How The “10,000 Hour” Rule Can Benefit Any Child

homeschooling for success, interest-led learning, learning for success,


If you haven’t heard about the 10,000 Hour Rule, you’re probably busy doing what people do, living life on your own terms. But what you may not realize is how this rule affects young people, whether they have one all-consuming interest or not.

Malcolm Gladwell identified the 10,000 hour maxim in his book, Outliers: The Story of Success. The rule describes how to attain Big Time Success. Based on an analysis of people who reached the top of their fields, Gladwell claims that any of us can reach greatness by practicing tasks relevant to our chosen field for a total of 10,000 hours. He provides pretty compelling examples including the Beatles, Bill Gates, and Tiger Woods. These guys put in the hours, then rapidly pulled ahead of the competition.

Plenty of other circumstances factor into success but it’s worth taking a closer look at what the 10,000 hour rule means for today’s kids. Good news. Those who are homeschooling or attending Democratic schools benefit enormously from the 10,000 hour rule, although not in ways you might expect.

First and most obviously, they have more time to explore their interests. They don’t spend hours every day on the school bus, standing in line to change classes, listening to instructions/attendance/announcements, doing rote schoolwork, and then completing homework in the evening. Even highly academic homeschooling families find that a full load of “schoolwork” can be completed in substantially fewer hours than the average school day.

That leaves plenty of time to pursue real interests. Long hours every day can be lavished, if a child wishes, on building expertise through direct experience in video game design, creative writing, chemistry, speed skating, cello playing, sculpting, astronomy, cake decorating, computer animation, or any other area.

It’s not difficult for a young person, free from the time constraints of conventional schooling, to spend 10,000 hours in an area of passionate interest. Let’s look at the numbers. The average school year in the U.S. is 180 days (pretty similar in most of the world) with an average school day of 6.7 hours.  Thus children are unable to pursue their own interests and learn in wider ways for a minimum of 1,206 hours a year. Even if we don’t count kindergarten, that’s 14,472 hours by the time they’re 18. And we’re not even adding time necessarily spent on travel to and from school, prepping for the school day in the morning, and doing homework after school (although we know these obligations probably add another hour or two each school day).

Sure, school kids engage in all sorts of worthy pursuits in their spare time. But homeschoolers and students in Democratic schools have a lot morespare time. These young people can accumulate the requisite 10,000 hours quite easily by their mid-teens, putting them on the fast lane to Big Time Success in exactly the field that makes them feel most vibrant and alive. If they choose.

But what about the homeschooled kids and students in Democratic schools who don’t have a single all-consuming interest? A girl might like to read sci-fi, go horseback riding, play soccer, and teach the dog tricks. A boy might drift from one pursuit to another, avidly creating his own graphic novel, then becoming passionate about parkour. Should these kids choose one thing in order to accumulate the all-precious 10,000 hours?

Absolutely not. They’re already putting 10,000 hours into the exact skills that more widely define success.

That’s because their daily lives are filled with self-directed and meaningful learning. Of course, depending on the style of homeschooling, it’s obvious that many kids will spend time doing some rote educational tasks. But nothing approaching15,000 hours. Instead they’re accumulating more useful and accessible wisdom honed by experience. How?

~Thousands of hours spent feeding their own curiosity, becoming well acquainted with the pleasure of finding out more. This develops eager lifetime learners.

~Thousands of hours exploring, creating, building friendships, making mistakes, taking risks and accepting the consequences (what’s ordinarily called play).This develops innovative thinkers.

~Thousands of hours spent shouldering real responsibility and connecting with role models through chores, volunteer work, and spending time with people of all ages. This develops self-worth based on competence and meaning.

~Thousands of hours pursuing interests, in whatever direction they take, building proficiency through direct engagement. This develops mastery.

~Thousands of hours reading, contemplating, conversing, asking questions and searching for answers, looking at the bigger picture from different angles, and discovering how people they admire handle challenges. This develops maturity and strength of character.

Gladwell reminds us that 20 hours a week for 10 years adds up to 10,000 hours. Filling those hours meaningfully? That’s no problem for self-directed, endlessly curious learners. Chances are, they’ll grow up to redefine success. Who knows what today’s young people, raised to think deeply and freely, can bring to the future?

homeschool success, success for today's kids, kids succeed on own terms,


This article was first published in Life Learning Magazine, Sept/Oct 2011.

17 thoughts on “How The “10,000 Hour” Rule Can Benefit Any Child

    • Came to the same conclusion about 10,000 hours, but not that these hours can be seen in a wider way! In fact the way any of us approach our lives can be a way of accruing those 10,000 hours, perhaps building mastery in careful analysis or wit or compassion or any combination of positive traits. Of course we can also practice negative traits, making us very skilled at those things that come too easy—impatience, laziness, gossip, well you get the idea.


  1. I read that book and a couple of others on the same subject, including Talent is Overrated. And I’ve seen the proof in my own child’s life. She has become outstanding in her sport simply because she put in the hours. However, one thing I wonder is, how do talent and inclination intertwine? Almost no one is going to be motivated to spend all those hours developing skills if they don’t have a certain amount of talent or ability to keep them going. So I think it’s complex. Also, I know some champions in my child’s sport who started when they were much older and somehow just clicked into genius with very little effort. But I definitely see that the 10,000 hours are a priceless gift you can give a child who wants to follow a certain path.


    • I’ve wondered about that too. Surely it includes a mix of opportunity, inclination, and eagerness to persist. If your daughter had been born in a country where her particular sport isn’t played she might very well have become outstanding in a similar sport, or used her persistence and talent in some other avenue.


  2. I wrote two similar posts about the 10,000 rule and Gladwell’s book. You can find them here – & here – I like how you talked about even if the 10,000 hours aren’t focused in one area, kids learning at home will become experts in so many of the skills that leads to sucess in life regardless of their particular areas of interests. I also talked about how I disagreed with Gladwell about the role luck plays in the lives of sucessful people. I agree there is a little something to that, but I argued in the post that most sucessful people have invited opportunity into their lives – creating their own “luck.”


    • Great posts Christina! I agree, we invite opportunity. But I think Gladwell’s point about luck, if I remember from reading the book when it first came out, also had quite a bit to do with timing. The world was ready for what the people he profiled had to offer. History is full of people who made amazing contributions in all sorts of fields yet they were ahead of their time, or stymied by racism/sexism/classism, or simply didn’t have the personality to garner attention, so their efforts were ignored, often until after their deaths. Thanks for sharing your posts!


  3. While I am not really a fan of Gladwell and the way he approaches many topics, I think this is a great post about the 10,000 hour idea and how home education can provide children with so much extra opportunity in this regard. I also like how you focus on how this doesn’t have to be explicitly devoted to specific skill to be beneficial.


  4. I had never translated those 10,000 hours into valuable skills like self-directed learning etc. What an insight! That gives me a whole new way to think about the spare time my kids do or don’t get.


  5. When I first heard of his book, I totally thought of home educating families! I really enjoyed your post here. I see how this is working already in our young children’s lives with how they are following their interests most of the day, and it is very true, they can master their activities now very efficiently and effectively through the kind of and amount of time available to them through our home education…and it makes me excited for the coming future!


  6. I am so excited that I stumbled upon your site! I have been struggling with unschooling and the 10,000 hour rule and when to know when to offer my children a push and when not to. You are the first unschooler I’ve found who even acknowledges the idea and you did it beautifully.

    Billy Joel has said that he is grateful that his mom pushed him to practice the piano although he hated it at the time. Now, he is a musical genius. That has really caused me to think about ‘pushing’ in general. I brought this up to a local group for discussion and you would have thought I was suggesting physical child abuse!

    Ironically, this morning, before I found you, I had my own breakthrough.

    To truly become an ‘expert’ the 10,000 hours have to either grow from a seed of interest inside of you or ignite a flame somewhere during the process.

    Bill Gates fell in love with computers and pursued his 10,000 on his own.
    Billy Joel had help from his mom pushing – probably at some point really enjoyed it but maybe as it wasn’t initially his passion, that has resulted in his personal struggles with drugs and alcohol. “They” say stress happens when where you are isn’t where you want to be. His 10,000 hours made him an expert…but since it may not have been his dream (just guessing here) he reconciled the talent not matching the dream with drugs.

    A young local skater had close to the 5000 to 7500 hours, that her mom made sure of, but she didn’t have the dream, so she let skating fall by the wayside. Had her mom spent her time and energy on something her daughter really felt passionate about, the ending would have been different.

    Kids can get so enticed by their parents pride and support and maybe even the fast treadmill of scheduling that they lose touch with what they really want and than all of those hours which could have been growing the child’s dream into reality are wasted on what the parent thinks needs to be done.

    Thank you for your post!



    • I’m fascinated by this too Melissa. I’ve wondered what the difference is between the spark a child ignites on his or her own versus the one that adults try to fan into existence. I think real passions can certainly be extinguished by overzealous adults, but they also pass away of their own accord that may not seem to have any logic to it. But really, everything learned is of value. When a child is pushed beyond her own interests in music or skating or whatever it may help develop expertise but it also teaches her to be passive when pushed by authority (parents, teaches, coaches), to suppress her own inner guidance to please others, and to push herself in ways that aren’t authentic when she may have better used the lessons gained from music or sport to pour into another pursuit entirely.

      It’s a classic scenario in literature and real life, a young person who is slotted into fulfilling a parent’s dream only to grow up despairing or self-destructive or otherwise miserable despite apparent success. I think your insight about Billy Joel may well be spot on.

      I could go on and on about this but I devoted a good part of my book to nurturing a child’s interests with love and not force, so I’ll stop before I write another chapter!


  7. I homeschool and attend public school part time for exactly the reasons you say. I want the flexibility and time to spend on my clarinet playing. Three years ago I decided to play clarinet professionally someday, and I started a blog, logging my practice hours and describing many of my musical experiences. If I were in school, it would be really hard and probably impossible to find the time to devote my time to something I totally love doing. Take a look at my blog: -Torin


  8. Thank you for this post! As a homeschooled student who just graduated high school and is starting my freshman year of college, I am thinking a lot these days about the skills I gained as a child and teenager and the kinds of skills I want to gain in my young adult life. This post really resonated with me in the way it’s organized: it started off talking about how a kid schooled like me has a lot of time to learn and gain skills, and could easily become an expert in any given area with just part of this time. This made me a little sad thinking of all the things I’m not an expert at but would love to be.
    But you made an amazing point when you brought up all the other ways we can spend that time: learning, playing, interacting, broadening our horizons. And I realize *that* is what I’m an expert at now, at the beginning of my adult life. I am adaptable, open-minded, sociable, meditative, and infinitely curious about the richness of human life and the natural world. No, I’m not a concert pianist. But you might say I’m a virtuoso human.
    Well, I hope that’s not too boastful, lol!
    Thanks again for a great post 🙂


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