How Sonlight Helps You Discover the Wonders of History: The Rationale behind Sonlight's History Schedule

A colleague asked me the other day why I schedule Sonlight's History the way I do. If you're just looking at an Instructor's Guide, the scheduling can look a bit random. But it is all very intentional to help children soak up their learning.

I generally choose a key narrative text as the schedule driver. For example, we use A Child's History of the World by V. M. Hillyer for a child's first tour of world history. It is a non-fiction history book, but it is not a textbook. Instead, the author tells a compelling overview of the history of the world. To do this, he picks out key narratives from history and tells them chronologically. He might spend a chapter in Europe, and then transition to the next chapter with "meanwhile in India ..." Then he'll describe what life looked like in India at the time and give the story of a specific ruler or event that exemplifies that era in Indian history. The whole book moves chronologically.

A Sonlight student watches history come alive
Many Sonlight families enrich their Sonlight history studies even more with field trips. Here, Keeley P helps tan a deer skin at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park.

That narrative text forms the backbone of a Core. Then as you move through that text, we supplement your learning with all sorts of treats. Most Cores use at least one stellar photo-driven text, such as an Usborne book. So when Hillyer talks about ancient African civilizations for example, the Instructor's Guide will jump you to the section in your Usborne book that highlights those same civilizations. You and your kids will see illustrations of what you're learning and gain additional knowledge from the bulleted highlights. This reinforces and expands what you learned in the primary text.

Then we enrich things even more by adding biographies and historical fiction that help bring that time period to life. This is often a family's favorite part of Sonlight. Since you've read the other history texts, and since you're building your own timeline as you go, you and your kids have context for what you read. That means you will pick up on all sorts of historical significance as you move through these can't-put-it-down stories.

The early grades also include many Readers and Read-Alouds that are just great books and may or may not tie in with the history you're learning. When kids are just learning to read, we focus on helping them practice that skill and get hooked on great stories. The Read-Alouds provide all sorts of cultural literacy and family bonding moments as you enjoy great stories together (such as a perpetual favorite, Charlotte's Web).

Starting in Intro to American History, 1 of 2 (Core D), most of the Readers and Read-Alouds do link in to the time period. This opens up a new level of richness in your learning.

Going through a year with Sonlight is like watching a rich tapestry unfold. You follow a single thread with your spine, and then get to watch that understanding deepen and come to life in several different ways.

And the best part? The tapestry is already sewn for you! All you have to do is pick up your Instructor's Guide and follow along. We tell you what pages to read, then we give you rich and insightful teaching notes to explain what you're learning. We provide counter-arguments when an author has a clear bias. We give you discussion questions, and we tie in Language-Arts activities to what you're already reading.

This is the way I loved learning with my kids as they grew. And this is the way that thousands of families around the world fuel a love of learning in their kids today. It is an honor to share that joy with you!


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February Blog Party

FebPrizePkgOur year-long 25th anniversary blog party continues today, and I can't wait to read your stories! In your blog post today, Share how you first decided to homeschool. How did you decide on a curriculum?

Even if you don't use Sonlight 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 March 11, 2015.

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You Know You're a Homeschooler When...

During our Inspire 25 event in January we asked participants to complete the sentence: "You know you're a homeschooler when..." We got some great entries, and I thought it would be fun to share some of them.

YouKnowYoureAHomeschooler have a strainer that says "for science, not food."

...all your classmates are siblings. have to secure all the flashlights in the house because the children will read all night. "school" by the sandpit or snuggling on the bed.

...the kids' play involves storks on the roof because you just finished reading The Wheel on the School.

...PE is going on a hike in the woods. get new PJs for your back-to-school wardrobe. sing The Continents Song in the shower. use Legos for building letters and patterns. try to figure out just how many "classes" one trip to the grocery store can cover.

...the kids think it's normal to pause movies for impromptu history lessons.

...a "snow day" means you get to shovel the driveway after you finish your school work.

...your dining table serves as a school desk, a science lab, and an eating surface. know what the phrase "Box Day" means.'re reading to the kids on the bathroom floor while waiting for the toddler to potty.

...every baking recipe becomes a lesson in fractions and measurements. constantly need more bookshelves.

...your son calls out from under a huge fort, "I love this math, Mom!"

...your kids have no idea what grade they're in.

How would you complete the sentence?

Enjoying the adventure,
~Karla Cook
Lifelong Learner


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Of dates and dynasties ...

Timeline BookI have rather unpleasant memories of my junior high and high school history classes ... spending late nights memorizing dates and names and events for the next day's test. And promptly forgetting it all just as soon as the test was done!

I was reminded of this the other day as I had the privilege of interacting with a mom who was concerned that her student was having a hard time remembering all the Chinese dynasties they were learning about in their Eastern Hemisphere studies ... and the dates attributed to each of them. I stopped for a moment to see if I could bring to mind the names of all those dynasties, or if I could even get close to the dates tied to each one. And what about all those other dates related to those eastern hemisphere countries?

  • When was the Boxer rebellion?
  • Which decade saw the Opium War?
  • When did Genghis Khan lead the Mongols in Russia?
  • When did Britain make India a colony?

I obviously hadn't had time to prepare for that test ... because I couldn't remember a single one! And I suspect if I were to ask my now adult children if they recalled the dates tied to all these people and events we studied together, they would "fail" just as miserably as I did.

So what's the point of learning all those dates anyway? And what good is a Timeline Book if you're not going to remember the contents a month from now, let alone a few years from now?

A friend shared the following quote on Facebook the other day:

"Much learning does not teach understanding." ~Heraclitus

Therein lies the answer to my questions. It's all about context! Memorizing dates and names and events, without any context or meaning, does not help our children to understand the bigger picture. However, when I would open our Timeline Book and my students could "see" that Mao formed the Communist Party in the same decade that Lindbergh made his famous transatlantic flight, and the Zhou Dynasty in China was in power at the same time as some of their favorite passages in the Old Testament were taking place (Jonah going to Ninevah and Daniel and Esther) ... then history came alive for them. Now they had context for those dates and names and events, and the larger picture of history began to make sense.

So I was able to reassure the concerned mom, and remind myself anew, why learning History through stories is a much better way to learn. What was going on in the world when Hudson Taylor traveled to China? What was it like to live in 13th-century Mongolia when Kublai Khan's army invaded? What kind of determination and courage was required to survive in Sudan in the 1980's? That is where learning ... and true understanding ... takes place.

Still on the journey ...
~Judy Wnuk

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A choice we make

I know that as moms we can get into ruts where we feel like we "need" to vent and question who our kids are, what it is we are doing, and how in the world we got here. We can complain about the state of our homes, how helpful our husbands are, the current issue with our children and a myriad of other complaints.

But my friends, what a slippery slope. I have found that as soon as I start looking at the negative, I blow that whole segment of my children, or my marriage, or the world around me, way out of proportion. I give it more space than I should.

While I don't think we should ignore hard things, nor pretend we feel no pain, or even suggest that our children are perfect or we know what we are doing each day, I think it is so important to focus on the good, to cast the years of our lives with a rosy glow.

Me and my children taking a rest while on a walk

When I think back on my own childhood, I remember it very fondly. Lots of reading, lots of time on the trampoline, at the pool, or in the hammock. And more and more reading. And, surprisingly, every day was sunny until that lovely afternoon storm where I would curl up under a blanket and wait for it to come. Ah, the cool refreshing breeze...

Of course I can pull up squabbles with my siblings, feelings that my parents didn't understand me, or even times when friends were very, very mean. But why would I do that? Why would I choose to live there?

So even now -- while yes, the days can be long, my children are children, my house the worse for wear -- I want to choose to see the good, to pull those "postworthy moments" and have them be the focus. When I get with friends, to seek to speak the good about my life, to tell the sweet things my children have said, to focus on their strengths.

I want to focus on the good things I'm doing: The yummy food I've cooked and the jobs I have gotten done, to speak about hardships in the light of hope. Things can get better and if we need help in an area, help is available.

I loved the Inspire25 event. It was such an encouraging night to "be" with people who are excited about homeschooling, books, and being good moms and wives; what a blessing to my soul. But I'm glad it's more than a night, but a year (and hopefully a pattern for our lives!). This is a season to look back, but also look forward the good that is yet to come.

My friend, all is not lost, though this February might have you been feeling that way! I'd like to encourage you to seek to see the good today, even if it's a swift snuggle, or a short song...there is good in the world. Let's be people who see it.

Until next time,

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Eight ways to show your family love throughout your homeschool day

Have you looked at any Valentine's Day boards on Pinterest? They're bursting with heart-shaped craftiness. But rest assured – although you are free to do so, you don't have to make fancy crafts in order to show your family you love them. Homeschooling naturally offers many ways to intentionally spread the love in your family.

For me, showing love sometimes felt as natural as breathing. At other times, my kids had pushed all my buttons, I felt exhausted, and I had to seriously pray for God's help to still show love. No matter where you are on that spectrum right now, here are a few ideas of how to be intentional with sharing love in the midst of your homeschool days:

  1. Savor your Read-Aloud times

    Take a deep breath and enjoy your times reading aloud with your children. If they're still little, notice the feel of their small bodies in your lap. Take this quiet time with them to remember how much you love them and how grateful you are for them.

  2. Learn about the five love languages and use them all

    If you don't know about the five love languages, I highly suggest you look into it. Adults can usually identify the top one or two ways they prefer to receive love, but it's harder to identify in children. It's important we "fill up their love tanks" with all five languages: words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, quality time, and physical touch. We can incorporate all of these into our homeschool with a little thought. (For example, Read-Aloud time naturally works in two of those ways: physical touch and quality time.)

  3. A Sonlight mom reads with her daughter
    Sonlight mom Amanda R shares a special moment with her daughter as they read and bake together.

  4. Notice their interests and nurture them

    What grabs your children's attention right now? Are they enthralled with American pioneers, or butterflies, or electrical circuits? Take them to the library to find books on the topic. Find appropriate videos online to watch. Let them develop their own crafts or projects on the subject. These small gestures let your children know that what they think matters.

  5. Pay attention to your own needs

    You will have much more to give your family if you are also taking care of yourself. You really do need basics like sleep, healthy food, and plenty of water. Don't be afraid to ask for help and to make time for little things that rejuvenate you (perhaps a bubble bath once a week, an occasional walk by yourself, or a coffee date with a friend). Our Inspire 25 event with Heidi St. John and Crystal Paine offered some great advice in this arena. Listen to the recorded event here.

  6. Truly listen to your children

    I know how easy it is to go on autopilot when your kids are chattering. But try to take time to stop and really hear them. Homeschooling with Sonlight provides many opportunities for good conversations about things that matter, but you can't always predict when those conversations will happen. When your child asks an important question out of the blue, recognize it as a precious opportunity to listen and talk with (not just at) your child. I made it a point that whenever one of my children came into the room, I would put down what I was doing and focus on whatever they had to say. It's easier said than done, but the rewards over the long haul are priceless.

  7. Help siblings show love to each other

    A huge benefit of homeschooling can be strengthened sibling relationships. Sharing so much time and so many experiences together can build deep bonds. But it can also provide lots of room for conflict to develop. So take time to teach your children how to resolve their conflicts. You can role play what to do when a little sister feels annoying, or when your kids can't agree on what game to play. This training can pay huge dividends in the years to come.

  8. Apologize to your children

    We have all messed up in parenting. I certainly have. We have all lost our temper, acted selfishly, or mixed up our priorities. When you have sinned against your children, give them the enormous gift of modeling repentance. Acknowledge what you did wrong and genuinely apologize for it. This helps restore relationships and it teaches children that we don't have to be perfect in order to love each other and grow.

  9. Remember your spouse

    During our busy homeschooling years, John and I made it a point to go on a walk together every night, just the two of us. What a difference this small habit made in our relationship! Also, since John's primary love language is physical touch, I would get up and greet him with a kiss whenever he left the house or returned. We would hold hands while we prayed, and I would make it a point to hold his hand or put my arm around him at church, or put my hand on his thigh when he drove. Small gestures like this helped him receive love the way he was designed to. Again, the Inspire 25 event gave some great ideas to help homeschoolers stay connected to their spouse.

And remember – we have love to give to others because God has first loved us. You don't have to give from an empty tank. God's love for you is extravagant and real. I pray you can live from that reality as you serve your family in this great calling.

Blessings to you and yours,

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Blog Party Winner! (And another chance to win!)

...::drum roll::..

The envelope, please!

And the winner of our January Blog Party is...

Sheila who blogs at The Deliberate Reader!!!

Congratulations, Sheila! I hope you enjoy the wonderful selection of encouraging books in January's prize package. And the fun is just beginning! We have another wonderful prize package lined up for February, featuring stories from around the world.

FebPrizePkg Plan to join us on February 25th for your chance to win the bundle of prizes pictured above, including:

  • D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths
  • Hero Tales
  • The Real Mother Goose
  • Usborne Stories from Around the World
  • Zero and One
  • Tales from Cultures Far and Near audio CD
  • Sonlight's heavy-duty canvas book bag
  • PLUS a Sonlight gift-certificate for $25!

In your blog post on February 25th share how you first decided to homeschool. How did you decide on a curriculum? (Even if you don't use Sonlight you are welcome to participate.) Once your post goes live on the 25th, come back here to the Sonlight blog and link up with us. I'm looking forward to reading each of your stories!

Enjoying the adventure,
~Karla Cook
Lifelong Learner



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