10 Things Homeschoolers Get Right

Trying to change public education is like trying to steer an ocean liner ... with 1,000 people clamoring for the steering wheel at once.

In other words, it's hard to do. By the time most change happens, it has been filtered through so much bureaucracy, I'm not sure it does much to help students.

But homeschoolers? We don't have to get bogged down in bureaucracy. We have the freedom to simply do what makes sense.

To that end, I just came across an article that made me want to shout amen: 10 Obvious Truths about Educating Kids That Keep Getting Ignored.

I agree with these "obvious truths." And I rejoice that homeschoolers don't ignore them. In fact, we naturally incorporate them into our approach to education. Though I don't think the author intended it this way, I see the article as a major validation of homeschooling as an educational option.

A Sonlight family exploring their world
Sonlight mom Erin M does what homeschool moms naturally do as she introduces her children to a fascinating world within a loving environment.

For example, in the section exploring the reality that "Students are more likely to learn what they find interesting," I was stunned to read the following sentence:

A group of researchers found that children's level of interest in a passage they were reading was 30 times more useful than its difficulty level for predicting how much of it they would later remember.

I knew that student interest makes a huge difference. But that interest level was 30 times more useful for predicting recall than difficulty level? That blew me away. Give kids an easy passage that they find boring? They won't remember it. Give them a difficult passage that they find boring? They won't remember it. But give them a fascinating passage of any level within their reach? They'll be all over it.

This principle is at the heart of the Sonlight approach to homeschooling. We fuel children's love for learning. We give them books that grab their interest and foster discussion within the family. And the learning almost takes care of itself.

Kids know that textbooks are boring. (Have you tried to read one lately?) You just can't write a textbook as gripping as a story. But when kids read great stories and get to tag along on the adventures of those who lived through turning points in history ... they eat that up and remember the historical content.

Another obvious truth this article points out is that "We want children to develop in many ways, not just academically." I've written before on how homeschooling doesn't just give that lip service. We have the freedom to help kids develop in many areas of life.

For example, it is next to impossible for a classroom teacher to properly address the specific emotional and physical needs of each child in her classroom. But as a homeschool mom, you can – and do – attend to those very things every day. If your son has a meltdown over a difficult math assignment, you can take a break from the math and address his emotional needs. If your daughter needs to work for 30 minutes and then jump on a trampoline for 10 in order to stay focused ... why not? You are free to let her do that. If your children are grieving the loss of a pet, you can take time during the school day to talk about their loss and help them process. In other words, homeschooling lets us meet our children's holistic needs. We can let our kids be kids.

I could point out every one of the 10 items on the list, but I'll end with this one: "Children are more likely to succeed in a place where they feel known and cared about." Amen. And where do children feel the most known and cared about? In a loving home, with their family. You'll never find a teacher who knows and cares about your students more than you do.

So carry on the good work you're doing. When the days get long and spring seems far away, know that you are giving your children a great gift. You are embracing natural truths about education that classroom teachers would love to be able to implement. Keep up the good work!


P.S. Which one of these truths stands out to you the most? How have you naturally incorporated it into your homeschool?

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School Without Success

He works at a local grocery store, always wishing for a few more hours. He was finally able to move out of his parents' house last year. He's still wondering what God wants him to do.

"I started high school," he tells me, "convinced that this would prepare me for the 'real world' in a way homeschooling hadn't."

He pauses.

"It didn't."

College didn't either. Those four years failed to launch his artistic career, even though the school partnered with an art gallery, had an extensive Senior Show, and all that. His resolution for this year is to have a packed portfolio, planning to create a piece every two weeks; he tells me how much he has learned post-college. The latest four books he's purchased for inspiration and instruction stack themselves neatly on the table between us.

He looks me in the eye, but says nothing. I don't say anything either.

Art Student

We chat a while longer about work, college dreams, life, and God's leading. Then he has to leave. Work starts early tomorrow.

I sat there, as I do now, wondering what the message is in all this. What does it mean when we complete school without success? And the question is as big as a double rainbow, with as much vagueness as to what it means. As I mull this over, here are a few thoughts that have surfaced:

  • This young man was homeschooled. But that can hardly be blamed seeing as how he went on to graduate college. The sobering reality, however, is that school -- of any kind -- does not guarantee a job. I think we, who believe education has tremendous value, can become myopic and miss the complexities of life. Homeschooling, like education in general, is no panacea. I'm reminded of Psalm 127: Unless the Lord builds the house... May we all seek the Lord's direction for our lives and the lives of our children.
  • The "real life" lie is pervasive. Perhaps I should write a blog post dedicated to this, but for now I'll merely touch on this topic. School is not real life. In fact, as Paul Graham argues, it is quite the opposite. If you're looking for an educational model that more closely resembles life, homeschooling is the system for you. Traditional schools segment by "batches" and segregate by age. That is not real life. Employers tend to hire people of all ages.
  • We never arrive. "School without success" lugs a finality with it. And while this young man has not yet started a career -- indeed, he may never -- that does not mean his life will fail to be successful. In fact, it is important to remember what it means to be successful. And even if he is not yet there -- wherever there may be -- this is a life-long process. We do not "arrive" at success. We run into it when we have finished the race (2 Timothy 4:7).

We've chatted before, this aspiring artist and I. He's certain that stocking shelves is where God wants him; but for how long? I don't know. But if that grocery store is where God has put him, he's on the right path toward success.

Are you concerned that your students will somehow make it through school without success on the other side? I encourage you to keep your eyes focused on what God is calling them to do, remember that the preparation you provide by homeschooling is an excellent option, and that the paths we walk are journeys that last a lifetime and can only be judged looking back from eternity.

Keep up the important, valuable, meaningful work you do.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

P.S. I would also like to highlight the "post-college learning" bit. School is great ... when it is a tool that helps us learn more long after we've finished our formal education.

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Top 10 Favorite Books

favoritesWere you able to get in on our Inspire 25 event last week? It was such an encouraging evening, with lots of great tips from Sarita Holzmann, Heidi St. John, and Crystal Paine. I loved listening to the ladies share their wisdom and expertise. If you missed it, don't worry. We recorded it. It's available at 25.sonlight.com.

Those who logged in during the event had the opportunity to share via Facebook and Twitter. One question we asked was, "What is your children's favorite Sonlight book?" Oh, my! I can relate to those who said, "It's impossible to choose just one!" There are so many great books throughout the curriculum. It was interesting to see the wide range of answers to that question.

Just for fun, I tallied up the books that got repeat "votes" to see what the top favorite books would be. Here is my non-scientific, unofficial list of the Top 10 Favorite Sonlight Books:

  1. Red Sails to Capri
  2. Uncle Wiggly's Storybook
  3. The Boxcar Children
  4. The Berenstain Bears' Big Book of Science and Nature
  5. Johnny Tremain
  6. The Witch of Blackbird Pond
  7. Gladys Aylward: The Adventure of a Lifetime
  8. My Father's Dragon
  9. Sign of the Beaver
  10. Understood Betsy

I don't know about your family, but I'm pretty sure my family's Top 10 list would be different than the "general" list. How about yours? What are your (or your kids') favorite Sonlight books?

Enjoying the adventure,
~Karla Cook
Lifelong Learner

P.S. If you haven't yet linked up with our January Blog Party, it's not too late! The link-up will be open until February 1... and you could win a fabulous package of encouraging books especially selected for homeschool moms!


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January Blog Party

JanuaryPrizePkgOur year-long 25th anniversary blog party kicks off today, and I can't wait to read your stories! In your blog post today, introduce us to your family. Are you just getting started homeschooling? Or do you have graduates? Or somewhere in between?

Even if you don't use Sonlight... or even if you don't homeschool... you are welcome to participate. Please grab a blog party button to include in your post or sidebar. Once your post is live, come back here to the Sonlight blog and link up with us. Then, be sure to visit and comment on other blogs who link up. It's a great way to gain new readers and make new friends!

Everyone who participates will be entered in a drawing for the great prize package pictured above. The winner will be announced on February 11, 2015.

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Inspire 25 is almost here ...

Facebook-Cover-PhotoPreparation for Inspire 25 has filled my days (as well as the rest of our team's) of late. We are so excited to share this fun-filled and inspiring evening with the thousands of folks who have registered already.

I'd love to give you a sneak peek to what we'll be sharing tonight, but I think I'll wait and let you be surprised, encouraged and inspired as a group this evening. Let me just say, we had a test run through yesterday with all our speakers, and we alternated between smiling and laughing and pondering and laughing and wiping misty eyes ... oh, and laughing!

So we have a busy day of preparation ahead ... tweaking last minute stuff, going over the details as a team, testing and double-testing the technology ... You can prep for this evening as well! Make sure you're registered on Facebook and/or Twitter and are logged in before our event begins. If you're planning to attend with a group of friends, be sure to plan for great munchies (and oh yes, lots of chocolate). If you're planning to attend by yourself, be sure you've got a comfy spot all ready and your favorite beverage close at hand.

I can't wait to connect with you tonight!!!

Still on the journey ...
~Judy Wnuk

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Surviving Gloomy Days

Uff da. It's January.

We were home for the holidays when we typically visit family in Florida. That meant by about a week in I was going, "What? It's only the 3rd? It's snowy and cold! I want to be somewhere warm." ...I guess I'm not a huge one for winter.

We've been hunkered down, doing school, and sorting through life. I love to be outside, so I'm a bit lax on my household chores during the summer. Instead of fall cleaning, I wait for midwinter. It's too cold and gray to be out, so, time to organize the basement!

To fight the blues, it's really helped us to hold to a pretty strict (for us) schedule. It sets the pattern for our days. No matter how fast I work, I can't seem to get my own stuff done before 10. Between breakfast, laundry, cleaning up dishes, feeding the baby and generally picking up ... every morning is filled with a few hours of scrambling. I've taken a page from my mom's book and am trying to get my stuff done, and then do snack, and then start school. It's been good. It's allowed me to get back on track with my daughter's Bible study work and means the kids know the pattern of the morning. It also means my kitchen is clean for the day, which is really nice.

My husband and I have also been doing a diet reset, the Whole30, which is pretty time consuming cooking-wise. I've made a lot of really yummy food, and spent hours in the kitchen. This has been a new habit and I'm not sure if I'm excited for it to continue or if I'll be ready to change it up come January 31. I will say, it definitely keeps me on my toes and focused on something other than gloomy days. If you are needing a pick-me-up, maybe try a diet reset ... pretty brutal, but definitely distracting!

One of my dishes

So, that's where I am. Fighting the darkness of winter with business, cooking, cleaning, school. For someone like me who is much more free form during the summer, this works well. By the end of the day, I'm proud of what all I've done and I hardly notice it's dark at 5:15 (thankfully that's moving steadily later).

Excited to join you on the 22nd for Inspire 25! If you haven't signed up yet, you should join us!

Until next time,

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Socialization Ill: Conformity Over Compassion

Over winter break, one of "my" college kids was feeling lonely. Her parents' house was empty; she was away from the constant thumping whir of dorm life; not currently in contact with others who keep a vampire's schedule, she turned to the constant chatter of YouTube. And there she encountered Brave New Voices. "I must have spent at least an hour watching and re-watching these videos," she told me. Then she shared a few.

Please note: These videos are not child-friendly and discuss issues related to trigger trauma.

Two of the presentations we watched together: "Rape Joke" and "Somewhere in America". I'm glad I was aware that these are stories she's experienced. She was dwelling on these topics because of her past and present pains and horrifyingly real experiences. These videos spoke to her. They spoke about her. She felt, with the three girls in the second video, that the local mall was a capitalistic smokescreen erected to mask the realities of rape and hunger and privilege. School was a system designed to silence the oppressed, shame the wronged, and promote the trivial. The public educational structure that most people consider essential for equipping children for life in civilization was, at best, a conspiracy against minorities, women, free thought, and meaning.

Friends, there is truth to that.

I am not against public school. But there is a reason I so frequently share Paul Graham's essay on Nerds. See, the pressure of school socialization is to conform to the pattern of that world. And that world -- constructed by your peers -- is petty and pointless. There are great opportunities to be had, to be sure, but the socialization can scar you, so much so that someone started a YouTube channel to provide a cathartic outlet for those who feel silenced by it.

So while this beautiful, talented, wonderful girl was soaking in the brine of popular culture -- dictating her wardrobe, her mannerisms, her behavior -- I was reading missionary biographies and historical fiction which brought to light the travesty of rape, hunger, and the privileged elite. We homeschoolers aren't rocked by evil because we grew up learning about it. And it was no cursory nod from a paragraph on the pages of a dry textbook. We were in the dirt, the mud, the muck with people who bound up the wounds of the hurting, helped free people from literal slavery, and showed their friends their value in Christ. As Chesteron said, we didn't read about dragons to learn that dragons are real, but to learn that they can be killed. We don't wallow in evil. We approach these topics in an age-appropriate fashion with an eye toward building maturity.

Conformity vs Compassion

Homeschooling with Sonlight focused me on compassion.

The focus of the social environment at school is conformity. That is the opposite of compassion. And that is one more in the long list of socialization ills which plague the very halls of the system which claims to be a requisite for better connection with the people around us.

We Sonlighters don't need YouTube to tell us the world is broken. We've been learning what needs to be fixed from the start.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

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