About Luke

Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

1200 post(s):

11/24/2014

The Limited Benefits of Testing

Finals approach in the steady march of an overwhelming, advancing army. Many of "my kids" are working hard to balance study with family for the holidays. Stress runs high. Even worse, some of the upcoming tests will fail to take advantage of the limited benefits of testing. Instead, they will be a waste of time and a detriment to the students taking them.

"Here's one example," one of my brilliant biochem kids shared. She paused to work out the simplest explanation so I could follow along. Then she quickly sketched a picture. "So, there are three double capillary networks in our bodies. One is in the brain. Basically, this piece secretes a hormone which triggers this other area to produce a different hormone. My latest test, which included the totally ridiculous 'a, b, c, b & c, and none' options, asked me to identify where the hormone would be highest. What does that even mean?"

Endocrinology
Endocrinology

She then went on to detail why the answer was obviously not this or that, but that it could reasonably be either of the other two. "The trouble is, I understand this material so well, I see issues with the questions."

She gave me two more examples, going into depth about the ambiguity of each option. She clearly knew what she was talking about (and taught the material well enough that I felt I had a solid grasp of the overarching ideas by the end).

Finally, she stopped. "I wish they just gave us oral quizzes so we could demonstrate what we know."

The Three Benefits of Testing

1. Testing Helps You Remember
Used correctly, by quickly quizzing yourself, tests help establish information in your memory. As I shared before, asking yourself to recall information helps you remember it. But this need not be a formal test. Simply asking for recall is enough.

2. Tests Provide You Outside Feedback
Tests are certainly imperfect tools, but they are tools nonetheless. It can be helpful, and encouraging, to see where your student excels and areas you may want to prioritize in the coming months. Judy has a great write up on this in her post about the second largest "hot topic" for homeschoolers.

3. Testing Benefits Those Running "the System"
There is a reason teachers, schools, businesses use tests. None of them benefit the student, but that's not the main concern for "The Man." You simply can't provide a comprehensive oral quiz for 200 students in an organic chemistry class (and not every student is going to do well with such a test either). Teachers already devote significant time to grading assignments and projects; adding the burden of grading open-response questions is impractical. Plus, without a rigid rubric for grading, teachers would be open to complaint of preferential treatment should one student be given higher marks than another. Giving students a Scantron is simply the only practical way for a classroom teacher to monitor students, however ineffective and detrimental.

Choose to Use Testing to Your Advantage

You, as a homeschooler, have the opportunity to use tests for the benefits to you and your student. You may be required to give your student tests now and again, but your children need not experience the dread of finals. You can focus on mastery of the content and the joy of learning together as family.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad


11/21/2014

The Coriolis Fountain Blew My Mind

Physics. I did well in that class in high school. I've long loved centripetal force, spinning buckets of water around without spilling a drop. Even today I discover things about the world that just make me stop and stare. The most recent example: The Coriolis Fountain at the San Francisco Exploratorium.

Here's a video:

I know, right!? I stood their and spun the thing over and over again. I read the description detailing why it does that. I gave the nob another turn and then read the placard again. I simply could not get over how crazy this thing was. The video is cool, but it was far more mind blowing to be there and make the water spin the "wrong" way. I rotated the nozzles once more before reading the description yet another time.

It seems like it'd be fairly easy to make one of these things using bendy straws.

I love this about learning, about discovering the world, about seeing the unbelievable as reality. It's so simple. All you need in a little hands-on science and it happens! There's so much to learn, to discover, to have your perspective shifted just enough to let another "impossibility" become real.

May we never lose that, and may we continue to give our children a chance to wonder at creation.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad


11/19/2014

More Sonlight Blog for You to Love

Yesterday, sometime around 2:30 office time, you may have noticed a deluge of Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and/or email notifications coming from the blog. If you were wondering, yes, that was me.

I was running a test and failed to turn off publishing which resulted in the massive influx of unwanted posts. I'm sorry. The last thing you need in your life is more clutter spamming its way across your screens. As one of my coworkers quoted, "To err is human, but to really foul things up you need a computer." I'm so sorry for the mess.

Oops
Oops

Thankfully, the end result of my ill-performed testing was a success. I found over 100 blog posts that had disappeared and was able to restore them. Thank you, Ken, for alerting me to this issue! I had long had a nagging sense that some of my posts had gone missing, but I couldn't tell for sure; I distrust my memory far more readily than my machines.

As I manually copied the posts over, I found some of my favorites and a couple I had forgotten.

So, yeah. There's a lot of stuff to read here. I welcome you to poke around bit. Be encouraged!

And, again, thanks for bearing with me and my computer <smile>.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad


11/17/2014

Finding Happiness in Something Difficult

A self-proclaim grump and curmudgeon, I'm no expert on being happy. I resonate with the Muppet hecklers. My best friend gave me a "meh" t-shirt for Christmas last year. Like the stereotypical teenager, my response to queries about my current state is that I'm doing "fine." I shrug often.

Luke-meh
meh.

That the bleak backdrop of depressing fog, I read with interest Lori Alexander's post You're Just Not Happy Anymore in Your Marriage? Not that I'm unhappy; my wife is wonderful. Still, there is a wide continuum sprawling from actively unhappy to positively thrilled. I tend to float, like kelp dragged along the beach by waves, somewhere in the "meh" category.

Lori writes, "Being happy and joyful comes from doing what is right and what is best for others, not what feels good." The comments point out that marriage is hard work (and it can be absolutely devastating at times), but worth it.

The same is true of homeschooling.

We'd love every day to be full of "light bulb moments," of laughter, of sheer glee at all the wonderful learning going on. Alas, that's not perpetually the case. Many days can pass where you may just not feel happy; meh. Things aren't bad, but they're not unicorns and lasers either. It's hard work, this teaching thing. "Mundane" may be just right.

Lori is on to something. Do what is right. Find joy in the work you do in raising and teaching your children. Perhaps take a moment to reflect on how far they've come in these few short years. Make it a point to find joy in the little things, the daily tasks, the opportunities.

And if things go really badly today or tomorrow, just remember what Statler and Waldorf say when things go wrong, "It's either this show or indigestion." But you don't have to hope it's indigestion. Because mercies are new every morning.

How do you find happiness in the midst of difficult days?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad


11/14/2014

Match Ends Tonight. What Did You Learn?

One of the goals of this year's giving project was to help us catch God's heart for the Muslim world. I haven't had a chance to hear your stories, so I thought I'd share what I discovered.

1. This came at an excellent time. Not only did this project launch right when Islam became a major news story, but it is ending at a point where the majority of the country has moved on to other things. ISIS is old news.* I appreciate how this project kept bringing these people, dearly loved by our Lord, to mind.

2. The global perspective was enlightening. I know that people all over the world embrace Islam. But for whatever the reasons, I still found it surprising to travel from desert regions to snowy cities. These videos didn't exactly teach me new information, but they helped me experience reality in a way I hadn't before. The globetrotting gave me faces and places to pray for.

3. The Christians we met were so encouraging. The church leaders in Turkestan, Mika and her family, Karat, the soccer coach, and others just oozed grace. These episodes were certainly my favorites, giving a glimpse into what it's like to follow Christ in these parts of the world. I pray that your generosity will help many more people have stories to share about how their lives were transformed.

4. Everyone needs grace. I once read about how recent entertainment tends to portray characters as various shades of gray, no longer giving us an iconic good guy and a bad guy wearing a black hat. This is good because it allows us to discuss with our children how people who follow Christ can do bad things and people who reject Christ can still do good things. We can see common grace, fallen humanity, and our role as image bearers of God all wrapped up in us.

Good-vs-Bad
Good vs Bad

So, too, here. I got to meet really hospitable, loving, and kind Muslim people. But my connection to Christ, not how morally pleasant I appear, is what matters. These videos brought me back to the human condition and the beauty of grace for me as a Christ follower and those who have yet to experience it.

What lessons did your family learn? Which episodes were your favorites?

If you've already donated, thank you so much! If not, please consider giving $30 to send a missionary to connect with 150 not yet engaged Muslims. Your donation will be matched through tonight. Give here.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

* I wrote this a week ago and will be unavailable to edit this post until Monday. Should a major issue linked to Islam have arisen since writing, please consider, again, how influential your giving is to helping bring redemption to these war-torn peoples.


11/04/2014

Love Learning Tip: Read Easy Books

One of the best ways you can increase your child's confidence in reading, and help them foster a love of books, is to use stories that are easy to read.

Read
Read

War and Peace can wait. We need not wander The Wasteland just yet. Like Leviticus -- which is so often abandoned in Sunday School and Bible Story books in favor of the Gospels or one of the Old Testament histories filled with vivid accounts of lives -- it's okay to put some texts on the "read later" list. Leviticus is actually a fascinating study, offering incredible links to Christ and the weeks leading up to and following His crucifixion. But it's not something your 6-year old is likely to appreciate as much as the more iconic passages of Scripture. That's okay.*

As your children begin reading, offer them books that are slightly below their reading level. Like while participating in a sport, it's best to wait until the competitions to push yourself to the maximum. Like practicing music, start with scales and accessible tunes. So here, read easy books. That's one of the foundations to how Sonlight approaches Readers.

Like this tip? Get more in your inbox!

Subscribe to Sonlight's learning tips. This tip comes in the "The 7 Essentials that Will Inspire Your Children to Learn." But there's also series if you are just getting started homeschooling or have preschoolers. Click here to see your options!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

* Truth be told, I've never read either War and Peace or The Wasteland. But I have read Leviticus. Granted, I didn't get excited about it until after I'd attended a seminar on the book; lacking cultural context made the list of regulations dull and disconnected.


10/31/2014

Today: Last Chance to Save 10% on Electives

Save 10% on Homeschool Electives

Sonlight offers more than just History. Our Electives are pretty awesome too. And you can get your pick from a selection of Electives options that are on sale through tonight only. Check 'em out here.

Add some art, music, or computer programming to your homeschool to give your children more opportunities to find their interests and abilities.

If you've been thinking about adding Electives, today's the day to do it.

Grab your Electives Packages now.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad


10/29/2014

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
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.


10/27/2014

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.

Lecture
Lecturing

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


10/24/2014

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>.


10/22/2014

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.

Interested?

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.

Dollars
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>.


10/20/2014

We Were Pregnant

As she sobs into my chest, my arm around her, I remember the first time I thought about being there for my pregnant wife. I must have been around 12 years old. I had recently learned about how crazy, painful, and plain ridiculous the birthing process is. And I realized, in that moment, that I would have a hard time being in the room while my wife gave birth; to see her go through that pain and be able to do nothing ... that'd be terrible. I knew then, as I know now, that I'm too much of a "fixer" for that. I need to be able to help. But when it comes to bringing that kid into the world, I'd be powerless.

Fast forward a couple decades to last night.

My wife is pregnant for the second -- probably third -- time. One miscarried a few years ago at eight weeks in a horrifyingly bloody mess. It traumatized my wife but she managed to stuff that pain way, way, way down. But then, as eight weeks approached for this pregnancy, she couldn't hold it together anymore. She'd cry and couldn't sleep. She'd contain herself while friends and family were around and then melt down the moment we were alone. She was terrified it'd happen again. And so we had kept the news a secret, lest by telling others we'd jinx it (one of my wife's biggest shadow fears/beliefs).

Ten weeks.

Then someone shared the article I'm Pregnant. So Why Can't I Tell You?

I read it.

Then I sent it to my wife with the subject line: Read

She did.

And, after a few frightened hours of discussion, we started to spread the news. My little brother already knew (he's staying with us and has been an awesome support for Brittany through all of this). My little sister. Brittany's sister. Brittany's mom. My parents. A few people from church. Another friend. My older sister.

All were thrilled, elated, ecstatic.

Baby-Footprints
Tiny Footprints

Then, about 8pm last night, the spotting started. At first faint and dark. Then more regular and red.

That's when I found myself holding my pregnant wife as the world collapsed around her. And I could do nothing to help bring this baby safely into the world. That was hard -- way, way, way harder than what my wild preteen imagination could construct. I was powerless, helpless, and my wife was in emotional distress.

Somewhere between 1:30 and 3am it was over.

We'd lost our second child (probably our third).

Two hours later I got up to go to work.

***

Lunch, two hours ago.

My wife came down to visit since I'm in meetings this afternoon. She's doing well. Exhausted after the last few nights of little sleep, but the grace of God and the peace of Christ is carrying her through all of this. The midwife we had selected "just happened" to be in the area and could stop by and pray with her. One of our friends came over and just hung out with her. People have been supportive and she is sensing God doing something in the background.

"This is a new beginning of something," she tells me. "I don't know what, but God's doing something."

That He is.

But what, we don't know. I'm discovering this as I keep walking into ever more crazy situations where I am powerless to do anything and must rely on the goodness of God and the redemption of Christ to make stuff happen. And since His mercies are new every morning, I'm not at all surprised that He's doing new things in us as well.

How am I? I don't know. But we're hanging in there and hanging on for the ride.

Your prayers are most welcome.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

P.S. Fitting, I suppose, that this is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. If you haven't been keeping up with my Other Posts of Note, you can read two relevant posts here and here. And if you didn't take the time to read I'm Pregnant. So Why Can't I Tell You?, I suggest you do.

P.P.S. If you're wondering why I kept referring to our "probable third" miscarriage, we think that there was another one that initially appeared to be a "heavy flow" month but was probably another early miscarriage.


10/15/2014

When You Really Are All Alone

Her eyes are dry as she talks to me, her tears bored with their constant repetition. "I'm alone," she tells me. "I have no friends. My family is far away." She's also recently started school, the responsibility an unfamiliar weight. "Life's hard."

I pray with her. There's little more I can do. I ask that God bring her friends and encouragement. But the bosom buddy, the kindred spirit, the friend closer than family ... that person doesn't show. I lose touch with her while she walks the college life alone.

Then, a month ago, she appears, smiling, joking, telling both me and her husband that we introverts really can make new friends. "If you don't know what to talk about, ask about their dog," she suggests. Her husband gladly tells me about their new pet before they move off, arm in arm. And I'm left there, alone, wondering what happened. How did she get from there to here?

All-Alone
All Alone

I don't know that story. Wish I did. I feel like I'd have more to share with you.

My lonely years weren't that lonely. My abandonment issues were with God, not people. I have some empathy for those who experience isolation and the fatigue of carrying themselves day in and day out. But that utter loneliness, the experience of being truly alone? ...that I've never had.

Then Bethany wrote a post about being a control freak that spoke much more, to me, about the experience of being really alone. More than that, I think the post is about the experience of being completely alone as a new mother. And if I've read other blog posts correctly over the years, I don't think she's alone in that experience.

Here's the thing that's got me thinking: Bethany doesn't share the story of how she got from there to here. Wish she did. I feel like there'd be something super useful to share with you in that.

Instead, she glosses over those years of her life. She sums them up as years of "prayer, reflection, and conversations with good friends." I want the specifics because I have this nagging thought that there'd be a pattern in them, a secret, the secret to not being isolated, or -- at the very least -- how to survive the lonely days and nights and hours.

My guess is that the reason we don't know these stories and get to peek behind the curtain and find the nugget of truth is simple. The story is boring. The "secret" is common knowledge. The answer is simple, but painful: When you really are alone, you're not.

The Lord's sufficient grace is there.

'So what?' my inner trust issues ask. 'Grace isn't a real person, a hug, encouragement. It's not something that gets the laundry done or deals with your child's temper tantrum.'

You know what? I almost believe that guy. It certainly feels true.

But grace is embodied in a Person. And while it may be long spans between hugs, His Body is pretty good at giving them, at least at my church. And by His grace, I find myself encouraged by strangers and "e-maginary friends" on the internet.

Being alone isn't easy. But the story, if I had to guess, is one of slowly learning to draw closer to Christ. Bethany says it this way in her post:

I don't need to be in control. I just need to stay close to the One who is. I can't possibly plan around what He will send each day, but I can choose to accept it, humble, broken, and open-handed.

If you're feeling alone on your journey -- be it as a mother, homeschooler, or otherwise -- stay the course. What you are doing matters. What you are sacrificing is worth it. What you are losing is nothing compared to what you are gaining. And as you let "good enough" be good enough, you'll certainly learn how to do things better. And even if you are really all alone, you're not alone. If nothing else, there is a community here on this blog, on Facebook, on the Forums. And there are homeschool Advisors ready to answer your questions, weigh your options, and pray with you.

If you've come through a time of being utterly alone, do you have any wisdom or encouragement to share? I'd love to hear your story!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad


10/13/2014

"But Why, Mom?" The Value of Communicating Values

Stark hair and makeup frame her pretty face. Metal protrudes from her ears and nose, lips, tongue. Regularly added tattoos cover her skin. And yet her beauty is still there, vibrant and loud, like her laugh which rasps -- marbles when you roll them down a bumpy Lego ramp. She's active on social media, regularly posting selfies titled "meh" or "so bored!" or "bewbs!!!" when the photo predominantly features her cleavage (which is, like, all the time). And she's recently taken up a new cause, passionately campaigning against slut shaming. Her posts of late include women covered by nothing more than small signs that say, "I have morals!"

Another girl I've known since she first attended church camp, posted a picture of her posing, arms up, back to the camera, with the caption, "She is clothed with strength and dignity" (Proverbs 31:25). She certainly wasn't clothed with anything else. The comments ranged from philosophical statements about humans pre-Fall to one guy who suggested she "turn around."

Before I go any further, I need to say this: These girls are on to something.

They correctly recognize a twist in our message. As Warren Baldwin shared, we who have been in the church a while want people to live up to "the challenges of the Christian life" and so fail to offer compassion, community and hope. They don't see the love of Christ in the modesty movement and so are pushing back against something they don't really comprehend.

Worse, we have suggested that the reason girls should cover themselves is for the sake of the guys around them; "Don't cause your brother to stumble!" This teaches boys that they are not responsible for their actions -- "she caused me to stumble" -- and it teaches girls that it's their fault if someone leers at them ... or worse. The "she's asking for it" mentality is a horrifying direct product of this kind of thinking.

It needs to stop.

As one rape victim once told me through tears, "No one is asking for that!"

I like how Jonelle put it in her post Modesty as Respect: When you respect yourself and your setting, you will not be immodest.

The value behind modesty, the reason why we put clothes on and don't make inappropriate comments, is respect (love, concern) for others and ourselves before God who loves us.

Why
But... why?

Kids regularly ask, "Why?" As parents, we can quickly become overrun by the reduction to ever more basic elements. "Why?" Because choking your brother is not nice. "Why?" Because it hurts him. "Why?" Because our bodies have mechanisms in place to help protect us against situations which could be detrimental to us, such as in the case of a restriction of oxygen. "Why?" Because God made us in such a way that we can respond to threatening situations. "Why?" For our own good.

It's much easier to simply reply, "Because I said so."

The problem is that "because I said so" is an unhelpful answer. Expedient, sure. But there is often a much deeper value influencing our response.

When we talk about that value, we change the tone of the conversation. In the example of modesty, if we say, "Boys, put on a button up shirt, we're heading to church," and they ask why, the answer is easy. "Dressing up for church, even a little, shows respect for God." This can launch even deeper conversations. "We want to look nice for church because dressing up reminds us that the Sabbath is a holy day, set apart by God for our benefit." Taking the time to work through this with your kids, and to do the difficult work of teaching such discipline, counts for a lot in the long run. Check out Carol's post Counting on discipline to produce amazing young people!

The kids I am blessed to know today don't have a foundation built upon values. They have "morals" but no moorings. The value of communicating values to your children is that they can see why you make the choices you do. And I pray that, as my wife and I get to hang out with "our kids," we will be able to share our values with them in a way that helps them move forward in strength and dignity.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

P.S. One more thought because I really liked Natalie's post Parents, ask yourself, "Will It Matter in College?" As we look at our values, we may find that some things that don't thrill us (like piercings or blue hair) aren't worth the fight. In fact, it could be that our value is not God-honoring ... like, "What would the people at church think!?" There is much value in thinking about your values.


10/10/2014

Doomsayers

...or "Why Considering History is Important"

They show up at my door, the newest edition of their publication in hand. As with every sect or person who's willing to discuss life, the universe, and everything, I welcome them in.

"Isn't it horrible," one of them offers, showing me the magazine heading about the current state of the world, "how things just keep getting worse?"

Worse? Really?

This is a pet peeve of mine and I do my best to keep my excitable nature in check. "I don't think the world's getting any worse. People are still people, in desperate need of Christ, but we're not more evil today than yesterday. I haven't heard about anyone's house getting surrounded by all the men of a city demanding to be let at recently arrived guests. Have you? And even if that were to happen, that's nothing new." (I've blogged about these troubling passages in Scripture before.)

The-End-is-Nigh
The End Is Nigh

Judy touched on this topic yesterday as she discussed the hard things of life. Things appear more dangerous, more evil, more despicable than ever before! ...or, at the very least, than when we were kids. The tendency to look back and see something better than the present is common. Just one example: Turns out that "kids these days" have always been narcissistic, self-centered, immoral ingrates whose lives are being destroyed by modernity.

The sweet surrender Heather discusses in her recent blog post linked itself to this discussion. She describes the "crossroads of comfort and reality." We have this feeling that we can make things safe, secure, certain.

But we can't.

Lysa Terkeurst's post this morning beautifully echoes Heather's point: God is our refuge and fortress against fear.

The truth is that the world has always been a tenuous place, held together by nothing more than the will of God. And here, in Christ's will, is where we must live.

When we see the youth of today failing to live up to the standard of His perfection, I find it helpful to remember how God's grace and redemption has carried me this far ...and how much further it has to take me yet.

The constant of history is God's loving-kindness in luminous contrast to man's continued failures.

The more we learn of how He has worked in and through and with us, the more we can trust in Him and share the hope we have in Christ with the doomsayers. Our study of history provides us with a clearer understanding of not only the past, but also our future.

The end -- which has been nigh for more than 2,000 years -- looms closer, to be sure. But that's not where I want my gaze to fall. I want to keep my eyes on Christ, following where He leads, and see the people who need His love and hope through His eyes.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad


10/08/2014

Changing the world one bed time chat at a time

The title of this blog post, and the inspiration thereof, is blatantly, unabashedly, and completely stolen from the Sonlight Moment of the same name. Please go enjoy that post first. <smile>

I don't remember bedtime chats except for the whispered conversations I had with my siblings after we were supposed to be sleep. But my family talked at dinner. We also talked as we read together doing Sonlight. I resonate with how talking about one book brings up another which sparks even more discussion.

As I think about these expanding conversations, I am reminded once again of my high school experience. You know, the one where our class nuked Cuba. As I mention in the linked post, our decisions were entirely present-based, working off current myopia and fear-mongering sound bytes [how well I understood politics even then...]. I do not recall any kind of historical context to the lesson. I don't remember any discussion about what actually happened or why. We convinced our classmates that a first strike was the best choice, our teacher was disappointed in us, and ...and that was it. I'm guessing the bell rang and we moved on to some other class.

How different my Sonlight experience!

Bedtime-Talks
Bedtime Talks

With excellent historical literature as our backdrop, every discussion was naturally grounded in the events motivating the decisions. We could discuss our modern biases and cultural misunderstandings. This provided an excellent framework for Scripture study, which also benefits from understanding the original context.

None of our discussions changed the world then and there. But they helped shape us kids to be the people we are today. And, Lord willing, we'll continue to be part of those who follow Christ's leading to bring change and redemption as He directs.

And that, as we see in the many missionary biographies we read, will change the world.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

P.S. Need some more encouragement today? Read more delightful Sonlight® Moments.


10/07/2014

Children Raised by Their School

One of the benefits you enjoy by homeschooling is involvement in your child's life. You do more than merely educate. When you choose to homeschool you also choose to be active, to be there. This is why homeschoolers stay engaged even if their children eventually transition to a traditional school environment.

Your involvement is one of the most powerful elements homeschooling provides. And this shift in thinking sticks, no matter what else changes in your educational situation.

Sadly, I frequently witness what happens when parents aren't involved.

These are the kids who are "raised by their school" as my best friend put it while we drove for four days. He and I had been taking about some of "our kids" and the stuff they're going through. The similarities between their experiences are frighteningly redundant.

[NB: I'm not sure if this is something unique to this one particular public school or broader. I know different cultures impact different people in vastly divergent ways. What follows are some of my initial observations.]

School-Kid
School Kid

  • Lack of boundaries - they do things simply because it seems like the thing to do. When something goes wrong, they place blame everywhere but their decisions. Often the issue is with some authority figure or the person with whom they have a problem.
    One young man consistently finds himself in relationships with girls who were "just" a good friend. We tell him that he keeps "falling in love" because of the amount of exclusive time he spends with them. The relationships eventually break down because all the exclusivity happened "by accident." (Jason and I had been discussing the "courtship is flawed" article.)
  • Lack of authority - growing up socialized by their peers, these kids have learned to filter all suggestions and input by their own standards. Parents are not trusted and their statements are judged by the child's own internal parameters.
    One young lady told me, "My parents gave me one rule growing up: Don't come home drunk or pregnant. That's it. I had no boundaries when I needed them. So now my mom can't tell me to do anything; she gave up that right a long time ago."
  • Lack of trust - adults can't be trusted. What little interaction they've had with their parents lacks context and so seems arbitrary and stupid.
    Another young lady has shared how random her parents' actions seem. "I never know how they're going to react to anything," she told me. I've actually had the chance to chat with her parents and they seem like pretty normal, caring people. But the huge disconnect has grown over years of "going it alone" at school and much of the rest of life.
  • Lack of assurance - they come off, initially, as very assertive. But that is only a veneer they've learned to put on to avoid being seen as weak. This is different from the general lack of confidence I've seen in kids who have a great home life but felt rejected at school. Being left out is nothing more than a socialization ill common to any community arbitrarily divided.
    Kids raised by their schools are different. They have learned the bravado of "succeeding" socially but have failed to find a conviction. Without parental figures to speak to who they are and where they're going, they're left with nothing more than their own brave face. I think Billy Coffey's Future Kevin post depicts a child who may have even given up trying to fake it anymore.

These are just my initial raw thoughts about this. Have you met kids raised by their school? Where you?

I'd love your input and insights here as this is something I've only just started to think about.

Bottom line: The benefits of homeschooling are huge! As you take the opportunity to be part of raising your child, you can help them grow and thrive through all the confusing, frustrating, painful, and difficult parts of becoming the person God has called them to be.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad


09/26/2014

Out and About

Once every nine years or so your best friend calls you up and says, "Want to go on a road trip for a week?"

As you may recall, I don't like taking vacations. But the chance to a spend some time on serious "bromance" rekindling was too good to pass up. Ever since Jason got married and moved out of my house, I don't see him as much (strange). So, I'm doing it. I'm joining him for a 2,000+ mile drive across some beautiful -- and some boring -- parts of the country.

Truck
Truck

That means I won't be here. Instead, Autoblot™ will be taking care of you for much of next week. As a reminder: Autoblot™ is really cool, but he is limited.

Homeschooling gives you a tremendous amount of freedom -- much like racking up a ton of vacation time at a job. You can take off a week here and there to go on a road trip or vacation or spend time with a family member who is sick or take advantage of a great learning opportunity or simply adjust your schedule to meet your family's needs. This freedom allows you to bless your children and enhance their life-long pursuit of learning and build friendships that last a lifetime.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad


09/24/2014

Personal "Liberation" as Seen by History

I was basically ignorant of Kate Millett until I read her sister's account of the impacts of Kate's ideas and problems.

Hat Tip
Ken Chapman

I've had a few of "my kids" take Women's Studies classes. If I recall their tales correctly, the material was laughable if not frustrating. One such course was taught -- unironically, apparently -- by a dude. Thankfully, these young ladies did not emerge from such courses feeling a need to be "liberated" in the ways described in the article above.*

I feel, however, that Women's Mission Societies were hipsters, finding liberation before it was cool (and twisted by extreme feminist ideology). Inspired by the Gospel, these women rose up and made an overwhelmingly positive impact on the world. They found freedom in following Christ wherever He led ... even if that was halfway around the world without the help of men.

These were the biographies I grew up with in Sonlight. The first woman who came to mind was Gladys Aylward; she was my age when Kate was born. But the difference between their two lives is staggering.

Fight-v-Love
Fight the Man vs Love your neighbor

As I thought about the controversy and very raw statements made by Kate's sisters (see their comments on page 2 of this LA Times article), Mother Teresa came to mind. Why? Because of Christopher Hitchens. The research surrounding his accusations against her are rebutted here. But even if a woman who devoted her life to caring for the dying was imperfect -- who of us is? -- what should be said of someone dedicated to promoting prostitution and the destruction of the American family?

Personal liberation is a difficult thing. Christianity teaches us that we are slaves to sin until we find freedom in Christ. But, at that time, we are then in Christ and no longer our own. This certainly sounds like a highly repressive form of bondage to someone outside the faith.

History allows us to see, first hand, how God uses ordinary people to change the world. We're imperfect. But we can still follow Christ's example to reach outward.

The more I read about Kate and the absurdly devastating ideas she championed, the more I think of virtue. I love how Sonlight teaches virtue; look back on history and consider what's been done.

Who are our heroes? Whom do we aspire to be like?

Me? I want I be like Christ, willing to lay aside my own inflated sense of "liberation" to find true freedom in walking with my Lord. The women (and men) I met using Sonlight's homeschool curriculum helped me see real-life examples of what that looks like.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

* I don't like fearmongering. Know your children and you'll be able to encourage them down paths that are going to benefit them ... even if that is to attend a State University.


09/22/2014

Mercies New Every Morning

The rain splattered and slid, tiny cold liquid jewels against the window. Their presence this morning echoed a moment a couple evenings ago, riding cramped in the backseat as a teen drove us to grab a bite to eat. The rain was harder then. The windows fogged. The car lurched over each bump, overburdened by the three adults in the back. This made her already jittery driving more sporadic.

"I'm a good driver!" she insisted. Then she slammed on her brakes. I'm confident she hadn't noticed the approaching stop. I half expected one of my fellow passengers to leap at the chance to escape and brave the inclement weather instead.

As we accelerated again, our impromptu chauffeur became philosophical. "I imagine rain as the earth washing away the manure of life." She, of course, did not use the word "manure" as she's prone to sling swear words like a pan of bacon spits grease. She attends high school, after all.

We made it home without incident. The rain had letup by then. This is Colorado.

Christ refers to rain as an example of God's grace poured out on everyone (Matthew 5:43-45). It's a reminder, in a way, of the one thing that can wash clean the mess we've made of ourselves. But it's His blood that washes us; it's His redemption that works with the wreckage around us.

So this morning, overcast and dreary, I watched the ran cling to the pane of glass shielding me from the storm. It's a good reminder that no matter how bad things were yesterday -- or five minutes ago -- His mercies are new every morning. Indeed, His grace is sufficient every moment.

Rain
Rain

May you rest in that that today.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad


09/19/2014

Feeling a Bit of Panic? Consider this...

It wasn't panic, per se, that woke me at 4:27 this morning. It wasn't even "worry." My brain simply wanted to remind me of the daunting, 8-hour ordeal ahead of me today. 'Maybe,' my distraught processing center whispered, 'just maybe, it will take you 10 or 12 hours! And you'll be working on it all next week as well! Just think about that!'

Needless to say, I resonate with The Awkward Yeti when I Wake Up before my alarm.

If you've been feeling overwhelmed by everything you and your children need to do this year, just remember that the dread you're feeling is similar to the panic you had at the start of every semester in college. This is merely the common overwhelming feeling that happens when you try to wrap your head around an entire year's worth of material in a single afternoon.

You'll do great.

Breathe. Rest. Perhaps have some tea (or coffee, if that's your thing).

You can do this.

Don't listen to your brain on this one. Sometimes you got to turn off that worry-wart and let your heart remind you that what you're stepping out into is beautiful. Sometimes these life-long pursuits are better for the journey.

Just don't tell my brain. He'd flip.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad


09/17/2014

Get Your Free Off-Road Encounters Welcome Kit

Do your kids like stickers, pins, maps?

I'm not exactly a kid anymore, but I was excited when my Off-Road Encounters welcome kit arrived in the mail. If you haven't signed up to be part of this year's giving project, do so now. It's free, easy, and there is no obligation to give. The video series starts on Monday. Register today so your kids can get their stuff in time for the launch.

Off-Road-Welcome-Kit
Off-Road Encounters Welcome Kit

Looking at the map, I was impressed with all the places we'll be visiting.

But then I read the email I got about Off-Road Encounters this morning and I was reminded that we're starting this journey in places I've only read about in the Bible. How exciting to visit these far-off locations that are, at the same time, somewhat familiar... and to see the need for the Gospel to renew this part of the world so tied to Scripture!

If you've already signed up, please continue to pray for this project. May hearts and minds be drawn to Christ, both at home and abroad, because of our involvement in this opportunity.

Thank you! I am so excited to see what God does as we partner together to see the Good News of Jesus brought to those who do not yet know Him as Savior and Lord!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad


09/15/2014

The Apocalypse and Time with Your Kids

As a film guy, I like movies. I recently watched yet another apocalyptic film. I think it shed some light on what's behind the comment, "I could never spend all day with my kids!" You ready for this?

The movie isn't important. The setting is a little semi-self-sustaining cottage in the mountains run by a hippy and his wife. The "end of the world" happens when a computer thing goes batty, and now the house is full of six frenemies whose history and future provide the backdrop for the unfolding drama. We learn all about their past issues and current differences. Relationships form and others shatter. The close proximity, the stress of the situation, and the lack of connection and trust make certain interactions incredibly abrasive.

You've experienced that, right? In your homeschool, especially if you've "brought your kids home" after having them in school for a while, there's a certain tension. In many ways, you have catching up to do with your kids. I've detailed my own experiences with this when we had the girls for 9-months. I am all too aware of how close proximity, stressful situations, and a lack of connection and trust makes things abrasively miserable.

Mushroom-Cloud
The End of the World?

But the movie doesn't end there. Neither should we.

By the end of the film, a new fledgling community has sprouted. People work together. Grace has been extended and accepted. Smoke still billows in the distance, but the freshly tilled earth, the laughter of children, and the beauty of friendships shines across the screen.

So, yes, sometimes homeschooling can feel like an apocalypse. There are periods where we feel trapped by the work and uncomfortably close. But what we're building is, literally, the future of humanity. And for all the struggle, it's beautiful in the end.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

Anna's post But I Can't be with My Children All Day Long Every Day! inspired this one. Check it out.


09/12/2014

Interruptions

"A scramble." I assume that's an adequate description of some of your days -- maybe every day is a scramble. There is much to do in daily life, and you've added "teach my children" to the list. It's no wonder things can get a little hectic now and then.

'Now and then? You clearly haven't been to my house, Luke.'

True. The point remains: You're busy.

And then one of your kids does something that completely derails you and stops you in your tracks, like Tanya's little guy who stopped to admire a sprinkler. (Click the link. It's a brief and very nice story!)

Years ago, someone shared a story about running late and, while driving up to the train tracks, was asked by her son, "Can we stop and watch the train?" Confused, she said, "But there isn't a train right now."

"I know," he replied. "Can we wait for one?"

(I wish I knew which blog this came from; Google has failed me. If you recognize your story, or the blog from whence it came, please let me know so I can add some link-love!)

Train-Waiting
Train Waiting

What makes these interruptions so important -- and causes us to pause and consider -- is that they remind us of something. These aren't the annoyances of traffic or diaper blowouts. These are genuine glimpses of humanity that shift our focus to the people for whom we do all this crazy amount of work. These serendipitous breaks from routine let us see, once again, that our children are here and part of this madness. In the activity, we can lose sight of them. But without them we wouldn't be doing this.

Enjoy the interruptions. Relish the reminders. You're a mom -- or dad -- and all this work is for your kids and totally worth it. The occasional interruption is a blessing from God.

Have a great day; may you find encouragement in the scramble.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad


09/10/2014

From Luke's Inbox: Now Is Not the Time to Learn About Islam

I understand that missionary work is very important. However, I don't appreciate you encouraging us to teach our children to understand Muslim culture and beliefs. I think this is particularly poor timing.

I appreciate the feedback. Of course, I was expecting this kind of response to some degree. But my conclusion is exactly the opposite: Now is the best time for you and your children to learn about Islam.

You and I both know that Islam is all over the news. But the news is very one-sided. How much better to take time to see how Muslims live, catch a glimpse of what they believe (such as what they think of Jesus), and how Christ has transformed the lives of some Muslim background believers? Equipped with this knowledge, do you not think your children will be better able to pray for this turbulent part of the world? Do you not think they will catch a glimpse of God's heart to bring grace and healing and peace to these people? Do you not see how amazing it would be to give a few dollars and have lives changed in the light of Christ's loving-kindness?

I do. It's glorious.

Violent-News
In desperate need of redemption...

I am so excited about this year's giving opportunity. The fact that recent events have made Islam a topic of national discussion, to me, glows of providence. Now -- now -- now is the time to get involved, to reach up to God and to reach out to our fellow man in desperate need of the transforming power of Christ.

Please, reconsider your part in Off-Road Encounters. You may be more comfortable previewing the videos -- which is not a bad idea. The video team obviously did not go to the more dangerous places where ISIS is currently beheading people, so the series is not going to give a complete picture of the entire situation in the Middle East (of course, I don't think any series could accomplish that given that the conflict is thousands of years old). Perhaps you'd like to share the message in a different way with your children. Awesome! But I do want to exhort you to be part of the solution by both praying and giving as a family.

Then again, urging is all I can do. You get to choose your next steps. You get to choose how you teach your children. That, like missions, is a major part of Sonlight. We believe in education, not indoctrination. I'm never going to tell you what you have to do or believe.

May God bless you this year, whether you get involved in this project or continue to pray for and give to the things that fit your family's missions-minded focus. The need is great all over the world. I am simply excited to see what God does this year through Off-Road Encounters.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad


09/09/2014

Thinking About Adding Electives? Save 10%

As you settle into your school year, perhaps you're feeling like you'd like a bit more to round out your day. Perhaps some fun art books would be just the thing...

Now through October 31, you can add a small package of a few fun books to your curriculum and save 10% on an Electives package.

Save 10% on Homeschool Electives

You may not even have noticed that Sonlight offers Electives. People tend to talk about our History programs so much that our other stuff gets left out or overlooked. And when you're just starting your school year, it's better to ease into things and get your bearings. As we push toward the middle of September -- time sure does fly! -- you may be looking toward the colder, darker months where you may find yourselves snowed in or rained in or shut in for some other weather-related reason. And in those moments, where cabin fever threatens the sanity of everyone in your home, you'll wonder if there is something super-cool you could hand to your precious children to keep them from the brink ... those are the times when Electives are near essential to survival.

...perhaps I'm a tad melodramatic.

Point remains: Save 10% on an Electives.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

P.S. If your days are full enough already, seriously, no pressure. The last thing you need is to feel like you're "not doing enough." This sale is a great opportunity if you've been feeling a lack or art, or your child is itching to do some computer programming, or you'd like to dip your toes in music... that kind of thing.


09/08/2014

What Can Your Children Do This International Literacy Day?

Reading is important. You need to be able to do it to get through school -- though, of course, we find workarounds if we struggle with reading. But as a student growing up, that was it. I needed to read for school (and to enjoy the awesome books included in my Sonlight studies). I never really understood what life would be like if I was illiterate.

That changed for me when I started to learn about what Mission India does, especially in our 2008 giving project. I learned that not being able to read makes it difficult to travel and easy to be scammed. You can't read signs. You can't count your change. You must rely on others. Learning the basics of reading and math opens up a whole new world of possibilities for you. That's why International Literacy Day was started.

Literacy
Literacy

I don't see many suggestions on the official Literacy Day page. But here are a few ideas for what your children can do today:

  1. Read to a younger sibling. Sharing the joy of reading with someone still learning is a great way to celebrate literacy! If your children are not yet reading, they could tell you a story based on a picture book.
  2. Memorize a poem. Some cultures don't have writing at all! These are communities who rely on memory to share their stories. This is often called an oral tradition.
  3. Create your own alphabet. Bible translators working with oral communities sometimes have to create an alphabet for the language. We already have one, but both my wife and I had fun creating our own alphabet characters in college (see if you can translate the message encoded in the image above).
  4. Try reading in a difference language. If you have a foreign language program, this is already a natural part of your day. You could look up your favorite Scripture passage in a different language and see if you can make sense of it.
  5. Pray. Pray for the millions of families around the globe who are struggling because they have not yet had a chance to learn how to read. You can learn a bit more on Mission India's page about adult literacy programs.

Lastly, I'd like to encourage you to sign up for our latest Giving Opportunity. It's not literacy focused this year, but it is a great way to get involved in something with international impact today. Join over 3,000 other children who have already signed up to be part of Off-Road Encounters!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad


09/05/2014

I'm Learning About the State of Policing

Life-long learning is an incredible thing. But it's sometimes difficult due to cultural, emotional, philosophical, historical, and other -al type factors. Currently, I'm realizing how much more I have to learn about the law enforcement.

Police
Greetings, Citizen

I don't like commenting on stuff I know nothing about. But when someone else shares insights, I love to pass them along. I really appreciated the blog post What My Bike Has Taught Me About White Privilege. Of everything I've read on the subject, this was the first that was somewhat encouraging. Give it a read yourself. It helped me gain a framework/schema for thinking about current events. His connection of being a bicyclist on a roadway built for cars makes so much sense.

In short, things are not good. The Police State has far more to do with how law enforcement treats certain groups of people (summed up in this image from a show I've never watched and never intend to, but the screenshot summarizes the blog post so well). One of my bloggy friends shared this video [NB: f-bomb at the end] that demonstrates how crazy things can get even if they don't escalate. I've had the police come to my door before, but they didn't treat me like that.

This reminds me of the lecture Don't Talk to Police (I'm sorry, I've lost the link of who first shared it with me). Cameron Russell also touches on the topic of race and privilege in her excellent Looks aren't everything. Believe me, I'm a model. TED talk.

I have nothing to add to this conversation. I'm still learning a lot! But these posts and videos have helped me and I'm hopeful they will help you too.

What have you been learning about recently? Anything interesting you'd care to share?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad


09/03/2014

150 Muslims

"Every Ramadan, my mom would make a huge thing of baklava as a treat for after the sun went down." It's lunchtime and we've been talking food again. Who doesn't like food? Thinking about baklava, my mouth is starting water.* Shawarma. Gyros too (no matter how you pronounce that word, those sandwichy things are delicious). The guy I'm talking with comes from a Muslim background. He keeps quiet about where he is currently with religion. Muslim? Agnostic? I don't know. But he and I can connect over food.

Baklava
PB+J for Baklava? I wouldn't make that trade...

Falafel.

Islam is all over the news these days. It's uncomfortable for me to even write this post because of how tense things are. Politics are in play. Human lives are affected. This is real. This is life. But almost a month ago I attempted to plant a seed for this moment. I urged us not to isolate ourselves. I did so intentionally in preparation for today.

Because today we are launching our next Giving Opportunity.

What is a Giving Opportunity?

You know that Sonlight is dedicated to missions, giving 50% of company profits to reach those who have yet to hear about Jesus as Savior and Lord. But we want to do more than that. That's why we extend an opportunity for you and your children to get involved every year. Together, we partner with amazing organizations to provide literacy programs, Bible translations, radio broadcasts, and more. We match your generous gift dollar for dollar. These projects are a way to help your children see the global need and how they can make a meaningful impact.

Giving Opportunities are educational as well. We get to learn about far off places in the world and the people who live there. We see glimpses of their lives and revisit our desperate need for grace as we see how it changes hearts and minds. And then we invite you to take part, giving a few dollars which will be doubled to transform the world.

This year is no different.

What is this year's project?

Off-road Encounters is a series of 13 videos each with 8 activities that let you discover various parts of the Muslim world. As you learn more about Islam and the people who follow it, I think you'll discover a renewed desire to see Christ transform their lives as He is doing in your family.

Many of the videos feature food.

When you sign up, you'll get a cool welcome kit for each of your children (sign up now so it arrives before the videos launch later this month). And remember, signing up is not a commitment to give. But the chance to bring the transforming power of Christ to the lives of over 1.5 million Muslims -- or 150 with as little as $28, doubled with the Sonlight match -- is an awesome opportunity I hope you won't pass up!

Sign up and then maybe eat some hummus...

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

* Why does blogging so often make me hungry?


08/29/2014

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.

Green-Fields

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.


08/27/2014

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.

Churches
Churches

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.


08/25/2014

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
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.


08/22/2014

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


08/20/2014

Helpful Homeschool Tips in Your Inbox

Sonlight has close to a hundred posts, videos, and podcasts packed with helpful tools, tips, and tricks to help you on your homeschool adventure. Even if you're not a Sonlighter, these resources are a great place to start if you'd like encouragement, suggestions, or insights from other homeschoolers. But sometimes giant lists of materials can be overwhelming. That's why we offer four simple emails to get you started (or reinvigorate your current journey).

Click here to subscribe to one or all of the series.

  • You could get started with a brief selection of preschool tips.
  • Take in an introduction to the seven "essentials" of learning spread out over a few weeks.
  • Or slowly gain confidence with bi-weekly messages from our "Homeschooling with Excellence" series or the Beam.

Envelope
You can love learning!

Why is this great?

First, rather than hoping something helpful floats across your Facebook feed or catches your eye on Pinterest, these helpful tips come to you. They show up in your inbox, ready when you are. And should you decide that the series you have isn't right for you, you can unsubscribe from that list with a couple clicks and sign up for a new set of insights that meets your needs.

Second, these messages are tailored to meet you where you are. If you have preschoolers, sign up for that one. If you're still not totally sure about homeschooling in general, our "excellence" series is for you (especially if this is your first year). Find the messages that resonate with you and check them out.

Third, the content is focused. This blog is fantastic <cough cough> but it can ramble now and again. We share everything from chocolate chip cookie recipes to complaints about Sonlight and the benefits of sleeping in. Which is awesome. And you should totally subscribe to this blog via email or RSS. ...but you're busy and sometimes you don't have time to real dig into a discussion of why homeschoolers are behind in school. Sometimes you just want those little nudges of encouragement every now and then, not every single day. And in that case, sign up for some homeschool encouragement.

The last thing you need is a few more emails to wade through. But it could be that a few carefully selected reminders that what you're doing is awesome and important ... that, that could be exactly what you need.

Check out the email series from Sonlight and subscribe the one(s) that'd be helpful to you today.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad


08/18/2014

School Need Not Be a Foreign Country

Over the last year, while my cousin was visiting us from Germany, I found myself asking the "how was school" question often. Aside from two parent-teacher conferences the rest of the year, she was my only real point of contact. I could have called her guidance counselor, the woman who struggled to find a way to communicate with someone not completely fluent in English, but that would have yielded nothing; my cousin never went to talk with her about anything. I could have checked in with her teachers, but there wasn't much they could offer that we didn't cover in a five minute conversation once a semester -- "Your student is doing great. I love having her in class. She's learning so much!" And I didn't have time or opportunity to connect with her classmates and teammates to gain their confidence such that they'd share their insights. So I relied almost exclusively on what my cousin said in response to that single question.

Given that, the following metaphor rang so true for me:

"How was school?" he asked. School was a country and home was a country, and the two sent each other letters but never met, [the student] the emissary shuttling between.

Cross-Continent
The Distance Between School and Home

This is the unfortunate reality of so many school situations. Teachers would love more parental involvement -- as they recognize the profound impact you have on your student's success -- but the whole system just isn't constructed to accommodate such teamwork. Maybe in the younger years, but I doubt it based on my experience with high school.

With homeschooling, we don't have this problem. We know exactly how school went today because we are there through it all. If there is a meltdown -- us or our children ... or both -- we're all too aware. And if things are awesome with tons of "light bulb moments" and smiles and enjoyment of learning together, we're part of that. Home and school are both the same "country" and there is no need to send emissaries. You and your children work together as a team.

Foreign relations are difficult. Dealing with multiple governments can be frustrating, as I've learned while trying to acquire visas. Any time you bring two cultures together things can be bumpy. The same can be very true as parents and teachers try to do what is best for the children entrusted to them.

Homeschool and you continue to fulfill your natural teaching role. You can listen to what your children are going through. The joys and triumphs of learning and success, as well as the heartbreak and torment of struggle and perseverance, are yours to share ... together.

You're there.

Home and school are connected, intertwined, shared. And that is a good thing.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad


08/15/2014

Order Today, Take 9-Months to Pay

Sonlight's Payment Plans let you spread your homeschool investment over several months so you don't have to foot the bill for a year's worth of school all at once. You pay 25% today and the rest in 25% increments over several months.

Right now is your last chance to take advantage of our $799 9-Month offer:

Payment_Plan_799
Place your order of $799 by August 15th and select the Payment Plan of your choice.

It's simple. If you're thinking about ordering your curriculum, today is the day to do it.

Get your homeschool curriculum now and spread the cost out with Sonlight's fee-free payment plans.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad


08/13/2014

Be Part of a Larger Community

Every few days or so someone will ask a question about Sonlight publicly on Facebook. Inevitably, I have to tell them that the only response they're likely to see is the one I provide. If they want more people to weigh in, it's much better to go ask on the Sonlight® Forums.

Facebook says it offers us a chance to connect with friends and share stuff. What this means for me is that I see a few new photos and a whole bunch of Upbuzzworthyfeed content and the same six videos about shampoo and violins or that guy who gave a dog his sandwich. Occasionally stuff from the distant past appears -- last week someone shared the "laughing Quadruplet" video from more than half a decade ago. I'm not overly bitter, but how many posts, counter-posts, and open letters "to the person who posted about the post commenting on the post about a comedian's suicide" do I really need to read?

None.

There are far more pressing matters on my time and bigger issues in the world. Though that depression thing seems to really resonate with people. I've got a few "kids" who struggle with depression and it's not an easy topic. That's definitely something worth connecting with others to discuss.

Perhaps the part that I dislike the most about social media "interactions" like this is that they've become a new brand of push marketing. Click-bait and cute puppies beg me to "act now" and suggest, "But wait! There's more!" I guess I've been around YouTube enough to know what to expect when a popular video features a singing kid. Sorry, internets, but I actually do believe what's about to happen next.

In short: Social media often fantastically fails at connecting me with my friends.

To build relationships and community, to link up with people and talk about what's going on in your life, you need something more than a never-ceasing stream of the latest social experiment. With internet tools like forums, you can get to know people, have long and deep discussions, and banter back and forth about life and kids and homeschooling and dishes and laundry. You can connect with people around the world and maintain an ongoing conversation. And if you have questions, you can get answers from people with more experience as a homeschool mom than me. Because I have, like, none. Literally, none.

Have you heard the news? The Sonlight Forums are now free. You just go, sign up, and start connecting with other homeschool moms.

Do it.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

P.S. In many ways, I feel this post is a continuation of thought from my recent Don't Isolate Yourself.

P.P.S. If you've been missing some of our recent fantastic posts, consider signing up to get the Sonlight Blog in your inbox by subscribing on the right (just scroll down a bit). You can also add this blog -- and many others -- to an RSS reader. I'm currently using Inoreader.


08/12/2014

You. Your Pictures. Today.

Today is the deadline for you to submit pictures to the Sonlight Photo Contest. Why send in a photo? Aside from the obvious fun and fame of seeing your family in the Sonlight catalog, you could win up to $500 toward your next Sonlight purchase.

How hard is it to submit a picture?

The process is just a tad more involved than uploading something to Facebook or Instagram or Pinterest or ... whatever. You do that all the time, right? When you upload a photo to Sonlight we ask that you also tell us a bit about the picture and your experience with Sonlight. Just do it now before time runs out.

I take amazing pictures of my adorable kids. How many can I submit?

There is no artificial limit to the number of photos you can submit. However, I think time and technology may hinder you from uploading more than 7,000 by midnight. I hope that will suffice for the time being. You can always submit more for next year, because you are right: Your kids are amazing!

My student is now an awesome high schooler. Do you only want pictures of youngsters?

Nope. Homeschool high schoolers are a great bunch of super-cool people. We'd naturally love to represent them in the catalog too!

My child is atypical. Should I even bother uploading a picture?

Absolutely! Sarita recently blogged about how cool it is that so many Sonlighters have adopted children. As you know, Sonlight's approach is great for both struggling and accelerated students; we'd love to share your story. We are also very aware that Sonlighters hail from all around the world, and we love that because it fits right in with our international focus. And I don't really know any "typical" kids. I certainly wasn't one ...

Luke-Cool-Dude
... maybe that makes me normal

Have any tips to help me win?

Just one: Take an amazing picture and submit it with an amazing story. You can do that because you're a homeschooler. There's more information and tips and stuff on the photo contest page, but it all boils down to sharing your experience homeschooling with Sonlight.

Enter the Sonlight Photo Contest Now

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad


08/11/2014

Don't Isolate Yourself

I watch the breeze sway through the tips of wild grass a few feet from the picnic table. The weather outside is gorgeous today. The tranquility of my lunch cracks against the turmoil in my head. Sudan continues to be torn apart by war. Ukraine and Russia are doing their thing. And the ISIS situation is the hip social engagement point of the week. That conflict has definitely been eating at my wife; she changed her profile picture as a symbol of solidarity.

Arabic-Letter-Nun
"N" (nun) for Nazarene

Solidarity is an interesting thing. It's easy for us to want to be part of something; it's good even! But then we can decide it is better to isolate ourselves from the those not in our group. In so doing, the pernicious "other" terminology starts to seep in, quickly souring to outright dehumanization of our enemies as John Umland unpacks on his blog.

Seth Godin, in a similar vein, recommends that as we find our "tribes" we simply say that "people like us are part of a thing like this" and leave it at that. This definitely applies to us homeschoolers. Rather than jumping on some kind of anti-public school bandwagon, we are part of the educational world and we do it like this. And it's awesome. It works for us. We love it -- most days -- but we're not here for anything other than mutual encouragement.

We're certainly not here to isolate ourselves. Rather, we are equipping our children to go out into the world. We're preparing them to soar. We are pouring into them now so they can go out filled and ready to bless others. As much as we may want keep our children with us, our aim is higher. We look forward, with some joyful pain, to the day we get to see them doing what God has called them to do ... apart from us. Hopefully they call or write every now and again.

But where is God calling them? What does it look like for them to walk the path God has placed before them? I think recent events bring such questions back to the forefront of our minds. One of my favorite films in The Mission. It's a movie that opens with a missionary tied to a wooden cross and sent over a waterfall to his death. The story grows in intensity and brutality from there. But it has a beautiful score, redemption scene, and an ending that begs us to consider: Has God called us to fight injustice or simply stand with the oppressed?

I, for one, am glad it does not give any easy answers. For easy answers there are none.

But the words of Jon Foreman's Your Love is Strong echo in my turbulent mind:

Two things You told me
That You are strong
And You love me
Yes, You love me

I know it's easy for me to even isolate myself from God, to run away, to try to do it on my own. But, as Rebecca LuElla Miller reminds us, we ought to be helping our kids realize: no matter what our outward circumstances, we are in need of a Savior. This need is true of us no less than they.

The turmoil in the Middle East is nothing new. Ken Chapman shared a fascinating summary of the history surrounding the Crusades. It's a great read, reminding us that people are people, not monsters. It also reminds us that wars, however important or of good intent, do cause tremendous harm (I found the part about the rift between Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox to be horrifying and absurdly ironic). And I appreciate the reminder that

both the medieval and the modern soldier fight ultimately for their own world and all that makes it up. Both are willing to suffer enormous sacrifice, provided that it is in the service of something they hold dear...

Please continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in Sudan, Ukraine, Iraq, and many other places in the world that are not currently sensationalist enough to show up on the news. And pray for those who have yet to recognize their desperate need of Christ.

And praise God for beautiful days that remind us of His new mercies for whatever we are going through and His strong love for us.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

P.S. The article about the Crusades reminded me of Sonlight's What Good is Christianity? course. It is important to consider history in light of many common complaints against the religion "of the West."


08/08/2014

My First Day of School Memories

I don't have any memories from my first day of school. No new pencils or decorative notebooks. I also don't have any "first day of school" pictures. If we had any kind of festivities at the start of a school year, they are wiped from my mind.

I'm not the least bit sad about this vacancy in my history.

Someone near and dear to my heart has photographic evidence that this kind of thing can be very unwelcome. My mother-in-law is great about making scrapbooks and taking pictures of important events. Here's her daughter on her first day of homeschool:

Brittany-1st-Day-of-School
I knew my freedom was gone ...forever ~my wife

Ah, the sweet joy of a fresh start!

Or not.

So I found myself rather bemused by Laura's concerns that her children would miss out on

  • first day of school clothes and pictures
  • lunchboxes
  • the school bus
  • bulletin boards
  • and shopping for school supplies

For me, that list includes all the worst things about school (apart from homework and bullies). Do you remember enjoying riding the hot, noisy, smelly bus? I don't. And bulletin boards ... really? I remember one bulletin from high school: signage for a "cooper" drive, asking us with its typo to bring in pennies for something.

So I have to wonder: Are you inflicting these horrors upon your offspring simply to perpetuate the cycle?

You actually enjoy this, you say?

...

You just keep doing your thing.

Joking aside, there is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating the start of a new year or having traditions that make this next chapter fun and special (I just have to wonder how "fun" and "special" it is for your children because of my own austere experience ... and the tears I shed every time we had to take a family photo). Go all out. Celebrate. I really like Laura's post.

For me, the logical and best time to go Crazy Go Nuts is Box Day. Of course, my own experience with Box Day was less than stellar, so what do I know? Given how many children tend to start reading their new books immediately, I think it's fair to say that Box Day is often the first day of school.

I prefer to celebrate accomplishments rather than beginnings, but that's due to the personal deficiency I have in my dislike for process; just get me to the destination already! I also tend to see homeschooling as simply a natural continuation of learning already occurring at home. And instead of dressing up, I prefer comfy pants. If you're not like me, that's great! Have fun with the start of your journey!

As a new school year is upon us, take a moment to review 8 tips for a new school year.

How do you do your first day of school? Party and pictures? Pancakes? Just start reading as usual?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad


08/06/2014

Plumbers and Teaching Multiple Views

The plumbing in my house is old. I've spent a small fortune ensuring waste escapes my property. Otherwise it becomes trapped 14 feet underground, refusing to release the rest which greedily claims my laundry room. Of the many plumbers answering my call, not one has looked around and failed to mention the completely not-up-to-code and utterly bizarre piping we live amidst on a daily basis.

"Never seen that before," are words you don't want to hear from these guys, or so my wife tells me. I wouldn't know different.

Plumbing-Pipes
Pesky Plumbing

With so much practice paying experts to come to my house, I very much resonate with Fred Sander's experiences with repairmen. His post is funny and insightful... not just about home improvement, but also teaching theology. Please go read it now.

Done?

[Oh, you skipped it. Fine. Quick version: Saying that the person who does not believe what you believe is an idiot -- a practice adopted by many in both religion and contract work -- undermines our faith in the "industry." Better to sympathetically explain what the others are trying to do and talk through the subject matter at hand. Read the complete post here.]

I love this.

Fred's post demonstrates two interrelated reasons it is so important to learn multiple views: Humility and clarity.

When we discover that those with whom we disagree are not evil or ignorant or willfully-blind, we can speak with sympathy and grace. This happened recently in a Skype conversation with one of "my kids" who is at school out of state. She had jumped on the bandwagon of a recent hot political issue and was rather fired up about it. We had gone back and forth a bit on Facebook, and now it was time to hash it all out in real time. So we talked.

After an hour or so she asked, "Wait, did we just both present our ideas, come to some conclusions, and accept that both sides made good points? Did that just happen?"

"Of course," I said. "Both sides have very legitimate concerns. I just happen to think these issues are more on point and I would address the problems in the ways we discussed."

Humility allows us to accept reality. Defiantly stamping our feet and insisting the other side is flat-out wrong entirely tends to push people away. And should those who agree with us one day find some good points across the fence, they will be faced with an artificial choice you created: Do they maintain their beliefs they no longer believe are completely true, or do they reject the information they just learned?

The nuances we gain by learning what both sides believe and why afford us a deeper understanding. This is good for others, not just us. Equipped with a clearer picture, we can discuss and defend our position. We can invite someone to see things our way as we see it from their perspective. We can dig down to the root issues 14 feet underground, rather than muck about in the muck filling the laundry room.

With Sonlight, odds are you're teaching your kids multiple views. You're equipping them to speak true and love. You're doing things right.

Keep it up.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad


08/05/2014

From Luke's Inbox: Teen Depression and Suicide

This article expresses why we didn't purchase Sonlight past 7th grade. I'm not sure how titles like Brave New World, The Great Gatsby, Treasure Island, Death of a Salesman, and others line up with Philippians 4:8.

Thanks for sharing the article. I had a few rambling thoughts as I read it. I hope they prove helpful here.

First, I know Sarita agrees with the article's thrust that we shouldn't dwell on depression and giving up. That's largely her point in her post about the literature Sonlight offers both in the high school levels and before.

Second, personally, I loved Brave New World and Treasure Island. For me, Brave New World -- in particular -- was a devastating picture of a hedonist society that had lost touch with it's religious roots, roots which had also lost a mooring. If I ever become a "real" filmmaker, I would love to adapt that book to the screen. My wife, on the other hand, hated the book. This points to something very important we both already know: We must choose materials that are best for our children. I'm glad you're looking for curriculum that will be more in line with what your children need. (By the by, I hated Gatsby when I read it in high school ... ugh.)

Third, it is true that suicide is a big topic with teens. Paul Graham in Why Nerds are Unpopular says, "Like other teenagers, we loved the dramatic, and suicide seemed very dramatic." Suicide is also the topic of many college films (yep, I even made one). So, yes, let's not dwell on suicide and encourage kids to think about their own and how they would do it. On the other hand, this is a very, very real reality. At a church lock-in over the weekend, I prayed with a girl who has had 12 (yes, a dozen) friends/family members commit suicide in the last year. Unpleasant, but reality. And unlike the author of the article or those interviewed, I don't think Death of a Salesman is what pushed them over the edge. The article feels like grasping for a simple answer to a very complex issue, similar to the way people blame video games every time there is a shooting (in fact, check out this brief clip about news reports and video games in David McCandless' "The beauty of data visualization" at 4:10). Emily herself says, "Thousands of students, of course, read these books and don't kill themselves, but among the depressed they may contribute to bleakness." So, yes, if your student is depressed, be careful. See point #2.

Blood
Drop of Blood

Finally, your comments reminded me of a few posts I've written. I think it's important to remember that the Easter story is violent and redemptive. Instead of meditating on how life is meaningless and pointless (a la Ecclesiastes), we can focus on the love and goodness of God in the midst of life (also in Ecclesiastes). I also feel that it's good to remember that Sonlighters don't have their "sheltered world" rocked by accounts of sin. In fact, I know my "sheltered" homeschool experience wasn't sheltered in the way most people think.

I wonder if literature isn't the real issue here. More than the stories students read, I think it's the stories we tell ourselves that have the biggest impact. Dark literature certainly isn't helping in these cases -- making misery normative -- but there are many other places students can go to find an echo chamber of their angst. We should seek to connect with our students so we are aware of the things they are thinking about and considering.

Homeschooling lets us do that.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

P.S. As for Philippians 4:8, I got to thinking about that verse while in the bathroom back in 2008, and I wrote about it on my personal blog. I know it's not directly related to the subject matter at hand, but I don't want to use a verse like that to stop us from being lights in ever darker places as God calls us onward.


08/04/2014

Cool Science, Tree Rings, and Volcanoes

This is amazing: Scientists were befuddled by tree ring data not matching the natural cooling that follows a volcanic eruption. It turns out, in really cold years, we may not get tree rings at all. The data doesn't exist!

Tree-Rings
Missing Tree Rings

Seriously, read the whole article (it's written in a way that I was able follow most of it). This is an excellent contemporary example of how science works, and what it looks like while people try to make sense of what we observe.

Reminds me of apparent retrograde motion. Assuming the earth is the center of the universe produces very observable -- albeit incorrect -- models of how things work (check out this video and this one for a bit more). Similarly, assuming trees almost always add wood, the information we have doesn't make sense with the temperature measurements we've collected. Something strange is going on. ...or, perhaps, we've assumed the wrong things!

By stepping back and considering our limited perspective, we gain a better understanding of what's happening. And that is very, very cool. ...especially when it's paired with volcanoes and tree rings! I am so excited by this information; it reminds me yet again of how awesome life-long learning is.

I love science. I think a big part of my admiration was incubated in how I encountered science growing up.1 Science wasn't an abstract, out there, to-be-feared or dreaded topic. Instead, it was accessible, and a way to make sense of the world. Studying science and history also offered a great way to talk about interpretation, providing very real examples of what it means to get things wrong and learn from mistakes.2 When paired with history, we can see the strengths and weaknesses of science. It's a fantastic area of study with sci-fi-esque applications. Science is also all to susceptible to philosophical and political influence. Studying science as we did opened up discussion for other areas of study -- such as Scripture -- which are also colored by presuppositions. All of this nudged me toward humility and ever further study.

Okay, if you haven't yet read the original article, do so! It blew my mind and got me so excited about science yet again.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

1. If you have yet to experience Sonlight's hands-on Science programs, check out the Science Explorations which are fewer than $50 and come with a $20 Science package coupon if you order by the end of this month.

2. Here are just a handful of posts related to interpretation and scientific surprises: the discovery of a minor planet with rings (not thought to be possible), some thoughts on a comedian who thinks science is always right, my own ignorance of how planes fly, and a fun little bit about lightning.

Word of the Day
Dendrochronologists: those who study rings of trees to date past events

Brought to you by Greg Laden


08/01/2014

9-Month Financing Any Order $799

Sonlight's Full-Grade Packages qualify for fee-free 9-month Payment Plans all year long. But if you need a more customized program, that great financing option is typically only available in April.* But...

Payment_Plan_799
Place an order of $799 by August 15th and select any Payment Plan of your choice.

You've got two weeks to take advantage of this great way to make your homeschool investment more accessible!

Learn more about Sonlight's Payment Plans or go select your curriculum now!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

P.S. If you have any questions about which materials will be best for your family, please chat with a Sonlight Adivsor.

* 3-month plans are available all year long.


07/30/2014

The Best Part: Your Story

Take advantage of your opportunity to submit a photo for next year's catalog. Win the cover spot and you'll get $500 toward your next Sonlight program. With the deadline of August 12 drawing close, I asked my co-worker and fellow writer Jeanne about her favorite part of the photo contest.

"Telling people's stories," she said. "I love reading through all that content and helping share their experience in just a few sentences. It's a ton of work, but very rewarding!"

I know the feeling. As a film guy, I've put together a few video testimonials for my church. I get to record while people recount their history and then, both there and later editing the footage, hone the clip to get to the faith-building essence of what God has done in their lives. Seeing how God has been faithful, how they have grown, and where they are now is amazing. Regularly reminding ourselves of God's faithfulness is very encouraging.

How has God been faithful to you in your homeschooling? What have your loved or learned this year? How have your children grown as you've studied God's world and His will together?

Sonlight Photo Contest

Honestly, the daily grind can get to me. I can easily lose sight of what God is doing and the beauty of the work He has given me to do. Your stories of how Sonlight has blessed you and your family are a major encouragement. And taking time to remember the things that have blessed me and pushed me forward tends to brighten my mood here and now. This is something giving thanks does naturally.

You love your Kindergarten homeschool curriculum.* If you didn't, you'd have taken advantage of the Love to Learn Guarantee. Your children love learning (most subjects). You love teaching (most days). And as you look back on the previous year, you remember all the great stories you shared, the discussions you've had, the "light bulb moments" you witnessed in your children. This, with all the blessings and benefits, is why you love homeschooling. The most rewarding -- the best part -- is your story: The story of your family learning together.

So, please, collect some of those adorable and inspiring pictures you've taken with your children and share your story here.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

P.S. Rejoicing with you is one of the reasons I love Sonlight Moments. So encouraging!

* You're not doing Kindergarten? Right. Sorry about that. You love your preschool curriculum, or 3rd grade curriculum, or high school homeschool program ... wait ... I don't know what level you're doing right now. Please let me know! <smile>


07/29/2014

How Learning History Teaches Grace

History is full of violence and horror, like when Cain killed his brother or Stephen was stoned to death. Plagues and floods, fires and starvation populate the unmarked graves of time. Yet in the midst of wars and droughts and bitterness and hatred, a stronger force emerges: Grace. God's grace for Cain, Stephen's prayer for his attackers, the people who have gathered to support and protect and encourage those affected by natural disasters and human oppression.

First-Responder
First Responder

Growing up with Sonlight, I learned from first-hand accounts how grace works. Grace from God to us and God's grace given through others to those in need. The men and women we read about -- and so lived life with them -- taught me much about grace. It doesn't take long in a person's story to encounter places where they have needed God's loving-kindness and peace and joy. A few pages more and we witness opportunities to share this goodness with others, and we can learn from their choices to lavish grace or withhold it.

As you discover history together in your History, Bible, Language Arts, and Reading or Full-Grade Package, you will have many opportunities to discuss grace.

Today, I appreciated Natalie Witcher's post on fake grace, a brief quote from Paul David Tripp, and the post Why I Don't Believe in Grace Anymore (yes, that's link-bait, but the post is good).

Grace. I certainly need more of it, and I should let God's goodness to me spill out more as well.

May the grace of God be evident in your life today.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

P.S. If you have any interest in Millennials -- either because you are one or know a few -- I found an article my wife sent me on why Millennials aren't in church to be thought-provoking.


07/28/2014

Did You Use Algebra Today?

Just like the humorous image in this post, I have yet to use Algebra today. I haven't utilized polynomials, solved for a single variable, or graphed anything. But I did use Algebra the other day when I filled up my car's tank. I applied a simple equation to determine my miles per gallon: x miles / y gallons = z mpg

A week before that, I needed to calculate the percentage of conversions for a spreadsheet at work: (# of purchases / # of visits) * 100 = conversion %

Granted, outside of assisting high schoolers with homework, I haven't used an equation to find the slope of a line -- you know, y = mx + b -- since I was that age myself. But the fundamental practice of setting up an equation and keeping track of variables is useful on a monthly, if not weekly, basis. And that is one of the key elements taught in basic Algebra.

Summer is still in session for many kids. It's tempting to think that what you've learned is no longer applicable. We can wonder if there's really a point to returning to formal studies. It's not like we actually use any of this stuff!

But that's simply not true.

We may forget the details, but we retain the bedrock.

If your kids are still on break, encourage them to enjoy their vacation. But it may be helpful, every now and again, to point out the little instances where what they've learned is clearly applied in what they do.

Knowledge
Fire Hose of Knowledge

If nothing else, it's a helpful reminder to you that they are, indeed, learning.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

Word of the Day: desiccate - to dry up; dehydrate
Brought to you by What If?


07/11/2014

Taking a Break

Have you noticed how much work you to have to do to go on vacation? For me, it often feels so overwhelming, I'd rather stay home. I'm a homebody. My wife rejects my proclivity, insisting that vacations are a good and important thing. Enjoyable even!

Bah! Humbug.

Camping
Camping

My impression is that summer "vacation" is busier for families than the school year. So much happens! Is that true for your family? Busy or not, there comes a point where the weariness of play and the tedium of disarray takes it's toll. When boredom strikes, what is one to do?

Me? I'm going to try to shoot a short film for fun and spend a ton of time with my wife. So I'm not going to be around these parts for a couple weeks. If you comment on this post, I won't see it until the end of this month (which means typos will remain intact until I return). There will still be good stuff to read from the other bloggers here a couple days each week. But I'm not going to be blogging and neither will Autoblot™.

Since there will be less content here for a bit, you may run out of things to read on on the internet (especially since Facebook offers little more than the same four linkbait articles each month <sigh>). Should you find yourself pining for excellent content, fear not! I've got you covered with the amazing Other Posts of Note I've read recently. Browse these gems to convince you to click the link and skim through these great blog posts covering such diverse topics as:

Seriously, bookmark, save, keep handy the Other Posts of Note.

And enjoy to next couple weeks! I'll see you on the 28th.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad


07/09/2014

Helpful Tip: Change Your Schedule to Fit Your Family

There is so much wisdom to be gained from the collective decades of experience we homeschoolers share. This morning, Kari Patterson told us how a simple schedule-switch worked wonders for her family. Her son had not been enjoying math. She moved that subject to the afternoon -- after he'd had some time to wake up and play and eat a solid lunch -- and transformed the day.

How great is that? I'll tell you: Pretty stinkin' great!

Growing up, my mom did our Read-Alouds after lunch. If we were done with our other work before then, the rest of the day was ours. If not, we had to trudge back to the books and do work after our siblings had run off to do something fun. As a morning person, and being more than a little competitive, this worked great for me.

[Aside: In retrospect, this schedule may not have worked so well for my little brother. But he turned out okay; his biggest claim to fame, of course, starring in MathTacular.]

Luke-Justin-Castle-Audio-Tour
Us on an Audio Tour of a Castle in England some years ago

There are many reasons something may not be working in your homeschool day. It could be that your child needs a bit more time before he or she is ready for that subject. Perhaps the program itself no longer meets your student's needs (that's why I changed math programs in Junior High). Or perhaps, as Kari noted, you just need to shake up your routine a bit.

What have you done to make your homeschool day run more smoothly?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad


07/07/2014

How to Homeschool Better: Be a Team

You don't homeschool alone. I know it can feel that way. Even if your other half does some reading at bedtime, it sure can seem like you're running this ship all by your lonesome. For those of you without the present support of a spouse, I'm certain the isolation can be overwhelming.

But remember: You're homeschooling with your children. Homeschooling isn't a solo gig. It's you and your kids working together.

A recent blog post about how school leadership affects student performance got me thinking about management and us homeschoolers.

Many of my kids -- high school and college-aged people I'm blessed to know -- tell me about their jobs. When management rocks, they are on cloud nine. When management is a rock pulling them to the depths of despair, they hate going to work. Little wonder. Management has such a profound impact on morale that entire comic strips, like Dilbert, are dedicated to the office worker's plight.

So if bad principals, teachers, and managers can all severely detract from our ability to thrive, what does that tell us about homeschooling?

You matter.

You and I already know this.

But the fear, dark and foreboding, looms in the shadows: What if I'm a bad teacher, leader, parent? Doesn't this mean that I'm the one to blame if my children fail? Are my children doomed?

No. Your children will turn out fine. With Sonlight, you and your kids are guaranteed to love learning together. As Judy recently mentioned, your children can learn from you. You can homeschool successfully. And there are tremendous benefits to homeschooling, including being there to know what your kids are going through.

But, yes, like getting married and having kids, homeschooling does provide one more mirror in which you can see yourself. Your growth areas will be evident. But so will your strengths!

Your children have strengths and weaknesses as well. I really appreciated the comment about how the culture of the school is even more important for the quality of the school. If you create a homeschool experience where you can learn and grow yourself, your children will do the same. And as you work together, as a team, you can all do far better than trying to do things alone. It's like the sports analogy: This is a team event; by working together you can achieve more than your natural abilities would theoretically allow.

Soccer-Ball
Part of a Team

Your children will discover a love of learning that builds upon their natural desire to learn. You will get better at teaching and recognizing their needs. This is not a solo gig. You're there, learning right alongside your children. That is the secret to teaching subjects you don't know. Keep working together in your culture that embraces learning. You're doing great!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

P.S. Need some encouragement? Have some questions? Swing by the Sonlight Forums or chat with an Advisor. There's always room for improvement ... just one more lesson we all know from our life-long learning adventure.

P.P.S. I really like the idea of school as a team sport. You each have your role to play, your position to fill, your event to tackle. But you don't do any of it alone.


07/02/2014

Learn It Quick Schemes

I think about education now and again; I blog about it regularly for work <grin>. So when my phone rang yesterday and someone tried to sell me a "learn it quick" idea, I frowned. Something about that concept made me uneasy, and not just because it smacked of a "get rich quick" scheme.

We love the idea, right? Making a billion bucks in an afternoon doing something awesome or quickly downloading information and skills, like Trinity learning to fly a helicopter or Chuck with Kung Fu. In reality, without a special pair of sunglasses or being linked to a computer, we learn by exposure to content, practice, repetition, application, and more. That's how Nathaniel Bowditch learned several languages using nothing but an applicable dictionary and a Bible. Things have become easier since then with programs like Rosetta Stone, but we still have to put in the time and effort.

That's not to say there aren't great tips and tricks to memorizing content. Learning need not be slow and painful. But an education consists of both a broad knowledge base and mastered skills.

There are probably a bunch of ways to lay the information bedrock faster. You can get tools and technology to help learn math facts. But that's just the start. It takes practice and patience to learn to apply math principles to problems. Similarly, once I could decode words, I had a long way to go before I was literate. This applies across disciplines because education is the 3 Rs plus application.

The fact that an education takes time should not surprise us in the least.

As proponents of life-long learning and lighting a fire of interest, we know that whatever we learn today can be expanded tomorrow. We're never "done" learning. And we pray that we grow in wisdom as well, carefully using what we know to bless others.

As parents and former students, we know how easy it is to lose skills if we don't keep practicing them. With summer upon us, we benefit from considering ways to prevent summer learning loss. Learning may take effort and work, but losing knowledge and skills sure feels effortless.

The analogy that comes to mind, like an agoraphobic neighbor asking to borrow a cup of sugar yet again, is sports. I used to be a competitive swimmer. I trained hard and occasionally got in shape. I learned how to swim. But to be able to keep swimming fast and well, I needed to be in the pool for many hours every week.

Luke-Swim-Meet
About to Swim the 500 at a College Meet

I don't do that anymore as my body and swimming show.

Learning, like work or sports, requires effort. But, like a sport or job you love, it can be a joy throughout your life. I know I still love both swimming and learning.

Homeschooling is not a learn it quick scheme. As Sarah Mackenzie reminds us, homeschooling is all about relationships, and relationships just aren't efficient. Efficient or not, homeschooling produces great results. Just check out the recent Sonlight Moment Is this for real?

If that's not enough to convince you to keep doing what you're doing with Sonlight, I'll remind you of 5 reasons to waste time reading to your children.

Spend the time. Do the work. Reap the benefits.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


07/01/2014

Don't Teach Like a Girl

The negative impacts of school-based socialization have recently come to the foreground of social thought. Ironically, I don't think many people realize that socialization is the culprit. The focus is currently on our girls. In a telecommunications ad, they ask us to Inspire Her Mind while placing the blame squarely on parents. In a feminine products ad, we see that Like A Girl becomes a derogatory term sometime after age 10. Why? Where? How? <shrug> Buy tampons.

Ugh. One of the little girls right around 1:14 makes a great observation. When asked if "like a girl" was a good thing, she paused before saying, "I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing."

Exactly. Gender is just a thing. A reality. A fact. In fact, later in the video, a young woman makes the obvious point that she does things like a girl because she is a girl. But this tautology is ultimately unhelpful. We homeschoolers have already figured this out: We should teach and learn things. Period. Not like a girl or like a boy.

Schools, as Dr. Sax observes in Why Gender Matters, are notorious for reinforcing gender stereotypes and arbitrary gender roles. In fact, simply by putting the sexes in separate schools you increase the number of boys who take, say, dance and the number of girls who participate in things like chess club.

The problem, then, is not gender, but what society -- via socialization -- teaches us about gender. The problem is what I call a "socialization ill."

Gender-Roles
Opportunities

As homeschoolers, you and I have the opportunity to skip all that nonsense. We don't teach boys and girls, we teach students, our children. Knowing the differences between the genders, of course, can be instrumental in helping them achieve whatever they are called to do. That's one the reasons I love Why Gender Matters: It helps us empower our children by educating us.

As a mom, you will teach like a girl. As a guy, I'm going to teach like a boy. That means I'm going to be louder and likely thrive under a bit of pressure. We're different. But ultimately our goal shouldn't be to do something based on gender. Our goal is to follow where the Lord leads.

Please, inspire your children's minds. Continue to encourage them in their interests -- be it rocket ships like The Moehrings or pottery like Heather's daughter or astronomy and Legos like Kim's children. The first video offers a good reminder to relax a bit and let our children find joy in what interests them, not pulling them away from their passions simply because it's messy or not perfectly safe. Life is messy and everything carries a bit of danger. We know this. We see it every day in our homeschooling.

Keep doing the great things you're doing. Continue to observe your children and let them fly. And thanks to your support and encouragement, they'll feel free to pursue aerospace if they want.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

P.S. As I wrote this post, I kept thinking about how homeschooling gives students confidence. It's not exactly on point, but the theme is very similar. Homeschooling rocks.


06/30/2014

Tonight: Last Chance for a 6-Month Payment Plan

If you've been thinking about getting your curriculum, do it today. Sonlight's fee-free 6-month payment plan is only available through this evening. Stretch your homeschool investment over the next six months at no additional charge!

Here's how it works: Order the homeschool curriculum you want and pay only 25% today. Pay the other 3/4ths in three easy payments every other month. Use the handy chart and calculator on the payment plan page to see this in action. Sonlight's payment plans are straightforward and hassle-free. If you're ever not sure when your next payment is due (two months is a long time), simply log into your Sonlight account page for your complete payment plan schedule.

6-month-calendar
4 payments over 6 months

Paying for a year's worth of materials all at once can be daunting. That's why we encourage you to spread your educational investment over half a year at no additional cost.

If you want to take advantage of this opportunity but have a few questions or don't know which program will best for your family, please chat with a Sonlight Homeschool Advisor now.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

P.S. Get all the details for your payment plan here. Don't forget all the other benefits you get when you buy a curriculum package from Sonlight: Free shipping, a 1-year guarantee, 10% off other purchases, and more.

P.P.S. While the 6-month payment plan option expires tonight for orders of $399 or more, you can get your choice of payment plan year-round when you purchase a complete Full-Grade Package from Sonlight.


06/27/2014

On Being Open to Learn

I am quite convinced that what I know and believe is true. So this morning I inwardly recoiled when I read, "It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows." [Hat tip: Heather Sanders]

That's simply not true. I think I know and yet I am also totally open to learn. But if you were to read the rest of Heather's post, you'd realize that the quote above isn't completely clear. The deeper issue is pride. And you and I both know how impossible someone is who pridefully believes something.

The distinction, then, is not confidence. We can know things with certainty. The difference between one who learns and those of us who do not is openness. Are my ears and eyes closed in conceit, or am I sure enough of my position to listen and look in humility?

Let's take the example of the 2+2=5 joke. We both know the answer is four. But someone approaches us and says otherwise.

I scoff and tell them they are sorely mistaken.

You, more humble and certain of your grasp of math, instead raise an eyebrow. "How do you figure?" you ask.

"Well," this clever little urchin grins back, "2+2=5 for very large values of 2."

You chuckle, realizing this is true. By looking only at the whole number, we may overlook the decimal that brings us to five or beyond. 2.7 plus 2.7 is not four. I, too proud to admit I didn't see the turn, contest the statement, noting that significant digits were misused in this instance (which is all too true).

Too-Proud-to-Laugh
Too Proud to Laugh

Granted, a bad joke doesn't have much to do with learning. But this same split between the proud and humble works out elsewhere with more impact. You and I can both be confident that our interpretation of Scripture is correct, but am I open to hear what you have to say if I find we are in disagreement? And how many times are our differences not as drastic as they appear, resting more on different assumptions about what is significant and what is not?

We life-long learners do not fear learning. We do not stop up our ears and close our eyes. We are humble enough to consider that there is much more to learn.

But that does not require that we believe we could be wrong. We are right, what we hold to is true, but there is more to learn. We're open to more.

Or, to put it in the words of a quote I heard as a child, "The purpose of an open mind is to close it again on something true."

I am right. My opinions are well grounded in reality.

But when someone shows me a piece I have overlooked, I do my best to gladly re-anchor into a firmer position.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


06/23/2014

Why Kids Won't Learn from History Tomorrow

...because the Common Core only teaches "Social Studies." As Catherine Johnson says in her post, "there's not a single learning objective in the entire 13-year framework." In other words, it looks like the educational changes wrought by the Common Core further remove History as a subject from school.

Social-Studies
Social Studies Not History

Learning this makes me want to revisit my mom's Seven Reasons to Study History (rather than Social Studies) post. I am also reminded of how true my thoughts were when I first blogged about what Sonlight is doing because of the Common Core. We're not changing our literature-based, history-grounded homeschool curriculum because a few people in power think we should study something other than history.

Speaking of things edu-theorists have recently tried, the taxpayer-funded, computer-based, homeschool-alternative K12 is proving to be a massive disappointment. But they have used some of their $45 million to pay for lobbyists. So there's that.

It is still true: When you compare your legacy with that of what politicians are pushing on schools, you are doing great.

Keep up the good work.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

P.S. Speaking of learning from history, I found this post about the rise of Hitler and today's tensions in Iraq to be thought-provoking. There's also a lot more to read in my Other Posts of Note.


06/20/2014

Brute Memorization

Education blogger Catherine Johnson recently asked How much rote memorization do students do?

Not very much. Not much at all. Her argument, if I'm following it, is that we need more "brute" memorization than the none we push today.

[By the by, the comments as well as her post are very interesting. I often feel out of my depth when they start tossing around terms like "automaticity" and "parameters of implicit learning," but it's fascinating stuff about which I have much to learn.]

Growing up, the memorization I did was for Awana and other things I found fun (like the mustard bit from Alice in Wonderland). I did a little math drill. We ended up practicing spelling on a daily basis for a few years. Vocabulary came naturally as we read and talked and wrote. I do not recall any rote vocabulary practice until high school. And now, years later, the only words I remember from the book we memorized for the SAT are accouterments and callipygian.

So I haven't been very fond of sit-at-a-desk-memorization. I haven't found it very useful. My experience has taught me that if I need flashcards, it's probably because this is information I'll never use again after this brief period of cramming.

I crammed for my geography test to label each of the 50 States. Since passing the test, I've yet to use that information for anything. Some people enjoy memorizing geography the way I like clever phrases, but -- like the movie quotes I can recite -- such information is, from what I've observed, rarely practical.

Wall-Maps
My wall maps filled in by a few of my kids who've memorized lots of geography

The future of learning does seem to be pushing against formal memorization. And, in many cases, I can see why. As you and I know, memorization is not the same as understanding. Even so...

The more I read about memory on Catherine's blog, the clearer a slightly different picture becomes. And I think I've missed it all these years, in part, because of all the Scripture memorization I did. The other piece is the beauty of Sonlight.

First, I didn't think much of memorization because I was pretty good at it. Doing Awana helped hone my recall skills. I learned to repeat passages of the Bible to myself over and over again to create mental memory pathways (or whatever they call that). I had learned so much Scripture by heart that when it came time to regurgitate information in classes, I had the tools I needed to rock it. Honestly, for academia (and certain parts of life), this skill is huge. Practicing memorization is a good thing because it develops a skill critical to certain situations and helpful in many. If you're not sure what to have your children memorize, Scripture is a great place to start.

Second, Sonlight's curriculum naturally helped me learn/remember stuff. This literature-rich approach to learning works! It worked so well, I didn't even notice it happening. Simply by reading great books and talking about them, I was constantly asking my brain to remember the important information. As I recently learned, this is what makes testing so valuable.

All that to say, "Memorization is good. Don't fear it."
...in the same breath, "You shouldn't have to force much memorization."

Sometimes, and for some seasons, "drill and kill" is the way to go. I know it helped lay a solid foundation for me in spelling and math. But then, one year, I had to switch math programs. The old method no longer worked.

I still have much to learn about education and pedagogy. But throughout these years of reading and blogging about education, the one piece that's proven true again and again is that Sonlight is a fantastic way to learn!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


06/18/2014

Something Other than Minecraft this Summer?

Do you feel like all your child wants to do over the summer is play video games? If so, have we got a great option for you!

Reading Together
Sonlighters Katie, Lizzie, Abigail, and John enjoy a book together

But first, a sad story involving video games (skip this paragraph if you don't care about gaming)...

My friend recently got an Xbox One. I was excited to try it out with him, thinking multiplayer games must have much improved since the Nintendo Goldeneye of 1997 [if we get a chance to play together, I play Boris]. Sadly, the games of today disappointingly lack an in-console two-player option. If we each owned a $400 machine, a $50 controller, and a $60 copy of the game, we could play together over the internet. ...yeah, not happening. I am rather annoyed that the "new approach to game design" and "next-generation competitive multiplayer" means killing split screens that have been a mainstay of gaming since I was 15. <sigh> Back to summers and other compelling entertainment options since video games have taken such a massive step backward...

Give your child books to read this summer. Printed text may not have the same hypnotic lure of a glowing screen, but great stories pull in even the most dedicated of gamers. I've played many computer games, but I've also found books I couldn't put down. I really like what Kathryn shared with us on Facebook:

Thank you for introducing us to the Spy Mice series through your Summer Readers. Do you have any idea how refreshing it was to hear my son talk for 10 minutes with great animation about something other than Minecraft?!?!

As one who has listened to youngsters -- not to mention my wife -- talk in great detail about Minecraft, I can relate.

If you want your children to experience worlds beyond the screen, grab some Summer Readers and watch them find joy in great books as well.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

P.S. One more reminder: Books can be a group activity! For about $25, you can read a stack of titles to the whole family. That's way better than the overpriced gaming system my friend just bought... Order your Summer Readers today.


06/17/2014

Quick Reference: Curriculum and Learning Styles

I offer the following as a reference to help you get a quick idea of different educational approaches. I have tried to be fair and fun in my presentations.

Curriculum Styles

  • Traditional/Textbook: You just need a summary of important information. Visual (reading); auditory (lecture).
  • Unit Studies: Do a project and focused study of something. Kinesthetic (projects).
  • Literature-Based/Living Books: Read great stories and you're set. Auditory (read-alouds); visual (reading).
  • Classical Education: Why read fiction when you can read Aristotle? Visual (reading), auditory (discussion).
  • Unschooling/Relaxed Homeschooling: Kids love learning; don't try to force it. Visual, auditory, kinesthetic (depends on the kid).

Learning Styles

  • Visual: See it and you've got it.
  • Auditory: Hear it and you remember.
  • Kinesthetic: Do it and you understand.

Sonlight Curriculum

How does all this line up with Sonlight? As a literature-rich homeschool curriculum, we do a lot of reading, both on our own and out loud. But we also offer more hands-on activities in the elementary grades than most of our competitors with Core Tips and Science programs built around fun experiments.

So...

Sonlight is great for visual and auditory learners with enough kinethestic activities to engage your kids, no matter their preferred learning style.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


06/16/2014

From Luke's Inbox: How Did You Make the Disembodied Hand?

How did you make the Disembodied Hand for MathTacular4?
-Travis and Heather

If you're not familiar with MathTacular4 and the Disembodied Hand, you can catch a brief glimpse of this fun "character" at the very end of the MathTacular4 trailer:

This effect is actually a really old trick. Basically, I take a picture of the background and then cut it out and paste it over the arm I'm covering up. I talk about this in the Behind the Scenes section of the DVD starting at 4:34, if you haven't had a chance to watch that yet. I'll try to make it a little more clear here.

Disembodied-Hand1
Step 1: Take a picture of the background.

Disembodied-Hand2
Step 2: Shoot your actor in front of the background without moving the camera.

Disembodied-Hand3
Step 3: Cut out a piece of the background to cover up the actor's body.

Disembodied-Hand4
Step 4: Clean up.

You can, of course, go the other way and cut out the hand itself, but often that requires more work.

I hope that helps! If you interested in learning how to make movies and ever have any other questions, we have "Digital Flatline" on the Sonlight Student Forums. I'm there and available to help. I also run a free film school -- not at all affiliated with Sonlight -- over at Production-Now.com.

If you haven't picked up at least one of the MathTacular DVDs yet, you should. It's an entertaining and informative way to keep your kids interested in math even over the summer.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

P.S. By the way, Travis and Heather sent me physical letters in the mail. I was so excited! Please feel free to write me snail mail if you like.

P.P.S. Travis and Heather, if you happen to read this post, don't worry: I sent you a physical letter back as well <smile>.


06/13/2014

What Does It Mean to be Educated?

I recently wrote that education is more than simply taking classes and passing tests. This is frustratingly clear in things like driving tests. I took my student to try to earn her license yesterday. Unfortunately, the stress of the situation weighed heavily on her and things didn't go super smoothly. Ultimately, she was failed because she didn't realize -- in the moment -- that she could turn left on a green once traffic cleared after the turn signal.

Traffic-Light
Traffic Light

She passed the written test months ago. She's studied. We've spent hours driving around. But all that education does not make her "road ready." I need to spend more time driving with her before her driver's education is complete.

Definitions

Google the word "educated" and you'll find the definition is "having been educated." (I guess Google doesn't care that you're not supposed to define a word using said word. <sigh>) So I propose this definition: You are educated when you can use or apply your instruction/training in life and accomplish the tasks before you.

My student will have learned how to drive when she can drive safely on her own.

Given my working definition, questions of being "more" or "less" educated prove silly. Am I, a guy who writes blog posts, less educated than a woman who performs surgery? Would she be less educated than an inventor creating the next propulsion mechanism? Who is more educated: A grandmother who has seven grandchildren or a twenty-something who has taken six Master's level courses in Information Systems technology?

I'm not aware of a word to distinguish between one who has taken many classes compared to someone who has learned much through life experience. But the reality is that there is always more to learn, postdoctorate or postpartum. This life-long learning thing is a reality of our finite humanity, not just a nice phrase for educators.

Once you have developed an appetite for learning, you'll never feel "less educated." That's not a phrase you'll even consider because your focus is different: You're not done. You're always growing. I found, a few Father's Days ago, that feeling well-educated hindered me. Far better to be like my dad who -- albeit incredibly informed -- maintains an attitude of humble ignorance, always ready to take input from others.

Sitting in classes does not mean you're being educated. Passing tests says little about how much you have learned. That's not to say that classes and tests don't help (they can!), but it should be an encouraging reminder that education is much more than either. If anything, tests and classes help foster an education, they are not, themselves, an education.

Academics

Academics are important (please read that post). Academic excellence is a huge part of being educated, and it honors God. And this is where my proposed definition of education -- "being able to do what you need to do" -- falls short. A large portion of becoming educated requires us to expand beyond ourselves.

Let's say, for the sake of example, that I wanted to become the next Alton Brown. I have lots of experience with eating food and making quirky, edutaining video vignettes (such as the ever popular Discover & Do and MathTacular DVDS). I could learn how to cook more than macaroni and cheese, hone my film making skills, and eventually become a star of television culinary arts. But would I be "educated"?

In one sense, yes; I'd know quite a bit more about food preparation than I do now. But in a very real sense, no; if all I knew was film and food, I'd be missing out on much of life.

That is why Sonlight offers a more "liberal arts" approach to learning. Trade schools and interest-focused education can be great for equipping for a job or hobby, but a prevailing schooling experience should provide a far broader perspective.

  1. The more you learn, the more you can learn. I've been told that acquiring multiple foreign languages allows you to think better and learn other languages more quickly. But I don't have to speak Latin or Spanish to see this in my own life. When I learn a new English word, suddenly I recognize it everywhere. My increased knowledge enables me to take part in that information rather than letting it circumvent me.
  2. Reality interconnects. Focusing overmuch on one subject disconnects it from the wider world. A liberal arts education allows us to make connections across the broad spectrum of disciplines and human knowledge.
  3. You can discover new interests. The broader our experience, the more opportunities lie before us. If I had never been exposed to woodworking and Legos, I wouldn't have realized that I enjoyed building things. Give your kids many chances to find their passions.
  4. You use everything you learn. It's true.

To be educated, then, means that you can do what you need to do and have a broad foundation upon which you can grow.

Outcomes

A truly great education does more than just set you up for both the present and the future. A well-educated person has been given a hunger to learn more. Thus, a huge part of any education should be the art of learning how to learn. You and I, and your children, will never know everything.

A great education is only the beginning of an education.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

P.S. Do you want to instill a life-long love of learning into your children? Sonlight's homeschool curriculum is guaranteed to help you love to teach and your children love to learn. And given everything we've just discussed about what it means to be educated, this is the curriculum for you.

P.P.S. Okay, maybe not. Sonlight is not for everyone. If you haven't at least glanced over the 27 Reasons NOT to Buy Sonlight, please do. I want you to love your homeschooling experience more than I want to sell you curriculum. Of course, with our 1-year money-back guarantee, I think you'll quickly see for yourself that Sonlight provides exceptional outcomes.


06/11/2014

From Luke's Inbox: What About AP Classes?

What do you think about the push for dual credit and AP classes? We sometimes feel we are behind since we aren't in that super competitive circle. And yet, I feel our more peaceful approach has not left us any less educated than our stressed and pressed for time peers.

It is nice to get college credit before going to college where credits become expensive. But it's very easy to make that overkill. Far better to love learning and continue to lay a foundation for a life of further education. You are absolutely right: Education is more than simply taking classes and passing tests.

High-School-Choices
Which Is Right?

Having said that, I do want to give a big nod to Ken Chapman's series Why Skip High School. That was not at all my path, but having seen the careful planning and great results, I think this idea makes a ton of sense if you want to pursue that. I loved and hated my high school years; a community college campus is likely more mature than a bunch of high schoolers (not surprising at all). Opting to dual enroll in homeschooling and a local college may be much better for your student than a local high school experience. Notice that their goal was not to have young college graduates and add stress, but to spare students four wasted years in a cruel and stupid world.

I took a far more traditional route, transitioning from homeschool to high school. I took two AP classes (Economics and Psychology) and a math class that also earned me college credit (dual credit). I needed Psych and Math for my degree, so I was able to skip both at Biola. Economics came over as an elective. This freed up my college schedule a bit so I had more options and flexibility, which was nice. This fit with my schedule and allowed me to enjoy certain topics at more depth, but I never felt pressure to cram in AP credits.

Some of the kids I know today, however, take, like, five AP classes a semester. They are stressed to the max and do not enjoy their studies. Plus, despite all this effort, they've had to take many classes all over again in college. More beneficial would be to slow down and really learn the content, such that you could take a random Psychology test at a University for fun and do just fine (that's a testament to how great my high school Psych class was).

If an AP or college credit course looks appealing to your student, go for it. If skipping four years of bland social interaction seems like a much better use of your student's time, do it. And if taking these four years to learn and grow at a peaceful pace would be more beneficial, do that.

We definitely do not need more pressure on our kids. Take opportunities that make sense, and be free from any guilt for those things that don't fit.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

P.S. On Friday, I plan to dig a little deeper into the idea of what it means to be educated. I think it is important to flesh out why a more peaceful approach to learning may not leave you "less educated" than those taking tons of classes.


06/09/2014

When to Stay Within the Lines

My wife has been helping a family at church by watching their not-yet-two-year-old. She's a cute kid with a giant impish grin and a vocabulary that's growing beyond "car" and "motorcycle" (her dad's a mechanic and loves cars, so she does too). Last Thursday, after getting home from work, she's outside with my wife drawing on the driveway with chalk. Suddenly I'm the person to color with and she asks me draw a heart.

I do.

She colors it the way toddlers without fine motor control do: Three lines that radiate from the center and spill out into the wider world. And, like all youngsters, she loses all interest for a moment to go wander over to the car before returning, chalk smudges decorating her shirt and next to her nose where it itched.

Chalk-Heart
Coloring in the Heart

In art and creativity, I see no reason to stay within the lines (unless, like me, you prefer that). But boundaries are important, even -- especially? -- for a 2-year-old. I talk about looking both ways before crossing the street and remind her that she needs to eat her snack at the table.

Many lines are dangerous to cross. I regularly remind the student I'm teaching to drive to "stay in your lane." She doesn't like it when I yell at her to slow down around turns; frankly, I don't like when I feel the need either. I'm still trying to figure out how to get her to recognize that the brakes are her friend.

Moral lines are even harder to help people recognize. At Movie Night on Saturday one of "my kids" told me about her out of state boyfriend's visit. I guess they had decided, in his hotel room, that they would move in together when he moved out our way. "We've been together for a year. I think that's a reasonable amount of time. You know," she told me, with all the wisdom of someone not yet 19, "some people really love each other but then discover they simply can't stand living together." This is a girl who goes to church.

How did we get here? When did morality become like lines of chalk to color in instead of guidelines to keep you safe?

I don't know. I'm not sure how this generation drifted into this view of reality. But it's dangerous, like not bothering to check for cars before stepping into the road. I very much appreciate Kate's reminder:

Even as [our children] get older, we have to remember that it's our job to set their boundaries. We can give them some leeway but if they can't handle that much responsibility, it's time to rein them in. At the end of the day, we are in charge.

Boundaries. That word continues to be the very thing that seems to define this next generation by their lack of them.

A video linked from the BibleMesh blog reminded me that moral decline happens when people no longer voluntarily follow the law. I blogged about Vishal Mangalwadi's observations on this in my post on our growing culture of theft. (My mom gave a great overview of Mangalwadi's thesis of our culture's Christian roots.) I don't like doom and gloom projections or fear mongering of the faithful. But I do want to encourage you as you raise up the next generation: Teach them to stay within the lines, why it's important, and how to tell the difference between preference and responsibility, chalk and street lanes.

If that needs to start with a simple reminder that naps are important, so be it. As homeschoolers, we have the opportunity to demonstrate these realities and offer grace day in and day out. Take advantage of that blessing!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


06/06/2014

Why It's Okay More Homeschoolers Are Behind in School

A recent study shows that homeschoolers were [at least] twice as likely to report being behind grade level than non-homeschoolers. Statistically, then, as homeschoolers, we're two to three times more likely to be behind than our publicly educated peers.

What!?

Bear with me a moment because even with these numbers mocking us, I firmly believe you made a good choice to homeschool.

Why is it okay for homeschoolers to be behind in school?

  1. Schools are strange about grade level. As Sir Ken Robinson points out, we group children by year of manufacture, which is a poor way of doing so. And I'm not really sure how we can claim that so many kids are "on level" when a local school here can fail to teach 84% of 10th graders math. I wouldn't be surprised at all if homeschooled kids had a more robust standard of what it means to be "on level." But even if that isn't the case...
  2. Some homeschoolers start because the other systems failed them. I doubt it's 14% of homeschoolers, but could it be 7%? If so, homeschoolers are right on target and only appear worse off because homeschooling is the only option left. I know some families homeschool because of special needs; of course, I also know homeschoolers who have special needs children in school for the support they receive, so this could be a wash. I don't know, and it doesn't sound like we have enough information to make any kind of statements. So what else is there?
  3. Being on grade isn't our focus. We both know that homeschoolers have strange priorities. One of the differences is that we are a little more comfortable with letting kids learn at their own pace. This is especially true in the younger years. I was way behind in reading for years. Homeschooling let me grow at my own pace. And today, part of how I earn my living is by writing. So being behind just isn't a disastrous thing for us. We don't get government funding based on how well we can shoehorn kids into batches. We focus on the student.
  4. Final outcome is what matters, not the moment of observation. So what if I was behind a few grades in reading? By letting me slip behind, my parents let me excel. And today, after doing just fine transitioning to public school from homeschooling, the fact that I was not on grade level in reading at one point doesn't matter. But there's one more point I'd like to drive home...
  5. Your student is more important than the system. As homeschoolers, you and I get that. We're homeschooling for our kids. And the study in question demonstrates that religious and structured homeschoolers do great. Sure, we may not always be on level -- we may be well ahead for all the data show -- but, in the end, we have had great opportunities to be equipped to do whatever God has called us to do. And we have developed a life-long love of learning while homeschooling with a curriculum we love.

Left-Behind
Left Behind?

So, sure, we homeschoolers may, statistically, be more likely to be behind than their peers.

That's fine. There are more important things for us than that.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


06/04/2014

Privacy Problems with Public Testing

Historically, we do not like it when people mandate things for us without our of feedback. "Taxation without representation" rallied us to break into our own nation. And every now and again I read about something in schools that makes me wonder how close to revolt teachers are. I know many are not happy with the directives coming down from the powers that be.

For example, who thought weighing kids and tracking their BMI was a good idea? I mean, being healthy is good, but would a letter home help ... especially if teachers are required to parent as well? I don't see this benefiting anyone. By making this information public -- in the form of a stickered envelope -- policymakers draw needless attention to kids dealing with a sensitive subject.

And this amassing and publication of personal information is yet another reason to distrust the push for ever more testing. It's something I had not considered (and I hope it does not become a reality), but Brian Polet brought privacy concerns to light in his resignation letter:

More disturbing to me is the inability to guarantee the data privacy of our students. [C]orporate vultures, marketers, and political interest groups [could use a child's data] in a malevolent way. Equally troubling is the ability for educational personnel to manipulate tests and assessments to move any student into certain fields or vocations and to modify behavior without consent or knowledge of the parent.

It is not clear to me how this relates specifically to the Common Core, but the wider issue of public testing is that the data is now available. Those who can gain access are able to use that information to dictate opportunities for students. And seeing how powerful data manipulation can be -- such as the guy who "hacked" OkCupid to get way more dates than anyone else -- coupled with the impact of telling a teacher a student is gifted and the opposite impact of telling a child the same, there are so many opportunities for this information to be misapplied ... even with perfectly pure motives.

Student-Futures
Scores Do Not Determine Personal Outcome

I know there are teachers who work to teach individuals, not classes. I know there are educators who care much more about learning than test results. But the machine is powerful and locking itself in. How much more will be imposed on teachers by those not in the classroom?

Sobering thoughts as we look toward the future. As people deeply interested in education -- not just for our own children -- please pray for those making decisions that they would have wisdom and discernment with how they collect information, apply test results, and direct the future of public academia.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

P.S. From the sounds of it, as I look through my recent Other Posts of Note, the Common Core is helping in some districts. If your local schools need improvement, raising the bar may actually move things forward. But I would like to remind you that your Sonlight legacy proves your success and there is no reason to tweak Sonlight try to to match the Common Core.


06/02/2014

On Controversies and Learning

I have friends and family who range from self-proclaimed anarchists to political activists working on healthcare reform. Like all Sonlighters, I have a strong desire to learn both sides of an argument. Too often, however, discussion becomes something else entirely. At that point, learning becomes less possible. I find John Newton's observations about controversy prove true:

Controversies ... provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify. I hope your performance will savor of a spirit of true humility, and be a means of promoting it in others.

A friend of a friend was over. He, after "relaxing" by smoking some weed, wanted to talk politics. Knowing he pushed hard left, I decided to lean a little further right than normal. I like testing how much -- or little -- I know when I get to talk to someone who knows much more than me.

"What are taxes?" he asked, using it, I'm sure, as a barometer of how informed I was.

Not much informed, I offered, "The act of forcibly taking property from citizens."

He looked at me like I was an idiot and then proceeded to say something much to that effect.

"How would you define taxes, then?" I asked, very interested in his position. Not feeling any need to hold to my hastily constructed definition, I really wanted to uncover a nuance to public policy I had not yet encountered.

He hemmed and hawed. I pushed. He pirouetted a few more times, slinging belittling comments in my direction.

"You can keep insulting me if you like, or we can actually talk about the ideas," I finally said in frustration.

Still unwilling to be succinct, I finally got the impression he felt taxes were some kind of group contribution effort toward the "common good." Whatever that meant. He also tried to use Rome as an example of a good historical basis of taxation, which was ironic to me with the absurdly high rate of slavery and the fact that citizens of Rome were exempt from (all/many/some?) taxes. He told me I must be horribly misinformed. I checked Wikipedia after he left, just to make sure my Biblical knowledge was corroborated by at least one internet source (which cites a Catholic site).

With this experience still rather fresh in my mind, I immediately clicked a link a coworker sent me titled The best way to win an argument. The short version: Ask people to explain what they mean and how their position works in detail. I've encountered this in the past, such as the time I asked someone a simple question about evolution that completely changed the tone of the conversation. I feel that my conversation on taxes fits well with the observation that

it only takes the first moments when you start to rehearse what you'll say to explain a topic, or worse, the first student question, for you to realize that you don't truly understand it. All over the world, teachers say to each other "I didn't really understand this until I had to teach it."

This is why I love conversations -- even with people who disagree with me. First, and foremost, I get a chance to test my own knowledge and refine my understanding. Second, I get to challenge someone else to defend their position (as I challenge myself). Third, my hope is that this exercise helps us both understand the world a little better.

That's what you do every day you teach your children or answer a question. You get to learn right along side your children. And by teaching, you're likely learning this material better than you did the first time around. The more your children ask, "Why?" ... the more you'll discover how much more you have the opportunity to learn yourself.

But-Why
Ok ... but why?

And as you tackle multiple views on various topics -- with the help of your Instructor's Guide -- I believe you will discover that you can better explain the hows and whys of your position. This can be very edifying personally, even if you never have to try to convince someone else to see things your way.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


05/28/2014

The History of Literature

...in one graphic

Grant Snider has summed up Conflict in Literature in a delightful comic:

Grant Snider, Conflict in Literature

Hat Tip
Lisa

Three of my favorite books presented themselves, one for each era:

  1. Classical - Till We Have Faces (Man vs God)
  2. Modern - The Gammage Cup (Man vs Society)
  3. Postmodern - A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears (Man vs Author)

The more I contemplate this breakdown of human thought and experience, the more insightful the simplicity becomes. We can see history itself unfolding.

When we live alone with our families on our farms, we face the encroachment of nature back into a our clearings. When we band together into groups, we must address the tensions created by different perspectives, expectations, and expressions. And today, isolated in our techno-bubbles, we experience a loss of control as we trade it for convenience.

Similarly, the shift upward in Maslow's Hierarchy as we create comfortable lives for ourselves leads us away from conflicts with individuals, through self-doubt, to broader questions of truth (what is murder? what is marriage?).

The third section is very intriguing to me. We've exchanged one all-powerful Entity for another, swapping God for our creative selves after giving up the empty exploration of a world without purpose (The Sun Also Rises, I'm looking at you). I very much enjoy the playfulness of authors and characters interacting, and I wonder if that will lead us to new ways of understanding how God connects with us today.

We can learn a lot from literature (we have an entire homeschool curriculum built around that very idea). I was pleasantly encouraged to see the wheel of history turning behind the broader themes we humans wrestle with in our stories.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


05/23/2014

As Moms, Encourage One Another

I've spent the last day or so trying to find a way to better recommend Brianna's Being a Mom post. Trouble is, I'm not a mom. I don't have children. No one asks me about my kids. My neighbors may wonder why there are 62 cars parked in front of my house every day, but they don't ask. They may not even notice the constant stream of teens and young adults coming and going at any point from 6 to 2am. And if the people in the houses next to me don't notice, how am I going to get you to click here and read this post?

You may have lots of experience with people commenting on your progeny. I don't.

Have you had people compliment your children for their behavior? Has anyone rudely asked, after seeing your gaggle of kids, if you know what makes babies? Do strangers question why your students aren't in school? Have you ever had to field a question about socialization? Have you ever felt the embarrassment of someone saying they could never do what you do? If so, please take a moment and read Brianna's observation about what's really happening at the store, in the parking lot, and during trips to the park.

Grocery-Moms
Moms Grocery Shopping

As homeschoolers, we're a bit abnormal; at minimum, we're the minority. But for all the bravado and blessing of walking this path, we're still human. We wonder -- along with 1,400,000,000 results on Google -- if what we are experiencing as people is normal. So as awkward as these moments are, they are opportunities to talk with other mothers about what it's like to be a mom.

And those conversations are good and encouraging. ...much like Brianna's post.

If you're still reading and have yet to click over to the blog, I don't know what else to tell you. You're missing out. Do it. Take your mouse (or your finger if you're on a tablet thingy) and click here.

Thanks!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

P.S. If you've made it all the way to this point in the post, thanks for reading! I hope you have a fantastic weekend. Sonlight will be closed on Monday in observance of Memorial Day. Sonlight.com should still be totally functional should you want to explore some Summer Readers or browse homeschool curriculum for next year. I'll see you again later next week.


05/21/2014

My Sheltered Homeschool Experience

There are two ends of the shelter spectrum. I'll call them the "straitjacket" and the "sea-breeze" philosophies.

The one pop-culturally associated with homeschoolers is oppressive, binding, restrictive -- like a straitjacket to your soul. These are people who hole up in their ideological bunkers to hide away from the evil, scary, dangerous, polluted world. Sin, like nuclear fallout, will destroy them if they go outside. So they stay safely locked up, away from the radiation and draw of the wider world.

Parents who embrace this ideal will find their efforts thwarted. Children raised in extremely partisan households tend to rebel against their upbringing. Princess Leia said it well to Governor Tarkin, "The more you tighten your grip ... the more star systems will slip through your fingers." Indeed, I believe we need to relax more, like an archer. Looking to modify behavior -- over walking with our kids toward Christ -- leads us to lose our joy in parenting and can quickly provoke children to anger. Stop it. It's bad for you. It's bad for your kids.

I had a rather sheltered homeschool experience. But it was nothing like what I just described. Instead, my childhood was like a day at the beach, sun, shells, bikinis, beach balls, and all. Sure, I got sand in my shorts. Sometimes I got burned. The air was occasionally fishy. My parents let me practically and metaphorically dig moats, fly kites, talk to people, explore, run, play, discover. We were comfortable with questions. The world was open to me, and I was encouraged to interact with it and exhibit God's love and grace to any and all whom I met along the way.

The sheltering I had, then, was a shaded awning, like something made from bamboo and dried palm fronds. The sea-breeze could flow in with the sights and sounds of life. I could go out and come back. I had a safe place to be, protected from rain and cold. I was not tossed alone into the world. I was sheltered, covered, protected ... and free.

Again and again, I discover that life does not rock a Sonlighter's sheltered world. That can't happen. Because as we read our Bibles and biographies, we encounter complex characters and situations. We learn about life. The waves roll in and ruin our empires of dirt. Like anyone, we can be disheartened and disillusioned. But we're not huddled in a concrete box praying nothing gets in. We are standing on the shore, looking out.

Beach-Shelter
Sheltered.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


05/19/2014

You Are Raising a Person

You homeschool. That's great. Homeschooling is a good option with at least 22 blog posts worth of benefits. I wonder if we sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture, though. We love homeschooling, not so much because homeschooling is this magical, fairy tale bliss of perfection but because homeschooling allows us to raise our children well.

From this larger perspective, you're not homeschooling. You are raising a person. Homeschooling is "merely" one of the parts of that. It's a significant part that takes up a good chunk of your day. But let us peek over the daily churn and remind ourselves that there is a reason we do this. We are raising adults and then letting go.

When I feel a need to defend homeschooling, it's typically because I feel someone is implying that homeschooling is bad. It's not. Homeschooling is good. It's worth the effort. Kids can thrive in it.

growth
Growth

But let's not push too far the other way. The benefits and beauty of homeschooling do not require that all other systems be destructive and ugly. We need not bully our way to feeling better. Let us focus on the positives of homeschooling. All we need to do is look at our children and see the growth homeschooling has allowed them to experience.

As we watch our children grow into the men and women they are to become, we clearly see that they are people. And as people, they have strengths and weaknesses. These are not due to homeschooling or public schools, but because each one is a person.

It is no surprise to me, then, to find more research that demonstrates that homeschoolers turn out to be normal college students. Some are brilliant minds who graduate at age 6 and go on to revolutionize the medical world. Others are more like me, happily married, working, and doing what I can to help raise the next generation. And still others follow their own path, wherever God leads them.

You are raising a person. Homeschooling doesn't change that; homeschooling doesn't allow you to control your child or dictate the future.

By homeschooling, however, you are able to spend time with your student, watch your child grow, focus on strengths and tweak for struggles, demonstrate your values and beliefs, and use a homeschool curriculum that allows you to love learning together.

You are raising a person. That's not easy. It's a long process. All more reason to choose an approach to education that you both love.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


05/16/2014

Making Babies is a Good Thing!

I learned yesterday that one of my co-workers used to be a body builder. Now she's pregnant with her second; the joke is that she's a different kind of body builder today. <grin> Lame pun aside, I like the sentiment.

See, my wife and I have not -- as of yet -- been able to make babies. You can read a little more about that in my brief bio. [Being on the non-fertile side of things has been hard (harder for my wife), but God has been very good to us in bringing us dozens of kids we get to part-time parent, in a way.] I'm probably overly sensitive to the pro-baby paradigm because of our non-baby experience.

I really loved Brianna's post Sex Without the Babies. Making babies is a good thing! It's a beautiful gift. We wouldn't have had our recent Mother's Day without it. We wouldn't have us without it.

I think I'm also sensitive to this topic because of "our kids" -- high school and college-aged students who come over to hang out -- who are, themselves, mired in today's boundary-free milieu. For them, sex and babies are two totally different topics, so a video about how to have "sex without babies" fits perfectly with the worldview around them. There is an excellent blog post -- which I can't find now -- that points out that we have separated marriage and sex because we no longer link sex and babies (one of the most powerful things about marriage being raising children). And yet, for as disconnected as the ideas of sex and babies are today, I heard that 40% of women who find themselves in a crisis pregnancy are on birth control.

Forty percent. Almost half.

Making babies is a good thing, but it's difficult when you believe that sex and babies do not go together. That's a cultural idea that just so happens to be wrong.

May you enjoy your children today! May this weekend, through all the ups and downs, be filled with joy as you parent your offspring and raise up the next generation. Thank you for what you do. And may you find freedom, dignity, and beauty in your gift of making babies.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


05/14/2014

Learning from Someone's Personal Story

A bunch of very interesting Other Posts of Note have cropped up recently. Brian's How to Get Eternal Life, Amber's So she hired a hit man?, and most recently Kara's thoughts on Heaven is for Real. This last post contains a very astute observation:

Any time we begin to focus on someone's subjective experience, we run the risk of elevating it above what God has revealed to us in Scripture, whether consciously or not.

This statement immediately reminded me of my post about building theology through books that I wrote over four years ago. Christian biographies have shaped my theology more than anything else. So am I allowing someone else's personal experience to trump Scripture?

No. Or, at the very least, I certainly hope not! Scripture itself contains biographies of some of the greatest Christians (and villains) of history. The Bible is the foundation from which we build. What we see and hear from others must align with the living and active Word of God. We grow spiritually as we experience following Christ. And I firmly believe that a global perspective helps us see more clearly.

Sunset
Sunset (I don't have a picture of Heaven, but I did have this one on my phone)

The more I learn about the Bible, the more I love it and the One whom Scripture is about. And blog posts that help me mine more from Christ's encounter with the rich young man and Samson's life are excellent reminders that there is more learn as I study and connect with fellow believers.

Please, don't ever put a personal story over Scripture. But for the areas where the Bible is quiet, I find I learn much from others who have gone before me.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

P.S. I don't feel like I can plug Other Posts of Note enough. You write such fascinating, amazing, funny stuff, I just have to share it!


05/12/2014

Euphoric Melancholy

I saw a bunch of posts over the weekend that mentioned -- in one way or another -- how hard Mother's Day can be. You may have lost your mother, or had a bad relationship with your mom, or feel your own inadequacies as a mother, or have not been able to become a mother, or any number of other issues. The pain is real.

My wife had a good Mother's Day: Chocolates from me, chocolates from church, dinner from our German, a very nice note from one of "our kids," and a homemade cake from another. It was all very sweet and uplifting. But we also can't escape the loss. Having no biological children of our own and an adoption that fell through, there is melancholy even in the euphoria. And as the chocolates disappear and cake gets eaten, the ache lingers on and eats away at us.

I don't know what you're going through. I hope you had a great Mother's Day yourself. But today could easily have been rough. Screaming babies? Needy children? Grumpy kids? Students who somehow forgot seven year's of learning in the last 72 hours? A short temper? An argument with your spouse? A new financial strain that came out of nowhere?

And suddenly all the joy of yesterday becomes a new source of discouragement.

Celebrations can be like the drawer of awards I kept in my desk. On one hand, looking back at the certificates and ribbons and signed cards was a beautiful reminder. On the other hand, it was all in the past, new challenges were before me, and it was very clear how much further I had to grow.

I remember driving home from an awards banquet sometime back in high school. I was happy to remember my accomplishments; I still felt the warm glow of camaraderie and the payoff of hard work. But that moment was over. Tears sprang to my eyes as I looked toward the future. I wasn't scared or worried or disappointed. I was just sad. I was a little discouraged. And for some reason, I felt a little beaten down.

High-School-Swim-Award
Accepting a Swimming Award

As we push toward the end of the school year, this time can also feel a little overwhelming.

Perhaps it'd be good to review some of Jill's tips for overcoming the winter slump. Despite the snow outside my window, it's no longer winter. I know that. But I know I often need encouragement as I approach the end of a project.

May you find encouragement today, even if it's been a hard day.

And may the joy of the Lord be your strength.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


05/09/2014

New Summer Readers!

Summer Readers 2014

Click here to get the new Summer Readers from Sonlight. Not only are these book sets competitively priced, you also get free shipping on every order of $25 or more (to the "lower 48"). If you've purchased a Core in the last 12 months, you automatically get upgraded to free FedEx shipping as part of your club benefits!

This year we're offering new Elementary, Middle School, and High School packages for both your boys and girls. And if you missed one of our reader sets from prior years, you can stock up on even more high quality entertainment your children will be able to revisit again and again.

Grab your Summer Readers now.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


05/07/2014

Why So Serious? Finding Joy in Homeschooling

It's Sunday morning after second service. Most people have filtered out of the building. A few groups still chat together in your foyer. Little kids are running around, as usual. Their happy shrieks punctuate the air like smiley faces dotting the page of a girl's notebook. Few notice. Those who do only turn to grin as the tumbleweeds of energy bounce off their legs and continue on their random trajectory.

A mother calls after one of her fleeing children. She's exasperated, exhausted, sharp. "Stop!" Church is no place to run, she informs her child.

As she shoos her offspring out the door, my smile has faded.

Silly-Nephew
One of My Nephews Being Silly (taken years ago)

Stress is always ready to tackle me to the ground. It shows up most often when I'm thinking about our budget or working on a media project. There's so much at stake in these things! I find similar anxieties when it comes to teaching kids (be it behavior, tying shoes, or Latin). I don't want my kids to appear behind, uneducated, uncouth. And I know I don't want to seem like a bad teacher or parent!

So I raise my voice, loose my cool, reprimand. I seek ways to modify behavior, keep kids in line, and keep them on task. And in so doing, I miss out on the joy of kids. I also miss out on the joy of making movies or seeing God's provision. My focus is on me (how I appear, how I'm doing, how my kids/projects are turning out) instead of on God's goodness to me in providing opportunities to do good stuff and see God's grace in my life. Add the exhaustion and frustration of parenting and it's somewhat remarkable how many parents hold it together in church.

But I want more for us, for you, for me.

I want to find joy in what is before me. The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10), and I forget that most often when I am feeling weak. Interesting, is it not, that the passage about joy in the Lord comes directly after Israel has rediscovered just how much they have failed to follow God? What a beautiful response to seeing our own shortcomings: "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."

Find joy. Have fun.

Cindy has a fascinating post that contrasts the somber face of the "purity movement" vs the joyful silliness of parenting. And while I want the young men and women I know to honor God with their decisions, I want them to rest in the God's strength to make hard choices, not out of a sense of burden should they fail. May we keep our eyes focused on Christ.

By relaxing just a bit, I find I am more able to accomplish the good, important, meaningful things God has called me to do. May you find joy in homeschooling and everything else God has enabled you to do.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

P.S. If homeschooling has become a burden to you, remember that you do not need to use your curriculum "as is." You also don't have to finish school in 36 weeks. If you're having a bad homeschool day, remember that His mercy is new every morning (Lamentations 3:23) and available to you right now.


05/06/2014

Six Things to Try This Summer

She's "graduating" from middle school this year. She was in my Sunday School class not that many years ago. I must be getting older because she seems way too young to be in high school. But this school year is wrapping up -- 17 days, she tells me, a day earlier than the non-graduates.

Summer is coming. Colorado's temperamental weather whips back and forth as usual, like a teenager learning to drive a stick shift.

You're busy finishing up school. You'll probably find yourself pulled in even more directions once your kids are on break. If you find your children looking for something to do over the summer, consider having them try one (or more) of the following:

Summer-Activities
Summer Activities

  1. Coding - more and more opportunities exist in the digital world. Computer games now compete with blockbuster films in entertainment. Websites power the economy. Apps have transformed our phones from long-distance communication tools to digital assistants, cameras, web browsers, and more. So if your child feels bored in the midst of all this technology, perhaps it's time to try programming. You can get a focused homeschool computer programming course for web or apps or games, or you could start smaller with a free introduction like Codecademy. It's easy to get started, and the opportunities are virtually limitless.
  2. Playing - it could be time to pick up an instrument or sport. Sonlight offers some piano resources, but there are many other musical options out there (guitar is popular; I played trumpet). Learn more about the benefits of playing music. Local club teams provide opportunity to try out a new sport. Sports have numerous benefits. Plus, if you find one you like, they are a ton of fun!
  3. Writing - when my wife and I tried NaNoWriMo two years ago, my wife discovered she loves writing. Well, sometimes she hates it because her skill doesn't yet match her vision, but she's developed a lasting interest in writing. Writing is free, can be done anywhere, and is a great way to build communication and storytelling skills. When bored, try writing.
  4. Experiments - do you have Science Activities you never got to during the school year? Did you use something other than Sonlight's hands-on Science programs? Then give the Explorations in Science packs a try.
  5. Movie Making - almost every phone is now a video camera and every computer comes with free editing software. There has never been a better time to learn how to make movies.
  6. Helping - getting a job is nice, but not always practical for an eight year old. Volunteer at a local center or church or agency. The experience will not only look good on a resume, but it also gives students an opportunity to put their skills into practice, develop new abilities, and live out their growing faith in practical ways.

Before you sign up for anything, I highly recommend you review the seven questions to ask when choosing an extra-curricular activity. You certainly don't need one more burden in your life. But summer offers many opportunities for things your family can try this summer.

What is your family looking forward to doing? Do you school year-round? Have a trip planned? Get involved in something else? What do you recommend as a great summer activity for kids?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


05/05/2014

Finding the Inspiration that Drives Us

Homeschooling built on great stories ignites the imagination. There is no need to fruitlessly wait for inspiration, this is the spark you find. With these ideas burning in your chest, you tend to be more expressive, boundlessly creative, alight with passion for the possible. I think you see it in your kids.

Pinewood-Truck
My First Pinewood Derby Car

As a blogger, I find myself grasping for blogable ideas. But I stumble upon these parched wastelands only when I haven't read anything fascinating recently, or had an interesting discussion, or learned a mind-blowing new tidbit about the world. Give me a glimpse of humanity through the retelling of a event and my mind is fertile. It is only when I claw my way through the humdrum of daily subsistence -- buried beneath an avalanche of laundry, a hailstorm of dishes, the doldrums of a dozen other daily tasks -- that the will to push myself flags. Share something amazing and my drive returns.

I was a creative kid. Not every day, mind you, but often. More often than not. Growing up with such role models as diverse as Horton and Mr. Bowditch, Homer Price and Robert Fulton, Praiseworthy and Milo, how could I not want not change the world for the good? And following in the footsteps of Gladys Aylward, Mother Theresa, and Joanne Shetler, it's easy to find motivation.

Homeschoolers are known for their expressiveness and creative play. I think that inspiration comes from the material we encounter in our homeschool curriculum every single day.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


05/02/2014

Learning While Ill

Do you remember going to school while feeling sick? Wasn't that miserable?

Unfortunately, my student woke up coughing this morning. My wife reviewed the school's guidelines. Without a doctor's note, every student is required to show up. Gone are the days when my parents could simply call up and tell them I wasn't coming.

So to school she went.

My wife muttered something about letting the nurse send her home.

Runny-Nose
Runny Nose

See, in the school system, the only way to learn is by having your rear in your seat during class. "Every student needs to come to every class every day," the Superintendent told us at orientation. "If you're not in class, how are you going to learn?"

It was a rhetorical question then. The absurdity of the assumption clicked into focus as I watched my high schooler shuffle into the building. It is true, for her to learn anything in class she must be in class. But there are a great many more ways for her to learn that do not involved meeting attendance requirements. 'In fact,' I told myself as I adjusted the mirrors back to my specifications, 'she's learning how to drive... with me, outside of a classroom.'

And that's not even the best example.

Some of her teachers are failing to make sense to her. So she finds different instructors to sit down with and learn. Thankfully she has some excellent teachers who are willing to fill in the gaps left by some of their coworkers.

How are you going to learn if you're not in class? By reading, studying, and asking for instruction. Lectures are hardly the only way to master knowledge.

With homeschooling, it's possible to stay in bed while sick. Your child can still pick up books and read, or listen while you read. Learning doesn't have to stop because your student is ill. The classroom mindset forces your student to fit the system. Homeschooling is a system that is built to fit your student.

And that is better.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

P.S. Fed up with your current schooling method? Thinking of checking out Sonlight? Request a Catalog and learn more about a flexible, literature-rich approach to learning.


04/30/2014

Order Tonight, Get 9-month Financing Free

Ready to get your homeschool curriculum? Now is the time to do so! Stretch your investment over the next 9-months at no additional cost. Just be sure to order today (April 30).

How do you get free financing for your homeschool curriculum through Sonlight?

  1. Order at least $399 with your Debit/Credit Card
  2. Choose the 9-month Time Payment plan at checkout (by April 30)
  3. Pay 25% now; pay the rest in three installments every three months

Learn more about Sonlight's fee-free Time Payment Plans.

Buying a year's worth of books for your family is a huge investment in their future, but it also costs money. Sonlight's Payment Plans make it easier to fit excellent homeschool curriculum into your family budget. And with every History, Bible, Language Arts, Reading Core package or Full-Grade Package you also get great Club Benefits like free shipping and a 1-year guarantee.

Invest-in-the-Future
Invest in the Future

Take advantage of Sonlight's free financing options. Order your curriculum today!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


04/29/2014

Violent, Imperfect, and Redemptive

I think I saw the question on Facebook shared by one of my irreligious friends. "Why do Christians wear torture devices around their necks?"

Why? Because the cross symbolizes Christ's death and resurrection, our freedom from sin and our connection with God. The cross, for Christians, has shed its historical form and come to mean salvation. It's simple, beautiful, and full of depth that does -- even now -- echo of pain and suffering and the brutal effects of sin. The cross is a picture of redemption where God takes what man meant for evil and turns it into good.

Cross
Cross

I'm still thinking about Easter. (I'm not the only blogger, which is nice.) And what struck me this year is that the Easter Story is one of the few times we Christians dwell on the violent, imperfect, and redemptive. Too often, I think, we tend to shy away from the violent and imperfect. I know I'd rather ignore the wider world and keep things "safe for the whole family," enjoying my peace and comfort. Christian martyrs dying daily? Rather not think about that. Girls sold into the sex industry? Too horrible to consider! Christians struggling with serious sin? Rather pretend I don't have issues, thank you very much.

Easter breaks through this. Instead, we come up with Easter images and activities that are, well, ...horrifying. When I first saw that post a couple weeks ago, I was struck by a similar feeling my non-Christian friends must experience if they actually notice a cross necklace. It's so other than my cushy American life is used to (which is somewhat ironic given the nature of our television shows and movies).

But we love Easter because it's redemptive. Indeed, without the violence and imperfection, the redemption wouldn't have happened. The cross -- not to mention the betrayal, scheming, sorrow, and loss before and after -- provides hope because that is the culmination of Christ meeting us in our human blood, sweat, and tears. ...and then doing something none of us could in rising from the dead days later!

Like so many other places in Scripture, God meets us where we are and calls us upward. Sonlight often mirrors this approach, including content that rather bothers some people. But for Sonlighters, violence and imperfection do not rock our world. Indeed, through the ups and downs of history, experienced in the incredible books we read together, we see redemption at work.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

P.S. If you grab your homeschool curriculum before tomorrow night, you can take advantage of our free 9-month financing. If you're excited for the amazing places and people you'll visit next year, order today!


04/25/2014

Reminder: Faith Matches Reality

I've known him since he was a lanky, awkward child in middle school. Like me, he's a tad less awkward today. We're sitting near my computer, which I shut off so I'm not distracted while we talk.

"You know I went to church as a kid. It's just that now," he pauses, scrambling for words, "I haven't decided on a set of morals yet. I know I should choose to believe or not, but I haven't. I don't know how I could."

My mind unearths a photo of me dressed as a monk at the Ren Faire. I try to find words to make the connection.

"I don't think faith is something we should choose to believe or not. I am a Christian because I believe it matches reality. I look at the world and I ask, 'Does this make sense with my Christian views?' It does. So my faith isn't based on a choice to believe, like turning off my mind, but on a recognition of truth."

He nods, almost as if what I've just said makes sense.

"Of course," I grin, "I could be wrong."

This undermining of our faith is subtle and ubiquitous. I'm a film guy, and the refrain "have faith" or "just believe" echoes emptily through the porn-drenched Don Jon, the slur-slinging Grand Torino, the ridiculous Bulletproof Monk, and even the colorful and stylistic Peter Pan. These four films gloss over, respectively: the purpose of penance, the basis of Trinitarian doctrine, the reality of gravity, and even the existence of fairies (something not real in our world, but very real in that one). Faith in films is often empty and devoid of thought, or somehow so connected to reality that lack of belief diminishes it's existence. Without regular reminders to the the contrary, it's little wonder my friend starts to believe that faith is something we choose, like the shirt I put on in the morning -- easily replaced by something else had I merely reached for a different one. I'm sure the internet normalizes belief-based faith as well... how many times have I seen someone in an online discussion come back with, "Well, I just choose to believe what I believe"? Too many.

This is one reason why I am so passionate about life-long learning! May we not be those who merely roll with what's popular. Let us do the hard work of building our foundation on what's real. And if we find that something we believe grates against reality, we must accept that we

  • misunderstand reality
  • have misapplied our faith
  • or see a conflict where there isn't one (like the Baffling Balloon Behavior video making the rounds these days)

Water-Walking
Water Walking (me on a frozen lake)

My friend still hasn't settled on accepting a particular set of morals. We're still talking about a great many things. But I hope that our continued conversations help both of us to see where faith and reality line up.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


04/23/2014

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.

Uncle-Luke-Story-Time
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, Guardian


04/21/2014

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.

Learn-Support
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.


04/18/2014

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.


04/16/2014

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.

The-Dark-Web
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


04/14/2014

Rosetta Stone for $95 (only through Friday)

Rosetta StoneGet a Level 1 Rosetta Stone program for under a hundred bucks. That's an amazing deal!

Look, Rosetta Stone runs sales all the time. But they usually only offer deals this good -- 40% off -- on their foreign language program bundles. If you order before Friday 4/18, you can get this great discount and not shell out a few hundred dollars. You can be on your way to learning a new language for $95 (and 40 cents).

Order your Rosetta Stone language today.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


04/11/2014

Pitting Educators Against Parents is a Bad Idea

Sarah at Little House of Penguins makes an observation that Common Core math instruction pits educators against parents. Her points are well made. My concern isn't, however, that parents will no longer be a moral influence for their children. The issues of passing along values arise naturally if students are not taught the foundation for why something is true (a recent post about the purity movement pokes at this a bit). What concerns me is that if parents can't help their kids with math at home...

...kids will not learn math.

Plain and simple.

Educators know that student success depends on parental involvement. And I've shared my own experiences with classroom math instruction. Parents need to be equipped to help their students.

The good news for us homeschoolers is that we are involved. No matter which math curriculum we opt to use, we can follow along. We get the opportunity to (re)learn right along side our students. And so the practice work makes sense. We're not struggling to figure out the meaning of some obscure phrase a teacher is required to use by national standards.

MathTactular4 Sample
MathTacular Makes Math Unbelievably Understandable

Stay involved, even if your student takes a class outside the home. Teachers want you to be on their team, even if political policies push in the other direction.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


04/09/2014

Your Child Struggle in School? Good

We want our kids to rock at life. We don't want to see them struggle. The idea of a student failing in school feels terrible. Yet as strange as it is for someone writing as part of an educational company, I think there are solid reasons why success in school should not be our ultimate goal.

First, conformity is a barrier to success. Time and again, history has shown us that those who rise to the top, who buck the trends, who stand out are abnormal, differently driven, and willing to do something other. As the popular layperson's definition of insanity would indicate, we should not do what's always been done if we want progress. And, if anything, school is about conforming. Learning to work within boundaries is helpful. I have no problems with introducing students to topics and skills and information and approaches. But the world of classrooms is an artificial one with many negative elements. Conformity is a major part of problems related to bullying, class grade levels, socialization, and classroom group think. If your student struggles in a classroom environment, it's likely due to one of the problems in the system. These issues may be an indication that your child is more on top of reality than others.

Second, test scores are terrible indicators of success. I tried to find a study that compared test scores to future success in life. My search failed to yield results. What little I saw tended to further solidify my position that factors far outside academia influence a student's future. This makes sense, especially when we consider the pros and cons to preschool. A student struggling in school is likely influenced by things not related to education. If there is a problem with the student, school isn't going to solve it. And just because the student gets bad grades or flunks tests has very little to say about the years to come.

Third, challenges are opportunities to grow. If your student has a desirable difficulty, the problem could hold them back or enable them to shine. If a challenge breaks you, that's not good. But if your student can push through the issues, success is much more likely to follow.

"Some of the most famous, richest people in this country were terrible students with terrible test scores who struggled through school."
~ Wayne Brasler in Building the Machine

Failure
Failure

The observation that success in school is not tied to fame, fortune, or positive future impact is a very important one. In fact, some of the most successful people in the world abandoned traditional school entirely.

This leads to two very important conclusions:

  1. As homeschoolers, we can help our children find positive ways to work through their challenges. The negative impacts of dropping out of school are very real. As homeschoolers, we can customize our approach to meet the needs of our students. Many brilliant people were bored out of their minds in school and thrived at home.
  2. If you have a student who is struggling (even at home), that does not mean your student is a failure. Far from it! God uses challenges to shape us. Your child may one day dramatically improve the world in large part because of what's happening now.

There is nothing wrong with having a student who breezes through school. We don't want our children to struggle. Academics are important. Doing well academically honors God. But success in school is hardly our end game. In fact, the reasons to purse a great education are for what it enables us to do, not so we can pat ourselves on the back for earning a certificate.

Keep your eye on your goals. If your student is currently struggling in a classroom setting, it may be time to check out Sonlight where you, and your student, can love learning together.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


04/07/2014

Chariklo and Why Life-Long Learning Matters

One of my friends wasn't feeling well. He was at the ice cream shop he manages when I got the call. "Would you be willing to bring me the bag of lozenges I left on my desk? I'll give you free ice cream."

Free ice cream? I'm so on it. Upon arriving at his desk, there was a bag of branded cough drops, but they didn't have the name "lozenge" anywhere. Did I have the right thing?

Google told me I did. I had never encountered that word before. And I learned something new. I share this as another reminder that there will always be gaps in our education. But there is another reason why life-long learning is so important: There's always more to learn.

Over the weekend we got to talking about astronomy and how Pluto was a planet when we were kids. We were mourning the loss of the ninth planet because we had been talking about 10199 Chariklo. Days earlier, Chariklo became the first minor planet observed with rings. In fact, it doesn't sound like anyone thought it was even possible for a planetary body of that size to have rings. And then we found one.

Chariklo
Chariklo

Put another way, there is no such thing as a complete education. A successful education is one that prepares students for whatever God calls them to do. I think we can say we have been well educated when we have learned how to learn. I think a great education is one that ignites a desire to learn more.

If you're looking for a homeschool curriculum designed to help your children love learning, check out Sonlight. And if you'd like more content to stimulate your brain and potentially introduce you to new stuff, I recommend browsing my Other Posts of Note. Today, I appreciated watching the 40 minute documentary about the Common Core.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


04/02/2014

Comfy Pants and Conformity

...or, how homeschooling works in suits or sleepwear.

My friends are shocked when they arrive at my home and I'm still wearing jeans. My usual household fare is "comfy pants" -- soft shorts or sweats or pj bottoms -- pretty much anything my wife would urge me not to wear outside. I just don't see the point of chillaxin about my abode in anything not maximally comfortable.

But I always dress up for church (khakis and a button-up shirt). I typically wear a polo and jeans to work. I shower regularly.

And I grew up homeschooling in my pajamas.

My friend Mrs. C shared about how jammies are the up and coming problem in the homeschooling community. The dozens of comments on the original post are divided. On one side, there are people like me: Dress for the occasion, and the beautiful, flexible, enjoyable part of learning at home is best reflected in comfy sleepwear. On the other side, there are people who find it disrespectful and deleterious to learning to not show up each day in a suit; learning is too valuable to hinder by winging it after rolling out of bed.

PJ-vs-Suit
Which Kind of Homeschooler are You?

If you're "not human" until after you've showered, had coffee, completed a workout, and had a quiet time with the Lord, do it. Dress to the nines and be productive and focused throughout your day.

But I don't have any trouble focusing in comfy pants. In fact, I've been writing and producing videos for years in the most relaxed wear I own. And while I appreciate a shower to help me wake up, I wrote a first draft of a book directly after rolling out of a bed and being blasted by my computer screen's searing blaze on my sleepy eyes. From what I've read, it's more about mindset and habituation than the formality of the fabric covering my legs.

Come over to my house some time. And while we sit around and chat, you can tell me if you think I'm

a) shirking responsibility
b) lazy and not really doing anything
c) just plain weird

Sitting there in my comfy pants, I'll give you a hint: "c" is the correct answer. Homeschoolers are strange. But I was also strange in college. And if you ask me, any guy who can show up to class in a bathrobe and graduate magna cum laude may be really odd, but his choice of clothes aren't hindering his education.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

P.S. I went to college in California, so it was too hot to go to class in sweats and a bathrobe most days. I tended to wear shorts and a t-shirt.


04/01/2014

Sonlight Website Updates April 1, 2014

1. Full-Grade Packages
The website now clearly offers you a complete list of programs you'll need by grade. You can purchase everything you need in a Full-Grade Package. Or, from the same grade-specific page, you can find every subject you'll need. This makes selecting for your homeschool year much easier.
By-Grade

2. Relabeling Cores
For those of us familiar with the Core designations, this shift in focus is rather jarring. We've used the term Core for so long it's strange not to see it everywhere on the site. But it is difficult to explain what a Core is in a world where web-reading is a chore few want to do. So we opted to put the description right in the title. It's no longer Core A (which works great for students grades K-2), it's now labeled as a History, Bible, Language Arts, Reading Package aimed mostly at Kindergarteners. We hope this clarifies things for those just starting with Sonlight.
Core-Subjects

3. New Layout
The new look is visible on both the site and the blog. It feels a bit more airy to me. A big part of that is the removal of color in the header and background and adding a few hundred pixels to the page size.

4. Improved Sonia
Change is hard. If you'd like to simply walk through the selection process and checkout, Sonia can still do just that. Now she'll add things to your cart as you go. You can still change your selections in the Scratch Pad, but -- at any time -- you can go to the cart and review your selections.

5. Access to AdvisorsAdvisor-Button
If you have any questions as you browse the website, an Advisor is just a click away.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


03/31/2014

Last Day of Sonlight 2013-2014

These next few hours give you the final opportunity to purchase something from the 2013-2014 Sonlight Catalog. The new catalog season launches tomorrow. We've been busy getting everything ready for tomorrow morning (we'll probably start the process around 10am Mountain Time).

World History and Worldview Studies
Save $40 Today

Today is the your last chance to save $40 on the new Sonlight World History and Worldview course (close to 20% off). And if, for some reason, you really want the 2013 edition of anything, you need to get it tonight. If you place your order tomorrow, once the new site goes live, you'll be purchasing the 2014 curriculum.

There are big changes coming to the site layout tomorrow. I hope to have more on that then.

Enjoy this last day of Sonlight's curriculum for this previous year. Come celebrate with us tomorrow as we launch the new catalog!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

P.S. Don't have your new Sonlight Catalog? Request yours today and check out the eCatalog while you wait.


03/28/2014

The Placebo Effect: Homeschooling Works

In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell discusses how asking a student to select a nationality often decreases the student's performance. This is linked to a study that shows students do better on tests if they imagine being a doctor instead of a basketball player. Think about that: Simply imagining you're smart makes you better at tests; associating yourself with underachievement needlessly reduces your ability to perform.

I don't recommend visiting the site to try to diagnose an ailment, but WebMD defines the Placebo Effect as any treatment that does "not contain an active substance meant to affect health." Like the impact of saying I'm "Caucasian" or imagining I could actually jump, the change in test scores has nothing to do with my education. There is no "active substance" meant to affect my knowledge.

But I am affected anyway.

And the effect is real.

Seth Godin just released a fun little document about placebos in marketing (I haven't finished it yet, but it's been interesting thus far). I was surprised to learn that acupuncture, for instance, is more effective than Western medicine at easing back pain. Godin says the impact is real, but still labels acupuncture as a placebo ... partly out of cultural bias, but also because of a fascinating twist in the study!

And perhaps the real impact of placebos sheds light on something I've been thinking about for a few years now. Homeschooling is good choice, but the results aren't statistically superior to any other educational approach you could have selected. But we homeschoolers love homeschooling. It's the best! Our kids a thriving under it.

And we homeschool kids do. We thrive. In large part because we're awesome (and beautiful). Another big factor is that you help your children succeed. But, perhaps -- just maybe -- there's a placebo effect in being active in your student's education.

And if there is, jump all over that!

Because, really, I don't care if there is something actively trying improve my education. I care about what works.

And homeschooling works.

Placebo or no.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


03/24/2014

The Speed at which You Read

I read slowly. I find myself taking in each word, one at a time. I often pause between sentences and paragraphs to let what I've just ingested soak into my mind, coloring the way I think. Often, when reading a fascinating book, I'll stop mid-chapter to give my psyche a chance to integrate this new information.

This does not work with most textbooks. Each page is filled with fluff and filler, long-winded sentences -- so full of needless complexity and obscure lexicon that ingesting the coursework requires intemperate industry merely to stay on topic (let alone acquire actionable appreciation of the material on hand), and boring writing that shoves each unexplored universe of human experience into a narcoleptic hypnosis of emptiness, punctuated now and again by boxes with highlighted text that may, or -- just as likely -- may not, appear on our next test. I did very poorly in my college history classes for this very reason. I required no sleep aids. From an academic standpoint, this was the hardest part of adjusting to classrooms from Sonlight: Rarely did I encounter the richness of what I knew from homeschooling.

Blogs have taught me to skim.

And I totally understand the far-off look of experiencing a novel for pleasure, where the process of decoding words is simply the mechanism by which we discover the story. In those cases, the faster I read, the better.

Which is why I've always been interested in speed reading. I would love to be able to get through more content without fatigue setting in. And today I bumped into Spritz. I wish I could embed it in the blog here for you to try out in a live setting. The ideas behind Spritz are excellent; I find it much easier to use than a more generic speed reading tool. I'm not at all convinced it would help with conversational writing, but it worked great for the articles on their site.

Even when I will be able to embed such a tool in my browser, there will still be books and blogs I will wish to savor. Reading speed is one thing, comprehension another, but both miss out on the third element of written communication: Application. I can follow a line of thought as well-placed words flutter before my eyes, but I need time to let those ideas shape me.

This is one reason, I believe, we are urged to meditate on God's Word (such as in Joshua 1:8). Understanding the text is one thing; determining how to put it into practice is something else entirely. And, for certain kinds of material, we need to spend some time with it. In those situations, I'm glad I read slowly.

Do you ever spend time mulling stuff over while you read? Are you a speed reader? Have you found a tool -- online or elsewhere -- that has helped you mow through more material when needed?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


03/21/2014

Excited about homeschooling next year? Access Sonlight's Catalog PDF Now

You can browse the 2014-2015 Sonlight Catalog now. While the updates won't go into effect until April 1, you can download an early release .pdf of Sonlight's latest Catalog.

Sonlight Catalog

Haven't had a chance to request a Sonlight Catalog yet? Do so now. The low-resolution web version of the Catalog is fun, but a print copy is wonderful.

What are you looking forward to most about homeschooling next year?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


03/19/2014

Why Did You Start Homeschooling?

God leads each of us differently. For me, I've always felt like I just sort of, you know, "end up" someplace. I don't hear God's tell me to do this or that thing but, over time, I often realize that this -- whatever "this" is -- is exactly what I'm supposed to do. I know it. I can look around and see that, despite feeling like I was wandering aimlessly for a while, God was moving me here, like the brilliant chess moves my brother would pull on me if I still allowed him to beat me at chess. I don't like losing, so we never play anymore.

Others experience a much more solid direction from God. However that works, they know they were told to do something, so they do it. God's leading for them is precise and exact.

Red-Arrow
This Way

So how did you end up in this crazy-awesome world of homeschooling? How did God nudge you to spend your time this way? Why did you start homeschooling?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


03/17/2014

Living Amidst Magic

We've been studying 2 Kings, specifically the life of Elisha the prophet. Shocking, to me, is how many times Elisha does things that borrow from the magical realm of the Ancient Near East (learn more in the IVP Bible Background Commentary).

  • Purifying the waters of Jericho using salt ...salt was used in purification rituals.
  • Raising the child to life by laying on him ...miracle workers touched the afflicted part of the body.
  • Cleansing the stew of poison with flour ...also used for purification rituals.
  • Having Naaman dip in the river ...flowing water was a known location to bring healing.*
  • Causing the axe head to float by throwing a stick in the river ...exhibits transference magic where the properties of one item are taken on by another.
  • Even having Joash do things with arrows (shoot them and strike the ground) echoes of divination.

This reminds me of Rebecca LuElla Miller's post on Daniel as the Chief Magician of Babylon.

And today, today is Saint Patrick's Day. This is a holiday to celebrate a Christian missionary. I think that's super cool. So while I don't wear green -- or orange; yet so often find myself in the historically relevant blue -- I love that, at heart, today is a day about missions.

Shamrock
Shamrock

And, it seems, Patrick also embraced magic. It makes sense. Like Christ who embraced our humanity, God loves to communicate with us in ways that we can understand (the one idea I liked from the original trailer of Aronofsky's Noah flick).

I don't find the non-Christian and post-Christian kids I hang out with are much interested in magic. They're more drawn to science and pop-philosophy. I count it a privilege that my Sonlight education prepared me both academically and philosophically for this. I'm always open to learning more and I'm not at all afraid of encountering challenging ideas. I can engage with the thinking of today and find ways to connect it to Christ. And, as if the KJV joke were factual and not farce, if it's good enough for Paul, such an approach is good enough for me.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

* Naaman's complaint that Elisha didn't come wave his hand over the spot seems to refer to the practice of magicians standing on the river bank and chanting while waving their hands in a circular motion. Elisha didn't feel the need to do this, proving that -- while doing something contextual to the culture -- the power of his God was far more amazing. Fascinating!


03/14/2014

Musings on Missions, Schisms, and Tolerance

Adventures in Odyssey has a great line about tolerance. Frustrated, one of the characters says, "I will not tolerate your intolerance!" It's one of the many brilliant moments I remember from the radio show of my childhood.

Huh
Intolerant of Intolerance

Tolerance has a bad rap in my ideological neighborhood. There are solid reasons to dislike it; passivity, permissiveness, and even promotion of sin run wild in these woods. While many who embrace tolerance talk about grace, few discuss the reason for why we all need it. Thus, grace becomes a graciousness toward others (a good thing!) and misses out on the amazing work of Christ to save us sinners (an even more amazing thing!).

But as I revisit The Troubles of Ireland in Gladwell's David and Goliath, tolerance doesn't seem like such a bad thing. Granted, the problem was a mixing of politics and religion -- which happens all too frequently; it was not purely rooted in the Schism of the Church. But what if, instead of clinging tightly to our way, our ideals, our understanding of truth, we adopted a bit of <gasp> tolerance?

What would that look like?

It may look a bit like Lent, actually. It's a Catholic thing, so me -- a Protestant -- is rather disconnected from this beautiful and historically rich tradition. I loved Brianna Heldt's defense of Lent blog post. It was a good reminder that my particular "flavor" of Christianity could learn something from my brothers and sisters in Christ; brothers and sisters I would have killed in the streets as a teenager in Ireland.

This reminds me of my own tendency to forget the humanity of people around me. And while it is true that love is a far higher calling than tolerance, they do overlap in a venn diagram. Missionaries, for instance, choose to enter a society they believe is misled in the hope of sharing the love of Christ. They do this not by loudly proclaiming the moral failings of the people they encounter, but by gently showing the beauty of Christ's love for us.

In many ways, tolerance can give us a moment to learn about others so we can diffuse tension. This is a big part of why Sonlight presents multiple views.

Do you do anything for Lent? Have you been challenged by the tension and overlap of love and tolerance? Have you seen anything about missions recently that has encouraged you to continue to seek ways to be unified with the family of Christ around the globe?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


03/13/2014

A Peek Inside the Sonlight Warehouse

Few have experienced a tour of Sonlight. A few more have braved my monster-less pseudo monster movie tour. And today, my blog-reading friends, you get a rare peek into how amazing Sonlight's warehouse is.

1. Designed for Efficiency

Receiving happens on one end of the building. Shipping is on the other. Boxes of books come in on the west side of Sonlight, make their way through our warehouse, and head out to your home from the east docks. This helps reduce congestion and limits the number of times we have to move boxes and books. Also, wherever possible, we have conveyor belts to make moving stuff a joy.

Conveyor-Belt
I Love this Conveyor Belt ...especially the buttons <grin>

2. Enhanced for Comfort

I've blogged about our pleasant warehouse before. Swamp coolers in the summer, heaters in the winter, and nice thick padding where we stand turn a concrete and brick box into a comfortable working environment.

Padded-Mat
Fantastic Foam Padding

3. Built for the Future

We were still growing by leaps and bounds when we finished the building. Looking toward the future, the warehouse had sections of the back wall which could be "punched out" when it was time to expand. A few years later, when that happened, we added an additional warehouse area for longer term storage.

Warehouse-Doorway
Doorway to the Future

Hope you enjoyed this little peek inside the Sonlight warehouse. Now you know just a little more about where your homeschool curriculum comes from. Anything you've always wanted to know about Sonlight? Ask away. I may not be able to get you an answer, but I'll do my best!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


03/12/2014

Why I Avoid the Homeschool Movement

We homeschoolers are an odd bunch, aren't we? We've bucked the trend, set out on our own, and ended up in a beautiful meadow overlooking a shimmering valley ringed by snow dusted mountains. We love it here. In fact, when we meet others wandering the trails of education, we'll gladly share our experiences and talk about these mountaintop experiences. We want others to join us.

Grassy-Field
The View (not as picturesque a picture as the above ...sorry)

We're thrilled when we discover someone who has also homeschools. Sonlighters share a special bond, reliving stories and discussions and places we've all encountered through our shared homeschool curriculum.

[Just this morning, an eager young man told me excitedly about the books he had recently read in Core B, such as Nate the Great. I agreed; those are wonderful stories!]

I love the homeschool community. Like the awesome dog meme reminds us: You're awesome. I'm thrilled to be part of this crowd.

But I find I dislike the homeschool movement. I mentioned this years ago. Back then I linked to the now defunct blog of Dana Hanley, but thanks to the internet archive you can still read her inspiring post here. Recent events have pushed me even further.

I'd rather avoid the homeschool "movement" altogether.

When I talk about this movement, I'm referring to the ideologies and teachings of certain people who claim to speak for homeschoolers. One of the major complaints I heard from Christians about the Bill Nye and Ken Ham Debate: Ham doesn't represent all of us. Men like Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard both outwardly promoted moral models (and homeschooling) which ultimately put them in positions where they could abuse such power. Then there's the continued controversy over To Train Up a Child. More and more these things swirl around. And the movement suffers.

So does the community.

And it's the community I care about. The movement -- such that it is -- is an extremely fallible system run by imperfect people like you and me. And when people like us get power, things crumble fast.

One of the many things I appreciate about Sonlight is the push to educate, not indoctrinate. We're not here to try to get you to join this or that side. We want to help you and your children learn. We want to help you thrive as you homeschool. We want to be part of your community. And if others have jumped on the literature-based approach to education, it's because it works not because we tried to start a movement.

Put another way: People move in the right direction when you let them walk. Trying to carry them somewhere will not get either of you to the right place.

Looking back on the men of recent history who have promoted and shamed the homeschool community, I'm reminded of 1 Corinthians 1:10 and following. Let's not talk about who we follow; let us walk humbly before the Lord where He has called us. That's not to say that God won't use even imperfect people to help encourage and train and lead you where He wants you to go. But please don't join any particular movement except for the moving of the Holy Spirit <smile>.

My parents are really neat people. But they're also imperfect. Like me. Like you. I'm glad they've never tried to create a system for living.

I was very much encouraged by Amber's post on redemption and grace. May we be part of the community that quickly repents. May the grace of God spill out of our lives and into those around us. May we, as a broken community bound together by Christ's blood, walk in unity... not in step with this or that movement, but spurring one another on to do good stuff.

Sorry, I'm afraid I'm rambling a bit too much. What do you think? Are you glad to be part of a community? Is there a movement you want to be a part of? What's the view like from your homeschool?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


03/10/2014

Things You've Never Thought to Try

Cristi posted a photo of homemade marshmallows in the making. Brittany made marshmallows once. They turned out a tad different than the kind that come in a bag (more like cubes than cylinders). They weren't as light and fluffy. They tasted fine. And had you asked how to get marshmallows before my wife made a batch at home, I would have told you to try Aisle 6 at the store.

Square-Marshmallow
A Square Marshmallow?

Same with mayonnaise.

I know we can make food at home. I realize it's totally possible to create stuff you can buy from a brand. And while I gladly support the move away from processed foods, why do these kinds of things keep catching me off guard? Why is it so surprising to think of making marshmallows at home?

Let's step out of the kitchen for a moment. A similar resignation to outside processing is rampant in our society. It's largely an artifact of specialization. Why would I need to know how to work on my car? I can take it to a mechanic. He has the tools and the training to do it faster and better than I. So when I stop to see if I can help a stranded motorist, if they need anything more than a battery jumped, a tire changed, or a push ... I'm not going to be of much help.

Homeschooling has much the same shock value as, say, making your own vanilla or laundry detergent. Once you've done it, you realize there is no guarded secret to the process. This may explain why so many of us homeschoolers make our own vanilla and detergent. We've discovered that while store-bought marshmallows all look the same and have the same light and airiness, we'd really like a little more control over the ingredients. We're not looking for conformity. We're looking to do something that matches our child's needs.

This analogy helps us see the other side as well. There are times when outside resources are super helpful (like my auto mechanic who is currently fixing a window stuck in the down position). There are times when it benefits our children -- and us -- to send them to a "specialist" be it in an advanced subject or sports or band or otherwise. We're not fundamentally against using resources available to us, we're just more selective in what resources we use when. Because we've realized we have that choice.

Many people never even think to try homeschooling.

And that is unfortunate because, like homemade doughnuts, homeschooling is amazing.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

P.S. One last food thing before I sign off: French fries. I'm still looking for an easy, uber-tasty way to make them at home. There's something about the processed starches and grease of a restaurant that we just haven't matched at home. ...that's probably a good thing.


03/05/2014

Pop Culture's Misunderstanding of God vs Science

A comedian is riffing on the radio. He's had the crowd laughing and now says:

I'm not against religion. Believe what you want to believe. But I always side with science because religion constantly changes over time. Scientists don't suddenly say, "Turns out the moon is made of cheese."

This was yet another example of how humor turns off people's minds. And I don't like it. Let's unpack this a bit, shall we?

Ethereal-or-Mundane
The Divine or the Developed?

First, science constantly changes. In fact, this is one of the top arguments for science: It is self-correcting. Religious thought can -- and does -- get stuck on itself. Humans can make mistakes. Science has a built-in feature that allows it to change as new discoveries are made. So if you side with science because what it tells us remains constant, I don't think you understand science at all. Just one minor example: When I was a kid, Pluto was a planet.

Second, while some cults pride themselves on modern revelations and "better" translations, religion doesn't change much. I was in India a while back, and Hinduism is alive and well. And Christianity has not shifted it's core values near as I can tell. So if you don't like religion because it changes to accommodate the times, I don't know what religion you're talking about.

Third, we need to be quick to admit when we've been wrong. Truth does not change, but our understanding develops. Where we have misinterpreted the Bible and misapplied Christ's teachings, we should be the first to declare our mistake and decry our failure. Just as the reality behind science does not change, we must joyfully embrace a better understanding of God and His will.

Fourth, if I understand creation properly, there is no need to side with either God or science. This is a false dichotomy. But if we're forced to choose between man's interpretation versus God's revelation, it may be better to side with science.

[See what I did there? No? Let's chat in the comments!]

Common misunderstandings are popular. But we, as life-long learners, have the opportunity to seek to better understand both God and science.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


03/04/2014

You Can Use Education to Solve Problems

Educators infer that all we need is an education to solve problems. If we -- or those currently afflicted by suffering due to ignorance -- could simply learn what we needed to know, we'd come out of our current situation.

Poverty? Equations? Interpersonal tensions? Economics? Political division? All could be done away with or resolved with a little know-how.

But then these same educators opt to create arbitrary (if not illogical) rules rather than use education to solve problems. Example: Deter gang violence by outlawing American flags at school. Rather than teach kids that Cinco de Mayo is not a reason to beat up on your white American neighbors -- as it is a Mexican-American holiday -- administrators let the gangs run wild that day and suppressed any US "patriotism" to reduce a repeat of past gang violence on May 5th.

Mexico-American-Flag
Why the Tension?

On the one hand, I agree: If you've got out-of-control kids bent on hurting others due to a warped sense of misplaced loyalty, let's do what we can not to provoke them. If my student was doing something likely to raise ire, it'd be good to be aware of the risks. Given such a climate at school, I may just keep my student home, thank-you-very-much.

On the other hand, we've got zero-tolerance laws in place. If you know students are going to act out on a particular day, you get security and other systems in place to crack down on kids who are disrupting school and enacting violence against their peers. It's ridiculous that we throw up our hands about that but expel students who pretend to diffuse imaginary bombs.

On the other hand, this is a complex, difficult situation with a bunch of moving parts and humans. There is not going to be a simple, clean fix. Lives need to be changed. And one way we can help that is through education.

Scratch that.

One way we help people move forward is by helping them learn. An "education" in a traditional sense -- a certain number of hours where your rear is in a room -- does little to help. But opening up the world, making sense of the present by looking at the past, and allowing students to see things through the eyes of others makes for a much better place.

And that global, historical, humble approach to learning is exactly what you'll find as you homeschool with Sonlight. I'm not here to decry public education, they have enough to deal with and rightly don't much care what a little blogger like me thinks. I'm here to offer you an alternative. I'm here to encourage you if you've already made the counter-cultural choice to homeschool. Because I believe that what we learn can be used to solve problems.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


03/03/2014

The Beauty of Having a Plan

It's late in the day for me. I'm sitting here trying to conjure up a blog post topic.

Nothing.

I flip through my Other Posts of Note hoping for some inspiration.

Nope.

I stare out the window. I take a bathroom break. I get a drink of water. I spin around in my chair a time or two.

Nada.

'I wish,' I tell myself, 'I had some kind of schedule that just told me exactly what I should blog about every single...'

And there it is. My inspiration struck. The thing I was looking for was an Instructor's Guide. If I had an IG for my blog, I would simply open it up each day with directions, notes, helps, and other tools. Blogging would be a breeze! I'd simply apply my style, input, and time into writing my own post, and it'd turn out great.

Unfortunately, the IG-for-my-blog idea is only good for a single post. But your Instructor's Guide -- part of your Sonlight homeschool curriculum -- is very real. And it gives you a framework for every single homeschool day. It's a tool you can use as much as you need or as little as you want. But it's there, ready to provide inspiration and direction as you like.

Your homeschooling experience, like my blog posts, are yours. But we can all use a little direction and support now and again.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


02/26/2014

Get Rosetta Stone from Sonlight

We recently made it much easier to get your preferred Rosetta Stone® language program from Sonlight. We have long offered Spanish, French, German, as well as all the other foreign languages offered by Rosetta Stone. You were once required to click a couple of times to find the language you wanted. Now you can visit one page and select the language and level you want from a quick and convenient drop-down.

Rosetta Stone Select
Select Your Rosetta Stone Language Now

We're constantly looking for ways to make it faster and easier for you to get the homeschool materials you want. This simple tweak to our Rosetta Stone page is just one of them.

Enjoy! Or, should I say, наслаждаться?*

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

*Yes, I have Rosetta Stone Russian. No, I do not yet know that word.
I cheated and used Google to find it...


02/24/2014

Why We Learn Even Though We Forget

I find myself supporting the process of building a love to learn. I often downplay the importance of gaining this or that bit of information or skill set. "This is a life-long process," I tell you. "Relax. Enjoy."

So why go to the trouble of trying to learn anything? Why not take a radical unschooling approach and abandon all routine, structure, and formality?

I've already shared 5 reasons to teach even though we tend to forget the details of our lessons. But today I think I stumbled on another one: Learning inspires more learning.

This is one of the key points of unschooling. If you allow kids to find joy and wonder in the world, they will be inspired to find more. I'm actually not at all opposed to unschooling; it works for many kids. But focused routine and exposure to subjects that aren't naturally of interest to a student has so much potential. One reason to force ourselves to work on something we dislike, "won't use," and are "bad at" is that the hard work can reverse these trends. Done well, we can take something a student hates -- say, math -- and turn it into something useful, important, even enjoyable.

Blocks
Blocks

When the wind sweeps across the field and the clouds drift across the sky, I'm reminded of heat rising, barometric pressure changes, cloud classifications, the water cycle ... math, science, physics, history ... a combination of subjects and disciplines that allow us deeper insights and wonder at the world around us.

Why learn even though we forget?

Because the more we learn, the more we can discover the joy in learning. The more we connect ideas, the more ideas we can connect. Life-long learning is far more important that learning a single lesson, but each lesson is a block upon which we build our life-long pursuit of knowledge and understanding.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


02/21/2014

How to Help a Kid Who Hates Math

Ken, a Sonlight dad whose kids are now in graduate programs, shared this great article about success in math. If you hate math, learning how to fail at math can help you move forward. It relieves pressure and allows you focus on working hard to understand. Do that, and you'll succeed.

Quadratic

This brought up so many key ideas to helping kids alleviate their hatred of math.

  1. Stop with the grading! Grades do not help students. In a subject like math where your answer is either right or wrong, constantly reinforcing the idea that you did it incorrectly gives students the "I'm bad at math/I hate math" complex. Stop it. Focus on getting it right. Take the time you need. Homeschooling lets us do this. We can learn to "fail," as Matt Waite calls it, by continuing to work toward success. I think fewer kids would fear math if they were allowed to learn it instead of tested on it.
  2. Relax about being behind. This is interrelated with #1. In fact, I already mentioned it. Growing up, I struggled with reading. The fact that my parents let me take the time to learn how to read made it possible for me not hate reading. I believe that "math anxiety" is not from math itself, but from a pressure to perform at a pace. This is true for any subject. Relax. Your kids will then be able to focus on learning instead of performance.
  3. Don't compare. (Connected to #2.) Students compare themselves to those around them. If they are "behind" another student in this or that area, they assume they are "bad at" that subject. This is one reason why homeschooling or going to a small school is so much better than going to a big, prestigious school.* So don't compare Johnny to Susie. Johnny could be good at writing; Susie could be good at math; both will be more likely to give up on the opposite subject if you compare them to each other. Some students resonated with words, others with numbers, others with colors and shapes, some students connect with music, and a few seem great at everything. Focus on each student's strengths and help them work hard in the areas that require a little more effort.
  4. Find new tools/try a new program. What math program is right for your child? I don't know. There are many different options that appeal to different students. If your student is struggling with his or her math program, try something new. You may also benefit from something like MathTacular which helps teach math concepts in a way that makes sense.
  5. Focus on what really matters... learning. I've said this in other ways in the past. Your student does not need to know this or that math fact. Your child does not need to know how to do this or that math operation. Too many of my friends who "hate math," do so because they were forced to perform or fail. What mattered to the school was test scores. Results! Far better to remind your student that learning is a life-long process. There is no need to rush or cut corners. We're homeschooling to learn. And we plan to keep learning long after formal schooling has ended.

That's all I've got time for today. What have you found helps a student who hates math?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

*See Gladwell's David and Goliath for more on this. Example: A brilliant student who is behind his peers at an Ivy League school is more likely to drop out of a tough subject than a typical student at a small college who is ahead of his peers.


02/19/2014

Your Sonlight Legacy Compared to Common Core

Ten months ago we discussed Sonlight's response to Common Core State Standards. Short version: We're ignoring CCSS for very good reasons.

Now, almost a year later, we're still discovering how school districts have no idea how to apply Common Core (you may enjoy the comments as well). When I read posts like that, it makes me so glad to be part of an educational paradigm that revolutionized homeschooling over twenty years ago and continues to shine in the wider world of education.

Sonlight's model has been proven to be the guaranteed way to love learning and teaching. For over two decades, Sonlighters have been churning out successful students year after year. You have been part of that legacy.

A+
Continue doing the great work you've been doing.

 ~Luke A. Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


02/17/2014

Congratulations to the 2014 Sonlight Scholarship Winners!


Congratulations!

We just announced the 2014 Sonlight Scholarship Winners. Congratulations to these amazing Sonlighters! Read a bit more about them and be encouraged on your own journey, even if you're just starting out.

Homeschooling works!

Of course, if you -- like me -- are prone to being discouraged by success in others, please take heart. I know what it's like to think, 'But that's not me or my student.' That's okay. I encourage you to revisit my recent posts about defining and determining success. Homeschooling works, even if your students don't win scholarships or cure cancer or leap over tall buildings in a single bound. As homeschoolers, we have the incredible opportunity to encourage strengths, work with growth areas, and see our children become the men and women God has called them to be.

Homeschooling is worth it!

I am constantly amazed at the things God does in and through homeschoolers. Today, we celebrate a few of them. Their hard work has paid off.

How has your hard work paid off recently? What amazing things is God doing in and through your students?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


02/14/2014

What Does a Love of Learning Look Like?

My bloggy friend Mrs. C posted a link to a photograph of a girl crying over homework. It's heartwrenching. It's gaining notice. It's tagged #commoncore.

Seeing the picture, one thought slipped in the backdoor of my mind and tapped me on my mental shoulder:

'That's you.'

If I had been a cute little girl who did my work at the kitchen table and my parents were photographers, there were many times that could have been a picture of me. I cried over every high school paper when my dad would point out that I didn't have a thesis and he couldn't follow my line of argument. I broke down in my frustration at not figuring out how to solve a math problem. I completely lost it when this or that knocked me off my plan. This happened in college, in high school, and while I was homeschooled.

I don't cry as much today. Still, my wife could tell you stories. But she wouldn't because she's good to me.


Love

I'm no fan of the Common Core State Standards (more here and here). I have no trouble believing that the latest changes pushed through education by non-educators (or educators with an agenda) are having a negative impact on children. And with so little background to the Facebook post itself, I have nothing to offer on that story.

But seeing the picture reminded me of my story. I love learning. I do. But there were times when I didn't. I'm not alone. Here's just one recent example of an excellent expression of math loathing. Some students respond to negative experiences with creativity. I tend to simply throw myself a tantrumed pity party.

What does it look like, then, to have a love of learning?

  1. Curiosity. Do you thrill at a new discovery? Are you driven to learn more about a topic of interest? Do you welcome a new depth of understanding? Fantastic. The fact that certain tasks and mechanics push you over the edge is something else entirely.
  2. Tenacity. Do you push through the tough moments? Do you pick yourself up after a topic or task knocks you flat? Are you willing to grit your teeth and change tactics if necessary to uncover the key or secret that's eluded you thus far? This doesn't have to be for everything, but it's pretty clear when an idea drives you forward.
  3. Humility. Do you welcome new insights and perspectives? Are you challenged to dig a little deeper than the pat answers? Do you let yourself be wrong? I struggle with this one. But the more I learn, the more excited I am to learn more.

Homeschooling with Sonlight gave me so many opportunities to hone my curiosity, tenacity, and humility. But I wasn't always happy. I don't always enjoy the process. There are days, even now, where I just want to sit at the table and bawl my eyes out. Because life isn't easy.

But a life-long love of learning isn't easy. Few life-long loves are.

Happy Valentines Day!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


02/12/2014

What Determines Success?

Gifts are hard for me. I can't think of anything I want. With so few cues or clues for my friends and family, it's not surprising I received two copies of Malcolm Gladwell's latest David and Goliath for Christmas. What else would you get for Luke?

David-v-Goliath
David vs Goliath

In typical fashion, Gladwell unearths a new foundation upon which we can build our understanding of success. Why do so many of the most successful people in the world rise from a difficult past? With a lighthearted grimness, Gladwell shares their stories and makes connections to their outcomes. So many of the worlds top entrepreneurs are dyslexics because the have learned to work outside the norm and thrive, for example. That's not to say that all children who suffer from dyslexia will become entrepreneurs, but that such a "desirable difficulty" can help propel a few to the top (Time had an article that hinted at this idea a while back).

What elements have helped push me in my life?

1. I struggled with reading, adapting to audio books in high school as a natural extension of the Read-Alouds in Sonlight's Cores. I don't have dyslexia, but I had to adapt nonetheless.

2. I grew up with no disposable cash. My parents were missionaries for many years and then made a whopping 20 cents an hour for the first few years of Sonlight. I never felt poor -- I credit my parents for this -- but I knew there was no money for things my friends often had. This pushed me to find creative ways to amuse and challenge myself. I've read this is similar to why the original Star Wars trilogy and Matrix was so successful; the filmmakers were required to use creativity due to limited budgets. Throw a ton of money at these creative people and, well, things don't end up so well.

3. I attended a small high school which, reading Gladwell, allowed me to be a big fish in a small pond. I rocked at high school. While small, unknown schools are often looked down upon, there is a huge benefit to giving kids confidence as they learn (another benefit of homeschooling).

But my life has also been filled with obvious blessings too:

My parents are happily married. I have enough money to invest in my dreams. I've had an overall great experience with church. I was homeschooled by parents who were actively involved in my education and challenged me in both big and small ways. And much, much more.

God has also been incredibly good to me (the "luck" factor in Outliers, one of the Gladwell's other books I mention here).

So what determines success?

Hard work, God's providence, tenacity, intelligence, a good family, opportunity, and more are all part of the mix that help us succeed, as are the challenges, setbacks, and obstacles we encounter. Even as we learn more about how good and bad things can hinder and help us, I think it's important to remember that who we become is right up there with what we do. May we keep our eyes focused on Christ through the hills and valleys we all must go through.

I wrote the post on defining success as a precursor to this one. We must be careful to define what we mean as we tackle questions such as these.

What has helped determine your success?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


02/10/2014

What Defines Success?

Imagine for a moment that your students have graduated homeschooling. What would make you feel like your homeschool was a success?

Would you be a success if your student got a Ph.D, went to Harvard, or revolutionized a part of modern medicine? Would you feel like you had done your job if your child had a huge heart for making people feel welcome? What defines success for you?

Question
What is Success?

This question is important for everyone, not just homeschoolers.

One of my friends gave up her pursuit of an engineering degree to be an au pair. She's happy. Her parents are less so. Is she a success?

My wife abandoned her plans to be a teacher to be a homemaker and has since taken up costume creation, novel writing, and done other things such as teaching online university classes. My wife is absolutely a success; on top of her own accomplishments, she's also enabled me to do many of the things I love to do. But she doesn't get paid to teach and we don't have kids. What determines success here?

Another of my friends no longer writes music. I'm pretty sure he sells drapery or something. But he's got a couple kids. Is being a dad "success enough"?

My best friend dropped out of college to pursue an amazing job opportunity. Today, he works retail and has a great wife. He is one of the most level-headed, insightful, wise, and kind people I know. He's a success. Right?

Me? I rocked school and graduated with all kinds of indicators I would "make it" in life. Today, I have a failed film production company on my resume. I have a passion project website few people visit. I've been halfheartedly trying to write a book for almost a decade. For as much time as I pour into kid's lives, I can't point to any measurable positive change. And I'm employed by my parent's company. Is that success?

It's easy for us to feel like failures. I think it's even easier to let the fear of failure wash over us. But if we're going to positively counteract this fear and feeling of failure, we need to define success. And one of the best places to start is by revisiting your goals. Think back to why you started homeschooling. Those reasons should help clarify what you'd like to see on the other side. For example, Sonlight's Top 10 Goals apply to your students no matter what vocation they pursue.

Homemaker? Chemist? Missionary? Writer? Marine? Doctor? Professor? Baker? Parent? Pastor? Politician? We need Christ-followers with a love for people and a global perspective in all those fields.

I don't always feel like a success, and I'm guessing there are days when you don't either. But those feelings aren't what's important. In fact, we should throw off those feelings with truth. What defines success?

Are you diligently doing what God has called you to do? Are you following and resting in Christ while you do it? And for the times you mess up, are you throwing yourself again on His grace and redemption?

If so, you are a success.

And by God's grace, you kids are going to succeed as well.

What are your homeschooling goals? How do you determine if you (or your students) are being successful?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


02/07/2014

Benedict Cumberbatch and Teaching Math

Wired posted a little thing about Benedict Cumberbatch on Sesame Street doing a bit of math. The video clip left me rather bummed out. There was no math instruction in the video aside from sequencing 1, 2, 3, 4. Saying there are more apples than oranges because "4 is a bigger number than 3" is ... unhelpful. 4 isn't bigger. 4 holds a position further down the number line than 3 (as the Count just demonstrated). Thus, 4 represents a value larger than 3. And in math, that's what's important.

In other words, while fun and funny clips involving recognizable celebrities can be enjoyable to watch, teaching a concept requires much more thought and explanation.

That's what you get in MathTacular. The Unbelievably Understandable Math you come to love in the quirky skits teaches math concepts. It's much more than funny clips. We demonstrate, in the physical world, abstract math concepts. We show why 4 apples is quantitatively more than 3. As mentioned in the comments of the above clip, the oranges are larger than the apples, yielding, potentially, more orange. There is no such ambiguity in MathTacular.

Haven't heard of MathTacular? Have a student who's struggling to understand certain math concepts? Are you getting flummoxed by those dreaded word problems?


Get MathTacular

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


02/05/2014

Luke's Thoughts on the Nye-Ham Debate

Is creation a viable model of origins in today's modern, scientific era? Based on what Bill Nye and Kem Ham both offered, the answer is a resounding YES! Why? Read on to find out.

Nye-Ham
Luke's Overview of the Debate
The event went much better than I feared it would. Both sides had excellent presentations for their opening 30 minute segments.

Ham gave many examples of Young Earth Creationists (YECs) who are contributing scientists and inventors. He stressed that secularists have hijacked the word "science" to mean naturalism and use language that dismisses the true science done by YECs. Ham made a clear distinction between "historical science" and "observational/experimental science." The first is how we interpret the data we have, the second is the process by which we make new discoveries. This debate is one over interpretation; whom should we accept as our authority to sort it out: man or God? If we remove the Bible from our studies, we see many bad ideas crop up and the foundation for what we do crumbles.

Nye contested that scientists on "the outside" do not make this historical/observational distinction. Evidence provides clues to the past. So do the clues we have make a young earth reasonable? We have ice, trees, rocks, starlight, and civilizations all older than 6,000 years. To get the ice cores we see, we'd need to have 170 winter-summer cycles every year. Assuming microevolution (or speciation within kinds), we would need to have 11 new species arise every single day! The Flood poses huge problems in sedimentation layers which have no mixing between them, the construction improbabilities, and size issues for housing that many animals. Science provides predictability. If we do not raise a generation of scientifically literate students, we will no longer lead innovation in the world.

Ham's rebuttal pointed out that you can't observe the age of the earth. We infer it from what we see. Scientists have found wood dated at 4,500 years old inside rock dated 45 million years old! Dating methods are imprecise, and 90% of methods available to us do not allow for billions of years. Nothing we observe in astronomy or geology refutes young earth creationism.

Nye reminded us that dating methods are quite precise and based on previous experience. Asteroids, for example, are all about the same age. And, to refute Ham's point, we do observe the past. Light takes time to get to us, so astronomy -- in particular -- is the study of time past. So, should we really accept Ham's interpretation of Scripture translated into English as a better scientific text than what we can observe around us? That is not consistent with what "a reasonable man" could accept.

Luke's Observations about the Debate
Like other debates I've watched, it was hard to stay on topic. I'm going to try to tease out the most important idea from both debaters related to the overarching question.

Ham, is creationism viable?
Absolutely. Name one piece of technology that requires a belief in macroevolution to have been built. There are many creationists who are scientists. The way we see the data, young earth creationism makes the most sense.

Nye, is young earth creationism viable as a scientific model?
Absolutely not! The overwhelming evidence we have demands an earth older than 6,000 years. We could not get to where we are today in such a brief period of time, even assuming every one of Ham's points.

Looking over my 3,000 words of hurried notes, I see Ham defending creationism, not a young earth. Indeed, the debate topic itself was not related to a young earth. Ham's arguments, then, were toward the "viability" of creationism in today's world. People who accept creation are clearly functioning in and contributing to today's culture and science. Win. The fact that we have little more than the genealogies of Scripture to set an age of the earth matters little in this discussion.

Nye, on the other hand, was justifiably trying to debunk both a young earth and creationism as a "viable" scientific theory. He did a great job providing an overview of known problems with the young earth model (e.g. trees older than the earth itself and distinct stratification of fossils). He also hinted -- though failed to explain -- the problems with creationism as a scientific model. I wish he had specifically mentioned that science is limited to the naturalistic world and so must not include the supernatural ... making creationism, technically, not a science.

Ham could have responded that such a claim merely illustrates his first point: Secularists have hijacked science. We all interpret data through our worldview -- what he dubs "historical science" -- and allowing for God makes these interpretations easier and more accurate.

Nye's point, however, is not that philosophical assumptions paint our interpretation. Rather, the process of scientific exploration by which we increase our scientific knowledge base is grounded in the natural world. We must never simply say "God did it." That would be giving up on the pursuit of how. And that would be anti-scientific. This is why, I believe, he kept pressing for Ham to provide predictions and admit that he felt not further need to explore the topic of origins. Given that, creationism is not a viable scientific approach.

So Ham "won" the topic at hand; not surprising given the vague and imprecise language. But Nye's position is a solid one that young earthers would be wise to heed. Had the question been "Is creation a viable scientific model of origins?" Nye's position would be correct: the supernatural is beyond the scope of science and so is non-scientific or, if you prefer, "super-scientific."

What Luke Found Interesting
One of Ham's strongest questions is one I've asked as well: What is it about the belief in a purely naturalistic origin of life and an old earth that we need for scientific advancement today? Ham, like everyone else, agrees with decent with modification through DNA changes via sexual reproduction. People promoting "evolution" often fail to define which aspect of the theory they are discussing. Nye slipped into this as well and so his mantra that voters and taxpayers need to reject creationism in the classroom for progress was hollow.

While Ham consistently urged Nye to admit that he was interpreting data through his worldview, Nye was doing the same. Nye continually asked why "Ham's interpretation" should be accepted over the evidence we see all around us pointing to an old earth. His reminder about the discovery of the expanding universe as the origin of the "Big Bang" idea was excellent. Indeed, Ham's insistence that the YEC model is the "Christian" way to interpret things was well challenged by Nye. Ham allows for Old Earther Christians, but undermines this position by what he says. This is, in my view, dangerous and unhelpful to brilliant young followers of Christ who -- with Nye -- find that the YEC position does not hold water given the evidence.

Luke's Conclusion
Ham should have stuck to his point that his interpretation of the available data best fits a creationist model and that belief in God is the foundation of the scientific method. It would have been even better had he shown that the data also promote a young earth, especially in light of the numbers Nye offered for speciation and ice weather cycles.

I found Ham's Bible jabs to be off-putting and unhelpful.

Nye should have stuck to his points about scientific evidence and the process thereof. His several forays into textual criticism of the Bible (translations and "the telephone game"), questions of theology ("Why are fish cursed? Did they sin?"), and even critiques of Noah's abilities of ship building were horribly off base, easily countered, and made him look foolish to anyone who has spent even a brief time studying these topics.

I found Nye's use of "those outside" and "a reasonable man" to be off-putting and unhelpful.

Is creationism viable today? You bet. And if you ask Ken Ham and his friends, it's the best interpretation of the data. Nye is right to remind us that creationism is not, technically, scientific, and we should continue to seek to learn more about the natural world. Ham would agree with that last part.

Given the nature of the question, it's not surprising they didn't talk more about evolution. But I think it is important to note a point Ham made well: decent with modification requires DNA which already appears to have all these variations built in. This is, to my understanding, "information theory," and is a huge part of the Intelligent Design and Theistic Evolution movements. Still, I'm thrilled that Nye held his ground on this saying that just because we don't yet know does not mean we should stop looking. Suggesting we stop because "God did it" is anti-scientific.

I agree.

Science defines what happened and provides models for how. "Why" it happened could easily have been God and is, therefore, beyond the scope of science. And so any explanation with God is not a viable scientific explanation because it has extended beyond the properly defined bounds of naturalistic exploration.

That's my take. I'd love to hear your thoughts as well!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

The obvious disclaimer: I'm not a scientist. I'm no theologian either. My degree is in film with a minor in Bible. While I love science and theology and learning and debate, I'm not an expert. Your comments, corrections, and contributions are most welcome!


02/04/2014

A Chance to Watch a Live Debate

In less than an hour, Bill Nye and Ken Ham are doing a live debate which you can watch for free here. I'm afraid it's not going to be much of a debate. It could easily devolve into two people talking past each other. I hope that is not the case. If you or your kids are interested in the so-called "Creation/Evolution debate" this could be an interesting conversation starter.

I'm planning on watching. If I feel like I have anything useful to say afterward, I'll see if I can carve out time to share a few thoughts. Feel free to share your insights if you get a chance to check out the debate as well.

I think it's important that we know the best arguments for (and against) what we believe and why. If you have young children, they may not be ready for that just yet. But if your students are a little older and interested in Science and Scripture, this event should at least spark some discussion. Let's not hide in an ideological bunker; let's learn how to share truth with those around us.

Update: My thoughts are posted here.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


02/03/2014

Being a Mom is Hard Work and Worth it

I settle into my seat at the restaurant. Then I notice her.

She's metaphorically juggling two little ones. Both regularly meltdown when they are not allowed to, say, spray the ketchup all over the table. I hear her say something about them not sleeping well of late. She hasn't either, I'm sure. But she keeps her cool through the tantrums and crocodile tears. She's on the edge; she's holding it together.

Tantrum
Holding It Together

Being a mom is really hard work. You're "on the clock" potentially 24/7. You don't get lunch breaks. I'm reminded of the Why don't friends with kids have time? article that crops up now and again. You, indeed, are teaching "language, manners, safety, resourcefulness, discipline, curiosity, creativity. Empathy. Everything."

And you've added homeschooling to that.

You're doing really hard work. You may be feeling like life is going from one emergency to another. You may be feeling really discouraged. It's also possible that you have older children who are starting to thrive apart from you; there's absolutely something bittersweet about that as well.

You may be feeling alone.

Take heart.

The work you are doing is important. It certainly isn't easy. It's hard. But it's worth it. The homeschool moms I talk with who are on the other end of homeschooling -- now watching their children make their way in the world -- tell me that homeschooling was amazing. Hard. But so worth it.

Keep your chin up. You're changing the world.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


01/28/2014

What's it like to go from homeschool to public school?

As homeschoolers, we like to talk about how amazing it is to switch from a public school to homeschooling. But what's it like to transition from a home education to a "normal" one? How do homeschoolers do in a classroom setting?

I can only speak for myself. I'd love to hear your story in the comments. Here's mine:

A Brief History of Luke's Homeschooling
After a year of Kindergarten at a private Christian school -- the sum total of my memories involving recess and the giant cardboard blocks in the corner -- I was homeschooled. From 1st through 8th grade, I grew up on the incredible literature and style of Sonlight. I struggled to learn how to read. I did fine in math. Several years in, my mom discovered that my spelling was terrible and took steps to correct that. I enjoyed the free time homeschooling provided. I was involved in many extracurricular activities. I had friends.

Entering Public School
Sonlight did not yet have high school programs when the time came for me. That was fine. I was ready to go into ministry at my school. Public school was very different. I remember following the crowds down the halls for registration and feeling frustrated by the inefficiency of it all. I felt lost. I felt very out of place. I felt awkward.

Soon, however, I was no longer a newbie. The adjustment to classroom life was stressful but not difficult. In fact, I had a very similar experience four years later when I entered college. It was the change that was hard, not the content or the pace or the structure. The school was new. The expectations were new. But public school was easy after being homeschooled.

Finding My Stride
I enjoyed going to many of my classes. I excelled. My teachers loved me. I hated homework. I rocked on tests and papers. I mostly had fun in cross country, band, swimming, theater, debate, wood shop, the school paper, and all the other clubs and teams and activities in which I participated. I was even Homecoming King.

But for all the people I knew and who knew me, I didn't have any close friends. This had nothing to do with my homeschool socialization; high school just was not a great place for me to find a kindred spirit.

Graduation-2001
Graduation
Four years after entering the public school system, I graduated Valedictorian. In other words, I had no real trouble switching to public school after being homeschooled.

Homeschoolers do great in college too.

Do you have a student who has made the switch from homeschooling to a traditional school setting? I'd love to hear your story.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


01/27/2014

How to Improve: Inspiration, Imitation, Implementation

I was showing off. There's no way to sugarcoat it. Thankfully, she seemed interested and genuinely impressed with my poetry.

Awake. Bright cheery day enters from the gate,
And so the shadows of the night all but dissipate.

Then again, who wouldn't be interested an impressed? Did you notice how the first line is sequenced alphabetically? The rest of the stanza has other hidden sequences running up and down the page. And all of it is completely intentional, as poetry should be.

Ugal
The Passage

"How did you get so good at this?" she asked with admiration singing in her voice.

"I practiced," I said. "My early poems are atrocious."

In fact, much of my poetry could be labeled that way. I have a cute little two line verse I wrote after imbibing a couple glassed of tea last year and working from that rhyme. Genius, you see?

That's me.

Sarita wrote an excellent post about Sonlight's Language Arts last week. I owe much of my creative writing ability to drinking in excellent literature as a kid. From that foundation, I was encouraged to produce passages of my own.

I've written before about how to become a great writer. The Sonlight approach to Language Arts continues to help produce excellent results:

  • Get inspiration by hearing and reading great writing.
  • Practice imitation of excellent prose and poetry.
  • Finally, implement what you have learned in your own writing.

Over the weekend, Catherine Johnson mused about how to explain the writing process. She says she can hear when something sounds wrong and would rewrite until it sounded correct. This is where the first part of Sonlight's approach to writing comes in handy. Knowing what good writing sounds like is the foundation from which you build.

I did a little bragging at the start of this post. Do you have any examples of your child's brilliant writing? I'm interested in being impressed!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


01/24/2014

I Care More About My Student Than the School District

My phone chirps. A stranger is calling me. The school calls frequently -- catch up on the story of our ward here, here, and here. Typically, the district wants me to know about a night where we can come learn about school violence or suicide or spring sports or the latest spat of vandalism. Today, it was someone asking about my legal formal request that our German student be exempt from taking the ACT.

I took the SAT in high school. I took it twice. My score helped me secure a nice academic scholarship. The SAT helped me.

"Why would my student, who has no interest in attending an American university, want to take the ACT?" I asked. "And why would you want her potentially low marks as part of your records? I see no benefit to anyone."

"All students, even foreign exchange students, are required to take the ACT," the woman told me. "We could lose our accreditation if student participation drops below 95%. I've been asked to call and see if I can change your mind."

"I know this is shocking, but I care more about my student than the school district. What benefit is there to my student taking the ACT?"

"She could get the full high school experience," the woman offered less-than-hopefully.

"Uh-huh."

"So, that's still a 'no,' then?"

Uncle-Sam-or-Students
Uncle Sam or Students?

One of the things we've learned as homeschoolers is that we do things for the benefit of our students. We're not against helping improve the school districts and public education, but, when it comes to something involving our kids, we choose our students over politics.

I feel like everyone involved in education should do that.

"I'm a mother myself," the woman tells me. "I totally understand. I agree with you, and we fought against this legislation too. Have a great day."

It's nice to interact with people in the system who are doing what they can to try to fix it. But there are so many great reasons to homeschool, I hope more people choose their children over a political agenda.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


01/21/2014

Not Rocking Your Sheltered World

I love following blogs in my RSS Reader. It's so much easier to keep up with all your posts, and I'm able to share interesting stuff as I read it. But technology isn't perfect. Every once in a while a blog will hiccup and show me really old content. I'm so glad the internet got confused for a moment today. My reader showed me a post from a Sonlight student from 2009. This comment about Halloween caught my attention:

I'm a Sonlighter. In second grade, when most kids were having their parents read Narnia to them, my mother was reading Mr. Holzmann's book about Incan, Aztec, and Mayan human sacrifices. Celtic practices do not exactly rock my sheltered world.

Narnia is great. You'll share one from the series in Core F. But two years earlier, like this student, you'll encounter a very real part of history that isn't entirely comfortable. Of course, if you've been reading your Bible, you'll have encountered much of this already. In this case, I remember the first time I heard the story of human sacrifice in Scripture. While it turns out okay -- displaying God's difference from the gods of others -- it gave me goosebumps. But it was good to learn that. The story of God providing the lamb is a precursor to a later passage.

Sacrifice
Sacrifice

Put more bluntly: Anyone raised on Scripture isn't going to have their sheltered world rocked by accounts of sin.

Similarly, Sonlight does not shy away from difficult content. We attempt to avoid books that include unnecessarily scary or offensive passages, but we're here to help you build up your children. Like the student above, I find that Sonlighters are inquisitive, interested, and equipped to do what God has called them to do. Their "sheltered world" of homeschooling is not rocked when they encounter the real world.

They are ready for it.

Their parents and the content they have worked through together has prepared them well.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


01/20/2014

Accomplishments Over Attendance

One of my friends used to work a security night shift. His job was to walk the perimeter on a semi-regular basis. Other than that, he sat in his chair and watched movies and played computer games and waited for the hours to tick by. His job required that he show up and little else.

Classrooms can be this way. Just ask my friend who recently survived a semester in a college course she didn't need. The professors required her attendance to get a good grade. "It was so pointless," she told me.

Sit-Around
Just Sit Around

Homeschooling is efficient in large part because we focus on learning rather than how long our rears are in our chairs. We're not particularly interested in jobs based on frittering away time. We want to change the world. Plus, because Sonlight doesn't feel like school, we gladly work ahead at times.

In other words, as homeschoolers, we can focus on accomplishments over attendance. We're here to learn, not the pass time.

Conversely, if you need to take a little more time to make sure your student understands, you can. We don't have to drop everything when the bell rings and shift gears. We can focus on learning, not sticking to an arbitrary schedule.

Be encouraged as you continue the great work you're doing. May your accomplishments be a constant reminder that you made the right decision for your family. May your children continue to thrive!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


01/17/2014

The Beauty of Reading Aloud as Adults

A Sonlight Moment from a month ago got me thinking this morning. Many Sonlighters discover the joy of Read-Alouds through their years of listening to books together. This is different from the "book haters" who are foiled by Sonlight. Finding pleasure in reading a great book alone is one thing. But corporate reading is like going to the movie theater. Movies can be fun to watch alone, but people shell out big bucks to see a flick on the big screen with friends. Why? There is something amazing about experiencing a movie with others.

Same with books.

And now, as a married man, I continue to have opportunities to read books aloud to my wife and friends. We're all adults who love sharing a great book together. This from a kid who struggled with reading for years.

Shared Story
Shared Story

What is so beautiful about reading books out loud? The two big things for me are:

  1. Shared experiences are a big part of relationships. The more connections we have with one another -- be they family trips, inside jokes, common stories -- the closer we are. This is one reason why long distant relationships can be so hard. Reading books aloud together lets us build more points of connection.
  2. We gain a deeper understanding from stories when we encounter them together. When someone laughs at a joke I didn't immediately catch, I see more richness in the tale. This is why you catch so many people leaning over and asking, "What just happened?" in stage productions. With Sonlight, we are encouraged to pause and strike up a conversation about the stories as we read them.

Do you have kids who still love to share a Read-Aloud together years after graduating? What beautiful things have you seen in reading together with your children?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


01/15/2014

Serious Damage from Silly Social Lies

Her knees -- pushed up toward her chest -- barricade her face behind the couch pillow. Another pillow perches on her head. She's hiding while she talks. Silly as it may be, it makes her feel safe. "I feel like I'm being replaced," she says. "It's like high school all over again."

I've started calling these socialization ills. These are problems that arise from bad socialization. Frequently the wounds are inflicted in middle and high school. Today, years after graduating, she still feels threatened any time someone copies her, intentionally or not. Why? Because she felt pushed out of every group in high school. Unwanted. Replaced. Worthless. The pain still clings to her.

Hiding
Hiding

She's not alone. My wife becomes visually distraught when she has to walk the halls of a high school. She was homeschooled but her bad experiences with the church cliques in junior high and high school haunt her even now. And if my level-headed wife who can put up with my antics is indelibly scarred by her experience in youth group, homeschoolers aren't automatically safe. The problem is a social one.

I am not advocating that you keep your child home without any outside input. Multiple teachers are fantastic. I'm not suggesting that you hide away from pain or bad ideas. We have no need for a bunker mentality. And I'm certainly not suggesting that your kids shouldn't have friends. Homeschoolers can make plenty of friends. But I am saying, once again, that groups of peers left to their own devices can cause harm even to the popular kids.

This post is more about my ongoing observations. I don't think I have any brilliant conclusions to share. My purpose is not to convince you to do one thing or another. But as I see more clearly the serious damage inflicted on us by silly social lies, I find it ever more important that we speak truth to our kids -- both our biological offspring and the young God brings into our lives.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


01/13/2014

The Benefits of Multiple Teachers

The youth pastor at our church is a wiry young man around my age. His current fashion sense drips "hipster" but he's sincere even if he does wear a vest. I'm attending a parent's meeting about the upcoming winter camp. By age, I'm a solid eight years too young to be there. Being a guardian of a high schooler puts you in odd places.

"I'm so excited about what God is going to do at camp. It's so great to be able to partner with you in ministering to your kids."

The driver sign up sheet had been distracting me. Now my mind was thinking about homeschooling.

Hipster Vest
Hipster Vest

We talk about how we -- parents -- are our children's best teacher. Overall, I agree with this sentiment. But there are huge benefits of having mentors. And there are times when your kids may prefer an outside opinion as they grow up. So as I sat in a meeting for parents, listening to my friend talk about the things God was doing through the members of the church, I felt a strong desire to urge us to look beyond just ourselves. Don't teach your children alone. Don't hole up somewhere and develop a myopic view of the world. Keep a global perspective. Remember that the goal of homeschooling is to raise successful adults whom we can let go into the world.

I don't know any homeschoolers who want to limit their children. There isn't active malicious intent. But intentional or not, I'm afraid we sometimes get so focused on ourselves and what we're doing, we can send the wrong message. We're not trying to hide away from everyone else, as if we had something to hide. Rather, we see the tremendous benefits of learning at home. We have opportunities others don't. And with the flexibility of homeschooling, we can also take advantage of multiple teachers. We aren't limited to a single school. We can learn at home and church and co-ops and classes.

One of the many things I appreciate about Sonlight's approach to learning is we give multiple perspectives in our homeschool curriculum packages. Textbooks provide a distilled view of history, offering "the" explanation of the past. With Sonlight's literature-based approach, we get to learn from various perspectives and people. Sonlight is built, in part, on the benefits of multiple teachers. Through excellent biographies, we can learn from many teachers throughout history.

Multiple teachers allow us to see things from a different perspective, explain concepts with new insights, share ideas we haven't considered, and take on topics we feel unqualified to explain. None of these benefits detracts from our role as parents and educators, but these partnerships provide opportunities to offer our children more than ever. My student is going to winter camp. I don't have one of those in my backyard.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


01/10/2014

Why Sonlight Doesn't Feel Like School

Short answer: It's the books.

We've been reading another Sonlight title for my cousin's high school history class. The book we're reading comes from the fantastic literature in Core D. Proof that great books span many age groups. And like our previous experiences reading Sonlight books to high schoolers, this one proved just as engaging.

I finished a chapter and looked up. Her eyes had already flicked over to the next page. Curled up on the oversized green chair under the window, she read the title.

"You want to keep going?"

She answers with her German syntax, "What you would want to." She's said this several times to me. Near as I can tell it translates roughly, "Why, yes, I am enjoying this book very much and would thrill to press on in the reading should you find the fortitude to do so and experience similar joy in continuing the story."

We finished the book last night.

Couch-Reading
Reading Together

We all love great stories. If my google results are right, Americans currently spend around $500 billion on entertainment ... a year. I couldn't find anything that looked remotely reliable, but it seems we spend about $600 billion on education. Makes me wonder: what if more of our education felt like entertainment but was actually, really, just a phenomenal education based on amazing literature? Then everyone would be using Sonlight, saving money, and loving school. Some may still dislike school. I've heard of several Sonlighters who say they hate school but love reading the books.

"That is school," their parents tell them.

Sonlight doesn't feel like school because of the great books. But Sonlight is so much more than just books. Our homeschool curriculum, through the Instructor's Guides in every Core, brings all these books together and turns them into an experience you will love as much as your children.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


01/08/2014

Switch to Sonlight by Jan 31 and get $100

I know you are already using Sonlight. You read this blog. You're obviously a huge Sonlight fan. You're awesome like that. And you love your homeschool experience.

But maybe one of your friends hasn't used Sonlight yet. You keep telling her to switch to Sonlight. But she keeps holding back, her current frustration perpetuated by the familiar. If only something came along that finally nudged her enough to do Sonlight. Then she would also experience the homeschool curriculum she is guaranteed to love. Then you'd be even more of a rock star because your friend would also be loving her homeschool experience. ...if only.

Here's the deal: Never used Sonlight before? Switch by the end of the month and we'll give you $100 toward a Multi-Subject Package or Core program.


$100 for switching to Sonlight right now.

Tell your friends about the Switch to Sonlight $100 by January 31, 2014.

I think they'll appreciate it.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


01/07/2014

Feeling Down? Check Your Local School's Progress

Lee points out that your local public school's annual update can be "affirming and encouraging to homeschoolers." She's right. I had a somewhat similar experience a couple years ago.

Report-Card
Report Card

If you're not feeling the thrills of learning right at this moment, it may help to take a look at how a school near you is doing. After checking their results, you're probably knocking this education thing out of the park! Homeschooling provides benefits and opportunities that many teachers wish they had. And you get them naturally by educating at home.

Keep up the great work.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


01/06/2014

From Luke's Inbox: Can I Trust Sonlight?

Most Christian homeschooling curriculum present evolution as a sham. I cannot in good faith provide that explanation as the only one. Can you show me some examples of where you present both sides? My underlying concern is that if these topics where I personally know a great deal are not presented honestly and completely, how am I to trust other topics where I am less knowledgeable?

Evolution is a topic for which we get flak from people on all sides of the issue <smile>.

I agree that most curriculum providers -- and many "big names" in the homeschooling movement -- do a very poor job of presenting evolution. But, as I hint in my post on Random Chance, I don't think it's just the Young Earth crowd who is at fault. My limited experience in public school clearly demonstrated that "evolution" is an idea bandied about, rarely defined, and poorly understood by most of us, regardless of our educational background.

Blind-Leading-Blind
The Blindfolded Leading the Blindfolded

But there are those, like yourself, for whom this is a subject of more fascination. I, a film major by background, would have little to offer you in this regard. Similarly, our notes on evolution are not going to present both sides completely. We do our best to be fair, but there's no way we could ever be complete. Nor would we want to.

Why not deal with a topic completely?

  1. That'd be impossible. There's always more to learn. For example, Google revealed that someone recently wrote a dissertation on "The Genetics of Speciation and Colouration in Carrion and Hooded Crows." There is no way to teach anything "completely." We must choose the foundational bits to share and allow parents and students to expand on this foundation as desired.
  2. It's not that important. We must pick our battles. Some people have taken positions on evolution (either for or against) as one of the matters of most importance. I disagree. Aspects of evolution definitely shape things like medicine, but those areas of the idea are not really under scrutiny. What you and I believe about the age of the earth can have impacts on us, but is it really more important than, I don't know, making sure "Johnny" can read? Because, once Johnny can read, he can continue to learn and may discover that the impacts of animal captivity ignite his passions.

And that leads us back again to the idea of "Education, not Indoctrination." We want to give you tools so you can teach your children what you believe and why. As you look through our materials, you will notice that we present largely from an Young Earth perspective. As you know, some of the books we carry contain presentations of evolution. I feel it balances out sufficiently. Others, of course, disagree <smile>.

This brings us to your underlying question: Can you trust Sonlight to present truth?

In many ways, no. Not because what we offer is untrue. We seek to educate so we choose not to make statements that indoctrinate. Neither you nor I want a curriculum that says, "This is how it is, reject all else." What I believe best helps students to learn is more along the lines of, "This is what we believe and why." As students are ready, we can then move on to share what others believe and why and why we do not agree.

So can you trust Sonlight's presentations on topics with which you are less familiar?

Absolutely. We seek to learn and help you learn with your students. We do our best to present things honestly. And where we are incomplete and you want to learn more, you are encouraged to dive deeper into the many facets of that area of study. It's one of the many advantages of homeschooling.

Sonlight's approach is rather unique. I have found it incredibly helpful throughout my life-long journey of learning.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


01/03/2014

Last Chance to Get Things from the Christmas Sale


Swing by the Christmas Sale page to get an extra 10% off almost everything. You can also still get a FREE keyboard while supplies last when you purchase Piano Wizard (we have five left at time of posting).

I know this isn't a big time for shopping. But if you were thinking about it, you have through this Sunday, the 5th, to order. Then the 2013 Christmas sale will be over.

Enjoy your weekend!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


12/31/2013

Becoming Comfortable with Questions

He's one of those brilliant types. He works and takes college courses like "Philosophy of Law and Ethics" for fun. He's also one of those infuriating people who is good at every game he plays, whether a traditional board game or on a computer. I'm pretty sure he also never feels the need to sleep. He rejected religion a long time ago. I think a big part of this is that no one could answer his difficult questions.

He has a lot of questions now.

Sitting at my sturdy dining room table, his mind connecting thoughts I haven't even considered yet, he's easily two steps ahead of me. We're discussing a hot political issue making waves through the media right now. I'm doing my best to keep the conversation going in a straight line rather than spinning off into ever murkier waters. The water is muddy enough as it is.

There's finally a lull.

"Can you produce an argument for your position without God?" he asks.

I'm confused. "I just did. I didn't mention God or the Bible in any of what I said."

It's his turn to be confused. He sits there replaying the conversation. He doesn't acknowledge my point. "But when we get done talking like this, it's like we agree with each other."

I laugh. "We do. When we're talking about the same thing, we agree. The problem is that we come at stuff with two different presuppositions. These assumptions about reality make it so we ultimately disagree."

Asking-Questions
Asking Questions

Before last night, I don't think this young man had discussed this topic with a Christian. He constantly peppered me with questions soaked in the bias of today's misaligned portrayal of Christian beliefs. Again and again I found myself reminding him, "I never suggested that. What I did say was...."

I relish the opportunity to address questions. But it makes me sad to see so many super intelligent people -- mostly guys in my experience -- who have walked away from the "hogwash" of religion because no one bothered to discuss difficult issues with them. Hard questions are not comfortable. There aren't always great answers. There are few rock solid responses. But since what we believe is true, we can be comfortable with the uncertainty of our understanding.

Sonlight prepared me for this beautifully.

First, Sonlight showed me that life-long learning is a good thing. If I'm still learning, it's okay not to know everything. It's good to seek out new understanding. We should welcome opportunities to discover new things about the world. Questions provide an excellent way to challenge our current assumptions and give us a chance to see if there is more to learn.

Second, Sonlight demonstrated the benefits of discussion. As we read books and talked about them, we unearthed huge and important ideas. Suddenly, a silly story about speeding becomes an opportunity to talk about authority and responsibility. Taking the time to talk things through is a worthy pursuit.

Third, Sonlight urged me to learn about why we believe what we believe. This necessitates that we also consider why others do not believe what we believe. Once we have begun to truly understand the issue at hand, discussion becomes possible and even interesting!

In this coming year, may we all become more comfortable with questions.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


12/30/2013

Fun Video on Metaphors

Metaphors steal us away from the humdrum march of words and descriptions. But for as cozy as I am with comparing an idea to something else, like a painter producing trees from blobs of paint, I enjoy the following video like the first bite of a freshly baked cookie.

Hat Tip
Heidi

Even when I'm not officially "doing school," knowledge and ideas pounce on me or slip unnoticed into my brain like a love note from my wife in my lunch box. Life-long learning continues to flow in.

How's your Christmas break going? Have you learned anything fun or interesting while actively "avoiding" school? I'd love to hear about it.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


12/18/2013

From Luke's Inbox: A for Effort

I adjunct for a junior college. Many of my students are single moms. They may not do as well as the other students on tests, but they are often working 20 to 40 hours a week, taking care of kids by themselves, and still taking colleges courses. They may work much harder than the other students, but that isn't reflected in test scores. I wish there was some way to assign a grade for effort. Suggestions?

First, I recommend you check out my post that spells out what I see as the big picture in grading. Short, short version: Help your students love learning, give them ample opportunity, and grading becomes rather meaningless. Stick to pass/fail if you must do something (and let them constantly work toward passing). In this system, as long as a student wants to learn, they are rewarded. Students who don't need the course move onward. And students who are not interested in learning don't skate by on a technicality.

Second, I think we muddy the waters when we try to make grades about effort. The saying "A for effort" is ironic for more than just the single-syllable pseudo-homophone. This problem arises when we try to make grades about both measuring performance and motivating involvement (the first two of the three reasons most people grade stuff). These are two separate goals, and sometimes at odds with one another. Sure, we like to believe that trying equates to positive outcome. But that is simply not how the world works. In fact, in our "try, try again" mindset, we sometimes forget that our endless attempts will not necessarily produce our desired results (as in failed business). Often times it "merely" takes thousands of attempts to figure something out (as with the light bulb). How do we reconcile our goals? Let's start by stating them clearly:

  1. We want to adequately track how a student is progressing. In a perfect world, a student with an A is rocking, a student right in line with the average has a C, and the students who are simply not getting it are stamped with an F. But we all know this is not how the school system usually works. The goal is that every student has an A -- meaning, they are complying with the work and testing -- and only poor students earn Cs by refusing to turn in homework. Grades are not the best method for this. Attention to each individual student gives a much clearer picture of where they are with the content. And for those who don't test well, they are not given a false stigma of stupidity.
  2. We want to encourage a strong work ethic. In this approach, every student who puts forth effort has an A, those who don't stay on task get a B, the student who lollygags gets a C, and those who don't show up or turn anything in earn an F. This falls apart if a student is spread too thin or, far more frequently, finds the notion of a mark on a paper little incentive to go too all the effort of staying awake in the desk. History has clearly shown that this system fails to equip genius, pushes kids who need more time to abandon education, and rewards compliance over learning.

Bringing it all together now, the only grading mechanism I know that fits both of these goals is the binary Pass/Fail with the chance to try again and again and again. This is really what we want people to learn. We want them to keep trying until they get it right. Anything less is rather useless in the real world. The fact that semesters and grade levels don't accommodate that is a fault and flaw of the school system.

Third, I wonder if we need to create specific awards that reflect our actual goals. I have sports awards for MVP, Personal Bests, Leadership, Most Improved, and more. With these we can speak directly to a student's specific situation, reward the things we actually care about, and promote the practices we want to encourage.

Sonlight revolutionized home education. Our literature-based approach to learning continues to dominate homeschool curriculum. Why? In part because we focus on learning and not testing, grades, or other arbitrary measurements. Our goal is to instill a love of learning. With that foundation, students will succeed.

If you're looking for a homeschool curriculum that you and your students are guaranteed to love, it's time to discover Sonlight.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


12/16/2013

Math: A Reason to Homeschool

It's 11:13 at night. My bedtime has slumped over in the corner somewhere, too tired to continue begging me to sleep. My cousin and I are working through her math homework. We've just encountered an equation with imaginary numbers.

"Do you remember going over imaginary numbers in class?" I ask.

She shakes her head dubiously. I'm pretty sure she's never even heard of imaginary numbers before now. Calvin and Hobbes had, thankfully, introduced me to them years ago. It's been awhile, but I think I'm up for it.

"What number times itself equals -1?" I ask.

Her blank stare continues.

Five minutes later she's at least giving me a halfhearted nod when I show her the square root of negative one squared. And as we finally head off to bed -- her promising to visit her math teacher so she can explain the math problems that I couldn't figure out as the clock nudged itself toward midnight -- I realize that math is yet another reason to homeschool.

Imaginary-Numbers
Imaginary Numbers

With math, you can teach it the first time.

As homeschoolers, we can camp on or return to a topic as long and often as a student needs. The classroom requires that we waste students' time. Incomprehensible homework is the embodiment of this inefficiency. I have to learn this content anyway so I can teach it to my student. It would have been better to just teach her math from the start.

Plus, I could have purchased a math curriculum that actually solves each problem for me, step by step. Instead, my tax dollars purchased this pathetic textbook that provides zero explanation for the majority of the problems in the chapter. It's maddening.

I've had people ask me how homeschoolers teach advanced subjects like Calculus. Jill has a great response to new homeschoolers who know they don't know everything. But for the incredulous toward home education, let me say this: I have to teach my student many of her math lessons because the teacher failed to do so. I'm not saying her teacher is bad at her job. But whatever the cause -- lack of time, resources, opportunity, skill, or observation -- students all over this great country are required to learn this stuff at home. I think they'd have a higher success rate if you were there to help them.

Enter homeschooling.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


12/12/2013

Grades: Measure, Motivate, Monitor?

Apparently the median grade at Harvard is an A-. For me, this begs the question -- yet again -- why do we have grades? What is their purpose or function?

Report-Card
Report Card

I see three possibilities off the top:

  1. Grades measure how a student performs
  2. Grades motivate students to work harder
  3. Grades monitor how a teacher is doing

If grades measure a student's performance, I find them detrimental to learning. Students who already know the material do best in these situations, and so those with the highest grade are those who lease need the course. That seems backward. Conversely, those students who have the most to learn are penalized unless they are able to, at the moment of examination, demonstrate a complete grasp of the content. Again, if the purpose of a course is to teach students new skills or knowledge, measuring performance is the wrong way to go about things.

If grades are to be a carrot to lure students onward, I find them deleterious to learning. For those of us who care about grades, we focus on the grade and ignore the opportunities to push ourselves. I played the grade game and won, but to an unknown loss in high school. For those who realize the grade game is stupid and opt-out, there is no other motivation to learn in the system. It is designed to offer a single reward, and if we don't want it, there is no reason to bother. My wife, as well as many of my friends, all experienced this demotivation.

If grades provide a way to monitor teacher performance, they have proven destructive to learning. I've read numerous reports of teachers and school districts cheating on tests to raise scores. The teachers I know are furious and frustrated that they are more and more required to "teach to the test" instead of doing their jobs. That system is broken. It pushes teachers to want to hand out As so everyone thinks their students are doing great. This is, it appears, Harvard.

Better, by far in my observation, to dispense with grades altogether. As homeschoolers, we get to focus on instilling a love of learning, a desire for knowledge, and a passion for getting things right. We don't need to play games or find external motivations or artificial ways to validate the work we do.

So keep up the good work!

Standardized tests can be a great way to find areas of struggle and help you refocus your efforts. Your student may really enjoy positive feedback as you mark work complete. And I think it is a great idea to celebrate accomplishments.

But let's do one better than Harvard and focus on learning and not some skewed grading system.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


12/11/2013

Still Getting Gifts? Order Today for Christmas Delivery

My wife and I checked over our list last night. We compared everything we had in our web carts to the gifts we still needed. When everything checked out, we pressed the purchase button.

Checking-Christmas-List
Checking it twice

I'm guessing I'm not the only one to finally get serious about finishing the gift buying process. Tonight is your last chance to order from Sonlight and ensure Christmas delivery with free FedEx shipping to the contiguous "lower 48" states. If you need to push it back further, you can, but you'll end up paying dollars in shipping. I'd rather put that money toward something useful. ...like story CDs.

This year we're offering some very fun audio Greathall stories. Is your voice hoarse from reading and you have something else you need to do for a while? Let your children listen while these stories entertain and inspire them. I really enjoy listening to audio books while stuck in the car. Add these to your collection.

We've also been thrilled with how much interest you've shown in Piano Wizard. Order now to get a FREE piano keyboard and take advantage of a 3-month Time Payment option.

Find even more great gifts with free shipping from Sonlight's Christmas sale. Order now to get everything in time for Christmas.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


12/09/2013

Save 50% when you update your Sonlight Instructor's Guide

Sonlight's per pupil cost drops the more you use one of our programs. Because almost everything in your Core or Multi-Subject Package is reusable, adding an additional student requires a few consumable activity sheets or workbooks and little else. So you can continue to use and reuse the same Core years after you purchase it. Just be sure to get all the consumables you'll need when you first order. We regularly update our homeschool curriculum and may not carry the older items when you're ready to use the program again.

But what if you see an update to a program that will make your life blissfully easier? We want you to be able to update your program for a fraction of the cost. That's why we have an Instructor's Guide Repurchase Discount. If you bought an IG from us years ago (by itself or as part of a package), you can update it to the latest edition for half off. And if next year you want to update again, you'll save 50% once more. And again. And again.

Simply add an IG you already purchased from us to your cart, and we'll give you the discount. It's that easy.

Often with an update, we may switch out previous books with improved titles. To quickly add the new books, pull up the package and click on the Items tab. There you will find a "Show Previously Purchased Items" checkbox. Now you will be able to easily see the items you do not currently own.
Previously Purchased Items
We're here to help you have a successful homeschool experience year after year after year. Sonlight's IG Repurchase Discount is just one of the many ways we can do that for you.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Gaurdian


12/06/2013

Help Your Children Grapple with the Fact that We're Sinners

After some heinous atrocity against humanity, those who knew the perpetrator often say something like, "He was such a nice man!" It does not matter if it was violent, sexual, criminal, or dishonest, we seem to expect the "bad guys" to wear black hats and sport tell-tale mustaches. When a teacher, pastor, neighbor, friend, or relative commits a wrong, it clashes with our tendency to put people in the category of either "good" or "bad."

Bad-Guy
Bad Guy

Take the famous example of the guy who raped a girl, had her husband knocked off to try to cover it up, and only owned up to it after he was caught. What's more, king David got to keep his leadership position! Crazy, right? David was a man who wanted to follow God and who did some absolutely terrible things.

I don't know about you, but I'm still a sinner too. I need to ask for forgiveness from my family now and then because I do something I shouldn't. I still commit plenty of "victimless" crimes on a regular basis, like speaking my mind to bad a driver when the roads are icy. I believe my heart is largely in the right place (longing to be transformed by the Holy Spirit), but I'm only clean because of Christ's shed blood. I am a complex person. And while most of my motivations and actions can be broken into categories of right and wrong, you'd be wrong to label me as a purely "good" guy.

Long before series like Game of Thrones swept through popular culture, I had already encountered complex characters. I had already seen how good people can do bad things and bad people can do good things. We see this frequently in the Bible. I also witnessed it again and again in the literature that I experienced through Sonlight. In fact, complex characters is one of the seven things that make Sonlight books All Stars.

Complex characters give us opportunities to help our children grapple with the fact that the world is full of sinners. Some of us are seeking to follow Christ, some are doing our own thing. Sometimes we make good choices, sometimes not. We all need redemption, and it is so cool when we get to let the love and grace of God spill out of our lives into the lives of those around us. And I believe great literature and modeling forgiveness for our children are both great ways to help them separate the action (both good and bad) from the person.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


12/03/2013

The Ren Faire Exists and Other Musings on Reality

I've been to Renaissance Festivals in two different states. It's typically hot and expensive and exhausting and little changes year to year. But my wife and friends love going, so I don my bed sheet monk costume and sometimes try to have fun. A vendor, in full regalia, once barked after me, "Forgive me, Father, for I will sin."

Ren-Faire-Monk
Friar Luke

NFQ from "No Forbidden Questions" has a post comparing being an atheist to being stuck inside a Renaissance Fair. I started writing a response and failed. Now, with a blank blog post staring me down, I'm going to try to create a coherent thought or two.

If I've got it right, her main point is that religious claims about reality are so far fetched and ridiculous that it's akin to thinking modernity does not exist. All religious nuts, like me, refuse to see beyond the walls of our made up Ren Faire. Living along side us is as frustrating and absurd as living in a world full of people who refuse to connect with reality.

My response to the post fell apart when I remembered that I have made similarly negative assumptions in the very recent past. I know the feeling. It's strange to encounter people who honestly believe things different from us.

But she is right: We, religious folks, do really, honestly, actually believe that Christianity teaches us what is true. I love how C.S. Lewis drives this point home in God in the Dock. It's a fact that I can easily forget: I don't believe in and follow Christ because it's nice, produces good in the world, or is more comfortable than alternatives. I believe in and follow Christ because it is true.

If living life as an atheist is like being stuck in a Ren Faire, I find philosophical naturalists to be like someone who claims there is no such festival because they've never been there.

"But I've been to them, multiple times," I say.

"You poor, duped person," they may reply. "You may have hung out with a bunch of people who dressed up and whatnot. But we now live in modern times. There is no such thing today."

I guess it depends on how you define reality. Ren Faires exist. The people who visit them and work in them know that there is more to life than the 1500s. We all know about technology. We're happy to talk about movies (though I've got nothing to say about basketball). But we also believe that less than a hour from my house is a place that transports us out of this modern life and into another time (sort of, but not really). In fact, ignoring these festivals and rejecting their place in reality cuts out a huge swath of experiences.

The analogy breaks down here. Christianity is not just some fun place of escapism. It's something that should dictate how we live. Orthodoxy is not something you dress up in once a year so you can eat a turkey leg and watch someone swallow swords. It is something that provides the words of eternal life and explains reality as it really is.

And if someone, even a blog friend like NFQ, finds my life as nonsensical as if I wore that brown bed sheet costume every day, it doesn't bother me. Because I believe, like her, that I live in the real world... virgin birth, Ren Faire, and all.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


12/02/2013

The Maturity of Homeschoolers

People have called her "older than her years" and I've heard "mature" used as an adjective. But when I look at this particular student, I don't see a person who has reached full development. She's insecure as all get-out, though you'd never guess from how she hides it in public. She struggles to communicate, though she has developed the skills needed to redirect attention if someone gets too close to topics of depth. And her worldview has been warped by horrific experiences she's buried with the other casualties of life in the backyard. Don't get me wrong: She is a lovely, love-able, engaging individual who could go far in life, if she lets herself. She's spent her years in public school where she learned most of her evasion techniques and runs isolated through life.

Another girl has been labeled "naive" and "clueless as to the harsh realities of life." But when I look at this young lady, I see someone who is ready for the world. She's confident, though you wouldn't peg her as stuck-up. She communicates clearly and well, though she may be less pushy than me when it comes to offering her opinion. And her worldview has been shaped by a loving family, a supportive community, and a desire to help bind up the wounds of those injured in the war-zone of life. She is a lovely, love-able, engaging individual who could go far in life, if that's where God takes her. She's spent her years homeschooled where she learned most of her communication techniques and formed the relationships she will carry through life.

This post is not about how all homeschoolers are fantastic kids. That goes without saying <grin>. Homeschoolers can be awkward and have strange priorities. But really, are homeschoolers all that different? We may, at times, be a well-behaved bunch, but we're human and have our own strengths and weaknesses. So I'm not writing to say that homeschoolers are simply better prepared for life (though, we may be <smile>).

This post is about maturity.


Grow

It seems people who promote public schools as an important part of growing up tend to talk about "maturity" in an "adult entertainment" sense. It's like you become "mature" if you end up in really dark places. The more messed up your past, the more "mature" you are today. That does not make any sense to me. In fact, the ones who have been through unbloggable horrors are often so scarred that they are in desperate need of help and grace before they can become well-functioning people again.

So, for me, maturity comes when we are able to walk into dark places and share love and grace with those who are there. Whether we've had a rough past or not, I believe we are mature when redemption is at work in and through us by the grace of God. And we have amazing opportunities to practice and develop forgiveness and grace in our own households as homeschoolers. So are all homeschoolers mature? Of course not! But the benefit of homeschooling is that we can focus on building a true, deep maturity in our kids. We can do so without getting sidetracked with the odd, pop-culture view of sin exposure.

And really, anyone who complains that a family that just reads the Bible doesn't know about sin clearly has not read the Bible.

I got on this topic today because of Cindy's fantastic post Public Schools and Naive Kids. I highly recommend you swing by her blog and give it a read.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


11/27/2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Sonlight will be closed for Thanksgiving tomorrow and Friday.

We're setting up the Beam to send tomorrow so you should get it then. Don't know what the Beam is? Well, it's a great bi-weekly publication that includes lots of fascinating and fun Sonlight Forum links and other goodies, including Sarita's Word (which we also post here on the blog). Interested? Check out the Beam and other series to which you can subscribe here.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


11/25/2013

Apophenia - Finding Meaning That Isn't There

I had never met someone who believed in Bible Codes. But here was a speaker at a Christian event whose testimony revolved entirely around the idea. After reading the book, he committed his life to Christ.

'Crazy,' was my first thought.

Aside from the plain fact that hidden messages require input from our minds to work (making them only good in retrospect; meaning this would be eisegesis), I dislike finding "hidden meanings" in text -- or movies, for that matter. In my deplorable high school English class, we read several books and poems I found decent until the teacher started "teaching" us about them. She would go into all kinds of minute details. She would urge us to notice how the green light indicated the main character was envious. She would try to demonstrate that the author really meant something the text did not say. She read into everything, and it drove me crazy. I'm not the only one. There's a meme involving literature and blue curtains (but it has the f-bomb, so I'm not linking). Literature is not well-loved when it is killed so it can be dissected.

Barb made precisely this point in her blog post How to Take the Joy from Literature.

For the sake of argument, I postulate that there is a difference between uncovering depth and finding hidden meaning. It may well be true that F. Scott Fitzgerald did intend to link greed with the green light in Gatsby. Then again, perhaps he was linking it to other things (like the American Dream). Good writers do, indeed, include depth in their literature. But the process should be one of uncovering as you gain understanding of context and culture.

This is how I prefer to approach Scripture. I read and I try to learn what I can about the context from which the words were written. There is a richness to be studied, depth to be discovered, but let us be wary of finding hidden messages.

Random
Hidden Message?

Apophenia seems to be a coined term rather than a well-accepted word. In general, apophenia is seeing patterns or meaning where there isn't one.

As you read to your children, please share with them culture and context that brings out the richness of the literature we read as part of Sonlight. But, for the joy of blue curtains, don't read into stuff. This is, yet again, another example of education instead of indoctrination. The more we learn, the more we see in the wonderful books we read. We don't need to be told what it is we're seeing.

The good news is that even if you do impart some wonky ideas to your kids, God can use it. His redemption can use even something like Bible Codes to transform a life. And if God can use that, He can use you and me.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


11/22/2013

Careful What You Post Online

One of my friends has a secret social media account. She posts stuff there she doesn't want anyone she knows to know about. It's a cathartic experience for her where she can let slip all the dark, nasty, painful things she's experiencing as a teenager. I don't think it's healthy, but I'm doing my best to pick my battles. But since she didn't want me to know about it, I just had to know about it. Yeah, I'm that guy.

"You know," I said, "you may want to remove your picture from your profile."

She looked at me blankly.

"If you don't want people to know who you are, putting your picture on the account isn't a great way to keep it hidden."

The profile picture has since been changed.

Internet Irony
Internet Irony

This is just a friendly reminder to be careful what you post online. I'm sure you never divulge any personal information or anything like that, but maybe it's time to remind your kids or friends about the simple fact that the internet is public. Even Facebook. Or, did you not hear about all those privacy concerns some crazy conspiracy theorists have been ranting about?

This warning isn't new. I've seen videos and posts and even websites dedicated to urging people to think before they post.

But then some guy -- I looked at the list of his other videos and I'm not planning on watching them -- does the obvious: Look at your social information and then go up and talk to you like he knows you.

And people flip out.

If you're interested, check out the SOCIAL MEDIA EXPERIMENT video.

I get it. The world's a big place and few of us have stalkers who would go to the trouble of looking us up. I mean, I've been to several homeschool conventions, have my picture and name all over the internet, and, like, four people have recognized me. (Hi, friends!) And if someone as amazing as me <cough> can't get noticed, I can see why others wouldn't think they'd be noticed. Worse, as a blogger, I know how it can feel like no one notices you exist.

But the fact remains: The internet is public.

Don't get paranoid. The NSA already has everything it needs on you. <smile>

Just think before you post. ...or "Like" something that could be used against you in a court of law.

Still online? Cool. You already know about the Sonlight blog, but we're elsewhere in social media as well. Come find hang out with us.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


11/20/2013

Instructor's Guide Links

IGSonlight's Instructor's Guides are so much more than an easy to use daily schedule. The IG includes notes and vocabulary and teaching tips and more. The guides also used to have long strings of text -- like http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQw4w9WgXcQ -- that you could type into your browser to learn more about a particular topic. But who wants to do that?

So we created a single place on the Sonlight site where you could quickly access all* the clickable IG links: http://www.sonlight.com/iglinks.html You're busy. You've got better things to do with your time than type random URLs to get to useful content on the web.

Speaking of useful content, there is more than just the IG links URL in Section 4 in the back of your Instructor's Guide. I know it's labeled "New User Information," but even if you're a Sonlight Pro it could well be worth a quick peek.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

* Yes, all. There's even a recursive link back to www.sonlight.com/iglinks on the IG links page. We're awesome like that.


11/18/2013

Extended Match Ends Tonight

Friendly reminder: Your gift to Lost in India will be doubled through this evening. If you somehow missed all the messages, emails, reminders, posts, and signal fires urging you to give online, you still have time to have your gift matched dollar for dollar.

That is all.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

P.S. If you have already given, thanks so much for helping transform the lives of over 300,000 children in India.


11/15/2013

Rising from the Ashes of Shattered Dreams

She had big plans for college sports even as a junior in high school. Then, as a junior in high school, her knee gave out. With it, her dreams of college collapsed as well. Her life, she told me, spiraled. Her story has not been a happy one. Much the opposite. Entirely the opposite. And last night, as she wept on my couch, I had a panoply of thoughts bumping into each other in my head. Their stampeding over one another did not help. One thought, however vague in the swirl, went something like this, 'It's such a bummer her shattered dreams burned her so.'

I'm one of those deeply philosophical types, you see.

Here's a theory my subconscious has been assembling by itself since last night: Her life burned to the ground because the foundation of everything had been removed.

My subconscious is pretty bad about mixing metaphors.

Ashes
Ashes

She really didn't like school. She maintained the minimal grade point average needed to keep playing sports. "College is the only way to secure a future," I'm sure her teachers told her, intentionally or not. And so when the one and only thing that nudged to toward college gave way, her life lost all direction. And despite an unenviable childhood, I'm pretty sure no one shared stories of redemption with her. I don't think anyone told her about men and women who had survived hardship and calamity and, by God's grace, came out the other side. I don't think anyone has ever told her about God's grace at all.

Even knowing about God's grace does not make you immune to the devastating impact of shattered dreams. It's even worse when it's something that feels like God's grace itself has failed. Been there. Done that.

One of the best ways to see hope on the other side of hopelessness is to read stories about how God has provided in the past. My mom has written some excellent posts on this subject, such as Teaching children how to fail and Why Sonlight shows students that the world isn't perfect. These kinds of examples -- which can also be found throughout Scripture -- demonstrate what it looks like to walk the road of life with God. We grow spiritually as we travel the miles down the road God has called us to walk.

Life can be really hard, even when we're right where God wants us. Isn't that one of the lessons we can learn from martyrs? Isn't that something we see in Paul? Isn't that what we see in Christ?

As Thanksgiving approaches, I'm looking forward to the service our church holds where we get to stand up and share things God has done for which we are thankful.

"Does anyone thank God for cancer?" one of my co-workers wanted to know.

"No," I said. "But I have heard people share about how God has brought them through the experience of cancer, whether He healed them or not. And seeing that, seeing God bring them to a place where His peace is there... wow! It's really encouraging."

Has God raised you from the ashes of shattered dreams? I've love to celebrate that story with you!

If you, or someone you know, is currently in the midst of abject disappointment, may God's peace that surpasses all understanding guard your heart and mind in Christ.

And I would very much appreciate your prayers for my wife Brittany and I as we seek to share the hope of Christ with people who are hurting and, sometimes, have been burned by religion. We desperately need God's grace and wisdom in those situation as well.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


11/13/2013

Lost in India? Empty Your "Backpack" Before Tomorrow Night

If you've been involved in Lost in India, you've probably already received a few (dozen?) reminders to add up the money you saved in your "backpack" and give online. But I know I'm busy and tend to plan to get to something before something else comes up.

We're halfway to the goal as of writing this post. We're praying we meet -- or exceed -- the goal in the next 24 hours.

If you've been meaning to give but haven't done so yet, stop reading this post, log into your Lost in India account and donate.

And if this the first you've heard of this amazing giving opportunity, check it out and consider giving a few dollars. Even $5 can radically transform the world.

The matching opportunity ends tomorrow night. Get to it! <smile>

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


11/11/2013

What Does $5 Do for You?

Five bucks sure doesn't sound like much. I can't even get one of those fancy more-sugar-than-coffee drinks at a local brand name coffee shop for that.

But five dollars can do a ton in the right hands.

Five-Dollars

$5 enables someone to translate five words of Scripture into a new language. That's not just dropping something into Google Translate or Babblefish. They learn the language, find the word that means the same thing in that culture, then read the sentence to test groups to make sure it clearly communicates. They make revisions and then publish it. For five bucks.

$5 sends five kids to a week-long Bible Club where they can learn about Christ. The kids who accept Jesus have such a transformation, they tend to lead their families to the Lord as well. Not only that, I've heard more churches are started because these kids come to know Christ than from church planting efforts. For five dollars.

$5 gives an secure digital card copy of the Bible to a person who lives in a country hostile to Christianity. These cultures tend to be big on piracy, so the recipient often make hundreds of copies and distributes them to all their friends. What a great way to spread the Gospel! For five bucks.

$5 can recruit, train and send someone who can share the Gospel with 35 Muslims. It costs more than ten to twenty times that to go to a single Christian seminar around these parts. How long would it take me to learn how to culturally relay the Good News to a Muslim friend? A long, long time. And then I'd have to try to figure out how to find them. All that is already done. For five dollars.

Where would you get $5?

That's the really neat part. Whenever you're nearing the end of your school year, fill out one (or more) surveys about your Sonlight Instructor's Guide(s), and we'll give $5 to the ministry you choose from the list above. There's a link near the end of your Instructor's Guide -- Week 30, if you want to peek ahead -- so when you get there, be sure to let us know what you think!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

P.S. I know it's not an IG Survey, but right now (before the end of Thursday), every $5 you give to Lost in India gets matched... so the impact is doubled!


11/08/2013

Five Reasons to Waste Your Time Reading to Your Kids

I think we've been drinking the metaphorical Kool-Aid. We've found statistics that back our decision to homeschool. We listen to people tell us how great homeschooling is. And we've grown complacent in our self-back-patting.

A trend I'm noticing -- or, at least, believe I'm seeing -- is some in our generation of homeschoolers believe the hype that abandoning the school system automatically makes for a better education. Stats disagree. But the thinking remains: I can just pick up whatever program strikes my fancy and my kids will turn out great!

No. Not true. Homeschooling does not magically make students succeed any more than simply showing up to class. The factor that predicts student success is your involvement in your student's education. And with all the "free," online, "easy" educational options available to us as homeschoolers, I'm concerned that we will leave our kids to "learn on their own."

That is a recipe for failure.

Kool-Aid
Drink Up

If you read Wired, you may have seen the cover story: How a Radical New Teaching Method Could Unleash a Generation of Geniuses. The gist is that these teachers let the kids loose and stopped lecturing, allowing the kids to discover for themselves what they needed to learn. The kids rocked, scoring higher than anyone else in the country!

Okay, Luke, does that mean you think we should just avoid lectures and "old" models of learning? Are you pushing for something like unschooling?

Nope.

As I read the article, the theme that resonated through the text again and again was this: These teachers (and their students) succeeded because they introduced ideas and discussed them with the kids. The teachers let the students follow through on the concepts. Instead of telling them what was what, they let the students discover it. But behind all of that, the teacher was directing what needed to be discovered.

At Sonlight, we call this "education, not indoctrination." And it's huge.

So, while schools and other educators may find this approach to teaching "radical" and "new," we Sonlighters have been using it for close to a quarter century.

But Sonlight takes so much time, Luke! There's so much reading! I have to carve out hours of my day to educate my kids! These new homeschool programs do the teaching for me. I can be busy doing other stuff while other people -- via technology -- teach my kids. Why would I waste my time reading to my students?

1. Because your involvement matters. Without your input, your students would not do as well (see above). By taking the time to read and discuss with your kids, you are setting them up for success.

2. Because direction from a teacher matters. I know Sugata Mitra disagrees. And he's a much bigger name in education than me. I agree that kids learn stuff naturally. I agree that kids teach each other stuff. I agree that curiosity is huge and kindling a natural desire to learn is wonderful. I think he is right on with all of that. But the part that I believe he's missing is the value of a literature-based education. Sure, you can pick up skills and knowledge simply by poking around the internet. But literature does so much more. By giving your students great literature and helping them follow through, they're going to come away with a fantastic education.

3. Because you'll build relationships. Academic success is one thing. Family bonds is something else entirely. Spending time with your kids gives you opportunities to connect with them. Plain and simple.

4. Because your kids will love learning. A life-long love of learning is way more useful than ingesting a few -- or even many -- facts and figures. As my mom says often, if you teach kids how to learn, and give them a desire to do so, they will have no barriers in life. Your students can go on to do whatever God has called them to do.

5. Because you'll love teaching. Not always. I know what it's like to read for a couple hours and feel worn out. But then again, I know what it's like to read until my voice has gone hoarse because I want to read the next chapter and the kids are begging me to keep going. That is so much fun! And the discussions and connections just make it even more enjoyable.

This only scratches the surface. If you want to read more about why books are a fantastic way to learn, check out a few of the following posts:

On Lectures and Learning
How Reading Fiction Helps Kids Develop Empathy
Four Benefits of Literature-Rich Learning
What Is the Future of Learning?
How Sonlight's curriculum helps you talk with your children about racism
A Public School Success Story: The 1,000 Books Project
Books Inspire Thought
Teaching children how to fail
The Most Memorable Part of School: Stories
Go Somewhere You've Never Been (and may never visit)
Want to boost emotional intelligence? Read literature.
Which uses richer vocabulary: children's books or adult conversation? How we learn new words.

Why do you take the time to read to your kids? What made you decide Sonlight was worth it over all the "free" and "easy" options out there?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


11/05/2013

Becoming a Teacher

I am discouraged. In light of recent events, James 3 is tumbling around my mind. "Not many of you should become teachers..."

First, and most applicably, I teach a Sunday School class. I have kids with whom I read and share about Scripture.

Second, I spend a great deal of time interacting with high school and college aged kids. While not specifically a teacher, I do mentor, share Scripture, and do my best to provide Godly guidance and counsel.

Third, I blog. I have taken on a public role of writing and sharing. While I welcome input and feedback, what I write is read. I hope <smile>.

Teacher-Talker-Blogger
Teacher, Talker, Blogger

I've become a teacher. I am all too aware of the obvious places where I stumble. I'm sure I stumble in ways I do not even recognize yet. And the judgement that awaits me stricter for my teaching. May I be one of whom it is true that my words are "pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere."

I love Scripture. I love that with Sonlight we primarily read Scripture. We don't presume to be teachers. We do share some information here and there, but allow you to dig into the Bible yourself. As you teach your children, may humility and peace be hallmarks of your study. And may you "reap a harvest of righteousness" as the fruit of your labor. For as discouraged as I am by our capacity for sin and selfishness and pride, I am bolstered by the uplifting words of Scripture that urge me to live a life worthy of the calling I have received.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


11/04/2013

How Experts Teach Stuff They Don't Know

How do you teach something you don't know? You learn it. Alternatively, you could get help.

I followed a link from an article about how a quarter of all teachers have fewer than 5 years experience to the comments about the original article. One person said that her problem with homeschooling is that her son already knows more than she does about things like calculus and computer science. "How could I teach these skills to my son?" she asks. "He needs to be taught by experts."

First, your school may not offer the classes he needs for math or technology. I attended a smallish high school and some of the more advanced stuff was simply not available.

Second, you're not guaranteed to learn from an expert. My teacher friends have been thrown into situations where they have to teach a class they are not prepared to teach. They are forced to scramble and create lesson plans and whatnot. Having been on the instruction side of such a class, it was clear the teacher was not an expert.

Third, as a homeschooler, you have access to some of the greatest experts out there! You can get similar (if not superior) texts and tools that teachers use. In fact, many advanced courses can be purchased where an expert walks you and your student through the material. I'd gladly take a published course over a first time teacher's bumbling attempts.

Forth, this argument often assumes that you are jumping in with your student without any background. But if you have tackled arithmetic, geometry, algebra, and trigonometry... calculus would be totally do-able! As a homeschool parent, you get to learn alongside your children. And that means you are often prepared enough to help them master the material.

If your student wants to learn something you don't know, finding an expert may be just the thing. You could order a video or online course, find something for free through YouTube or iTunes, get a knowledgeable friend to help out, or enroll your student in a local class. ...and that's truly the beauty of homeschooling: We are not bound to only learn at home. We can take advantage of any and every option that is best for our family.

As something of an "expert" in the field of teaching movie making, I've had four teachers contact me about my free film school. They have been tasked by their school to create a film class, and reach out to the "expert" -- me -- for help. Because the expert teachers know that they can learn things they don't know to teach their students something new. You can too.

If there's a subject your student is interested in, Sonlight just may carry an excellent resource for you.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


11/01/2013

How a Global Perspective Helps Us See More Clearly

His parents don't go to church anymore. They used to. Today they excuse their lack of fellowship because "all American churches are filled with fake Christians." They won't be part of that. They're only interested in spending time with "true believers." Not surprising, then, that they don't spend time with anyone.

In my view, they break communication with those who ruffles their feathers. He has adopted this practice himself. I said something to him he didn't like several years ago. I haven't seen him since.

The few times Facebook has told me what he's up to, it hasn't been good. Like his parents, his life is one of isolation. His theology was rather strange last time I talked with him.

Isolation
Isolation

My parents were big on considering things from various perspectives. They gave us an education built around fantastic books that introduced us to the larger world. We were part of a church community, but that did not preclude us from getting involved in other groups as well. We were active in sports and band. We attended functions at other churches. And we were regularly introduced to new cultures through prayer guides. We were given daily opportunities to see how God works in the hearts and lives of people just like us. We also saw His redemptive power in the lives of those radically different as well.

I don't like the isolationist idea. I see it bring people to bad places. I see them alone and consumed with their personal ideas and doctrines. They read things in Scripture I've never seen. And, too often, they'd be happy if the world burned around them as long as they came out okay on the other side.

I believe we see more reality the more we look around. I'm not talking about searching for God in world religions, restlessly embracing every philosophy as if amalgamated contradictions were enlightening paradoxes. No. But God is bigger than me. My view of Him is too easily shaped by my experiences and emotions. I'm no less prone to error than my forefathers. And like everyone else, I'm rather good at reading into Scripture what I want to see. And as fantastic as my church and pastoral leaders are, they are well aware of churches around the globe who can teach us a thing or two about prayer, worship, and following Christ.

This is the power of diversity. Through the various branches and expressions of discipleship, we begin to weave a tapestry of the Body of Christ that reflects His love and grace.

We do not see the world correctly when we view it only from the tiny windows of our home. But through books, and testimony, and fellowship, and discussion, we can find a new clarity.

The world is big. God is bigger. And our only hope of seeing more clearly His view is to draw near to Him, His Body, His redemptive story throughout history, and the people He wants to touch through us.

I am so thankful for the global perspective my parents offered me through Sonlight. It is such a joy to be surrounded by my quirky friends. I am blessed to know people who challenge my assumptions and nudge me further into God's grace and truth. And I delight in the daily opportunities to expand my view and try to see the world a little more clearly through the insights and experiences of you, my brothers and sisters.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


10/30/2013

Homeschooling In Public School

I arrived home later than usual. She was at the table doing her math homework.

"What's a percent?" she asked.

I couldn't tell if her gap was the mathematical concept or the English word, since she's from Germany. "How many centimeters make up a meter?"

"One hundred," she replied.

"So per cent is per hundred." I'd grabbed a sheet of paper and was scribbling. Pulling from the amazing clue words provided in MathTacular4, I told her, "Per is a division clue word, so this is just a division problem. If we have 17 per cent, we have 17 per hundred, or 17 divided by 100. And what's that as a decimal?"

17 percent
Simulation of My Scribbles ...no wonder she looked confused

Soon we'd run through problems involving 3 blue sweaters out of 27 and solved interest equations given a particular principle investment. It trickled back. Algebra was a long, long time ago.

And it struck me, as I explained yet another basic concept that her teachers had thus far failed to communicate to her: Homeschooling happens everywhere. Even in public school. Perhaps especially in public school for the kids who achieve the most. Teachers, no matter how good and dedicated and caring, simply do not have time or opportunity to help each student move at his or her own pace.

Homeschooling simply removes the potentially frustrating daily grind experience and replaces it with a one-on-one opportunity to teach your children exactly where they are.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Math Tutor


10/29/2013

Have a Student Heading to College Next Year?

How's $20,000 sound? Sonlight's college scholarship applications are due in a little over five weeks.

When I was in college, I often felt bad because I didn't have a part time job. My friends worked in the school library or at a local day care. I worked during the summers producing Math and Science DVDs. But I didn't feel like I was "putting myself through school" like all those serious about an education were. Instead, I swam. I was at the pool 20-30 hours a week during the season.

It must have been some afternoon where I'd heard yet another story of a kid who had gone on to be successful in life because of waiting tables to pay for college. I was depressed.

"How much money," my dad asked me, "do you get for swimming? That scholarship is more than you'd make working some part time job."

Sonlight students are awesome. I was one. So I know. <grin> It's likely your student is creative, generous, missions-minded, involved, excelling is academics, developing as a leader, or otherwise. And that's just the kind of person we want to help through college!

Get everything for your scholarship application together. Submit it by December 5, 2013. And then go be awesome in college.

You may still want a part time job if you're not doing something else, but a college scholarship can sure help!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


10/25/2013

How a Few Photos Reminded Me of Missions

Honesty time. I have thoughts and feelings that don't honor Christ. I have attitudes and mindsets that hold me back from loving people. But I want the Holy Spirit to continue to transform me to be more like Christ. And the photographs of a tattooed artist inspired me to reach out to others in love.

Missions often feels foreign and strange. As I watch the excellent Lost in India videos, I find myself disconnected from the people Chris meets. They are different from me. That makes it easy to slip into a mindset that these men, women, and children are all ... "less." One example: The fact that their English sometimes requires subtitles can plant a weed of doubt about their intelligence. That's ridiculous because they speak two languages. I barely speak one! Impressions clearly don't always line up with reality.

Do you experience this?

Maybe not. I do. It's embarrassing to even think about some of the biases I have. But these crop up all over the place. In politics there's a powerful tendency to smear the other side as stupid, heartless, or out of touch. In religion it's easy to mock the beliefs and practices of another. In pet ideals it's common to look down on those who don't eat organic, vaccinate, support your cause, or floss. The internet is filled with people denouncing others.

But then I watched the CBS video about Touching Strangers:


Hat Tip: Amy Caroline

This is the crazy thing: When we reach out to others, we discover they are human. We care. Which makes my incorrect impressions all the more frustrating! I've been to India and deeply connected with several friends there. Their speech, dress, food... I found it endearing and delightful! But now, back home, disconnected by 8,000 miles, the new strangers on my computer screen are odd and foreign and a little bit scary.

As I think back on all the missionary biographies I read in Sonlight's curriculum, I imagine again what it was like. I've met people very different from me. It's awkward at first. But then something amazing happens: I discover the joy of connecting with someone new. The stranger has become a friend.

And all it took was taking the time to reach out.

May we not hide away out of fear or disinterest or detachment. Instead, may the love of Christ motivate us to reach out and touch others, metaphorically, if not literally.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

P.S. See some pictures from Touching Strangers on Renaldi's website.


10/23/2013

Hymns, Halloween, and History

Amy--of the blog THAT Mom--recently posted about "evil" music in church. She makes some great points. She also mentions that many olde tyme hymns were set to secular tunes, notably bar songs and such. I've heard that before. Google seems to disagree.

So let's say that the songs my grandma loves are not rowdy drinking music of yester-century; yeah, I can't picture anyone drunkenly belting out the tune of O Sacred Head, Now Wounded even if the words were, "Oh damsel, why now spurn me? I'm quite the handsome catch...." Does that mean that we'd be remiss to adapt the secular for the sacred?

First, a lot of Christian knock-offs are lame. Really lame. Take a look at a few of the t-shirts I wore in high school. This isn't good art. It's barely clever. If we're hoping to use the vernacular and pop-culture icons of today, we should get better at making art. Parody is awesome, but you have to be good at it. Otherwise, let's not. Adapting cultural content for Christ is work for Spirit-filled artists. You may be raising one. Their gifting and skill is very much needed, both in adapting and creating original work.

Second, our "weaker brothers" will not be blessed by us walking in our freedom. (I found the post Unity Not Uniformity to be thought-provoking.) Revisiting Romans 14 at this time of year really challenges me. Halloween can be hot topic in the homeschool world, and people vigorously debate the Christian's observance thereof. Romans 14 encourages me, no matter the side I fall on, to chill out and seek to bless my brother instead.

Third, history shows us the "fruit" of certain actions. I think it is wise to consider how God has, through His redemptive work, used what we have done--or not done--to bless those around us.

Hymns-Halloween

May we edify one another this season, and all the year long!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


10/21/2013

Stop, Drop, and Talk

The Hesitant Housewife has an excellent tip for interacting with kids, especially little ones. She called it "stop, drop, and talk." I hadn't heard it expressed that way before, and I like it! I'm familiar with the concept. When a child wants to talk to you, or you want to talk with a child, stop what you're doing, get down to their eye level, and talk with them.

Eye-to-Eye
Stop, Drop, and Talk

I'm sure you've heard such advice before, but I found the reminder refreshing.

I hope you did as well.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


10/18/2013

Homeschool Benefit: You Can Take the Time

As homeschoolers, we like to laud how amazing our students perform. We commonly share infographics and stats that validate our academic success. But then we turn around and realize that our student is woefully behind in this or that subject, or we struggle to finish the work for the day. And I don't know about you, but in those moments, I feel like a failure. Being "behind" is a clear indication that my education is a sham! [Perhaps we could call this the SAHM sham?]

You know the feeling?

If so, there's good news. What feels like proof for why we should not homeschool is actually one of the best reasons to educate at home. In a classroom, the teacher is required to try to keep all the students together. This means some are left behind. Not because the teacher wants to, but because the system requires that the class cover a certain amount of material and there are limited school days. A few motivated students will seek out the extra help they need, but many kids learn early on that the system isn't working for them. So why bother? With homeschooling, we don't have that problem! We can take the time to make sure our students get the education they need. And if they need extra time to master a topic or skill, we have opportunity to give them that chance!

I really appreciated Thyme's reminder that School Doesn't Need to be 36 Weeks. As homeschoolers, we can take 37, 38, 40...

Please don't get paralyzed by a pressure to cram knowledge into your student right now. You have a unique opportunity as a homeschooler to make the schedule fit your family's needs.

I know it feels terrible. I get that we can question our choices. But remember that this is a blessing. You can give your student a customized education that meets your child's needs.

And, as you go into the weekend, if someone begs you to read ahead in one of your books, rejoice that you have the flexibility to work ahead at times as well.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


10/16/2013

Do You Declare or Converse?

He's drawn a crowd. Ten people have stopped their Friday evening activities to listen to what he's yelling into a portable PA system. One girl, I think she had blue hair, good-naturedly yells back, challenging his proclamations of fire and brimstone. The rest of the throng are part of the street preacher's entourage or college kids also looking to minister to the lost.

I'm one of them, out for an evening of evangelizing, and "bullhorn guy" doesn't seem to be helping.

"What do you think of this guy?" A middle-aged man has appeared at my shoulder and is asking me questions.

I do a terrible job explaining my inner turmoil. I realize some people are cut to the quick and repent at these kinds of things. But I also know that it's one of those quintessential "turn offs" to Christianity because what they're selling isn't good news. It's, at best, the solution to the bad news of being a sinner. And the girl in the blue hair has decided to move on, playfully flipping off microphone man as she departs.

"I really hope there's a better way," I finish, wishing I knew what it was.

See, I had spent the previous four years in high school determined to save my friends from hell. [Read more about that here.] My perspective was shifting. I was beginning to recognize the human side to reaching people, something I should have seen clearly from all the missionary biographies I had grown up with in Sonlight.

The man may have chatted with me longer, or, perhaps, he had disappeared. Either way, his question stuck.

The guy on the podium was there on conquest. He had zero interest in conversation. He knew that he knew that he knew that he was right and so discussion was out of the question. He refused to entertain "nonsense." He told people what was what--namely, that they were sinners--and urged them to come to Jesus. Trouble was, no one found that inviting.

A similar problem echoes through various groups of homeschoolers. There is a directive to shield yourself from lies and boldly declare the Truth. Like political pundits unwilling to even consider another perspective, such an approach severs communication and entrenches combatants in a deaf yelling match. Both sides, then, end up setting up and burning straw men, and so miss every opportunity to understand the needs and concerns of the other.

Burning-Strawmen
Burning Straw Men

This happens frequently with the hot button issues in homeschooling. And those caught in the middle--our students--can be hindered or helped by how we respond.

If we mock every untruth as rubbish and proclaim discussion of the subject as somehow dishonoring to God, we cripple our children. When they one day encounter the arguments and evidence of the other side, they will be forced to reconsider, retrench, or reject. And too often I've seen such kids walk away from the dogmatic ideals of their family. But even if they hold fast to their beliefs, they are not likely to win anyone over to their side. A funny thing happens when you stop up your ears and reiterate again and again your position: The person you're talking to tends to respond in kind. And now, like the guys with the effigies above, we're not even close to talking about reality.

This brings us to the incredible opportunity you have: You can focus on seeking to understand the other points of view. You can tackle tough questions. You can address foolish ideas. You can discuss the uncomfortable realities of life with your kids. And through all that, they will be able to better understand and articulate what they believe and why. They will, one day, be able to have a conversation with someone who comes at the world from a completely different perspective... and share the reason for their hope.

But this requires a radical shift in perspective from conquest and defense to outreach and seed planting.

This is one of the unique aspects of Sonlight that is built into our homeschool curriculum. You will be equipped to empower your children to reach out into the world and bring Truth and Good News as they converse and connect with people from all walks of life. And it's one of my favorite parts of meeting other Sonlighters. You and I have a common curiosity and desire to learn so we can more effectively bless those around us, both in our homes and around the globe.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


10/14/2013

Why Life-Long Learning is a Natural Part of Exploration

Every new task you do will require you to learn something. Even flushing a toilet. Years ago, as a young man, I spent a week in the UK. We were in a bed and breakfast and the toilet had an elevated tank. There was no handle. No chain. There was a little foot peddle that seemed for #1, but when I had to go #2, I was at a loss. There was no way to flush the thing! I carefully made a search for a button, lever, switch, or hidden knob. I found none.

I finally had to ask.

Turns out you had to grab the pipe going from the tank to the bowl and pull down. I never would have expected that. Years after being potty trained, I still had to be shown how to flush the foreign toilet. Granted, part of that problem was a design and signage issue, but it demonstrates how much learning we so often take for granted because we can figure it out so quickly.

As we encounter new things, we have opportunities to learn.

I'm working on learning how to help split test our website. I'd love to make the site better. And the idea of a split test is you can use visitor behavior to determine what is most helpful. But I've had a nagging suspicion that our results aren't as certain as they could be. So I started a new test: I'm currently seeing how a page performs against itself. I'm checking the results of showing different people the exact same page.

Thus far, the outcome is impressive.

Identical-Split-Test
A/A Split Test: A is preforming 118% better than A

Naturally, with so little data, I expect a regression toward the mean. Overtime, these two should drift closer together. [But we must not assume they will ever balance each other; such an assumption is based on the gambler's fallacy.] But I think there may be more going on here than is covered in the articles I've read about A/B Testing. It turns out, I learned today, that scientific studies tend to lose their ability to be proven over time.

What?

I'm so shocked, I tell my wife. "Oh, you mean that thing they talked about on RadioLab?" she asks, as if I'd just told her the sky appears blue. Once again, I'm late to the party of knowledge.

The good news is that I'm still learning.

It is natural to learn when we encounter new activities, ideas, or questions. But how do we ensure we keep bumping into new things?

  1. Read: Books are a great way to expand your world.
  2. Take a class: Online, at church, or as curriculum, it's easy to build on what others have created.
  3. Ask questions: I noticed 1 Kings 8:9 for the first time on Sunday and wondered why the Ark didn't have more stuff in it. I still don't know. But the question is pushing me to find an answer! Don't let pride rob you of learning.
  4. Try something new: Whether it's building a website, knitting a sweater, or baking something tasty, there's plenty out there to stretch you. (I hear Pinterest is a popular source of inspiration, if not discouragement.)
  5. Travel: I'm not just talking internationally where you'll encounter strange restrooms. When I visit a friend at their church, I often come away with a new appreciation for who God is in light of the difference in that congregation's worship.

How do you like learning new things?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


10/11/2013

Maybe we can read another chapter tonight?

We've had "our German" for a month now. She's adjusting to life in America and with us. School continues to be in flux as we all try to figure out what will be best for her. This week, at our exhorting, she asked her History teacher if she could read a different book. They had been given an assignment to select from a list of historical fiction options, and my cousin had opted for the one with her mother's name in the title.

The book proved to be disappointingly terrible, despite being on a certain TV celebrity's book club list. We flipped through the Sonlight catalog and came up with three superior options. Her teacher agreed and I bought a second copy of By the Great Horn Spoon so my cousin could follow along while I read it aloud.

When we had tried to read the original work, we all dreaded the experience. It was a chore that we dutifully waded through. I would rather have read from the antiquated phone book that shows up now and again on our doorstep. And my cousin was miserable. She struggled to keep track of the shifting perspectives and timelines scattered about the pages. The story was dreadfully dull and pointlessly depressing.

Contrast that experience with the one involving our new book.

We read two chapters before youth group and, on the drive home, my cousin asked casually, "Maybe we can read another chapter tonight?"

Chapter 5 waits impatiently for when I get home from work today.

My wife, who has not yet had the pleasure of reading this particular book, is also loving it. She often bursts into giggles as each new character and event saunters into view.

And that, my friend, is what is so spectacularly brilliant about good literature: No matter if you're a German kid still unsure of your English, new to the tale, or revisiting an old favorite, great stories urge you to keep reading. And we happily oblige!

I think it's also important to remember that listening to a great book enables us to learn things we couldn't pick up on our own. This is my first time reading By the Great Horn Spoon because my mom read it to me as a kid. I did not yet have the ability to read well enough when I was twelve. Same with my cousin. I'm sure she reads just fine in German, but English is a different story. So I read, she listens, and we all talk about it as we go.

My cousin loves the book she's currently "reading" for school.


By the Great Horn Spoon

I wish more History and English classrooms were filled with the literature that spills off the bookcases of Sonlighters around the world.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


10/09/2013

Earn Badges, Extra Content, and Help Change the World

Lost in India is now underway. If you haven't signed up or logged into your account yet, you should!

I initially went over to the site, watched the first video, and was a little disappointed. I felt like they had left me in the middle of India with nothing else to do. Where was all the refreshing, fascinating content? Then I remembered I needed to log in to my account.

Once inside the site, I realized I had been missing out by simply watching the video. There were stories, pictures, memory verses, peeks into life on the other side of the world, and a "mini game" to play. The more stuff you do while logged into your Lost in India account, the more badges you can acquire. And being the achievement hog that I am, I had to get them all! As I completed each activity, I was awarded a new badge. When I had earned all nine, I was rewarded with an extra video.

Awesome.

Lost in India Badges
Badges for Participating

If this is the first you've heard of Lost in India, head over to the site and get started. Then take a minute to learn more about Sonlight's giving opportunities.

Is your family already lost in India too? How are you enjoying it?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


10/07/2013

You Feeling Totally Paralyzed?

I hear her bang her computer mouse repeatedly against the desk. My wife is usually an incredibly patient and relaxed person, but every now and again she'll snap. Not to worry, she still has nothing on me in the lose-it department. But as much as she loves computer/video games, they can frustrate her to the point of irrationality. "This stupid level!" she yells.

"Why don't you take a break?" I offer, because I'm all about fixing things.

"I can't," she wails at me as her eyes snap back to the computer screen and the source of her needless angst.

'Gaming is supposed to be fun,' I tell myself. I once made the mistake of reminding her of that fact.

It's so easy to see it in others. "Just take a break. Life will be so much better." And, for whatever the psychological reason, I can't seem to see the obvious in my own life. There was that time I refused to stop working on the shelf I was building. And all those times I did not to listen to my wife who gently tried to encourage me to stop beating my head against my film projects. Of course I've had my own needless repetitions in a game that long ago ceased to be enjoyable. Then there's the school work, the chores, and the arguments that I should have walked away from to come back to later. But I didn't.

Try-Again-Later
Try Again Later

Why do we get totally paralyzed with this kind of stuff? I'm pretty sure I do it because to "give up" would be to fail. And fail I must not.

Such thinking ignores the fact that often we need fresh perspective and a chance to look at things clearly again. My wife is all too familiar with the blind rage that seeps into the corners of my eyes when a task is paralyzing me.

Please, don't be like me.

If something has you stuck, walk away for a bit. Find something that will help relax you.

I appreciate Robin's post that provides a picture of chickens to help us recover from scary math equations. There are some things that bring us back to feeling paralyzed even years later. Such feelings run counter to a life-long love of learning. So purpose to step back for a while. Before you are unable to break away, decide to take a break.

Regaining perspective by cooling off and watching some chickens is not slacking.

It's a good thing. And something I should do more often than I'd like to admit.

Do you find yourself "pressing on" long after you should have? What helps you remember to come back to something that has you paralyzed with frustration? I'd sure appreciate your tips!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


10/04/2013

Prioritize Learning Over Performance

The biggest flaw within the public education system, if I had to narrow it down to one thing, would be the natural focus on performance over learning. In school, how much you learn doesn't really matter. What matters is that you succeed in class. And you succeed by doing what is expected of you, regurgitating on a test what you've been told, and participating in discussions and projects. Your grade, and therefore ultimately, graduation, depends on what you can reproduce, not what you have learned.

This actually makes sense.

  1. If I to tell you that it is important to look both ways before your cross the street, I would expect you be able to demonstrate that you do, indeed, check for vehicles before putting your life on the line in a crosswalk. If you had not known about street safety--as most children initially do not--you would have learned something. Should you fail to act on what I had told you, I would reprimand you and reiterate the lesson. Learning a lesson should carry with it some kind of result.
  2. To graduate, you must meet certain proficiencies. If you are not yet able to perform certain tasks, what difference does it make how much you have learned? By age two, kids have learned an incredible amount... but I still wouldn't let them drive my car.
  3. The amount of learning, then, is a rather useless metric... even if it were possible to get such a measurement. When it comes to classwork, you just need to get it done. The kids who do best in school are those who already know the material. Those who are still learning fall behind.

Despite the logical foundation for this Achilles's Heel to mass education, there is considerable danger to this kind of thinking. In fact, it can hold us back from discovering new things:

Hat Tip
Daphne Gray-Grant

This makes so much sense. And it explains why some of the most brilliant people throughout history have been frustrated and bored in school.

A formal education is incredibly important, but it is best if it is built around learning. This means you have time to figure something out. It means you do things until you master them. It means the ultimate goal is understanding, not recall. And it means that a real education is not testable while it's happening. All you can do is sit back and see the results at the end. Indeed, testing while learning is a terrible idea because we don't know it yet.

With a classroom, if a student fails a test, that's it. The student has failed.

With homeschooling, if your student fails a test, that's just the beginning. The student has not yet learned. One of the amazing benefits of educating at home is that we are able to prioritize learning over performance.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


10/01/2013

How to Grow Spiritually

Scripture is amazing. There is so much to discover and uncover within the text. And I absolutely love reading the insights others have gleaned. Mark (aka pastor guy) has a great post about Jacob's spiritual growth that shed new light on a familiar story for me. I had never considered how much Jacob's theology had developed in the twenty years between when he ran away from his brother and headed back to meet him again.

As Mark points out, it's not age that develops you, it's walking through life experiences and learning to look to God in them. His goodness changes us if we let it.

I know I need to acknowledge His provision and respond in thanks to grow. But I have found I can grow when I look to the lives of others as well. When I read Scripture, I have opportunities learn how God has been faithful in the past. I can grow in faith as I see His faithfulness. But it's not just Scripture. My theology developed as I read missionary biographies and saw God work in more recent history as well!

Sometimes we need to learn through the "school of hard knocks" as God sustains us through the dark times. Other times we can travel miles on the backs of those who have gone before us. And I am grateful for all the opportunities I've had to do just that through Sonlight's Core packages. I can't imagine how immature my faith would be if it were not for the great cloud of witnesses I have learned from and about.

I love how the Sonlight Giving Adventures present us with yet another opportunity to walk a few more steps down the road. We get to partner with God in work He is doing on the other side of the globe. We get to see Him move in the lives of others, and us! We can make a difference right now. And the more we follow Christ's lead, the more we will grow closer to Him.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


09/30/2013

Why Bother Teaching? They'll Forget It All Anyway

Last week I mentioned that daily lessons aren't nearly as important as how your children develop. Like you, they will end up forgetting much--most?--of the details of what they learn in school. But this raises a question:

Why bother teaching kids stuff they're going to forget?

Erased-Blackboard
Erased Lessons

I'm not an expert. I'm a guy who grew up homeschooling and has succeeded to various degrees in every educational venue I've encountered. My theories and ideas are based on what little I've read and heard, and a lot on my own experiences. That's why I'd love your input on this. But in my estimation...

  1. We use everything we learn. My mom says this often, and it's proven largely true in my life. Spanish? I've forgotten most of it, but I've used it. It's amazing how practical knowledge can be. <smile>
  2. You build off ideas, even if you forget the facts. It's true that I've forgotten things like the Ludlow massacre, but my exposure to such events have helped shape my ideas about business, government, personal responsibility, and economics. The fact that I forget the details of what Brittany and I talked about last week doesn't negate the reality that spending time with my wife strengthens our relationship. Gaining knowledge, even if you "lose it," is a vital part to developing our perspective on the world.
  3. Academics are important. There's a impulse to brush off academic knowledge/skill in favor of character. But this would miss an important nuance of reality: Working to prove ourselves academically is part of building our character. I firmly believe that character is important, but remember that academic excellence is part of that.
  4. We remember more than we let on. Memory is a funny thing. When my pastor asks us to remember something he preached on the week before, I draw a blank. But when he mentions the key idea or one of the stories he told, it all floods back. I don't know the physiology or psychology behind this phenomenon, but I see a distinction between recall and retention. In school, the focus is regurgitation (recall) so you can reproduce on a test what you were shown in class. But when I fail--yet again--to bring to mind how many tablespoons are in a cup, it's an indication that I haven't used it enough to have it in that part of my mind. When I verify that it is, indeed, 16, I'm not surprised. Instead, I find myself saying, "Oh, that's right."
  5. Learning builds pathways. I've been told that learning a second language helps you think better. Learning a third increases your creativity of thought even more. By the time you hit eight, you're, like, amazing. Or something like that. And this model works for all knowledge. Learning math helps with music. Building things helps with math. Music helps with writing. And on and on the various disciplines connect and intersect. Even if you forget "everything," your brain has developed a new way of seeing the world, and you are able to learn and do more. But since I have yet to master a second language, what do I know?

There are, I'm sure, more reasons to take the time to teach kids stuff. What are your reasons for doing so?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


09/27/2013

Let's Be Old-Fashioned: Character Over Personality

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? What about your kids?

More and more books that discuss the modern bias against introverts are showing up on my radar. There was this one about introverted pastors. The sections I heard were pretty insightful. And then I revisited an old email about Susan Cain's The Power of Introverts. Someone has plagiarized segments of her book and turned them into a rather dry RSA style animation. I was amazed at the portion about the shift from character to personality. Susan traced cultural changes that led us to focus on appearance over substance.

The implications are all around us. The first that springs to mind are the hordes of reprehensible politicians elected again and again for their smooth speech or party affiliation (and this absolutely happens on both sides). But the book digs deeper than all that. In the end, school, prescriptions, leadership, and decision-making are all negatively impacted by this focus. Susan fleshes some of this out in her TED Talk.

As homeschoolers, we have a tremendous advantage here. In many ways we are "old school" with an emphasis on personal growth, familial ties, and real achievements over satiating our peer's demands for the uniformity of "cool." Character is what matters most in our work, not presentation.

Top-Hat-and-Monocle
Top Hat and Monocle

The more I thought about the disparity between today's classroom and us, the more I realized how it can be a very good thing that we are old-fashioned. May we never cling to the past simply for the sake of tradition, but may we continue to reap the benefits of wisdom undeterred by the latest fads.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

P.S. I'm an extroverted introvert. I'm loud, confident, outgoing, and don't mind speaking to groups. But I prefer to sit at home, write, and have deep conversations. I can't figure out small talk. I loath "networking." I do fine as the host of a party, but I fade into the wallpaper if I'm a guest. And as much as I enjoy helping people, at the end of the day I'd like to sit alone in front of my computer and "just be." So, in many ways, I've got it pretty good. I'm a highly functional leader with an underlying desire to be alone. This means I have opportunity to be creative while also visible in the public sphere.

How about you?


09/25/2013

Five Ways to Recover from a Bad Homeschool Day

We don't like to talk about our bad days. It's not uplifting. We see all too clearly how desperately we need grace. Bad days poke at our insecurities. But bad days there are. Here are five ways to recover from a bad day of homeschooling.

Defeated

1. Laugh
One of the best ways to rebound from a bad day is to find the humor in it. We may never giggle about certain situations, but Jane's photo about how some homeschooling days are made me smile. It's rarely fun or funny in the moment, but it may be hilarious in the light and mercies of a new morning.

2. Seek Forgiveness and Forgive
When I lose my cool or say something I shouldn't, I find I want to stay there. I sulk for two reasons: 1. If I let it go, it reminds me that I should have done that in the first place, and 2. I have to ask for forgiveness. I hate that part. It knocks my pride and is awkwardly uncomfortable. But it's also the best way to resolve conflict. It gives us opportunities to reconnect with the people we've wronged.

By the same token, if one of your children wronged you, forgive them. Forgiveness lets us move on. Don't let bitterness ruin another day. As one who is still learning to forgive, I know how this can be hard.

3. Take Advantage of Your Homeschool's Flexibility
In other words: Take a break. You control your schedule so if a subject has you pinned to the floor, just stop. Don't do it today. Pick it up again tomorrow... or next week. You can't do this forever, but walking away for a spell can work wonders. Some days require that you go outside and play.

4. Look to the Future
Your kids will not remember any of this.

That's good news. If they learn, from you, how to forgive and move on (see #2), they won't bother to keep memories of the bad days. In fact, they're not likely to remember most of the details you teach them. This initially feels disheartening! But one of my high school teachers reminded me that the big ideas, life lessons, and habits of thought are far more important than all the facts and figures I would forget from his class.

Today, I don't think I remember a single detail he taught me. But I'm absolutely better for his teaching.

The daily lessons aren't nearly as important as how your children develop. There will be gaps in their education. But if they have learned to love learning and are growing into the person God wants them to be, the meltdown over spelling words snaps into perspective.

5. Don't Believe the Lies
It's easy to get burdened by a bad homeschool day because we believe things about homeschooling that simply aren't true. Take a moment and revisit the five myths homeschool moms believe. We know these are myths, but the false messages can still creep into our minds. It's good to be reminded of the truth.

How do you recover from a bad day of homeschooling?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


09/23/2013

Debunking the Bunker Mentality

One complaint leveled against homeschoolers is that we shelter our children, afraid (or unwilling) to expose them to things of this world. The reality is that sheltering children can be a very good thing. But there are times when it is not so good. The nudge to hide away from lies and bad ideas is subtly promoted throughout the homeschool world. The outcome of such an approach could be called "the bunker mentality." But rather than build a fortress to stand against an onslaught of error, I'd prefer to prepare children to step out into the fray, ready to provide answers and meet people where they are.

Bunker
Out of the Bunker

We sit at my kitchen table. He is a brilliant young man who has rejected Christianity. The only way he could accept a god, he tells me, is if "god" was everything. It makes sense from where he's coming from, but leads to a rather odd, meaningless version of pantheism. We're talking about religion, and he makes some crack about people who reject evolution.

"Hang on," I interject. "Before we go on to say how ignorant Young Earth Creationists are, let's talk about evolution. It really bothers me how no one bothers to define that term. Are we talking about descent with modification, common descent, or abiogenesis?"

He's unaware of any such distinction within the theory. So we talk about it. And I learn that matter/anti-matter are often observed popping in and out of existence, pointing to the possibility that stuff--energy/matter--can be created out of nothing. (I can't find any clear links on this subject, so if you've read anything about this that an average person like me could understand, please share!)

Super cool.

Also interesting, he's no longer interested in talking about stupid religious people.

Growing up with Sonlight, I learned that it was good to question and discuss and find answers--even if the answers are incomplete. My faith is grounded in a belief that truth will win out and I don't have to fear wrestling with ideas. This makes science--good science--an ally. This makes questions opportunities to discover (and share) truth. This opens the world to be a place to learn more about God. And it allows me to be an active ambassador of Christ, not a fearful individual holed up in a bunker somewhere. And with a strong desire to share the love and truth of Christ, being able to step outside a Christian "bubble" is essential.

My parents helped me develop this desire to reach out instead of hunker down.

And you can do the same with your kids.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

P.S. Interested in exploring a homeschool curriculum that empowers you to have meaningful discussions with your children and prepare them to thrive in the world they will encounter? Check out Sonlight's homeschool curriculum.


09/20/2013

Prepare Your Child to Change the World for the Better

When you think about your child, what do you want the impact of their life to be? Do you imagine them as a winsome ambassador for Christ? Do you envision their future loving and lovely family? Do you see them doing amazing work in, say, math, art, science, business, technology, media, medicine, or otherwise? Is your child passionate about sharing Christ with others? Are they driven to serve and love others the way Christ did? Whatever you imagine their future to be, I pray your child changes the world for the better.

That's my prayer not only for the children I know--those we teach in Sunday School, those I chat with at youth group, the kids who come to Movie Night--but also for myself. The men and women I learned about in Sonlight inspired me to want to impact others for Christ, wherever God has me. This missions-minded focus--overseas or at home--permeates my thinking. I am thrilled to interact with people who think and believe differently than me. I'm not afraid to tackle tough subjects. I love the opportunity to share truth and grace with the people God brings into my life! The men and women of God who modeled this for me, though my years of Sonlight, played a huge role in developing a heart for the world (locally and globally).

The people your child will meet and learn from in Sonlight's homeschool curriculum are excellent role models and inspiration for how we can all walk in faith and grace and love. But in the last few years we've been able to take part in yet another opportunity to connect with God's heart for people around the globe. I firmly believe one of the most important things we do at Sonlight is the giving projects. These things don't make the company money. They don't sell Sonlight. But they do match our mission and vision perfectly. These are chances to learn and make a positive impact on others. This is missions and giving, two of the foundational ideas behind Sonlight.

And I know we've been talking a lot about this year's Lost in India Adventure. And I don't want to bombard you with yet another message about it. If you're not interested in signing up or joining in, no problem. But I wanted to remind you--if you procrastinate like I do--that today is your last chance to sign up and be sure to get your Adventure Kit in time for the start of the videos.

There is no obligation to give. But if you want yet another chance to see your child's desire to make the world a better place grow, sign up. If your family does nothing but learn about what God is doing half way around the world, that's fantastic! And if you have a chance to take part in this, I think you'll discover joy in that as well.

No matter what ministries and organizations and people you support or partner with, may God continue to use you and your family to make the world a better place. Learn more about Lost in India here.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


09/18/2013

From Luke's Inbox: Why Shouldn't I Use Free Curriculum?

I could offer my son a free, online education with K12 which would be easier on me. However, that would teach from the world's view. Is the benefit of homeschooling the education with a biblical worldview, or the morality of not being put with a majority of unchurched kids all day? Any insights or advice? Thanks

There are many, many benefits to homeschooling. Letting our children see the world through a biblical worldview is just one. We get to share God's heart for those who don't yet know Him. This global, missions-minded focus is something I love about Sonlight, both as a company and a curriculum.

It's true that there are free and taxpayer-funded homeschool curriculum options available to you. And families are taking advantage of these opportunities. But why doesn't everyone switch over to the "free" options? You can always supplement whatever is lacking in a program, right? One of the biggest reasons for choosing a curriculum that requires an investment--like Sonlight--over a lower-cost option is that with Sonlight, you and your family will love homeschooling. We guarantee it. And which is the better choice? Clawing your way through school because it's free and/or easy, or experiencing the joy of learning together? You can get a fine education either way. But, for me, a lifelong love of learning is worth every penny and second you put into it.

I don't think you meant to imply that it's immoral to spend time with unchurched people. But it could be that your child is not yet ready for those kinds of interactions and influences. I've shared about laying a foundation for high school on this blog, and the concepts are transferable to any age. I've written quite a bit about this subject, and this post offers further reading if you're interesting in more of my thoughts. Everyone needs to know of Christ's love, and Romans 10:14 echoes in my mind. May we, and our children, become people who are able to share this wonderful message with those who have not heard! This may be the perfect opportunity to help build up your child for this kind of outreach later in life.

That said, is Sonlight for everyone? Absolutely not! In fact, we gladly publish 27 Reasons NOT to Buy Sonlight. I urge you to at least skim through the article to make certain that Sonlight will be a good fit for your family. If not, please find something that will work. I'm far more interested in you having a great homeschool experience than selling you curriculum. If you do decide to go with one of Sonlight's curriculum packages, you are covered by our Love to Learn, Love to Teach Guarantee. We are serious about making sure you find something that fits your family.

If you have any other questions, I suggest you chat with a Sonlight Homeschool Advisor. Advisors are Sonlight moms who can answer your questions, speak from personal experience, and help you find the materials that will be best for your family.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


09/16/2013

Something New Tomorrow

Lord willing, we've got something new to share with you tomorrow. We're still putting the finishing touches on it. I really hope it's ready to go by tomorrow afternoon.

I don't want to let you down, so don't get too excited. It's not electronic IGs, Core 500, a Canadian history Core, or a way to instantly ship things to you. Sorry. But it may be something you can share with your friends that will revolutionize the way they do homeschooling.

It could also help transform your own homeschool experience, depending.

Any guesses what it is?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


09/11/2013

Homeschooling Lets You Transfer Your Values and Beliefs

Transfer, not impose. Too often I find people think that we can--and do--force our beliefs on our children. We can't. Instead, we should seek to demonstrate our values in daily life so our kids absorb them.

My parents did this. My dad would regularly challenge us with difficult questions like, "Does someone willing to kill you to try to save your soul love you more than someone unwilling to go to such extremes?" The answer seems obvious. But as you untangle the implications of your answer, the water gets muddy. Being able to swim to the other side is a huge benefit when the time comes to defend your faith and communicate your position. My dad's willingness to be open to learning more seeped into all areas of my life. Modeling this mindset allowed me to know both what I believe as well as why.

Homeschooling gives you time to demonstrate your faith. By spending so much time together, you can teach your children when you get up, throughout the day, and when you go to bed. This time is incredibly important in transferring ideals from one generation to the next.

But this transaction requires more than just you dictating ideas to your children. We like to talk about "education, not indoctrination" as the goal of Sonlight. This applies to your kids too. With homeschooling, your children have opportunities to ask you questions and bring up tough subjects as they encounter them. By being available, you can help them work through their struggles and doubts and provide clarity to areas that confuse them. This is huge. Without a chance to question and work through answers, ideas can be quickly derailed farther down the line.

You can transfer your values and beliefs because homeschooling gives you opportunities to model your ideals and address your children's questions.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

P.S. There is, of course, no guarantee that your children will choose to agree with you at the end of the day.


09/09/2013

Join the Club: People Who Don't Know Everything

Math. There's a lot of it going on at my house right now. Acquiring a Junior in high school for a year is proving to be a challenge. Not in a personality conflict way, in a "I don't remember any of this" kind of way.

For example:

Use the Vertical Line Test to determine if the following graph shows a function.

Uh... "vertical line test"? I don't remember a... <google> ...oh. If there's a place you can draw a vertical line through two points on a graph it's not a function. Okay... cool. Why does that matter?

Vertical-Line-Test

And that's an easy one. The difficult ones are where I--who speaks English natively--can't figure out what the question is asking. I can't imagine how frustrating that is for the girl next to me who just flew in from Germany.

As a homeschool parent, you have an advantage over me. Your child probably did math last year and you (re)learned a lot going through that program. Now, you get to build off that knowledge. Me? I've lost it all. Domain? Range? I haven't had to think about such things for over a decade! And my brain, ever the efficiency monster, deleted those files years ago. Though, now I'm recalling we did something with that in MathTacular.

It's only been a week since school started for "my" student, and I've already said "I don't know" at least a half dozen times. But then I take some time and try to figure it out. It's painful; I'm surprised Count Rugen didn't use textbooks in his Machine. It may have taken him half a lifetime to invent a device that sucks life out of you, but these math textbooks seem to do it with ease.

All that to say, I was very encouraged by Heather Sanders' post To "not know" is okay. Great, even!

As parents, we don't have to know everything. But we do have opportunities--again and again--to learn alongside our children.

Keep up the good work.

And welcome to the "people who don't know everything" club. I'm glad you're here too.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


09/06/2013

Listen to the Stories Your Children Tell Themselves

Sarita's post about young adult fiction grabbed me by the collar and threw me against the wall. As my head smacked the metaphorical bricks, something snapped into focus. Words will fail me here, but I felt a wave of sorrow for the kids I know who reside in a world of misery, angst, exhaustion, and insecurity.

I've blogged about a few of them before.

We both know that websites like Pinterest can make us feel like a failure. Homeschool blogs--even this one--can perpetuate the myths that everyone else has it all together. The "stories" we surround ourselves with--written or visual or implied--tell us how "the world really is." And seeing too much perfection is depressing because it doesn't match up with our reality.

At the same time, soaking in negativity drags us down. Despite my mom's herculean efforts, I kindled negative self-talk in my life. These are stories I told myself. "I'm a failure." "Why bother?" "How could I be so terrible at this?" And what I realized as I read Sarita's post is that there are dark places on the internet devoted to just this kind of talk. I'll give you an example.

Like every tool out there, Tumblr can be used for good. From what I've seen, however, such sites are too often a place to compile pictures and quotes--stories--that show a distorted version of the world. It is a modern, personal, bite-sized collection of "young adult literature" that revels in anger, frustration, deviance, destruction, and despair. And at least one of "my" kids spends a ton of time there. She says she loves it, and I can see why: It echoes back to her the stories she tells herself. 25,966 people have shared an image that says they feel

insecure, bitter, angry, hurt, overwhelmed, lonely, depressed, out of control, lost, suicidal, ugly, selfish, anxious, ignored, fat, vindictive, mentally ill, scarred

These twenty-six thousand souls all "gluttonously wallow in darkness." Darkness is a reality. I think you and I have both, at times, felt at least a few of the things on that list. But living in darkness need not be normative.

Indeed, it shouldn't be.

Thankful-List
Practicing Thanksgiving

Philippians 4:8 keeps lingering in my mind. Let us think about things that are lovely, pure, right, noble, true... That does not mean we can't also address the pain and suffering around us. In fact, addressing pain and suffering is pure and right and lovely. Redemption is amazing! And the stories included in Sonlight's curriculum--and, you know, the Bible--are full of terrible situations that allow for God's redemptive work.

As you have opportunity to listen to the stories your children tell themselves, please remind them of the grace Christ offers. It could be a good message for you as well. I know I benefit from reminders to demonstrate grace in my own life.

May the truth of the love of God permeate your day.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


09/02/2013

Happy Labor Day!

May God be glorified in your labors.

Our office is closed today, but I thought I'd remind you of Jill's excellent suggestion to have kids buddy up to help you get everything accomplished each day.

That's it. Enjoy!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


08/30/2013

Come Get Lost in India with Us!

Why would you want to get Lost in India? Because it is going to be a fantastic way to learn about another part of the world and get involved in what God is doing on the other side of the globe. If you haven't joined us for one of these projects, please take a couple minutes to learn more about this opportunity.

Register your family today! There is absolutely no obligation when you sign up. Please come along and invite your friends.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian


08/28/2013

You Made a Good Choice

Despite what you may have read elsewhere, statistically homeschooling does not give your student a better education than a public school. In fact, studies have shown that the best we can say is that homeschooling is not an academic disadvantage.

The good news: You're not "ruining" your children by homeschooling.

Your children will probably do well academically, just like every other family in our socioeconomic bracket. Which leads to the "bad" news: You didn't make a superior choice by homeschooling. You made a good choice. In fact, my sister laid out a few points about her experience and then asked why more people don't homeschool.

I'm aware of two "giants" in the homeschool research world. The National Home Education Research Institute promotes a great many studies that point to homeschool successes. The International Center for Home Education Research Reviews takes those reports and rips them up a bit. I found the analysis of why there's not more homeschooling research to be fascinating.

I bring this up to encourage you.

First, you made a good choice to homeschool. And, should you ever decide that homeschooling isn't working for you, you can move forward in freedom and confidence that another school option is also completely viable. It's always best to do what God has called you to do and what helps your children thrive, but the model you select doesn't matter statistically. The other social, emotional, spiritual, personal reasons should absolutely be taken into consideration.

Second, let's not misuse statistics or other information. We don't need to undermine our position on things that way (homeschooling or otherwise). Homeschooling is a great option. There are many benefits. Let's stick to the positives when discussing our choice with others.

Third, it's good to be challenged. This is something we prize here at Sonlight. In fact, reason 14 NOT to buy Sonlight reminds us that "we want to be fair when other perspectives merit discussion. We want to encourage students to think critically and to act with gracious humility toward those who hold differing views and perspectives." May we be open to discovering the faulty ideas we've entertained so we can walk ever more in truth and converse productively with those who disagree.

Keep up the great work. And may your family continue to experience many benefits from the time you spend homeschooling and learning together.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

P.S. Be sure to read Judy's "rebuttal" post as well!


08/26/2013

Letting Go

Lee has a blog post title I just love: We Raise Successful Adults, Then Let Go. Secretly--okay, not so secretly now--I was hoping for more tips and suggestions for this transition. I spend a lot of time each week chatting with young adults who--along with their parents--are struggling with the move to the wider world.

In some ways, I think homeschool parents may have it easier. Because you spend so much time with your kids, you get to intentionally give them more and more responsibility and whatnot. "My" kids are all from public schools, so their parents have had little more interaction in this transition than car keys and later curfews. And their kids feel this lack of connection. We shed tears together.

Mortarboard
From High School to Beyond

Tomorrow also starts a new chapter in my life. Brittany and I will become official guardians of a high schooler for a year. Lord willing, my cousin will arrive from Germany around 6pm and start school a week later at Englewood (where I spent four years of my life). Please pray for us and her! This experience feels much more relaxed than when we were surrogate parents, but we don't know yet.

Speaking of, since we won't be "Empty Nesters" for a year, do you have any suggestions for a title? Luke Holzmann: Filmmaker, Writer, High School "Parent"? You're creative. Your input is most welcome!

I don't have any "brilliant" insights right now. I'm mostly holding on for the ride.

Here. We. Go.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester (for the next 27 hours)


08/23/2013

She Said She Hates Learning

Lunchtime. I'm waiting for my leftovers to reheat. She's already eating. We exchange the pleasantries typical of strangers and coworkers, but because we're mere acquaintances I'm not sure if she's in college or what. So I ask.

She decided not to go to college. I have several friends who chose that path. Most just couldn't stand school anymore. "Yeah," she says, "I hate learning."

Really? That surprises me. I love learning. I hated homework.

"I guess I don't hate learning. I hate the learning process." I give her a quizzical look. "I hate being lectured at."

That makes sense. Lectures are often devoid of stories, and stories make learning fun and effective. I am definitely not a fan of using lectures for learning. The people I know who "hate learning" are bright, interested individuals who have had the misfortune of being "taught" in a way that discourages curiosity and growth. They were taught in a system where "failure" is to be feared. I was raised in a system where failure is okay.

So I was encouraged to hear that MIT and Google are moving toward a better model.

Have you heard people say they hate learning? Were you able to find out why they felt that way?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. Remember My Passport to India? It's okay if you don't remember and/or missed it. More details to come, but here's a little something for you to see now. <shh>


08/19/2013

On the Piracy of Books

Digital music sharing--also known as piracy--was a big deal back when I was in high school. Napster rose and fell right before I entered college. We talked about piracy a lot in the mass communications department as I studied motion picture production. As a filmmaker, the digital implosion of the music industry was sobering.

But we movie makers had a buffer: The internet was slow, movies were huge, and there wasn't a great format to share. Also, while it makes sense to spend a few minutes downloading a song you'll listen to a hundred times, was it really worth the bandwidth to take a few days to download a low-quality video you'd watch once?

Then YouTube came along and things have been heating up ever since.

But with the advent of ebooks, why aren't we hearing much about piracy? Tech is certainly not the problem. We now have a plethora of devices that can display text which takes up minuscule amounts of bandwidth. And there are plenty of opportunities to download ebooks across the internet, including sites like Project Gutenberg. So what's going on?

Is it true, as Steve Job's famously said, that "people don't read anymore"? Is it due to the fact that "most people don't think books are worth stealing" because of years of terrible experiences in school?

Perhaps.

Piracy

I think we don't hear much about book piracy because:

  1. Books aren't a "sexy" media like music and movies. There are high profile names in writing, but for all the READ posters that adorn my library's walls, I don't recognize the faces. The newer/cooler versions are littered with TV and movie stars... which is ironic to me. So, the fact the ebook piracy is a big deal to publishers doesn't get much play when there are, you know, royal babies and such to report on.
  2. Piracy is motivated by ease of access. I hear less and less about music piracy now that iTunes and Pandora exist. What started as a fun way to share your favorite songs quickly became the easiest way to get music. It took the industry a while to figure out how to use this to their advantage, but now that they have, the desire to torrent music has decreased. For me, if I can find a movie or show on Netflix, I don't even consider trying to find it elsewhere. With books, reading on a common screen isn't easier, so a good reading device--which is conveniently connected to your purchasing space--makes it worth it to spend a few bucks and be done with it.
  3. Similarly, there is a strong cost-benefit ratio to piracy. When it took twenty bucks and a trip to the store to get the song you wanted, it was worth poking around online for a decent virus-free recording. Make my favorite song less than a buck and have it instantly available for playback? Sweet. From what I've read, the biggest text targets for piracy are over-priced textbooks. Would you rather spend $200 for a ream of black and white text, or get the latest gadget and find the text for free? <hmm> (this also applies to computer software)
  4. Reading books for pleasure is a dying art. There are so many ways to ingest media today. Books are no longer the cheapest, easiest form of entertainment. In fact, books have had a rather short run of that. Before Gutenberg, it was rare to see a book, let alone read one. And today, with blogs, and computer games, and streaming videos, and internet cats, who has time to read? A few. A few who have discovered the joy of reading. The rest? We wallow in the over-stimulated world of flickering screens. Why did we lose this skill? Time--there are other distractions. Emphasis--we were fed terrible literature in school. Sloth--it's easier to pull up a video.

There's more to this tale, I am sure. But these are the ideas tapping at the edges of my brain.

There is a real fear amongst book publishers. They do not want what happened to music to befall them. So, they are dragging their feet as we rush headlong into the electronic reader frontier. Very important questions surrounding DRM, licensing, and security have kept many companies out of the ebook world. How would it work to, say, base your schooling on an electronic text to suddenly have it disappear from your device? How are you going to turn a profit when the price of a book drops from $142 to $14.99? Everyone is playing their cards close to the chest.

This has profound impact on us here at Sonlight as well. Shipping books is expensive--and the prices keep climbing. We would love to offer curriculum electronically, but full-color ebook readers (not to mention books) aren't available yet. Sure, tablets exist, but that's a non-optimal screen to read. Plus, while book piracy may not be that big, we do have to protect our intellectual property. Our Instructor's Guides are incredibly valuable and useful. As we continue to look for ways to offer them electronically, we must find ways to do so that do not encourage people to pirate our work.

Please continue to pray for us as we seek the best ways to serve you and others around the globe. We have no desire to get rid of printed materials, but if electronic options become useful to some of you, we want to be able to help you in that way as well.

Do you have any observations about piracy and ebooks?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


08/09/2013

Feeling Concerned? Encouragement, Mirth, and a Thought or Two

One of my cousins from Germany is coming to live with us for a year. She'll be able to experience American culture, go to the same high school I did, and hang out with her most amazing cousins! <cough> But my wife is really concerned. She was homeschooled through high school, so the idea of sending our sweet relative into that "wretched hive of scum and villainy" is terrifying.

Also, she's not looking forward to figuring out how to navigate the halls and bureaucracy of a public school.

You may not be doing anything as dramatic as all that. But if you are feeling any trepidation about this coming year at all, I think you--like me--will find great comfort in some of these back to school prayers. I regularly need the reminder to cast my cares on the Lord. And if you're returning to homeschooling this year, and feeling overwhelmed by the more advanced things you'll need to teach, I highly recommend you check out the post The Kindergarten Box.

God is writing your student's story. I am regularly overwhelmed by the feeling of responsibility to see "my kids" turn out well. But I'm not the one making that happen. My job is to demonstrate Christ's grace in my life and let His love lead them in following Him.

That's easy to write. It's hard to live.

As Brittany and I were discussing the upcoming transition to being high school "parents/guardians," we realized we needed to figure out how the school handles their schedule. Way back in the day, I had four classes a day. It was easy. A year or two after I graduated, the school switched to an incredibly complex schedule with eight periods a day which alternated every other day unless there a half day in which case some classes were put on a difference schedule and ...honestly, it never made sense. But then it struck me. "I wonder if the current, constantly-in-flux schedules of schools are designed to prepare kids for working in retail?"

Schools were originally designed to produce factory workers. That fit with my ridged, consistent schedule in high school. But today, few kids work in factories. Most of my friends work in retail. Their schedules are constantly changing, never set, and all over the place. So too with modern school schedules. I doubt anyone sat down to create classes this way, but it certainly feels like the idea to structure a schedule in this fashion came from the retail model.

Just the latest crazy idea to strike my brain. Thoughts?

And I don't know about your house, but laundry is a reality in ours. So is forgetting to set it out to dry. If you've felt you've been losing that battle, perhaps this haiku will make you smile.

Continuing in this random humor conclusion, I enjoyed this brief post about missionaries.

Finally, as we move into the weekend and more people have time to post things on Facebook, their blogs, and other dark places of the internet, I found the step-by-step guide on How to Be Outraged on the Internet to be strangely uplifting. The comments, in particular, brought tears of mirth to my eyes.

Hat Tip
Mrs. C

Lots of rather random stuff for you on this Friday afternoon. Enjoy!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


08/05/2013

Suffrage: What Did You Learn from History?

They are an incredibly brilliant couple. One is studying some kind of computer engineering. The other is now pursuing a degree in medicine. Both are in fields with labels so advanced I can't even recall the titles.

They hadn't seen Too Late to Apologize: A Declaration (a example of a parody infinitely better than the original). From there we linked to Bad Romance: Women's Suffrage video.* [NB: Like the original Bad Romance, this video has some less-than-happy imagery. Please preview it before showing children.]

As the video came to a close, she said, "That probably would have been more engaging if we knew more about that part of history."

I agreed. The characters in the Declaration of Independence are well-known. But the women portraying the suffrage movement were not familiar faces. "But," I said, "you know some of the history, right?"

They both looked at me blankly. "We know there was an amendment," she said.

He nodded. "They didn't teach us more than that in school."

It was my turn to consider. In my high school and college American History classes, did we ever discuss this part of history? Not that I recall.

Crazy.

These are the times I wish I had been able to use Sonlight's high school programs. Core 300 tackles suffrage and more. If you've used Core 300, did you recognize what was going on in the video?

As usual, I wanted to learn more. So I started digging. I clicked over to the video creators' page about suffrage but found little useful information. Most of it, in fact, was so "classroomified" that it numbed my brain. So I pulled out Sonlight's incredibly accessible biography on the subject, but I haven't had time to read the whole thing (let alone discuss it, which is often the best part).

The things that are currently bumping around in the back of my mind:

  • People use God to promote all kinds of bad ideas. This is certainly not new. Christ took issue with the religious scholars of His day who did much the same. This should be humbling to us today who, for various reasons, presume to have it all figured out. May we humbly follow Him and not simply our traditions!
  • I think it's ironic that Congress shut down women's right to vote in Utah after the government's attempt to reduce polygamy by that method failed. To read more about how/why women support polygamy, check out the fascinating National Geographic article The Polygamists.
  • I'm becoming more and more curious about the shifts and twists within the Republican and Democratic parties over the years. In the last century, things have changed that make the voting records strange for us today. Since keeping a humble attitude before God when it comes to our interpretation of Scripture is important to me, I'm not big on "voting a party line" either. Definitely something to keep learning about.
  • There is so much more to learn about history. But I like that even YouTube videos can spark an interest. As life-long learners, there are so many opportunities to discover more!

What did you learn about women's suffrage in school? Any knowledge-acquisition-inspiring videos you've seen recently you'd care to share?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

*I don't know what it is about Lady Gaga, but Bad Romance seems particularly useful for teaching history. I blogged about Revolution in France two and a half years ago.


07/31/2013

Looking Good or Showing Grace?

Something was wrong. A peer had just refused to talk to me about his problems because I was "too perfect" and wouldn't be able to relate to him.

I couldn't respond to that.

Looking back, I think the problem was that I spent too much time trying to act "like a Christian." I should have been trying to act like Christ and also consistently share about my insatiable need for His grace. See, I had taken the verse admonishing me to set an example as a call to look good. And in so doing, I had made it about me instead of Jesus. I'm not the only one. I found Emily Freeman's post "one thing your daughter doesn't need you to say" to be an uplifting exhortation (that applies to sons as well <smile>).

It's not that we shouldn't set an example. It's that the example people need to see is Christ at work in us. They need to see Him. When we put on a mask and pretend to have it all together--almost as if we no longer need a Savior now that we have been saved--we can cover up the grace He is pouring into our lives. I did. And I regret it.

Halo
Halo

Asking for forgiveness is really hard for me to do. I don't think I really sought forgiveness from someone I had wronged until I was in high school. But that's just one painful example of how to clearly see I need grace.

I fail. I don't always act like Christ. But by His grace, He is forming into His image. And His mercies are new for me every day. I would like to encourage you to forego the pretense of looking good. Strive to be like Christ, and let others see His grace at work in you when you--like me--fail to do so.

What things do you do to show your children--and others--Christ at work in you?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


07/29/2013

Go Somewhere You've Never Been (and may never visit)

I enjoyed Jennifer Fulwiler's How to think about the afterlife blog post. But as the ideas have blown like tumbleweeds down the barren roads of my mind, I got to thinking about literature. I'm never going to be a two-dimensional object, but Flatland helped me imagine what it would be like. And while I can't, truly, imagine the New Heaven and New Earth, C.S. Lewis gave me a pretty compelling glimpse of what it could be like in the final pages of The Last Battle. And I can't go back in time and live life as a young boy on an expedition through the Southwest, but I can experience it in the story of Walk the World's Rim.

That's the power of literature. Great books paint pictures for us that we can step through and experience things we otherwise could not.

The good people behind Myst hint at just that with the linking books. You may not geek out at this as much as I did, but I found the "real Myst book" to be pretty cool:

What worlds, times, or places have you enjoyed experiencing in the books you've read? Any other Myst fans out there?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


07/26/2013

Feeling Stressed about the School Year?

School begins again soon. Her Senior year. With it, her future looms ominously. She feels ill-prepared or--at best--clueless. What does she want to study? What college should she attend? What should she do with the rest of her life?

I am all too familiar with the feeling of panic a new school year drops on us. I realize you may be experiencing the weight of the future yourself. Not your future, of course; your student's. As you look at the box of Kindergarten supplies, do you, like Kate, feel very overwhelmed? If so, you are most assuredly not alone.

Be encouraged. Are your children clamoring to start school right this very moment? That's a sign you're doing it right. Do you remember your family's favorite book(s) from last year? There's something to that: You--and your children--loved that book! Did one of your children recently demonstrate trickle down learning? Homeschooling works. You CAN do this. And as much as I dislike the lesson, it's important that I remember that learning is the process, not the end result (totally infuriating, I know).

So, come on! Jump in. Continue to provide an education that is not common, but rather free from the constructs of those in political power (see 20:40 to 23:10). It's not that I fear the efforts of policy makers and education lobbyists. Homeschooling is just such a fantastic opportunity, I think this uncommon approach is something to celebrate. In other words, homeschooling is not negative. And that's great!

What encouraging things have you seen in your family that help you be excited for the coming year?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


07/22/2013

How Will the Common Core Affect Standardized Testing?

Karen asked a great question after reading my post on Sonlight and the Common Core:

Will the revisions of the standardized tests and college entrance exams become so curriculum-specific as to set up independent learners for failure? Even if our standards may exceed theirs, we may not even read the same books or study the same criteria per grade level! How can we prepare our kids best to pass these tests?

I am most assuredly not an expert. But having read a bit about the Common Core State Standards, here's what I understand to be the case:

I know many people--including, for example, teachers and the College Board--are still trying to figure out the impact of CCSS and how to address the issues that are surfacing. So you are not alone! I am not aware of what changes are actually coming to the standardized tests. I haven't read anything on that topic, specifically.

Something to keep in mind: The Common Core State Standards do not dictate curriculum changes. They set a standard--a rather low one, if I'm reading things correctly--and publishers, teachers, and school districts merely need to meet those standards. I think SteveH makes a great point in the comments of this post: "...the standards are so vague that educators use them to justify whatever they want..." So, at the moment, I am not concerned about any specific information that will be tested that homeschoolers will somehow miss.

In other words: Standardized tests should not, under CCSS, suddenly be about making sure you've read the "right" books. Homeschooling will continue to prepare children for academic success. And if you're thinking about college, Judy has a great post where she shares some insights from her experience with high school and beyond as a homeschooler.

Hope that helps alleviate some of your concerns!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. I try to keep up on this kind of thing, but I may not read the same blogs/education news sites you do. If you have any input, I would very much appreciate it!


07/17/2013

Terrible Customer Service

It was the middle of my workday when my phone interrupted me. On the other end was a company I had severed ties with in favor of another option that was half the price for identical service. I told the girl as much.

"I understand," she said. "But we don't let people cancel by letter. This is a courtesy call to inform you that we won't be canceling your service or refunding your money."

What?

"So how do I cancel and get my money back?" I wanted to know. "You have my signature on the piece of paper in front of you. I clearly want out."

"We don't let people cancel by letter."

"So--what--you need me to hang up and call you back?"

"My supervisor is nearby. Please read between the lines."

I had my answer. "What's your phone number?" A minute later--less time than I had spent deciphering the cryptic courtesy call--I had canceled my service and was told I would get a full refund. I was pleased about keeping my money, but the whole experience was absurd and frustrating. I felt like I was part of a Dilbert cartoon:

Dilbert.com
Ratbert: I'm a powerless rodent

Every time I have a terrible customer service experience, it makes me glad that Sonlight has a different approach. We're here to help. When you talk to Customer Relations, you're in touch with someone who has been authorized to help you. When you chat with a Sonlight Advisor, you're connecting with a homeschool mom who is there to help you find the right materials for your family. And if you discover--halfway through the year--that a different Core program would be better for your family, we have you covered with the Love to Learn, Love to Teach Guarantee.

I am thrilled with all the tools you have to ensure your homeschool experience is a success. You can find a community on the Sonlight Forums and a happy throng over on Facebook. And if I can be of any help, please let me know.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


07/16/2013

Why Pray in Your Homeschool

Prayer can change lives--including your own. I was very much encouraged by Mandy's post How the Gospel Changes Prayer. And Se7en provided 7 ways to make God part of your daily (homeschool) life. Even if you haven't been thinking about prayer lately, you should find both posts encouraging.

Personally, I've been challenged lately to turn to God when things get overwhelming. This is often related to the spiritual discipline of meditation. I get so caught up in what's going on that I have a tendency to forget to look to Christ. But if I take a moment to thank God for His sacrifice, to consider His creation, to remember His provision, I find I am a little more relaxed. And praying in these moments helps me change my attitude.

I appreciate that Sonlight offers time to pray each morning and that we can stop to pray any time something comes up. I think this is a very healthy perspective to have in work. It's also something I should do more often at home.

Pray
Pray

So why pray in your homeschool? Here are the things rattling around in my head today--inspired by the linked posts above:

  1. Prayer reminds me that--through Christ--I can draw near to God
  2. Prayer encourages me to seek God's will in a situation
  3. Prayer sets my focus outward
  4. Prayer offers perspective as I consider the needs of others
  5. Prayer links me with other believers as I intercede with and for them
  6. Prayer allows me to stop running and rest
  7. Prayer--in a group--allows me to learn from others as they pray
  8. Prayer gives me a chance to ask for more wisdom
  9. Prayer can change lives ...like mine

Has prayer been on your mind recently as well? Were you encouraged by Mandy and Se7en's posts?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


07/15/2013

The Benefits of Discussing a Story Together

As a homeschool family, you have many opportunities to see how your kids are doing. But even with that close connection, sometimes it's difficult to get down to core ideas and beliefs. This is where discussing stories together can be so powerful.

In one of the Sonlight titles--Peace Child(?)--the passage about Judas betraying Jesus was met with cheers. Why? That culture celebrated backstabbing. It was even better if you could get the person to think you were a friend. So Judas using a kiss to turn in Christ was the epitome of success. Talk about fundamental differences in perspective!

Even in small areas, discussing stories can reveal things near and dear to your child's heart. Is he moved with compassion for the injured animal? Is she stirred by the injustice of the situation? Does the description of how things were built then spark his imagination? Does she want to try her hand at making the meal depicted in that passage? Can he not stop talking about a particular situation in the book? Does she still make up stories associated with that moving passage? Those are ways to see how God has made and gifted your children. And I think those are great hints to where you may want to point your children to fly.

As you discuss the stories you read together, you may discover that you didn't read the same book. You may catch one theme and your child may have caught another. That's one of the things I like about great literature: There is depth you can explore together.

Did you have any conversations or insights come up while you were reading stories together this last year?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. Peace Child and Out of the Dust are both titles in Sonlight's Core 100 program.


07/09/2013

Are You in Control of Your Kids?

He's got a dusty-blond head of hair and the physique of a high school football player. He has a similar expression as well. But he doesn't play football. He boxes and hikes. Someone in the room mentions that Brittany and I are "really religious."

"I'm always up for talking about it," I offer, reiterating my enjoyment of Random Bible Question Time with Luke. I love answering questions and encountering sticking points I didn't know existed. I also do my best to present various views if I am aware of them. This is one of the ways I challenge myself to keep learning.

He talks at me but doesn't meet my gaze. "You do not want to get into this with me."

"Oh, he does," my wife rejoins. I nod emphatically.

He sighs. "Well, first, you should know I'm an atheist." No problem. "What do you say to the fact that Christianity is just a conglomeration of much older religions, like the Egyptian sun god born on December 25th and stuff?"

We talk about it. I mention Zeitgeist: The Movie and then we get down to history. I'm not trying to shut him down, but there's no way I'm going to hold back. He then mentions the late publishing of the Gospels and hints at the theory that the Gospels made Christ progressively more divine the later they were written.

So we talk about that too.

I try to affirm his questions as reasonable--given what he's heard and read. But even so, I'm afraid I steamrolled him a bit. It's uncomfortable to come up against someone who has solid responses to the flimsy straw men you've been burning as effigies. Our time comes to a close before I can decompress the discussion. That bums me out a bit.

I want to provide a safe place for kids to express their doubts and struggles. When I was in high school, my goal was to "win" and "prove" the other person wrong. Since then, I've seen firsthand how destructive such an approach can be to building relationships and pointing people to Christ.

Supermom made this point really clear for me in her post Relationships Before Rules. Please give it a read. I really appreciated her thoughts.

May the hearts of our children be turned to us (their parents) and drawn to Christ as they see in us His love and grace, and not anger and offense and judgment. As your children transition from "totally under your control" to giving you influence, are they allowing you to provide insight or are they pushing away?

Whatever the case, may the peace of Christ rule in your heart as you continue to bring your children before the Lord in prayer. Because, while you ultimately can't control your kids, He loves them and does not want them to perish.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


07/08/2013

The Most Memorable Part of School: Stories

Think back to your school days. What do you remember?

For college, I remember hanging out with friends, a few specific moments in class (of both the awful and awesome kind), swimming, and some experiences on film sets and editing. Little else elbows its way to my recollection. Textbooks? I remember the dampness of my drool-soaked pillow more than the faded content of the pages that made me comatose.

High school? There are a few key conversations, some important situations, one or two events that stick to my mind. I remember a few of the fun projects I worked on--but none of the content they were designed to teach me. Same with the few films they took a period to show: Why did we watch that? I know that I took an introductory science class--the title of which even escapes me--but the textbook? Nothing. Of the texts and papers I read, the only ones I remember where the good stories. The lame books have almost completely shifted into the nether, leaving but a lingering metaphorical bitter taste.

Homeschool? There were tears. Many because of the red marks which marred my recently printed paper (draft two). I don't recall if I cried or just wanted to when my creation failed to materialize out of the clay when doing a craft in our co-op group. There were a few creative writing assignments I loved and some fun science activities. But mostly, my memory of school was listening to my mom read books. Great books. Wonderful books. Brilliant stories. Masterful tales. Gripping adventures. Stories that made us cheer. ...and cry.

I loved being homeschooled. I loved hearing story after story, many of them at bedtime. That was my favorite part of school (yes, even more than lunch). There was so much to learn and discuss and imagine in books.

And I'm not alone. Check out the very encouraging Sonlight Moment "What was your favorite part of the year?"

What do you remember from school? Do your children love the stories too?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


07/05/2013

Are Your Children Excited About Missions?

The focus on missionaries is one of the things I love about Sonlight. In the Core programs, we get to meet normal men and women from history whom God used to do extraordinary things. We have the opportunity to partner together in giving projects to raise money to bring the Gospel to people who have never heard of Christ.* And Sonlight continues to be able to help missionaries educate their children.

Growing up learning in such an environment made me passionate about sharing Christ with my friends.

I certainly didn't always do it right. Still don't. But by God's grace, He continues to allow me to share the love of Christ with others. And that is so exciting! Because I have "seen"--through biographies--how missionaries reach out in love to their friends, I am thrilled that my house was packed full of people last night. We ate, talked, laughed, and watched fireworks. We shared life. And that is such a huge part of communicating the good news of Jesus. And after everyone left--just before midnight--I got to stand in the dark living room and pray for my friends.

Flag-Cake
Flag Cake courtesy of one of our guests

Have your children been inspired by the missionary stories you've read together? Do you pray for unreached peoples and the friends and family members who aren't connected with Christ? Have you had the joyous opportunity to give money to see the Gospel brought to others? Do your kids share the love of Jesus in other ways? If so, that is awesome! We've had to replace one of the books in Sonlight's curriculum because the people groups in that book have all had the opportunity to get to know Jesus.

Your family is making a difference in the world.

Keep up the good work. And if you have an encouraging story of how your children are involved in missions, please share!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

*This year's giving opportunity should be coming in the next couple months. Stay tuned!


07/02/2013

Life's Top 5 Regrets and How Not to Have Them

  1. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
  2. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  3. I wish I had let myself be happier.
  4. I wish I'd had the courage to express my true self.
  5. I wish I'd lived a life true to my dreams, instead of what others expected of me.

Jane McGonigal likes games (yes, even video games). Her TED Talk about the game that can give you 10 extra years of life reminds us that games can help us avoid the top five most common regrets. And I'm certainly not against games either. They can connect us with others, demonstrate what a love of learning looks like, give us a break, introduce us to advanced concepts, afford opportunities for enjoyable practice and expression, remind us how we should approach learning, and teach us real-world skills, among other things.

While it's true games can help us not have regrets, so can a myriad of other activities. Sharing great books comes to mind. Making cosplay costumes also does those things, as my wife mentioned last night. Fishing, tinkering, needlepoint, painting, laser tag, gardening, sports, and the like all help alleviate life regrets, especially when you do them with others.

Bungee
No Regrets [I have no interest in bungee jumping; the picture is purely illustrative]

There is absolutely a place for work and routine, dedication and elbow grease. As homeschoolers, we can work hard and have opportunity to appropriate our free time to do amazing things.

Rather than regrets, may we revel in the joy and freedom we've been granted.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


07/01/2013

Stuff I Think You'll Find Interesting

Have you ever felt worn out defending your decision to homeschool? Have you been thinking about the latest Supreme Court ruling on marriage and how Christians should respond? Has someone asked you about socialization yet again? Have you been scouring the internet looking for a summer recipe for slime?

Of course you have!

As Sonlighters, we're interested in all kinds of things. Ever since I started blogging for Sonlight all those years ago, I've been reading fascinating blog posts. I share some of them as Other Posts of Note. There are hundreds (thousands?) of such posts in my Google Reader feed, but since Reader is closing down today, I'm guessing those will all vanish into cyberspace. That's why, a few months ago, I started the transition to a different RSS reader. The new Other Posts of Note can be found here (or on the sidebar of the blog).

If you have a blog I don't know about, please share the link so I can add you to my list.

Have you selected a new RSS reader (assuming you follow a bunch of blogs too)?

I love that Sonlighters are such kindred spirits. I'm sure we don't agree on everything, but we've all discovered the joy of life-long learning. I love reading what you share--including the ever-encouraging Sonlight Moments--and I think you'll find these Other Posts of Note interesting.

Any favorite posts you've read recently?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


06/28/2013

Order Before Monday to Stretch Your Investment Over 6-months

It's hard to believe June is almost over. Didn't summer just start, like, a week ago?

Crazy.

But as June comes to a close, your window for a 6-month Time Payment Plan is also closing. Stretch your homeschool investment over the next 6-months at no additional cost. Just be sure to order before Monday, July 1.

How do Sonlight Payment Plans work?

  1. Place an order for at least $399 with your Debit/Credit Card
  2. Select the 6-month Time Payment option at checkout and follow the directions
  3. You'll pay a quarter of your total now, and the other portions every other month

Get all the details here.

Have a great weekend!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. If you're not sure which materials will be best for your family, be sure to chat with a Sonlight Homeschool Advisor. Like Payment Plans, this is also a free service.


06/26/2013

Please Read Books Instead

He grew up a student of the school system. History was little more than a series of titles and dates mixed in with social studies. It wasn't until the sixth grade that a teacher read a well-written story from history to him. In that moment, history became interesting.

He's a history teacher now. He's passionate about the subject. He clearly loves research and tying themes together. That's great.

Tragically, his history courses are mostly about social studies. As I reviewed the DVD he sent me, I kept waiting for him to share a story. I desperately wanted him to give me the same thing he experienced as a 6th Grader. But after two lectures, I had nothing more than a few compiled facts and opinions about a society. Not a single story. Nothing to hook me. "History" was boring.

Key words flashed on the screen. "These are important," I was told. "So be sure to write them in your notes."

I'm not against note taking. If writing something down helps you remember it, fantastic! I dutifully fill in the blanks on the sheet provided with the sermon each Sunday. But learning history is not akin to recalling terms like "the people of the mountain" associated with a particular people group. Telling me that slaves were of little importance means nothing either. But if you shared a story about a slave who lived among a people on a mountain, I'd get all that. More that than, I'd be interested.

Give your students a powerful advantage in their studies with a literature-based curriculum. Allow history to come alive for your children. Give them an education that encourages them to find history interesting. Please read books instead.

By all means add media and other resources to your schooling. But continue to use great stories as the basis for your studies. A great story sparked a passion for history. Imagine what an education based on great literature would do.

You don't have to imagine.

You can read about this year's Scholarship Winners and hundreds of Sonlight Moments. And with Sonlight's Love to Learn, Love to Teach Guarantee, you can experience this for yourself and prove it works for your family.

If you've experienced the benefits of reading great literature in your homeschool, please share!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


06/21/2013

Inadequate, Boring, Backward, Limited and Cruel Education

My wife has been re-listening to The History of Rome podcast. This morning she told me a bit about what the Roman education system was like (yes, she's already up to episode 87). The basic idea: Require students to memorize stuff. Period.

"Once a kid got out of school, he was almost guaranteed to never want to learn anything ever again. It was that bad." As my wife described the joyless process of reading for the sake of reading--not to enjoy or learn or think--she shifted to one of her latest pet observations: Rome lacked creativity. They stole their culture and religion from the Greeks. And that makes sense if your students are only taught to regurgitate what they have been given to memorize.

The "obvious" step here would be to compare our current public educational model with this ancient classical approach to learning. But I don't think that would be wise.

First, I'm not convinced the public schools are that bad. I've heard from a few people that they never want to read a book again. At the same time, they often love stories. Overall, the kids I know are bright, inquisitive, and happy to learn stuff. The system has much improved from how it was in ancient Rome.

Second, while schools certainly "teach to the test"--so much so that teachers are saying "I quit" (another here)--the problems are larger than that. For example, the Common Core is failing to help keep publishers on task as exemplified in this video. "Literature & Writing" texts are directed at teaching kids emotional pleas for social issues not, you know, writing and literature.

Third, I'm more interested in focusing on the benefits of our approach. The more Brittany told me about Rome, the more ways I was encouraged to know we do it better. Example: Instead of forcing kids to memorize the sequence and names of the alphabet before seeing a single letter, we regularly focus on the sound a letter makes and emphasize that sound in words when playing with my youngest niece.

As homeschoolers, we can take what works and give our children a life-long love of learning. And if we can learn from the inadequate, boring, backward, and limited ideas about education from the past, so much the better.

Keep up the great work you are doing in raising up the next generation!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


06/19/2013

What Went Well This Year?

Heather Sanders has a good post on how praising your kids can backfire. It reminded me of the article about how we should praise a person's efforts rather than intelligence. If you haven't at least skimmed the article, please do so.

"The 'smart' kids took the cop-out." For me, that observation is a no-brainer. If a task--like school--is about looking good or performing well, the intelligent move would be to ensure you meet that standard. There is no benefit to trying to get better. That's why I'm thankful I was homeschooled without grades: Grades only deterred me from trying things I could get wrong. Homeschooling allowed me to focus on getting it right which naturally encourages you to try harder and improve.

As you look back on this last year of homeschooling, what has gone well? What specific areas of legitimate praise do you and your children deserve? I love the story Heather shares in her post, and I think there is much we can learn from it. But what else went well? What area of struggle did your son or daughter persevere through--despite the tears and frustration? That is something to praise as well!

May our children constantly strive to learn more and improve. May they see challenges as opportunities. May they never succumb to situations where the "smart" thing to do is give up when they should have carried on. And may the same be true of us.

So what went well this year? I'd love it if you'd come and "brag" a bit about what you and your children achieved!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


06/17/2013

Free Shipping and Discounts on Your Sonlight Summer Readers

Looking for some fun books for your children to read this summer? We have six new 2013 Summer Reader Sets available for pre-order, as well as all seven of the 2012 sets you may have missed last year.

If you're looking for more great books for your kids to read, this is a great place to start. Remember, if you purchased a Core or Multi-Subject Package in the last year, you'll qualify for a 10% discount and free shipping to the "lower 48." Even if you don't have the Sonlighters Club Benefits, you can still get free shipping if you order $25 or more worth of books.

Check out the new (and returning) Summer Reader Sets from Sonlight.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


06/12/2013

Life-Long Learning: Advanced Math

Even with the A/C wheezing from running in the heat, the car is hot. We're talking about the Numberphile YouTube videos we were watching moments before this excursion to get burritos.

"Those videos remind me of why I changed majors." We've been best friends for years--way back to when he changed from CompSci to Psych--but to the guy in the backseat this was new information.

"What made you decide to switch?"

"I was great at math until it no longer had practical application. That's when I lost interest."

Me? I liked math until I got a B+ in Calculus. <grr> Then I realized I wasn't as clever as I had hoped and decided to pursue a life in media where I could still be a little nerdy but didn't have to prove I could calculate. Even so, in the back of my mind, I long to understand complex equations and make sense of incomprehensible proofs. That's why I like videos from people like Vi Hart. They help me feel like I'm getting smarter. They also remind me of how much more there is to learn!

I dug in with gusto to the post the mathematics of infinity. It combines two subjects I enjoy very much--and wish I knew much more about: complex math and apologetics! For me, that's fun--albeit difficult--reading.

Do you enjoy learning more about things like zero and infinity? Or do you tend to merely gape and stare, like me, before returning to your areas of expertise? Or, like my friend, have you lost interest?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


06/11/2013

Sonlight Summer Science!

Imagine your children enjoying science activities. Depending on how things have gone in the past, that may be hard to imagine. And if that's you, you're not alone.

Years ago we created the Discover & Do DVD series to give your children (and you) a fun, visual guide that walks you through the various science experiments and activities in the early Sonlight Science programs. This helped a lot. Kids got excited about getting hands-on with their science and began to demand that they be allowed to do the activities. We even have one account of a student who was speechless over an experiment. Yes, Sonlight's Science programs can be a ton of fun.

But you may not have carved out time for Science this last year. Or perhaps you used another program that works better with how you homeschool. There are a myriad of reasons why you may not have used Sonlight's Science programs before now. This summer, we have an exciting opportunity for you:

Sonlight Explorations in Science

These packages include just the activities from our complete Science programs. You'll get the activity book(s), the matching Discover & Do DVD, and the applicable Science Supply Kit with the hard-to-find bits and pieces you'll need to do the activities. Add the Non-Consumables you can use again and again, and you're ready to go!

Check out Sonlight's new Explorations in Science packages and get your hands on science this summer.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


06/07/2013

Why Isn't Sonlight's History Chronological?

Sonlight pioneered the literature-based approach to homeschooling over twenty years ago. But that's not all. We also focus on history as the backbone of our Core programs. This was a rather unorthodox idea at the time. Since 1990, others have taken our effective method for educating and created their own adaptations. That indicates we're onto something!

One of the "tweaks" made to the Sonlight approach is the four-year chronological curriculum. The idea is pretty cool: Group all your kids--no matter the age--and everyone will study all of history together every four years. You start with creation and work toward today and then loop back around again. Chronology sure seems like the way to study history. Not only is the word cool, but that's how history is... starting at the beginning and moving toward eternity.* This approach to historical study can work. But we have reasons why we don't think the 4-year cycle approach is optimal.

The latest BibleMesh blog post is on why the Bible isn't in chronological order. And many similar points can be made about Sonlight's curriculum:

  1. Some of Sonlight is in historical order. We regularly begin the year's Scripture reading in Genesis. As we introduce world cultures in Core A, you will discover what it was like Living Long Ago. And we tend to stick to chronology when studying a particular area or society.
  2. Sonlight's presentation makes sense. I like the way I learned history. Sonlight allowed me to see connections between peoples and places in history in a way that straight chronology wouldn't. As an analogy, I like swapping wedding stories with people, not because we were all married on the same day, but by focusing on similar events we can get a clearer picture of those experiences. Such conversations are hardly confusing.
  3. It can help to know why Sonlight is "out of order." Sonlight will take you through history three times from preschool through high school. But, again, our perspective is rather unique. We have written up our top 10 goals, and while a focus on history is a great way to help reach many of these objectives, knowing the specific order of historical events isn't essential. Instead, we choose to spend time, say, introducing you to other cultures instead of sticking to a purely chronological account of history.

Does this mean Sonlight doesn't want to give you a timeline of history? Of course not! One of the resources for your Sonlight programs is the Timeline Book. Coupled with your Core-specific timeline figures, you and your children will be able to create a timeline you will revisit again and again throughout your Sonlight studies.

What about combining students? Can you do that with Sonlight? Absolutely. Combining multiple ages can work! We have a few blog posts on that topic as well:

Sonlight's programs aren't in chronological order. But this enables you and your children to make deeper connections, develop a heart for the world, and love learning together. I'm glad my parents taught me history this way.

If you've been using Sonlight for a few years now, how has this approach worked for your family?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

*Not everyone agrees that history is linear. The cyclical theory of history continues to be considered in various forms (such as the book Generations).


06/04/2013

Learning Skills All Summer Long

When did I learn the specific skills I use in my job every day?

The "three Rs" came, predominately, from my homeschool studies. I did not pick up reading, writing, or arithmetic on my own (though, I've heard a few of stories of kids who did). I benefited greatly from the formal education my parents effortlessly infused in me <cough>. These fundamentals were essential. Without them I would not be where I am today.

But aside from the foundation of learning, when did I learn the skills I employ while employed?

Summers. Winters. Really any time I could find some time to tinker.

I picked up typing while writing a novel at the age of 10 (the manuscript is terrible but my typing is passable). I learned how to layout web pages in college during a friendly web design feud before the ugliness of MySpace took over. I discovered much of the technical basis for movie making when my parents got me a video camera I used until it fell apart in my hands. I've been utilizing software and websites every day for well over a decade now, which enables me to direct web development projects today. I started blogging for fun back in 2005.

I learned the skills I use for my job largely outside of school.

As a life-long learner, this makes perfect sense. In many ways, our time "doing school" is preparation for the "real" learning to come. We don't get an education merely to have a piece of paper at the end. No. We get an education so we can continue to learn more and develop new skills that enable us to make a positive difference in the world, whether you are a homemaker, physicist, missionary, computer programmer, doctor, soldier, veterinarian, Bible translator, blogger, ninja cardio-thoracic surgeon poet, filmmaker, or whatever God has called you to do.

Summer breaks are fantastic. They are not only a well-deserved vacation from daily school, but they also give your kids time to be creative as well as develop skills they will likely use throughout their lives.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


05/31/2013

Why Sonlight Books Get Made Into Movies

His pointy black hair and carefully maintained goatee make him look a bit like Iron Man (you can meet him in my Sonlight Field Tour video at the 5:25 mark). I'm filling my water bottle and he's rinsing out his coffee mug. "Luke," he says to me, "have you seen the Ender's Game trailer?"

I have.

"It's pretty cool. We carry that book."

Ender-Movie
Ender's Game the Movie

Yep. Like The Great Gatsby (which was recently released as a major motion picture), Ender's Game is a "Sonlight" title. [I know some people take issue with Sonlight "claiming" certain books simply because we carry them. Ender's Game was written five years before Sonlight was founded. Gatsby a few years before that <smile>.] So why are these books being made into movies?

First, I think Hollywood is starved for good, compelling content. There are only so many sequels and knock-offs you can create before it's time to dust off the bookshelves for inspiration.

Second, and more importantly, these are titles that raise big questions and appeal to people. These are books that inspire or challenge or encourage us to read. There is a large fan base, like for The Hobbit, which is gold for the film industry. And if it encourages a few more people to pick up these books and read... that sounds good to me.

Now you're thinking about Twilight and Harry Potter. Those are also books that have been turned into movies. And those are not Sonlight titles. Just because a book is made into a movie that does not mean it's excellent literature. Then again, Potter inspired a generation of kids--and adults--to read books again. When you discover fun stories, it can rekindle your love of literature that may have been snuffed out in the drivel you've been forced to read elsewhere.

Why do Sonlight books get made into movies? Because they're great stories.

What Sonlight title would you like to see on the silver screen?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


05/29/2013

Graduation: Current Reflections from High School

She barely graduated, finishing an overdue five page paper and retaking four tests two days before the ceremony. "I'm so glad to be done with stupid high school," she tells me. Her pale eyes flash with bitterness. "I hated it."

Mortarboard
Graduation Cap

I feel like I had a good high school experience. But that, apparently, is not the norm. Again and again this graduation season I hear the refrain: "High school was terrible. I'm so glad to be out." Not unlike prison.

Ironically, in these times of catharsis, no one mentions the "socialization" so often dangled before homeschoolers like the proverbial carrot on a stick. Prom, sports, friends--any joy in those things have been overshadowed by something else. [Of course, I hear plenty of "horror stories" about all the potentially positive things as well.] It's not the teachers. These kids love most of their instructors. It's not learning. They wax eloquent about the knowledge they absorbed. It's not even the social structure--though, the terrible has been normalized. What kids tell me today is that high school was a pointless, benefit-less game filled with petty frustrations and very real hurts.

I was always glad to be done with my school year while homeschooling. There's a natural elation at finishing your work and taking a well-earned vacation. But even as I transitioned into a public high school, I did it because of the opportunities to grow in ministry. I would have stayed home if I was more interested in academics at that point.

Your students may not be close to high school yet, but if it's been on your mind, consider this: The high school graduates I've been chatting with agree that those four years were not how they wish they'd been taught.

With Sonlight, your children will be able to go from preschool through high school using a program we guarantee they love. I expect you are likely pretty excited about finishing your school year, but if Box Day stories are any indication, your students loved to learn, and you loved to teach.

Have you heard from any recent high school graduates? Is it just my circle of friends, or is this gasping relief something you have witnessed as well?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


05/24/2013

Why Is Homeschooling So Efficient?

One of our Facebook friends recently shared that her son finished the first day of Core A in 45 minutes. Most schools would barely have made it past roll call and an "ice breaker" game in that time. This radical disparity in efficiency is one reason why I find state requirements to spend a certain number of hours "in school" so strange. So how do homeschoolers accomplish so much in so little time?

Here are six things not available to most teachers that benefit you as a homeschooler:

  1. You can get to work right away. When you're ready to start school, you just start. You don't have to wait for passing periods or a particular time. You just get going.
  2. You don't have to wait for others. If your student "gets it" right away, you can move on. In class, you may have to wait while the teacher explains an idea again for someone who didn't catch it the first time. Conversely, if you need extra time to understand an idea, you don't have to hold up 30 other kids while you wrestle with the concept.
  3. "Containment" is not one of your goals. Paul Graham states that "Officially the purpose of schools is to teach kids. In fact their primary purpose is to keep kids locked up in one place for a big chunk of the day so adults can get things done." The primary purpose of homeschooling is to educate our kids. After we'd done some of that each day, my parents let me run free.
  4. You can make it fit your needs. Is your child having a meltdown? Are you about to have one? You can take a break and come back to this later. You can read school books as bedtime stories--of the many reasons Sonlight's literature-based approach to homeschooling is such a beautiful thing. You don't always have to just try to push through.
  5. You love learning and teaching. Most of the teachers I know absolutely love teaching. They love their students. But the students, stuck in an inefficient and often uninspiring scenario, may not be so energized. And your children won't be all the time either. But with Sonlight, we guarantee that you will love to teach and your kids will love to learn. As a homeschooler, you can pick the resources that work for your family.
  6. You don't have to lecture. Homeschooling demonstrates that lectures are not always the most effective way to teach people stuff. Lectures have their place and can be interesting, but by homeschooling you can take advantage of highly efficient and effective teaching models.

Put simply, homeschooling is efficient because of the low student to teacher ratio and freedom from forces that have interests other than educating children. Homeschooling is, I think, an example of what Seth Godin calls appropriate cheating. Homeschooling is not limited the way schools and classrooms are. And we can focus on productivity over being busy.

You may be thinking, 'That's nice, Luke. But you haven't been to my house. I can't seem to motivate my children and we're anything but efficient. I'm often still cajoling my kids to do some work at dinner time!'

I, personally, don't know anything about that <grin>. But I did have a sibling who made it hard on my poor mother <cough>. If you're struggling to get it all done each day, you're not alone. Here are six ways to fit all the subjects into your homeschool day. And Judy has four excellent reminders for when your kids break down. And maybe it's time to consider ways to help your children learn to concentrate.

Do you find homeschooling to be efficient? Or was this last year filled with long days of pulling those proverbial teeth? A little bit of both?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


05/17/2013

What Math Program is Right for My Child?

Sonlight offers several math programs so you can use the one that fits your students' needs. You can get a program that teaches the lessons for you, a textbook that will thrill your problem-loving student, a colorful and hands-on package for your visual-tactile learner, a program for your child who loves story problems and mental math, and more!

Check out all the math programs Sonlight offers.

Are you feeling intimidated by even the thought of teaching math yourself? Check out Judy's encouraging post about teaching math in the early years. You can do this!

Is your math program not working? Learn more about my own experience as you pick a new math program.

Learning to do math is important. There are many stories of men and women who lack basic math skills who are consistently ripped off by merchants (one of the reasons we support the work of Mission India). But even if you've been through math in the school system, you can still get tripped up. You've probably seen the missing dollar problem before. Have you tried to solve it (or looked up the solution)?

Granted, not everyone is destined to do math full time. That's why you can select a math program that is right for your child. Your student may never need more than the basics of math, or, perhaps, your son or daughter will be able to explain Shinichi Mochizuki's ABC Conjecture solution.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. I'm going to be out next week. Autoblot will kick things off on Monday with another post about math...


05/15/2013

Homeschooled Kids Have Strange Priorities

She's incredibly personable. "When I get old," she tells me, "I'm going to repair vacuum cleaners. I don't know why, but it's relaxing and I'm good at it." But since she's still young, she's a lifeguard at the local pool in the summer. She teaches biology the rest of the year. Her favorite part is genetics.

"There is some incredible stuff going on in the genetics field right now," I offer. But, for the life of me, I can't recall the term "heritable epigenetics." I could have impressed her. Oh well. [Interested in learning more? Check out the Time article on DNA changes from your environment.]

"So what do you do?"

So many teachers ask me about homeschooling. It's uncanny. I tell her.

"Homeschoolers are socially awkward," she says, more as an observation than a statement.

I can't really disagree. But that's only part of the story. I wipe the water dripping from the tip of my nose. "That's more of a personality thing, right? I mean, I went to public high school, and there were some pretty awkward kids there who had been in school their whole lives."

She makes a sound of agreement. I imagine her thinking of a particular student of hers.

But I can't leave it at that. Paul Graham's essay on nerds keeps coming to mind. "Homeschoolers have a different set of priorities. Sometimes they're not as hip to what's hip these days; that makes them strange."

And here, like in the van to the airport, something changed. "You know," she says, "James was homeschooled." I don't know who James is, a coworker from the sound of things. I let her go on. "And I think Timothy was as well." She turns to another lifeguard nearby. "Wasn't Timothy homeschooled?" Getting little more than a shrug, she turns back to me, "I'm really all for that. And charter schools."

I smile. We make a little more small talk and then I push off the wall for a few more laps.

Homeschoolers are not really any more strange than their public schooled counterparts. But their priorities are often rather different. To me, that's a good thing.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


05/13/2013

What YouTube Teaches Us About Socialization

Years ago a web comic brought us an excellent idea for YouTube: We should force people to listen to their comment before it is posted. I mentioned this last year when discussing seeking validation on the internet. This came to mind today when, after a decade of being the Star Wars Kid, the Star Wars Kid has now spoken to reporters about his experience. The part that jumped out me was all the comments suggesting he kill himself.

I get that people do mean and stupid stuff when cloaked by anonymity. But clearly the problem is deeper than simply having a digital megaphone and a username. The problem is us. If YouTube teaches us anything about socialization, it is that people--both children and adults--can be cruel, especially if they can "get away with it." You don't have to read Lord of the Flies to understand that.

This morning I wandered into another dark corner of the internet. It's a popular forum where people routinely criticize and mock Sonlight. I am never driven there by my own curiosity, but occasionally I am alerted to a thread I should glance at. So I do. And I usually come away discouraged. These intelligent and well-meaning homeschoolers rag on our approach, our products, and even our character. There is no building up. There is no spurring on.

As homeschoolers, we have the opportunity to socialize properly--to train our children to interact in a manner fit for society. The unfortunate reality is that much of society acts in a manner other than this. Kids are especially mean in school. May your family, both online and out in the world, be winsome ambassadors for Christ because of your time learning at home (see goal #5 here).

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


05/10/2013

Can I Keep Up With My Students?

You've been having a great year homeschooling. There have been bad days and long stretches where things have been overwhelming. By overall it has been a blast! You and your kids have loved learning together. But as you consider your options for next year, there may be this doubt casually lounging on the edge of your consciousness:

Will I be able to teach my kids the more advanced subjects next year?

Your student may not be to calculus just yet. Perhaps it's "human reproduction" next year. Or you may not be sure you can teach your student to read. You may simply feel unqualified to cover a subject you were never taught when you were in school. Or maybe simply looking at the sheer volume of wonderful stuff you'll do next year has you feeling inadequate. You may be thinking, "Can I keep up with my students?"

Yes.

You can.

There will be some not so awesome days. There always are. But just like this year, next year you and your students will get to enjoy the pleasure of learning. Together. You may not remember everything about Trigonometry today--I sure don't--but you've been learning alongside your children for at least a year now. As homeschoolers, we have the privilege of learning (or relearning) in the process of teaching. What an opportunity!

If you're looking toward next year, please find encouragement in this year. This has been a fantastic year full of wonderful books, amazing discoveries, a few "light bulb" moments, and one or two more steps forward in this life-long journey of learning. And you--and your kids--have been loving it.

Keep up the great work.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


05/08/2013

The Feast of the Ascension and other stuff I've never done

One of the things I love about Sonlight is that you are exposed to so many different ideas, traditions, cultures, and experiences through the stories your read about people all over the world (and time). As you cycle through history three times over the course of your Sonlight studies, you'll develop a heart for the world. Today, many years after completing my own Sonlight Cores, I still enjoy learning about other traditions, especially in the Church.

I've never celebrated to the Feast of Ascension, but I appreciated the insights provided on the BibleMesh blog as to why we should celebrate the Ascension. Granted, I don't think I'll do anything special tomorrow, but I appreciate the reminder to consider what Christ has done for me and the blessing it is to be given the Helper.

Do you celebrate the Ascension? What aspects of life do you like learning about from other traditions and cultures?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


05/07/2013

What are the best reasons to home educate?

I could not possibly give you a definitive list of the best reasons to homeschool, but I can easily share 15 benefits of homeschooling as well as 10 potential disadvantages: The Benefits (and Disadvantages) of Homeschooling. For example:

  • Show your children that learning is exciting, not boring.
  • Give your children the attention they need in both subjects with which they struggle and excel.
  • Address your children's questions when they have them.
  • Nurture your children's natural talents and interests--be they in music, art, math, or otherwise--so they thrive and grow.

Personally, I think one of the best reasons to homeschool is that it allows your kids to grow up awesome.

What about you? What are the best reasons you've found to educate your children at home?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


05/03/2013

Family Fun: Puzzles

We start a puzzle almost every time the whole family gets together. Then, as we chat late into the night while the kids sleep, we slowly piece together a picture out of tiny cardboard shapes. It's a bonding thing and a way to keep busy while we gab, catch up on life, and discuss deep matters we are walking through. When we finish one, we're on to the next.

I learned yesterday that only five people in the last year knew that we carried puzzles. That's unfortunate because our puzzles are great.

Don't believe me?

Here's a Sonlighter who recently pulled out her Global Puzzle to pass some time: Sonlight’s Global Puzzle Fun. After reading that, I knew I had to tell you about the puzzles too.

If your family likes puzzles, check out all three of the puzzles we offer. If you've never tried a puzzle as a family group activity, you should. And remember, if you're a Core Club Member, you get free shipping all year long (assuming you live in the contiguous United States).

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer Empty Nester


04/30/2013

Alliances and Ideology

Maybe it was the post about the future of the Quiverfull movement. Perhaps it was browsing a site that referenced a Sonlight blog post while warning parents to beware of evolutionary theories. It could be that I've been discussing highly divisive topics for the past couple of weeks with friends and coworkers. Another possibility is that the politics on Facebook and in my inbox finally got under my skin just enough to push me into thinking about this kind of thing. Whatever the cause(s), the difference in Sonlight's approach has me really excited.

What's the difference?

Sonlight seeks to help you educate, not indoctrinate.

So much of what I see in myself and public discourse and private thought is driven by fear and feelings. There is nothing wrong with being prudent or using emotional checks to make sure that the logical doesn't override the good (such as in the Laws of Robotics). But may we never get so entangled in our political alliances or pet ideologies that we fail to seek the truth. Indeed, as we focus on learning, we discover that the more we know about other ideas the more effectively we can communicate our own thinking and modify our position to better align with reality. Education, then, is learning what is true, not acquiring a particular set of beliefs. I'd rather believe the truth.

Entrenched
Entrenched

May we all, as we learn alongside our children, continue to draw ever closer to the Truth Himself. And may what we learn push us to be more like Him so we can shine as lights in this dark world and inspire people to give glory to our Father in heaven.

That urges me onward. May you continue in the good work you are doing as well.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


04/29/2013

Want a Fee-Free 9-month Payment Plan? Order Today.

Hard to believe April is drawing to a close. As we come to the end of this month, your opportunity to take advantage of Sonlight's 9-month Time Payment plans is also coming to an end for this year. If you want to spread the cost of your curriculum over the next nine months, order before the end of April 30.


Payment Plans

Not ready to buy yet? Heading to a homeschool convention in the next couple months? Need more time to pray about your options? Have a few extra questions to discuss with a Sonlight Advisor?

No problem.

The 3-month option is available all year, and you have through June to take advantage of a 6-month Time Payment plan at no additional charge.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


04/26/2013

You Can't Do This ...not alone

I don't know about you, but there are days when this reality overwhelms me: I'm not enough. I'm not wise enough, or strong enough, or good enough to handle what's come my way. I get bogged down too easily. I lose my temper. I chose to do something I knew I should not have done. And the things I have to deal with are more than I can handle.

Depressing?

Not at all.

I am so glad Grace posted about how we're not enough on her blog. We're not enough, but God is. His grace is enough! You can't do this--whatever this is for you--alone. But you are not alone.

I needed that reminder this morning. I hope it was encouraging to you as well.

Have a blessed weekend, finding strength in the joy of the Lord!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. I recommend you jump back up to Nehemiah 8:2 and read the context for the passage about joy. This is right after they had finished rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem (7:1)...


04/24/2013

From Luke's Inbox: What's the Big Picture in Grading?

I am a computer technology teacher and want my students to learn movie/film making. I love your free film school because you make it sound fun which is a contrast to my serious approach. But I've never graded students on film making. I've come up with a rubric that focuses on individual behavior and participation in a group, the student's depth of creativity and use of technical skills. Am I not seeing the big picture? Should I add anything else to my appraisal process?

I've never graded students on filmmaking before either. And there's a huge reason why: I don't believe grades help students!

A bit of background: I was homeschooled until high school. As a homeschooler, I did my work until I got it right--what edu-theorists call the "mastery" approach to learning. When I got to high school, I learned how to play the grade game, but that's all it was. I "won" by graduating Valedictorian, but the mad pursuit of grades did nothing to enhance my educational experience. Grades added needless stress and incorrect objectives to my learning. Thankfully, when I got to college, I was able to mostly push aside the meaningless pursuit of grades and focus, instead, on my education. From my experience, grades are absolutely the wrong way to go about motivating and monitoring students.

With my online free film school, I am careful to point out the following:

You won't be graded on how well your projects turn out. Instead, this free film school focuses on helping you practice. I believe that you will naturally improve as you produce more content. Too often we, as creative types, get bogged down because our skill does not match our vision. These short projects are designed to help you get over that and keep moving forward.

I want to inspire kids to produce a bunch of content, not get mired in trying to make something "perfect" to get an A. Practice and get better. That's what I want you to do.

So, I recommend a Pass/Fail approach to assignments, especially film. The "rubric" consists of the following question: Did you produce something that in some way fits the instructions? Yes? Pass. No? Fail... and do it again so you can pass.

But this is also why I require every single person to produce their own thing! You can't get a "free ride" on the work of others. I absolutely encourage students to work together in groups on their various projects--because the more you do, the better you get--but I don't force group films. In my experience, that always leads to a few people doing all the work and some student, somewhere, gets the short end of the proverbial stick.

One benefit I realize I have in offering a free film school online is that I don't need kids to create stuff on a particular timetable. They take as long as they need to make something, and they only "fail" if they "drop" the course--at which point, failure doesn't matter. I'm not sure the best way to translate this to the classroom setting. I would do my best to give clear due dates and work with students who are unable to complete an assignment on time. I'd much rather a kid make a movie a month late than miss out on the opportunity. But if they simply refuse to work, they choose to fail.

If the student does not produce a video in line with the assignment, I handle that in one of two ways: 1. I explain what I was looking for and request they try again, or 2. I accept it as is because they clearly got some benefit from their practice and it is "close enough" to the objective.

That's the "big picture" as I see it. There's a lot more behind my philosophy and approach to learning, and there are unique challenges that you face as a classroom teacher. If you have other questions about how I'd address a particular issue, I'm happy to give my two cents. But I think many of these problems can be solved by focusing on the objective: Encourage kids to discover the wonder and joy of learning and putting their knowledge and skills toward creative or meaningful pursuits.

Hope that helps!

***

Why did I share this email that's largely about non-Sonlight stuff? Because it was in my inbox and, more importantly, I think a proper focus on learning is one of the huge benefits homeschooling offers students. May you continue to allow your kids to develop a life-long love of learning as they practice and master the skills they need for whatever God has called them to do!

How do you handle grading in your household? If you're looking for some practical tips on grading--especially for high school--check out Judy's blog post on grading and transcripts.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


04/22/2013

The Privileged Position of Less Formal Learning

Milton Gaither's recent post THROUGH THE LENS OF HOME-EDUCATED CHILDREN: Insights from Children About What Motivates Them to Learn reminded me of two benefits I had as a homeschooled kid. First, my education was something I participated in; I was not spoon-fed learning. Second--and closely related--I experienced learning throughout my day; I was not limited to only acquire knowledge someone actively taught me.

Before I go on, I want to dispel a myth you may be forming in your mind.

I did not memorize the dictionary or our set of encyclopedias. I never felt like doing extra math work on Saturdays. I am naturally curious and love learning, but I did not set out to create more school/busy work for myself. But that's just it: As homeschoolers, education is not about school because it's not that formal. Education is about learning. And learning we do whenever the opportunity arises.

As a video guy, I really like what Chuck Peters over at Digital Juice Television (DJTV) says in his Field of View episode Stay Tuned [you can skip ahead to 4:25 if you don't care about football analogies]. The basic premise: If you keep your brain engaged and select good TV, you can learn a ton about making movies from your couch! And that's exactly how Sonlight's Language Arts programs work too ...only with great books instead. The point is that we can learn even from our entertainment of choice. Homeschooling works because it takes the focus off formal education and places it on life-long learning.

And notice that learning isn't passive. We don't absorb knowledge through osmosis, as if sitting in our chair in a classroom imparted knowledge to us. Instead, we must interact with the content. That's where the benefit of doing math problems comes in handy. That's also the benefit of discussing the books you read. You must participate in your education.

But, as the article above points out, children are happier when they experience an active education that does not emphasize a formal learning time. For these reasons, among many others, homeschooled children are right to feel like they have a privileged position as homeschoolers.

I certainly did.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


04/19/2013

Order in April and Take Nine Months to Pay

Time Payment plans are available all year long from Sonlight. But the 9-month option is only going to be available through April (until next year, of course). So, if you've been thinking about purchasing your homeschool curriculum and want to spread the cost over the next nine months for no additional charge, now's the time.

If you're not sure what programs will be best for your family or have questions about your options, please chat with a Sonlight Advisor.

Just a friendly reminder as you head into the weekend. <smile>

See you next week!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


04/17/2013

Sonlight and the Common Core State Standards

Many organizations, companies, and curriculum providers are working to align themselves with the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

Sonlight is not. Why is Sonlight not seeking to conform to the new Common Core?

First, Sonlighters already succeed. The Common Core is the latest attempt by policy makers to encourage schools to help students achieve. Sonlight students already do amazingly well academically. Sonlighers aren't failing. Many schools are. If politicians can find a way to help more students, that's great. But with over 20 years of success inspiring students--and parents--to love to learn, it would be foolish for Sonlight to change.

Second, Sonlight does things differently. Our revolutionary, literature-based approach--now embraced by many homeschool providers inspired by our success--doesn't exactly mirror most school material. Of course, outside of a fully embraced "Common Core," no two schools--or classrooms--are going to be completely in sync. So that's not really a problem. Far more importantly, Sonlight's focus is different. We take a global perspective from a unique educational philosophy.

Third, we're here to help you. We are aware of what's going on in the wider educational world, but our focus is on helping you. That's why we offer free access to Advisors, a year-long guarantee, and continually update our Instructor's Guides. Tweaking our curriculum to fall in step with what others are doing doesn't do much to help you teach your children. Such initiatives may help the government better direct schools, but the Common Core won't help you teach your children to read, learn math, or understand history. We'd rather focus on creating tools that assist your family's homeschool journey.

Sonlight is not adjusting our homeschool curriculum to align with the new Common Core.

Since Sonlight is not accredited, we are not bound to the "Common Core" standards (you can read more about accreditation here). We regularly update our programs to ensure you have tools to give your children an excellent education. But rather than follow the latest fads and hype about educational theory, we tend to stick to what we know works: Great books, lots of tools in your Instructor's Guide, and a focus on developing a life-long love of learning. Sonlight pioneered the literature-rich approach to homeschooling over twenty years ago. And we're not changing that.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


04/15/2013

Choosing Your Investments

You are investing in your kids. As a homeschooler, you're pouring time and energy and resources into your children's education. And what a great investment it is! Not only do your children get a great education, you also bond with them through great books, get to see them grow, have them during the best hours of the day, instill important values, and give them tools that will set them up for success in life.

You're doing all that--and more--for less than the cost of a public education.

That's a great investment.

Growing up, I tithed what little money I earned. As I grew, my parents began to discuss giving in a broader context. They talked about their decision to focus on unreached peoples. They talked through their rationale. They encouraged me to consider what I would give to, and why. And as your children learn about the wider world--starting as early as Core A--you can begin to naturally discuss the needs all around us.

A few years ago I read an article about charities and organizations losing funds because this next generation only gives to the most recent need. Rather than prayerfully considering their gifts, people today "tweet five bucks" to the latest fad in giving. Money pours in for a while, and then it's on to the next thing. This also means that high profile needs (such as earthquakes and tsunamis) get funds but long-term needs--like Scripture translation--are no longer on people's minds.

This kind of thing also comes up when confronted by beggars. Should I buy the guy a meal or would that money be better spent feeding ten children in Africa? Or translating a portion of Scripture that could transform a culture? Or support a missionary to bring the good news of Christ to a people who have never heard it? Or helping send a kid to camp? Or should I save the money to spend on my own family and the kids I minster to?

These are hard questions, and worthy of consideration and conversation. What has God called you to invest in? Your children, to be sure. But what else? And it's not just finances. How we spend our time and energy is also part of this equation.

I believe it is important to think about our investments. But, at the same time, remember that we serve a good God! This is not yet another burden to place on yourself. Remember that God has entrusted us with His blessings so we can bless others. These are opportunities for us to follow His heart, to hear Him tell us, "Well done!"

What things are you involved with--personally or as a family--to bless others with the blessings God has given you? How do you help your children think about helping others?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


04/12/2013

Homeschool Benefit: You Hear Your Kids

She's pretty and popular. Wavy brown hair dances at her shoulders. She carries an affecting, infecting, impish grin. It's no wonder boys like her. And her parents just discovered the scars on her arms.

Whether out shock or grief or ignorance, her parents refused to believe they had been blind to her cutting. "My dad even went so far as I ask when I'd joined the occult," she told me. Her eyes filled with tears. "And I'd been doing so well recently."

Her parents know their daughter has been "on the fringe" for a while now. But they have no idea how far down the rabbit hole their girl has fallen. Her mom once called me to ask about a situation where her daughter had lied through omitting key details about her plans. So, this girl has not helped her parents trust her. But because she's in school and works late hours and has conversations long into the night on her cellphone, her parents are out of the loop.

They are now trying to fix that.

I don't know how that's going, but I'm guessing it's been bumpy. How do you reconnect with a child you've abandoned to the world? How do you catch up on where she is emotionally if you can't bring yourself to trust what she says? How do you get her to open up to you when she feels betrayed, insulted, rejected, and interrogated? I don't know. Being a parent is hard enough. I can't imagine trying to overcome all that too.

But I know this: Homeschooling gives us opportunities to hear our kids. As you discuss the literature you're reading together, as you work through areas where your children struggle, as you are involved in their daily lives, you can get a pretty clear picture of how your child is doing.

Please, take advantage of this benefit! Talk with your children. Listen to them. Lay a foundation today so that you can hear your children when they encounter difficulties tomorrow.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


04/11/2013

4 Ways to Inspire Your Kids to Change the World

Sonlight students are different. We are not content to merely join a "safe" sub-culture and sit on the proverbial bench. We want more. One Sonlight mom put it this way:

The Sonlight graduates that I know all have the same desire to be in the world but not of the world, as in IN THE WORLD. My daughter wants to be a musician who impacts the world for Christ, but not a "Christian Musician". I know another young lady who is a newly published author who wants to be a "writer who writes fiction that can have an impact on the world for Christ" but not a "Christian Writer". They are young people who don't want to be part of a sub-culture, they want to change the culture.

What motivates that? What builds this kind of focus in us and our children? How do we inspire our kids to want to change the world?

1. Emphasize sharing Christ with the world. Sonlight's curriculum has a strong international, missions focus. We encounter, through literature and stories, people all over the world who need Christ or who have been transformed by Him. After experiencing this reality again and again, it's no wonder we want to reach others with the good news of His grace and redemption!

2. Give godly heroes. Church history--not to mention Scripture--is packed with ordinary men and women who did amazing things while following God. We take time to learn from this great cloud of witnesses. Building off the desire to introduce people to Jesus, we discover that God can use us to do just that.

3. Don't shrink back from the need. As we mature, we discover just how desperately wicked the heart of man can be. But God's redemptive power is even greater than this! We wrestle with difficult questions, encounter difficult situations, and are introduced to difficult ideas. We don't isolate ourselves in solely "Christian" contexts. Instead, as we study Scripture and history, we learn of the great need and the even greater opportunity in following God's call.

4. Follow Christ's example. Just as Jesus is the embodiment of "God with us"--where He came in human likeness even while we were still sinners--so we should meet people where they are. Hudson Taylor, as one example, did this with tremendous impact. Now we can find ways to transform our culture from within as well.

Read more about the ideas behind these four ways to inspire kids.

Sonlight encourages us to look outside our bubble. As we mature and are trained by our parents, we feel no compulsion to stay isolated in a Christian community. Indeed, how could we? The world needs Jesus, and we are His body.

From-Church-to-the-World
From Church into Culture

What does this look like? Let me share a bit of my story with you:

I discovered I had a love for film as a kid. I dreamed of transforming movies like Star Wars from focusing on the Force to speaking of the Lord. I didn't have any knowledge of copyright laws at the time. Nor did I understand the cheesiness of cheap knockoffs. I just knew I wanted to be a "Christian film guy." But as I slowly discovered the artistic wasteland of the "Christian film" sub-culture, I realized I wanted nothing to do with that. It is bland, weak, and misses reality in its pursuit of spiritual messaging. I also wasn't interested in Hollywood, with its culture of lies and abuse and inefficiencies. Instead, I want to make films that point people to Christ.

Have I arrived yet? No.

But I have discovered an intense love for adapting Scripture for a modern audience (be they pre- or post-Christian, agnostic, or ignorant). So I've made one short film telling a well-known Bible story in a way that, I believe, makes the ideas accessible to someone who does not--at this time--accept Scripture. I've got another I hope to shoot this summer.

I love how Sonlight helps inspire us to change the world.

Have your kids shown a desire to shape culture? What ways are they seeking to share Christ?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


04/08/2013

The Shuttle Ride: Educating Others About Homeschooling

The sun isn't up yet as I climb into the airport shuttle. The talkative driver, a woman probably in her late 50s, asks where I'm from. "Denver," I reply. Somehow from there we quickly arrive at the topic of homeschooling and education.

"How do I put this?" she asks herself more than me. "What about, you know, socialization?"

Inwardly, I groan. If there's one topic about homeschooling that's about as dead a horse as you can beat, this "socialization" issue would be it. But this lady hasn't read homeschool blogs, so it's time to summarize. "If the parents are homeschooling out of fear--trying to isolate their kids from everything--then they'll probably be poorly socialized. But the vast majority of homeschoolers I know do great; they are involved in church, and sports, and Scouts, or whatever. I spent my afternoons playing with friends. So socialization isn't an issue unless you're trying to avoid contact with others."

Satisfied, she still has questions. "What about academics?"

Now I'm wishing I could just link her to this blog. "Homeschoolers consistently score high, just like other kids from similar socioeconomic backgrounds with stable homes and parental involvement. We all know parents help their children succeed, which is just one more reason why homeschooling is such a great option. I was homeschooled through eighth grade, and I graduated Valedictorian. Homeschoolers do well academically."

"But I couldn't teach Algebra," she tells me.

"The beauty is that there are a bunch of resources for parents who were failed in their own education. And, with homeschooling, you can learn or relearn something that you didn't get in school."

"I almost homeschooled my daughter."

This happens: I respond to the pop culture criticisms of homeschooling with information and experience and suddenly the person who was skeptical has flipped entirely. I've had people who started rather anti-homeschool end up telling me how they wished they could have been homeschooled themselves. How fickle the uninformed bias!

She tells me of adopting her daughter when she married her husband from overseas. She explains how she read to her daughter and picked up books like "See Spot Run" to help her grasp English.

"See! You were homeschooling. Not formally, but parents educate their kids at home way more than they think they do."

She goes on to tell me about how her husband, when he first moved to the States, didn't know English either. But since he worked construction, his first words and phrases "weren't particularly nice."

"And that," I interject, "is an example of bad socialization. You don't want your kids picking up that garbage."

By now we've arrived at the airport. I thank her as I get out and head into the terminal. It's really too bad that so many people are ignorant about the realities of homeschooling. If more people knew what educating their children at home could be like, I think more people would do it.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


04/05/2013

Listening to Speakers

This evening, and tomorrow, Sarita will be speaking at a homeschool convention in Ohio. I've had the opportunity to hear her encouraging messages before. Homeschooling--not to mention life--can be draining so it's nice to be reminded that the work we do is valuable. But as I walk convention halls, it's interesting to listen to what people say. Often, I agree with what they share. Homeschooling is an excellent educational option. Literature is a great way to learn. We should take advantage of the opportunity to prepare our kids to impact the world for Christ. And the like.

But there are some messages I reject. One example: "We should not tell our children about false gods because that can confuse them as to who the true God is." Disagree. There are all kinds of false gods, with such names as fame, fortune, and fashion, that we must identify as luring many away from producing Godly fruit. Equally important, we need to know what other people believe so we can communicate the Gospel to them in a culturally relevant way. I didn't personally know any Hindus until I went to India, but I've talked with many people from various cults and a few Wiccans in my daily life. Sticking my head in the sand would not help me share the love and grace of Christ with them.

As we listen to people--even (especially?) experts--we need to keep our ears open. Does that match Scripture? Is that true? Do I agree with that? Does that push me to follow Christ and share Him with others?

It can be hard to weigh all this when walking the convention hall or browsing the web. So, please, take time to prayerfully consider your options. Take a look at the educational philosophy and see if there is anything that would indicate that you should not buy that curriculum.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. If you can't make it to a convention to hear Sarita speak, you can watch an interview with her at the Mom Mastery Summit. I don't know who else is going to be at that online event, but I'm guessing I wouldn't agree with everything. And that's one of the beauties of homeschooling: We can discuss ideas with our children... both the ones we agree with and those we do not.


04/02/2013

Website Update 2013

My goal for 2013 was to make it easier for you to select homeschool materials for your family. I wanted to reduce the interruptions to the selection process and save you time. Also, with more and more people using tablets, we wanted to make the experience nicer for touch screens.

The video above gives you a quick overview of the layout and design changes that speed up the process of choosing your Sonlight curriculum. I also wanted to introduce you to some key features of the Scratch Pad.

New to the website this year:

  • Cleaner layout
  • Simplified options
  • Multiple student support for Full-Grade Packages
  • Mix-and-match high school courses
  • Age bar slider
  • Improved Scratch Pad
  • Better student management
  • Faster access to useful information
  • and more!

I would love to hear which changes have helped you the most. And please send us your feedback so we can continue to make the site more useful for you!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. Please also let me know if anything isn't working properly. I didn't post this yesterday because we spent 12 hours debugging code that worked when we tested it but broke when we launched the site. So, there could easily still be things not quite functional yet. Thank you for your patience and support! May these website updates help you on your homeschooling journey.


03/29/2013

New Sonlight Product Box Day!

I love sharing your Box Day stories here on the blog. But today I want to invite you to celebrate a Box Day here at Sonlight. We just got our first shipment of a brand new book: The Landmark History of the American People: From Plymouth to the West, Volume I.

It looks great! I can't wait for you to get a peek inside this amazing new title.

Landmark-Vol1-Box-Day
Sonlight's Box Day (Volume 1)

You'll have to wait until Monday to see it on the website when the new 2013 catalog goes live. As usual, we have a lot of work to do on April 1 to get everything for the new year up and running. So, you can expect the shopping cart to be down for most of Monday. I believe we tend to get everything updated and turned back on around 5pm Mountain Time, if not before. I plan to have more updates for you then.

For now, you can read about the new Landmark History books (volumes 1 & 2), updates to High School, and more on the What's New 2013 page.

What updates are you most excited about?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. May you have a blessed Easter as we celebrate Christ this weekend. What a wonderful time of year this is!


03/27/2013

Misery from the Belief in the Value of Education

The group of us stood motionless, trapped in the concrete boots of chastisement. We had been a tad rowdy and the poor mother running the homeschool co-op music lesson had finally had enough. So she threw us out of class. That experience was disorienting to me as a student, but I'm guessing it was devastating to our teacher.

She had been unable to impart to us the joy of creating music. We had been unwilling to take the lesson seriously. And since there is value in learning to play an instrument, we had squandered an opportunity. Our teacher was miserable because we--unintentionally--had rejected her instruction.

I was reminded of this experience when I bumped into a quote attributed to Bill Watterson (creator of Calvin & Hobbes):

I have a lot of sympathy for Miss Wormwood. ... I think she seriously believes in the value of education, so needless to say, she's an unhappy person.

How can believing in the value of education make someone unhappy? If your attempts are foiled day in and day out, that would be rather miserable.

I think it's interesting that Bill assumes teachers who believe in education are unhappy. Are that many students failing to fall in love with learning? That would be a reasonable assumption. But striving for academic excellence isn't a bad thing. Perhaps the problem is rooted in the focus on "education" rather than life-long learning. If Miss Wormwood is trying to cram knowledge into Calvin's mind, she's going to fail. But if she could find a way to tap into his imagination, he would soar.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


03/25/2013

Are you ok?

I was thinking of writing a post exploring why Calvin's teacher--from Calvin and Hobbes--is an unhappy person. But then I read Part 2 of Grateful for Grace's abortion story, and nothing I could write today could matter as much.

The first part of her story is powerful, but how she went from a lonely mess to experiencing the first rays of grace made me want to cry. Grace is such a powerful thing! Read part 2 here.

May I, when confronted with someone experiencing such pain, respond with as much love. "Are you ok?"

I love how stories can call us higher and nudge us forward.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


03/22/2013

From Luke's Inbox: Sonlight and Sex and Swearing

I just read the blog post Appalled that I bought utter filth & gave it to my children. She has daughters who are more sensitive than my high school/middle school boys, but this is still disconcerting. I ditch several books a year, but do miss some. Perhaps "questionable content" should be added to the book descriptions online? I give my boys the manual and they take off with it -- I need to be able to trust Sonlight!

I had not yet seen that blog post. Thanks for passing it along. Unfortunately, this blogger and I simply disagree as to what is acceptable and what is not. Sonlight is clearly NOT a good fit for this family. I regularly urge people to read the 27 Reasons NOT to Buy Sonlight article; if you want to avoid offensive content at all costs, Sonlight is not for you. Sonlight carries books that some homeschoolers won't touch. I think we have completely valid and beneficial reasons for doing so. But if you disagree, please find your curriculum elsewhere! As I often say, I'm far more concerned with you loving your homeschool experience than I am with selling you curriculum packages.

We've had a number of requests that we give greater detail as to what "questionable content" means for each title we carry. And some day we may figure out how to do just that. We absolutely want to better serve homeschool families. The difficulty arises when people have such wildly different tolerances. For example, anyone who has attended the high school up the street from my house has already been exposed to even filthier "forms of foul language and sexual content" ...and those words typically came from the mouths of Freshmen trying to prove their "maturity." If we can't be around such things, how can we bring these kids God's grace? Christ was a friend of sinners; may we be the same.

Frankly, the sexual content in Sonlight's titles is hardly shocking if you've read your Bible. What if all the men in a city--young and old--surrounded a house demanding to have sex with the male travelers within? That happens. Twice. Incest? Yep. Not to mention rape, public sexuality, and other despicable things. And these are passages in Scripture! Clearly there is benefit to reading such accounts. So I'm open to there being benefit to reading such things in your homeschool materials as well.

But you know your children better than I do. If they are not yet prepared to handle this kind of thing, please do what is best for them! Sonlight is committed to helping you raise enthusiastic, life-long learners who are motivated to follow God wherever He leads them. But depending on what you mean by the word, you may not be able to "trust" Sonlight. I'm reminded of an oft-quoted passage from Narnia:

"Is he--quite safe?"
"Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good."

If I could be so bold as to draw a comparison: Sonlight's curriculum isn't safe, but I believe it is good.

As always, I'm open to more discussion. Please feel free to share your thoughts! And, remember: You know your children, so do what is best for them. The world is a disconcerting place, full of evil and desperate need. May we be those who, guided by the Holy Spirit, bring Christ's redemption to even the darkest places of the world.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. I have written similar responses to questions about socialism and the occult which you may also be interested to read. Sonlight does things differently, and I believe we are better for it.


03/20/2013

The Myth of a Standardized Education

Her pale blue eyes burn icy cold as she recounts her latest test results. "They changed professors three days before the test. How does that make sense? It's good that they let the other professor go, he wasn't teaching us anything, but they shouldn't have given us our new teacher's test. She actually teaches us stuff, but we hadn't learned any of that yet!"

We are people, not robots. With a robot, we can send a properly coded command and the machine will execute as directed. Make another robot like the first and you'll get the same results. Build a factory to replicate these machines, and you'll get a bunch of uniform actions. This is great for tools like cars and computers and cellphones. But we humans are a tricky bunch. We filter and react to the world differently. And teachers don't teach raw information. Instead, they teach to their test.

This isn't really a problem unless you're hoping to create a standardized education.

In the real world, we need to learn how to adapt to the varying needs of those around us. And with a lifetime of learning ahead of us, we couldn't possibly teach everything there is to know in a few short years. There will be gaps. And if you were to, somehow, create an education that teaches everyone the same material, you'd just have a uniformly ignorant group.

But a standardized education isn't possible. Teachers will emphasize the things they are passionate about and gloss over the elements that seem less important. Classes, not to mention students, will move through the content at different speeds. Let us pretend, for a moment, that we agreed every 4 year old needed to know that 1+1=2. What if a child came to us who didn't know this fact but had already learned to read? What do we do with a child who, like me, couldn't read until well after the "acceptable" time frame? If we decide to cast them off as freaks or failures, we still don't have a standardized education. We have the masses who are "on board" and the outcasts who have been left in the ocean.

If test results change when you get a new teacher with a new test, you don't have a standardized education. The sooner we admit this, the more quickly we can release our students to soar in the life-long journey of learning. Abandon this mad pursuit of a standardized education in favor of the far more useful drive to inspire a life-long love of learning.

As homeschoolers, we're giving our students a non-standard education. Embrace that. The same is true of great professors at top universities around the world.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


03/18/2013

How to Inspire Kids to Learn on Their Own

Last week I wrote about interest-led learning and how having free time gives your children opportunities to discover joy in things that inspire them. Taryn asked me to expand on this with tips for helping children tap into personal interests. I'm certainly not an expert, but I'll gladly share more of my experience:

Your Children Need Resources

Time is, by far, the most important resource for creativity. And, with homeschooling, our children can have that in spades.

Tools come in all shapes, sizes, and styles. Your child may need a set of paints or chisels or pruning sheers or a code compiler. In my case, it was a video camera and some editing software which were, 15 years ago, much harder to procure. I know this can be difficult if you have child like my little brother who jumped from interest to interest. Since we're all on limited budgets, I highly recommend you give your children tools as gifts, not toys. And as online creativity continues to increase, more and more free tools are available. You can find tutorials and classes for just about anything, and free alternatives for many expensive programs. It may, very soon, be worth the money to get the "real deal," but if your children are still exploring all the options available to them, Gimp is a worthy entry to Photoshop, and Blender is an excellent foundation for Maya.

Trust that your kids can succeed. No, they probably won't compose the next world-class symphony at age 4. But if they discover a deep love for music, there's no telling where God will use that gift. My parents let me explore the worlds I was interested in and gave me occasional bits of encouragement. They didn't prod or pry. They simply kept and eye out for things I was passionate about and did their best to give me opportunities to try it out. That paid off. By the time I graduated high school, I had recorded audio dramas, made a couple computer games, recorded a CD with my band, shot a feature length film, built a website, taught myself image editing, and could discuss a wide range of hot topics should a debate arise. Was I any good at any of those things? By no means! But I had a foundation that let me soar in the years to come. My parent's mostly silent support was a huge resource I could draw upon as I started out exploring my interests.

Your Children Need Role Models

One of my uncles helped me write my first Visual Basic computer program. A local repair man helped me build a go-kart from bicycle wheels and a lawnmower's handle bars. My dad helped me craft pinewood derby cars. A friend at church showed me how to work the soundboard for youth group. But I also had fictional role-models, such as Mr. Whittaker from Adventures in Odyssey. Many Sonlight titles introduced me to historical inspiration as well, with people like the Wright Brothers, Robert Fulton, George Washington Carver, and Noah Blake.

My younger sister was inspired by some singer somewhere to pick up the guitar and teach herself a few chords. Of course, we had to have a guitar to do that.

So... give your children a few resources and role models and then encourage them to follow their interests and learn on their own.

How have you inspired your kids to pursue their interests?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


03/15/2013

Your Interest-Led Learning

I bought a Digital SLR camera a while ago to have one more resource in my film making bag. The minute I got I home, I sat down to learn how to use it and make it a more powerful tool. Pretty soon I was reading about firmware updates, lenses, audio adapters, and other things I'd never encountered before. I was learning because I was interested in making movies using my new camera. In many ways, this was the epitome of "delight directed learning."

This certainly wasn't the first time I'd learned something for fun in my life. I've had similar experiences with computer programming, web development, blogging, media production, debate, scientific study, being in a band, theology, and more. Interest-led learning is one of the most natural ways to pursue knowledge and gain skills.

And, as a homeschooler, I had time to be creative. This left me with many opportunities to participate in interest-led learning.

I still think a more structured educational approach is beneficial as well. We should be stretched and introduced to many things so we can discover even more interests.

And that's where homeschooling is so fantastic: We can experience both formal instruction that fits our educational needs and still have plenty of time to let our interests lead us to learn more.

What things have you--or your children--learned "on your own time"?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


03/13/2013

The Unthinking Religious

I witnessed a goat sacrifice the first time I visited India. That was different. But, as a tourist, the terminated bleating just added to the foreign experience. We moved on as the priest dabbed blood on the young couple's foreheads.

My second trip to India was different. I wasn't a tourist this time. I got to know some of the locals. Talking with one of my new friends while in a restaurant, I noticed she was ordering vegetarian for herself. I asked her about it, and she said she was not eating meat for a month so she could better pray to one of the gods.

She was fasting, much like for Lent.

And a realization suddenly grabbed me and threatened to throw me to the floor: I had assumed that only ignorant saps believed in polytheism. But this young lady is an intelligent, skilled, lovely individual whose grammatically incorrect English only makes her more endearing. And as I looked into her smiling face, I discovered I'd bought into a foolish Western belief.

Elephant-Shrine
Shrine

The assumption is all around me here at home. There's a constant degrading mantra about the "stupid religious" who hold beliefs because of willful ignorance. And, certainly, the supposed "Science/Faith debate" isn't helping either. But if I so quickly apply a similar negative lens to people, I'm doing the exact same thing. Unfortunately, insults to person or intelligence is where we tend to devolve in discussion--especially online (Facebook <cough>).

There absolutely are intellectual Christians who celebrate the life of the mind. But it doesn't matter how brilliant you are if someone disagrees about the foundations of your ideas.

I'm sure there are some unthinking religious out there, simply going along with the trend. But the same is also true of many skeptics and atheists as well. I am reminded, however, that many people--whether agnostic, Hindu, or otherwise--are bright, thinking individuals. But without an encounter with Christ, what's going to change their mind?

Indeed, without Christ, everything is pretty meaningless.

May you and your children bring the hope and peace of Christ wherever you go, whether to India or the grocery store down the street. Because there are intelligent people everywhere who need to see Him in action.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


03/11/2013

Homeschool Benefit: Focus on the Stuff that Matters

He was absolutely brilliant. A perfect score on the ACT. Throwing the class curve by consistently being over the 100% mark. Winner of the honors Science Award. His notes were impeccable and neat.

"The other student to win the Science Award this year couldn't be more different. His notes are illegible. His process unorthodox." And with that, they called me to the stage.

Academic-Certificate
Certificate

As one who was determined to beat the grade game, I did not fit the mold of boys who score higher on tests than girls but get lower grades in class. I did just fine on both... but I didn't take the ACT. I got the same score on the SAT as my brilliant counterpart, so I'll just assume I would have done just as well on the ACT too <cough>.

But when I read about the grade gap between boys and girls and the ways classrooms are not optimized for both sexes--as demonstrated in Why Gender Matters--I feel sorry for my public schooled friends. Homeschooling allows us, as parents and teachers, to accommodate our children's needs, allow them to excel in their strengths, and give them time where they struggle. In other words: We can focus on the stuff that matters.

Handwriting? Important. But is it more important than Luke's interest in Science? Reading? Essential. But does Luke have to master it this year?

As homeschoolers, we get to pick our battles. May you have wisdom as you set goals and determine what matters and what stuff can wait.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


03/08/2013

The Best Part of Being an Adult

The scoop, laden with a generous helping of ice cream, is halfway to my mug when she walks in. It's 8:53 in the morning.

"How's it going?" she asks.

"Good. I'm having some ice cream; the breakfast of champions."

She smiles quietly. "That's one of the best things about being an adult," she replies.

Ice-Cream-Cup
Finishing My Breakfast

Being an adult: So much freedom coupled tightly with profound responsibilities. There's a certain joy to things like eating ice cream in the morning. If I did it every day, that'd be a problem. But the occasional indulgence has yet to ruin my health.

As adults, we choose what we eat, where we work, when we go to bed, how we spend our evenings--privileges children rarely enjoy. Granted, these choices are limited by time, finances, opportunities, and the like. Still, most of our choices are ruled only by our priorities.

As a homeschooled student, my afternoons were open to me. Once my work was completed, I was free to pursue my interests. So I explored computer game programming, writing, and making movies. I had opportunities to make choices about how I invested my time. And while it wasn't exactly like eating ice cream for breakfast, it was one of the best things about being a homeschooler.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


03/05/2013

Modern Skeptics, Missionary Stories, and Miracles

We're standing in my basement, he and I. He's a visual effects film major with an impressive portfolio of computer generated images. "If miracles were real, you'd think someone would have recorded one by now." His piercing eyes look at me with a bit of distrust. "Right? I mean, someone would have whipped out a cellphone and taped it."

"Would you really believe a video? You and I both know how easy it is to fake something." I gave him a moment. "A video wouldn't prove a thing." In fact, a viral video would be rather the opposite of how most miracles seem to work.

Growing up in our western culture that harbors a distaste for the supernatural, I understand the wariness to accept the spectacular. In fact, video footage of certain high profile preachers who swing toward the miraculous is subject to ridicule. There's an entire line of thought that rejects modern miracles, so my friend isn't alone in his position.

But I also grew up on Sonlight. Our curriculum packages introduce us to missionaries and Christians the world over who experience God's power. And so, for me, I don't have trouble believing in miracles. Granted, I've never seen someone raised from the dead or instantly healed or anything like that. ...but I'm open to it. I'm also okay if God merely chooses to work "behind the scenes" in my life, because often His intervention is only seen in hindsight. I learned that from my Sonlight books as well.

Have the missionary biographies you've read bolstered your faith? Have you had any interesting conversations with people about the miraculous?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


03/04/2013

Sonlight is Not for You

If you're using Sonlight and loving it, please disregard this post. It's not for you.

Similarly, Sonlight may not be right for you or your family. How can you know if Sonlight is not going to be good fit?

Here are 27 reasons not to buy Sonlight. Read them. Think them over. And if you agree, please go find a homeschool curriculum that is going to better meet your needs. Sonlight is successful because we know what we do well. And I want to make sure you are successful in your homeschooling journey by focusing on the things you do well.

Again: Please read the 27 reasons Sonlight is not for you.

Still not convinced Sonlight is the wrong curriculum for your family? Okay, then check out our one-year guarantee that you'll love using Sonlight! Because if Sonlight is for you, you're going to love it. Guaranteed.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


02/27/2013

Books Inspire Thought

I often feel ashamed to quote from the book I most recently read. I think my discomfort is based, partly, in a scene from Good Will Hunting where Matt Damon's character shows that a cocky grad student is merely parroting a passage and not actually thinking about it. [Note: I am not recommending that movie. It is full of inappropriate content and tons of swearing. But, if you're interested in the entire quote--which is quite fascinating despite the f-bomb--you can read it here.] In the end, Matt Damon suggests the guy should borrow books from the library rather than spend a fortune on his degree.

And, in many ways, he's right. If your formal learning experience merely ensures you can regurgitate information on demand, you've failed to get an education.

Of course, interacting with an idea and applying it to an experience is exactly what an education is all about! So there is nothing wrong with "trying out" the ideas you agree with in a book. And if you're applying a passage, you're thinking about it. And, sure, someone may respond to the idea you present with a rebuttal, but that's normal. Disagreements--when handled with honesty and love--help us discover truth.

So, please, talk about the books you read. Build off the things you've learned and connect them to ideas you already had. Weigh them against each other. Question. Consider. Read more. Because books inspire thought when your goal is to use what you've learned to do more than impress some girl or embarrass someone else.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


02/25/2013

Why Loud Classrooms and Some Disrespect Make America Great

As we study other cultures and history, we can learn a good deal about ourselves. But I love reading perspectives on our culture from those outside it. People like Vishal Mangalwadi and Alexis de Tocqueville offer profound insights into why the United States is the way it is. And this morning, I had the opportunity to read an article by Sarah A. Hoyt that sheds even more light on our nation by talking how we are ungovernable.

Hat Tip
Henry Cate

Sarah shares several of the things that surprised her in coming to America from a socialist society. If I could summarize--and not at all do justice to her piece--she points out that Americans, with our general disregard for "waiting for the right person to come fix it," will roll up our sleeves and deal with something when it goes wrong. The article itself is rather long, but the comments are longer and just as compelling. It is well worth a few minutes to take a look.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. The above article--and many more thought-provoking, interesting, funny, and inspiring posts like it--can regularly be found in my Other Posts of Note.


02/22/2013

Online Learning: Do You Want to Grasp a Concept or Gain a Skill?

He was a motivated film student at a University, often seen around campus in baggy t-shirts and short shorts. Impressed with computer graphics, and intrigued by an amazing free 3D rendering program, he opened one of their many free online tutorials. He was going to learn how to build a three-dimensional door. Easy enough.

Four hours later he had a round-ish blob next to a rectangular-ish blog, a headache, and little else.

Door
Door

Today, he only rarely dreams of creating things inside his computer. But every now-and-again the crazy idea rears its head and he looks for yet another tutorial that may help him understand.

This poor soul isn't actually interested in gaining a new skill. He has told me, more than once, that he doesn't have time to devote to these technical pursuits. Instead, he keeps yearning to understand how creating computer graphic elements works. He wants to "get his head around" the complexities of CG work. So, it's little wonder he keeps looking for tutorials, but it's also obvious why he keeps "failing" the classes he finds online: He wants to grasp the concept, but he doesn't want to actually put in the time to master the task.

I think a similar thing is at play in online courses, which can boast up to a 90% dropout rate. In fact, when I heard about the free artificial intelligence college course, I almost signed up. But then I learned that there was homework and deadlines and the like. So I "dropped out" before I even registered. I was interested in the topic, and would love to understand it a bit more, but I'm not looking to learn how to code an AI.

In the world of blogs and podcasts and YouTube videos and infographics and webinars, we can quickly grasp big ideas. Free online courses are built for something else entirely. They are designed to help you gain a skill... and that takes work. In my own experience with my free film school, I've had a bunch of people sign up, several complete the first assignment or two, but only one student has finished the course.

Is that a failure of my online class?

It could indicate a problem with how I built it. But more than that, I think most of my would-be students are more interested in learning about filmmaking than actually becoming filmmakers. Because, honestly, gaining a new skill--be it filmmaking, programming, cooking, writing, or otherwise--takes a significant investment. And when the tempting offer of free is coupled with a natural curiosity and interest, people will come check it out. But, perhaps, a good YouTube video on the subject is a better fit for those interested in learning more.

What do you think? Have you taking an online class or used a tutorial to gain a skill? Did you discover--part way in--that you were actually more interested in the topic than the practice?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


02/20/2013

Sonlight Packages are a Better Deal

You will often save money by purchasing a package from Sonlight. Getting only the books you need somewhere else isn't worth the hassle. We've written articles about this. But it's better when someone confirms it for you: Rebecca Moehrings assembled a P3/4 package and blogged about her experience.

Short version: She paid $6 more for fewer books. Also, if she had purchased the program from Sonlight, she would have been covered by our one-year Love to Learn Guarantee and received the other Core Benefits.

I realize there are cases when you can find everything for less. That does happen. And if you do, please jump at the opportunity to score a bundle of books and resources for pennies on the dollar! But if you're thinking about trying to piece a Core together from here and there, please heed this reminder: Sonlight's curriculum packages are likely a better deal.

Get more materials, more benefits, better service, for less money, in less time, with fewer frustrations by ordering your homeschool curriculum directly from Sonlight.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. Don't forget: You can also spread the cost of your curriculum purchase over 3-, 6-, or even 9-months for no additional charge! Check out Sonlight's Time Payment options to learn more.


02/18/2013

Our Understanding Develops; Ideas Stay the Same

After reading the first part of Mark 5, where Jesus sends the Legion of demons into a herd of pigs, the small group of guys briefly discussed demonic activity. Of those present some grew up in the church, but none of them had done any formal Scripture study. One expressed doubt in the visible manifestation of demonic possession--such as violent outbursts--while another said he had personally witnessed four different accounts of possession.

"What do you think of demon possession, Luke?" Five pairs of eyes turned to me.

I teach Sunday School and am familiar with waxing eloquent on passages of Scripture. But it's different when you're only a participant in a brief morning devotional. It's difficult when you're with a group of guys, mostly older than you, who possess an unknown familiarity with various concepts. Possession vs oppression? Cultural expressions of spiritual warfare? Historical precedent and medical studies? What do they need to know?

My response was drawn from the many Sonlight missionary biographies I was raised on and coupled with a brief hint of my own experiences. They nodded and then another guy spoke. "I think this passage shows Jesus' power over everything else."

That about sums it up. Is there more? To be sure! But that can be uncovered as our understanding develops. The foundational idea remains: Jesus has authority. Our understanding of Him does not. Our perceptions and conceptions can grow, but the idea is unchanged.

This experience reminded me of a passage from C.S. Lewis' God in the Dock, where he discusses "Dogma and the Universe," specifically the question of "How can an unchanging system survive the continual increase in knowledge?"

A great Christian statesman, considering the morality of a measure which will affect millions of lives, and which involves economic, geographical and political considerations of the utmost complexity, is in a different position from a boy first learning that one must not cheat or tell lies, or hurt innocent people. But only in so far as that first knowledge of the great moral platitudes survives unimpaired in the statesman will his deliberation be moral at all. If that goes, there there has been no progress, but only mere change. For change is not progress unless the core remains unchanged.

Progress is built upon a solid foundation. We may, in time, learn more of what the foundation is made and how, but it endures. I find this humbling as I speak with people about big and fundamental ideas. I find this cautionary as we discuss the expression of an idea. I find it encouraging as we re-encounter basic ideas with our children and learn, once again, that for all our knowledge, the core is still intact and we are better for returning to it now and again.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


02/15/2013

Does Preschool Help or Hinder Children?

My wife, an Education major, nods as President Obama says in his State of the Union address:

In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children ... students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own.

Studies do show that children in homes where parents are not around much--through neglect or need--benefit significantly from preschool. This time gives them routine and adult involvement and opportunities to learn. All very great things! On the other hand, I've read that an emphasis on early academics actually stunts a student's future performance (not to mention socialization skills).

What's going on?

My guess is that kids thrive when concerned adults look after them and that an education is best acquired when it is allowed to blossom.

So, I am pleased that the President wants to offer children more care, especially if these children do not have parents who can look after them. Caring for children--especially orphans--is a noble goal (though, I'm unsure how that will be accomplished and not "increase our deficit by a single dime"). On the other hand, I would like to know more about what a "high-quality preschool" looks like. If it is an environment full of picture books and opportunities to discover the joy of life-long learning, fantastic! If, on the other hand, it is a place that pushes laying a foundation for "science, technology, engineering and math," I'm afraid the results will backfire.

My wife tells me that the skills best learned in preschool are soft skills. And these, not surprisingly, seem best taught by parents.

I'll say it again: You, the parent, have the biggest impact on your student's succcess. In situations where the parent is not there, a great teacher can help fill this role. So for those children without parental support, I'd be thrilled if we could help them by providing excellent teachers. And I continue to say, especially in preschool, it is best to begin with a gentle approach that inspires a love of learning together.

Any fascinating educational studies you've read that I should know about?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


02/13/2013

Meeting a Brother in Christ Halfway Around the World

The large room is packed with tables and people. This restaurant is, I'm told, more typical of the area. The clientele is, as best I can figure, predominately Hindu, though I'm confident there are a few Muslims as well. There is no sense of bad blood, and the servers scoop large portions of rice and curry onto plates. Everyone eats with their fingers, including the young man across from me. His motions stutter as if nervous, but he smiles at me broadly showing no other signs of ill-ease.

He introduces himself. We chat briefly about my visit to the area. Then he asks in a slightly pitched-shifted tone, "Are you a Christian?"

"I am."

His smile widens even further. "I am a Christian too!"

A moment before he asks me questions about the church I visited and tells me about his six hour commute "home" each weekend where he worships in "his" church with his parents. His smile was contagious, as was the joy of meeting a brother in Christ halfway around the world. Not that I didn't know other Christians in the area. I had visited a service with hundreds of them. But this was the first to connect with me as a fellow follower of Christ.

I've seen him a few times since that meal. Each time his glad smile turns toward me in greeting. And each time, no matter where I am, I reminded that I am not alone.

I have family here.

As you travel the world in your Sonlight books--or, if you're so blessed, physically--do you find it encouraging to learn about our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ scattered about the globe? I do.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


02/11/2013

The Simple Way to Help Your Kids Learn to Think

My Alma Mater has a "great books" program. My wife was part of it, and so she read such works as Homer and Sayers and the Federalist Papers. But the comment that I heard again and again from her classmates was that this program had finally "taught them how to think." I couldn't understand what this meant.

I did not enroll in the program due to my incredibly slow reading ability. But I could keep up with discussions even on titles I had never read--which was most of them. They could discuss the theories of Platonic forms or debate the limits of reason or question the nature of the soul, and I happily contributed my own two bits here and there. I was homeschooled, to be sure, but so were many of my peers. What did I have that they did not?

I may have finally found my answer in a post titled The Thing Dads can do in 30 Minutes a Week that Will Drastically Improve their Kids' Education. In the original article, we read, "Whenever a beginning student clearly understands the language of the classics, I ask them if they grew up reading books aloud with their family. The answer is nearly always yes."

Over twenty years after Sonlight revolutionized the homeschool model by focusing on Read-Alouds, I finally connected the dots. I felt like I could think because my parents read to me. My parents read to me a lot. And while I may not be able to understand the classics, my parents gave me a solid foundation by reading so many books to me.

I feel like, once again, research confirms Sonlight's model. This isn't formal research, but if time-and-again the difference between a student who understands and a student who does not is that understanding comes from families that read aloud together, it is powerful evidence that reading together is key.

Help your kids learn to think by reading to them. It's simple, and fun! With all the amazing titles you'll read over the years in your Core programs, you and your children are guaranteed to love learning together. And, like me, they may learn to think without even realizing how it happened.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


02/08/2013

Prepare Your Children to Thrive

She's four. She recently found her legs, and now, standing in the airport tram, she dutifully clings to the handrail as directed. Her dad smiles down, a hand ready to catch her should she slip. Her determination is in her face and white knuckles; his joy and pride is in his smile.

I tear my attention from the happy family to look in the other direction. A young woman sits alone in the opposite car. She isn't the least bit concerned with the approaching movement of the tram. Her mind--making sense of the digital display on the device before her--is elsewhere. She doesn't notice when we start to move.

There is such joy in the potential a child carries. But we don't always want to be hovering nearby, ready to catch them should they fall. We want them to grow and step out into the world. We want our children to be winsome ambassadors for Christ where He leads them. So there is something to the easy independence typified by the young woman. But seeing her, I also felt lonely and isolated. I have no idea if she had the same experience, but in that moment, her solitude was disheartening. We want our children actively engaged with the world, not aloof in their own.

So as I wrestled with these conflicting feelings, tussling inside me, I realized this boils down to a single idea: We want our children to thrive.

Plane

You may have children who still grip the handrails of life, needing a steady hand from time to time. Or, your children may be heading out into the world on their own, where you pray they shine as lights in the world. Wherever you are in this journey, may you have grace and wisdom as you help prepare your children to thrive. Naturally, I think homeschooling is an excellent way to help facilitate this. And if you're still looking for homeschool curriculum that can take you from Preschool through High School, check out Sonlight's programs.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


02/01/2013

Reading Is Listening: Research Confirms Sonlight's Model

TerriW sent me a link to Why Is There So Much Listening in the Core Knowledge’s Reading Program? The article is an interesting read--albeit quite promotional of the Core Knowledge Language Arts program. The long and the short of it: Sonlight--which has championed Read-Alouds in the homeschool movement for over 20 years--has been doing it right all along.

Those of us who grew up on Sonlight already know this, but official confirmation is nice <smile>.

The article points out that there is a difference between decoding and reading. Decoding is the process of deciphering letters on a page and translating them into words. But reading is translating words into meaning. Since decoding is initially difficult work in and of itself, research suggests it is best to also give children opportunities to also practice translating words into meaning through listening.

All that to say: You've been doing it right. Keep up the great work!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


01/30/2013

The Weight of Success

His arms burned as he surged through the water to the finish. He hit the touch pad and looked up at the clock. A new personal best.

Touchpad
Swimming Touch Pad

He let himself sink back into the water. As he fought to catch his breath, a similar struggle played on his face between a smile and a frown. A personal record was cool, but it also meant that next time he'd have to swim even faster.

I've been told not everyone experiences this kind of stress. But I did. That's why I always hated competition but loved practice. With practice, I could improve. With competitions, I only set the bar a little higher... or failed to meet my previous potential.

How do you get over this mounting pressure?

You have to refocus. Barbara Postma has some very encouraging thoughts on this in her post on The Seemingly Negative Consequences of Succeeding. I very much appreciated the reminder that in such cases we need a broader perspective. I certainly needed that nudge today, after dealing with the responsibilities associated with some of my larger successes.

Have you ever felt the weight of success? Any other suggestions for handling added responsibilities?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. Barbara's post is one of many Other Posts of Note. If you're ever looking for more interesting, insightful, challenging, and funny content, check them out.


01/28/2013

Homeschoolers: No longer powerless transients

The TSA agent snatched the unopened bottle of shampoo from my wife's hands and tossed it in a nearby waste bin. The bottle had been a gift but was very much over the 3 ounce limit for liquids, gels, and aerosols. My wife had hoped for some assistance. Now, after passing through security, she was left muttering, "What a waste."

Seth Godin put it well: "Like colleges, airports see customers as powerless transients. [You'll] be gone tomorrow..."

Walk-Off
Walk Away

If you've had to navigate the turbulence of college registration or airport security, you can likely relate. We are often treated like cattle rather than clients. We're fenced in, prodded forward, and at the whim of the authorities who dictate our fate. But it's not just colleges, where students struggle to find openings in classes they have to take. The education system, as a whole, assumes your children are theirs for the taking. The school's job is to process that batch of students and send them on their way. You are a vital participant--often the indicator of your student's success--but also a powerless bystander when it comes to your student's classroom experience.

Homeschooling changes this. Homeschooling empowers you.

Once we discover that we can influence our children's success, we take action to shape their experience. Your student is not a powerless transient. Your student is on a life-long journey of learning, and if one method isn't pointing to that end, there are other options. Your student is no longer simply a paycheck. Your student is an individual you can help point in the direction he or she is meant to fly.

Ready to consider your options? Check out our complete, customizable curriculum. With Sonlight's unmatched Love to Learn Guarantee, you won't be left muttering, "What a waste."

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


01/25/2013

31 Reasons to Homeschool

My wife sent me an article about fascinating realities about education that you may not expect. If they had asked me to re-title the post, I would have labeled it 31 Reasons to Homeschool.

Here are a few things that jumped out to me:

Psychologists are drawing the conclusion that early academic learning structured around directive teaching not only inhibits creativity, but stunts a child’s natural curiosity to discover how the world works.

There are many reasons we built our preschool curriculum to be a gentle introduction to learning together. One of the big motivations, however, was to enable you and your children to discover the joy of learning. This will give you an excellent starting point for more rigorous academics in the years to come. More and more research confirms that this is the best way to approach early education.

In a primitive society, children learned necessary survival skills by mimicking their elders. It was essentially, learning in action. In modern times, academics are often taught rather than 'shown'- removing this type of opportunity from the educational process.

I think rich literature gives us the opportunity to, in many ways, "show" ideas to our kids.

...students who used e-books with sound effects, narration, music, and video were able to find and recite more information than the children who used a traditional printed text.

It could very well be that ebooks are the future. However, this point seems more to reinforce the idea that reading-aloud is an essential part of experiencing books. Just one more reason I'm thrilled that Sonlight's curriculum includes so many Read-Alouds.

Daydreaming is often seen as wasting time and sometimes a lack of the ability to focus. But recent research found the opposite is true.

Personally, I've spent quite a bit of time daydreaming. Glad to know doing so was such a great idea! <smile>

What points resonated with you? Do you disagree with any of the conclusions?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


01/23/2013

Five Ways to Improve Reading Aloud

His voice lilted and swung, painting the world as much as the text from the book. His children cuddled close, as if their strain could pry the story out sooner.

My dad is a master of reading aloud.

Couch-Reading
Read-Alouds

In contrast, I struggled reading to myself--let alone out loud! I have painful memories from high school when I had to frantically rehearse my paragraph before I had to read it to the class. Today, my mom says I read aloud beautifully. What changed?

Here are five things that helped me improve my public reading:

1. Get better at reading in general. I say it often, but I've improved since college. Getting the right kind of glasses helped correct for my unique eye trace needs. As I've gained ability in basic reading, I've gotten better at reading aloud.

2. Read the familiar out loud. I've had morning devotionals for years. But now that I'm married, I read the Bible passage aloud. In many ways, I've spent over a decade rehearsing these passages in my head so "performing" them now is much easier. This has given me confidence as I branch out into new text.

3. Start with simple material. This idea builds off point 2 above. There is a huge difference between Shakespeare's poetry and that of Dr. Seuss. And I know we'd all love to recount Shakespearean epics with ease... but sometimes we have to start with The Three Little Pigs. That's one of the nice things about homeschooling: We can start when our kids are young. At that age, reading aloud is easy! The material will grow harder as we improve.

4. Practice with an eager audience. My wife loves to hear me read, especially when she's doing dishes or making dinner. So even if I'm fumbling over words or not being super clear, she's enjoying it. And it's much easier to practice on an audience that's enjoying it than one that critiques your every foible.

5. Mimic the great readers of the world. My dad is an excellent role model to follow. I had years to hear how to read a story aloud. And, honestly, there are a few things that I noticed didn't work so well. I've consciously tried to do something different there. If you didn't have the opportunity to grow up listening to someone read aloud to you, perhaps it's time to get some audio books.

If you've been reading aloud for a while, what have you found helps you "perform" the stories better?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


01/22/2013

Peace That Doesn't Even Make Sense

Everything is going wrong. Murphy is right, as usual. I'm trying to prepare for a trip but nothing lines up. Paperwork, travel dates, accommodations, equipment... all of it conflicts. Worse, I don't like travel or paperwork. I'd rather stay home.

Thankfully, I've got a bunch of friends who remind me that it's going to work out, that God provides, that I can take a few deep breaths and leave the stress in His hands.

They're right.

Philippians 4:6-7 remind me to take these things to God in prayer, thankful for how He has provided in the past. Doing so will, according to this passage, give me a peace that, really, doesn't even make sense. By all human measurements, this situation is very stress-worthy! But the peace of God is rooted in His ability to handle even this mess.

You may have this trust thing down pat. But I've found that God continues to stretch me--however little--so I have to continue to put ever more faith in Him. So I'm mostly preaching to myself here, but I hope you find the reminder encouraging as well: No matter what you're going through, bring it to God with thanksgiving, and His peace will guard your heart and mind in Christ.

That's the message to me today. And writing it down has helped--a little. May you rest in His peace, no matter what you're going through today, this week, or this year.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


01/21/2013

The Economics of a K12 Education

Sonlight offers K12 curriculum as well as Economics. I wish more people would study economics. It seems like we often miss the bigger picture. Take the popular K12 movement as an example. After reading about K12's lackluster performance, I dug more. The New York Times ran a piece about the high costs and low benefits of K12's publicly funded school option. The K12 companies can rake in more than $210,000 from a single class after paying the teacher a measly $45,000.

"How unjust!" The comments abound. "Those slimy for-profit educators are gaming the system!"

But read on. K12 takes upwards of $6,000 of tax payer money per pupil. But that's only 60% of the cost of a traditional public school. Your local school charges tax payers $10,000 a kid. If you accept the report by the CATO Institute, this cost could be much higher. Compared to that, homeschooling is super cost effective!

How did prices get so high? How could a for-profit company get away charging such outrageous sums?

Because the money is coming from taxes. It's "free" money. And, comparatively, the government is "saving" oodles of cash. Not once did I see a single mention of how much tax money we spend on public education. Not once did a person scratch their head and say, "If this is so absurd, where's the money for government schools going? Because it's not going to teachers there either."

Dollars

Imagine if, instead of shelling out ridiculous sums of money, the government had financial accountability for what it spends. No wonder entities like K12 burn through cash... they don't have to earn it! The problem here isn't the for-profit nature of K12. The problem is that, economically, the money doesn't flow properly. There's little incentive to spend less when the money is taken instead of earned through excellent service and exceptional products.

What economic principles do you see glossed over or often forgotten?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


01/18/2013

Your Educational Philosophy Is Important

I read two posts on the topic of educational philosophy this morning.

First, Susana Dale pointed out that you ought to decide on your philosophy of education before you select your homeschool curriculum. That's a great idea. If you know what your goals are, and what you want out of your homeschool curriculum, you'll be far happier if you choose a curriculum that will help you reach those ends. Sonlight's educational philosophy and top 10 goals are on our website. We also provide 27 Reasons NOT to Buy Sonlight. We want you to prayerfully weigh your options and choose a curriculum that will help you reach your goals in homeschooling.

I was also encouraged by the video in Rose Starr's blog post about a teacher fed up with his school district. It's disappointing when a school system loses the ability to enable teachers to do their jobs. That's not good. But it is encouraging to remember that we, as homeschoolers, have the opportunity to make our homeschool experience right for our family. I love that the teacher, in his video, starts with the goal of creating life-long learners. That resonates with me here at Sonlight!

Wherever you are on your homeschool journey, I encourage you to think about your goals and find a curriculum that will help you meet them.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


01/16/2013

Are You in the Mid-Year Doldrums?

January is, technically, the beginning of the year. But this can be a particularly frustrating time of the school year. We're still trying to get back into the swing of things after the holidays. You may be around the mid-point in your curriculum and may be feeling bogged down. Also, there aren't many official school breaks for a long while, so "doldrums" is a very apt description.

How do you handle this? I'm not qualified to address that. But I know some excellent veteran homeschool moms who have been there and done that! In fact, they recorded a webinar almost a year ago giving you tips and trick for cruising through the mid-year doldrums:


Mid-Year Homeschool Webinar

You can find many more helpful homeschool insights in the Homeschool 101 section of the Sonlight website. Currently, I recommend the encouragement section.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


01/14/2013

What College Schedules Teach Us About Homeschooling

Classes begin again today. Winter break is over. And as "my" college kids begin a new term, you may be wondering, "When should I start homeschooling?" I've been told that many people consider pulling out of public school this time of year. But won't you be behind? What schedule should you follow? Isn't there an optimal plan out there?

I tend to assume that someone has figured out the best time to start school and the perfect mix of school days and breaks to maximize learning. But if they have, they aren't sharing. Each school district and university follows its own routine. My alma mater has an interterm course, so Spring classes won't begin for another couple weeks. Another of "my" kids started his college classes last week.

In other words:
If colleges and universities can schedule as they see fit, you can too.

When is the best time to start homeschooling? If you haven't started yet, now would be great! <smile> Of course, you can wait. Your homeschool schedule should fit your family's needs. And the schedule included in your Sonlight homeschool curriculum is flexible enough to keep you on track while giving you space to start whenever you're ready.

Do you take specific breaks over the year? How did you choose your current schedule?

Remember: Homeschool Advisors are available to chat if you have any questions about starting your homeschool adventure now or tweaking your current homeschool plans.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


01/09/2013

How to Get Back into the Swing of Homeschooling

Re-entry into homeschooling can be tough; it doesn't matter if it's Christmas break or Summer vacation. Don't believe me? Here's just one recent account. So how do you get back into the swing of homeschooling?

You don't do it like me.

I'm not currently homeschooling, but I did just start working out again. A friend convinced me to lift weights and swim with him three times a week. Swimming I can do. Weight lifting? Not my thing. Anyway, I set all the weight machines to "wimpy mode" and did fine. But then came time for sit-ups. I had a chiseled stomach once, back when I was a nationally ranked swimmer, but no more. So I quickly found myself unable to even lift my back off the inclined bench.

"You did what!?!" Another friend was furious when she heard what we had attempted to do. "Don't you know you're supposed to stretch and warm-up your abs before you begin? Don't you know you're not supposed to try to add weight right away? Don't you know you're supposed to start with normal crunches first?"

If I didn't before, I do now. Here it is, four days later, and it still hurts to sit up straight.

Abs-Pain
In Pain

It's easy to be excited about jumping back into something. We can also feel a pressure to immediately get back up to speed. But you don't have to. In fact, gentle easing back into a routine is better. Much like your body after not working out for <cough> seven years needs some time to build back up, it could be your family needs a little time to get back into the flow of homeschooling.

How do you ease back into homeschooling with Sonlight?

  • Just do the fun stuff. If you need an enjoyable way to start homeschooling again, take a few days to just read a bit. The books in your Sonlight Core are so much fun they don't feel like school!
  • Do half days or a partial week. My local schools--and even my university--do this. Start your week on a Wednesday. Or only do school half the day for the first week.
  • Celebrate. People often throw parties when school ends. Let's turn that around. Learning is a blast! And there's something special about starting up again. So make some cookies or paper airplanes. Do something that signifies your joy in this new year.
  • Remember: This is not a race. Learning is a life-long adventure full of joy and challenges. You can't do it all today, so give yourself some grace and keep your end goals in mind.

I was overzealous in my efforts to get fit again, and now I am suffering for it. Don't make the same mistake in your homeschool. Enjoy the process! It's okay to start easy. Soon enough you'll need to push through and challenge yourself. Don't wear yourself out before you get to that point.

Have you ever pushed yourself too hard at the beginning in sports or homeschooling?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


01/07/2013

The Curse of Classroom Management

She is a kindred spirit. Her ideas mesh well with my own. She is passionate about education and teaching the children entrusted to her care. She's energetic. And she has decades of teaching experience.

I think that's the problem.

A student sits, staring off into space. "You're supposed to be writing!" she snaps at the girl.

"I'm thinking!" comes the indignant reply.

The teacher moves on to a boy slowly typing. "You should add a space between those lines." It is not a suggestion. "No. Not like that. Add a space there."

I've been invited to teach a class on how to make movies. I don't have much experience in the classroom, but Brittany and I do teach Sunday School. For me, the creative process takes time. I'm accustomed to a bit of chaos and movement. I don't mind 10-year-olds snickering and talking with each other. And if a child needs more time to figure something out, that doesn't bother me. I give them the space.

Classroom-Chaos
Classroom Management

For my educational compatriot, she acts in the opposite fashion. There is no time for thought. There is no space for socialization. There is no room for goofing off. "Remember," she threatens. "This is for a grade."

And suddenly, the other things that feel disrespectful and stifling are pushed aside. The curse of the classroom has descended. When all else has failed, grades are the final offense. The goals of the classroom are order and compliance: I told them to write a story; they should be writing.

I don't have a good term for this yet, but "classroom cynicism" is what I'm using for now. This teacher, who loves kids, believes her job is to hound and prod and cajole and put students in their place.

I stand off to the side, watching her try to wring success from her charges' heads. And, to me, it's painfully obvious that she's doing it wrong. Her years of teaching have taught her that kids must be controlled and directed. My years of homeschooling have instilled in me the opposite: Kids need to be freed and helped to fly.

Here's the thing: I think she'd agree with me. But all these years of trying to keep a classroom under control and pushing her students to "succeed" have created a bad habit in her. Managing the class has overshadowed imparting the love of learning. "Teaching" has been reduced to keeping kids on task.

And that is so unfortunate.

As homeschoolers, our curriculum is a tool, not a taskmaster. We have flexibility and freedom. And we are not hindered by the chains of classroom management. Instead, we can enjoy a life-time of learning. And as we homeschool our children, we can experience the way we wish we'd been taught if our teachers had fallen prey to the curse of classroom management.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


01/04/2013

Defining Moments

A story's impetus often germinates in a character's specific decision: Will Bilbo go on the adventure? Will Bishop Myriel demand justice of Valjean or extend grace? Will Buddy's biological father accept him into his new family?

But I wasn't raised in Santa's Workshop. A burglar has never stolen my silverware (do we even have silver silverware?). And I've never had a wizard group me with some dwarves. My defining moments are few and far between, rarely recognized for what they are. Instead, the story of my life unfolds less dramatically. I slowly become the kind of person I should be and then, only in hindsight, do I see that I have, indeed, changed.

More often, we are shaped by a defining process. The central question of A Christmas Story exemplifies this beautifully: Will Ebenezer be merry and generous, or will he remain a Scrooge? We are taken on a whirlwind tour of his life, seeing his blessings and his failures. We witness his turn one cold morning, and are told about the changes he makes in the days and years that follow. The happy ending is not so much a single choice, but a series of choices that spring from a new perspective.

You get to meet Corrie Ten Boom in Core 300. Her life is a defining process as she sees her sister's devotion to honesty, God's provision in times of need, and God's redemption of horrific situations. These ultimately lead to a defining moment where she is given the opportunity to extend grace to an enemy.

Nathaniel Bowditch--awaiting you in Core D--remains steadfast despite turmoil around him. There is no single moment that dictates his destiny. Instead, his character and dedication define his life. May that be true of us as well.

We have big decisions in life, be they homeschooling, adoption, a business venture, church involvement, or otherwise. But these don't tend to define us. It's what we do in the day to day that determines who we are. We may look back on our decision to do something as a defining moment, but that's just the beginning of the tale. Being a homeschooler isn't defined by the homeschool curriculum you buy. Homeschooling is the daily process of spending time teaching your children. One of the added benefits is that you also get to learn alongside them, further developing the story of your homeschool journey.

Keep up the good work. And may our daily lives build us into people who, when a defining moment arises, respond appropriately.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

Word of the Day
Opprobrium: harsh public criticism

Brought to you by Catherine Johnson

P.S. The 2012 Sonlight Christmas Sale ends tonight. Take one last a look before it's over.


01/01/2013

From Luke's Inbox: Discouraged and Pulled Toward Public School

I need a little encouragement. I've homeschooled from the beginning, but I just found out my 13 year old told my mom he wants to go to a public school. None of my relatives have ever been supportive of homeschooling. My husband nominally supports it. My son has dyslexia. We made great strides in reading after I read "The Gift of Dyslexia" a few years back. I am discouraged now because he thinks that if he had started in public school he wouldn't be as far behind in reading. I suspect the draw may also be because some of his peers in scouts are teasing him because he hasn't been exposed to popular music, girls, etc. I'm at a loss as to what to do. I'm thinking that maybe a charter school might be the way to go so that he has more interaction with his peers?

I am so sorry you are feeling discouraged. I'll gladly give you my two cents. But this is purely my opinion based on my observations. I don't know your family or your children or your local schools. That said...

1. Homeschooling is a great option. It allows us to customize and tailor our children's education to fit their needs, something a classroom can't do. Your example of reading a book on dyslexia and incorporating it into your homeschool is a perfect example of this, and, from what you've said here, it has proven very valuable! Here's a blog post that I think you may find encouraging about how homeschooling's flexibility can help your children keep moving forward.

2. I do not recommend people homeschool if their spouse is not behind them. But it sounds like your husband is still supportive--at least nominally--so that's good. The rest of your family--even your mom--can be dead set against you homeschooling, but as long as your spouse is behind you, please feel free to keep at it! Jill has a great blog post on this subject.

3. You know your children. You know them better than we do. What I recommend you figure out is why your son wants to attend a public school. Based on my experience, I'm very skeptical of the idea that he'd be reading better had he been in a classroom setting. If he's being teased--and that's driving him to want to be in a classroom--the teasing is only worse in school... especially at that age. I've talked with far too many kids who survived this time of life to think that this is a beneficial environment. It could be. But I highly doubt it. Here's an example of just one of the many conversations I've had with publicly schooled students (and I'm guessing a charter school won't be much better, especially, as you point out, much of this is likely coming from Boy Scouts).

4. Interaction with peers is great, but not the end-all of everything. In fact, building off point 3 above, it's likely a huge part of the problem! If your son needs new/more/better friends, that's one thing. And it's a very big thing! But, I've found that schools aren't the best place to make friends.

5. Homeschooling is a great option (said that already <smile>). But it's not the only option. If you and your spouse decide it's a good idea to send your son to a school to try it out, that's fine. Please feel free to do so! One of the things I've seen is that once parents have homeschooled, they discover a new sense of responsibility and power over their child's education. Even if you send your children to a public school, you'll be involved and active in their education. If the classroom allows your son to thrive, fantastic! If it proves not as beneficial, you will have the power and drive to bring him back home.

Hope that helps a bit.

Whatever you decide, may you have peace in your decision. I look forward to hearing how your son is doing in the new year! Keep up the good work.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


12/31/2012

Eating Disorders, Invisibility, and Other Socialization Ills

Her weight hovers just above one hundred pounds. If she lost a little more, she'd be in the double digits. The thought thrills her. That would be an achievement she could claim, a fact about her that people couldn't strip away, and she'd be so skinny! On the one side, she relished her friends telling her she was the skinniest person they knew--even if it was couched in concern for her health. On the other, she imagined herself becoming ever more invisible as her physical frame shrunk from intentional starvation. To be skinny is to be beautiful, and skinny she could do. In the petty world of her twisted social circle, this was the best course of action.

Eating disorders. I don't know why, but I've been having a bunch of conversations about them recently. And if it's a theme in the lives of girls I know, it may be a broader issue right now as well. So, I'm blogging about it--as uncomfortable as that is for me. Also, it seems as though adults are often unaware of how their thoughtless comments encourage this destructive behavior in their daughters.

I'm a writer, not a psychologist, but this societal ill seems best bred in bad socialization. "I wanted to disappear," one girl told me. She had just described her social group, headed by a particularly nasty alpha female. Another confessed that she didn't feel beautiful, and so she weighed herself every morning to get a numerical value of her physical worth--a practice she learned from her mom. Another girl put it simply: "I liked the attention." I've been told it can also be a way of maintaining some control in life or mitigating feelings of guilt.

Contemplative-Girl
Self-Doubt

And I was reminded, yet again, of one of the biggest benefits of homeschooling: confidence. That's not to say that homeschoolers never have eating disorders. I'm sure some do. But you pick it up from somewhere: a mom too obsessed with body image; a dad who calls you ugly (seriously? <grr>); friends who, somehow, allow you to equate weight with value; a group from which you wish you could vanish; a constant barrage of messages repeating "you aren't good enough" ...and on and on it goes. This issue is one of socialization. Yes, it's psychological with physiological repercussions, but it is rooted in a lack of love and support.

And, as homeschoolers, we can do love and support.

If you know someone suffering from an eating disorder, please connect with someone who made it out of one. There is much to learn. I was horrified to discover that telling my friend that she needed "to eat more" produced the opposite result. By mentioning food, it further solidified her resolve to stay skinny. Insidious.

The surprise to me is how much bad socialization drives this disorder. It is good to be able to interact in society, but I'm becoming increasingly disgusted by the idea that kids "need to spend time in school" as if it only produced good things in them.

It doesn't.

And, please, as you consider your resolutions and plans for the new year, keep in mind how your discussion of them may be interpreted by your children. We want to be healthy and godly and do good works so people glorify God. But we do not want to be focused on our appearance, legalistic, or miss out on grace. Here's to a balanced, beautiful, and beneficial new year.

Do you have any advice for someone struggling with an eating disorder (or a parent with a child suffering from one)? What socialization ills plagued you as a child? How do you maintain a healthy balance of pressing forward and resting in grace in your house?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


12/28/2012

What Does the New Year Mean for You?

I had the opportunity to record a bit for The Sociable Homeschooler's New Year's show. Since I took the time to write up a few thoughts, I thought I'd publish them here as well:

The New Year, as a celebration, offers a chance to hang out with friends and family. Our tradition, which my wife brought to our household, is to make paper hats at our New Year's party. Everyone who's over makes one and we snap a picture of our creative work at midnight.

NewYearsHat2010
Our Hats in 2010

The new year also marks only four months until we launch our new Sonlight website and catalog April 1. I can't share anything right now, but there's some cool stuff coming. One of the mild frustrations of working on big projects is that you have to wait so long to tell people about them. And while four months is a third of a year, that time goes quickly.

Aside from the cool new things we're working on here at Sonlight, I don't currently have any plans to make this coming year different. We'll continue to have kids over for movie night every Saturday. Brittany and I are still teaching Sunday School. When we have the chance, we look for strategic giving opportunities. This is a practice we started really pursuing last year and are working to grow in it even more. And I'll continue to work on my free film school. I have an idea for the next course I'm hoping to make, but we'll see if I can carve out enough free time to finish it.

I don't currently actively prepare for the new year. I also don't make resolutions. I do, however, try to look back with gratitude for God's provision and grace over the last year. Again and again, as we read the Old Testament, God reminds His people to remember what He has done for them past, especially when they are facing a new challenge. I think recalling God's faithfulness helps us build our faith. And resting in God's goodness, especially when following Him through really hard times, is the best way I've seen to be free of stress. His grace is sufficient and He provides peace that wouldn't make sense in any other context.

Not that I've figured all this out <smile>. But may God's goodness continue to lead us to repentance. May His faithfulness encourage us to be more faithful. And may His redemptive work spill over from our lives into the lives of those around us.

May you have a blessed and fruitful new year.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


12/26/2012

How Does Attendance Translate to a Grade?

One of the many joys of this season is catching up with "my" college kids. As we discussed finals and how the semester ended out, one of the girls expressed frustration with her Chemistry course. "I'd already had that class twice, once in high school and last year," she complained. "But the school wouldn't let me test out of it. Worse, 16% of my grade was based on attendance. Why did I have to go to the class when I already knew everything? What a waste."

For some students, the answer would be that they don't really know everything about Chemistry. But in this case, I'm confident she's right. Spending time with brilliant kids opens up a new world of frustrations, the likes of which I only moderately experienced in Christian Thought I. "That's lame," I agreed. Homeschooling gets around this problem by letting us spend our time teaching our kids new content. When they get it, we move on. No sense wasting time.

Not being as brilliant as this girl--and personally enjoying routine--I loved classes that rewarded me for showing up. I was paying money to go to class, so why skip it? Why? Because sometimes you're forced to take a class that doesn't teach you anything new. This is far more a failure of the inflexible school system than anything, but it underscores the beauty of learning at home. We can focus on the stuff that matters.


Just Showing Up

Showing up is an important skill in life. But showing up for things that matter... that's even more important.

So why do schools use attendance as part of the grade calculation?

1. To keep tabs on kids. The habit of taking roll starts earlier in life when teachers are tasked with keeping track of their wards. If a child goes missing, that's a problem. Knowing who's there and who isn't is critical. Schools also have a financial incentive and legal requirement to keep kids around. Truancy is a pretty big deal. These elements do not translate well to adults paying for an education or families where parents know if Susie or Johnny isn't at home.

2. To reward those who show up. There are a few jobs that pay you just for getting yourself bodily to a certain location. But most employers expect you to do more than simply show up. I can see an argument that for some classes--especially those built around discussion or in-class activities--have reason to take attendance. I would suggest, however, that keeping track of student contribution would be a better measure of interaction than simply being present. As the parent, you know how much your child has done.

3. To give students more opportunities to learn the content. There is a correlation between attendance and grades. And who wants to teach to an empty room? I get that part of teachers' discussions of how to improve class attendance. But attendance should benefit students because they are gaining knowledge by being there, not simply because they sat in their chair. Focus on imparting knowledge and leave the bench warming to take care of itself.

Of course, you're probably not teaching a college class. And you may be required by your state to provide attendance records. If that is the case, one way to keep track is to put your completion date for each assignment in your Instructor's Guide. Then you have a record that makes it relatively easy to count up the days your child "attended" school.

Did school attendance incentives help you? Were there classes you wished you could have skipped? How do you keep track of attendance in your homeschool?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


12/24/2012

What the World Needs Now

I've read numerous people suggest that we all should "just be a little nicer" in light of recent events. These authors seem to agree that such new found generosity won't actually fix anything, but it will help. A bit. And that's all we can really do. Right?

Tomorrow is Christmas. Tomorrow we celebrate God becoming flesh and dwelling with us. Tomorrow we remember a baby born to save the world. And how?

By dying. By conquering death. By exemplifying how we should live and making a way so we can have access to the Holy Spirit. By refocusing our religious tendencies to the heart of the Father. By giving us good news to share and a mandate to make disciples.

In light of this, I find the suggestion to "be nice" to be hollow. World transformation requires a radical new paradigm, one of selflessness and love... the kind of love that encourages us to lay down our lives for others. Tossing a buck in a tip jar is great, but not what the world needs. Niceness may be a fine first step, but Redemption through the blood of Jesus is what we all need.

Manger
Manger

May Christ--who set aside His divinity to become a human and die for us--continue to transform our hearts this day. And may we, following His example and leading, make a difference in the world.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


12/21/2012

It's not the end of the world...

This joke is old and it's not even noon as I write it. But fitting because this season--associated with blessings of peace and merrymaking--can also be full of turmoil, loneliness, and a lack of motivation. And if you're feeling any of those things, remember: it's not the end of the world. This is a busy season and many people go through a slump and depression and experience high levels of stress.

Hang in there!

We've got some posts coming to you early next week, but we'll be closed Christmas Eve and Christmas.

Enjoy the holiday... and, since I won't see you until Wednesday,* Merry Christmas!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

*That is, if the Lord wills...


12/19/2012

Life-Long Learning: Scalable Vector Graphics

I've known about vector graphics for a long time. I'd even heard about .svgs quite awhile ago. But now that the resolution on our screens is getting so much higher, it's time to start learning about how to implement these things into our website. I've got a long way to go, but today I created some simple icons and played with interactivity on the web.

For the last hour, I've been fiddling with a Christmas Tree I drew, trying to figure out what "makes it tick." There are a ton of variables and bits of data that don't make sense to me yet. But this is one of those things where I'm just going to have to take the time to figure it out.

Christmas-Tree
SVG Christmas Tree

This experience proves true yet again: We'll gladly take the time to learn about something we find interesting.

The beauty of homeschooling with a great homeschool curriculum is that, since you're guaranteed to love learning, school isn't a chore. It's a joy.

What have you spent time figuring out lately?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


12/17/2012

How Do I Set Proper Expectations for My Students?

How do I determine if I'm being too lax or strict with my son or daughter? I want learning to be fun, but sometimes you do have to put your nose to educational the grindstone. I'm nervous that my children would have a better experience in a classroom because they would be required to behave and achieve.

This is an excellent question. And the concerns make sense. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I sense that a few myths are creating the majority of the tension here.

Myth 1: Children behave better in a classroom with a teacher. I'm certainly more well-behaved at work than I am at home. I can relax at my house with my wife who loves me. Sadly, this means she's the only one who really sees me at my worst. I don't have to "contain" as much around her and keep things "professional." So, there is much truth to this myth. On the other hand, classroom behavior is limited to oversight and authority. Kids can start to act up the moment the teacher steps out of the room or looks away. Worse, misbehavior can be contagious. I've been teaching Sunday School long enough to know that when we get certain kids together, trouble is not far behind. Thus, personality has much more to do with how a child behaves both at home and in public. The fact that you're the teacher is not the deciding factor, though, depending on your relationship with your child, it can have a significant impact.

Myth 2: Classrooms require students to get their work done in a timely fashion. This is absolutely false. Classrooms do demand that students comply with the schedule. But the consequences for failing to do so are ineffective and unhelpful. The fact that my local high school is failing to teach 30-80% of students should give you pause. Talking about accountability and getting kids to achieve are two completely different things.

Myth 3: My son would do better in a classroom that would make him sit still. No, no, no! I talk about Why Gender Matters often because this is so important: Boys and girls are different. Sitting still at a desk may be one of the worst things you can do for your son's education. Read the book. Consider your children. Act accordingly.

Myth 4: Learning isn't always fun at home. This is completely true. The implication, however, is untrue. School isn't always fun either. I can think of many times both homeschooling and in the classroom that were miserable. And while I loved my high school and college experiences, I enjoyed learning at home much more. One benefit of homeschooling is that you can tackle difficult subjects and frustrations as you and your student are ready. You don't have to wrestle through the subject late at night when you're both tired and the assignment is due in the morning or the test is tomorrow. With homeschooling, you can work when it is best for you and your child.

With that as background, how do you determine what's asking too much of your child and what is the subtle button-pushing kids get so good at doing?

Here's my advice: As often as possible, let your students discover the joy of learning. There are times when kids simply need to eat their educational vegetables. And there are times when that's a battle you need to choose to fight. But more often than not, you could probably just let that one go. Provide plenty of opportunities for your student to encounter the content, but don't push it. When we discover how much fun it is to learn, we're drawn to figure things out. Being pressured into "learning" can stifle that desire. Model how you use that skill or knowledge set in life, and let your student become curious. And give it time. It could be that your student simply isn't ready for Latin at two or even three. I didn't master reading until way late in the game. Instead, I found a way to adapt to my struggle and did just fine in school.

You're probably noticed that I didn't actually address the question. That's because I don't know how you'd determine if you've set proper expectations. I hope, even though I didn't give you the three steps to figuring out if you're letting your student off easy, that you've been able to more clearly consider your situation. You know your children best. You probably know what inspires them. So keep an eye out for slacking off, but consider carefully that your student may simply not be ready for the content yet.

Give yourself and your student time. And keep focusing on the life-long love of learning.

Because if you've discovered the secret to teaching yourself and love doing so, when you are confronted with a new challenge, you can develop the skills you need.

The same is true for your children.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


12/14/2012

How Do I Fit in All the Subjects for Homeschooling Each Day?

The dilemma: Take things too easy and you won't finish your school year on time. Push too hard, and the kids hate school. Where's the balance? How can we fit in history, geography, reading, spelling, math, science, Bible, penmanship, grammar, and electives into a reasonable day of homeschooling?

Step 1: Recognize that no one does every subject every day. As you look back on your education, I think you'll see that--like me--you didn't study each subject in depth every single day. There were times when you glossed over a bunch of different subjects, briefly dipping your toes into the gentle surface of the stream. Other days, you were thrown, headfirst, into the deep raging waters of a subject. There simply isn't time to cover everything. That's why I say, "Don't mind the gaps." Homeschooling is great because it allows us to adjust our focus as needed. Some days your students may need a big picture overview of many subjects. The next day you may need to plumb the depths of a single area of study and move other topics to a later day.

What does this mean practically? Some families do Science on Fridays. My family made some Read-Alouds bedtime stories (and we kids didn't realize it).

Step 2: Combine subjects. One of the shortcomings of modern education is the segmentation of knowledge. In school, History is a subject; Art is another. Language Arts is a topic all to itself. But this is not how life is and, I believe, detracts from the beauty of the world and our ability to understand it. So the more you can interweave your studies, the better. That's one reason why Sonlight links your Readers with your Language Arts and History. Not only is this more efficient--to practice penmanship, grammar, and creative expression all at once--but it ties ideas together and helps us make connections. The more we can link ideas, the easier they are to remember and the better we will be at creative thinking.

How do you do this? Your Instructor's Guide has some of this built in. Indeed, your Sonlight homeschool curriculum links your subjects together again and again, starting with the history "spine" and building out from there.

Step 3: Set deadlines or goals or consequences. I, personally, was always johnny-on-the-spot when it came to my studies. <cough> But my little brother, that brilliant guy who's in Discover & Do and MathTacular? He had other interests. My wife admits to being similarly distracted and unmotivated. If you have students who aren't thrilled to accomplish their tasks each and every day, having a routine can help. Consequences can motivate as well.

In my family, my mom read to us after lunch. If we weren't done with our studies before then, we'd have to go back to the books after reading instead of going out to play. There was also a goal to have certain work completed by snack time at 10am. If you've found things that help, please share!

Step 4: Take your time. Somewhere in the middle of my high school experience, schools in my area began experimenting with a different scheduling option. They, too, were struggling to fit everything into the schedule. And if schools can tweak their schedule to accommodate their students, you can too.

Some homeschoolers study all year, taking breaks as needed and keeping their days manageable. Many Sonlighters take a year and a half to complete their Core (yes, there's that much great content in each program). Others school throughout the day, breaking up their daily routine to meet their needs.

Step 5: Buckle down. Sometimes you just have to slog through the work. For as much as we talk about the joy of learning and the wonder and excitement of homeschooling, some subjects and areas of study simply require tenacity. For us, it was spelling. We needed to improve our skills, so we did short spelling tests every day. It wasn't fun, but we needed it.

Step 6: Remember the goal is life-long learning. Something that helps me keep everything in balance is to remember that the goal isn't a fun day of school. The goal is developing a life-long love of learning. I can tweak my schedule, adjust my studies, and push myself through frustrating situations because I love learning. I don't love every moment, but, overall, I'm thrilled to learn.

If you have specific subjects you're struggling to fit into your school day, please chat with a Sonlight Advisor. These homeschool moms can help you figure out what will work for your family.

And if you're looking for a homeschool curriculum you're guaranteed to love--or your money back--check out Sonlight's Core programs.

How do you fit all the subjects into your homeschool day? Do you have any tips or reminders to share?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


12/12/2012

I'm Nervous About Joining a Homeschool Group or Co-op

You aren't alone. Some people thrive on new experiences and interacting in groups. They're the kind of people who start homeschool cooperatives. But if you're anything like me, you'd rather stay home. It's not that we dislike people, we're just more comfortable with our current set of acquaintances. The idea of going someplace new and interacting with people we don't know can be stressful.

So how do you muster up the courage to try out a homeschool co-op? It takes significant effort to get out the door. We need to know it's worth the journey or we'll just make another excuse and miss it.

First, meeting with people can be encouraging. The Bible admonishes us to keep meeting together. Gathering with a group of like-minded people can have a profound impact on our desire to keep at it. We can share ideas and struggles, achievements and disappointments, the good, the bad, and the ugly. And through it all, we can be reminded that what we are doing is important, meaningful, and--ultimately--joyous.

Second, you could find a kindred spirit. Getting together with other homeschoolers gives us opportunities to meet people who could instantly become a fast friend. My mom often comments, after being around a group of Sonlighters, how so many feel like close friends right away. We're a unique breed, if you will, and so similarities abound. It's fun to chat with people who have similar interests and you may find a close friend or mentor.

Third, you may be challenged. We wouldn't grow much--or very quickly--if left on our own. As we come together--like the metaphorical body--our various strengths and abilities not only make us more effective as a group, but we can also learn from those who are different from us. I'm not very good at art, residing somewhere closer to the technical than the expressive, so I learn all kinds of fascinating things when I spend time with those who practice artistic expression. I also learn things from my friends who are more politically-minded, or have selected a different educational approach or focus. This is good.

Forth, you can get much-needed peer interaction. The other night, my wife and I drove down to hang out with my sister who was having a rough day. She twice commented how nice it was to have some adults with whom to talk. I've heard this often, actually. Since I spend my days at the office and not around one-year-olds, I can't relate. But watching my sister smile and chat, I could see that just being around other adults for a few hours here and there was nice for her.

We often talk about socialization in the homeschool world. If we, as parents, can't shake off the fears and baggage we've accumulated from our years of interacting with people whom society deems "well socialized," what are we saying? I get it. There have been times when I haven't felt super welcome in a group, or had a bad experience, or struggled through my tendency to be a homebody... but more often than not, even with the ups and downs of life, if I feel like I should check out a new group, I've been happy that I did.

Have you been to a homeschool co-op or support group? What did/do you like most about it? How would you encourage someone to check one out?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. If you're still not convinced, check out the online version of something similar on our Forums.


12/10/2012

How will my kids meet children their age if I homeschool?

How do you make sure your son or daughter gets enough time with children his or her own age? Interacting with peers is a wonderful thing, but this fear of isolation drives much of the concern about socialization in homeschooling.


All Alone

My little brother is an extreme extrovert. In high school, once he could drive, he was never home for more than a couple of minutes before he headed out to be with friends again. He ate meals with us and slept in his own bed, but other than that, he was elsewhere. He thrives on social interaction and goes a bit stir crazy if you try to keep him in the house too long. Me? I'm the opposite. But for my little brother, a large group of friends his own age was essential.

1. The first thing to notice is that finding friends is not tied to your education. Many parents ask me about finding peers for their preschoolers. By definition, these kids aren't in school yet. Also, summer breaks don't include school. Thus, social interaction and friendship is something built and maintained outside the classroom. Having a ton of kids in close proximity can aid in finding a kindred spirit, but I didn't have a bosom buddy when I went to public school. My friends have all come from extra-extracurricular activities not associated with the schoolroom (youth group, sports, Awana, Bible studies, play dates, neighbors, band, theater, film projects, etc). In fact, because homeschooling is flexible, I could hang out with whomever was available.

If no one is around, which may be the case if you live in a small town or remote area, the local school isn't going to address this either. A school does not create children your student's age. The difficulty in finding friends here has to do with your location, not your choice to homeschool. In other words, don't reject homeschooling based on a concern that would be equally applicable to a different education option.

2. The second point: peers are great, but similar age is not the most important element of socialization. Perhaps I feel this way because most of my friends are a decade younger than me. Both my sisters married men a few years older. And while I do have people my age who are near and dear to me--my wife and best friend--there are only two of them (one, my wife; two, my best friend; I do not have two wives, just to make sure that's clear <smile>). Some of my co-workers are around my age... most are not. My church is filled with people older and younger than me. Life does not isolate us into batches by age. Classrooms do that. Friends the same age are great because you are on similar paths, but there's much to be said for learning how to connect with people of all ages.

3. Third, how much time your children have with others depends on you. Until they learn to drive--and you never see them again until they get hungry--you dictate your students' schedule. If they're in school, some other adult takes on this role. So if you want to make sure your child has time with others, give them opportunities to do this. Head to the park, or see about hanging out at a nearby school at recess and lunch. Join a chess team or dance troupe. Take classes at your local event center. And remember: the kids you don't see there are stuck in a classroom. There isn't as much time for hanging out in the world of bells and passing periods and lectures and labs. You could even join a homeschool coop or support group. This can be intimidating, but don't let your nervousness keep you from giving your children a chance to meet kids their age. This could be a excellent opportunity to brush up on your own socialization skills as well <smile>.

How will your kids meet children their age if you homeschool? The same way they would meet kids if they went to school: by being around them at some point. Activities are a great place to start. Join a sports team or church group or Scouts or library program. And while there, stretch a bit and meet other parents. For me, meeting new people is great, but the hardest part is deciding to leave my house. I like my house. I'm comfortable there. But not everyone comes over. At least, not until they are invited.

To get even more tips and ideas for how your children can make friends and connect with others while you homeschool, check out the is socialization really an issue webinar.

Where did you make the most friends growing up? How have you helped your kids spend time with others? Do you have an extroverted student?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


12/07/2012

Your Biggest Homeschool Concern

What's your biggest concern about homeschooling? If you're still undecided, what's holding you back from jumping in? If you've been homeschooling for a while and no longer have any concerns--because it's working absolutely beautifully without any issues ever--what was one of the questions that gave you pause before you started homeschooling?

And if you read someone's comment, question, or concern that you once had, please share your insights!

What's making you wonder, "Is homeschooling right for my family?" What made you think, 'I'm not sure we should homeschool'?

I'd love to hear your biggest concerns about homeschooling. And if you've found an answer to your question, please provide that too.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


12/04/2012

What Do You Work Hard to Memorize?

Growing up in a Jewish home, he memorized everything he needed to for his Bar Mitzvah. It's something you pick up when you're exposed to it week after week after week. Similarly, he never sat down to memorize Scripture. He just read it enough that he learned it by heart. Today, God uses his excellent memory, Jewish heritage, and knowledge of Scripture to share fascinating insights that bridge the Old and New Testament. The fact that he never worked to memorize Scripture impressed me.

I grew up doing Awana. Memorizing Scripture took work! I was up to the challenge, but it certainly wasn't easy. What was easy was memorizing lines from Adventures in Odyssey. Or Star Wars. Or just about anything funny (except the brilliant excerpt from Alice in Wonderland about mustard, which took me three days to learn).

One of my personal ideas is that we tend to memorize what we need to. I've memorized the image heights we use for our homeschool curriculum web product shots. I looked it up a few times, wrote it on a reference sheet, and after a couple years only need to reference it if I've had a particularly long day and my brain is no longer braining. I also know how to get to work, how to tie my shoes, and even how to run the washing machine. I struggle to remember people's names unless I've spent, like, years hanging out with them. I find I'm still not good at remembering Bible references, so I adopted Scripture's method of saying, "He has said somewhere..."


Yes, I also memorized some of Pi

Every so often Catherine Johnson writes about memorization in learning. I find such posts fascinating. And I certainly don't know enough to be able to come to any great pedagogical principles or suggestions from all this. But I continue to find that I tend to remember stuff that's important and lose the rest. That's because of the "use it or lose it" nature of our brains. That's why, today, I can't recall the angle of the tilt of the earth--it's somewhere around 23.4 to 23.5°--but I can explain the difference between interlaced and progressive video formats.

How about you? What do you have to work hard to memorize? Have your kids impressed you with the things they just seem to soak up?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

"Oh, I know!" exclaimed Alice, who had not attended to this last remark, "it's a vegetable. It doesn't look like one, but it is."

"I quite agree with you," said the Duchess; "and the moral of that is--'Be what you would seem to be'--or if you'd like it put more simply--'Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.'"

...which reminds me of one of the most complex sentences I've read in a while from one of today's Other Posts of Note: "Now, I'm not talking about the dubious apologetic claim about 'different kinds of knowing'; I'm referring to 'different kinds of questions' which we answer in the most practical ways we can considering the intractability of epistemological indeterminacy." I found all of Steve's thoughts on the science/religion rift to be very interesting. And not all of them made me wish I had memorized more of the dictionary. <smile>


12/03/2012

What Has Sonlight Helped You Grow?

As Buck Denver so sagely observes, Sonlight "won't make your plants grow." But as I spent this afternoon with Henry Reyenga of Christian Leaders Institute, I was reminded that things do grow out of Sonlight. And I'm not just talking kids and their education, or families and their bonds, or a love of learning. I was reminded of all the organizations and families we've been privileged to partner with in our giving opportunities. In fact, I got to meet Henry because of a guy we both knew over at Mission India, which hosted our first giving opportunity. Henry also talked a lot about how much his family loved using Sonlight, how successful his kids are today, and how one has already published a couple of books!

Hearing about how successful and bright and talented and amazing and world-changing and accomplished his five kids are made me wonder about my own life. But only a little. <cough>

"You should really start something that talks about all the books written by Sonlighters," he said. And I was immediately reminded of my Alma Mater's Books by Biolans. But then I remember that we already have something a little like that in the Sonlight Moments and Student Recognition forums.

Henry also said that without Sonlight showing him that there was another way to educate, he never would have had the idea to help start the Christian Leaders Institute. "This ministry, that trains indigenous ministers, literally wouldn't exist with what you do," he told me. ...granted, not me, of course. But us, here at Sonlight.

So, now I'm curious, what have you been a part of that Sonlight could help grow?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


11/28/2012

Bias, Data, and Homeschooling

If you google "Graham Badman" the number one hit is a Wikipedia article about the Badman Review. Google believes the most important--or highest internet ranking--thing about this man's life is how he handled a government report about homeschooling. The short, short version: He recommended increased regulation, mandatory annual registration, and surprise home visits.

He had no data to support his suggestions. In other words, his 40+ years in Education and Children's Services have left him biased against homeschooling. Or, at least, he is drawn to his areas of expertise. Sadly, homeschool researchers aren't immune to bias either.

Where else do we see bias in education? It looks like female teachers are biased against boys. I certainly had bad teachers in high school, but I did just fine. I didn't notice any sexist discrimination in the classes I was in. Did you? [I realize that the majority of my readers are female, so this is certainly not a representative sample. <smile>]

In the home, I could see favoritism as an issue. That's certainly been around for a while. So we're also not immune to these kinds of things. I'm well aware that kids know how to push their parent's buttons, but some personalities clash more than others. Have you dealt with that? How have you been able to overcome it?

I've run out of time for today, so I don't have any insights or conclusions from all this. Mostly, I've just found this topic fascinating and would love your input!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


11/26/2012

Reading Aloud vs Private Study

He sits, silently reading, his mind prying the words off the page. The meaning is hard to decipher because the text is crammed together without vowels:

bcthtxtscrmmdtgthrwthtvwls

Read aloud, the words come to life, but quiet study is almost impossible.

My dad shared a fascinating link about the theological implications of adding spaces to the text of the Bible. I knew Hebrew didn't have spaces (or vowels), but I hadn't realized that breaking up words was introduced so "late" in the game.

I quipped that perhaps texting was pushing us back to a world without spaces. But the more I thought about it--and skimmed through S. Joel Garver's Inventing "The Bible" article--I realized that, even after all these years of Sonlight, Bible study, Scripture memorization, college courses, and excellent teaching from the pulpit... there's so much more for me to learn about the Bible! That's part depressing--I should know something by now--but it's also exciting because there is so much to discover and uncover.

If you or your children are just starting out in Scripture study, academic essays about the impact of printing on hermeneutics may not be the best place to start. I'd recommend something more gentle, like What's in the Bible? or singing along with Seeds Family Worship. But if you're getting deeper, it may be time to check out BibleMesh. I'm just thrilled to find even more things to study and ponder... like our changes in understanding that come with technological and cultural shifts such as spaces, punctuation, grammar, or no.

That's what I've got for you today.

kthxbi

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. Okay, one more thing: pre-order the new Piano Wizard and get a $50 Sonlight gift certificate! It has nothing to do with the Bible, but it is a pretty sweet deal.


11/23/2012

Bible Black Friday

It's Black Friday and Sonlight is closed today. Much the opposite of retail locations. But the website is open for business, as usual, should you decide to do some shopping online. The Christmas Sale is going and Rosetta Stone products are discounted 10% or more.

But much like the recently ended barrage of political fliers, I'm already feeling sick of the consumer side of Christmas this year. Maybe I'm just "messaged out" or something. A big part of it could be that gifts just aren't one of my love languages. Still, writing another message about yet another sale "opportunity" feels lame.

Which is why I'm thankful that our focus this year is on Scripture. Learning about what's in the Bible, diving deep into the study of Scripture, or simply memorizing Bible verses set to fantastic music... those are things I like. Those things feel peaceful. And maybe I'm just longing for some peace in this busy time of the year.

Sonlight Christmas Sale

Whether you're braving the crowds or staying home listening to Scripture songs and sipping hot cocoa, may your weekend be blessed! How was your Thanksgiving yesterday?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


11/21/2012

New Rate and Review

You're researching a product online. If you're anything like me, one of the first things you look for is customer ratings and reviews. There's always someone who marked it one star for a reason completely unrelated to the product itself. There's also often a review that, strangely enough, raves about the product just a little too well... almost as if the marketing team from the company wrote it. But you and I are pretty good at filtering these kinds of things out and getting to the meat of customer experience.

You know what's difficult? Deciding when no one has rating something! I get this lost feeling in the pit of my stomach when the latest video camera or hard drive or Netflix flick hasn't been rated by anyone. "Seriously? No one has used this product yet? Better not risk it..." And so, sometimes, I miss out on something awesome because no one left a review or rating.

Of course, who am I to complain? I don't rate things very often myself. It feels so final, so permanent. I didn't want you to feel that on Sonlight's website. So our latest update makes it easy and painless for you to rate things.

You do have to be logged in, but once you are, it's cake. You can quickly rate a product by clicking on the stars under the image. You can also rate and review the product on the Reviews tab. In either place, you can instantly update your star rating by clicking on the stars. Updating your review is as easy as changing your text and pressing the update button. And if you're dissatisfied with your review, simply press the delete button.

Done.


4 Stars

Please take a few seconds to rate (and even review!) products you've used.

And let me know what you think of the new rating system. This is the first one I've designed, so I'm interested in how it works for you.

[NB: If you find a bug, please let me know! It's amazing how computers find ways to mess things up <smile> We'll work on fixing it Monday morning.]

Thanks! Enjoy your Thanksgiving!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


11/19/2012

Sonlight: A Missions Minded Community

Sonlight is more than a company. Sonlight is more than a homeschool curriculum. Sonlight is also a community. This has been true since early 1995. Back then, the community was largely on the Forums. Much of the interaction was about finding a group of like-minded people and hashing out the challenges of homeschooling life. Today, now that the internet has "grown up," there are many places where you can meet homeschoolers online. Sonlight is no longer the primary hub for such interaction.

But that doesn't mean our community hasn't grown up too! Over the past four years, I've been thrilled to see the Sonlight community become something more: missions-minded. Missions is, of course, built into Sonlight's DNA. Each Core program is packed with global perspective that gives us a chance to see God move around the world. We, as students and parents alike, are encouraged to think about what God is calling us to do to reach others with Christ's love. And the many missionary biographies we read remind us that God uses regular people to do amazing things!

And four years ago, God started using us in a new way. We just completed our fourth giving project. It was a complete success! The final total isn't in yet, but you helped give over $155,000! That's huge! And it's one of the many things that make me proud to be part of this community.

You are generous and have a heart for the world. It is such a joy to partner with you in reaching those who have not heard of Jesus. And as our family sat around the lunch table yesterday and thought about it, we couldn't think of another group quite like this one. You're amazing!

And God is doing more than just raising money for missions, getting kids excited about giving, and letting us encourage agencies to create programs that can be used again and again--as My Passport to India has already seen. There's even more! By partnering with various agencies over these last few years, we have been able to connect them. That's right: Christian missions agencies that didn't really even know the other was out there are now working together to spread the good news!

And you are part of that.

So thank you. Thank you for being part of the Sonlight's missions-minded community. I am honored to count myself as one of you.

If you've got 14 minutes, please listen to Sarita share a bit about our heart for giving:

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


11/16/2012

Give Now to Double Your Impact

Today is the last day to have your gift matched for this year's giving project. We only need to raise $13,836 to meet our goal. We've come such a long way in the last week. I know I've been procrastinating, but the time for that is over. I need to get home and make my donation online. If you've been planning to give but haven't yet, swing by the Phoenix Phaxx website and click the Give tab on the far right. Every little bit helps. Even a gift of $1.20 could give at least one person the chance to hear the Gospel for the first time. A buck twenty!

If this is the first you've heard about this incredible opportunity, please join in and help us meet our matching goal of $300,000 to buy radios so people in difficult to reach places of the world can hear the good news of Christ. We're super close to meeting that goal. Swing by our giving opportunities page or the Phoenix Phaxx website to learn more and contribute.

To all of you who have already given: Thank You! It has been so exciting to see your contributions flood in. I'm looking forward to meeting the people who met Jesus because of your contributions.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


11/14/2012

Keep At It

She sits, trying to decide where the story should go next. She hasn't had much practice, so the task of compiling 50,000 words in a month is daunting. Today, she's a couple thousand behind the target. But she decides on a direction and starts typing.

It's been two weeks of writing with literary abandon at my house. I've barely managed to keep pace, but if things continue to go well, we'll "win" at NaNoWriMo. This marathon of composition is absolutely a case of steady winning the race. Several of my writing buddies pounded out 3,000 words on their keyboards in the first 24 hours and haven't written a thing since. But my wife is still going strong.


Tortoise

Homeschooling can feel overwhelming. If this is your first year doing it, you may not have a lot of practice with formally teaching your kids at home. But you've already decided on a direction for this year, so keep at it!

If you feel like you're barely hanging on, remember that learning is a life-long journey. Your children don't need to know everything today. Don't burn yourself out trying to do year's worth of material in a week. Instead, focus on the joy of learning together, day by day. Keep at it and you'll be amazed at what you can accomplish, whether is writing a novel in a month or teaching your children Calculus.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


11/12/2012

Why Core Club Benefits?

If you've poked around Sonlight's website, you've probably read the Sonlighters Club Membership Details and Discounts. We got into a discussion about them again this morning, so I thought I'd share a few of the things that grabbed me. We think that:

  • You should love homeschooling. That's one reason why we discount our packages so much! Over the years, we have seen again and again that those who buy complete homeschool curriculum packages are far happier with their school year than those who just purchase bits and pieces. We want you to love your homeschooling experience, so if saving you money on packages will help, we'll do that!
  • You should get the right materials for your family. We say it again and again: Sonlight is NOT for everyone. You should never feel stuck with a purchase that isn't working for your family. That's why we have an unrivaled 1-year Love to Learn Guarantee.
  • You should have support and community. We always seek to give you great support, but sometimes the best help--when you're in the middle of the school year--comes from fellow homeschoolers. That's one reason why our Sonlight Homeschool Advisors are all Sonlight moms. But you can also find fantastic advice, uplifting encouragement, and brilliant ideas on the Sonlight Forums.
  • You should be able to get the latest and greatest. I don't know how many industries do this, but it's certainly true with software. Adobe lets you upgrade Photoshop for a fraction of the cost. Window 8 just launched and the update is $40. Apple does a similar thing. And we here at Sonlight give you a huge "repurchase discount" on your Instructor's Guide. We are constantly working to update our curriculum. So, if you're going to reuse your program from a few years ago, we want to make sure you have the best. You can always get the latest IG for half off!
  • You'll like working with us. That's why we give you discounts beyond just your first purchase. We want you to be able to come back and save money all year long... whether it's for an elective you decided to add or a great gift.

We designed Sonlight's Club Benefits to help you get the most out of your school year. And I hope that, thus far, your year has been absolutely fantastic!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


11/09/2012

Discover the Joy of Scripture ...and find other great gifts!

Sonlight's Christmas sale started today. I know, I know: WAY too early to be talking Christmas. I agree! But it's always a great time to talk about Scripture. And that's a major focus in our sale this year.

You'll first notice the What's In the Bible? DVDs which provide a great introduction to the content of Scripture. I was personally surprised to see Rhett & Link singing songs about the Old Testament. These guys are pretty big on YouTube nowadays, so it's cool to see their creative energy in such an important project.

Speaking of songs, you have got to go take a few minutes to listen to the audio samples of the Seeds Family Worship CDs. I got to hear them for the first time yesterday and was thoroughly impressed. I also love that they include a second copy of the CD in your package so you can give one away! How cool it that?

And if you flip to page 88 of your Sonlight Catalog, you may notice a little blurb about BibleMesh. Well, here we are, seven months later, and it's finally available. Check it out. There's a free 30-day trial for your family to enjoy.

Sonlight Christmas Sale

Of course, there's a lot more. And I'm sure we'll be sharing more in the coming month. But for now, enjoy the Seeds audio samples, the 30-day BibleMesh trial, and the funny clip from the good people at What's in the Bible.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


11/06/2012

Are You Accepted as One of Them?

Not four minutes ago I finished a fascinating conversation with a speaker from Encountering the World of Islam. The questioned he posed was this: Thinking of Christ becoming man so He could reach us, how are we reaching out to communities in such a way that we are accepted as belonging in that group? And after we accomplish that, what's the first thing we should tell them about the Gospel that would be good news to them?

If I could whistle, I would have. That's a question!

He smiled. Then he pushed it over the edge. "Now, what if I gave you a group? Say, homosexuals or women not remorseful of their abortion." Inwardly, I cringed. I could see a bunch of people taking umbrage with such a suggestion! Some would say, to some extent or another, that we should never be caught identifying with such people. To do so would be to approve of their actions. Others would take offense at the notion that such actions are wrong in the first place. How dare you imply that such things are somehow evil!

The difficulty is obvious, no? On one hand we can't justify taking on the form of a "sinner" to reach out to them. On the other, we are so bruised from bad encounters that we'd never accept someone so "hateful" into our midst.

And not that everyone loved Christ when He was here either. He was crucified, for crying out loud! But, still... He became sin for us so that we could be made righteous. This brings a new depth to the passage about becoming all things to all men for the sake of the Gospel.

Hudson Taylor--whom you meet in Core F--is a fantastic example of this. He, in many ways, revolutionized missions. And, perhaps, it's time for someone to step up and do it again.

If I were to take an initial stab at addressing this question in my own life, it would be this: Brittany and I reach out to high school/college aged kids. We watch movies with them and hang out. Brittany cooks with them and makes costumes. We go to their events and shows. We just try to be there with them. And when God opens the door, we share that when life is out of control, God is still there ready to redeem the horrible situations they can find themselves in. And we remind them, in word and deed, that they are loved.

How about you?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


11/05/2012

Where is the true 4-Day program?

I saw the following feedback on the Forums:

I REALLY love our Core this year, but I was disappointing that you chose to schedule Bible, Readers, and some LA five days a week. We broaden our children's education outside the home one day a week. Sonlight's past 4-day schedules dovetailed perfectly with this. Now, it's just frustrating. We want a 4-DAY program...not a 4-day with some extra fifth day requirements.

First, let me say: I love feedback like this! We absolutely want to hear from you. We take your suggestions very seriously and many of the updates we made to our Instructor's Guides this year were draw directly from your suggestions and requests.

Second, I totally get how this would be frustrating. I helped write the Bible notes and schedule in a few of the levels, so I'm more that a little bit to blame for this disappointment. I'm so sorry that our new schedule layout has created more work for you. That was not at all our intent.

So, third, let me lay out my take on all this and, hopefully, give you a little bit of encouragement:

  1. Reading/Language Arts has long been scheduled five days a week. That's not new this year. We built Sonlight this way because Dr. Ruth Beechick, who strongly influenced my mom's philosophy of Language Arts, urges you to have your children read a little every day. And I agree. I struggled with reading, so giving me many opportunities--and lots of time--to develop this skill is important. This year we kept that format, including the fun fifth-day LA assignments. If that does not work with your schedule, please feel free to skip those assignments. Do not feel any compulsion to cram it into the rest of your week just because it's scheduled in the Instructor's Guide.
  2. If we believe kids should do Reading and LA every day, I couldn't leave Bible off that list! But you can skip the fifth day Bible passages just like Reading if that works better for your family. I tried to keep the day five reading manageable and devotional without the extra study resources. Even if you're one of the many families on the go once a week, I do hope you take some time for Bible reading... even if it's not part of your homeschool schedule.
  3. Let me reiterate: We're here to serve you. Your feedback is invaluable and if not having a true, purely 4-Day program is making homeschooling harder for you... we want to know. I'm certainly not going to guarantee anything beyond our already stellar year-long Love to Learn Guarantee, but we will keep your insights and suggestions in mind as we work to improve our homeschool curriculum programs in the future.

I do like positive feedback too. You know, stuff like, "I love your updates! You guys rock! Best improvements ev'ah!" That kind of thing. Feel free to send those in too <smile>.

But, seriously: What can we do to improve your homeschool experience?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


11/02/2012

Has Your Student Applied for a Sonlight College Scholarship?

Is one--or more--of your Sonlight students entering college this Fall? If so, now's the time to start this year's Sonlight Scholarship application process. Your student has until December 7, 2012 to submit their paperwork. So, you have a little over a month. If you apply, your student could be awarded up to $20,000 worth of college scholarships (five thousand dollars a year).

Please contact us to verify your eligibility before you go to the trouble of filling out the forms. I'd rather save you that time and avoid unnecessary aggravation. Paperwork is bad enough as it is <smile>. You can email or call 303-730-6292 and ask for the scholarship coordinator.

If your kids aren't quite ready to start college at the moment--because they're not yet two or even three--that's okay. Just remember that college scholarships are just one of the many benefits of buying a homeschool curriculum package from Sonlight. Pretty cool.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


10/31/2012

Biographies Teach Us the World Isn't Safe

...and that that's okay.

This theme has been building over my last three posts. It hasn't been entirely intentional. But when we study history, we quickly see that this world isn't safe. Biographies are filled with pain and loss and bereavement.

No, this world is not safe.

In fact, one of my frustrations with a Christian radio station is their tagline: "Safe for the whole family." If what you offer is "safe for the whole family," then perhaps You're Doing It Wrong. I don't mean to suggest that there aren't times when only positive and encouraging things are appropriate. But if we are to follow Christ's command to be as shrewd as serpents yet innocent as doves, we need to be challenged.

And biographies can certainly be challenging! The men who are murdered by the tribe they went to reach? The missionary family whose 6-month old son almost drowned in the river as they moved in? The woman who lost her sight in a helicopter accident involving dry concrete? The many close calls that people have smuggling Bibles? Accounts like these force us to confront the dangers of life and carefully consider God's protection and/or lack thereof. These stories--which I'm recalling from memory so please feel free to correct me--bring to my mind the oft-quoted line about Aslan: "Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good."

There's a reason that passage is so popular. God is good, even when He isn't safe.

Once again, this is a reason why Sonlight includes books with difficult content that some people shy away from. We aren't those who shy away. We're called to engage this world and bring the hope of Christ to the hopeless. And there's no way that doing that will be safe.

May we follow God, wherever He leads us, resting in His goodness and grace.

The biographies you'll read as part of your Sonlight homeschool curriculum teach us that life isn't safe, but that God's goodness make's that okay.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


10/30/2012

Five Benefits Mentors Give You

Dark. Those years were dark and depressing, full of unacknowledged questions and hurts without balm. He didn't handle them well, these trials. He lashed out at friends and family. He complained bitterly to God. He raged against anyone whose shadow touched his lacerated theology. Those years were as uncomfortable as a stuffy car six miles from a rest stop when you really have to go and construction has stopped traffic.

This young man, like Job, wished he had never been born; but he also never lost his faith in God.

Why?

My pastor mentioned a study that found young adults who have five or more Christian mentors are far more likely to retain their faith than those who don't have a mentor. This makes sense to me. As I consider the many unofficial mentors in my life, I notice the following:

  1. Mentors remind us of God's faithfulness. Because mentors have already walked a similar road, they can talk about the bumps and struggles they had in their travels. But through it all we are reminded of how God gives us the grace and the provision we need. This was certainly true for me when we were in the adoption process and stuff started not making any sense. It was amazing to have others share their stories of God's faithfulness in similarly painful situations.
  2. Mentors give us space to question. I had one professor in Bible college who made it very clear that he wanted to meet with us, one-on-one, on a regular basis. I was in his office every week. I asked him tons of questions about life and how to apply what we were talking about in class. He taught a film class of mine, and even though we never discussed any of the deeply troubling questions I had about God, seeing his faith in light of the road he had traveled helped reinforce mine.
  3. Mentors provide an outside perspective. The sun slanted through the trees as we walked together between his office and his next class. The conversation lasted no more than three minutes. But in that time I said, "I don't see God changing me." He replied, "He is. It's hard to see, especially when you've grown up in the church and have been at this all your life. But God's working in you, Luke." That conversation changed my life.
  4. Mentors recount the mercy of God. Mentors can be real with us in a way that isn't common in church. We can discuss sin and struggles on a personal level. I remember well the first time a youth leader verbally admitted to needing mercy in an area I struggled with too. The fact that God continued to use and love him gave me hope for the future. I also no longer felt alone. God hadn't given up on me! So how could I live better in light of this mercy?
  5. Mentors demonstrate God's love for us. If people take time out of their lives to pour into me, how much more does God love me? Mentors can speak of God's love because they are also demonstrating it to us. These very real reminders can carry us through many dark nights.

Here's the cool thing: Mentoring isn't just for kids and young adults. Judy has already shared about homeschool mentoring. It's a great read and very encouraging!

Much like the theology I learned through books, I'm finding that my faith has been bolstered by the mentors in my life. They have struggles I can learn from. They have hope even when I do not.


Mentors Can Guide You Through Dark Times

Have you found mentors to be beneficial in your life? What do you think of the idea that mentors help keep kids connected to Christ in a time when their peers may abandon their faith?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. I realize that we, as parents, can do many of these things as well. May you find ways to walk with your children through the challenges of life.


10/29/2012

From Luke's Inbox: Questionable Content

A friend of mine returned her core this week because of the questionable content that was in it. I am loving our program right now but there is some foul language and one book is described as anti-christian in the Instructor's Guide. Could you tell me what content we might encounter next year so I can make an informed decision to see if it is something I want my kids exposed to?

Every family handles this in their own way (your friend, for example, chose to return her program). It's ultimately up to you as you know how your family addresses these issues. You are the best judge of what your children can handle and when. I recommend you chat with a Sonlight Advisor or ask on the Sonlight Choosing Forum about the programs you are considering. You can talk with moms who have tackled these issues before. You can also discuss specifics with them in a way that we can't on a blog.

If you're interested in learning more about why Sonlight includes such titles, check out the article "Why Sonlight Uses Certain Books that Some Homeschoolers Won't Touch." It's a must-read for anyone rightly concerned about the questionable content in Sonlight's homeschool curriculum.

You are currently loving Sonlight. That is a good indication that you are on the right path! While there can be rough content in our Core packages, we include the books because of how excellent they are. You will have the opportunity to wrestle through hard topics with your children and see God redeem incredibly difficult situations. We believe kids should tackle these ideas while they are still at home with you, rather than face them alone, for the first time, as young adults. Naturally, we don't want to expose your students to things needlessly nor too early. And that's where you, looking over the materials we offer, can help make an informed decision.

Sonlight does not shy away from reality. Instead, we want you to help your children see truth and learn to respond appropriately to the junk they will encounter in life. Just because they will likely hear swearing any time they walk our the front door does not mean they have to start talking like that. Nor do they need to be intimidated by someone who holds passionately anti-Christian beliefs. Similarly, evolution is no cause for alarm. Frank discussion of spiritual warfare, martyrdom, and the challenges of walking by faith and loving your enemies are all going to part of your Sonlight experience. This needn't give you pause. Instead, rejoice that we serve a redemptive God who can take the mess of this world and transform it into part of His Kingdom when we follow Him!

Next year, you will likely read books that will make you cry. You'll learn about cultures and people not at all like you, some who are very antagonistic to your beliefs. But you will also learn, as you are now, that God uses regular people, like us, to change the world. May your children become such people as they learn from those who have gone before into the dark places of the world to share the light and love of Christ.

May God give you wisdom and peace as you consider which steps to take next year as you continue your homeschooling journey!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


10/26/2012

What You're Surprised to Learn in History

Tears sprang to his eyes as he imagined the situation. The price of food had skyrocketed. Corn, which used to be a few pennies, now cost more than $2,000 for the same amount! And the prices continued to climb.

Hyperinflation.

He knew it had happened in Germany after WWI. He had heard "doom and gloom" projections about it happening in America if government spending wasn't reined in. But how had he missed the fact that such a thing had already happened in the United States during the Revolutionary War?


The Price of Corn in 1780

I am constantly amazed at how many gaps there are in my knowledge. And it's not because I wasn't exposed to this content earlier in life. It's just that such information didn't matter to me then. Now, with our current economic situation, the fact that the price of a bushel of corn rose to over two thousand dollars seems like an important bit of information to learn from.

And this from a book in Core D. Economic failure is a side note really--just a plot point to move things along. And yet, in this story, we can feel the impact of such a financial fiasco. And I, as a child, missed it and forgot about hyperinflation in America. Until today, when I had the opportunity to revisit Carry On, Mr. Bowditch and the stress of the situation took my breath away!

What parts of history have you been surprised to learn--or relearn--about since you started homeschooling your children?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


10/24/2012

96% of Families Home Educate

The statistic that 96% of families home educate is a rather arbitrary guess. I can't find real numbers for how many children are completely neglected or handed over to a full-time nanny. I'm guessing they account for no more than 4% of the nation's families. But for the purposes of this post, that number could be ten times higher. The point here is the larger number of families left over.

They all home educate.

The difference between a homeschooler and 85-90% of the Americans is that when a "traditional" child turns four or five or six, instead of making the transition to a formal home educational model, they are sent away for schooling. Parents may have had that child enrolled in a daycare program before that; the single mothers I know have to work and so do not have the luxury of spending the day with their children. The transition may feel more natural to them. But somehow we've convinced ourselves that there is a huge difference between teaching a child how to walk, and talk, and behave, and recognize colors and numbers and shapes, and teaching that same child PE, and vocabulary, and social skills, and physics and algebra and geometry.

Whether you homeschooled or not, you taught your children. Even if your kids are in a great school now, odds are you are at least partially involved in their homework. ...school work done in the home... also known as home education.

I am not at all suggesting that everyone should lunge at the chance to homeschool. I'm not suggesting that choosing to send your kids to school is the wrong choice. You know your family's situation far better than I do. My point today is simply to remind us all of how natural, normal, and universal home education is.

Home education is not radical. It's something almost all families do, if informally. And if you helped your child learn how to eat, and dress, and play games, and look at picture books, and listen to you read, and count, and memorize your address, and recognize their birthday--without or without a book to aid you--you can absolutely home school.

The choice is yours.

Don't let a fear of being odd or a concern that you're not smart enough deter you. Homeschooling is natural and with the great homeschool curriculum available to you today, you can learn right alongside your student.

What percentage of families do you think home educate?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

Word of the Day
Echolalic: repeating sounds made by others without understanding or thought

Brought to you by happywoman


10/22/2012

17 minutes on Why Homeschooling Rocks!

Do you need some encouragement that homeschooling is a great choice? Would you like a reminder that your decision to home educate your kids is a good one? Even if you aren't feeling like maybe this homeschooling thing is too much work, you can still take some inspiration from the following video:


The future of education in light of the past.

I'm fairly certain that Seth Godin didn't have homeschooling in mind when he gave this presentation. But as I listened, homeschooling kept being the round peg the classroom he describes is missing. His talk, which covers quite a bit of ground and moves along nicely, felt to me like 17 minutes on why homeschooling is such a great educational option. I hope you find his talk as invigorating as I do!

A couple notes:

  1. I enjoy reminders that some school teachers don't like textbooks and tests any more than I do. It's nice to find that professionals wish they could be more like us! I don't know why I forget that so easily...
  2. I disagree with several of Mr. Godin's points. At the very least, I would modify a few of them. I'm not alone. There are a couple insightful video comments that hint at weaknesses in his paradigm.

Be encouraged! Homeschooling is a fantastic opportunity to inspire life-long learning in your children and enable them to do important things with their lives.

If you're looking for a homeschool curriculum you and your family are guaranteed to love, check out Sonlight's literature-rich homeschool programs.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


10/19/2012

Shake Things Up, Make a Goal

The air is a brisk 58 degrees as I step into the sunshine for my daily walk after lunch. My phone rings three times before my wife picks up. Immediately following our exchange of hellos, Brittany passes me off to a friend who, she claims, "is going to try to convince you to do something."

Uh-oh.

"Hi, Luke! I'm going to be doing NaNoWriMo and I think you should do it too. Brittany's already agreed and if we all do it together it will be fun and we'll be able to inspire each other and stuff!"

Hmm... add writing two to three thousands words a day to my already packed schedule? This does not sound like a good idea...

But our friend is right: Simply by signing up and making a plan--not to mention getting others to help keep you going--is a very effective strategy to getting things done. In fact, written goals make you ten times more likely to do something than someone without a specific goal.

My life isn't dull, and I'm guessing yours isn't either. There's always something going on in a home filled with learning! But maybe you're feeling like you're getting stuck in a rut. Maybe you've thought you'd like to give your kids some variety in their extracurricular activities and free time. Maybe you'd like to help them start aiming for bigger dreams and working toward a goal. If so, shake things up a bit and do something out of the ordinary. Who knows, your child may discover a new interest or passion that you hadn't realized before.

As a mild example, some of the girls in our church's Young Marrieds group--my sister and wife included--decided to run in the local Color Me Rad race [NB: This group is rather tongue-in-cheek and joke freely about things of which you may not approve... please feel no compulsion to read about them]. My wife has never been interested in running, but as we trained together for her big day, she discovered that running was "kinda fun."


Brittany Running in Color

Other potential sources of inspiration: Our church is putting on an art show later this month. The Christmas pageant is coming up. Maybe it's time to introduce your children to the joy of baking a chocolate pie... or at least tasty 20 minute cookies.

I'm certainly not advocating adding more to your plate! But sometimes it can be good to try out new things and take another look at the goals for your homeschool.

At least, I hope that's true, otherwise next month is going to be miserable <smile>.

Is your family doing anything "out of the ordinary" in the coming months?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. If you have an aspiring writer, perhaps consider encouraging them to participate in the NaNo Young Writers Program.


10/17/2012

Lazy vs Greedy

I woke up thinking about a question I saw a while back: "Why is it easier to believe that 150,000,000 Americans are being lazy than that 400 Americans are being greedy?" I think the question was posed by someone of the Occupy persuasion (but I can't find a source).

In answer, my brain kept asking, "Have you not been to school?"

Maybe I'm still stuck on Mrs. C's post about kids who drop out of school when they are required to retake a year they failed. When I graduated from high school, half of my fellow classmates had dropped out. Based on that experience alone, I have no trouble believing that 50% of America's 300+ million population struggle.

But are they lazy?

Some are, sure. But others are disillusioned by a system that fails them. Many are stuck in situations that don't encourage them to move forward; socioeconomic pressures affect people. And let's not forget the kids who find school disheartening, something that Dr. Sax brilliantly illustrates in Why Gender Matters. And while an education absolutely does not equate to employment, there's something to be said for learning how to be punctual, figuring out what people want of you, working smart, and managing your time to complete assignments as required. If you don't do that in school, you'll likely have trouble in a job.

150 million people are not lazy. But there are many reasons why they may not be successful.

On the flip side, are the wealthiest Americans greedy?

I'm certain some are. But when I look at a list of the top 100, many of the people don't strike me as the problem. Maybe the 25 of the finance world are, but I wouldn't know. What I see, instead, are people who were able to make it big by being outliers. My mom is an excellent example. When she started Sonlight more than 20 years ago, she pioneered the literature-rich homeschool model. Her efforts paid off after working for years making 20 cents an hour. Today, literature-based homeschool curriculum dominates a large portion of the home education market. Numerous knock-offs have been founded based on her ideas. She started a wave that didn't exist before. And now, we have a profitable and successful company. A company that seeks to give away half of its profits to important work around the world.

[As an aside: just because Mark Zuckerberg is currently "valued" at $9 billion... I'm pretty sure he doesn't have that much money in his bank account.]

I wonder if one of the reasons we don't understand wealth and how the wealthy use their resources is because of how few great biographies there are on the topic. One factor would be that there are only 100 people in the top 100... limiting the number of possible great examples. Another is that super wealth for individuals not in government seems to be a recent phenomenon. And since a love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, it may be difficult to find people who amass large amounts of money and still seek to use it to expand God's Kingdom. But they are out there!

By homeschooling, you are in a position to overcome most of the issues I outlined above facing the "lazy" in our country. What's even better: It doesn't matter which curriculum you use. Simply by being involved in your student's education, your students tend to do better. Plain and simple.

Homeschooling also affords you opportunities to let your children pursue their interests while instilling your values. You may be raising the creator of the next revolution in our lives, be it in technology, agriculture, medicine, social reform, religious thought, or otherwise. By giving your students a global perspective and a heart for the world, they can grow up excited to use whatever wealth God gives them to expand His Kingdom and bless others. If you're not sure where to start, join our latest giving opportunity today.

I'd be remiss not to close with this reminder: Many of the most influential people in the world have been those who simply chose to follow God's call. They may not have been billionaires or brainiacs, but God used them in many powerful ways. You meet such people again and again throughout Sonlight's Core programs.

May your children grow up neither lazy nor greedy. Instead, may they change the world in the ways God directs.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


10/15/2012

Grades: the less-helpful metric

We went to Prom together over a decade ago. Yesterday we chatted in the church hallway while we waited for the kids in the Christmas play to finish rehearsal. I don't even know how the topic came up.

"At our school we focus on mastery," she tells me. "The kids can take tests again and again."

"That's great. I get why schools test for grades, but measuring how well a child has grasped a subject at a particular moment in time doesn't help the student much. Far better to let them learn from their mistakes!"

With homeschooling, that's exactly what you can do. You aren't bound by some arbitrary convention of when your students "should" learn something. If it takes two days or two years, it's not a big deal. You can let your students learn at their own pace. On the other hand, you can even use tests to help you identify areas where your students struggle or excel. Then, based on this information, you can tweak what you focus on and practice. That's a fantastic use of testing. But notice how that's about you and how you run your homeschool. Grades based on tests are far less helpful for your child.

To the student, getting a bad grade in spelling doesn't help much if they can't practice and try again.

Focus on helping your students master a skill, and they'll do just fine on the test.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


10/12/2012

Grateful for His Provision

Smoke snaked through the air from behind the dishwasher. A moment before an audible "pop" had reverberated through the house. It smelled like burnt plastic and boiling gutter water. Turns out the power cable to our dishwasher had arced, taking out the new supply line and charring the wall. The firemen said we're safe.

But we need a new dishwasher.


The Damage

These frustrating expenses crop up far more often than I'd like. If it were up to me, I'd spend the money on something much more useful and enjoyable; but, no.

I grumble on the way to the hardware store. I grumble on the way back to remeasure the space. I grumble while we discuss which option to buy. I grumble as we head back again. I really don't like spending money. And the one Brittany likes is $80 more than the one I'd select! <grumble>

"We're out of the cheaper model," the sales guy tells us. "And there's no indication when we'll get a new shipment."

<grumble>

"But I see that you guys were looking at this other model. Would you like it for the same price as this one?"

<blink>

They're delivering the new dishwasher tomorrow, for $80 less than the sticker price.

And once again, for all my grumbling, God provides. More than that, He blesses. Brittany says I need to be grateful for these blessings. And she's right. <grumble>

Throughout the Old Testament, God tells Israel to look back on His faithfulness when they are in situations that don't look so good. I'm sure I need to do the same today.

Do you have any stories of when God has blessed your family?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


10/10/2012

Why Children Cheat: Classrooms, Karma, and Consequences

Within the recesses of her hoody, she embodies the girl described in the opening of Britt Nicole's Headphones song. It's the next best thing to an invisibility cloak. And from these artificial shadows, she glares at the loathed "bubble test" before her. The question doesn't make sense; her pencil moves to fill in option C.

Her hidden eyes catch sight of the sheet filled in by the student next to her. He's a "smart" kid who probably has the right answer. And it's so easy to lift his decisions completely undetected.

She darkens a different bubble.

"As long as I don't get caught, nobody cares how I figured out which letter to fill in. Besides," she reassures herself, "I don't work overly hard to cover up my sheet. I give back too."


Hoody

Like this middle school student, I also dislike Scantron® tests. They tend to test your ability to guess what the teacher wants, ask you to mindlessly repeat what you've been told, and reinforce data points over understanding. And, because mastery isn't the key, cheating is a logical step forward. I never considered cheating when I had an education based on mastery. But when your success rides on your ability to properly select the correct letter one hundred times in a row... you start to feel like maybe you're playing a different game. And if that's the case, cheating makes sense.

Listening to this girl's story, however, hinted at something I hadn't considered before: Karma. She justified cheating by saying, "At least I let others cheat off me too." In so doing, she pays off her "debt to society" by "giving back" to those around her. The non sequitur would be funny if it didn't betray such a deep misunderstand of education: "I'm here paying my dues. The more we can help each other all get by, the better."

Right now I am not concerned with the consequences of cheating. Of far greater importance is the consequence of an educational model where students have been so far removed from the process of learning that cheating has become an act of kindness to their fellow student.

In the past I would tell kids that "you aren't doing yourself or your friends any favors by cheating." But now I'm not so sure that's true. Such statements only make sense when the goal is for you to learn how to use and apply knowledge. If the purpose of a classroom is to get you to properly fill in a piece of paper, taking a "group test" makes the most sense.

Homeschooling gives you the opportunity to create an environment where applying knowledge is the goal. As you do that, you'll find that filling in the bubbles is just an added bonus on the side.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. Now I'm wondering: Does this view carry on beyond the classroom? Could this be part of the growing misunderstanding of how we actively help our "fellow man"? If the goal is to have a fish, does it matter how I got it?


10/08/2012

How Your Children Learn Best

Tremors are building in the online education world. I've noticed them for about a year now and haven't paid much attention. But it's becoming harder to ignore the complaints against Khan Academy. Personally, I've never watched one of his videos. As an editor, the idea of listening to a guy present unrehearsed and uncut for 10-15 minutes is painful. Plus, I'm not looking to revisit trig at this time.

While educators debate the merits of Khan's claims, others are looking to the past as they try to see the future of free online college courses. Do such classes work? How can we tell? What should we do differently? How should educators utilize these tools?

As a homeschool parent, you get to customize your school day to fit your children's needs. You can tweak your schedule to jump ahead in subjects your kids get and take time to really focus on an idea if a student is struggling. You can also find resources that resonate with each student. Unlike teachers who are, naturally, stuck trying to find the best resources for the greatest number of students, you can find the tools that work for each of your kids. As an example, we offer several handwriting and math programs that meet unique needs. You can find the one that works best for each child.

Personally, I'm enthralled with the prospect of excellent free online classes (I've even to created my own free film courses). I love finding quick tutorials online. I often share TED Talks and other fascinating things I notice on your blogs. I glance at youtube.com/edu and iTunes U every now and again. All these are potentially really helpful resources.

But for how great they are, they will never replace you.

Indeed, I'm convinced these resources work best when you are involved in the content with your children. You are so important because of your expertise in your children's learning. You know--and are learning--how your children learn best. And even if a web video can convey information to billions of people around the world, you can snuggle up next to your children and help them apply these ideas to their lives.

By doing so, you can help your students soar no matter what's happening in the trenches of education.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. If you're looking for some ideas on how to improve your homeschool experience, check out some of the educational videos we've posted on our YouTube Homeschool Helps playlist.


10/05/2012

God uses regular people to change the world

Each Global Prayer Digest begins with a missionary biography. This month we read about William Carey, a self-taught shoemaker who launched the modern missions movement and translated the Bible into multiple languages (among other things). If this brief overview of Carey's life inspires you, just wait until you meet him in Core F!

History shows us that God uses regular people to change the world. I love that Sonlight's programs emphasize this fact by including so many biographies in the Core packages. We can gain real heroes in people who followed God wherever He led them. We can be encouraged that God uses all types, and has given us unique skills and opportunities to expand His kingdom. May we boldly step into the roles God has called us fill, and rely on His strength to do more through us than we could ever accomplish on our own.

This theme is pretty heavy for me right now because I finished watching Machine Gun Preacher last night. This R-rated movie--primarily for tons of language and intense violence--tells the story of Sam Childers. I hadn't heard of him, but since I have friends here at Sonlight from Sudan, I was aware of some of the atrocities going on over there. It's crazy. I was moved by the film because it shows how God can use a very flawed man to do good. Redemption. That's not something I see Hollywood get right very often. Come to think of it, Christian films don't get that right much ether. And if God can transform and use Sam, He can do something with me as well. May I have the faith to follow Him.

The most negative reviews of the film tend to have a similar thread: The story is unbelievable, overly Christian, promotes a "white-man" savior complex, and degrades the people of Sudan. One comment went so far as to say, "Seems so cliche', even though, apparently, this is what is happening, if we are to believe the film."

<cough>

One woman in my prayer group is worried about her family back home because people bring the children poisoned water in the hopes of killing more of them. And that's just one example. The film, while brutal, doesn't tell the half of it. Be warned: If you decide to tackle Machine Gun Preacher, it is certainly not cleaned up. You will encounter inappropriate content, difficult questions, examples of bad theology fueled by frustration, and a glimpse of what giving everything we have to God's call can do to our lives.

One more theme echoed from a post earlier this week: To do good in the world, we often need funds. William Carey took a factory job to support himself. Sam Childers sold his business. If God gives us wealth, may we be wise in how we use it to expand His kingdom.

As you homeschool your children, encourage them to follow God wherever He leads. Give them heroes. Discuss hard topics. And remember that God has also given you a great opportunity: He has enabled you to raise up the next generation of people willing and ready to follow Him and change the world!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


10/02/2012

Economics, Taxes, and Giving

Yesterday I presented some ideas about education and employment. In the current climate, it's easy to see in those observations that capitalism can reveal selfish monsters. Indeed, one need not look far to uncover examples of greed and corruption in business. Some blame government, others blame a lack thereof. Both miss the reality that we, as humans, are fallen... greedy and selfish, prone to discrimination and abuse of others.

On the other hand, because business generates wealth, there are vast possibilities to produce good in the world. Learn more about Sonlight's commitment to giving.

Business also demands efficiency and outcomes. If pouring resources into a particular charity ends up not being helpful, those funds are shifted elsewhere. This is not the case, for example, with government, which has little accountability for the funds it collects. A similar fate tends to befall children who are given large inheritances (tabloids thrive on examples of this). Business owners, on the other hand, seek to be strategic in their giving, often refusing to be pulled into the latest hip cause like the rest of us.

Charity based on feelings is dangerous. I've been told that disaster areas, such as Haiti, still haven't recovered despite gobs of foreign aid. They were ill-equipped to make use of the funds and families are still struggling today. Other situations are made far worse when we give money to the cause. In one case, Americans sent mosquito nets to a country ravaged by malaria. But because the nets were made outside of the county in trouble, the local economy crumbled when a mosquito net factory had to close down as demand plummeted. Today, the business man and his 100 employees are out of work.

As the election season threatens to overwhelm us with dissonance, I have heard one thing about economics that fascinated me. It's a Planet Money podcast titled The No-Brainer Economic Platform. This is interesting to me because my parents are always looking for ways to give even more. But as politicians flood us all with debt, there is increasing talk about doing-away with charitable deductions. If that happened, and income tax was not also eradicated as suggest in the 30 minute podcast, suddenly the 50 cents of every dollar my parents earn to give to missions would, instead, go to fund government projects.

So many of the issues that surround us today have expensive economic ramifications. If your students are getting older, or you want to brush up on your understanding of the issues we face today, take a look at Sonlight's Economics Program. There's more to this than just money! And if you take half and hour to listen to the Planet Money podcast, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


10/01/2012

Why an Education Does Not Guarantee a Job

You've heard the mantra: Do well in school so you can get a good job. Or perhaps it was, "Go to college so you can make more money." But if a large percentage of the 99% are any indication, people are being blindsided by the fact that such statements are not grounded in reality.

Why?

Why would a good education not automatically translate into employment?

I will offer three reasons here, but there are more:

  1. A failure to understand education
  2. A failure to understand business
  3. A failure to understand today and tomorrow


School ≠ Job

What follows is a broad, generalized overview from my Western perspective. This is in no way complete, well-documented, or researched. This is a rough sketch of my understanding of our current situation, and I welcome your input.

Education

Education begins as a family affair. Parents teach their children life skills and values. In certain parts of the world, parents also pass on the family trade. If this will not support their children, or if better opportunities are out there, kids are sent to serve as apprentices. This produces a specialized society where children develop skills alongside adults. But it also limits what kids have the opportunity to learn.

To give children even more opportunities, some societies started schools where young people could gain a broader set of skills--such as reading, writing, and arithmetic; grammar, logic, and rhetoric; history, policy, and governance. Such an education was initially only available to the wealthy--those who had time to apply such learning (though, historically, there have long been schools to promote religious thought or political ideals). Some groups decided that a broader education was of enough value that it should be available to all who could attend. Public schools were born, and those who could attend did so. Somehow, and this is far less clear to me, these optional classes became compulsory.

The history of how we got to modern education is fascinating and well-worth further study, but for now notice how far we've already separated the act of learning from work you do for an employer.

Business

In many ways, business exists to "redistribute the wealth." Someone creates a product or service that is of value to another, and that person exchanges what things of value they have for what is offered by the first person. Initially this is done by barter, but to make exchanges more versatile, currency is quite common. If a product or service proves valuable, more people want it. To keep up with the demand, the business owner hires help (or has children) to assist with the growing demands of operation.

This is the foundation for employment: Businesses take on help to create more value for more people. If you, as an employee, create at least as much value as you are paid, you stay unless someone more apt at creating value is found to replace you. This provides impetus to work hard and continue to expand your skills.

If you are not a valuable employee or no one needs your services, are you stuck? Only if you believe the above mantra about education. If you realize, instead, that business is about creating value, you can begin to look for ways to use your skills to create value for others. This is the foundation of entrepreneurship and marketing, subjects which are bankrupt in the modern classroom. Indeed, the very idea that you go to school so you can be hired by someone else automatically downplays job creation. And while you are told you are more valuable to an employer by having an education, we are never told how this is so.

Today and Tomorrow

We oddly believe that getting good grades in, say, "social studies" translates into employment. But this belief betrays that in our study of societies and history we have somehow missed the important facts of industry and improvement that got us here. Our modern education is important and wonderful, but it has little bearing on our jobs. I've heard that only a tiny fraction of us end up using our college major in our profession.

Sir Ken Robinson's Changing Education Paradigms talk expands on these ideas masterfully. Our educational model is built on concepts from another age. The jobs of today aren't really about sitting in a chair and fulfilling tasks given to you. If you think companies are waiting around for you to do some simple task, those in countries with a lower cost of living will be able to beat you at that every time. If you have an English or History degree and no one is looking for teachers, what else can you do with your skills? If you've taken time to learn how to build things in Flash, that skill will become ever more worthless as Flash is stripped from mobile devices. And if you're a company that sells books, what do you do about the ebook revolution?

Where do we go from here?

If I knew what would be valuable to people tomorrow, I'd be creating that today. If I knew how to help people and corporations find each other, I'd gladly share. And if I could clearly see a way out of the mess we're in, I'd happily divulge that too. But I think the first step is to understand where we are and why our current thinking is so far from reality.

Let's educate our children to seek ways to provide value to this world. That's the surest way I know to give them every opportunity to stay productive. What I love about Sonlight is that our homeschool curriculum is packed with biographies of men and women (as well as children) who have done just that.

Okay, I've just tossed out a few ideas rattling around in my head. What do you think?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. If I were to make a prediction about tomorrow, it would be an even greater increase in passion projects (like my free film school). People who find something interesting to do will rally others around them to create these "products" (for example, the crazy success of VGHS). These will be free, or mostly free. For the next couple decades, individuals will continue to rely on "9-5 jobs" for their bread and butter while a few of us will continue to develop resources in our time off. Major brands will arise from these projects, and a few will dominate the digital landscape.


09/26/2012

You: the Indicator of Student Success

The class had two teachers. Neither wanted to be there. They took turns standing in front of the students, but they rarely imparted knowledge. Rather, the latest celebrity news dusted the stale air of boredom that clung to the children required to fill the uncomfortable seats.

Of the survivors, one young man went on to succeed in life. He found a way to apply the scraps of pertinent information to his endeavors. In fact, he could often be heard talking about the topics that should have been covered by his teachers all those years ago. He succeeded richly despite a couple poor professors.

I do not know the fate of the other students.

How do children succeed in spite of bad teachers?

This is an important question in today's political landscape. Teachers Unions are terrified, it appears, that schools will adopt a "merit-based" approach to pay. Teachers rightly note that test scores are an inappropriate measure of performance, though I expect they are thinking about their own abilities and not those of their students. I've also read arguments that a child's home environment should not negatively impact a teacher's remuneration. Students tend not to do well when they don't have a stable, supportive home.

My mother-in-law, a school nurse, often brings up parental involvement when we discuss school performance. When parents are committed to helping their children learn, those students tend to do well. If a student's parents are not around, the student is less likely succeed.

No matter whose perspective you take, one thing continues to resurface: A student's success is far more connected to the parent than the teacher. And that is how students can succeed in life even if their teachers and less-than-stellar. You, the parent, have the incredible opportunity to help your children succeed in life, whether you homeschool or not.

I have a new response for those individuals who are concerned about parent qualifications for teaching in the home: What is the biggest indicator of a student's success?

Teachers? Then why not support merit-based pay?
Parents? Then why are you concerned about parents dedicated enough to take on the responsibility of educating their children?

Are you interested in helping your children succeed by homeschooling? Check out the curriculum you are guaranteed to love!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. You've likely seen a movie or two about a teacher who revolutionizes his or her students' lives. I find such films very inspirational. A theme I see, however, is not that these teachers are so good at teaching, but that--in many ways--these individuals become parents that their kids never had.


09/24/2012

Do you start your day already feeling behind?

The morning broke overcast and sluggish. The tasks that filled the schedule loomed large and imposing. And everything, everything, took longer than it should have.

Except that one thing, which was a wonderful relief in the midst of a Monday.

I've been sitting on an hour of footage that I need to make into helpful little clips. But I haven't had time. There's always plenty to do here at Sonlight! And while I continue to juggle my tasks, I'm guessing you're doing the same. Life can get pretty busy for moms, or so I've been told. Not being one, I can't speak from experience...

But we've got some homeschool moms who have been there and done that. They can speak from experience! And I've had the privilege of capturing their insights and posting them to the internets. One of the most popular is Judy's excellent 24 minute How to Organize Your Homeschool workshop. Judy's practical advice will help you homeschool and get the laundry, shopping, and cooking done.

But there's more! There's lots more. Sonlight's Homeschool 101 section of the site is stuffed with information to help you get started and carry on in your homeschool journey. If there's a particular part of homeschooling that has you feeling down and out right now, get encouragement by taking advantage of some of our homeschool helps that address learning styles, teaching tips, and more.

How's the start of school been for you? I've seen many people laud their experience thus far, but I'm guessing that's not everyone.

Just a hunch.

In this case, I'd be thrilled to be wrong. And may you find rest in the mercies that are new every morning!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


09/21/2012

Did you vote for the winning 2013 Catalog cover photo?

Congratulations to Cally K and family! Their very fun photo will be on the cover of next year's catalog.


Winner of the 2013 Sonlight Photo Contest

You can see how the other photos placed by clicking here. And if this picture inspired you, please feel free to submit pictures for next year's photo contest. <smile>

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


09/19/2012

A Glimpse from the UK Perspective

Yesterday, on a train back from Chicago (where a local Teachers Union strike just ended), I met a couple on holiday from across the pond. They're on a tour of the US. They're both around retirement age after serving many years in the UK health services industry. Curious, I asked them about their firsthand perspective of publicly funded healthcare. This drifted into a chat about the opening ceremonies and televised Olympic coverage of NBC and the BBC. When they queried about my profession, we moved on to education.

At first, they wanted to know the basics of homeschooling:

Q. It's legal in the US, but how much government oversight is there?
A. It depends on the state.

Q. Should parents have credentials to teach their children?
A. Depends on who you read; but, no. I've seen indications that an educational credential may, ever so slightly, decrease your students' performance.

Q. Is there a national standard for curriculum?
A. Nope.

Q. Can homeschoolers get into and succeed at a University?
A. Absolutely.

As we talked, I secretly wished I had ordered "a spot of tea" instead of my cranberry juice. I also noticed that our new friends were warming to this homeschooling thing. They shared stories of how poorly education in their country was going, and insights into the legislative changes that correlate with the decline. They talked about rising prices of higher education now that their country could not longer afford to subsidize everyone. We discussed dropouts and achievement, funding and outcome, nice ideas and painful pragmatism.


Train

Day-to-day I find myself in a crowd that is mostly "hip" to homeschooling. So it's fun to encounter those outside the movement now and again. It's a good reminder that even those interested in education may still need to be educated about the home educational model. I enjoy reporting that homeschooling works. I like opening people's minds to the possibilities and benefits of teaching your children at home. And I love sharing a solution that has blessed so many families, especially in a time when the other options are fraught with systemic problems.

Do you get to chat with people about homeschooling and Sonlight? Have you had the opportunity to get an international perspective on a topic recently? Please share!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. If you're interested in learning more about homeschooling, just ask! Or swing by the Homeschool 101 section of the site to learn more about getting started on your homeschool journey.


09/17/2012

How Reading Aloud Instills a Love of Books

Hearing mostly Sonlight titles as a child gave me the impression that only great books were published. But after experiencing the wasteland of public high school literature, it no longer surprises me when a student from that world tells me they hate books. It's sad, but I understand. I struggled with reading for years so tossing pathetic titles on top of that would have been miserable.

One of my college-aged friends, a beautiful and intelligent young lady, has dyslexia. She shared that she thinks books are bad. She loves stories, but books house too much personal pain to make it worth wrestling the story from them. So she was more than a little distrustful when my wife suggested I read a story aloud while they worked on their Ren Faire costumes.

It took three chapters--two more than I had hoped--before she was begging that we keep reading. My wife beamed at her: "See, this is what the book experience should be!"

As we neared the end of the story, my friend hugged herself from sheer excitement. She uttered little gasps of joy as she guessed what was about to happen. I could hardly keep reading it was so much fun watching her fall in love with the book <smile>.

I fully understand how reading can be difficult. But even with my prolonged struggle with the mechanics of reading, I never disliked books. I loved books. I loved books because my mom and dad read great books to me. I learned, for an early age, that books contain stories and worlds and characters and situations to be contemplated and treasured.

My friend was held back by an arbitrary required proficiency that killed her love of books. She didn't have the opportunity to hear great stories as part of her school. But because my siblings and I grew up listening to my parents read aloud, we were given a love for books; both those who read early and those of us who struggled.

Hearing and reading great literature does more than merely give you a love for books. It also awakens your child's natural passion for learning. So I'll echo the request so often heard when we reach the end of a chapter:

Keep reading!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


09/14/2012

Inspiring Kids to Give to Missions

Two girls bred rabbits to raise money to give away. A young boy sold his toys at a garage sale. One family decided to give money rather than birthday presents that year. Another child took on extra chores to make more money to donate.

These kinds of stories, often hidden away and kept private, are inspiring! There's something about giving opportunities that encourage us to think about the broader world and be strategic in our charitable endeavors. In a culture where we are urged to "tweet and give $5" to the latest disaster relief, a more intentional approach to helping those around the world is a welcome change of pace.

And this year Sonlight is partnering with Far East Broadcasting to raise money so children without electricity or running water can still hear the Good News of Jesus. For just a few dollars, your children can give a village a hand-powered radio that will be able to pick up Christian broadcasts in places missionaries haven't yet been able to go. Talk about a cool opportunity!

If you haven't signed up for this year's giving opportunity, check out the program's website: http://www.phoenixphaxx.com/

If your family has already signed up, have your kids generated any creative ways to raise money to give to this exciting project? Please share!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


09/04/2012

Prodigies and Practice

They won Great Britain's first Gold of the 2012 Summer Olympics. What's remarkable is that Helen Glover, a teacher, only started rowing four years ago.

That was shocking to me. Seriously? It only take four years to reach Olympic Gold caliber in rowing? Compare this to the 16 year olds who have been training for 12 years in gymnastics. The disparity was almost depressing. And, at the same time, encouraging. There are skills and opportunities at all stages of life. We don't have to "give up" if we're too old for one thing or not yet old enough for another.

This theme echoed in the provocatively titled blog post why there are no child prodigies in literature, history, or philosophy. While we often recognize the prodigies of Mozart, Bobby Fischer, and Blaise Pascal, I admit that nothing came to mind when I thought of famous child authors. Practice is almost always important, but some skills require "matured" mental processing.

Perhaps these gaps exist to subtly remind us to be humble and build one another up with our strengths. The body metaphor comes to mind and seems to extend beyond our members into the realm of development and decay.

This opportunity for collaboration is one of the many things I like about homeschooling. We, as parents, don't have to merely lecture our children in an attempt to impart knowledge. And we, as kids, don't have to sit quietly and regurgitate the data dumped on us. Instead, we can give and take, discuss and question, and rejoice in the joy of learning together.


Podium

And in that way, homeschooling lets us all win, whether we just started or have been doing this for years.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


08/31/2012

Save 20%, Pick a Picture, and Enjoy Your Weekend

If you've been thinking about picking up a Foreign Language but have held off thus far, now's a great time to act. Rosetta Stone programs are 20% off through Monday. So, if you're interested, find a language you want to study now!

Speaking of the Monday, Sonlight will be closed for Labor Day. Enjoy the extended weekend with your family. Are you doing any travel or fun activities together?

Also: Voting has started for the next Sonlight Catalog cover. Click here to vote.

That's all I've got for you at the moment. Have a great Friday!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


08/29/2012

From Luke's Inbox: Missed Opportunities

I'm very disappointed with your Kindergarten readers. Yesterday we read a story where the character speeds at 100mph, gets pulled over and then fights with the cop. The "consequence" is: his car gets towed. What an opportunity lost! Maybe he could've seen the speed limit and slowed down or been obedient, kind and respectful to those in a position of authority. That would've been a much better example.

Thank you for your feedback and I'm sorry to hear that you are disappointed with the Hot Rod story in Fun Tales. If you wish to return that product, remember our Love to Learn Guarantee will cover a partial return.

I'd like to encourage you in regards to the lost opportunity here. This could be an excellent time to chat about how to properly respond to authority and how we should not break the law... even in "little" things like speeding. Isn't it amazing how, with homeschooling, we can take even the silly stories in beginning reading titles and turn them into valuable life lessons and opportunities for discussion?

I love that.

I encourage you to revisit Reason #6 NOT to Buy Sonlight. For me, what you describe is not at all a lost opportunity in the story! It is the foundation for one of the best opportunities literature provides: A chance to talk with our children about big ideas and moral choices.


Confiscated Hot Rod

Stories with characters who always do the right thing tend to be weak and flavorless. They don't ring true to life and we don't get to see growth and redemption play out. I find they are poor educational tools. Jill takes this even further--pointing out the flaws of character training books. We need to be able to see and discuss, not just be spoon-fed the right answers.

This is how Scripture seems to work. There are numerous examples of people doing horrible things that go largely unpunished. Granted, you may not want to share them with young children because of content, but the idea seems clear to me: Scripture shows humans interacting in the real world. Sometimes we get our comeuppance for sins, sometimes we don't. Even with that, however, we need to follow God and turn to His grace. Let's glance at a few examples:

You get the point: Scripture does not do as originally suggested. There certainly are a few great examples of upstanding behavior and faith--and we tend to cover those in Sunday School--but the Bible is full of accounts of people behaving inappropriately with little consequence. How sad that we do not take the chance to work through these passages. Those are the lost opportunities I see!

Have you had any great conversations with your children recently? What hard topics have you covered?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


08/27/2012

Simplify: make easier, more understandable

He squinted over his glasses at the screen. 'Why is that text repeated?' he asked himself. 'Can't we say that just once instead of three times?' Dave, our graphic designer, was hard at work cleaning up the Payment Plans page to make it easier to understand. He simplified a ton of the text and made the Time Payment Calculator prettier. I'm pleased with the results:


Payment Plans

The effort required to simplify something is enormous. Often it's clear what the problem is, but the solution is out of reach. Consider your tax forms. It's pretty clear that they are confusing and messy. But I can't imagine the amount of work that would go into cleaning them up. Even if you do come up with a solution, the simplification isn't always easier understand. Have you seen the push button, receive bacon signs? How about the incredibly vague images highlighted on safenow.org?

The goal of simplifying is to make the tool easier to use and understand. And that was exactly what we attempted to do with the Instructor's Guides this year. Have you checked out the changes?


Instructor's Guide Improvements

If you have yet to order your homeschool curriculum (with the updated IGs), spread the cost of your investment over the next three months at no additional charge with Payment Plans. And please continue to send us feedback as you browse the website. I'd love to simplify it even more so it's easier to use and understand.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. Speaking of easy and understandable, have you shown some MathTacular clips to your children?


08/17/2012

What's the Deal with Sonlight's Language Arts?

I ran across a fascinating discussion about Sonlight's Language Arts on Facebook. The original poster said she felt Sonlight's Language Arts was "a bit weak and abstract." The comments that follow are very encouraging:

  • "Stick with it! You won't regret it."
  • "My family has ONLY used Sonlight. Here's a sample of my girls' work."
  • "My kids seem to do really well with Sonlight's writing."

Granted, there are less than stellar reviews as well. "Sonlight's LA is pure torture." "SL LA is truly awful!" "I think in theory Sonlight's LA works, I just don't like teaching it."

Talk about polarizing!

The theory behind Sonlight's Language Arts is very practical.

  • Listen to good writing
  • Look at good writing
  • Copy good writing
  • Then write on your own

The strong literature I grew up with highly influenced my prose. And reading/copying great writing is precisely what writing coach Daphne Gray-Grant recommends as well. Dr. Ruth Beechick originally alerted my mom to this natural approach to Language Arts.

But we decided to make our homeschool LA programs even better.


Language Arts Improvements

We re-evaluated every assignment in the Language Arts programs for Cores A through G. You now receive a better balance of grammar and creative writing assignments.

  • You'll find more grammar instruction in each Language Arts program.
    • You will use the copywork/dictation passage to introduce a specific grammar concept each week.
    • Your Instructor's Guide explains that concept and shows you how it works.
    • Your students will do engaging exercises to practice the concept.
  • We also re-evaluated every Creative Writing assignment, removed anything that could be considered "fluff" and rewrote many of the instructions to make sure you know exactly what to do.

Language Arts is now included in every Core program, but we kept the package prices competitive. We wanted to make sure you could check out the improvements and give your students an opportunity to learn how to write using this natural approach.

I know the year is just getting started. Have you had a chance to try out the new Sonlight® Language Arts programs? Are you (and your children) loving the improved LA?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


08/15/2012

Failure is Okay on the Road to Mastery

I really liked the video in Suji's post Learn. Fail. Repeat. Paul Anderson played video games in '80s. And now, as a teacher, he's learning to apply what he learned from games to his classroom.

I've written about gaming before (what we learn easily in games, the amount of time we spend in games, games and the future of education). But I wanted to write about this because Anderson has hit on two key lessons that are spot on:

1. Failure is okay. When I finally entered the official school system, I was horrified by grades. They were so counter-intuitive to how I had experienced learning to that point. My education was about mastering a task or a topic. The speed at which I progressed or how I fit into "standards" weren't even on my radar. I wanted (or needed) to learn; that was that. If I failed to properly cross-stitch, or didn't spell a word correctly, or smudged my drawing, or broke my computer code, or got a poor recording... oh well. The frustration was purely one of "wasted" time and a bruised ego. In high school--and again in college--suddenly I had to prove, right now and in a pre-defined way, how well I was doing. It didn't make sense. Much better is to look at learning as growing (leveling). Rather than losing points, you gain experience as you progress.

2. Mastery is the goal. The end game of education should be mastery. How well can we apply and use what we have learned? In video games, this achievement is clear because you've completed your objectives. The number of times you've failed doesn't matter. What matters is that you are now standing victorious. No one really cares about how fast you got there. I love that Anderson's colleague mentions shop classes: You learn skills and then apply them. This is the hope for every learning experience.

Three main lessons Anderson has learned: Kids need structure to keep moving forward... however unspecified that direction is. Kids need to be able to read... not just listen to a teacher give them information. Kids like interaction... interactive worksheets are not the future of education.

This fits perfectly with Sonlight. Your Instructor's Guide provides a flexible structure so you can move at your pace and where you need to go. You don't need tests because you know how well your student is progressing (though, they can be a nice way to get outside confirmation that you're doing well). There's nothing better for learning how to read than a literature-based program made of the best books available. And you and your child will absolutely interact as you discuss the stories you've read.

We can learn a lot about about education by looking at video games. The nice thing is that every time I do, Sonlight continues to dominate the scoreboard in the points that matter.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


08/13/2012

Reading and Decoding

Perhaps you've seen the f1gur471v3ly 5p34k1ng passage? If not, I'll reproduce most of it here. (I'll gladly provide a link to the original author, but have been unable to find any kind of reference.)

7H15 M3554G3
53RV35 7O PR0V3
H0W 0UR M1ND5 C4N
D0 4M4Z1NG 7H1NG5!
1MPR3551V3 7H1NG5!
1N 7H3 B3G1NN1NG
17 WA5 H4RD BU7
N0W, 0N 7H15 LIN3,
Y0UR M1ND 1S
R34D1NG 4U70M471C4LLY
W17H0U7 3V3N
7H1NK1NG 4B0U7 17

This reminded me of the similar aoccdrnig to rscheearch text. And as someone who struggled for years with the mechanics of reading -- finally becoming confident sometime after college -- these paragraphs fascinate me. What's going on?

First, I believe much of 1337 speak boils down font recognition. Reading becomes easier the more familiar you become with translating 1s to ls and 3s to Es. There are plenty of fonts that confuse me because the Js and Ts are almost identical. Old English scripts are terrible!

Second, context is key. Much like trying to decipher my handwriting five minutes after scribbling something down, my notes are only legible by considering the content around each word blob. In fact, in college, I created my own shorthand code for notes because it was easier for me to read than my chicken scratch. We use the words we're reading to figure out the meaning of a passage. This is how we grow our vocabulary naturally by reading rather than memorizing a dictionary.


Handwriting

Third, we predict what's coming next in a sentence. I noticed this just yesterday in church when the pastor read a familiar passage, completely reordering certain words. I frequently do the same thing. This is also one reason why it is so difficult to proofread (especially something you've written). You know what the text is supposed to say, so that's what you read.

These skills enable us to read incredibly quickly, and accurately comprehend the meaning. What blows my mind are the people -- like my mom -- who can read sentences or paragraphs with the ease at which I read words.

There has actually been a ton of research into how we comprehend the words on a page. I took a few minutes to skim through The Science of Word Recognition. ...skimming... yet another incredible feat.

What most impresses you about reading?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


08/10/2012

More than 150 Reasons to Submit Your Pictures

My favorite part of the Sonlight Catalog is, hands down, the pictures. Your pictures. The pictures and stories that demonstrate how much your family loves homeschooling. We include as many of these as we can in the 150+ pages of the catalog. Your photos and stories also show up in the sidebar of our website. So, please: Submit your pictures now.


Sonlight® Catalog Photo Contest

Time is running out. We've only got a few days before voting starts, so send us your stories and photos. Naturally, I want to know who will win the $500 grand prize, but, more than that, I can't wait to read your stories, see your pictures, and be reminded more than one hundred fifty times over why homeschooling is such a great educational option!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. You can review the photos you've submitted by visiting the My Photos section of your Sonlight.com account. We use new photos every year, so even if you've submitted pictures in the past and didn't get in, please send us pictures again this year.


08/08/2012

Gender and the Books We Read

Sonlighter Christina L sent me a link to the blog post Why boys don't read girls (sometimes). I'm so glad she did! Take a minute to give it a read.

Back?

Good.

A young man I knew in high school had a high pitched voice and effeminate mannerisms. "Naturally" he was teased constantly. After years of such abuse, he decided it was easier to "come out" as a homosexual. It boggles my mind when people say that Christians are hateful;* none of my Christian friends ever insulted people in the manner. It feels far more hateful to tear someone down by calling them "gay" than to disagree about the moral values of such a lifestyle.

Boys aren't alone in this. A friend of mine is very concerned about her little sister who is starting high school in a few weeks. They both tend to dress "tomboyish" and sport shorter hair. The sexual slurs they endure day after day in school are not fit to print and make me want to weep. So, yes: I have no trouble believing kids in school learn to avoid certain things to save themselves from the cruelty of their classmates.

I also find it completely plausible that adults mindlessly reinforce these harmful "boundaries" between the sexes. Dr. Sax in Why Gender Matters makes a strong case for social pressures negatively impacting children. But the message of his book is brilliant: Once we understand the differences between the genders, we can all better excel in every field. Boys aren't destined to be bad at reading and girls aren't required to give up on math.


Gender Divide

As Shannon Hale points out in her post above, homeschoolers are able to shake free of the current school "norms" that paint the genders into narrow boxes of pink and blue. We can enjoy great literature, and we don't have to worry about the gender of the author or judge the book by its cover. And this gives us the freedom to define ourselves by more than our sex. We can focus on our strengths and be blissfully ignorant of the limitations the rest of the world places on what books and interests we "should" pursue.

...now, having said all that, there is something to the idea of "boy" books and "girl" books. Dr. Sax points to this in his book, but you'll have to read it because I'm out of time for today.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

*I am well aware of a few high profile "Christian" groups that spew such hate. But to label a calm disagreement as "hate" on par with bullying/teasing simply does not make sense to me.


08/06/2012

Warning: Sonlight Ruins You for Mediocrity

I found this post very encouraging: Dear Sonlight, thanks for "ruining" my son.

The short version: Reading stories about people like Nathaniel Bowditch and Eli Whitney inspired Katie's son to take up Latin. Latin! As she put it: "Yep, he is ruined for sure. Mediocrity will not suffice."

History provides us with the opportunity to be inspired by those who have gone before us. This is the idea behind the "great cloud of witnesses" described in Hebrews 11. And while I didn't pick up Latin based on the books I read in Sonlight, I was most certainly ruined for mediocrity.

What have your kids risen to based on the things they have read and heard?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


08/03/2012

The Urgency of Now

I knew the line "the urgency of now" from a Smashing Pumpkins song or two (they released a greatest hits album when I was entering college). But somehow I had missed the fact that the line comes from Martin Luther King, Jr's I have a Dream speech. Some of us are culturally illiterate*... which means there's always more to learn.

We are well aware of how urgency spurs us to action. In fact, more than half the orders that came in from our recent Rosetta Stone sale were placed in the last two days of the offer. If it's not immediately pressing, I know I tend to let it fall by the wayside. This provides a huge challenge: How do we get people to act if it's not something they have to do right now?

So we create arbitrary deadlines and set goals and routines. This is true of exercise and dinner time and Saturday morning cleaning. This is, in large part, the idea behind tests and project check points.

This all swirled around in my mind when we were able to extend the Rosetta Stone sale another month. Get your foreign language at a discount now! You only have until September 3. ...meaning, if you're anything like me, you'll wait until then to place your order.

As homeschoolers, the urgency of now can be overwhelming. We can work ourselves into knots thinking of everything we have to get our kids to learn right now. Like pushy sales people, we stress ourselves out. But remember: There's always more to learn. Keep moving forward, and things should work our just fine.

Have you discovered a new bit of cultural literacy recently? Has anything come up that made you think, 'Why didn't I know that before now?'

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

* Granted, the ending of King's speech is most notable in my mind because of the clips used in DC Talks' Free At Last album. Perhaps music plays a bigger role in my cultural literacy than I tend to give credit.


07/31/2012

Last Minute Reminder: Save $30 on Core F

The price of Core F goes up $30 after today (July 31, 2012). So, order now if you haven't done so yet.

That is all.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. Today has felt very much like a Monday on Tuesday around here. How about for you?


07/30/2012

Are Others "Safe" to Talk with You?

She's considering homeschooling. She's attended a few convention sessions and has been encouraged. But she's also terrified.

"I didn't realize this was a religious thing," she confides to me. "I..." she hesitates, visibly distraught.

"It's okay," I reassure her. "I can handle it."

She falters again before the story spills out of her like an overturned glass of milk. She comes from a religious cult that tore her family apart. After that, she gave up on religion. She's beginning to consider it again, but is afraid that her curriculum options will be too ... aggressive for her and her son. She's a single mom. She doesn't know what to do.

I feel tears welling up behind my eyes. I want to sit down with her for hours and talk about everything: Religion, Jesus, homeschooling, the Bible, healing, philosophy, relationships. But there isn't time. She's been glancing at her watch, anxious not to miss the next convention speaker. I've got maybe three minutes to tell her everything she needs to know before she's gone.

"Sonlight is a Christian company," I tell her. "We schedule Bible reading and memorization." I point to the Instructor's Guide sample before her. "This could be an excellent way for you and your son to get started with religion again. The Bible's a great place to begin, and you're just reading. Plus, with Sonlight, we want to educate, not indoctrinate. We want you to learn and talk through with your son what you believe and why. We don't want to beat you over the head with what you 'have to believe or else.'"

She nods and cracks a half smile.

I continue. "And the great thing about homeschooling is that we get to learn along with our children. You can do this! We're here to help if you ever have any questions. Homeschooling is such a great option. May you and your son be blessed as you enjoy learning together this year."

Another glance at her watch and she thanks me before walking off.

I take a deep breath.

My heart is still trying to chase her down, to assure her, to share with her the love and grace of Christ, to extend to her the offer of redemption, to encourage her to walk the difficult road of homeschooling ahead of her. Instead, my eyes fill with tears again as a smile plays on my lips. There's something very bittersweet about the privilege of talking to homeschoolers. I pray that my few words were what she needed to hear.

Sonlight: A missions-minded, Christian curriculum that also happens to be, in my biased opinion, the best option for those who don't find themselves inside mainstream Evangelicalism. Why? Because we value being winsome ambassadors for Christ. We strive to educate, not indoctrinate. We seek to see the world through God's eyes: Individuals and communities, dearly loved, in desperate need of grace and good news. And, ironically, I think that sets us up to be the "safest" to talk with. That means we don't isolate ourselves even if that would be "safer" for us. Rather, like Christ, we seek to be friends with sinners and believers alike... even if the religious around us would balk at the idea.

Has Sonlight's emphasis on missions changed your view of the world?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


07/27/2012

What Books Have You Read This Summer?

Please share the book you and your children have most enjoyed reading this summer.

If you're looking for a few more titles to read before school starts up again, check out Sonlight's Summer Readers. Great books aren't confined to a single season, so you could read them this winter if that works better for you.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. If you've read some of the Summer Readers, please leave a review on the product page so others can know how much you enjoyed the title. Thanks!


07/25/2012

$30 to Order Core F by August 1


Core F has undergone a transformation this year. It is still a transitional Core that introduces you and your children to the Eastern Hemisphere. But we improved the Instructor's Guide, reworked the Eastern Hemisphere Explorer (and integrated into the IG), and re-evaluated the books, places, and assignments. We did so much work on Core F, we missed a few books when calculating the price for the catalog. So you have until August 1, 2012 to take advantage of this mistake. Come August 1, we will raise the price of the Core F packages by $30 to account for these titles.

If you order your Core F package before August 1, you get these books at no charge.

So if Core F and the Eastern Hemisphere await your studies, now would be the time to purchase your homeschool curriculum. Don't wait until next week and miss out on this opportunity to save $30.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


07/23/2012

Stop Provoking Your Children to Anger

I've been thinking about Ephesians 6:4 lately. I poked around for a few commentaries and found this page to have some interesting stuff. It looks like Paul uses the present imperative, so the passage could be rendered "stop provoking your children to anger."

Way back in the day as a surrogate father, I found I focused heavily on the "children obey your parents" verse. But I skipped the one about not exasperating my children.

Now that school is gearing up again, many of my college-aged friends are more acutely experiencing the pain and frustration of this time of transition. So are their parents, it seems. The transition toward independence in college was a rough stretch for me, even with my great parents. And some of my friends are entering this period without the close bond I had as a homeschooled kid. While I do encourage these kids to honor their parents, their parents are absolutely exasperating!

So, question: Do you think it's easier for you not to exasperate your children because you know them so well as a homeschool parent? How do you apply this verse and take it to heart?

Come to think of it, I've been around church long enough to hear a few sermons and lessons about obeying/honoring parents. I haven't heard as many on not provoking children to anger and discouragement. In my observation, it isn't that hard to say or do something that causes your kid to lose heart. I'm not even a parent and I've said things that discouraged kids around me. This, like the verses before it, is probably something I need to meditate on more than I do...

Do you have any insights into the admonition to not exasperate but rather instruct in the Lord?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


07/20/2012

Why You Are an Expert by Kindergarten

Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers makes a strong case for needing 10,000 hours of practice before you become great at anything. That's a lot of time, but not that much. A prominent educator recently shared that it took him about five years to really become a fantastic teacher. My mother-in-law saw the connection first; that's 10,000 hours!

If you ever had a substitute/part time/volunteer teacher, you may relate to the frustration of this fictional kid (thanks, Mrs. C). There's something about experts that make them more e