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Homeschooling and the 80/20 Rule

I’ve been thinking more about my post on the 80/20 rule. Basically this rule points out that certain actions lead to disproportionate results. Often, you can look at a group of actions and see that just 20% of them ultimately lead to 80% of the result. If you identify and focus on those vital components, you can get a better result than a more haphazard approach allows. You minimize getting bogged down or discouraged by trivial details.

  • The 20% of something that is the most helpful or vital leads to 80% of a good result.
  • The 20% of something that is the most unhelpful or distasteful results in 80% of any misery experienced in the process.

I’ve been able to come up with quite a few ways you could look at homeschooling using this rule. There is probably an infinite number of ways to look at this, and some of them would doubtless contradict one another, but still I think it is fun to think about. You could say things like:

  • 80% of what we learn (and retain) comes from the 20% of our experiences that are the most meaningful.
  • 80% of our personal struggles come from the 20% of our flaws that are most unbalanced.
  • 80% of frustration in learning can be traced back to the 20% of learning activities that are the most difficult/disagreeable/discouraging.
  • 80% of the fun in homeschooling comes from the 20% of activities that are the most interesting/appropriate/constructive/meaningful.
  • 80% of what we actually get done in a day is a result of the 20% of our potential activities that we’ve most successfully made into good habits.

There are lots more that I could think of, but it all seems to boil down to this:

In a situation where you are trying to improve your learning outcomes, or even just to have a more pleasant experience, start by getting the most critical 20% in order. Often the resulting sense of accomplishment and improved morale seems to make the other less essential parts much easier to get through. Plus, if you don’t get to everything (like me, most days) at least you know you did the parts that mean the most.

If you do a little more of the most fun and helpful techniques, you can increase your overall success by a lot.

If you do a little less of the unhelpful, counterproductive stuff, you can reduce your overall misery by a lot.

Don’t worry about getting the balance perfect – that’s not going to happen!

Of course, this does mean you do a lot of thinking about what really means the most, what really is the most productive use of time, what really is the best approach for your situation. The answers may not always be what we assume they are!

I’m going to be thinking of other ways this principle can be applied to homeschooling. I’d love to hear your ideas, too!

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2 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. Thank you for submitting your blog post to the Carnival of Homeschooling.

    One thing that came to my mind is how our family morphed from unschooling to the Charlotte Mason method, doing a relaxed classical approach. If I boiled down our time with ‘short lessons’ I would say my children’s lives are 80% play or self-directed learning and fun and meaningful work, and 20% formal lessons (which I plan out). I blogged earlier this week that my kids are learning a lot in the time they are not doing formal lessons, even now…

  2. april

    Good point Christine!

    I also do the short lessons a la Charlotte Mason, and leave most of the remaining day for free play and self-directed learning when I can. I find the short lessons help me really focus on the key points we need to cover, instead of slogging through tons of busywork. And I am also frequently amazed by how much they learn outside formal lessons. It seems to me that the formal lessons mainly plant lots of seeds, and the real digesting and internalization of the learning takes place outside the formal presentation.

    Thanks for the comment!

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