This Homeschool Thing? You Got This

Two bloggers mentioned yesterday that this homeschool thing has them feeling concerned about their abilities and the future of their children's lives.

Makes sense.

You've taken on a big responsibility by homeschooling. You've bucked social trends. You've stepped into a field that some people study for years to do professionally. And every little hiccup or bump in the road raises the flag of doubt; I'm reminded of this funny moment in a movie* where the protagonist sings to herself, "What am I doing? Why am I doing it?"

The more I think about, though, I think a field is a beautiful analogy.

Farmer or Gardener?

Some teachers need to get specialized training to be allowed to teach. Others, depending on the subject or the school, don't. Some farmers grow up farming, learning from their parents. Others get a degree in agricultural. Does that mean you can't garden?

Of course not!

You, like me, may not be good at gardening, failing to water plants and consider the impact of direct sunlight on this or that plant. And if you're the kind of person who will fail to "water" your child's education, you may not get great results. But that's not you. By starting this homeschool gig the way you have, you're invested. You're the kind of educational gardener who starts seedlings in window boxes before spring.

That's you. You got this.


The Pretty Meadow

You weren't so sure about homeschooling initially. It sounded awesome, but was it really all that? Really? Then you looked into it a bit more and you discovered a gorgeous meadow full of flowers and buzzing bees and soft grass and fresh air and that is right and good in the world.

So you walked into the field with your children. This was going to be perfect!

But now, suddenly, you've realized it's not perfect. It's a tad messy with dirt and mud. There are a few rocks that stub toes and holes that turn ankles. The bees flock to your tuna sandwich. What happened to your idyllic meadow?

It's still there. But now you're seeing more of it. It's not all butterflies and rainbows -- though those are still there -- there's also fire ants and rain.

Just like in "regular" school.

You succeeded there. You got this.

Still Not Convinced?

Some days are rough. I get that. I can remember all the tears and gnashing of teeth I did in high school and college based on what my professional, certified, licensed teachers assigned. I also remember the wailing I did when I got my papers back from my dad, red ink like splattered blood on the white page. There are days no matter the school situation.

But you're not alone. You could chat with a Sonlight Advisor. Or swing by the forums for input from your fellow homeschoolers. And if you're struggling with a particular subject, it could be you need to tweak it or switch to something else (like what I did when my math program broke down on me). One blogger recently suggested that a simple schedule shift helped her homeschool experience tremendously. If you'd like to connect with more awesome bloggers, check out the Other Posts of Note.

This homeschool thing? You got this.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

* Obligatory disclaimer: I am not recommending you watch that film.

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A BEAM of Sonlight

Change. Sometimes it excites me ... other times it makes me feel ambivalent. After 20 some years of being involved in homeschooling, it seems that change occurs more and more often. But in this instance, I think I'm going to like the change.

For 11+ years Sonlight has produced an e-newsletter titled The BEAM. It has, over the years, included such things as a column written by Sarita Holzmann, links to forum threads of interest, wonderful editorial comments by Amy Lykosh, and snippets of information about Sonlight products and news of interest.

Next week when your copy of the BEAM arrives, you're bound to notice that it looks quite different! Our team has harnessed their creative energies to come up with a fresh and inviting new look for our bi-weekly e-communique. It will still include an article from Sarita that is sure to make you pause from your daily routine and give some thought to her wise words. You will also hear fun testimonies from Sonlighters around the globe! The new BEAM will still include links to great conversations on the Sonlight Forums, as well as a spotlight on a Sonlight product or homeschool tip that's bound to provide some practical inspiration for your family.

So watch your inbox next week and let me know what you think of the new BEAM look and feel. I think you're going to like it!

Still on the journey,
~Judy Wnuk

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I Like What I'm Seeing, Protestants and Catholics

He's an older man with a bitter and irritated vibe. He's a stickler for precision and likes to get things in writing so he can call you on it later. The pastors of my church turned down his requests for them to "set things straight" and now, he tells me, he's concerned for my soul.

We've met a handful of times. He's been arguing with a lady from my congregation for almost as long as I've been alive, and now I've been called in to give the "official" position of "my" church. Always happy to discuss things with anyone -- Church of God, Mormon, JW, Scientology, or otherwise -- I appreciate the opportunities to learn new things and grow in my faith. Our time has gone fairly well until he says something so outlandish that I thump the table and yell, "COME ON! You don't even believe that!"

Perhaps not my finest, most gracious moment.

In the fifteen or so hours we'd spent together, we'd been around and around with all kinds of issues. Both the woman from my church and this guy have reams of paper containing notes and diagrams, emails and articles, agreements related to which dictionaries are acceptable and audio recordings of hours of back and forth. Literally. My role, it turned out, was as much mediator between two embattled and embittered neighbors as spokesperson for my brand of Christianity.

He believes things more extreme than I am comfortable with and with more certainty than I find healthy. But, to me, he's a brother, agreeing that connection with Christ is what saves us. His view of me is pointedly less open.

Not that long ago in a country not that far away, Protestants and Catholics killed each other in the streets for about three decades. But in my neck of the woods, both locally and internetally, I'm seeing more and more people agree to disagree with those on the other side of the Reformation fence. I love Kris's story about how learning to pray saved her faith.* I've seen several other posts lately -- like Brianna's "gift of evangelicalism" -- that talk about the benefits of "the other side" even while firmly affirming the beauty of their current ecumenical take. And it's not just ex-Protestants. A handful of my friends come from a Catholic background and still attend Mass from time to time, finding beauty and solace there in a way not available in their current church home.

This makes me so happy. I love seeing the Body of Christ knit together in unity.


This morning, as I read through The Kingdom Strikes Back -- part of your 6th Grade homeschool curriculum -- I was thrilled to see God's work in the context of history, and how both Catholics and Protestants have, with varying degrees of success, spread the good news of God's grace to others. Strangely encouraging, too, was the reminder that we have much more to do.

And I thought, 'I can't wait to do more of this ministry together!'

I like it.

Sure, there will always be those who try to drive wedges and set up barriers. And there is a place for that, certainly. But perhaps the goal should be to build more rooms, reminding us that we are all in the same house (as C.S. Lewis put it in Mere Christianity).

This also points to the unity the Messianic Jews and Muslim Background Believers have found in Christ. Having friends who were enemies, both historically and culturally, call each other "brother" is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. Redemption is amazing!

May we all continue to grow closer to Christ and in so doing find ourselves closer to one another.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

* In keeping with the theme of disagreement, Doug makes some good points about the short-comings of the "Christian Survival Guide," the book which prompted Kris to blog about prayer.

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School Supplies

"Does the Full-Grade Package really include everything I'll need?" she asked a little apprehensively.

"Well... of course, it doesn't include the optional workbooks or electives, or basic school supplies such as pencils and paper," I clarified, "But yes, it includes all the books and teacher's material you would need for one school year."

"What are basic school supplies?" she wanted to know. "I've never homeschooled before. Do you have a list?"

I didn't have a list, but I mentioned some of the basics that are on sale locally right now... things like crayons, notebook paper, colored pencils...

"Maybe I could just pick up a school supply list at the front of the store. Would that work?" she wanted to know.

"Great idea!" I told her.

As I was thinking about this again later, I wondered what those lists looked like these days. I don't remember that I ever picked up one when my kids were younger. The next time I was in WalMart I grabbed 3 or 4 from different schools and grade levels, just because I was curious.

All the basics were there, but they also required some items I had never thought of as school supplies: hand sanitizer, tissues, ear buds, classroom snacks, even white socks for wiping off the marker board! Some teachers required certain brands of some items. And the lists were quite extensive. I didn't take the time to total up the cost but I expect it would not be cheap if you had several children.

I do love the back-to-school sales on school supplies, though. I just can't seem to pass up those 50-cent boxes of crayons! August is definitely the time to stock up. My approach has been to keep a "craft cupboard" stocked with a variety of supplies, for any projects that might come up throughout the year. Usually my children would come up with an idea, and then pull out what they needed for their project. I also get extra spiral notebooks and plenty of pencils for creative journaling.

So, yes, the public school supplies lists are great for reference. You'll find items on there you don't need... and as you browse the aisles you'll probably notice other things that you would love to incorporate into your homeschool. That's why we don't provide a list... so you can feel free to purchase just the supplies you know you'll use.

Enjoying the adventure,
~Karla Cook
Lifelong Learner

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Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

The cultural answer is that The Shadow knows the evil, but I think Scripture addressed this first in Jerimiah 17:9 and following. Today is a Monday and this is a heavy post. Sorry.

She's a Senior at a local high school -- pretty, popular, and flourishing. At least externally. Inside, well, that's a different story.

"I'm fine," she tells me with a genuinely faked smile she's mastered for the sake of others. The tell-tale "thumbs up" completes the charade. I've seen it dozens of times before.

I give her a look.

"Stupid people believe me," she bursts out. "Why can't you be stupid?"

I offer my standard response. "I went to college."

Sometimes you have to make light of things when there are no more tears. She spilled all hers hours ago. She refuses to tell me what's going on, but the edges of the puzzle are coming together. It has something to do with her boyfriend, or ex-boyfriend, or whatever is going on there. "It's not rape," she assures me. "I don't want you to assume the wrong thing."

Not that abuse isn't part of her history, it's just that those events are so far in the past that she copes by keeping it all neatly packaged deep down somewhere dark. She's also been belittled in word and in deed. Her school, she tells me, isn't helping. And she has a lot to do and she should go.

When she does leave, her parting words are, "I hate you so much." She may mean it, or not, it's hard to say. I'm not sure she knows what she thinks at the moment. Not surprising, given what she's been through. And I've only seen a flicker of those shadows.

Black Heart

That experience fresh on my mind, Elizabeth's post about minimizing abuse in Christian homeschooling felt far too close to home. And I had a great homeschool experience! I had a good public high school experience too. But the brutally intense waves that ripple from "a few" bad experiences drown people. They give up. Or, they come close, letting the black waters consume them and bury them in the deep.

This isn't something I can fix. I want to. Oh, how I wish I could say or do something that would fix this! Instead, I sit and wait for the day when they open up. I'm not a therapist, but that's actually a good thing. They've all had terrible experiences with therapists. All of them.

Let us not get myopic in our view of homeschooling. It's not all perfect and lovely. It's not all abuse and hiding. My sheltered homeschool experience was amazing! But that's because my parents were preparing me to reach out, not trying to keep me insulated from the world. The potential for abuse is rampant everywhere; let's stop lying that it doesn't happen in homes. All the more reason to show your students that the world isn't perfect.

I don't have answers. I have yet to read anyone who does. But I think it's important to remind ourselves that the heart is desperately wicked and that we need God's grace and transforming power in our lives. And if something isn't going well, it's time to reach out for help.

But that's hard. I know it's hard. I wish I had more to offer. I wish I had answers, solutions.

I don't.

The only thing I know is that we all need to draw closer to Christ, to let Him do the lifting and the pruning, and to soak in His grace so we can be brave enough to recognize our shortcomings and walk in grace when we encounter the brokenness in others.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

P.S. Four years ago I wrote a poem about a very similar experience with a very similar girl. I titled it Smiles.

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How MathTacular4 Helped with College Algebra

The Story

Our boomerang kid just started college again. He and I got home about the same time and he asked if I'd be willing to help him work through math this year. "I realized," he told me, "that I crammed all of my math in high school. I could only do about four of the homework problems. I don't remember any of this!"

So we sat down to work through it. Everything went pretty well. He would get bogged down now and again by things -- "How do I handle the 1/20?" -- and his sloppy, incomplete notation while showing his work made me smile. The scribbles reminded me of my own math days and let me catch a glimpse of how frustrated my teachers must have been with me in high school. He was gaining in confidence and then we ran into a gem that went a little something like this:

13. A teacher will replace your lowest test score with the score you get on your final if that score is higher. What is the lowest score you can get if you want an average of 80 in the class and scored 86, 51, 30, and 81 on your other tests?

We looked at each other.

His eyes held the look of a potty training child who has just recognized their internal signals too late. I had a similar feeling, but of a person about to go into war who is terrified and responding bodily to that fear.

"Well..." I said, giving myself time, "...we know we need 80 on one side of the equation. And you remember how to calculate an average, right?"

He did.

I had now almost exhausted everything I had gleaned from MathTacular4: Word Problems. We had followed the steps outlined in that program and were almost there. But one more challenge lay ahead. Thankfully, MathTacular4 had taught me that the dreaded "Word Puzzler" enjoys sneaking things into the problems. I saw it. The 30 was out of place. The value was too small, as if it were trying to draw attention to itself surreptitiously.

"30 is going to be the lowest score that we'll replace with our final exam score. So we add 86, 51, 81, and 2x (the final score twice) and divide by 5."

His answer checked out and I breathed a sigh of relief.

MathTacular4: Word Problems
MathTacular4: Word Problems

"You don't have to hang around if you don't want to. I could just call you when I have a question," he offered.

"No thanks," I said. "I need to work this through with you if I want to have a prayer of helping you at the end of the semester."

The next few questions were easy, asking us to subtract 7 from 142. I doubt I'll ever grasp the logic behind math textbooks.

The Lessons

First, if you -- like me -- haven't done math in over a decade, don't worry. Your children do not start with calculus. They start with number, shape, and color recognition. As you work along side them, you'll be ready to tackle limits and sine waves more prepared now than you were in college. Homeschooling lets you (re)learn stuff you missed the first time around!

Second, MathTacular is awesome. I love how even fun DVDs designed for 6th Graders -- or younger -- can be so applicable even for us adults and college students.

Third, there's help if you ever get stuck. The final problem was one of those "how much should this person invest in each fund if they want a yield of this amount" kind of problems. We tried. We scribbled. I got my own pad of paper and a pen. Finally we watched the example video lesson where each step was carefully explained and outlined. Halfway through the explanation we'd found what we needed to proceeded on our own from there. It was very rewarding and I recommended that he review this solution before the test. "That's definitely going to come back to bite you," I warned.

You don't have to know how to do everything. I think you'll be surprised by how much you learn alongside your children as you homeschool. And if math feels like this incomprehensible mess of squiggles and absurdity, check out MathTacular. These fun DVDs make math unbelievably understandable.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

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The Preschool Years Lay the Foundation

I peruse my bookshelves and see many old favorites. I must have read a few of these picture books to my children 100 times. But when I ask my now-grown children about them, they often don't remember.

It's stunning, really. Of all the hours I spent with my kids – reading, playing, cooking, singing – they don't remember many specifics from the early years. They can recall just a handful of moments from their preschool years.

I could get disheartened by this. Did I waste my time?

Of course not. Those preschool years built the foundation of my relationship with my children. It formed a foundation for their character, how they see themselves, and how they feel about learning.

A Sonlight family learning together
Sonlight mom Jasmine L shares a snuggled moment with her preschooler and a favorite Sonlight book

And my children certainly do remember the feeling of security as we cuddled and read together. I believe the emotional memories from that time are etched into who they are.

Consider the enormous damage that early neglect and abuse can have for years to come. I'm no psychologist, but it makes sense that on the flip side, early years filled with love and opportunities to explore can lay a positive foundation to build on.

For this very reason, Sonlight's preschool programs focus on helping you interact in positive ways with your child. You get engaging books to read and developmental activities to do together (which are really like simple games to foster fun, creativity and specific developmental milestones). Children this age don't really need worksheets and flash cards. They need quality – and quantity – time with you reading, laughing and playing.

That builds the foundation for your relationship with them, and their foundation for learning. When Sonlight kids finish preschool, my hope is that their natural curiosity about the world has been nurtured, that they see learning as fun and exciting, that they see you as a great source of knowledge, comfort and inspiration.

That foundation will serve them well for years to come.

If you have young ones at home, be encouraged. You are building memories that at least you will get to cherish for years to come. And when you read The Bee Tree for the seventh time this week, you are building into your young children's lives ... whether or not they recognize the cover when they're grown.


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