How MathTacular4 Helped with College Algebra

The Story

Our boomerang kid just started college again. He and I got home about the same time and he asked if I'd be willing to help him work through math this year. "I realized," he told me, "that I crammed all of my math in high school. I could only do about four of the homework problems. I don't remember any of this!"

So we sat down to work through it. Everything went pretty well. He would get bogged down now and again by things -- "How do I handle the 1/20?" -- and his sloppy, incomplete notation while showing his work made me smile. The scribbles reminded me of my own math days and let me catch a glimpse of how frustrated my teachers must have been with me in high school. He was gaining in confidence and then we ran into a gem that went a little something like this:

13. A teacher will replace your lowest test score with the score you get on your final if that score is higher. What is the lowest score you can get if you want an average of 80 in the class and scored 86, 51, 30, and 81 on your other tests?

We looked at each other.

His eyes held the look of a potty training child who has just recognized their internal signals too late. I had a similar feeling, but of a person about to go into war who is terrified and responding bodily to that fear.

"Well..." I said, giving myself time, "...we know we need 80 on one side of the equation. And you remember how to calculate an average, right?"

He did.

I had now almost exhausted everything I had gleaned from MathTacular4: Word Problems. We had followed the steps outlined in that program and were almost there. But one more challenge lay ahead. Thankfully, MathTacular4 had taught me that the dreaded "Word Puzzler" enjoys sneaking things into the problems. I saw it. The 30 was out of place. The value was too small, as if it were trying to draw attention to itself surreptitiously.

"30 is going to be the lowest score that we'll replace with our final exam score. So we add 86, 51, 81, and 2x (the final score twice) and divide by 5."

His answer checked out and I breathed a sigh of relief.

MathTacular4: Word Problems
MathTacular4: Word Problems

"You don't have to hang around if you don't want to. I could just call you when I have a question," he offered.

"No thanks," I said. "I need to work this through with you if I want to have a prayer of helping you at the end of the semester."

The next few questions were easy, asking us to subtract 7 from 142. I doubt I'll ever grasp the logic behind math textbooks.

The Lessons

First, if you -- like me -- haven't done math in over a decade, don't worry. Your children do not start with calculus. They start with number, shape, and color recognition. As you work along side them, you'll be ready to tackle limits and sine waves more prepared now than you were in college. Homeschooling lets you (re)learn stuff you missed the first time around!

Second, MathTacular is awesome. I love how even fun DVDs designed for 6th Graders -- or younger -- can be so applicable even for us adults and college students.

Third, there's help if you ever get stuck. The final problem was one of those "how much should this person invest in each fund if they want a yield of this amount" kind of problems. We tried. We scribbled. I got my own pad of paper and a pen. Finally we watched the example video lesson where each step was carefully explained and outlined. Halfway through the explanation we'd found what we needed to proceeded on our own from there. It was very rewarding and I recommended that he review this solution before the test. "That's definitely going to come back to bite you," I warned.

You don't have to know how to do everything. I think you'll be surprised by how much you learn alongside your children as you homeschool. And if math feels like this incomprehensible mess of squiggles and absurdity, check out MathTacular. These fun DVDs make math unbelievably understandable.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

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The Preschool Years Lay the Foundation

I peruse my bookshelves and see many old favorites. I must have read a few of these picture books to my children 100 times. But when I ask my now-grown children about them, they often don't remember.

It's stunning, really. Of all the hours I spent with my kids – reading, playing, cooking, singing – they don't remember many specifics from the early years. They can recall just a handful of moments from their preschool years.

I could get disheartened by this. Did I waste my time?

Of course not. Those preschool years built the foundation of my relationship with my children. It formed a foundation for their character, how they see themselves, and how they feel about learning.

A Sonlight family learning together
Sonlight mom Jasmine L shares a snuggled moment with her preschooler and a favorite Sonlight book

And my children certainly do remember the feeling of security as we cuddled and read together. I believe the emotional memories from that time are etched into who they are.

Consider the enormous damage that early neglect and abuse can have for years to come. I'm no psychologist, but it makes sense that on the flip side, early years filled with love and opportunities to explore can lay a positive foundation to build on.

For this very reason, Sonlight's preschool programs focus on helping you interact in positive ways with your child. You get engaging books to read and developmental activities to do together (which are really like simple games to foster fun, creativity and specific developmental milestones). Children this age don't really need worksheets and flash cards. They need quality – and quantity – time with you reading, laughing and playing.

That builds the foundation for your relationship with them, and their foundation for learning. When Sonlight kids finish preschool, my hope is that their natural curiosity about the world has been nurtured, that they see learning as fun and exciting, that they see you as a great source of knowledge, comfort and inspiration.

That foundation will serve them well for years to come.

If you have young ones at home, be encouraged. You are building memories that at least you will get to cherish for years to come. And when you read The Bee Tree for the seventh time this week, you are building into your young children's lives ... whether or not they recognize the cover when they're grown.


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Helpful Homeschool Tips in Your Inbox

Sonlight has close to a hundred posts, videos, and podcasts packed with helpful tools, tips, and tricks to help you on your homeschool adventure. Even if you're not a Sonlighter, these resources are a great place to start if you'd like encouragement, suggestions, or insights from other homeschoolers. But sometimes giant lists of materials can be overwhelming. That's why we offer four simple emails to get you started (or reinvigorate your current journey).

Click here to subscribe to one or all of the series.

  • You could get started with a brief selection of preschool tips.
  • Take in an introduction to the seven "essentials" of learning spread out over a few weeks.
  • Or slowly gain confidence with bi-weekly messages from our "Homeschooling with Excellence" series or the Beam.

You can love learning!

Why is this great?

First, rather than hoping something helpful floats across your Facebook feed or catches your eye on Pinterest, these helpful tips come to you. They show up in your inbox, ready when you are. And should you decide that the series you have isn't right for you, you can unsubscribe from that list with a couple clicks and sign up for a new set of insights that meets your needs.

Second, these messages are tailored to meet you where you are. If you have preschoolers, sign up for that one. If you're still not totally sure about homeschooling in general, our "excellence" series is for you (especially if this is your first year). Find the messages that resonate with you and check them out.

Third, the content is focused. This blog is fantastic <cough cough> but it can ramble now and again. We share everything from chocolate chip cookie recipes to complaints about Sonlight and the benefits of sleeping in. Which is awesome. And you should totally subscribe to this blog via email or RSS. ...but you're busy and sometimes you don't have time to real dig into a discussion of why homeschoolers are behind in school. Sometimes you just want those little nudges of encouragement every now and then, not every single day. And in that case, sign up for some homeschool encouragement.

The last thing you need is a few more emails to wade through. But it could be that a few carefully selected reminders that what you're doing is awesome and important ... that, that could be exactly what you need.

Check out the email series from Sonlight and subscribe the one(s) that'd be helpful to you today.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

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That moment when...

Someone's life is falling apart and you are just standing there.

I was at a birthday party for my daughter's friend. I saw the mom get off her phone from across the room; she was crying. I went over, just to give a hug, to rub her back...

"I just got a call that I have cancer." Her children are younger than mine.


I am very grateful that I know the Lord. That prayers well up when in my own humanness I have nothing to say. "Sorry" means nothing. Prayers of peace, of healing.

The things that moments before were center of mind, how hot it is outside, how to organize dress up clothes, if the children are getting all fades away to nothing.

Grief. The change of what you thought this year would look like, the plans you made — now nothing is certain. How serious is it? How will my life be different after today because of this? Will I grow old with my children?

I felt like an intruder. Someone who was looking on the face of grief, the crumpling of someone's heart. I wanted to be there, but at the same time, I felt like that was a moment that "should" be spent with people they've known, people who deeply love them, people who care and will be there.

But that wasn't the case. I was there. A near stranger. But I could pray. I could wrap my arms around her, carry some of that burden. I could listen. I could breathe. And pray more. Hug her. Rub her back. And continue to pray.

Sometimes God lets us enter into someone's pain even when we feel like we shouldn't. When we grieve for them that their grief is seen by others. But then we can pray. We can care in a way that if the hurting person just says, oh, it was a bad call...we would not have the middle of the night pleading sessions on their behalf before God.

Sometimes just being there, praying, touching, is all we can do.


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School Need Not Be a Foreign Country

Over the last year, while my cousin was visiting us from Germany, I found myself asking the "how was school" question often. Aside from two parent-teacher conferences the rest of the year, she was my only real point of contact. I could have called her guidance counselor, the woman who struggled to find a way to communicate with someone not completely fluent in English, but that would have yielded nothing; my cousin never went to talk with her about anything. I could have checked in with her teachers, but there wasn't much they could offer that we didn't cover in a five minute conversation once a semester -- "Your student is doing great. I love having her in class. She's learning so much!" And I didn't have time or opportunity to connect with her classmates and teammates to gain their confidence such that they'd share their insights. So I relied almost exclusively on what my cousin said in response to that single question.

Given that, the following metaphor rang so true for me:

"How was school?" he asked. School was a country and home was a country, and the two sent each other letters but never met, [the student] the emissary shuttling between.

The Distance Between School and Home

This is the unfortunate reality of so many school situations. Teachers would love more parental involvement -- as they recognize the profound impact you have on your student's success -- but the whole system just isn't constructed to accommodate such teamwork. Maybe in the younger years, but I doubt it based on my experience with high school.

With homeschooling, we don't have this problem. We know exactly how school went today because we are there through it all. If there is a meltdown -- us or our children ... or both -- we're all too aware. And if things are awesome with tons of "light bulb moments" and smiles and enjoyment of learning together, we're part of that. Home and school are both the same "country" and there is no need to send emissaries. You and your children work together as a team.

Foreign relations are difficult. Dealing with multiple governments can be frustrating, as I've learned while trying to acquire visas. Any time you bring two cultures together things can be bumpy. The same can be very true as parents and teachers try to do what is best for the children entrusted to them.

Homeschool and you continue to fulfill your natural teaching role. You can listen to what your children are going through. The joys and triumphs of learning and success, as well as the heartbreak and torment of struggle and perseverance, are yours to share ... together.

You're there.

Home and school are connected, intertwined, shared. And that is a good thing.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

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Order Today, Take 9-Months to Pay

Sonlight's Payment Plans let you spread your homeschool investment over several months so you don't have to foot the bill for a year's worth of school all at once. You pay 25% today and the rest in 25% increments over several months.

Right now is your last chance to take advantage of our $799 9-Month offer:

Place your order of $799 by August 15th and select the Payment Plan of your choice.

It's simple. If you're thinking about ordering your curriculum, today is the day to do it.

Get your homeschool curriculum now and spread the cost out with Sonlight's fee-free payment plans.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

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Milestones . . .

WedPhotoFour years ago today, our oldest daughter married the love of her life. In the next week (or so), their first child/our first grandchild will enter the world. If all goes well (praying that it might be so), our family will begin a new leg of our life journey.

Two years ago today, a good friend, also a wife and mother, went home to be with Jesus. She invested 25 years in her marriage, and countless hours in raising, loving and homeschooling her children, before she lost her brave battle with cancer. Thus began a new leg of their life journey.

We are in the midst of "busy season" here at Sonlight. Each day our Advisors talk with hundreds of parents who are about to enter the "homeschool" leg of their life journey. As I am privileged to chat with some of them, my mind often wanders to my daughter, and my friend. I love to share the excitement of those who are just beginning their homeschool experience, and hopefully encourage those who are in the midst of the long haul.

As I help folks wade through the curriculum options available to them, a recent blog post over on Coffee + Crumbs seems very applicable. While the author is writing to a "soon to be" mom, I think it could easily be adapted for a "soon to be" homeschool parent. All of those parts of your life that are impacted by the arrival of a new baby are also impacted by the beginning of your home education journey.

"Your whole life will be different. Every single day you will wake up with the responsibility of educating your child. It will affect every decision you make, every thought you have, every fiber of your very existence. You will slowly learn to let go of control and expectations, a process you will practice every day for the rest of your life as a parent. You will start to see the world as a teacher—you will see love and God and humanity through new eyes that will change you and mold you and make you more aware of how small you are and how big God is."

So relish the milestones in your journey, no matter where on the path you are, for they will never come again. And even when the journey is at its most frustrating, stop and thank God for even the difficult moments ... and ask for His assistance in moving on down the path.

Still on the journey ...
~Judy Wnuk

PS ... Sometimes the homeschool journey is greatly benefited by sharing it with other travel companions. Be sure to stop over at the free Sonlight Forums and enjoy the companionship of other travelers in our Homeschool Support Forum!

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