Order Now to Open It on Christmas

December 21 is the last date you can order stuff and still get it in time to open on Christmas. Bad news? You'll need 2-day shipping. Good news? You get free 2-day shipping on Piano Wizard until the 21st.

If you still haven't finished your Christmas shopping, now's the time to get on it and take advantage of the free keyboard, free shipping, and payment plans that are available with Piano Wizard. (Sorry International and non-contiguous United States peoples, we are out of time to get you stuff to open on Christmas morning.)

Order by December 21

Naturally, you don't need to order Piano Wizard. You could get some of the other cool stuff from the Christmas sale page -- or elsewhere on the site, like here or here -- and pay for 2-day shipping. But that gets expensive. Going with the free option is better ... unless, of course, "free" turns out to be Holiday Math.

Christmas is next week!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

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My student doesn't want to do anything

You bought all of this great curriculum ... the books hold great stories, the workbooks are colorful and appealing, and it's all organized for you ... but your 6 year old just sits at the table and stares out the window. As the days go by, you get further and further behind, and that just increases the frustration for both you and him.

Motivation is that nebulous quality that drives our desire for, and commitment to, reaching a goal. It has been said that we are never unmotivated, we are simply more motivated toward certain goals. So what motivates a 6 year old? Or any student, for that matter? Better yet, why is a 6 year old seemingly unmotivated when it comes to his education?

If this describes your student, here are some thoughts you may wish to consider. The answer to these simple questions may help you determine why motivation seems to be missing when it comes to school work.

  1. Is it possible that your student is bored? Perhaps the curriculum you've chosen is simply not challenging enough for your child.  (A content issue)
  2. Is it possible that your child is a "mover/shaker" (a kinesthetic learner) and having to sit still and do academics makes him shut down? (A delivery issue)
  3. Is it possible that this is a behavioral problem? In other words, how does your child behave in other areas of life when he is required to fulfill a task? (A heart issue)

Sometimes we get so focused on a child's age or grade, that we forget that learning needs to happen at a child's skill level. The end result may be that your student is bored with material that is too easy for him, or frustrated with content that is too difficult. Try to set aside any preconceived grade level, and instead, focus on what your child knows in each subject. Perhaps work on one subject at a time for a few days, so you can hone in on problem areas. Placement tests can be a useful tool as you evaluate materials. Listen to what your child says about what he is learning. Be willing to make changes, even if that means switching to materials that are at a level that do not match your child's age.

Delivery can be just as important as content. Sitting your child at a table with a workbook may not be the best way for your student to learn. Some children are simply not wired to sit still to be able to focus. Stretching out under the dining room table with a good book, or playing hopscotch while memorizing math facts may be a much better approach to use with a kinesthetic learner. Determining your child's learning style may go a long way in helping improve motivation for academics. Keep in mind ... learning does not only happen at a desk/table in a totally silent room. Look for ways to integrate learning into your everyday activities instead of trying to force an artificial learning environment.

Attitude may be the most challenging reason to address for lack of motivation. Concepts such as respect and recognizing authority are just as important to teach as math and phonics. One of the most valuable things we can teach our children is that life is full of things that aren't necessarily fun or enjoyable. Some days you have to memorize addition facts, even if you hate doing it, because mom knows that eventually you will need that skill. There are myriads of books, blog posts, and web sites out there on child training, so I won't belabor the point. But I would encourage you to be willing to see this as an area that may need some work.

Finally ... my attitude as a parent/teacher will go a long way toward encouraging motivation for learning in my student. Get excited about discovering new things with your child. Don't let school become something your student does for 4 hours every weekday morning. Instead, view learning as a lifestyle ... one that you and your child share.

Still on the journey ...
~Judy Wnuk

P.S. There's a lot to be said for letting a child be a child as long as possible. Perhaps 5 and 6 year old students aren't motivated for formal academics because they're busy learning what it means to be 5 or 6 and simply being amazed at the world around them. Don't stifle that inbred desire to investigate and discover or the need to move and be busy!


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'Tis the season of giving gifts! A time when we look to the ultimate Gift Giver and marvel at the wonderful grace he gave us when he sent his son, Jesus Christ, to make a way for us to be near him.

If gifts are your thing, this can be a very fun time of year. You think really hard, or are hit with an inspiration, of what you think someone else might enjoy, and then, yay! the joy of watching someone open a gift you've given them.

But, during this time of focusing on gifts, I have been struck with a pain that goes back 4 years. When Gracie died, it was an immediate loss. An immediate removal of a very good gift. But there have been more losses surrounding that. My dream of an unmedicated birth was over. Because of the type of surgery I had, trying for a natural birth was no longer an option. I never had the chance to experience labor. My dream of four children to raise ended with three.

After Jackson's birth this summer, we chose to follow the doctor's orders and take permanent measures. Again, because of health issues, they really encouraged us (me) to be content with the children I have and keep myself safe so I can raise them. It was the final gut punch in a series of hardship and sadness around childbearing.

That gift of life -- of raising life, of experiencing life -- for us, is on pause.

Snow on a Pine Tree

And I wrestle with that. And I grieve over that. And, honestly, this was going to be a pretty different blog post, but as I started writing, I thought about my good Gift Giver. He is looking at me, at my family, my life, who I am, and choosing just the best gift for me. It doesn't look like the package shape I was expecting, but, I know it'll be good.

What good gift seems taken away from you right now? Is there a dream or a passion that seems on hold? Ended?

May it be that as we take time to focus on Christ in this season we would welcome whatever the gift of our life is. And may we be able to see it for what it is: a beautiful gift waiting to be unwrapped.


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What if my student doesn't complete all the Cores?

Sonlight offers a wide selection of packages for your K-12 journey. We call the programs that include History, Bible, Language Arts, and Reading a Core. We were using this term long before Common Core became a political phrase. Sonlight has been around almost 25 years, so I feel "Core" is "our thing" that others have co-opted.


So what happens if you're unable -- for whatever reason -- to complete every single Sonlight program? We can broaden this question even further by asking, "What if my kids don't complete everything in their homeschool curriculum?" The answers are going to be roughly the same whether we're talking Sonlight's complete homeschool curriculum or your favorite math program.

The answer breaks nicely into four parts.

School vs Homeschool

First, it's encouraging to consider how schools handle not getting to certain content. The answer? They simply ignore it. Or they cram. The outcome is identical. As you know, there is no one "right" schedule. As a homeschooler, you can be flexible and cover material when it works for your family. For schools, when the year is over, it's over. I remember several classes in both high school and college where we simply skimmed or skipped the last few chapters of our textbooks. Remember: Your kids will never know everything. And that's okay.

Second, despite pressure from governments and educrats, there is no set standard you must follow (at least, not yet). Schools are increasingly locked into molds by the very tax dollars that fund them. You are still free because of your personal investment in your child's education. This investment is well worth the sacrifice! You can ensure what your children are learning aligns with your goals.

This highlights the third element here: Your educational choices are based on your family, not the system you're in. Sonlight has a very robust Scope and Sequence. You can use Sonlight programs from Preschool through High School. But Sonlight is intentionally flexible so you can make it fit your family, not the other way around.

How Sonlight Works

Sonlight starts with age spans. Each Core can be used with a range of ages and can be tweaked to accommodate an even larger spread. The benefit of using literature is that a well-written book will be meaningful for all ages, even you! This saves you time and money and gives you more options for dealing with a full school year.

Your Sonlight Core covers a certain period of history or area of the world. Sonlight's focus on history instead of social studies provides many practical benefits, but it also aids in combining students, covering content, and selecting the package that will fit your family's needs this year.

If you were to complete every Sonlight Core, you will have covered 3 sweeps through history. Each pass through the content unlocks new levels of exploration and understanding. But Sonlight is different in that we don't take a chronological approach to history. Why? Check out Reason 16 NOT to Buy Sonlight.

What You Miss

If you skip some of Sonlight, your kids will be fine, but you will miss out on...

  1. Great books. Sonlight's programs are famous -- with good reason -- for the fantastic literature you share with your children. If at all possible, these titles are not to be missed.
  2. Great discussion. With great stories comes great conversation. If you don't get around to reading everything within Sonlight, you'll miss out on opportunities to bond over the books.
  3. "Living" history. Wonderful historical fiction brings history to life. You and your children get to "be there" and "experience" the events of the past (unnecessary quotes much?). When it comes to learning history, this is the way to go.

Shared experiences, fond memories, inside jokes, a developing love for one another ... all these are great. But I want to make sure you hear this too...

What You Don't Miss

Your future. Your child's future.

If your student does not complete all of Sonlight's programs -- or everything in their workbook -- you're not ruining your child's life. This is the message all along: Schools skip chapters, Sonlight cycles through content, and there is always, always more to learn.

As with most things in life, I find it better to focus on the positives. You have the opportunity to use a great curriculum. If something comes up that keeps you from doing every last little thing in absolutely every program, no problem. What you and your child will miss are a few added benefits. There isn't a penalty, a punishment for skipping a book or Core or year. Keep your eyes on the end game and aim for that. Enjoy the benefits you encounter along the way.

If you'd like to discuss how you can choose and tweak your curriculum to fit your needs and give you even more opportunities for success, please take a moment to chat with a homeschool Advisor. It's free and you can move forward in confidence, knowing your plan for the coming weeks and months and year.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

P.S. There is something to be said for setting proper expectations for your students. There are times when students just need to push through and get stuff done. But even in that, grace is a great resource as you focus on a life-long love of learning.

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What Did Mary Know?

I've listened to this Christmas carol at least 30 times this season. I find it gorgeous, and I can't stop thinking about its central question:

Watch a beautiful a cappella rendition of a favorite Christmas carol

I've pondered the question that comes again and again: Mary did you know? Did Mary know? I wasn't sure what Mary knew. So I went and re-read the Gospel stories again. And I think the answer is: yes and no.

Bible scholars talk about how all Jewish girls at that time dreamed of being the mother of the Messiah. It was promised that a savior was coming, a redeemer was coming. So when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, I imagine that Mary was surprised and maybe a bit concerned, but I doubt she was flabbergasted. She knew that somebody would bear this baby.

The angel gave Mary an idea of who her baby would be. He told her she would have a son and that she should name Him Jesus. He said her son would be great, that He would be called the Son of the Most High, that He would gain David's throne, and that His kingdom will never end. The angel ends this with the assurance that this will all come true, for "no word from God will fail."

Soon after, Mary goes and visits her cousin Elizabeth, who lived in another town. When Mary walks in the door, Elizabeth's first words are "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!"

What did Mary make of this? I doubt she was beginning to show yet. How did Elizabeth know her news? Elizabeth continued with the remarkable question, "Why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"

As further testimony to Jesus' identity, a stunning thing happened the night of Jesus' birth. When Mary was recovering from labor, a group of shepherds showed up in the stable. Think of how strange this would be. But they came with an amazing story. They had been out in their fields when a brilliant angel appeared with good news: "Today ... a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord." The shepherds left their fields and hurried to Bethlehem. They relayed the story to Mary, sharing the message that her son was indeed the Messiah.

Then, Mary received more wonders when she and Joseph followed Jewish rituals and took Jesus to the temple on the eighth day. A devout man named Simeon showed up. God had told him he wouldn't die until he had seen the Messiah. When he saw the baby Jesus, Simeon took the boy into his arms and essentially said "I can die in peace now because I have seen the Lord's salvation, a light for the Gentiles and the glory of Israel." Wow.

Next, a prophet named Anna came up and spoke about the child as the redemption of Israel. This was not Mary's ordinary trip to the temple!

Much later, the wise men came. These foreigners bowed down and worshiped this young boy. They brought Him kingly gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh – not your typical baby gifts. Further testimony to Jesus' true identity.

So that's at least part of what Mary knew. But what did she not know?

While she might have had an inkling of Jesus' origins, Mary probably did not understand that Jesus was in fact God incarnate. That wasn't the traditional Jewish understanding of the Messiah at the time. So as the song wonders, she probably did not know that Jesus had walked where angels trod, that when she kissed her little baby, she kissed the face of God.

Mary did not know the miracles Jesus was to perform. While God has used the prophets of old to perform some miracles, they were never in the magnitude or awesomeness of Jesus' work. Mary would later discover that, as the song says, Jesus would walk on water and calm the storm with His hand. She would see how the blind would see, the deaf would hear, the dead would live again, the lame would leap, and the dumb would speak the praises of the Lamb.

Mary probably expected Jesus to be a political figure who would free the Jews from Roman rule. That's likely how she understood the promise of Jesus as a deliverer, a redeemer, the Messiah. She would discover that Jesus had actually come to redeem the whole world, to make us all new. May it be so.

Though Mary didn't know everything, she became not just the mother of Jesus, but one of His followers as well. We don't know much of her story after Jesus' resurrection, but we know she was part of the early worshiping community. She embraced the larger work that her son, the Messiah, had come to do. She rejoiced in her Savior.

May we do the same!

Blessings to you as we prepare for Christmas,

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Cliques and Posses

She's ten. She looks a bit like a pixie, small, impish, the slurred voice of an active child. She has ten students who are "loyal" to her.

"Like the mob?" I ask.

"Oh, no. Some kids use others to do evil. I use my people for good."

"Uh-huh," I say, convinced more than ever that the school is run by a child mafia. Or, perhaps, the mafia is using the school to train the next godfather. Either way, this doesn't sound good.

I was unable to extract any more useful details about how kids at her school use other kids to shakedown, beat up, or bully the classmates not "loyal" to them. I couldn't help but quip to myself that I needed some muscle to be loyal to me so I could get more information from this girl. Her "people" follow her orders to clear the chalkboard, straighten the rulers, and generally tidy the classroom. Sure, not evil -- good, even -- but ... but ...

Li'l Mobster

Two thoughts burned through my mind like a car hit with with a Molotov cocktail as we chatted:

1. Cliques, Posses, Mobs are very real socialization ills wandering our schools. The teachers can't be oblivious to the language their students use to describe their "tribes." The vocabulary word of choice tickles my spine the way the sight of a large man in a black hat and trench coat in an alley at night would prickle my skin. This isn't optimal. And while I have coworkers who are friends and others whom I merely greet in passing -- if that -- there is no talk of loyalties. We work together and should factions arise it would be detrimental to everyone. Schools, I feel, should be similarly motivated.

2. The focus of schools is not primarily academics. As Paul Graham argues so well in his essay on nerds, school is not about the colloquial "3 Rs." Graham claims that schools exist "to keep kids locked up in one place for a big chunk of the day so adults can get things done." He's not the only one to make that point. I've heard people suggest that school days should be longer and more frequent so parents who have to work can have a place to keep their children. The parents I know who both have to work tell me that day care is absurdly expensive; tax-funded classrooms are a much cheaper babysitter. As the holidays roll around, they begin to wonder how they will keep their children watched after while they go to work. We rightly want to protect children, but when the very structure in which they spend the majority of their waking hours is built around loyalties to other children, Graham's essay shows itself ever more true.

I am not at all suggesting that you should homeschool to avoid the problems of even inert cliques. I've written before about how I reject a bunker mentality of homeschooling. I do not want to push you toward homeschooling. Rather, this conversation once again turned the interrogation light on homeschooling.

And for all the pressure, threats, and good cop/bad cop games, homeschooling came through unscathed.


The story is consistent: Homeschooling is a great option.

Don't run from schools because cliques and posses exist. Run toward homeschooling because the learning environment is built around parental love. Join the homeschooling "tribe" because we love learning, and we encourage it in everyone.

Where we are part of our own movement, we're no better than the posse my young friend runs (doing good even, but ... but ...). Where we isolate ourselves, we're as bad as the most exclusive high school clique.

Homeschooling is great. Let's stick with that.

There's no need to check to see if those around us have similar loyalties.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

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Dropping the Burden of Performance

Are you feeling burdened right now? This season can be stressful and depleting; how sad given that this is meant to be a time of joy and refreshment. You'll find some excellent pointers and encouragement in Judy's post yesterday about how to do school over the holidays. But homeschooling isn't the only downward pressure.

I've shared before about how I tend to feel glum during the holidays. For me, I don't think it's SAD (seasonal affective disorder); it could be. One influence I can identify is that I'm very much a 3 on the enneagram. I'm the kind of person who must feel I have "achieved" something each day and the frenetic holiday season can get in the way of my perceived accomplishments.


My wife loves personality tests (I'm an INTP on Myers-Briggs). Reading more about the enneagram, she came across a book written by a Franciscan priest. He says that it can be embarrassing to discover our weaknesses, our negative tendencies. Kids do the same thing, bringing to light our areas of struggle (I liked how Heidi put it in her post On Adolescence). But the message is one of hope: God uses us! In spite of ourselves, He works His will. Using the strengths and tendencies He put in us, He offers redemption. And when this season places us in situations where we are not our best -- exhausted, pressured, confronting old wounds -- I think it is important to remember God's grace and His call.

Many Other Posts of Note from this week echoed this theme. I really appreciated:

And I'm reminded also of my own post on how Christmas is a story of turmoil.

The story of God's love is a beautiful one. The story of His grace is freeing. Please, read over the beautiful posts above and be encourage by what these women share. God wants you. And He'll use your talents and your work for His glory because He is working in and through you. I need that reminder. I too often want to try to lug the burden of performance with me. But I sense, once again, God whispering to me, "Let go. Drop that."

My inner achiever screams, "But then you won't ever do anything, Luke!"

But that guy is wrong.

I will do much more when I rest in Christ and follow where He takes me.

May you find rest this season. May the joy of the Lord be your strength and His kindness lead you to repentance.

Joy. Hope. Love.

Join me as I try to leave my burdens at His feet and let Him lift my head.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

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