Three Ways to Talk with Your Children about the Elections

Has there been much election talk in your home? If you are a U.S. citizen, do you know how you'll vote on Tuesday?

The mid-term elections are the perfect way to incorporate a little extra learning about government into your homeschool. (And if you're not a U.S. citizen, I trust this will still be helpful and apply to your involvement in government where you live.)

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Discuss the issues and people on the ballot. As usual, there are some pretty charged issues on the ballot here in Colorado. What is on the ballot in your state? Talk about it at the dinner table and see what your kids think about the various topics. Talk about who you plan to vote for and why.
  2. Compare the modern U.S. government to whatever government you're studying in history right now. If you're studying Medieval Europe, talk about the monarchy and the feudal system. Do your kids think that worked better or worse than our system now?
  3. Talk about the mechanics of voting. Will you go to a polling place on Tuesday? Did you complete a mail-in ballot? Paint a picture for your children of how you participate in this crucial civic duty. Help them imagine what it will be like when they get to vote someday.

If you really get into it, you could hold a mock election in your home. Or you could study the process of how an issue makes it onto the ballot, or what the duties of the various elected officials are. The possibilities are endless. If your children get interested in a certain aspect of the elections, help them dig into it.

A Sonlight student visiting Washington, D.C.
Like many Sonlighters before them, the T family enriched their understanding of government on a field trip to Washington, D.C.

At Sonlight, we take our duty to teach children about government seriously. Although we wait until high school to have a Core totally devoted to government and civics, Sonlight students grow up learning about the governments of people throughout history and around the world. They learn that government has a huge impact on the history of a people and how well the citizens can function. A solid government allows people to work, invest and thrive. During seasons of governmental upheaval, the people suffer. (We see this very strongly in the periods of time between the dynasties of China.)

Sonlight students get a sense for the wide variety in governmental styles people have used. When they study American history and government, they see the ways that America was and is different. They have a better appreciation for the challenges we face and the unique benefits of the American system. Even when it may seem that our system is barely functioning, we can see that, on the global scale, we actually have much to be thankful for.

Another reason Sonlight students study government is because God asks us to pray for our leaders. We can pray more specifically and with more fervor if we know who they are and what is happening in our nation.

And of course, I want our students to understand their government so they might take an active role in their nation's governing. An educated population is critical for wise and discerning voters and leaders.

Do you have other ideas of how to help kids get excited about government and elections?

Blessings to you and yours,

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Want Your Children to Reject Your Teaching? Do This

Right before my lonely years in a public high school, my best friend and I had a final interaction. Memory plays its usual tricks and I do not recall ever seeing him again. The details unfold like a dream, jumping me from one location to another without any transition or travel.

We had been talking, as usual, about life, the universe, and everything. I remember a hill with a few small rocks protruding amidst the thorny grass and pike-tipped vegetation. He was exploring the crisis of faith that ultimately lost him deep in foreign territory. The only specific question I recall was about the apocrypha and why it was not considered canon by Protestants. Without Google -- let alone Wikipedia -- and being but 14 or so, I knew nothing about that topic. We decided to ask his pastor.

My impression is that we accosted the man outside somewhere, saying we had questions that troubled us. Would he be willing to address them?

"Absolutely," he replied with a smile. "Let's meet for lunch sometime. I'm sure we could get this all worked out in a couple hours."

That lunch never happened.

Even then I sensed something in his response that discouraged me from pursuing it further. I am convinced, however, that he would have gladly met with us and answered all our questions. For years I blamed our lack of follow through. But after my post on brainwashing, I think we were actively discouraged from hearing what he had to say.

Table for One

In discussing how to help your kids not feel brainwashed, I gave you a list of things to do. But equally important is what you don't do. If you want your children to feel well grounded -- not ground into the gravel -- then you must validate their queries.

The pastor whom we sought out did not do that. Quite the opposite. He said to us, without meaning to, "Your questions aren't legitimate. There's no real issue there. Let's meet up sometime and I'll tell you how wrong you are in your thinking. Within two hours, you'll be set straight."

Want your children to reject your teaching?

Belittle their concerns. Mock their questions. Scoff at the lies, the foolishness, the absurdity of the other side. Do this, and your son or daughter will wander off in search of validation. Offer but ridicule and they'll latch on to that which offers acceptance.

Skepticism is popular not solely because it is easy. The skeptic says to your question, "That is an excellent point! What do we know about that? What can we know about that? Very good observation." This is the polar opposite of the religious hubris that says, "Ah, foolishness. See here, I have the answers of assurity. Doth thou question God Himself?"

Upon realizing I had missed this point in my previous post, I remembered the times I've tangentially blogged about this topic before:

Do not belittle those who disagree, for their reasoning -- albeit flawed or incomplete -- is compelling and rooted in some element of reality. Recognize that your children are seeking answers, not asking dumb questions. Indeed, their questions are an indication that they are seeking to understand why the world is the way it is. ...but there is much to learn about all this; we may not fully understand the other side and be able to offer their best arguments. And we may, gripping too tightly, bounce our children off course.

I am only just learning this skill myself, the art of acknowledging the difficulties and affirming the questions. The fact that I have an answer is secondary. If I want my audience, be it my kids or my friends, to hear what I have to say, I must not lead with any indication that their current quandary is but nothing. It is where they are, supported by a great many puzzles and imperfections. And my own understanding is but through a mirror dimly.

I invite you to walk this path with me. Let us give credence to their questions -- for their questions are real. The answers are real as well. But learning them is much an act of invitation. May our teaching, then, be inviting.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

P.S. I feel the need to add this little bit: There are no guarantees here. Doing as I suggest will not ensure your kids will believe as you do. Making fun of the ideas with which you disagree will not necessitate that your children will reject your values. I am not promoting a system; I am recommending an approach. I am advocating grace.

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How do you read?

kindleYesterday, during my lunch break, I pulled out my Kindle to read a few pages of the book I had started over the weekend. As it turns out, I didn't end up getting much reading done because about that time several co-workers came into the lunch room. Someone asked if I liked reading on a Kindle, and so we had a discussion about all the options we have for reading books these days.

As a lifelong avid reader I had debated for a long time over whether to get an e-reader or not. After much consideration I finally made the decision to buy a Kindle about 3 years ago. I actually had a Kindle before I had a smart phone and it is my carry-around device of choice. It fits in my purse, and I think it's very cool to be able to carry around hundreds of books to choose from at any given moment.

I also like that the model I have includes an audio feature which can read the books aloud, or sync with a "real" audio book. There are times when my hands aren't free to "turn the page" so it's nice to be able to continue "reading" with the audio option.

Our conversation then turned audio books. Listening to a recording of a book while driving or cleaning or folding clothes is a great way to make mundane tasks more enjoyable. Luke shared how he had been able to listen to the Bible all the way through multiple times in a few months, something he would likely have not been able to accomplish had he done the actual reading.

My kids have long been hooked on audio books. For various reasons, they aren't avid readers like I am, but thanks to their Sonlight education, they do love a good story. Even though they have both graduated now, I'm sure they would be happy for me to continue reading aloud to them every day. Fortunately, I don't have to. With access to a wide range of titles in a downloadable format from the library, they can continue enjoy good books without having to read themselves.

I have to admit, though, that there's just something about an old-fashioned print book, isn't there? I still have way too many boxes of books yet to be unpacked from our move, not to mention several bookcases full. And I still love browsing the stacks in the library and bookstores.

Mainly, I just love books!

What's your favorite reading format?

Enjoying the adventure,
~Karla Cook
Lifelong Learner

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Indoctrination, Brainwashing vs Educating

I don't get to talk with many Sonlight students in my job. I read your amazing blog posts, but I'm rather out of the loop when it comes to your kids. I've chatted with graduated Sonlighters only a few times.

The first I remember was a brother-sister duo who had used Sonlight for a year. "But it was sooo boring!" they told me. That didn't jibe with my experience, so I asked what they liked instead. "Oh, we're doing A Beka now." ...uh-huh. Interesting. It is nice that there are options out there to meet your needs if Sonlight is not a good fit for you. ...but boring? Really?

This week I got to give a high five to a guy who showed up at my house with a friend. He used Sonlight all the way up and seems to be doing great. (Not surprising. <smile>) We didn't get to chat about his experience, but it seemed like a positive one. I would have liked to know more.

But then this one guy, who used Sonlight off an on over the years, told me that he had been brainwashed by his parents. I disagreed. We ended up looking up the definition so we could have a common starting place: Indoctrination that forces people to abandon their beliefs.

"Wait a minute! This completely ignores what your parents push on you." He was irate.

"I don't want to discredit your experience," I told him. "I know you feel like stuff was pushed on you. But you weren't brainwashed. You chose to believe things very different from your parents. The education they gave you came from a certain slant, to be sure, but it didn't put you on a track from which you couldn't break free."

Homeschooling allows us to transfer, not impose, our values. You can communicate why you have certain beliefs. But no system guarantees your kids will accept them. Indeed, they may harbor a longstanding wound, feeling as if they've been brainwashed. Pushing ideas can push away.


Do I have any suggestions? Sure. But I don't know much about this as I had a great experience growing up and felt very free to challenge ideas, do research, and question stuff. Here are my two cents, but I'd love to hear yours, especially if you've had a child abandon core values you tried to impart to them.

  1. Ask questions. I really like what my New Testament professor did with Luke 2. Sometimes the most powerful ways to demonstrate why you believe what you believe is to first use the best arguments against your side. ...and only later provide the answers. Don't just give answers. Let your children wrestle with the difficulties and encourage them to weigh in.
  2. Be open about your own struggles. Does a particular doctrine, practice, passage, or emphasis rub you the wrong way? Did a troubling question nag at you for years? There are probably good times to bring these up, to let your children see that you've wrestled with things yourself. Even if you haven't figured it all out yet, letting them see your own journey can be a great way to encourage them in their own.
  3. Relax. A missionary recently quipped that she needs a tattoo on her forearm that says, "You are not the Holy Spirit!" I know I tend to get more pushy the more disinterested someone becomes. But this is likely the opposite of what I should do. Let God do His work. Let peace and grace and love be what you offer, not pressure.
  4. Pray. Once we've surrendered our lives -- and the lives of our family -- to God, we need to keep our focus on letting Him do His work. Aligning ourselves with Him and His will is a good practice to keep.

You are working to educate your children. You want to share things that matter to you. This is good. Don't let the lies creep in. Remain faithful. Act in love. And allow the loving-kindness of Christ draw your children to Him.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

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Is Math Confusing? Only If You're Doin' It Wrong

My wife has math phobia. Equations and numbers shut her down. But when she solves a problem -- such as how much fabric she'll need to make a skirt with so many folds or whatever -- she jumps up and down and proudly tells me that she "used math to do things!"

That's the thing, see? Math is useful. It's powerful. But too often, we're paralyzed by it.

From what I'm reading, the latest in edutheory suggests a rather complex way of solving a simple math problem like 9+6. You can read a bit more here and click through to an article and a video showing the process. The gist: 6 can become 1 and 5. Add 1 to 9 to make 10. Now your addition problem is an easy one: 10 + 5 = 15.

You probably notice you do a similar thing, yes? Try it.

8 + 7 = ?

Take 2 from 7 to make the 8 a 10 and now the problem is 10 + 5 again. Easy!

But try to tell that to a kid who isn't thrilled with math and watch his eyes glaze over. And, to me, this overwhelmed feeling makes sense because doing this kind of solving is skipping over the "real math" that's happening behind the scenes. We're assuming a bunch of steps. I'm going to do the Algebra for you so you can see how complex this method really is:

Problem: 9 + 6 = x

Sub step: 10 - 9 = y => y = 1

New equation: 9 + y + (6 - y) = x

Sub step #2: 6 - y = z => 6 - 1 = z => z = 5

New equation #2: 9 + 1 + z = x => 10 + 5 = x => 15 = x

I firmly believe that Algebra isn't hard. But it can be overwhelming if you just drop complex equations on someone, like 9 + y + z = x given z = (6 - y) and y = 1

Glen makes some excellent observations over on the original blog post. Short version: It is convenient to regroup into tens for us for some math equations. But being able to do so does not demonstrate that you understand that adding 6 to 9 merely moves our position on the number line six whole numbers, leaving us at 15.

Skimming because numbers make you feel ill? Start reading again here

You and your children can understand math. You can find it enjoyable -- perhaps only in short bursts using it to make Cosplay like my wife. But sometimes the way people try to teach the concepts just doesn't make sense.

Enter MathTacular: Unbelievably Understandable Math

Don't let some complex and confusing instruction get you down. Grab a great homeschool math program that matches your students' needs and the MathTacular DVDs, and go forth finding joy in understanding math!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

P.S. Is your math program not working? Click the link for some information and great tips from other homeschoolers.

P.P.S. Please watch the MathTacular trailer videos up there. It'll take a few minutes but they are ton of fun. Some of my best work, if I do say so myself <smile>.

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Mom ... Do I *have* to read?

StudentReadingWords I never imagined I would hear from one of my kids. I grew up loving to read ... devoured books. I was the kid that hid under the covers with a flashlight and a book after lights out. I couldn't begin to understand why someone wouldn't want to read when given the chance. Yet here was one of my own saying those very words ...

These thoughts ran through my mind again the other day as I read an interesting article on why some kids do not enjoy reading. In the article, Frank Cottrell Boyce shares his concern that we are killing the joy of reading by expecting too much analysis and feedback each time a child reads a book. I don't know that this was my child's issue with reading, but the author of the article makes a good point.

Time and time again I come across teachers reading a story and then asking immediately for some kind of feedback. A piece of ‘creative writing’ ‘inspired by’ the story. Some opinions about character and wow words. Something to show the parents or the school inspectors.

I do think there is value in discussion and interaction with what a student is reading. Lots of learning goes on when you talk about or write about a story. Much of Sonlight's program is based on reading with discussion. However, there is also much to be said about reading purely for the joy of it.

Pleasure in reading, Cottrell Boyce will say, is deeply important. “Pleasure is a profound and potent form of attention, a kind of slow thinking."

I think it is legitimate to say that not every book scheduled in Sonlight's Instructor's Guide needs to be discussed or written about. Discussion and comprehension questions are provided, writing assignments are listed ... but now and again I don't believe it's a bad idea to let a student enjoy a book simply for the sake of reading for pleasure. Let them devour and savor each page purely for the pleasure of becoming engrossed in the story.

As the holidays approach and you're wondering what to get your kids for Christmas ... let me encourage you to fill their lives with wonderful books. Not books for school ... but adventures and journeys to be taken between the covers of a book.

Still on the journey ...
~Judy Wnuk

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Your College Student Could Get More Back Than You Put In

I'm talking purely dollars and cents. If you have a student entering college this year, they could win a scholarship from Sonlight worth more than what it costs to buy complete programs from Sonlight for the last 15 years.

That right: You could win a college scholarship from Sonlight worth more -- financially* -- than every complete program we offer preschool through high school.


There are 13 scholarships available this year, ranging from four grand over four years all the way up to $20,000 toward your university education.

Click here to learn more about Sonlight's college scholarships.

Scholarship Money

You may have a few questions. Yes?

Q. What are my odds of winning?
A. Since you're an awesome Sonlighter, your odds are really good. Apply.

Q. What if I've got more skills and interest in something other than academics?
A. We've got something for you! We offer two "tracks" for scholarships, one academically weighted, the other more focused on creativity and activity.

Q. I'm sure there's all kinds of hurdles and stuff blocking me for being eligible. You know, the fine print stuff. Should I contact Sonlight before starting to fill out paperwork to make sure I qualify?
A. Definitely. It's not all that complicated, but you're busy and we want to save you time. The contact information as well as the specific requirements are all laid out for you on the scholarships page.

Q. Should I keep reading this blog post, or go get started?
A. You already know the answer to that.

For those of you who don't take instruction well -- and so find game demos like the one for The Stanley Parable hilarious, like me -- thank you for still reading. I have nothing else to really say about college scholarships other than, perhaps, to avoid giving your students access to game platforms like Steam which regularly run sales making games like the aforementioned only about $5, the cost of which only builds up when you feel like you have to buy 4,000 of such games to take advantage of the opportunity, only to find that the real loss is in your time which is limited as a college student. Perhaps, thinking back on it, I shouldn't have shown you that game link ... but I found the demo pretty funny. If you decide to check it out, let me know what you think.

...or don't. Because by then you may have found that not following narrative direction leads to more humorous outcomes.

Bottom line: Click here.

Decide what you want to do from there.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

* There's no way a paltry $20,000 is worth more than the Sonlight experience you shared <smile>.

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