Do You Keep Quitting? Start Smaller

Growing up, the really religious kids who loved Jesus way more than me, did devotions and read their Bibles for, like, at least an hour a day. I'm not one to back down from a challenge; I pushed myself to do the same. And I failed.

Every time.

In less than a week, I'd be so far behind that I would never catch up. So I'd throw in the towel. I quit. This cycle perpetuated itself for years. I'd gain a renewed sense of my need to be in Scripture, realize that I should be able to carve out time for God if I really loved Him, and burn out in no time.

Finally, I gave up on my grandiose designs to be a spiritual guru whom others could aspire to be like. I decided to set a goal so infinitesimally small that even I could attain such heights. I would read my Bible for five minutes a day, just one chapter, and if the chapter was too long, I'd only read part of it. I also wouldn't read on weekends.

It worked. I've been faithfully reading my Bible for well over a decade now. And I'm regularly surprised by how quickly I get through the Word. It's no yearly reading plan, but I've still gone through the Bible several times since starting this routine.

One writing coach recommends writing for just five minutes a day. Yes, it may be an embarrassingly small amount of time, but it's also doable. And simply doing something carries significant benefits.

This is also true of starting homeschooling with preschoolers. I had this picturesque idea of contently reading for hours to my little ones. Then reality hit. We wouldn't even make it through the first picture book before the child grew indifferent and wandered off.

But that was fine. Soon I would be walled in by a growing pile of books as that same child would beg me to read an unending flood of stories. Over Easter, my wife snapped a picture of me reading to my nieces who brought a similar stack of books. Eventually I had to take a break and eat more to refuel.

Story Time with Uncle Luke

Are there things you know you ought to be doing but find yourself quitting? Do you get overwhelmed when you try to start something new? Start small. Take five minutes to tidy, read, write, start a load of laundry, sketch, snap photos, put photos in an album, or whatever. Put another way: Give yourself grace. I am frequently amazed by how much I get done if I cut myself some slack. The journey of a thousand miles I start today? I don't have to finish it right now.

Perhaps your children would benefit from this lesson as well.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Gaurdian

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IMG_20140416_190410_087-766503Life in general is just unpredictable, isn't it?

A few weeks ago, when I was asked to go to Alaska to represent Sonlight at a series of homeschool conventions, I jumped at the chance. I had never been to Alaska, but I had always wanted to go. What an exciting opportunity! The timing wasn't wonderful (over Easter weekend), but I decided I could deal with that. So I began to make plans and travel arrangements.

And then, things began to go "wrong."

Well, not "wrong" exactly... but certainly not what I had in mind. Arrangements had to be changed and different plans made. When I arrived at the first event last week, I discovered that my display racks hadn't shipped, and I had forgotten an important binder and my supply of pens. Time to regroup... again.

I had looked forward to the beautiful Alaskan scenery... and the skies turned out to be gray. Our timing has been off on some of the experiences we had hoped for... and those elusive Northern Lights just refuse to show themselves.

In many ways, I could consider the trip to be disappointing because it hasn't met my expectations. But I really don't think of it that way. It has been an adventure.

Has it been above and beyond anything I could ever imagine?


But overall, I'm very glad I got to come. It has been rewarding and satisfactory in ways I hadn't thought of.

My experience with homeschooling has been that way, too. Not necessarily the warm-fuzzy, super-organized, highly-academic experience I imagined starting out. We've had highs and lows all along the way, and sometimes, in the daily nitty-gritty it seems like there are more lows than highs. But in general it's the same as my trip to Alaska has been... rewarding and satisfactory in ways I hadn't thought of. And definitely worthwhile.

Enjoying the adventure,
~Karla Cook
Lifelong Learner

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I Was Wrong About Tests

Tests are good. Very good. But we use them incorrectly. Most educators I know and politicians I hear about use them incorrectly as well. But I had one teacher who knew the truth about tests.

Mr. Corson -- the brilliant guy behind Sonlight's Psychology Program and one of the great educators in my life -- gave us a quiz every single morning. He called them OQs or "Opportunity Quizzes." Ostensibly, these were opportunities for us to show him what we had learned from our reading. I was certain they were daily opportunities to fail. Five questions. Multiple choice. Every single day.

I hated it. But I passed the AP Psych test like a jet ski and a sinking rock.

These brief, little tests reinforced our reading. All it took was five multiple choice questions every morning to lock the important concepts into our brains. And, it turns out, the simple act of retrieval practice boosts tests scores by more than 10%. You remember more if you simply ask yourself to try to remember it.

Support Your Learning with Tests

Do you struggle to remember people's names? I do. So I quiz myself when I first meet them.

"Hi, I'm Luke."

"Hi, Luke. I'm Sam."

We chat for a few moments, and then I'll try to remember their name.

"So, Sam, you like homeschooling? Me too!"

It's a blow to my ego every time I get it wrong. How embarrassing that I can't recall a name after 23 seconds! But the little recall attempt helps stick the name in my head. Next week, if I see the person again, I'll test myself afresh. "It's Sunny, right? No? Oh, I'm so sorry, Sam!"

So, as I've observed before, tests are not ideal for measuring, motivating, or monitoring students. Tests tell us almost nothing about what a student understands. And tests, like grades, prioritize performance over learning. I really don't like tests or grades. And when tests are used to measure students, those tests are bad.

But good tests are those short quizzes we use to reinforce a concept or idea and enhance memorization.

I was wrong about tests because I -- like most educators -- was only thinking about it as a tool for the teacher. I had not even considered how powerful a tool a quick test can be for helping the student learn.

I'm not sure how I missed the benefit of tests all these years. Probably because, when I think about tests, I'm thinking about something else entirely.

How do you apply this to Sonlight?

Easy. Keep doing what we've recommended from the start: Talk with your children about what you've read. By asking questions and discussing the material, you nudge them to practice retrieval of the information you are learning together.

You don't need formal quizzes. You don't need to grade something. And your student does not need to study. Simply ask your student to recall something from the lesson, and you're both likely to remember it better.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

Blog Opportunity Quiz:

  1. How many questions were on the daily OCs?
    1. 1
    2. 2
    3. 3
    4. 4
    5. 5
  2. What is the name of Luke's imaginary new friend?
    1. Stan
    2. Suzy
    3. Sunny
    4. Sam
    5. Sally
  3. In Luke's analogy of passing the AP test, the two items were a ______ and a ______:
    1. Blimp, Tree
    2. Jet ski, Rock
    3. Car, Doughnut Shop
    4. Lead, Weight
    5. Rorschach Test, Social Contract
  4. Tests are a useful tool for
    1. Students
    2. Teachers
    3. Policy makers
    4. Parents
    5. a, b and d
  5. Do you need formal quizzes?
    1. Yes, and study for them!
    2. No, simply encourage recall as you discuss.
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How to Succeed in School

Parent-Teacher conferences were last night. As a guardian of a high schooler, I got to listen to the teachers gush about how great my student is.

The highlights: Her English has much improved (one teacher attributed this largely to the fact that we've been reading-aloud at home, Sonlight style), she's engaging more in class, and she works hard.

The growth areas: She needs to keep working on her English spelling (I need to keep working on my English spelling), she needs to do her math homework (I had missed the fact that she'd missed several assignments -- bad guardian!), and she needs to study more for Anatomy (yes, yes, she does).

All told, her grades are predominately "A"s. She has the highest scores in several of her classes. And even in the classes in which she struggles, her marks are quite good (as long as she does her homework). This leads to four tips for how to succeed in school:

  1. Try - teachers like to see effort. You don't even have to be good at it, but if you're working hard, your teachers notice and reward you for it.
  2. Engage - simply participating in class improves your marks. My student tells me she's rarely even on topic, rambling about "random stuff" (which wouldn't surprise me), but her teachers love her. That ultimately translates into higher grades.
  3. Complete - do your homework. That alone can undo bad test scores; the practice often helps improve your test scores.
  4. Study - learning how to regurgitate the "right" information when asked is essential for the more "academic" courses.

These are actually four tips we could apply to our lives as homeschoolers:

  1. Try - we aren't perfect teachers. But simply starting down road of homeschooling unlocks tremendous benefits for us and our children.
  2. Engage - there are a growing number of computer-based, "hands-off" home education options ... and none of them will ever be as good as when we participate in our students' education.
  3. Complete - do your homework. Sometimes the daily grid can be overwhelming and we should take a break. There are bad homeschool days. But stick with it, even if you have to stretch out your school year just a little longer.
  4. Study - learn about how your students learn. Seek out advice and encouragement. You do this naturally as a parent, but I think we sometimes feel the need to have our homeschooling all figured out. It's good to keep learning, even when it comes to how to homeschool.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

P.S. I enjoyed this video about what historians say about the resurrection of Christ from BibleMesh on this Good Friday. As always, I think there's a bunch of other interesting stuff in my Other Posts of Note.

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He Is Risen Indeed!

It's one of my favorite traditions. Fellow believers greet me on Resurrection Sunday with "He is risen," and I get to respond, "He is risen indeed!"

Sonlight student Rebekah R

Sometimes I get too focused on the tasks of everyday life. But Passion Week and Easter always pull my attention back to the glorious reality of Christ's resurrection.

I recently got to share the Easter story with a group of Christians and non-Christians. As I prepared for this great privilege, I was struck again by the fact that Jesus knew what was going to happen to Him. And He not only knew it, He actively predicted and chose to go through with it.

When Jesus announced that He was headed toward Jerusalem before the Passover, His followers were amazed. Didn't He know how dangerous that was? People were waiting to kill Him there! Yes, Jesus did know this. And He knew it was His time. So instead of hiding, He openly went up to Jerusalem.

When Judas was secretly preparing to betray Him, Jesus broke bread with him and said, "What you are about to do, do quickly." And so Judas left to carry out his plans.

It even seems like Jesus chose when to die. On the cross He cried, "It is finished." Then He gave up His spirit and breathed His last.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus explains that He will be put to death and then rise from the dead. It takes a while for the disciples to understand this. But by the end, even the religious leaders knew that Jesus was predicting something big. So, they went back to the Roman governor (whom they despised) and asked for round-the-clock guards at Jesus' tomb.

Why does all this matter? Because Jesus actively chose to follow the Father's will. Jesus accepted the most painful and shameful death the Romans knew how to inflict. Even more, Jesus – who had lived in perfect unity with the Father for eternity – took on our sin and therefore suffered apparent separation from the Father. (This caused Him to cry out on the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?")

Jesus was able to choose this path because He was not just a nice teacher or prophet, but Lord. He chose this because of infinite love between Him and the Father and His children (us!). Jesus rose from the dead because He is God. The Romans guarded an empty tomb that Sunday morning because Christ had conquered death.

When someone close to us dies, we come face-to-face with the ultimate wrong. But Jesus' resurrection conquers death for us all. We have a hope of resurrection and new life even after this one. Oh, glorious hope!

So this weekend, let's allow ourselves to be pulled out of our everyday tasks. The Jesus we serve is truly our Lord and savior. Let's rejoice that we can respond: He is risen indeed!


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Why the Internet May Rip People from Faith

I read an intriguing post about how The Internet Is Disrupting Religion. The author, Andy, is pleased to see religion go; I offered a few observations in the comment section. But a larger question has been forming in my mind since reading the post this morning: Should parents be concerned about their children browsing the internet?

First, the answer is a definite yes! Your children can encounter all manner of terrible content without warning. Inappropriate images and video abound, much of it no longer behind an age gate. If you are not aware of what your children are seeing, get involved. Educate yourself. Install tools to help you if needed. I believe some people abandon their faith simply because it's easier to wallow in sin.

Join the Dark Side

Second, the answer is no, not if your concern is that your children will walk away from the faith because they read something online. The problem is not, as Andy postulates, that your children learn things. Learning stuff is great! But learning in a vacuum without seeking out truth is bad. It's too easy to just gulp down what's given you. So if you don't talk with your children about the interesting stuff they find online, you should. Discussion about difficult subjects is one of the many things that sets Sonlight apart. Tackling tough topics together is a hallmark of Sonlighters. There's nothing to fear in encountering these ideas, but there is a tremendous opportunity to learn and grow in your faith!

Third, of course you should be concerned with what your children ingest via the internet. But I don't think it's facts or arguments that pull people away. It's normalizing the non-religious. It's what Andy labels "the spotlight effect." But instead of presenting justice, mercy, and humility as how we ought to live, the internet often highlights things that promote our self-centered-ness. We, as followers of Christ, are abnormal, the minority, strange. So it's little wonder that our ideals would be overshadowed by secular ideas on the net. If we passively soak in those waters, it's little wonder we absorb some of the thinking.

But, no, there is no need for Christians to fear the internet. It's a tool. It offers amazing opportunity. Like every tool, we should use it properly, with wisdom and skill. And, like everything, you should be involved in helping your students learn to navigate the world wide web.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

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Don't believe the lies

Just because you are accused does not mean you are guilty.

I wrote last time about how I was attacked on my Facebook page. How I had my morality, my ethics and my intelligence challenged. I talked about how that crushed me. How that stuck deep inside and caused me to almost crack.

After I moved on and had time to reflect it struck me: it wounded me so deeply because I was swamped with the overwhelming accusations of not one person on the Internet, but by the accuser of my very soul.

The Liar, the lion who goes about seeking whom he may kill and destroy, stands before our Father day and night accusing us. But that does not mean we are guilty.

Hear it again: just because you are accused does not make you guilty.

I know for me the problem is the voice in my head. When I let down my guard I accuse myself more loudly than anyone around me.

A comment about the state of the house? "Slob, lazy, never going to get it together, worthless..." is my own accusation.

A child disrespectful or disobedient? "Failure, why do you even try?" I accuse myself.

Not being able to complete an assignment in the time I've set for myself? "You will never succeed, you cannot do this, give up now" is what I tell myself.

Crying alone in a new church? "No one sees you, no one knows your story."

But then I hear a whisper from on high, "I see you."

And it cuts through the lies.

I am created by God himself. He knows my abilities. He designed my passions. He established my family. He knit not only me, but my husband, and children together too.

He asks that I be the clay in His hand, that I allow him to mold me; that is His desire. While I am not even close to worthless, I believe that God desires to shape me into something greater. More useful. More beautiful.

But more loved? More precious? More unique? Not a chance. My place and worth in God's eyes is secure, nothing will change that.

When I tell myself the truth, God's truth, no accusation can stand.

Until next time,

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