“Why do I have to learn this stuff? I’ll never use it anyway!”

Your children will often give you this argument. Sometimes it is the voice of laziness trying to avoid work that may be challenging or perhaps tedious. Other times it is a sincere question of relevance or context poorly worded. Truth be told, far too much of what we call ‘school work’ is little more that ‘busy work’—something to keep students occupied and out of mischief until the next lesson. (I confess, I’m guilty.)

The question was brought home as I embarked on home schooling our four children.“Just because…” did not satisfy them nor me. So I took up the challenge and began to grapple with the issue: why do my children have to learn this stuff! What really is the essence of learning that motivates us to engage in the process?

In my quest to formulate a good answer to the question, one that was both meaningful and satisfying, I found four. The first—learning activities provide mental fitness exercises—is the subject of this post.

Physical fitness affects our ability to cope with stress. A healthy lifestyle which includes good nutrition, regular exercise and sufficient rest empowers us to manage stress confidently and effectively.


The objective of a gym is to build the body, tone the muscles and develop overall fitness. At times, your classroom is a gym. The lessons appear irrelevant to ‘real life experience’, just as lifting weights has little to do with most ‘real life’ jobs. Learning builds the mind, tones the thinking ‘muscles’ (i.e. neural pathways) and develops mental fitness (i.e. the ability to perform analysis and critical thinking).

Alzheimer’s is a dreaded disease. Its horrific grip leaves victims unable to think clearly and helpless to perform simple daily functions. This incurable condition only gets worse and eventually leads to death.

The Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center reports: “Staying cognitively active throughout life—via social engagement or intellectual stimulation—is associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.” Engaging in meaningful conversations, reading books and magazines, going to lectures and playing games are simple ways of “staying cognitively active.”

One study investigated the impact of ordinary activities like listening to radio, reading newspapers, playing puzzle games and visiting museums on 700 older people. The result: “After 4 years, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease was 47 percent lower, on average, for those who did the activities most often than for those who did them least frequently.” (Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease: What Do We Know?, Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center, NIA/NIH, Sept. 2012/ Updated March 2014)

Is there benefit to learning activities and subject areas that seem irrelevant to real life? More than we realize! Researchers are just beginning to document how important a life-long mental fitness program is to life and happiness!


(Adapted from my book, HOME SCHOOL: WHY BOTHER? available on Amazon and Kindle)

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