affiliate links, which means I get commissions for purchases made through some of the links. Thanks for your support of Simple Homeschool!

Originally posted on Nov 16, 2015.

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. You always give me food for thought, Jamie. I need to check out some of those links this afternoon!
    When I occasionally stress out over where my kids “should” be, it helps me to remember that the goals set by school boards are completely arbitrary and aimed at what they consider to be an average learner…..which none of my kids are, but all in different ways (as with pretty much every child).

  2. I’ve followed your blog for the last 3 years. I always find your writing honest, informative and inspiring…Thank-You!!! But, I often have questions I wish I could ask. For instance, how to you balance your Love to Learn approach with providing opportunities for your children to socialize (I know I actually used that word). My children attend a 2 day co-op that structures much of our learning. While I would love more freedom, I feel the time they get with other children and even other teachers is valuable. If you feel comfortable, I’m curious about how you provide opportunities for socializing outside the home? Many homeschooling families I know require/encourage their children to play sports year round, etc… Every family has to find their own formula for success. Just interested in some of the ways you may do that.

    • Sure, Gretchen! Personally I haven’t found our philosophy to hinder my kids’ socialization in any way. I’m guessing you mean that the co-op you’re a part of is quite academic in nature? In our case, I’ve just looked for opportunities, groups, etc that would align with what we had determined is right for our family/kids. In much younger days, that was often just playdates with close friends.

      Then they were a part of a weekly arts-based program that included things like painting, play, woodworking, etc. We were also part of a co-op and took part in the activities that interested us for a year or two, but focused mainly on the extracurricular offerings and not the academic ones. We did plenty of field trips and outings with that group as well. Now my kids are in a weekly wilderness school, where they spend one day each week completely outside, no matter the weather. That has been a perfect fit for love of learning phase! They are also quite involved in activities at our church, especially as they’ve gotten older.

  3. This post is just what I needed to hear to get me back on track, or rather off track! We have always been kind of eclectic unschoolers, using books, projects, games, conversations, real life as our curriculum. But for some reason, this year I decided “now that my oldest is in 4th grader, we need to get serious about math, history, grammar, keeping up with school, etc.” I thought it would be fine because I was still leaving plenty of time for interest led learning. But I’ve noticed the past few weeks that when I make them sit down and spend an hour or two working through their math books, and whatever other lessons I’ve decided they SHOULD do that day, by the time they’re done their brains shut down. They don’t spend the afternoon tinkering with Lego’s or reading a book for fun. They don’t choose to fill their free time with interesting projects or games of chess like they used to. Has anyone else had this experience? Do I just need to let go of the workbooks and school based expectations? I love the idea of separating learning to work hard and learning to learn. So much to think about this morning!

    • I’m glad this gives you good food for thought, Jen. I would never be the one to tell someone what they “should” be doing, because I think each of our families and children needs something else, and you’d be the only one qualified to determine what that is! With that said, I’d also encourage you to maybe ponder where your feeling about “getting serious” with these subjects came from.

      Was it a sense of internal intuition, knowing something is right on a spiritual or other level for your unique family? Or was it just what you felt you “should” do — because of your own conveyor belt beliefs from the system. This post may help: It could make sense that if your children are taxed mentally, then they would shut down and need to “recover” – perhaps that could be what you’re seeing in the afternoons? Blessings on you as you seek the answers you need, Jen!

      • Thank you for your kind response Jamie. I’ve been thinking about this post all week. I think my feeling of “should” comes partly from my own desire to give my kids a great education, and partly from my husband and family’s expectation of what “school” looks like. Any suggestions for a resource on how to structure our days for this type of education to work? Is that covered in Leadership Education? Thanks so much for your help and inspiration!

  4. jamie you are my inspiration. this is exactly what i want to do with my kids. listen i have a question for you or any of the tjed homeschoolers. i have a vacation coming up and i want to read those books i bought (Finally. I had only glanced and learned about it from your posts.) Since I am kind of doing my own hybrid of this and am mainly incorporating homeschooling stuff in terms of life/domestic/skills (we devote a lot of our time together on baking, housekeeping, nature on the farm, invention, reading, spirituality and art) .i admit i’m leaving a lot of the education to their great public school teachers who i think are doing a great job! (although some day i def think we are gonna homeschool full time) My question is which book should I read first? the Leadership Education:Phases of Learning book OR the Home Companion Book? (I will eventually read both but which one first?) My kids are almost 5 and 8! And can I still do the core learning phase with my 8 year old? Help! thank you! SO inspired!

    • Definitely I’d go with the Leadership Education book first, Tricia. But if you have the time to devote to it, I’d also recommend reading A Thomas Jefferson Education (not the home companion, just the regular one.) And Leadership Education explains what to do if you feel that one of your children (or yourself, for that matter!) doesn’t have a solid core or any of the other phases. Yes, it is definitely possible to renegotiate a previous phase! You just have to “go back” to that phase in a sense, and the book explains a bit more about what that would look like.

  5. sally mostafa says:

    I really thank you, you are inspiring me, I want to teach my kids at home and I am really afraid of failure, I have three kids one 8 and 6 are twins, you really give me a good push, thank you
    I hope to contact with you if possible

  6. Your site has given me so much courage the last year plus to school outside the box, and I’m suddenly starting to see the fruit of it in my 8 year old. Every once in a while, I would get scared and wonder if I was doing all the wrong things, but it’s so rewarding to see him desire learning! And this post speaks to me about how much more this will grow if I don’t get in there and mess it all up, hehe. Thank you for your continued to commitment to all of us in your wake 🙂

  7. I grew up hating school and most learning in general. Even as young adult I struggled through college, not because it was to hard, but because I was apathetic. How I wish I could go back and apply myself!

    My desire in homeschooling my kids is that they truly do love to learn. Right now they love learning, and I definitely want to keep them loving it! I struggle with knowing when to push them harder and when to back off, but what you said about learning to work hard outside of academics really stuck me. That idea is definitely going to influence how I make some schooling choices! Thank you!
    sarah’s latest post: Where to find a community of moms when you desperately need one

  8. We follow the TJED approach, and I am interested to know there is a forum. I see it is on Facebook. I’m not on Facebook. How valuable do you find the forum? I have considered joining Facebook to participate in the Mentoring the Classics discussion group. Do you participate in the group as well, and do you find it worthwhile?

    With high school starting next year, I’m getting nervous. I want my 14 year old to have opportunities to study with others, but don’t want to lose the flexibility by joining a 1 or 2 day a week program with prescribed curriculum. I think finding other TJEDers to bounce ideas off of right now would be valuable.

    • Hi Lori,
      I am in both the Facebook group (Jamie pops in occasionally), and there is also a Yahoo email group, but that is not as active as the Facebook group. There are several in the Facebook group who only visit the group and even use a pseudonym so that they can be a bit anonymous. The group has thousands of members, and is very active, and I have to say is the best group I have ever participated in online. It is such an encouraging group, with so many great resources, I don’t know how I would have ever pulled off TJEd without it.
      Heidi Nash’s latest post: 25% OFF the Home Education Record Keeper

    • I would DEFINITELY recommend the forum, Lori. It’s such a relief to have a place where you can go bounce ideas off others with a common viewpoint and hear from others further along the path than you are – plus the whole forum is searchable, so you can search for threads that interest you!

      I’m not active on the MIC FB group just b/c of time constraints, but I hear it is wonderful as well!

      • Thank you Jamie and Heidi. I think I’m going to be taking the Facebook leap! I think the connection to other TJEDers will be very valuable.

  9. I love educational philosophy that follows a child’s natural development. I read your “core” post a while back and had been looking forward to when your kiddos reached this “love of learning” phase. Thanks for sharing this with us!
    Amy’s latest post: Charlotte Mason’s Methods

  10. This post is such a good reminder of one of the reasons I decided to homeschool. I love that my girls can progress at a pace that is personal to them. I also am amazed to let them play and see how much learning goes into their play. For example, the last two nights my oldest daughters have created a “school” with their new dolls they just got. They told me their dolls each had to take turn reading and then once they read, they had to summarize what they learned. It was like a wonderful little bell was ringing over head! My girls were combinging their reading and writing from school into their play time! As a mom this type of learning makes me so proud.

  11. I am curious what the weather quiz/game is that you where playing with your son? Thanks

  12. Renee Tougas says:

    Following a new philosophy took tremendous faith and courage in the younger years, but now our family has started to see it working. Having kids who love learning makes a homeschooling parent’s job much easier…because they begin to educate themselves. –


    (beautiful post by the way)

  13. Rébecca says:

    What would you recommend to parents when they haven’t followed this philosophy in the younger years and the kids are approaching the Scholar phase age range ? Is all lost ? What would be the best strategy to regain love of learning ?
    Thanks !

    • No, all is never lost, Rebecca! The way to move through the phases is just to progress through them. Meaning that if an older child doesn’t have a solid Core Phase, you’d temporarily go back and let him/her experience that time of learning right/wrong, good/bad, but without the academic pressures and assignments that can create a hate of learning. Parents find that their kids progress quickly through the phases if given a chance to renegotiate them. And while that’s going on, you’d be setting the example and educating yourself with the books/links I mention in this post. There’s a great Facebook group as well where you could get a glimpse of families who have done what you’re referring to:

  14. This is SO good! I read the phases of learning per your recommendation and found it to fit our family so well. I thought I was an unschoolers but I felt like something was missing. Leadership Education was the missing piece! Thanks for sharing.
    June’s latest post: How to Work Consignment Stores like a Boss (and get clothes for free!)

Share Your Thoughts


CommentLuv badge

Never miss a blog post,
PLUS get Jamie’s FREE ebook: