10 Things Your Struggling Learner Needs You to Do

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10 Things Your Struggling Learner Needs You to Do • homeschool • special needs

Homeschool moms are inundated with stories of student success. Even on the Sonlight blog, we highlight our Sonlight scholarship winners, but don’t tend to highlight the struggling learner.

Yet one of the great strengths of homeschooling is how it can serve students who need some extra help. Many students with learning challenges big and small prefer to homeschool, and often thrive at home in ways they just couldn’t at regular school.

If a homeschooled student needs to work two grade levels behind in reading and two levels ahead in math, that’s no problem. A student in regular school would have a hard time finding that level of customized instruction at all, much less while avoiding harmful labels from being in the “slow” class.

When you homeschool, your children get consistent one-on-one attention from adults who love them and will move mountains to get them what they need. I believe that parents who choose to homeschool children who struggle with learning are serving their students exceptionally well:

  • by guarding their hearts
  • by becoming their students’ tutor and advocate
  • by loving them in such a practical way

How to Help the Struggling Learner

But what practical steps can you take in your homeschool to best help a struggling student? I think much of the challenge is figuring out why they are struggling. It can be hard to know if your child just needs some more time for things to click, or if they have a learning disability that would be helpful to address. When do you wait, and when do you get help?

There may not be a clear answer for you (or for children in the school system either, for that matter). But here are some tips that could help. Enjoy the benefit of having time with your child to figure out what works.

1. See a Doctor to Rule Out Physical Issues

If you suspect a problem, start first with things you can measure. Have your child’s vision and hearing tested. Work to eliminate the concrete issues. If you find out your child just needs glasses or some eye tracking therapy, you’ve discovered a relatively simple way to help them!

2. Use Special Resources and Methods

If your child is six or younger, use the Developing the Early Learner series, which comes with our Pre-Kindergarten program. These fun workbooks are specifically designed to help you identify areas that may need a little extra work, such as hand-eye coordination.

For reading struggles in particular, try these ideas:

  • Try letting your child read out loud to a dog.
  • Be flexible with how you use the Read-Alouds and Readers. Consider reading some of the Readers out loud to your child, or using some Read-Alouds as extra reading practice for your child. Or consider switching on and off, as your child reads one paragraph (or sentence) out loud, and then you read the next one out loud, and so forth.
  • Let your children read books that are relatively easy for them to read. If every book they read is at the top range of their ability, they will get worn out and learn that reading is always a chore. Let them just enjoy the pleasure of reading a good story without having to work too hard for it.
  • Consider the Remedial Reading package if you need an extra boost.

3. Chat with Other Moms

Find support, advice and encouragement on the Learning Challenges section of the Sonlight Forums.

4. Think Outside the Box

Find work-around solutions that could help your child learn. My friend Judy’s son struggled with fine motor skill issues from birth. She found ways to help him work around his challenges, such as teaching him to type at a young age because holding a pencil was so frustrating for him.

5. Don't Ignore the Heart

Consider that an academic struggle might be tied up with an emotional need. If your son is scared of any hint of failure, then math time might actually feel terrifying for him. You can help him process these feelings even as you help him move forward in math. And your awareness will help you respond with respect for what this experience is like for him.

6. Ask an Expert or Trusted Friend

Seek an objective evaluation when you can. Sometimes we are just too close to the situation. Ask people you trust to give you an honest evaluation of what they see in your child. Do they think your child is showing signs of anxiety, outright defiance, or a learning disability?

If you’re talking to a professional (such as your pediatrician) and they encourage you to seek intervention for your child, it can be helpful to ask, “Will this cause permanent problems if we just wait and see what happens instead?” This question can help you know if the professional sees a red flag issue that you need to address (such as a potential hearing problem), or if they just want your child to be in the middle of the bell curve of development.

And as always, our Sonlight Homeschool Advisors are here to help Sonlighters with homeschool questions big and small. You are not in this alone.

7. Research

Explore the Struggling Learners section of the HSLDA website. This resource can help you identify the difference between a typical developmental struggle and something you may need to address, such as dyslexia or an auditory processing disorder.

Read and research specific behavior and symptoms. If something strikes you as odd or potentially important, look it up. But also remember that many online searches can quickly lead you to assume the worst. This is another time when outside counsel (from your spouse or friends you respect) can help give you much-needed perspective.

8. Don't Convey Anxiety

If you’re worried about your kids, be careful not to convey your anxiety to them. I know this is easier said than done, but kids do tend to take on our worries. We want to show them that their struggle is nothing to be ashamed of, so we need to be responsible for our own feelings and not unintentionally ask them to carry our anxiety for us. (This is another time to return to our knees in prayer. Because God can help carry our burdens.)

9. Rearrange Your Priorities

Oftentimes, preserving your relationship and your child’s love of learning is more important than meeting someone else’s goal for your child. Better to have a child who loves books, loves learning, and is a year or two behind in reading than to have a child who hates it all and is only slightly less behind in reading.

10. Give Yourself Grace

And always remember that parenting, like life, is not a precise science. The bottom line is that you often won’t know if something is just a hurdle or a real learning disability. So please don’t berate yourself if you do discover a learning issue down the road. There is even debate among professionals over which learning disabilities are legitimate and which are simply labeling.

Homeschooling is Great for Struggling Learners

When a concern arises, seek counsel from friends or trusted health care professionals and pray for wisdom. Take encouragement in knowing that you love your child and have their best interest at heart. Your one-on-one teaching/tutoring will allow you the freedom to research issues, try different approaches, and keep seeking when others might give up.

You will figure things out as you go. For an example of what this can look like in real life, a friend of mine wrote this last week about her 7-year-old son:

”I have a child who is way ahead in reading but truly detests handwriting practice.

”I saw it first as just a character issue (sometime we have to do what we don’t like and do it without complaining), but realized in addition to character building, it was helpful to think about the developmental needs and the psychological ones as well.

”For him, we have to work on it from a developmental standpoint (keep strengthening those muscles) but also his drive for perfectionism and fear of failure. What’s funny is that the solutions thus far would probably be the same either way. We have tried to take it back to basics as much as we can and develop lots of successes and work VERY slowly and incrementally.

”And—just as a funny note—you never know what might motivate your child. My son read in Story of the World that Charlemagne only learned how to form letters near the end of his life, so my son told me today that his handwriting is already better than one of the great rulers of an empire. Ha! #historybuffkid”

Be encouraged that God knows your children inside and out, and knows the plans he has for them. As we are faithful to our relationship with our children and seek to help them learn, God will grant us the wisdom we seek. God will be with you and your family every step of this journey.

10 Things Your Struggling Learner Needs You to Do • homeschool • special needs

Want more encouragement?

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You'll be encouraged by the words of founder Sarita Holzmann, inspired by real-life stories from other homeschoolers, pick up practical tips for the journey and more.

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The Proverbs 31 Homeschool is Not a Daily Checklist

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The Proverbs 31 Homeschool is Not a Daily Checklist • homeschool encouragement

I can still remember reading Proverbs 31 for the first time after becoming a wife. What was, for so many, an anthem of womanhood, I found to be sheer exhaustion. I wasn’t inspired by her; I was tired! I wondered so many times how the Proverbs 31 woman did that lengthy list of tasks every day. I lamented that I would never measure up.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I heard a sermon which graciously explained that Proverbs 31 was an account of this woman’s life, not her day. I wanted to give the preacher a great big hug of relief. Finally, like so many other women and mothers, I was able to see her as inspiring.

We’re Going to Do It All, and You’re Going to Like It

I guess that I forgot that nice little lesson when I began homeschooling because I sat down that first summer and made a list of everything that I wanted to teach my kids. The schedule was a little tight, but I figured that it must be the way that you inspire your children to become wonderful, well-rounded people.

On our first day of homeschool, my kids weren’t inspired, they were tired. After our morning of Art Appreciation, Music Appreciation, Science experiments, Read Alouds, Nature Study, Geography, and the study of 20th Century Poetry, I had to admit, I was tired too. Once again I had fallen short of the mark.

Rookie Mistake: Over Scheduling the Homeschool

Of course, now I know that I had made what my sports-loving son would call a rookie mistake. It took a few months of trudging through my insane schedule, but I finally admitted that it was not working. I did not have a Proverbs 31 homeschool; I had a checklist approach.

So I decided to take a new tack. I looked at all our “extra” subjects, the subjects that I knew were important but not required, and I decided to focus on only one for a while.

It was as if a ray of heavenly sunshine shone down on our day. Not only did my kids seem to relax, but they also thoroughly enjoyed our art appreciation. They actually appreciated it! Before long, they knew several paintings and began noticing them any time they saw them in cartoons or in pictures. They reveled in our art time, soaking up every minute of drawing the wet watercolors across a thick paper.

After a few weeks of art appreciation, we switched to music appreciation. Then we did the same with subjects like geography, science labs, and Nature Study. At the end of the year, I was pleased to find they remembered what we had studied. They could still

  • identify the paintings
  • label the landforms
  • define our science words
  • tell me what type of tree was in the park

And then I realized that it had happened… I had inspired them by giving them time.

I relaxed into a broader perspective of a full academic year—many years, in fact—instead of getting bogged down in what we were (or weren't) accomplishing each day.

Older and Wiser With a Trusted Guide

The following year, I was drawn to using Sonlight was because of the doable scheduling which maintains a great depth of richness. Now, I don’t even have to worry about how I’m going to fit in all the extras. It’s already planned for me. I can simply enjoy the books and enjoy my children, trusting the program to cover what we need over the long term.

The Proverbs 31 Homeschool

I now realize that very much like the Proverbs 31 woman, we are not created to squeeze five thousand subjects into our school day. Being a Proverbs 31 homeschooler means that we learn a lot over time.

Just like the Proverbs 31 woman's accomplishments were spread over a lifetime of service and devotion, your homeschool experience is a steady stream of learning experiences, laid down layer upon layer, week after week, year after year. The Proverbs 31 homeschool is a long haul, not a daily checklist.

Education is not something you go to get, it’s something that life gives you, and we need the time to be receptive, to allow these things to simmer in our minds and hearts. More importantly than doing twenty-five subjects today, we need to do a few select subjects well. There is a season for everything under the sun, so let’s not try to make everything under the sun fit in one season.

Curious to see what this Proverbs 31, long-term approach to homeschooling might look like for your family? Go to SmoothCourse to explore your options.

The Proverbs 31 Homeschool is Not a Daily Checklist • homeschool encouragement
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Commonsense Help for the Homeschool Mom Who Hates Science Experiments

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Commonsense Help for the Homeschool Mom Who Hates Science Experiments

It is 3:15 pm. School should be wrapping up, and yet I am covered in the contents of the junk drawer—not the little one that has pencils and vitamins. No, I am in the Drawer of Lost Causes.  (I am sure you have one, too.)

Why am I wading through Spirograph parts, lanyards from third grade, and various junk we’ve accumulated over the years? Because I need two things for a science experiment: a red balloon and two D batteries.  (What even runs on D batteries anymore?!) You have been there before, right? Please tell me that you, too, find yourself scouring your junk drawer at the last minute for random bits to make your science activity a success.

I had become the mom who hates science experiments. Scattered science experiments and unexpected disruptions like missing parts were making science my least favorite subject.

Lack of Planning Was Taking the Fun out of Science

Before I began teaching science with my five elementary students, I thought of myself as a reasonably organized person. I could plan and follow instructions, but science had me scrambling. It seemed no matter how prepared I tried to be, we were always missing some element from an experiment the kids wanted to do.

Our current science situation was the problem.  It was hard to plan because we didn’t have a specific curriculum. I began the year hoping that the freedom to learn about what we wanted would fuel the kids interests. With five kids, there were a lot more interests than I was prepared for. The trouble was, it was always too much to cover at one time. As a mom, I was feeling less than inspired because the kids' choice of experiments seemed like little more than a way to make a huge mess with no real focus on learning.

Creating a New Plan Gave Us Just Enough Structure

The first thing we changed so I could start loving science again was choosing a theme for our science time. We blocked out a month to learn about a specific topic from our newly chosen Sonlight Science program. The kids were engaged because they could take turns choosing topics they were interested in. I didn't worry about working straight through the Instructor's Guide. We just hopped around based on the topics we wanted to study.

We Created a Science and Creativity Station

I’ll admit, experiments are a stumbling block for me. They take time. With a big family, the school day gets filled quickly with must do items. Experiments can quickly slip down the list until we are out of time. We can watch a video, but the kids crave hands-on discovery and invention.

My heart’s desire for science this year was simple: no more delaying fun experiments, no more frustration with missing parts and hardware store runs. We needed to make a change to make science less complicated and more fun for all of us.

Our solution was to create a science and creativity station. It was easier than I thought.

We ran through the experiments that we had on our list for the month and wrote down all the supplies we would need. After a few months of purchases and with the help of our Sonlight Science Supplies Kit, we built a solid supply of left-over parts. This became our Inventors Kit. The kids will often make their own experiments with parts from our kit, and they know they are free to look in the box if they find an experiment that appeals to them in their free time.

We Are Loving Science as a Family Again

When I was swamped or too busy to do an experiment, I began letting the older kids lead the experiment time.  Because I had a list, they could follow the video links or watch the DVDs and use the parts we had ready in our kit.

With this change, I realized one of the reasons that I had felt science time was a burden, was that every decision was on me. The greatest benefit of having a clear plan is that I can delegate tasks to my husband or to my older children. Grandma is even teaching science lessons. Sharing the fun has helped us all love our science time.

Now that we are organized and aren’t looking for random parts, I discovered I don’t hate science experiments. I actually never did hate science.

  • I hated the complications.
  • I hated disappointing my kids.
  • I hated dealing with the Drawer of Lost Causes.

If you are hating science and are skipping all the fun activities, make a change!

Narrowing our focus down to a specific topic and choosing a time frame helped us plan more specifically. Gather your supplies on one place. Have some fun by creating a science station of your own. It can be as simple as a tomato box with a lid. That is what we have under our basement sink. It is loaded with fun items that will keep the kids using it even in summer. These two small shifts have made me a mom who loves science again.

You don't have to hate science, and you won't when you have the right science curriculum. Browse our Science programs here. Each includes a day by day schedule, great books to read, hands-on activities, and a handy kit with all the materials you need for the experiments.

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I Came Back to Sonlight Because I Love My Freedom

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I Came Back to Sonlight Because I Love My Freedom

As we approached the end of our homeschool year, I did what all homeschooling moms do—I considered which curriculum to select for the next school year.

In my household the end of the school year is a time of reflection to evaluate what is working well on an individual basis for all four of my kids, thinking about the areas that need improvement for each one. It is a time to implement new methods, add subjects, or subtract activities. I love the end of the school year because it is like a fresh slate, but it can also be rather stressful to wade through.  

We had a great school year with Sonlight, so why change things?

We loved having Sonlight as the foundation of our homeschool this year. My youngest two kids listened in on the readers they found interesting while they played with LEGO nearby. It worked out well.

This situation, though, was one thing I wanted to change for the upcoming year. I didn’t want my youngest two always tagging along with their older siblings' literature. I wanted them to have history and geography books that spoke to them—books that had colorful pictures and wonderful meanings. At the same time I wanted my older two to be challenged by more advanced storylines and to dig deeper into history. 

How could I chose one program that would meet the needs of all four of my children, meeting them each precisely at their own level?

Overwhelmed with Options

I asked my fellow homeschooling friends who were in similar situations, and their advice lead me down a curriculum rabbit hole. Any other mother out there who has fallen down this rabbit hole knows just how overwhelming it can be. There are so many choices. They can all look appealing.

My children were born within a four-year time span, and I was on the hunt for a single, core curriculum that would capture the attention of all of them at once. I was looking for something challenging enough for my fifth grader that wasn’t going to be over the head of my Kindergartner. 

Leaving Sonlight

After hours of research, I finally found my solution, and while I was sad to leave Sonlight, I truly thought this new curriculum was the answer.

I placed my order with the other company, received my package, and was not happy. I realized quickly that I was going to have to spend a ton of time fleshing out the program I had purchased:

  • developing projects for my older kids to achieve the depth I hoped for
  • hunting down booklists and reading dozens of novels and biographies in advance to verify the content
  • turning our weekly library runs into work instead of fun outings with my kids

I was going to have to spend a lot of time doing this, time that would reduce my freedom to go where the wind takes us. I did not want that. After I sent it back, I knew that my heart was still with Sonlight and I needed to return to what worked so wonderfully this past year—the curriculum that offered us structure with freedom.

Because if it isn’t broken, why fix it? 

Ordering Sonlight Again

But could I really find the time to do two programs with my four kids? That’s a lot of reading! Ultimately, yes, I resolved myself to doing two different History / Bible / Literature (HBL) programs from Sonlight:

  1. Level D, Intro to American History, Year 1 of 2 for my older two
  2. Level A, Intro to the World: Cultures for my younger two 

I thought about creative ways to incorporate my older kids into the Read-Alouds for the younger kids. I also decided to reserve a few readers as a bedtime reading for the whole family. I finally felt like I could make this work; I was getting excited!

I Came Back to Sonlight Because I Love My Freedom

Why I Came Back to Sonlight

The big reasons I came back to Sonlight are simple but very significant. In a nutshell, Sonlight helps me maximize my time and be the very best teacher I can be for my kids.

I appreciate all these assurances even more after momentarily leaving Sonlight:

  • having every single book I will need for the entire school year in one place
  • having a road map to follow in my Instructor’s Guides
  • knowing ahead of time every book they read is going to be safe and age appropriate
  • knowing that all of the readers correlate to the history lessons each week
  • knowing that God's character is reflected in everything we read
  • knowing they will be fascinated by history
  • knowing they love to read 
  • knowing I will be less stressed with planning lessons
  • knowing I won't have to spend time scouring for resources

We are heading into our next school year more excited than ever. Our books have arrived and are waiting for us on our shelves! I am so thankful I came back to what I know works. Actually, Sonlight not only works, it provides us with more time in our homeschool days to experience the freedom we desire!  There is no denying we will be reading a lot, but we cannot wait!

We welcome you to come back to Sonlight just like Ashlee did. Find your freedom with a fully planned curriculum, based on high quality literature. Get our latest catalog here.

I came back to Sonlight because I love my freedom • homeschool curriculum
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Homeschooling Away From a Fear Versus Towards a Goal

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Homeschooling Away From a Fear Versus Towards a Goal

I didn't decide to homeschool for lofty reasons. I didn't have a clear vision for my children's education. I didn't even really want to be at home with them all day.

I agreed to try homeschooling because we couldn't afford our private school tuition. And we knew we didn't want our kids in the particular public school in our district. (Read more of that story here.)

So with John's encouragement, I reluctantly agreed to try homeschooling.  I planned to homeschool to get away from something–away from impossible tuition or an unacceptable public school option.

Homeschooling to Escape a Negative

And at first, it might work to homeschool in order get away from something. Maybe you need to get your child away from a bully, or out of a school that doesn't meet her special needs. Maybe you’re generally scared of public education.

That can be a good place to start. But running away from something won’t lead to the fulfilling homeschooling experience you want. Because once you get away, what are you going to do then?

Homeschooling Towards a Positive Goal

For the long haul, we all need to answer what we are homeschooling towards.

What are your positive motivations for homeschooling? If some of your motivations are fear-based, can you flip them around and think of them in a more motivating light? Then you know what you’re working toward!

For example:

  • Change “I homeschool to keep my child away from a bully” to “I homeschool in order provide a safe environment where my child can be herself.”
  • Move from “I homeschool because public school killed my child’s love of learning” to “I homeschool in order to rekindle and fuel my children’s love of learning.”
  • Revise “I homeschool because a school wouldn’t keep my gifted son challenged and interested” to “I homeschool in order to provide a customized education that will challenge and inspire my gifted son.”
  • Change “I homeschool because I fear the public schools will indoctrinate my children” to “I homeschool in order to educate (not indoctrinate) my children within the context of my Christian faith.”

Positive Goals Hold the Power to Motivate

Do you feel the powerful shift that can happen here? It’s hard to get up every day and be motivated by something you’ve already escaped or avoided (e.g. bullies, Common Core or a bad student/teacher ratio). But if you know what you’re working toward instead, you can get up every day motivated by those goals.

So … what are you homeschooling toward?

I quickly moved from homeschooling out of necessity to homeschooling because of what we could provide for our children.

If you’re interested, John and I homeschooled because we wanted to:

  • Help our children love learning;
  • Earn a place of trust in our children’s lives as we kept conversation pathways open about tricky topics;
  • Teach from the perspective of our faith and of God’s work in the world, letting Scripture and talk of God permeate our school days;
  • Give our children a heart for the whole world, not just the United States, and ensure they received a truly global education;
  • Build solid family bonds as we spent so much time together;
  • Provide a customized education to each child based on each one’s strengths and weaknesses;
  • Snuggle on the couch to read and read and read with our children! I couldn’t wait to share all my childhood favorites with them and discover new favorites along the way.

Those are some highlights of what I homeschooled toward. (You can read more in our Top Ten Goals article if you’d like.) This is what kept me going day in and day out. And I am so glad I did! As I share in our e-book entitled “It Was Worth It! Real Stories to Inspire Your Homeschool Journey”, homeschooling turned out to be a beautiful and rewarding path for our family.

Homeschooling Away From a Fear Versus Towards a Goal • Escaping a fear may be a good initial motivation, but it doesn't help you maintain the course in the long-term. Choose positive goals to homeschool towards.

Want more encouragement?

Sign up for Sonlight's bi-weekly e-newsletter

You'll be encouraged by the words of founder Sarita Holzmann, inspired by real-life stories from other homeschoolers, pick up practical tips for the journey and more.

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Literacy Versus Reading Ability: When You Provide a Print-Rich Home But Kids Still Struggle With Reading

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If the ability to read is so important, what do we do when our children just aren't learning to read well? What if we fill our houses with books and read aloud daily ... and they still struggle? Are our efforts to provide a print-rich environment in vain?

No. And the reason lies in the difference between literacy and reading ability.

The Same Exposure to Books But Different Reading Proficiency

Research bears out the obvious fact that children surrounded by books learn more effectively and thus do better in school. But some parents' experience doesn't seem to mirror the expected.

For example, one mom commented that she has thousands of books in her home and reads to her children all the time. While two of her children are excellent readers, two others have a much harder time. Has she been wasting her time reading to the two who struggle? She certainly doesn't think so—and I agree.

I also had children who greatly varied in how early they learned to read. One read very early and continues to devour books. One worked very hard at reading and reads slowly even today, but never forgets what is read. Both children excelled in college. So what might be at work here?

The Difference Between Literacy and Reading Ability

I'm going to postulate that all the hours we spend reading aloud to our children make up for a host of gaps they might have if we hadn't read to them.

In E. D. Hirsch's book Cultural Literacy, he compares the reading ability of two sets of junior college students. They read two articles and answered comprehension questions afterwards. The first article covered a generic topic (love) that required absolutely no additional knowledge to understand, other than the ability to decode the words. Both sets of students answered those questions equally well. But the second article they read told the story of General Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox. Students who had no previous knowledge about the subject could not answer the questions about this article. They lacked the background information necessary to even know who Grant and Lee were and why they needed to meet. They had no context.

In my thinking, a literate person has the necessary background information—the cultural literacy, in Hirsch's words—to understand what she reads.

Keep On Reading Aloud

In a home where families read a wide variety of books together, children gain invaluable cultural literacy. Combine this with the ability to learn from books (even if someone else is reading them out loud), and you've got a great head start on academic success.

So even if you have a child who struggles to read on his own or dislikes reading, keep reading to him! Don't think for a minute that your efforts haven't born fruit. Consider the cultural literacy, cognitive skills, and emotional maturity you're helping him build by surrounding him with great stories, engaging characters, and thought-provoking discussions.

Curious to see what an education rich in both reading and cultural literacy might look like for your family? Go to SmoothCourse to explore your options.

Literacy Versus Reading Ability: When You Provide a Print-Rich Home But Kids Still Struggle With Reading

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You'll be encouraged by the words of founder Sarita Holzmann, inspired by real-life stories from other homeschoolers, pick up practical tips for the journey and more.

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How to Get Kids (Actually) Excited About Summer Reading

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How to Get Kids (Actually) Excited About Summer Reading
I started my covert mission at the birth of my first child. As my first act in the campaign to raise readers, I zealously held Goodnight Moon in front of my three-day-old baby's face, read those precious words in my most expressive voice, and sighed that he obviously had good taste in books as he smiled back at me. (I might have glared at the nurse who said his smile was probably gas.)

Four children and a little sleep deprivation later, I've relaxed many of my standards. (Anyone else have a crawler who regularly helps himself to stray cheerios off the floor?) However, my belief in the power of helping my children love to read hasn't changed a bit.

We all know reading is important for our kids, but our best intentions often run into this thing called real life. As you gear up for summer, here are seven ideas to set you up for success in lighting that reading fire.

The Dog Days of Summer Reading

The dog just might spark a love for reading in your child. Having your kids read to a pet is not only a fun way to motivate them to read, it also gives them a patient and nonjudgmental audience. Of course, if you don't have a dog, a willing cat, hamster, or even chicken will work.

Research shows that reading to a dog, even 15 minutes a week can dramatically improve reading fluency. In a ten-week study by the University of California, kids increased reading fluency by 12-30 percent.

Create Space for Summer Reading

Take a look around your home. Does every chair face a TV? What activities does your living space encourage?

Try this challenge: Set up at least as many comfortable spaces to read as you have screens in your home (phones included).

Start by thinking about where your family gravitates. Choose something decorative to hold a selection of books and make that space comfy. Don't forget to keep books in the car and the bathroom. You could even have your kids build a reading fort!

I was inspired by my local library to use shallow wooden book crates for my kids. I keep these in strategic locations around the house, filled with books I know they'll love. My kids can rifle through the crates, see the covers, and put the books back easily. This (almost) solved my problem of the always-messy bookshelves. Even my pre-readers spend hours splayed out on the rug "reading," partially because the books are right on their level.

As you think about making space for reading, consider making space in your summer schedule as well. If you have no margin and rush from one activity to another, you won't have time to relax with a good book. Clear a spot on the calendar and take time for reading!

Listen to Your Doctor. Dr. Seuss, That is.

Turns out Dr. Seuss had it right when he said "Fill the house with stacks of books, in all the crannies and all the nooks."

A recent study shows that if you want to boost academic performance, the best thing you can do is build your home library.

The results—gathered from households in 42 nations—were clear: “Regardless of how many books the family already has, each addition to the home library helps children do better (on the standard test),” said Mariah Evans, sociologist and research team lead.

Bonus: Home library=no late fees.

Get Caught Reading this Summer

Have your children ever caught you eating chocolate and not begged for some, too? The same thing happens with books, but with less mess and fewer calories. When my kids see me enamored with a book, they naturally mimic this behavior and get a sense that reading is what we do.

This mirroring of behavior actually happens at the neurological level. Even when you are reading, your child's neurons are firing as they learn to imitate you.

So while you put your feet up to read a good book this summer, you can pat yourself on the back that you are busy modeling a lifestyle of learning for your children. Ah, sacrifice!

Keep Reading Aloud Through the Summer

Even if you take a break from school for the summer, keep reading aloud. Whether you do this over breakfast, after swimming, or before bedtime, reading aloud is one of the best ways to bond with your children, increase vocabulary, and generally help them love books. So don't stop! Cuddle on the couch and enter into new worlds and adventures side by side. You want your kids to see reading as a part of your family DNA, not merely a school thing.

Use Cliffhangers

Want a sneaky tip to whet a reluctant reader's appetite? Read aloud right until you hit a cliffhanger and then take a break, but be sure to leave the book out and easy to find. Your child might just be motivated to keep reading himself to find out what happens! (You can also do this by reading the first book in a series, then leave it up to your emerging reader to read the rest on his own.)

Choose Quality Summer Books

Can you believe that 42 percent of college graduates never pick up a book again after graduation? They got the degree, but they missed out on making the joy of reading a natural part of life.

We want to raise children who will value lifelong learning, who see books less as duty and more like friends. The type of book you hand your children makes a huge difference in their inclination towards summer reading.

Just what makes a great book? If you want your kids to fall in love with reading and to establish a mental database of good language patterns, they need books with compelling plots, interesting characters, and beautiful writing. Choose premium fuel for your kids' minds and hearts.

After nearly three decades of book reviewing and choosing, Sonlight founder Sarita Holzmann, knows a good book when she reads one. (You can read about Sarita's All-Star Test for choosing Sonlight books here).

In the search for the best books, Sarita and the Sonlight team comb through hundreds of pages of catalogs for promising titles, and read or review about 214 books a month. And those books aren't preschool picture books, but 214 chapter books. So just in the last year, the team reviewed around 2,400 books. Whew!

“Out of every hundred books I read, I find only two or three that might merit becoming part of one of our programs. That's how few books there are that have the depth, the beauty, the cultural sensitivity, the inspiration, or the winsome, scholarly character I am looking for.” —Sarita Holzmann

Snag Sonlight Summer Readers

If you want to spark a love for reading, but don't think you'll have time to review 2,400 books to find the best of the best this year, we'll do the hard work for you with the launch of this season's Sonlight Summer Readers.

Our hand-picked summer reading packages are grouped according to gender and grade range to help you find the set that's sure to get your child excited, and each package comes with a built-in discount. You'll also find a variety of genres. You may be surprised to find a new favorite author or books series you might never have picked yourself.

So if you're trying to build your home library for summer or any season, check out these high quality, twaddle-free, wholesome books that follow the Philippians 4:8 principle. These page-turners are truly fun—the type you'll have to pry from kids' fingers at lights out. Now that's summer reading at its finest.

How to Get Kids (Actually) Excited About Summer Reading
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