9 Lessons from Miss Agnes for the Homeschool Mom

Share on Pinterest
Share this post via email


9 Lessons from Miss Agnes for the Homeschool Mom

As a homeschool mom, I’ve pored over dozens of homeschool help books, but none inspired me as much as the Read-Aloud The Year of Miss Agnes from History / Bible / Literature B. We recently read it for the second time, and once again I was amazed with all the wisdom this novel holds.

If you haven’t read it yet, don't worry. I won’t share any huge spoilers. But I will tell you the deep lessons this novel imparted to me.

After years of figuring out my homeschool philosophy, my kids' learning styles, and the most time efficient way to pack in as many subjects in a day as possible, this book turned it all upside down. Of course, those things are still important, but The Year of Miss Agnes simplified things about education which I tend to overcomplicate and inspired me to be a more intentional homeschool mom.

1. Bonding Begins with Tea

Are things strained in your relationship with your kids? Follow Miss Agnes's model. She begins bonding with her students over a cup of tea.

Tea or hot chocolate with snacks are great remedies. Especially when we are struggling or stressed, it's easy to push these relaxed moments aside in favor of more important things that need to get done.

For two years we did poetry teatime every Friday afternoon, and it became the highlight of my kids' week! They think it’s the edible treats, but I know it’s about taking a moment out of our week to have fun together.

This year our Fridays are game teatime instead of poetry. What you drink or eat and whether you play board games, listen to classical music, or read poetry doesn't really matter. The point is adding fun to the week and building a solid relationship with our kids in the process.

2. Geography Is Best Taught With Maps

Miss Agnes points out countries on the map every opportunity she has, and her students begin to make connections to the rest of the world in ways they never had before. Sonlight makes it easy to make these same kinds of spontaneous connections.

A few of my siblings do a lot of travel for work, so when they jump on the airplane, we grab a map to identify where they are going. When my brother was recently in China, my son noticed China borders South Korea. This realization brought up a fun conversation about the Olympics and the fact that even though those countries border one another, some parts of China are very far from South Korea!

3. A Clean School Room is a Refreshing Start

On the first day of school, Miss Agnes's students enter a clean and organized school. They immediately knew something was going to be different about this teacher because she cared enough to keep their learning space clean.

If you are in a homeschool rut, one of the best places for a fresh start is a clean up of your homeschool space. Clutter may not especially bother you, but you may have a child who struggles to learn in that type of environment. It is entirely worth taking a day off from teaching to get your school space in working order.

I have found that a mere 30 minutes of clean up goes far to improve attitudes towards school. When we homeschool moms value a clean space for schooling, it shows our kids that their education has value too.

4. A Calm Look Goes Farther Than Getting Upset

When Miss Agnes's students misbehave, they expect her to fuss at them; however, she never yells. Just one look from her causes them to stop their unruly behavior. They realize they cannot upset this teacher, so they simply stop trying and instead start behaving properly.

I admit, I am not good at staying calm when my kids start roughhousing or being outright disobedient. Especially when trying to get my toddler to calm down, I tend to raise my voice. But a calm look or response improves the course of our whole day.

Truth be told, I practiced being calm this morning as we were reading in the school room downstairs. I calmly told Little Brave to take his loud toy upstairs. He obeyed, and after 10 minutes of quiet, I really thought I had won a toddler victory—until he came back to the school room with a face covered in the chocolate he had found in the kitchen. I’m still going to trust wise Miss Agnes on this one! Our entire home environment is much more peaceful when I keep my cool.

5. Get Rid of the Books That Weigh You Down

Homeschool moms— myself included—love to brag about how many books we have. But maybe there is merit to letting go of the books we know we won’t use. If you are a living books educator and have textbooks sitting on the shelves, maybe it’s time to say goodbye to them.

One of the first things Miss Agnes does on the first day of school is pack up the old textbooks they aren’t going to use. Removing clutter helps us focus on the purpose we are trying to accomplish in our homeschool each day.

6. Don’t Put Too Much Faith In Grades

I was so anxious for Dreaming Daughter to read that I wasted too many of her early homeschool years drilling her with flash cards. I shake my head now, but I truly let the pressure of grades influence my goals instead of teaching her to enjoy learning.

Midway through first grade she began reading. By second grade, she was completely on track with her peers, and now in fourth grade she reads ahead of grade level! I wish I had trusted the process in the first place.

As soon as Miss Agnes begins teaching her first day of school, she announces that she doesn’t believe in grades. Her first step is simply to discover where each student is  academically and begin working on progress for each student.

Now my Wild Little Girl is in first grade, slowly learning to read, and I have learned to be patient. I focus on progress each day, choosing to push grades and expectations out of my mind.

7. Teachers Should Be Fun

Miss Agnes is a fun teacher!

  • She makes writing perfectly something to aspire to.
  • She plays music during art lessons.
  • She reads stories aloud with voices for every character.
  • She tells stories to illustrate the importance of math.

Homeschool moms, it’s okay for us to have fun, too. A simple smile can go a long way on a hard day. Our children need to feel like we enjoy this homeschool thing, or they won’t believe it should be important to them. That doesn’t mean we can't have hard days; I have plenty of those, too! It simply means we can release ourselves to thoroughly enjoy the good days. Laugh, smile, sing, and make memories with your kids while you are teaching them.

8. It’s Worth the Fight Through Hard Things

Maybe you have a child with a learning disability or a bad attitude. Maybe you feel like you cannot handle another day of homeschooling. Home education is worth fighting for! Seek the help whether it's for your child or yourself.

Miss Agnes realizes after teaching for a few months that one of the children in the community hadn’t attended school because she was deaf and not expected to get an education because of her special needs. Not on Miss Agnes watch! She finds a way to get this young girl in school, and it becomes a learning experience for the entire class.

Therapy, counseling, outside classes, and tutors can all be a huge help. I’ve had years where depression threatened to overtake me,  but it’s was worth it to fight back. You’ll come up for air again and feel proud you got through the dark days.

9. Learning is Lifelong

Even a few adults in the village benefit when Miss Agnes teaches them how to read and write. She inspires her students to dream beyond the little school house and keep learning all their lives.

One of the most precious truths we can teach our kids is that education is something they bring with them to adulthood. When I remember that learning extends throughout an entire lifetime, it takes some of the pressure off me!

In our information age, there is no possible way we can teach our children everything. Things are changing so quickly we don’t even know what they will need to know in ten years! We do know teaching the love of learning is a foundation. Teach a child how to find the answers and nurture their natural curiosity, and you are halfway there.

If you haven’t read The Year of Miss Agnes yet, prepare to take notes from her down-to-earth way of teaching. If you don't want to wait for HBL B or you've already passed the level, add this novel to your own book pile and read it for yourself—the sooner the better. After all, education is for homeschool moms too!

A Beginner’s Blueprint to Language Arts: The No-stress Guide to Teaching Language Arts with Purpose

After you read The Year of Miss Agnes, read A Beginner’s Blueprint to Language Arts: The No-stress Guide to Teaching Language Arts with Purpose. Download it here at no cost.

Share on Pinterest
Share this post via email

Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

5 Ways to Corral Homeschool Clutter and Create Activity Centers

Share on Pinterest
Share this post via email


5 Ways to Corral Homeschool Clutter and Create Activity Centers

When you run an entire school inside the same four walls where you also eat and sleep, there’s no shortage of stuff. Learning to corral the homeschool clutter is a necessary part of the homeschool lifestyle.

In our family, we homeschool—and work from home—in an open-plan second-floor apartment with no balcony. Phew! (“Open-plan” is a technical term best defined as, “no matter where you stand, you can still see everything.” You can’t close the door on the mess in an open-plan home!)

But for over a year now, our entire family has been on a quest to

  • conquer clutter,
  • organize our multipurpose space, and
  • regain the time spent perpetually picking up.

Is this your desire, too?

Here are a few organizational techniques we’ve been putting into practice.

1. Assess Whether or Not You Truly Need the Item

Decluttering is key. There are a lot of items we keep around without much thought, either because the item has always been there, or because we think we are somehow obligated to keep it. But do we actually use it? If not, it might be time to let it go. Belongings—even legitimate, highly-reviewed educational tools—take up more space than they’re worth, if they remain unused. (And I’m referring to both physical and emotional space!)

Remember—and I’m talking to myself here as well—organized clutter is still clutter. Truly effective organizational systems allow us to easily and effectively access the items we use most often, not just mindlessly store all our belongings. And organization, while it takes

  • dedication,
  • persistence, and
  • a good chunk of time,

doesn’t have to be expensive. There are a myriad of attractive, low-cost ways to streamline your homeschool.

2. Corral Homeschool Clutter with Inexpensive Boxes

A certain Scandinavian big-box retailer offers sturdy lidded boxes—they’re coated cardboard with metal accents; you actually assemble them with nuts and bolts—for under five dollars each. These are attractive, fit flush on a standard bookcase shelf, and hold up surprisingly well to daily use. I especially appreciate the muted colors—three or six of these boxes can transform an entire messy shelf of school supplies into a sleek storage area which no longer catches your eye. In our home, we use lidded boxes to store

  • flashcards,
  • math wrap-ups,
  • loose crayons,
  • loose markers,
  • cables and chargers,
  • board books, and more.

Grouping like items together means fewer minutes lost searching for needed supplies when it’s time to start a project.

3. Sort Odd-Shaped or Frequently-lost Items in Rectangular Baskets

You know those items which just don’t shelve well, like board games and board books? Baskets are an ideal solution! I’ve found that the very most functional baskets to corral homeschool clutter aren’t decorative or curved, but are simple, strong, sturdy rectangles. A basket neatly slid underneath a bench, next to a couch, or at the foot of the bed is the perfect storage spot for

  • library books,
  • board games,
  • chunky toddler books,
  • puzzles,
  • bulky toys, or
  • sensory items/fidgets.

And a bonus? Designating a big basket as home base for library book results in far fewer fines. That’s a win we can all celebrate!

4. Temporarily Store Multi-step Projects on Serving Trays

At the end of each school day, we make it a priority to clear the table, so we can enjoy our dinner on a clear surface. I was sometimes—okay, often—met with protests when it came to putting away projects still in progress. But now, we we put the project on a tray, slide the tray under the TV stand, and all the moving pieces are safe until the next day. This works really well for small jigsaw puzzles, too! Just make sure the trays don’t become permanent homes for forgotten messes.

5. Group Like Items Together Into Themed Activity Centers

Many classrooms have themed centers, each center focusing on a different activity. In lower-level classrooms, these centers might offer painting or sensory play, while in other classrooms you’ll see areas for math, writing, or STEM challenges.

You might not teach in a traditional school setting, but you can definitely incorporate centers into your homeschool day! I like to create our own themed activity boxes, using lidded plastic shoe boxes. (Most dollar stores keep these in stock year-round.) Most afternoons, we have “center time”, which is just a fancy way of encouraging child-led exploration with different hands-on projects.

Some of our centers include

  • art (smock, paint sticks, tablecloth, brushes)
  • science (experiment supplies, rocks, batteries, wires, magnifying glass)
  • puzzles (ziploc bags containing jigsaw pieces, small mazes, logic puzzles)
  • money (loose change, foreign coins, play money)
  • math (fraction sets, math manipulatives, multi-link cubes, base ten, tangrams, pattern blocks)
  • handicrafts (needle, embroidery floss, nail scissors, cross stitch fabric)
  • crafts (stickers, pom poms, pipe cleaners, beads, glitter glue, cardstock scraps), and
  • STEM (toothpicks, popsicle sticks, clay, rubber bands, cardboard).

This system is also very helpful when it comes to identifying items which need to be decluttered. If it doesn’t fit into a themed activity box, and no one is using it regularly -- time to purge!

While it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the sheer quantity of loose supplies it takes to create an exploratory learning environment, educational items don’t have to take over and rule your homeschool life. Remember, hands-on doesn’t need to equal havoc.

Being intentional and consistent about

  • grouping like items,
  • creating a designated home for each item, and
  • letting go of unused or duplicate items

can help you corral the homeschool clutter and transform your homeschool from a chaotic mess into a peaceful haven.

To find out more about Sonlight's unmatched Read-Alouds, and our complete book-based homeschool programs, order a complimentary copy of your catalog today.

Share on Pinterest
Share this post via email

Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Would a 4-Day Homeschool Schedule Work for You?

Share on Pinterest
Share this post via email


Would a 4-Day Homeschool Schedule Work for You?

If you wonder how to fit in the extras, whether extracurriculars, hands-on projects, or outside activities, a 4-day homeschool schedule could be a great choice for you. As the parent, you get to choose whether to do formal academics five days a week, or if you'd prefer to have a fifth day spent on the other things that are important to you.

A 4-day schedule might be right for your family if:

  1. You're in a homeschool co-op.
  2. Your children have weekly appointments.
  3. You like a Friday “fun day,” with tea and poetry, math games, music lessons, art, and occasional field trips.
  4. You prefer to homeschool at a more relaxed pace.

Let's look at each in greater depth.

1. You're in a Homeschool Co-op

If you're away from home one day a week to learn in a group with others, you don't need to double your work those days by doing Sonlight, too. You school at home for four days, and you school at the co-op on the fifth.

You're still learning 180 days a year . . . you're just sharing the learning between Sonlight and the co-op.

2. Your Children Have Weekly Appointments

An appointment can throw your entire day's schedule out the window. If you have a standing weekly appointment—whether occupational therapy or vision therapy or illness or whatever for your children—the 4-day schedule might work best for you. During any appointments, your children are being stretched in different ways, and to give their brains time to absorb what they're learning . . . it could be that a day off of regular studies is ideal.

Some math programs assume that you won't do math every day of the year. Most spelling books are only about 30 lessons long, again assuming that you won't do spelling every day.
Perhaps you get some audio books of Sonlight sequels to listen to on the way to the appointments. Or you have your children narrate a story, and that counts for creative writing that day.

And now you have a full-year, too.

3. You Like a Friday Fun Day

One benefit of homeschooling is getting to set your own priorities and schedule. Some people spend one day each week at a co-op to cover art and science. Some people spend a Friday doing the more fun subjects at home: a tea party with poetry, games (many of which require counting and math) or art. Some families go on field trips, or on nature hikes, to learn more about local plants and animals.

If this sounds like something you'd like to do, Sonlight's 4-day program is perfect for you. Spend four days on more formal academics, and on the 5th day enjoy creative things that expand your children's perspective on the world. Count it all as school.

And you're at 180 days then, too.

4. You Prefer to Homeschool at a More Relaxed Pace

Some Sonlighters like to take a day a week as a maintenance day. Catch up on housework. Let the children play independently.

If you need to report your hours, keep in mind everything you are doing so you can track what your children are doing without pressure. On their day off, did your children create something artistic? Watch a show about a composer? Help you make brownies? Read some picture books with you?

That's art, music, math (or culinary arts) and language arts.

There are many benefits of shifting to a 4-day schedule instead of doing school five days each week. From family flexibility, to educational enrichment and more. If you choose a specially designed four-day curriculum like Sonlight's newly released 4-Day programs, you can be assured that all your more academic subjects are scheduled, leaving you freedom and flexibility one day a week.

 Imagine how extra margin in your week could bless your family! Choose your 4-day curriculum here.

Share on Pinterest
Share this post via email

Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The One, Nearly Foolproof Technique to Improve Your Teaching

Share on Pinterest
Share this post via email


Want an easy, nearly foolproof technique to improve your teaching? It takes virtually no preparation, is absolutely free, requires no supplies, and works for any topic in your homeschool. You can use it on the couch, in the van, or in a waiting room. It works with little kids and teenagers alike.

This simple yet meaningful teaching tool is asking questions. And in the spirit of asking questions, this entire post is written in a Q & A format.

Q: What’s one of the brain’s favorite things?

A: Mysteries!

Give your brain a mystery to solve, and it is focused and ready to learn.

That's why those clickbait titles on Facebook draw you in so well and get you to click against your better judgement—"First she grabs a pencil, and then you won't believe what she does with it." Hmmm... what did she do with that pencil? Now I really want to know!

Q: What’s one simple practice you can incorporate today to help your children learn?

A: Ask a question before you read!

Like those clickbait article titles, use "thinkbait" questions to pique your children's curiosity about the reading at hand.

Q: Where can I find questions to ask?

A: Pull from your IG or make them up on the fly.

Your Sonlight Instructor’s Guide has questions for most assignments. Rather than read these at the end of the assignment, flip the order!

  1. Begin the assignment by asking the questions.
  2. Do the reading.
  3. Then talk through the answers to the original questions.

By asking questions first, your children get a heads-up about what they should listen for.

Or you can make up questions! If your child is reading Robert Fulton, Boy Craftsman (from History / Bible / Literature D) and comes to the chapter titled Discovery at Conestoga Creek, each of you can guess what you think the discovery will be. It is highly unlikely that any of you will guess what the discover actually is—black lead for a pencil—because that is a random discovery, and there would be no way to predict that from the previous text. But if you get answers like, “Gold!” or “A runaway slave!” or “A puppy!” you are all a little more invested in finding out who was right. (Or who was closest!)

Q: What about wrong answers?

A: In short, whether the answer is right or wrong is largely irrelevant (especially the questions at the start).

If you ask a question before you’ve done the reading, there should be zero expectation that you’ll get the right answer. You’re being questioned on something you haven’t learned yet! These questions are for predicting, guessing, estimating, being creative, and overall activating the brain.

As for the questions after you’ve done the reading, those both help the student solidify what they were learning and help you gauge what they have learned. Of course it’s lovely if your student is able to give the right answer to your questions. But if not, all is not lost. Your teaching method has not failed! Now you, the teacher, have valuable information about what your children don't understand.

  • So you talk about it.
  • You clarify their understanding.
  • You re-read a confusing passage or discuss new vocabulary.
  • You change what the students are allowed to fiddle with as you read.
  • Or you summarize the reading and determine to ask questions more frequently to make sure your children are learning.

Q: So how can you begin?

A: Just start!

Before your next reading, ask a question, and then start to read.


Sonlight integrates Q&A into each program. See for yourself—try three weeks of any Sonlight Instructor's Guide for free. Click here to get one for any level, preschool through twelfth grade.

Share on Pinterest
Share this post via email

Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

4 Reasons To Have a 4 Day Homeschool Week with Sonlight

Share on Pinterest
Share this post via email


4 Reasons To Have a 4 Day Homeschool Week with Sonlight • This post originally appeared on Soaring Arrows and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

This post originally appeared on Soaring Arrows and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

One of the best things we have done to have a more restful homeschool is to have a 4 day homeschool week. Some people hear that and think I am crazy, they ask, how do you get through enough work? Well we homeschool, we make our own rules! Who said schooling has to be done within five days instead of four? In that four days each week we get through a lot of school work.

Since our kids were young I would clean our house every Friday, it was part of our home routine that my husband & I both had come to adore. We started our weekend with a clean house and loved it.

When I was ready to begin homeschooling our kids I would wonder, how am I going to keep up with the housework and homeschool? Because I used Sonlight in high school and loved it, I planned to use it with my kids right from preschool age. What I did not know is that Sonlight had the option for a four or five day schedule for the elementary packages!

From the time my oldest was in first grade I have used the four day schedule and it has been such a relief to our homeschool routine.

After using Sonlight from the very first year I started homeschooling, last year I was approached by them to write for the Sonlight Curriculum Blog which has been a great joy for me. This year we are using HBL levels B & E and loving it as always. (Disclosure: As a Sonlight Ambassador, I’ve received curriculum in exchange for my guest posts.)

1. Extracurricular Classes

Each week we have a drama class, American Heritage Girls, piano lessons & baseball in the spring. It can be a challenge to fit all the extra curricular classes into our homeschool routine, I know we will likely add even more to our schedule as my younger kids get older.

When I was homeschooled my parents always made time for us to be involved in outside activities, especially homeschool classes. As an adult I am especially grateful my mom made the time to drive us to our activities, in addition to our homeschool schedule. As important as reading, writing & math are these additional skills are the ones I carried joyfully into adulthood. I still play the piano, gained confidence performing drama on stage and writing has become a huge part of my life. These skills were nurtured through extra lessons, teachers & classes.

Leaving margin for those extra curricular activities is also important for your kids developing friendships with other kids. I don’t think socialization is a problem for most homeschoolers but we do have to be intentional. The journey is a lot more fun with others who are like minded and following the same journey!

2. A Day for Cleaning & Life Skills

Getting through these years homeschooling many young children all at once, it has become my saving grace that I still have a day to clean every Friday. It allows me to focus as much as I can on teaching my kids during those four days each week. I give them everything I’ve got and then on Friday, I recover our home.

Now it is part of our home routine, we all wake up and practice life skills while getting things clean at the same time. Because I’ve already had four solid days teaching school, I am completely focused on cleaning and teaching my kids how to clean as well. My two oldest kids are now fully capable of decluttering their own rooms, folding laundry, vacuuming and wiping down the bathrooms. The youngest two kids get their own little jobs to do but they are all learning skills that are important as they get older. So many kids grow up never knowing how to wash a load of laundry, but it’s not going to be my kids!

3. The Ability to Survive the Early Years

Homeschooling with babies eager to be held or toddlers eating the busy bags isn’t for the faint of heart. The last two years I have taught my kids under the most chaotic of toddler trouble and noise. Honestly stretching our lessons out to five days each week would do me in. We won’t always have the loud, bustling activity of a toddler among our lessons but right now we do and I am very glad to simplify our schedule.

The four day schedule leaves me enough time to teach my older kids and care for my younger kids as well. I always encourage moms with young children not to stress over maxed out school days. Less work done with quality and focus is often much more productive anyway.

4. Time for Unstructured Education

During these early elementary years it is important that we are giving our kids time to have unstructured play time. Because we are reading such high quality literature from Sonlight each day, it spurs this amazing creativity in their play. When I give them a few hours to have unstructured playtime I am amazed at the things they are teaching themselves. I think they could put me out of a job sometimes. Even a movie night turns into my kids creating a movie theater complete with a cash register, money, menus for snacks and stuffed animal customers. They write stories & design comic books. Having a four day schedule simply leaves more time for this kind of organic education to happen every day.

When we remember to add margin in our homeschool schedule it gives us the freedom to include other benefits to our life as well.

How Does Sonlight Fit all the Subjects Into Only 4 Days?

For some subjects your kids just do a few extra pages during your 4 days, getting the extra day of work done during other parts of the week! For the read alouds, it simply includes a few less books to read each year. Since we love the read aloud books so much we typically order them anyway and read them over the Summer at our own pace. For subjects we don’t have scheduled in our Sonlight Instructors Guide, we just do them for four days and finish it when we finish. We may not finish the entire book but that is OK too, traditional schools do not finish all their curriculum either.

Once you reach the higher levels in Sonlight, past elementary school, the only option for your schedule is a five day schedule. But by then I expect my kids will be working more independently! When I was using Sonlightin high school I was able to do most of it on my own. My Mom would discuss the books and read them along with us, but I am pretty sure she wanted to anyway! I know I am looking forward to reading those books with my kids when they are older and revisit childhood memories I have of reading such awesome literature!

Sonlight has given this homeschool Mom an incredible blessing with our more relaxed homeschool weeks. Instead of taking away, it has added to our homeschool week! A home routine that works, time for educational extras and a chance to focus on my younger kids! Did I mention I am more sane as a result of all of this? Just an added bonus.

How many days a week do you homeschool? Do you have a day off each week? If yes, what do you do with that extra day?

I would love to hear your thoughts!

On March 29, 2018, 4-day programs will be available in most History / Bible / Literature, Language Arts and Science levels. Request a catalog to see your 4-day options.

Share on Pinterest
Share this post via email

Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

10 Ways to Cut Back But Still Stay on Schedule in Your Homeschool

Share on Pinterest
Share this post via email


10 Ways to Cut Back But Still Stay on Schedule in Your Homeschool

When I started homeschooling my daughter, I read a small excerpt in the Instructor’s Guide (IG) of my curriculum about how to track progress. The recommendation was to place a checkmark after each completed activity. Adding the date was optional. If homeschooling multiple children, it was suggested that the child's initials be used instead of checkmarks.

This plan worked really well until life started to serve up various other learning opportunities that deserved our attention:

  • a total eclipse of the sun
  • a local gem and mineral show
  • a new baby

Suddenly, getting everything done and checking it off in the IG became cumbersome instead of helpful. For sanity’s sake, I still wanted to follow the schedule, but to allow for more freedom and avoid overload, we really needed to cut back. I needed to figure out how to follow the schedule without feeling like we needed to complete every listed activity.

Here are 10 ways we have successfully cut back on activities while still using Sonlight's IG.

1. Skip What They Already Know

There are a couple of different ways to revise the schedule in the IG to better accommodate what your child already knows. First, slash through the boxes that you don’t need to complete.

When the total eclipse came through East TN in 2017, I used the weekly subject list in my Science IG to find all the resources related to this phenomenon. We read through the chapters, safely viewed the eclipse, and my children gained a fabulous understanding of the sun and moon. When those topics came up in the schedule, I simply checked them off as completed and moved forward.

Alternatively, pull out your highlighter and mark all the activities that will add value to your homeschool. Only highlight items that your child needs to complete. If there’s time and desire, you can always pick a few more activities.

For Language Arts, the glossary of phonics rules and skills check-off list make it possible to quickly identify the areas in which your child needs the most work and highlight them in the schedule.

2. Save Something For Rainy Days

When you skip an activity that doesn't have to be done at the table, write it on an index card. When you have a rainy day or need a few things to pass the time, pull out your index cards. Once you complete an activity, go back and record it in the IG. Including the IG page number on the card can help with organization.

3. Reduce “School Time” Activities

Read-Alouds, Readers, and Bible study are parts of our day done outside of what we call “homeschool” hours. We read Bible as part of our morning routine. Read-Alouds and Readers get slotted for bedtime or during downtimes throughout the day.

4. Enjoy the Flow

If your kids are really into a topic, don’t be afraid to keep going. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ll accomplish. My kids got incredibly excited about chickens, and we finished two weeks worth of study in a day and a half. Don’t worry too much about the other subjects; they’ll still be there. When the kids are passionate about what they’re learning, capitalize on it!

5. Incorporate Block or Loop Scheduling

We have had success blocking off our Wednesdays as Science days. Although we may read Science on other days, we do the bulk of our experiments on Wednesdays. The kids know to expect this, and it the habit keeps me organized.

We do most of our extracurricular activities on a loop (rotating) schedule. Art, music, and mindfulness are currently on our loop schedule. Whenever we have the time for extracurriculars, we simply move onto whichever subject is next to make sure we cover a little of everything.

6. Slow Down

You don’t have to cover every subject every day. Consider switching to a four-day school week.  Maybe go to a year round homeschool with more frequent breaks. Look for ways to reduce the tedium that can come with too much routine work. It’s perfectly OK to take longer than a school year to complete a program. In fact, that kind of pacing is one of the major advantages of homeschooling. If you’ve entered a rough period, consider deschooling or taking a complete break to decompress. School goes so much easier when you have a willing and interested learner.

7. Simplify Activities

There are several activities that can be simplified or shortened. For instance, worksheets for science can easily be talked through as opposed to completed with pencil. Consider using the Read-Aloud discussion questions only to spot check comprehension, but don’t feel they all have to be answered if your child seems to be understanding the material.

8. Consider Time-based Activities

Instead of completing an assigned number of pages, consider setting a timer. One of my kids loves the motivation of a countdown and routinely does more than the recommended number of pages. My other child finds the timer itself stressful, but responds well when I say, “You’ve got 30 more minutes to read before lunch.”

9. Eliminate Duplicates

If you are participating in co-op classes or attending events outside the home that cover material in your curriculum, use the curriculum resources only as a reference. Sometimes repetition can be helpful, but don’t do activities merely to mark off checkboxes. The appendix of your Sonlight Instructor's Guide provides a schedule of topics and skills covered by subject for easy reference.

10. Save Some Activities as Review

Some of the activities in your IG can easily be used as review. For example, map work and the timeline figures used in The Timeline Book make a fabulous history and geography review. Once we complete our history studies within a particular scope or region (easily determined by the scope and sequence appendix in the IG), we cut out and color our timeline figures and add them to The Timeline Book. Then we add markers to our wall maps to reflect the areas and people we have studied.

Regardless of what tactics you may choose to keep pace with your curriculum's IG, at some point there are likely to be at least a few activities that you will have to make peace with letting go. When this happens, try to remember that even in our best public and private schools, it is unusual for a teacher to be able to complete an entire textbook or course of study in one year. As homeschoolers, we have a huge advantage in being able to tailor the curriculum to our children’s individual needs.

Simplify your homeschool and reduce the burden of daily decision making. Try three weeks of any Sonlight Instructor's Guide for free. Click here to get one for any level, preschool through twelfth grade.

Share on Pinterest
Share this post via email

Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sonlight's New History of Science Curriculum: HBL J

Share on Pinterest
Share this post via email


Sonlight's New History of Science Curriculum: HBL J

HBL J is designed for students ages 13-15 and will be available in the 2018 Sonlight catalog (and online March 29, 2018).

Through Sonlight's all new History / Bible / Literature and Language Arts J: History of Science, you'll follow the path of scientific inquiry over the last 4,000 years.  This fantastic new program shows you physicists, astronomers, and chemists throughout history as they explore the nature of the world in which we live...and of the universe itself. And it tells the story in Sonlight's signature style: through top-notch, award-winning literature.

When Sarita read through the books, she kept saying, “I am getting so much smarter!” That’s the same feeling you and your children will have, too, as you work through the program:

  • When you follow Pythagoras as he proves his famous theorem without using mathematical digits, only clear thinking and a stick in sand.
  • Or when you read how the ancients accurately calculated the size of the world using the angle of sunlight in a well on June 21.
  • Or when you consider that Newton compared the trajectory of an apple, a small terrestrial object, with the moon, a heavenly body, and wondered if maybe they were both subjected to the same force.
  • Or when you accompany Einstein as he does his thought experiments about rockets traveling at near light-speed.

Explore the curiosity, egos, quirks, and flashes of brilliance from 4,000 years of people seeking answers to how the world works. As your students read the stories of how scientists discovered scientific and mathematical laws, they acquire a deeper understanding of scientific concepts in physics, astronomy, and chemistry. And they will be intrigued by fun facts like Tycho Brahe’s metal nose!

The History in HBL J: History of Science

The foundation of the course, the spine, is the three volume set of lavishly illustrated books by Joy Hakim. She obviously loves her subject and does an outstanding job of explaining challenging concepts, finding the fascinating details about the scientists themselves, and keeping the big picture. (It’s a little bit like reading Humans of New York, those shimmering vignettes that compel you to want to keep reading.)

Hakim’s books focus primarily on the advance of scientific thought in physics, especially. This is not the story of biology or geology, but a bit of chemistry and astronomy, along with the study of light, motion, energy, and quantum mechanics. How does the world work?

Of course, that’s not all! In History, you’ll enjoy almost a dozen additional books.

In String, Straight-Edge, and Shadow, you’ll read about the earliest scientists, from unnamed Egyptians through Euclid and their ability to figure out basic math using only the three items in the title:

  • the proof of Pythagoras on his basic theorem
  • the discovery of the root five rectangle (the Golden Mean) by Eudoxus
  • and how, a couple hundred years before Christ, Eratosthenes accurately calculated the size of the world using the angle of sunlight in a well on the summer solstice

These people didn’t have mathematical digit symbols! Can you imagine figuring out these complex proofs without using math, just logic? It’s unbelievable what they were able to reason out!

Moving forward in time a few millennia, in The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern Way, the author explains how a science club called the Royal Society changed the way we think of the world. It’s a marvelously entertaining look at the early scientists who went about their scientific enquiry with collaboration and curiosity.

Continuing with nonfiction titles, in The Mystery of the Periodic Table, you’ll read how people looked at the diverse world and put the elements into the clear chart we know today. So much brilliance, to make something as intricate and varied as the world into something as orderly as the Periodic Table!

The thrilling real-life spy story Bomb tells about the race to build—and steal—the world’s most dangerous weapon. It’s a marvelous retelling of the spy network and sabotage teams of the Los Alamos top secret lab and the incredible collaboration behind the first atomic bomb. The countdown to the Trinity explosion is one of the best examples of writing you’ll ever read; you’ll understand why this nonfiction book won the Newbery Medal.

And in Stuff Matters, the author describes ten everyday materials. Here are a few questions he asks and answers:

  • What is so special about the experience of eating chocolate?
  • How does opaque sand becomes transparent glass?
  • How long does it take concrete to dry out (or even if it does)?

This book is an absolute delight!

Biographies in HBL J: History of Science

HBL J, of course, includes several biographies, too. Archimedes and the Door of Science tells about the Greek mathematician. Longitude, by Dava Sobel, tells the story of John Harrison, the man who invented clocks that told precise time at sea—vitally important so that sailors could more accurately plot their location. His development of the chronometer took forty years and a whole lot of tinkering. It’s a great story.

Almost all Sonlight programs include at least one missionary biography, and this one has a an inspiring one!

Ida Scudder, for example, grew up in India, the daughter of missionaries, but she didn’t want to be a missionary and she certainly didn’t want to live in India as an adult. But Ida went to India as a young adult in order to help her sick mother. One night—yes, all in one night—three men came to ask Ida if she would help their wives, all of whom were struggling in labor. Ida’s father was a doctor, but all three men refused the help of Ida’s father. It turned out that they would prefer to let their wives die than break religious taboos against a man seeing a woman in such condition. And, as it turned out, all three wives, and all three babies, did die.

The events of that evening changed Ida’s heart and the course of her life. Ida is nowhere near as well-known as Mother Teresa, but she probably ought to be! But you’ll have to read her biography to find out why.


HBL J is designed for students ages 13-15 and will be available in the 2018 Sonlight catalog (and online March 29, 2018).

Christian Thought in HBL J: History of Science

Moving from missionary biographies to Christian thought in general,  the Hakim books and The Clockwork Universe assume Darwinian evolution is true, with the underlying assumption that no thinking person still believes those silly myths about God. This perspective runs through these books, even though nothing in the books is specifically about evolution. (As previously noted: these books don’t deal with biology.)

And yet, the scientific findings are not so monolithic. Even if Hakim suggests that there is scientific certainty, that is not true—there are other scientific studies, other areas of inquiry, that suggest a different interpretation of the data.

Sonlight’s program includes two such books.

  1. Censored Science offers a smorgasbord of studies, all of which seem to put holes in the generally accepted model. Author Bruce Malone writes from a Young-Earth Creation point of view. Whatever your current belief about the origins of life, you should find this book interesting, filled with fascinating information and helpful explanations.
  2. And in Evolution 2.0, we find a different perspective from a different Christian author. Faced with his missionary brother's move toward atheism, author Perry Marshall had to figure out what he really believed about the origin of the earth. This is by far the most technical book in the program, but it is still understandable, filled with important information, thought-provoking and well researched.

The Bible in HBL J: History of Science

Bible J includes daily Bible readings and weekly memory verses scheduled in the Instructor's Guide (IG). Designed to prepare your students for faithfulness in high school and beyond, the program includes Disappointment with God, Finding Truth, and What’s So Amazing About Grace—award-winning books that are beautifully written and a joy to read.

If your students haven’t already experienced some setbacks in life, you know that they will at some point. Philip Yancey’s Disappointment with God takes on the big questions, "Is God unfair? Is God silent? Is God hidden?" He points out that the Israelites in the desert had a fair, vocal, visible God . . . and it didn't help them to live more righteously.

How do you deal with disappointment? Yancey says,

“One bold message in the book of Job is that you can say anything to God. Throw at Him your grief, your anger, your doubt, your bitterness, your betrayal, your disappointment—He can absorb them all. As often as not, spiritual giants of the Bible are shown contending with God. They prefer to go away limping, like Jacob, rather than to shut God out. In this respect, the Bible prefigures a tenant of modern psychology: you can't really deny your feelings or make them disappear, so you might as well express them. God can deal with every human response save one. He cannot abide the response I fall back on instinctively: an attempt to ignore Him or treat Him as though He does not exist. That response never once occurred to Job."

More is going on in the heavenlies than is visible, and we don't know what our faith is doing on a cosmic level, so be faithful. Disappointment with God is an outstanding, helpful book.

Nancy Pearcey’s Finding Truth offers an excellent worldview overview, so that students will be alert and prepared when they come across such views in the world.

And What’s So Amazing About Grace is a book-length treatment of one of the basics of Christianity, something we believers don’t talk about enough. The world can’t duplicate grace, and yet it craves the hope and transformation that grace brings. Explore the church’s great distinctive in action: shocking, scandalous, and amazing.

This is a preparation-for-life Bible program, beautifully written and a joy to read.

The Literature in HBL J: History of Science

The Readers and Read-Alouds for HBL J’s Literature are loosely gathered under the theme “Award-Winning Titles and Authors.”

As you can tell, the History portion of this program is not light reading—it is beautiful and comprehensible but also includes many new, thought-provoking topics and ideas. In order to balance this intensity, the Literature is compelling and interesting, and the Instructor’s Guide is full of excellent discussion questions and introductory literary analysis. These books are not, for the most part, stretching or challenging in the way that, say, Hamlet is stretching and challenging. These are thoughtful books that don’t require slow reading to ensure comprehension. There’s enough of that in the History.

You’ll find a lovely array of genres:

  1. memoir
  2. fantasy
  3. gothic horror (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)
  4. adventure
  5. survivalist tale
  6. a Christmas seasonal novel
  7. sci fi
  8. dystopian
  9. mystery
  10. mythology
  11. coming-of-age
  12. historical fiction
  13. missionary biography
  14. poetry

You’ll read Newbery Honor and Newbery Medal books, and more titles by authors who have either won those awards or others (like Joan Aiken, author of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, who won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. This award is given annually, can only be won once per author, and is selected from a panel of British children’s writers. Quite the honor!)

The J Literature is such a good collection!

Add-on Language Arts for J

HBL J does not include—you are not required to purchase—a Language Arts program. However, it has an associated Language Arts Guide that is based on the books in the History/Bible/Literature J program. As in all the other Sonlight middle school LA IGs, you’ll find grammar and mechanics instruction and writing prompts. (There is no separate Parent and Student IG; that structure starts with the 100-level programs.)

Three Goals of Sonlight's History of Science Curriculum: HBL J

We had three goals in mind when creating this program:

  1. Teach scientific thought to the present.
  2. Present different perspectives. You don’t need to have all answers now, but know the questions, and engage with a curious mind.
  3. Prepare a student for further study, equipped with both humility and enthusiasm.

So what do you get in History / Bible / Literature J?

A walk through scientific thought. Various biographies. A spy story. Three different takes on the origin of the earth (standard Darwinian evolutionist, Young Earth Creationist, and a third alternative that uses non-Darwinian evolution to demonstrate God’s greatness). Clear, concise, elegant descriptions, and gorgeous illustrations make this lavish feast for the mind both attractive and understandable.

No other homeschool provider we know of offers a similar program—one that appeals to both STEM-minded students and liberal arts lovers.

When to Use History of Science HBL J

HBL J is intended for students from about age 13 on up. It fits into the Sonlight catalog between H or W and 100—the last program before high school, or an early high school option. In format, it is similar to the other middle school programs, but in content it could work for high school. So HBL J is considered an 8th grade program, but it's flexible enough to use with older students as well.

(Note that Sonlight does not ever plan to release an HBL I. That would be indistinguishable from Roman numeral 1, and sounds vaguely pretentious as well.)

If you have older children, or a well-thought-out plan already, and now you’re wondering how you can possibly fit this program in—here’s an idea: order J and one of the high school literature courses. Do the J Readers and Read-Alouds over the summer, and use the History along with the high school literature program of your choice.

Or order J as a summer program entirely. One of Sarita’s grandsons worked through J History last summer, and the plan is to go through the Literature books he hasn’t yet read over this coming summer. 

And Sarita’s daughter can vouch that this is an excellent program for adults, too. If you want to know more about the fascinating history of science, you won’t find a more engaging program out there. It might take you a year or two to read through it yourself, snatching twenty minutes here and there. But it is intellectually satisfying, and, indeed, aesthetically pleasing.

History of Science HBL J is definitely something to think about, and look forward to!

new from Sonlight for 2018

HBL J is one of the many updates for 2018. These new products and product updates will all be available online March 29 (and in the 2018 catalog). Scroll to the bottom of any page on this website to subscribe by email and stay informed.

While you wait for HBL J to be ready for purchase, consider the End-of-Season Special Offers. Now, through March 28, 2018, you can order any 2017 History / Bible / Literature program, All-Subjects Package, or any combination of materials totaling $499 and take 12 months to pay—no fees or interest, PLUS exclusive benefits listed on the Sales page here.

Share on Pinterest
Share this post via email

Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments