Oh the places you'll go (2nd installment)

Hawaii SunsetA few months back I blogged about our trip to Alaska and the stunning, majestic scenery we encountered there. This last month we were blessed with the opportunity to visit Hawaii. Alaska presented us with stark, glacial, mountainous views, but Hawaii surprised us with lush, green, tropical landscapes. While Alaska was a trip for work, Hawaii was all about vacation and relaxation. And as unrealistic as resort life is, it was nice to disconnect from the stresses and demands of life for a few days of sleeping late, eating amazing food, and sunset walks on the beach with my sweetheart.

King ProteaEven though I'm officially "retired" from homeschooling our children, I couldn't help getting excited over all the new things we saw and learned. From the history and culture of Hawaii to some of the most unique, exquisite flowers I've ever encountered, all I could think was how much fun it would be to explore the Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm with my kids. Or to experience a traditional luau with my grandson. Homeschoolers never lose that drive and desire to learn!

Whether you travel to Alaska or Hawaii, or visit some exotic international location, or Bird of Paradiseexplore your own back yard ... I hope you never lose the awe and wonder of discovering new and exciting things. Explore what your local area has to offer, or save up your dimes and quarters and plan a trip to somewhere you've never visited before. Just never lose your passion for learning. It is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your children and grandchildren!

“As for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.” (Herman Melville)

Still on the journey ...
~Judy Wnuk

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September Blog Party

SeptPrizePkgOur year-long 25th anniversary blog party continues today, and I can't wait to read your stories! In your blog post today, share back-to-school traditions or celebrations, and/or your goals for the upcoming school year.

Even if you don't homeschool or 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 October 12, 2015.

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Reading Can Change a Child's Life: A Reflection on Dr. Ben Carson

Regardless of what you think of his politics, Dr. Ben Carson's personal story is an inspiration – the rise of a disadvantaged child to become a world renowned neurosurgeon. As a young boy, a love of reading helped change the course of his life.

Of course I'd love a story like that!

Carson grew up in a rough neighborhood. He struggled in school and let others have it with his violent temper.

His mother, Sonya Carson, had extremely limited resources at her disposal. She had only a third grade education and, by age 13, she was married. After she discovered that her husband had a secret second family, she was on her own to raise two boys. Though she had never learned to read herself, she knew education would be her children's ticket to a different life.

So she took some drastic steps. She put strict limits on the amount of TV her boys could watch. She made them finish their homework each night before they could go out to play.

But Mrs. Carson went one step further. She also insisted that the boys read two library books every week and write a report on each one. She examined the reports closely and showed her approval with a checkmark at the top of the page.


Not surprisingly, the boys complained about these new rules. But before long, young Ben discovered something. It was kind of fun to read. And reading made him smarter. Instead of feeling like the "dummy" at school, he started knowing things that his classmates didn't.

His mother had noticed that ember of curiosity within him and helped fan it into a flame. Books helped Ben see that he really could learn things after all.

Mrs. Carson's master plan worked. Ben took off with learning. The book of Proverbs helped him learn to control his temper. After high school, he went on to Yale, and then to medical school. He became a world-famous pediatric neurosurgeon. He figured out how to do incredibly complex surgeries that no one else had done before.

So what made the difference for Ben? He didn't have a great school district growing up. He didn't have rich and educated parents. But he did have a loving mother who deeply valued education. He had a growing faith. And he had reading.

In a very real way, reading opened the world up to him. Reading sparked a love of books. And that love of books sparked a love of learning.

In the same way, Sonlight sparks a love of learning in children. Children are born curious. Just watch an infant stare in awe at her moving hands. Or watch a toddler examining a bug on the sidewalk. Listen to the endless "why" questions of a preschooler. Kids want to know about the world around them. But too many kinds of education quench that curiosity rather than foster it. If learning is dull, boring or full of pressurized testing, young children start to see it as a chore instead of a delight.

But when they get to learn through reading, conversations, and science experiments (as they do with Sonlight), they keep wanting to know more and more.

Sonlight sends kids the message loud and clear: Learning is a fun adventure. Reading takes them on exciting trips around the world and through history. This globe is a fascinating place. They have what it takes to grow and make a difference in the world.

So be encouraged, Mom or Dad. Regardless of your own financial situation or education level, helping your kids love to read is one of the best things you can do for their academic success. Even if they don't love it at first ... even if it takes a few years ... nearly every child who uses Sonlight comes to truly appreciate a good book.

And when your children love to read and learn, the world is at their fingertips. So enjoy your Sonlight journey and carry on the good work!


Want more encouragement?

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You'll be encouraged by the words of founder Sarita Holzmann, inspired by real-life stories from other homeschoolers, pick up practical tips for the journey and more.

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Fall Fun


Today is officially the last day of summer. At least for the Northern Hemisphere. I guess that would make it the last day of winter in the Southern Hemisphere, right?

Those of us who follow the traditional US school year have probably started school by now, and it seems like summer ends when school starts. However, this year's autumnal equinox happens tomorrow. That's the day when the daylight hours and the dark hours are approximately equal. And so, that's when fall starts.

With the milder weather it's a great time to get outdoors with your kids for harvest-time activities and nature studies.

My family loves to visit a farm or apple orchard this time of year. When the kids were little they especially enjoyed the farms that offered hay rides and allowed them to pick their very own pumpkin. As they got older they enjoyed picking apples and then helping preserve them when we got home. They also like to go through corn field mazes with their friends or roast hot dogs over a bon fire.

I try to tie in the seasonal activities with learning whenever possible. We have done unit studies and fall-themed worksheets as a "just for fun" supplement to our Sonlight curriculum. Some of those are posted on our Fall Season Pinterest board. (There's also a Spring Pinterest board for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere.) Check it out! Of course, once you get started on Pinterest I'm sure you'll find many more ideas for celebrating the season.

What are your family's fall traditions?

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Why Get an Education?

We seem to agree that "an education" is important. But why? Why go through the trouble of being educated? Put another way: What is the purpose of education?

[For this post, I'm going to set aside the more basic questions of what is education, what makes a great education, and what are the best ways to acquire such an education.]

I suggest the purpose of education is to lay a foundation for everything you want to do. Want to be an astronaut? A mother? A baker? A banker? A banquet hall decorator? A missionary? An apologist? Nothing more ambitious than a good husband?

Cool. You need to know stuff. More than that, you need to know how to use the stuff you know. More than that, you need to know how to learn how to use stuff you don't yet know. ...hence all the talk about "life-long learning." We're never going to be masters of everything.

In the past, when I've shared this simple thesis, people have looked at me quizzically. "What about college or a job?" they ask. "That's why most people say you need an education."

Graduation Cap

"College is simply one step of many in the journey of learning," I tell them. "And your job hardly defines your life; it's only a part of it. There's so much more to what we do. We raise kids, volunteer, have hobbies, read, play games..."

More simply, the traditional "3Rs" exist so we can do basic "adulting," such as pay bills, do our jobs, and comprehend what's going on around us. But to really understand our current context, we must exceed the minimum. History helps inform how we think about the present. Science enables us to reach outside our personal experience and build things beyond our ancestors' imaginations. Math allows us to harness the interplay we observe in the universe. Within these broad categories, we delve into powerful topics of psychology, physics, politics, poetry, personal finance, and other impressive subjects that don't begin with a p.

That's why we don't stop at the fifth grade. That's why we don't quit when we graduate. That's why we explore electives. That's why we keep learning until the day we die... because if we are going to follow an infinite God where He's calling us, there's always going to be more to discover. Our children, our spouse, our world, our future are all far too wonderful and complex to "figure out" in our lifetime.

So why get an education? Because your very life will be enriched and you will be able to better enrich the lives of others and, thereby, give glory to God.

How's that for an answer?

Anything you'd like to add, include, or focus upon?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

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The "Insider" Factor: 3 Ways Reading Aloud Together Strengthens Your Family


Ever had a moment with friends when someone quotes a movie or book you love, and suddenly all those who have seen or read it join in, throwing out their favorites lines? (Cue your favorite Anne of Green Gables quotes now in the comments, bosom friends and kindred spirits.) What feels so good about a conversation like that is that you are all “insiders” on a shared experience.

You can harness that same powerful bond in your own family when you read aloud great books together.

That’s one of the strengths of a literature-based education. The information printed on the page (while crucial) is only part of the benefit to your children. The shared experience and emotional bonds are just as important in shaping who they are.

Having a robot or a computer spout the information to your child wouldn’t provide the same education for the whole person. Your children will look back on that book and recall not just the content, but they will remember the cuddles, the laughter, the quality time together, the feeling of being loved. They’ll remember watching you cry over the ending and enjoy reminiscing with siblings over that story.

This shared dynamic is a powerful gift to your homeschool experience. It’s also a key ingredient in building a legacy of lifelong learners.

There are a jillion reasons reading aloud to your children is a great idea, but I want to pause and unpack just a few of the intangible relational benefits.

Here are three ways reading aloud to your children, no matter their age, strengthens your family identity and relationships.

  1. The "insider" factor: The experience of reading aloud together offers us a shared adventure and mutual "friends."

My college roommate and I had only known each other for a few hours when I knew we would be good buds.  We had few surface commonalities. (I was a Southern gal with a drawl and a penchant for fried okra, she was a “Northerner” who used essential oils before it was cool and ate her veggies raw.) Even though we had never met before, we quickly bonded over our bookshelves and realized we had mutual friends: Lucy and Edmund, Charlotte and Wilbur, Elizabeth and Darcy, Cosette and Jean Valjean. I don’t remember how the conversation started, but we could both relate to this whole world that we each had "lived in" once upon a time with our own families.

When we read quality books aloud with our children, we share a common experience that we can look back on and reference for years to come. The books we read are woven into the fabric of our family culture and identity. We have ventured into unknown worlds together; we can speak the language. We are insiders to the story. Talk about a powerful bond!

2. We also share our reactions to the stories we read together.

Powerful books that touch us tend to draw out emotions that we all process and share together. So your children aren’t just affected by the story itself, they also watch your reaction to it and learn empathy from your emotions.  It can be a good thing for kids to see what we value as they watch mom or dad cry or belly laugh. When we share the experience, we are vulnerable side by side, hearts laid bare, wanting truth, justice or that happy ending together.

I love watching my six-year-old son’s face when I pause at a cliff-hanger. He can barely stand to wait and find out what happens and he even starts to pace while I read sometimes, feeling the tension and  rooting on the protagonist. I find that watching his reactions double my pleasure of reading a book, especially one I already love. I can’t wait to introduce him to certain books that I loved as a child!

Every year for as long as I can remember, my family has gathered around at Christmas to hear my dad read aloud from The Donkey’s Gift. I settle in and wait for the unique voices for each character and feel as if the world is, for a moment, as it should be. The experience of listening to him read that familiar book is a flood of positive memories and a sense of security. Every word carries with it a reminder of love communicated, quality time, laughing out loud, and sacred tradition. Even as adults with our own children, we go out of our way to make it happen, because it’s what we do.

3. Finally, we grow closer together through the discussions that spring from the stories we read.

You may have conversations that would never arise but for a book you are reading together. Maybe you discuss World War II and good and evil when you read Twenty and Ten. You might discuss the power of our words or what it feels like to be an immigrant after you read The Hundred Dresses. Books are catalysts for discussing ideas, processing worldview and forming character. Take advantage of the time to discuss a broad array of ideas now with your children close to you. This process will put them in good stead for sorting out other ideas they encounter once they leave home.


When you share moving, inspiring tales together with your family, you are creating a family culture that values reading. You are building a legacy of a love for learning in your home. And perhaps most important of all, you are also paving the way to become kindred spirits.


What about you? Do you have special memories of books shared with your family?



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Blog Party Winner!

The winner of the prize drawing for August's blog party is...

Lori who blogs at Adventurer Mom!!!

Congratulations, Lori! I hope you and your family enjoy your prize package.

The next installment of our year-long Blog Party will be on September 25, with another fantastic prize package.



Plan to join us later this month for your chance to win the bundle of prizes pictured above, including a collection of science books and more:

In your blog post on September 25th share back-to-school traditions or celebrations, and/or your goals for the upcoming school year. Even if you don't use Sonlight, or even if you don't homeschool, 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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