Help: I'm Scared to Teach Math and Writing!

Two subjects in particular can strike fear in a homeschool parent's heart: math and writing. You know they're crucial for your child's academic success. But you may doubt your ability to teach them well.

Perhaps you struggled yourself in these subjects. Or maybe they came so naturally you don't know how to teach the process. Maybe your child is gifted in math or writing ... or maybe they detest one or the other.

Whatever the case, you want to do well by your kids. Is that even possible?

Let me assure you: Yes. You CAN give your children a great education all the way around. You can set them up for math and writing success.

Here's the secret: you don't have to be an expert mathematician or a published author in order to help your children thrive. You just need to know your child well (which you already do!), find some resources, and ask for outside help if you need it.


To that end, here are some encouraging tips:

  1. You really can homeschool even if you don't know everything.

    It's true. Just ask my friend Jill.

  2. Curriculum is your best friend ... especially in tricky subjects.

    You don't need to start from scratch when it comes to moving your kids from addition to Calculus, from the alphabet to research papers. Sonlight sells several excellent math programs that will hold your hand as your student learns day by day. Sonlight students have a big advantage when it comes to writing, because they hear and read so much great writing as part of their daily school. And the Language Arts programs gradually build confident writers. Just follow along each day and trust the process.

  3. Don't worry about Trigonometry in Kindergarten

    If your kids are young, you don't need to worry about how you'll teach them in high school. Just take it one year at a time. There are tons of resources available for when you do get to high school. Don't let a fear of advanced math keep you from homeschooling your Kindergartner.

  4. You can learn alongside your children (and that can inspire them!)

    Many parents receive a fabulous "second education" as they homeschool their own kids. You'll be amazed at how much math and grammar you naturally pick up as you teach your children one day at a time. Dusty concepts will come back to you, and things you never understood will make sense this time around.

  5. You can get outside help when you need it!

    Math: Even if you enjoy learning 5th grade math along with your child, you might be ready to pass the torch when it comes to Algebra 2. Sonlight offers math courses for high schoolers that they can teach to themselves. Many high schoolers take classes at community colleges. Your local public school might let your student take a math class there. You could hire a tutor. You could join a co-op that offers math classes. Some parents trade off teaching duties with another homeschool parent (or spouse) who is confident in math.
    Writing: Even if you loved teaching your child to read, sometimes you just need an outside coach to give them feedback on their papers. That's why Sonlight partners with the writing coaches at Write at Home. A personal tutor can work with your Sonlight Language Arts curriculum to coach and give feedback to your students on their papers. You could also look into tutors, co-ops and friends' help in writing as well.

  6. Join an upcoming webinar for lots more information and encouragement

    Judy, Luke and the team are preparing an incredible webinar on this very topic for Thursday, October 22 at 6 p.m. ET. Learn more and register here. Special guests include Brian Wasko from Write at Home and Tom Clark of VideoText Interactive.

How has the journey been for you so far in teaching math and writing? We are here to help you succeed, so don't hesitate to call a Sonlight Homeschool Advisor and/or sign up for the webinar.

I look forward to one part of the webinar in particular. We'll hear from a mom who used Sonlight all the way through with her daughter who struggles with severe dyslexia. Her daughter used to be way behind in writing, but after years of hearing great writing through Sonlight, she really started to take off. Now she works as a tutor in the writing center at her university. We'll get to hear what that journey was like.

You can do it!

Blessings to you and yours,

Want more encouragement?

Sign up for Sonlight's bi-weekly e-newsletter

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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3 Steps to a Calmer Morning

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3 Steps to a Calmer Morning

Guest Post by Crystal Paine

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the challenges of trying to juggle homeschooling multiple grades, keep up your home, invest in your marriage, and have a little time to breathe? Do you feel like your schedule is too packed and your to-do list is too long?

If so, you might be in need of a morning makeover!

You see, the morning sets the tone for your whole day. When the morning goes well, the day usually goes well. And conversely, when you wake up rushed and stressed, those feelings often filter down into your entire day.

I’ve spent the last few years really working on changing my approach to morning and while I’m far from perfect (you should have seen me running around like a crazy woman to get out the door for an appointment the other morning!), here are three keys I’ve found that are imperative to having a better morning:

1. Begin the Night Before

You're tired at night. I totally get that. I am, too. In fact, most nights, I can't wait to get some comfy pants on, put my feet up, and enjoy a good book or movie.

But I've found that if I take 15 minutes to prep for the next day, I do myself a huge favor. I use these 15 minutes to do three things:

1. Quickly clean up the main living areas of our home.

2. Look over our plans for the next day and make a short to-do list or loose schedule for the next day.

3. If I have anywhere I need to go (appointments, field trip, errands, lessons, etc.), I get together everything I need to get out the door the next day (diaper bag, library books to return, etc.).

When I do this, I enjoy crawling into bed and curling up with a book much more because I know I have things in great order for the next morning. Plus, those 15 minutes of effort often completely change my morning.

Not only do I wake up to a cleaner house, but I wake up feeling in control of my day -- because I already have a plan of action in place. Now all I have to do is just follow the plan!

Tip: When making your to-do list, challenge yourself to immediately cross three things off, without even doing them. This will force you to carefully evaluate everything on the list and help you weed out what isn't that important.

2. Get Up a Little Earlier

I know, I know. Getting up early is not fun, glamorous, or exciting. And if you're currently in a stage of life where you're getting up multiple times in the night due to illness, pregnancy, or caring for a fussy infant or child, you can skip this point entirely.

But the rest of you, hear me out. Getting up just 15 minutes earlier can make a tremendous impact on the overall success of your day -- and quite possibly your entire life! I dare you to just try it for three weeks and see if you prove me wrong.

Instead of pulling yourself out of bed at the last minute and then rushing around like a mad woman so you can get everything done you need to do before your school day starts, try waking up 15 minutes earlier than normal in order to spend quiet time praying, reading the Bible or an encouraging book, or writing in a journal. This will give you a calm start to your day and will allow you time to be still, count your blessings, and begin your day with a great attitude.

Tip: Find a friend to join you in your early rising challenge. It's always so much easier -- and more fun! -- when you're not going it alone. You might text each other each morning when you get up to help you stay accountable.

3. Attack the Hardest Thing First

I can be a master procrastinator. I can come up with all sorts of seemingly good things to do instead of doing what I really should be doing. But when I spend most of the day procrastinating, I feel behind and unfulfilled.

Thanks to Brian Tracy’s book, Eat That Frog, I’ve been challenging myself to begin my day tackling those dreaded tasks first. You know what I’ve found? Those tasks I thought I loathed really aren’t usually that hard when I just set my mind to do them and then get them done -- as soon as possible. They usually take less time than I think they will and I always feel so good to check the hard things off my list early in the day.

You know what else I’ve discovered? I have more time than I thought I did! When I stopped burning daylight and stalling in order to avoid the unpleasant tasks, it has freed up a lot of extra time in my day. This, in turn, made me feel much less busy and able to go through my days more calmly and cheerfully because I don’t constantly feel behind.

Tip: Have a dreaded task to tackle? Set a timer and challenge yourself to race against the clock. This will motivate you to work harder and faster -- and will make it more like a game than a difficult task! You'll probably find you get the project done in no time at all!

Crystal Paine is a child of God, wife to Jesse, homeschool mom of three, founder of, and author of the New York Times bestseller, Say Goodbye to Survival Mode. This is her first year using Sonlight.

TODAY'S GIVEAWAY: One FREE Make Over Your Mornings Course
Want some step-by-step practical help to Make Over Your Mornings? I'm thrilled to offer a giveaway of one of Crystal Paine's Make Over Your Mornings course today! In her 14-day online course, she'll teach you how to transform your mornings so you can experience more peace, joy, and productivity in your homeschool day.  I went through the course myself and came away with some stellar practical tips that I could actually implement each day. Check it out!

How to enter to win:
In the comments, tell us a key part of your morning routine that makes life smoother or one way you want to transform your mornings. We'll choose one person to win a free Make Over Your Mornings course from Crystal!

All the best,

Laura Lee

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Don't Stay in School - musings on education

If you haven't see the educational video Don't Stay in School, check it out:

I enjoyed the song. It's catchy, creative, asks some solid questions, and points to frustrations to which millions of people can relate. Myself, included. But even while I watched Dave's excellent response to the comments [NB: language; this is the internet after all], I had this nagging feeling that just wouldn't go away.

Why was I feeling so ... off?

I mean, haven't I linked to videos suggesting that computation isn't the main part of math we need these days? (Why, yes, I have, and I think I've shared this talk as well.) Over the years, I've certainly wrestled with similar questions. What wasn't connecting?

I went home and mulled it over all evening. I got up, still thinking about the theme of "stuff we don't need to know" / "subjects that shouldn't be mandatory" / "all the stuff we never learned that is way more important than stuff your cellphone can do better." Frustrated with my inability to formulate any coherent thoughts, I watched the video again and read the lyrics...

I wasn't taught how to get a job
but I can remember dissecting a frog

And it hit me, like the sinking feeling I get when tax day rolls around each year, unrelenting, grave, and political: You can't avoid this. This problem is inevitable for very specific reasons. What follows is my attempt to unpack those issues from my perspective.


1. You can't be taught how to get a job.

Seriously. My reason for feeling unsettled by the song was in the very first line: An education does not equal a job. It's just that simple. But why can't you learn to get a job? That is an important question, one I hope I addressed sufficiently in my post.

2. It's easier to introduce concepts and have kids memorize stuff.

Dissecting a frog is relatively easy. Asking kids to memorize the quadratic formula is cake (even easier: give them a bad grade if they don't, and move on).

So while it may have felt like we spent a sufficient amount of time discussing isotopes such that we could have mastered the political system in that time, we didn't. Learning how to vote properly -- whatever that means -- requires way more information, discussion, worldview building, and such when weighed against memorizing how isotopes form.

[By the by, we spent very little time on isotopes when I was at my public high school.]

But the bigger issue is...

3. Your education should not be about indoctrination.

When we bemoan not knowing "how to vote" or "who controls money," we are frustrated by political things with answers that would be highly biased if taught in the same way we teach mental math. This isn't a complex formula you can solve by punching it into your calculator.

In fact, the best way to learn how to vote, in my opinion, is by studying the very things mentioned in the song: Henry the VIII and the Hippocratic Oath. Because, yes, we could discuss politicians and current political issues, but without the history of things like Henry the VIII's break from the church and how modern bioethics connect (or not) with the what Hippocrates formulated, we would quickly make some very poor decisions. [I considered linking to a post about bioethics, but it was too political. You're welcome.]

The short version of this point is this: History helps us make sense of the world. ...and it does so in a way that educates, not indoctrinates. Who of us would rather teachers simply taught kids how to vote? No one. We learn about the flow and control of money by learning about the historical events involving money, and in so doing, we discover how bad things are when governments and corporations and greedy people get their hands on the stuff.

This points us to the fact that...

4. You need background and maturity to tackle really meaningful topics.

You can -- and should -- introduce difficult stuff early (you first encounter WWII in Sonlight's program for 5-7 year-olds). But, honestly, you can't dig into the holocaust, mental illness, your basic human rights, investments and giving, domestic abuse, political change, or even raising children until you have a framework for those things.

If a child is suffering abuse, they have a framework and they should be removed from that situation ... but it's going to take years for them to come to grips with what happened and heal; you will do no better with a kid who has no context for such evil.

With mental illness, yes, we'd love a solution. But looking back on history -- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, anyone? -- we've come a few paces, but we still have miles to go. Families, let alone schools and politicians, have yet to figure out what to do about it. (I haven't seen the movie, but I'm wondering if Maggie is an artistic approach to tackling these hard questions.)

In other words, while I totally relate to the frustration in the song, these are adult issues that can't be answered even now as adults, let alone as a kid who still can't properly hold a fork.

5. Learning should be specialized/tailored to the student ... somewhat.

Personal example: My mom told each of us kids that we had to learn an instrument; she didn't care which, but we had to choose one. That's how I started playing the trumpet. I had freedom -- but, really, did I have any idea what instrument to choose? no -- but I was still required to choose something from a particular category.


Because music instruction is good for you. Same with math, history, science, handwriting, and even foreign language.

The difficulty is in determining how much. And this is probably the point of most connection for everyone who has enjoyed this song: We also feel like we spent too much time on x at the cost of missing out on y.

But I wonder: How much of that is our own personal bias? Put another way, what things would we discover we like if we we were to be forced to try them? How long must you work at something difficult before you discover the pleasure in mastering it?

So, sure, we may spend too much time pushing kids who don't write well to diagram sentences, and we may have wasted many hours insisting math-phobes memorize their times tables ... but, given the right mix of nudging and investment, even kids who hated math or writing can end up top of their class in English or Calculus. (I just interviewed a mom whose child did exactly that.)

Have we sometimes gotten the balance wrong? Certainly. But I don't think that means such subjects shouldn't be in school. And it's certainly not insane. It is ironic, however, that this very problem shows up as something Dave seems to want changed...

6. We need not follow the rest of the world

... in foreign language or otherwise. There is a very good reason people outside the US tend to know at least two languages: They often learn English. Why? So they can communicate with English-speakers.

How did English become the language of commerce? There's some very interesting history on that, but the fact remains: America -- and the UK? -- doesn't feel pressure to push a second language because there is no such pressure.

The high school and college foreign language requirements are built upon the same foundation as what I've argued above... it's good for you.

But my study of Spanish, while useful in some areas, hasn't stuck with me because I simply don't need it. So while Dave wishes he kept up with the rest of the world in this subject area, I don't see a benefit to investing that much time into mastering that subject. And isn't that the very point of his video?

What now?

7. We should once again look at the purpose of education.

My childhood wasn't wasted. I was educated. Yes, even while in a public high school. Did I go through some pointless exercises? Yes, even in college, while pursuing my personally selected major.

...all that to say...

I appreciate the frustration. I resonate with the critique. But upon further investigation, I don't think the complaint holds water.

Can we do a better job deciding what to teach when and for how long?


We homeschoolers have that opportunity uniquely open to us.

But even with that freedom, I'd still recommend at least touching on history, science, literature, math, handwriting, etc... because these subjects provide the foundation upon which we can understand and learn about the bigger issues in our world, like politics, mental health, parenting, first aid, investment, and more. As I argue, that's the entire reason to get an education.

I am interested to find out what he ends up doing, and what impact that makes. He's certainly struck a nerve and I hope it leads to improvement in schools and education in general.

What do you think?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

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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?

Sign up for Sonlight's bi-weekly e-newsletter

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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