The Voice Bringing Tales to Life

IMG_6317Ask anyone who has parented long enough to see their child's shoe size dwarf their own: things change as the years go by. It's true across the board. The favorite t-shirt you had to pry from your son's body to sprint into the wash someday finds its way to the bottom of the drawer from disuse. The darling, age-appropriate pronunciation of "spaghetti" disappears. The five-point harness gives way to a booster seat, which eventually finds its way to a corner in the garage ("just in case!") when your little girl is suddenly big enough for just a seat belt.

When your family homeschools, change takes on another, more quantifiable aspect. As each skill is mastered, it is carefully built upon until the math manipulatives are eventually sold second-hand and you no longer consider Miss Frizzle your back-up science tutor. Before you know it, the child who struggled to learn his times tables is calculating something about S-curves as you google furiously, trying to keep up. This is change, real-time. And it is good.

Sometimes, though, things have a way of slipping through our fingers and becoming part of the past when they still hold value. Reading aloud to teens is one of them.

We know the benefits of reading aloud to babies and toddlers and preschoolers. We are thrilled as they drag the worn compilation of Little Golden Books to our laps for one more telling. We know that they are painlessly picking up vocabulary, grasping the nuances of language, anticipating action, understanding social norms. We praise them for remembering their favorite tale, and help them point out the little black spider hiding behind the bush, or count the birds in the sky.

As we begin our homeschooling journey, we read differently. Yes, we are still praying for all the earlier bonuses of gathering for a reading. But now we realize a new weight as we plunge into each new story. We want them to learn. We want them to get a feel for a time period, or crawl inside the skin of a character who has lessons to teach through their experiences. But mostly, we want our children to fall in love with books. We want them to become readers in their own right, the kind of people who can spend hours wrapped in a good story and come away full, as if from a banquet. We want them to learn how to learn ... and that skill is so closely entwined with being a reader than when we find our natural places on the couch, splayed on the floor, or draped in the most comfortable chair, we are constantly alert to passing on our own love of books.

And yet, one day, we simply stop. Among Sonlighters I know, the transition usually occurs right before Core 100. It makes sense; this is the Big Change moment, the point when the countdown to the end of the homeschooling years really begins.

There are younger children in the family who won't enjoy those books. Life has gotten busier, and committing 2 hours a day to reading a book just isn't doable any more. He really prefers to do his schoolwork alone, in his room. We have several Cores going, and I can't manage to read from all of them.

I get it. Things change. The pace of life picks up as children creep ever closer to graduating. There are co-op classes, and science labs, and younger siblings still learning to find their way around fractions. But can I gently suggest that these are even more reasons to examine your schedule and find a way to read aloud to your teenagers?

In our house, it's far too easy to find a way to focus on the younger kids, or prioritize independence so much in our older learners that we forget that in reading to our teens, the game itself has changed. We are no longer reading to simply help them master new words, or to color in the details surrounding the Spanish Inquisition. It's not about building a relationship with books; it's about building a relationship with us.

When my children were all small, read aloud time was the highlight of the day. In some seasons, and with certain books, it was the bulk of the day. I can remember sitting on our loveseat with a cup of tea on my lap, my little ones on the floor building Lincoln Log cabins as we worked our way through Core E. I'm sure there were other things that happened that year, but in my mind, it was the reading that we shared that shines brightest of all. I'm blessed to be experiencing that season again with my younger children, but no, my teens honestly don't have time in their schedules to set Physics and French aside to bask in The Great Wheel again.

Still, I know the value of listening together, of sharing an adventure, of building a common family culture. No, my teens don't need me to read to them. Not for information or to fall in love with the written word. My teens need me to read to them to keep them knit into the "we" that is our family.

Because of the large range of ages and skills represented under our roof in this season, our family read aloud time looks much different than it did in those sweet days of Core E. Now we gather for lunch around the dining room table and fall quiet, everyone from the infant to the college girl, and embark on the journey amidst chewing and spilled cups of water. I no longer read only school books (unless they are particular favorite repeats of my older kids), trying to keep things fresh for everyone. Our sessions don't stretch over hours, because the teens usually have work calling them back. More often than not, I miss out on a hot meal. But I've decided that that eating cold leftovers is a small price to pay for being able to hold all of my children in one orbit for forty minutes.

Reading to my teens has paid more dividends than I can count. From being able to wink at a 5 year-old sister who is now in on the family jokes stolen from Cheaper By the Dozen to whispering to me as we wash dishes about the ludicrous example of personification presented in a rabbit gripping the hilt of a sword, I am delighted that some things have not changed. Some of my babies can rest their chins on the top of my head. Others are closing in on their third decade of life. But our family is still a family of readers. And I am still blessed to be the voice bringing the tales to life.

~~~

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Heather Mills Schwarzen is the wife of one globe-trotting, church-planting adventurer, and Momma to 9 beautifully messy people who range from toddlers to late teens. She writes about parenting, homeschooling, adoption, special needs, and serving a very big God on the family's blog, To Sow a Seed. You can follow the entire family's adventure in a life of ministry on their Facebook page.

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A Devotional Guide to Help Your Family Prepare for Easter

John and I don't come from liturgical backgrounds, and other than Advent, I've never paid much attention to the traditional Church calendar. But this last year we were encouraged to try something new during the Lenten season. We used a devotional guide to help us prepare for Easter, much like you might use an Advent Guide to help prepare for Christmas. I really enjoyed the daily devotional guide I used and wanted to pass it along to you in case you find it helpful as well.

In most local churches I've been a part of, Easter shines brightly for a day and then we move on. But last year I spent the 40 days prior to Easter reflecting on Jesus' work and sacrifice, and considering that our sin placed him on the cross. I looked forward to the glad celebration of Easter in a fresh and new way. When Easter arrived, I found I could celebrate the Resurrection with even more joy and gratitude.

If you'd like to look at what I used, it's called Journey to the Cross: Readings and Devotions for Lent, by The Gospel Coalition. It's a PDF you can download at no charge and use on your own or with your family each day. You may need to modify it for younger children, but you could at least read the Scripture together and ask them some of the reflection questions that would be on their level. The Lenten season starts this year in just under two weeks, on February 10.

Last year was also the first time that John and I attended an Ash Wednesday service. I was humbled to kneel before the altar and have the pastor put a cross of ashes on my forehead while saying, "Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return." It was a comfort and relief to remember that I am a mere mortal, and that God knows this. As Psalm 103:13-14 reminds us, "As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust." That humility before God helped me appreciate His great gift of abundant life even more.

I learned that the ashes they used at the service came from the palm branches of the previous year's Palm Sunday celebration. (Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter, when we remember Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem just a few days before his execution.) I thought that was a neat picture of Jesus' triumphal power coupled with his willing sacrifice of Good Friday.

You can certainly appreciate Easter whether or not you do anything during the Lenten season. But I'm glad I had the opportunity last year to use that traditional time to get ready for Easter in a new way.

What have you found helpful to prepare your and your family's hearts for Easter?

Blessings to you on the journey,
Sarita


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The Gift of Play

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It's just another day of school. You know, math, reading, slaying dragons, building forts and climbing trees. Sound like your typical classroom?

Today I want to give us all permission to let loose a little and PLAY. (I thought about titling this post “Why I let my children run around like hooligans and yours can, too.”)

Seriously, one of the great benefits of homeschooling is that we have freedom to set a schedule that helps our children thrive. The great news is that making time for play doesn't keep us from helping our children grow and learn, instead it enhances their ability to do just that.

Not only is it great for our kids emotionally and physically, it turns out that play actually benefits kids intellectually as well. When they are playing, they are learning.

IMG_0646Check out these studies for juicy details like how playing with blocks might help your kid perform better in math one day. And that pretend play? You get to see that come up in vocabulary development years down the road after all the basic reading skills have leveled out. Movement actually helps those little brains make connections that stick.

(It also might help them become stronger leaders. Check out Sarita's post about how Steve Jobs and other well-known leaders spent lots of time creating rather than consuming as children. Inspiring!)

Make play a priority

Rather than seeing play as something we fit in around the really important things, I'm thrilled to make play a priority with our kids.

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood. — Fred Rogers

Oh Mr. Rogers, I always knew you were a wise man.

This may seem too simple.  All kids play, right? But I think most kids in our society are starved for play. With all the pressure to make sure kids are academically advanced at an early age and the huge emphasis on test scores, it’s easy to forget about the playground.

This article from The Washington Post is one of many that highlight the danger of children forced to sit at desks all day versus being free to play. The article states that in the U.S., "the average first-grader spends seven hours a day at school, sometimes without any recess, much less one outdoors and unstructured."

What they need to play

 

So we can agree play is a good thing, but we have to be intentional to make it happen in a society that values a frenetic pace and constantly shuffling young children to organized activities. It’s easy for doubts to creep in when all around us we see busyness=productivity.11110516_10152765079572611_8801279122736825327_o

  • The rare and precious thing kids really need to play is unhurried time. When we give then the gift of time to be children, we are opening a world of wonder to them that is only open so wide as this right now.
  • Fill their minds with good books to give fodder for the imagination.
  • Give them basic raw materials they can use to create. (Tools Not Toys.) Notice I am not saying they need fancy gadgets. Jump ropes, balls, blocks, building toys, and fabric (not to mention my kitchen spatulas and strainers) can all be used in endless ways.  Give a child a cardboard box, a stick, and a scarf. You'd be amazed at what he comes up with!
  • Let them get outside and fill their lungs with fresh air and exercise. Sometimes I have to force my kiddos out the door, but they are almost always smiling more broadly and have a reset in their attitudes 15 minutes in.

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A glorious play buffet: Good books, raw materials, fresh air and lots of TIME.

What they don't (always) need to play

Kids don’t have to have highly directed play to have a great time. In fact, they benefit from initiating their own ideas.

Okay, I don’t know how to say this without feeling like I might offend the very organized moms out there whom I wish I could be like. But I think there’s a big trend toward planning and preparing children’s play so much that perhaps we over-direct sometimes. While I love it when our fun activities totally tie into a theme, not everything has to be perfectly coordinated to be beneficial and my kids don’t seem to care about that as much as I do.

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(I think it is very wise to have boxes of special toddler toys, or fun crafts or activities planned for little ones. This just makes sense. Sensory bins are a blast! But I also had to get to a place where I realized that a very detailed, perfect plan for each day in the way of play was not realistic or always necessary for me.)

A dose of reality from this laid-back mama is that, around here, what happens for playtime is most often a surprise to me until it happens. I am totally okay with that.

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We spend lots of time together, but they thrive on coming up with activities that they initiate. My 4- and 2-year-old conducted a circus while we did math yesterday.  They made a ship out of the couch while we did handwriting, and then they came to join us to draw and scribble respectively on slates and paper.

They marched in a parade and then “climbed mountains” while I started lunch and played "Narnia" while I put the baby down for a nap. “Hurrah for Cair Paravel!” from my 2-year-old (copying his sister) is something I never would have heard in a game I would have planned for him. Their creativity overflows and I love hearing them interact with each other.

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I have a LOT to figure out about homeschooling as I just begin this journey, but praise God for family and the chances to interact with siblings and share life and stories and time unfettered.

I know my teenagers won't necessarily be able to build a ship on the couch during math time. I get that academics need to get done. But I hope they will take time to create for the rest of their lives. It's one of the prime qualities that leaders possess. Give room for play and prepare the way for minds that are ready and hungry to learn.

With homeschooling, we have freedom to shape our days according to our priorities. We have freedom to let our kids be kids and explore the fascinating world we live in.

Let's let them breathe, run, create and laugh, discover who they are and what they can create.  Let's give our children the gift of time to play.
How do you make time for play?

(Read Parts 2 of 5 Gifts You Can Give Your Children or Part 1: The Gift of Your Presence.)

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How Homeschooling Can Prep Teens for Leadership

Can you name one surprising thing influential leaders such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and others have in common?

They all spent their teen years in a similar fashion. Check out this intriguing article from Time about How Successful Leaders Spent Their Teenage Years.

Without intending to, the article basically gives a checklist of things that homeschooling allows teens to do. Now, we might not want our children to grow up to be just like Steve Jobs. (I've heard he was not exactly the kindest man around.) But if we want to help our teens be equipped to change the world, consider how homeschooling makes it easier for teens to pursue these activities.

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Many great leaders read a lot during their teen years.
Influential leaders tend to be well-read. They used their teen years to broaden their understanding of the world through reading a huge variety of works. That means they read things they're comfortable with, and things that pushed them out of their comfort zone a bit. We created the upper-level Sonlight programs to help teens do just that. Your teens will read way more than their average public-school (or even private school) peers. And they'll have you, plus extensive Instructor's Guide notes, to help them navigate the new ideas they encounter. It's a purposeful way to prepare teens to engage the world.

Most leaders spend a lot of time alone as teens.
Teens face enormous social pressures. As they try to form their own identities and figure out where they fit in, it really helps to have plenty of time to just be on their own and think, and dig into their passions. That could be photography, writing poetry, building robots ... you name it. Homeschooling makes it easier for teens to have such time at their disposal. Teens who are always in the social pressure cooker of school, activities and social media may not get the chance to step back and just be themselves.

Great leaders put a priority on creating over consuming. They spent their teen years creating.
Homeschooling makes it easier for teens to continue to explore new areas of interest. In school, it can be easy to get locked in to one identity (as a theater person, or a musician, or a jock). But with homeschooling, it's easier for a musician who loves sports to also get really into computer coding. I can't tell you how many homeschoolers I've heard of who wrote novels in their high school years. My son Luke spent countless hours making films. Homeschooling provides extra freedom to pursue these things. You can even incorporate such pursuits into your student's official curriculum!

The sheer act of creating something as big as a film, a novel, a musical composition, or a computer program teaches countless lessons and prepares teens for future challenges. It preps teens to know that they can actively engage with the world, instead of just passively receiving what comes their way.

Of course, I think the teen years should also include learning to serve others and strengthening relationships with family and friends. And so, it seems homeschooling is a perfect setup to give your teens the gifts that many influential leaders enjoyed in their foundational years.

What do you think are the biggest gifts homeschooling affords your teens (or teens to be)?

Blessings,
Sarita


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The "How-to" of Keeping Reading Lists for Your Homeschool (and Why You'll Want To)

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Reading Lists Can Last a Lifetime

Homeschooled children will eventually grow up and reflect on their school years through the lens of adulthood. What will your children say about their homeschool experience? My two children are now grown adults, but they have warm memories about our years learning together. I recently asked them what they remembered from a dozen years ago. Their answers didn't involve lesson plans, tests, textbooks, or chores. They remembered the time spent reading aloud great books together on the couch.

I am convinced that the greatest advantage of homeschooling is the time spent together. I encourage parents to homeschool through high school, and read quality literature aloud together until children graduate. Reading aloud can create lifelong warmth in your parent-child relationship. This "cozy couch time" is irreplaceable, and creates positive memories of childhood and homeschooling that can last forever. At home, you can substitute meaningful dialog for literary analysis, and develop a deep love of reading.

Reading aloud is a technology-free, relaxed way to learn and enjoy books. Like camping, reading together creates shared experiences that can help with family bonding. But extensive reading is not just for personal enjoyment and academic edification, it can also help you create excellent high school records and increase your child's chances of college admission and scholarships.

Reading Lists: A Key Element in Your Homeschool Portfolio

One of your tasks as a homeschool parent is not only to give your kids a good education, but to demonstrate the breadth and depth of their education to the people who need "proof" of their learning.  Keeping a record of what your students have read will help you to show the quality and variety of literature they've experienced. Compiling your students' reading lists during high school means you will have this to share as part of a college portfolio (along with a transcript, extracurricular activities, writing samples, etc.).

How to Build Your Reading List

A reading list is simply an alphabetical list of book that a high school child has read. The list is simple, title and author only, not a bibliography. The book can be reading for fun, literature reading for school, and historical reading for school. Whether the list is 8 books or 800, the reading list is just for books read during high school years.

A reading list should include books read for school, whether for history or literature class. It should also include books read for fun, such as light books assigned for reading, or twaddle teens choose on their own. You don't have to specify which books were read aloud, and which were read independently. My children's reading lists included simply title and author, because that is all that most colleges expect.

Save receipts from bookstore purchases, and library records, as well as your curriculum book list, to add to your child's list. My prolific readers added books from chess study, economics, history, and Russian authors. I felt guilty that I couldn't keep their reading lists current, but they read so much it was impossible! I alphabetized each reading list, to make sure I didn't include any duplicate titles, and figured enough was enough. Colleges don't need to know about every single book that a geeky, bookish kid has read.

While it may be normal for a public school student to read 5-10 books per year, some homeschoolers read too many to count. Once you get past 30-50 books on your child's yearly list, stop worrying about it. You have demonstrated that your child is a prolific reader, well-read across the curriculum.

Course Descriptions

You can include books from your reading list in your child's course descriptions, demonstrating the quality of your homeschool. Normally a course description includes what the class covered, the text used, and a demonstration of how you graded it. If 1/3 of the total grade is based on reading, then your list of books in the course description will clearly demonstrate the amount of work involved. When you use a literature-based curriculum (I used Sonlight), then it makes sense to divide their extensive book list into subjects. Some books can be reserved for the history course description, and some for the English course description, but include all of them on the book list.

My course descriptions can look intimidating to people outside my family, because they include the fun books my kids wanted to read independently. My kids read so many books simply for fun. When they read a library book or received a book for their birthday, I included it in the course description for the class that covered the topic. When my son read the books, "Rich Dad Poor Dad" and "Biblical Economics in Comics" we added them to his self-directed Economics course description.

Transcript

Your child's reading list may help you create the best descriptive titles for your high school classes. Look over the books for clues that will help you with course titles. Do you have a smattering of different genre and a variety of writing assignments? You may want to name your English class, "Literature and Composition." Is your child's reading list heavily focused on American authors? You may want to name your English class, "American Literature and Composition."

While I didn't use a specific "American Literature" curriculum, my children read literature by American authors extensively one year. I noticed we had combined the poetry of Walt Whitman, Robert Service, and Langston Hughes with the novels of Mark Twain, Jack London, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Confident that we had covered many major works, I named the class, "American Literature and Composition" on the homeschool transcript.

Scholarships

Colleges want applicants who are well educated, and demonstrate wide-ranging experiences through literature. They want children who can read challenging literature from a College Bound Reading List. But colleges also want unique individuals with their own personal preferences and a passion for their own interests. As you include reading for fun in your child's course descriptions, you are making your child's homeschool records unique.

Each of my children received full-tuition scholarships to their first choice university. One college representative said, "Your transcripts and records were the best organized and documented I have seen." This didn't happen because my children were the best organized, or because I forced them to read excessive amounts of literature beyond the curriculum requirements. It happened because I took their normal, natural homeschool experiences, and translated their delight directed learning into words and numbers colleges understand: transcripts, course descriptions, and reading lists.

Life-Long Benefits

Reading strengthens relationships, shapes personalities, develops critical thinking, and builds connections between ideas. It builds character as children identify with heroes, and helps them learn from the mistakes of others as they live vicariously through the characters. It provides broad exposure to cultures and ideas, allowing children to dig deeply into subjects from the safety of home with the guidance of their parents.

All these benefits are much more secure than any derived from the world wide web, with the dark side of humanity just one click away. And since reading is analog, not digital, it promotes a normal attention span, without the quickly moving change of focus offered by all forms of digital media. The slower pace of reading promotes reflection and increases imagination. Reading aloud can turn an otherwise boring or ordinary homeschool experience into fond memories cherished for a lifetime.

All these benefits pale in comparison to the benefit near and dear to my heart. My children love reading, even now as adults. They laugh and comment about books we read together a decade ago. They are thankful we homeschooled and remember the bond we developed during read aloud time, not the struggles or stress. All that remains are the life-long benefits of homeschooling. I'm so thankful for our reading time together through my entire homeschool career.

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GIVEAWAY TIME!! Today, one reader will win a copy of Lee's new devotional book Finding the Faith to Homeschool High School. This weekly devotional covers the challenges parents face while homeschooling high school and can support and encourage you along the way. Tell us in the comments why you think homeschooling for high school might be worth it, or what your biggest challenge is. I'll pick one winner from the blog and Facebook comments to win a copy of Lee's book! ~Laura

Lee-Binz-proPhotoLee Binz, The HomeScholar is a dynamic homeschool speaker and author of several books such as Setting the Records Straight: How to Craft Homeschool Transcripts and Course Descriptions for College Admission and Scholarships. Lee’s mission is to encourage and equip parents to homeschool through high school. For a daily dose of high school help, check out the Freebies tab at www.TheHomeScholar.com, including her free mini-course, "How to Avoid the 5 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make Homeschooling High School."

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New Year Reflections: Where do your skills, your passion and the world's needs intersect?

Twenty-five years ago, it all came together. I learned about a serious need in the world. I saw that I had the skills to help meet that need. And, I noticed God building a passion in me about all of this.

And so we started Sonlight.

As we now look to the start of Sonlight's 26th year, I'm reminded of an exciting question. I don't know where I first heard it, but it seems to be a popular notion now:

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Where do your skills, your passion, and a significant need intersect?

You may have more than one answer to this, but one critical answer for you is ... your family! You are passionate about your children in a way that no one else but your spouse is. You have the skills to take care of them and educate them. And they have a deep, true need for you.

If you wonder whether you're passionate about your children, just think of what you willingly and lovingly go through for them. Or what you'd do if someone was trying to hurt them. I have no doubt – the passion is there.

If you wonder whether you have the skills to love and raise them, can I point out that you're already doing that? You have helped them learn to walk, to talk, and to interact with other people. And, Sonlight helps you gain the skills to homeschool. (If you need more help, just call!) You will undoubtedly continue to grow in all the skills of homemaking and child-rearing year after year.

And there's no question that your children have an enormous need for you. You are irreplaceable in their lives. No one else can play the role in their lives that you can. So much of a person's lot in life is influenced by their parents' love and care for them.

So it makes sense that a priority in your life is to love, guide and educate your children. It makes sense that this takes up an enormous chunk of your time and energy.

Another priority is naturally going to be your spouse. You are your spouse's partner in life. We need to be faithful to that huge responsibility and gift.

You may have other areas where skills, passion and need intersect. But if you need a reminder that what you're doing day-in and day-out is important, remember this. Some people search their whole lives for something meaningful to do in the world. You're already doing something huge.

So wherever God leads you now and in the future, thank you for serving those he's put closest to you. Keep up the good work! Parenting and homeschooling are huge, wonderful and worthy callings indeed.

Blessings,
Sarita


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New Payment Plan Options January 4

I am pleased to announce that a week from today -- January 4, 2016 -- you will have more opportunities to take advantage of Sonlight's fee-free payment plans. What's new?

  1. Year-round 3-, 6-, or 9-month options
    Spend $799 (or get a Full-Grade Package) and you get your choice of payment plans any time of the year.
  2. 40% down + three payments of 20%
    When your order ships, you invest just 40% (less than half) of your package price. In the following months, you pay the rest in 20% increments.
  3. $399 options April - June
    Right after the new catalog comes out, take advantage of a plan even on smaller orders.

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Payment Plans

Why the change?

We want to make it possible for you to take advantage of these fantastic payment plans no matter when you were ready to order. Offering plans for orders of $799 lets us serve you when you would most benefit from spreading your investment over a longer period of time. It also allows you to invest in the curriculum you need instead of tying the benefit to a predefined package on our end. Click here to learn more about Sonlight's payment plans.

We appreciate the flexibility and freedom homeschooling gives us. At Sonlight, we want to make it even easier for you to homeschool in a way that matches your family's needs. Expanding our payment plan opportunities year-round is just one of the ways we seek to do that for you. Whenever you're ready start homeschooling this year, we're here to help you.

Want to start exploring your options now? Learn more about Sonlight's homeschool curriculum.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

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