Homeschooling Through Depression

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Homeschooling Through Depression

My eyes reluctantly opened. For a split second, I wondered if I would feel different today. But at that very moment, the smallest whisper of anxiety washed over me. I knew. That day the same black cloud would hang ominously over me just as it had the past month. There was nothing that I wanted more than to pull the covers up over my head and pretend that the day hadn’t come, pretend that I had no responsibilities.

My feet hit the floor heavily. I barely managed to trudge to my dining room table, the spot where I had perched every day for the last thirty days. I almost didn’t sit down. I almost turned around and went back to my bed to pull the covers up over my head. I knew what waited for me at that table. I would sit there, zoned out as often as possible, and then, when someone tried to talk to me, I would cry. I didn’t want to cry again. I had cried enough. I would sit there and watch my life happen without me. I would wish that I could get up and serve my family like I had done every day faithfully for the last nine years. But I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. I knew I couldn’t run away forever, so I sat down at my spot at the table. At least there, my kids would remember what I looked like.

Post Adoption Depression

You see, we had just made a life-altering decision. We had adopted a child from our state's foster care system. It was something that we had wanted to do for so very long. Two years before, we were inspired to adopt when we enjoyed Sonlight History / Bible / Literature B & C and read about Gladys Aylward and George Mueller.

It had taken two years to get through the adoption process from start to finish. The waiting seemed like forever. But, once we finished our paperwork, we were quickly matched with a waiting child, and he was living with us full time within two weeks. My life had rapidly changed, and I don’t handle change all that well. I quickly spiraled into what I now know is post-adoption depression.

I had always been so happy. I was one of those almost obnoxious people who smiles constantly for no apparent reason. This depression was a total shock to me and my family.

I can remember sitting in my spot at the table across from my oldest son, asking him through tears, “Are you okay?” He looked at me with big eyes and said, “Mom, I’m okay. We’re all okay, but are you okay?” He was barely nine years old. Of course, the tears started flowing. It pained me to know that my child knew that I wasn’t okay.

Finally, my husband, who had been a champion for our family during my dark days, carrying so much of the daily load, sat down in the chair next to my spot at the table, and said, “We’ve got to do something. We need you back.” I knew he was right. I had been present in body, but absent emotionally for far too long.

I needed help. We needed help. My family needed me back.

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

The first thing that nudged me forward was the realization that it’s okay to not be okay. I had just gone through a major life change. My life looked completely different within the span of one month. It was okay for me to need more time to adjust.

Trust God

Then, I sought God. I didn’t feel like it, but I did it anyway. As a result, I found that while I truly trusted God, I wasn’t practicing it. I knew that God had led us to adopt, and I knew that despite the way I felt, I wouldn’t have changed the decision we made. I knew that I would have been miserable to know that I had a child out there that wasn’t under our roof.

Although my heart knew that we had done exactly what God wanted us to do, my head was working overtime to give all the reasons why it was a terrible idea. At that point, I realized I needed to change my thoughts. So I decided that every morning, when my feet hit the floor, I would repeat, “I trust You, God” as many times as I needed to. Any time during the day, when I felt the familiar palm sweats of anxiety rising, I would simply state, “I trust You, God.” Before long, I began to remember that God is in charge of my life, and he was unfolding this beautiful story in a way that only He could.

Do the Next Thing

My sister gave me some of the best advice. She had been through postpartum depression, and she knew what I was feeling. She said, “I’ve been there. Depression stinks, but it doesn’t last forever. Just do the next thing.”

So that’s what I did.

I didn’t think about the future. I didn’t consider my to-do list. I just did the next thing that was in front of me.

The more I applied this principle, the more I realized that I had actually gotten a few things accomplished. That felt really good, and it encouraged me to do the next thing, and eventually, over time, I fell back into my regular routine.

Using a curriculum like Sonlight made homeschooling through depression easier since I didn't have to make lesson plans. I just opened the Instructor's Guide and did the next thing, not worrying about staying on schedule.

Simplify Everything…and Then Simplify It Again

My family needed me, but the smallest tasks seemed monumental during these dark, foggy days of depression. So I knew I had to put a few things on autopilot. The key here was minimizing the number of decisions I had to make each day.

Our menu was one of those things. My husband helped me to create a simple weekly menu. No new recipes—just old favorites.

  • Every Monday night was spaghetti night.
  • On Tuesdays we had tacos.
  • Wednesdays were PB & J sandwiches.
  • On Thursdays, we ate soup.
  • On Fridays, I bought a frozen casserole or pizza.

Not having to make those daily decisions took a huge burden off my shoulders, and there was a surprise benefit…my family loved it! We still use this menu system today.

When you are facing depression while homeschooling, it's okay to scale back in every area. Cut back your homeschool subjects to the three R's. Let your kids work as independently as possible. Allow older kids to take care of some of the read alouds. Or take a break altogether. That’s okay too.

Get Help

Very few people knew that I was depressed. Even fewer knew the extent to which I was depressed. I was very good at putting on a good face when I needed to. I wish I hadn’t been so good at it. I wish that I had let more people in to see the mess that I was. But God was good. He sent help that lifted my spirits at strategic points in my depression.

Once, our dryer broke and someone from church came over and picked up all six loads of laundry, took them home, washed, dried, folded, and delivered them back to me. That was like a breeze on a hot summer day to my weary soul.

Others spoke encouraging words when they didn’t even know that I needed them so desperately. People messaged me and checked on me. During this season, I sent my youngest child to a baby-sitter during the day. As much as my family and friends rallied around me, I still felt that I needed more. So I sought medical help. If you are struggling, there is no shame in medication or counseling. In fact, it’s a wise thing to do.

Give Yourself Grace

I gave myself lots of grace during this time…buckets of grace. I gained 30 pounds that first year after our adoption, and I wanted to be mad at myself, but I just couldn’t. Not counting the calories of everything that went into my mouth was one of the ways that I survived that year. Now, two years and several pounds later, I am finally on the road to get my health back on track. But I don’t resent those pounds. I look at my extra fluffiness as battle scars from the season of depression that I actually survived. Give yourself grace.

You’ll Never Be the Same…and That’s Not All Bad

I’m on the other side of my battle with depression now, but I’ll never be the same person that I was before my depression. I’ve decided that transformation is not a bad thing.

I no longer look at people in the same light. I have so much more understanding and empathy for others. I’m now able to look into the eyes of someone who is in the depths of depression, and say, “I’ve been there. It stinks, but it doesn’t last forever. Just do the next thing.”

I now get the privilege to walk with others going through the same struggle and understand exactly what they need. I am so glad that I no longer see the world through rose-colored glasses. Now I see the hurt and the sadness, but even better, I see the beauty rising from the brokenness. And I must say that joy has never seemed sweeter than it does today, after experiencing its long absence.

There’s no ten-step program to homeschooling with depression. Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that simple? But there would be no growth, no dependence on God, no renewed sense of joy if there were. The truth is that life deals us unexpected blows on a regular basis. And no matter what, you just keep going, trusting God to make your story—with all its crazy twists and ugly turns—beautiful for His glory.

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.

Homeschooling Through Depression • just do the next thing
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5 Reasons to Read Books with Difficult Topics

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5 Reasons to Read Books with Difficult Topics • homeschool reading • choosing books for homeschool
As far back as I can remember, I was one of those voracious readers who read everything:

  • the publisher’s mailing address printed in the beginning of books
  • the ISBN numbers
  • every foreword and epilogue—yes, even the appendices
  • the writing on toothpaste tubes
  • labels on cans of soup and the inside of shoes

I read literally everything. I clearly remember being excited to turn four, because then I could read four verses from the KJV version of the Bible each morning instead of just three. (I now realize how abnormal this was.)

Because I read so early and because we were a missionary family living abroad, I very quickly ran out of children’s books in English. So I read a lot of books beyond my age—difficult books intended for adults, dealing with slavery and martyrdom and theology and other tough topics most children aren’t grappling with.

While I’m not sharing those specific books with my own little girl, I don’t regret reading them. But I find myself drawn to Sonlight, because Sonlight doesn’t shy away from books with difficult topics. Unlike the heady books I stuck my nose in as a child, Sonlight uses kid-friendly books to gently introduce tough topics in non-anxiety-inducing ways. These books are my favorite—the ones which weave a redemptive thread through tragedy, create beauty from ashes, and lift up our hearts in the process.

Books which deal with difficult topics are important because they cause us to look up and away from ourselves, and give us a little nudge out of any selfishness which might have settled down around us. When we read books in which the main characters combat grief, hunger, or other struggles, our gaze is lifted outward. It's almost impossible to maintain a self-centered or entitled point of view if we are consistently being challenged by ideas and experiences—literary or real-world—which encourage us to look beyond ourselves.

1. When we read books with difficult topics, we learn empathy.

Difficult books give us a better understanding of what life is like outside our own comfort zone. Reading allows us to put ourselves in the place of the main character—for example, to feel a tiny taste of what it must have been like to be unjustly uprooted from the community and endure the shame of internment at Manzanar. The impact of what we read stays with us for a lifetime, long after the last chapter has ended.

2. When we read books with difficult topics, we learn gratitude.

Books set in times gone by have a way of encouraging gratitude by reminding us that the ordinary things in our lives actually quite luxurious. In times when we're feeling overwhelmed by the size of the laundry pile, we can remember Wanda Petronski's single, threadbare dress in The Hundred Dresses. Suddenly, folding multiple clean outfits invokes gratitude, not disdain.

3. When we read books with difficult topics, we learn perspective.

These books help us shut down self-pity and battle a sense of entitlement by asking us to rethink our sense of normalcy. On those tiring days when caring for children feels like herding cats while running endlessly on a hamster wheel—we can think back to Twenty and Ten, and breathe a prayer of humbled thankfulness that we are not sheltering children in wartime. Reading about suffering puts our own woes in perspective.

It's almost impossible to maintain a self-centered or entitled point of view if we are consistently being challenged by ideas and experiences—literary or real-world—which encourage us to look beyond ourselves. from 5 Reasons to Read Books with Difficult Topics • homeschool reading • choosing books for homeschool • quotes about reading

4. When we read books with difficult topics, we learn to nurture prayerful contentment.

If George Müller can sit down to an empty breakfast table and genuinely thank God for food that's not even there, we can be content with what we have. As a child, I thought of George Müller every time I didn’t like the dinner my mom made, and as an adult, I am gently reprimanded when I think of him and realize I am in no place to complain about having to go run grocery errands.

5. When we read books with difficult topics, we learn to temper our complaints.

The best books don't paint an inaccurately rosy view of life, but rather equip us to the challenges which will inevitably come our way. If Joy Riderhoff can turn her years-long illnesses and disappointments into an opportunity to serve, we have no right to whine about the temporary inconvenience of allergies or a stuffy nose. (Guilty of that one!)

No matter our age, we can gain a helping hand from stories like these. We don’t have to read only challenging books, of course, but we shouldn’t be afraid of them. We shouldn’t fear exposing our children to a bit of tempered, age-appropriate suffering via the written page. Widening our awareness of the world and opening our eyes to problems far larger than our own helps keep the ungrateful heart at bay.

And in the end, by God's grace and with His help, may we (even in the truly tragic and heart-rending trials and tribulations) be able to say, "our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." (2 Corinthians 4:17, NIV)

All for His Glory!

Curious to see what this type of education might look like for your family? Go to SmoothCourse to explore your options.

5 Reasons to Read Books with Difficult Topics • homeschool reading • choosing books for homeschool
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How to Raise Mission-minded Children

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How to Raise Mission-minded Children

When my husband and I decided to homeschool, one of our main goals was to raise mission-minded children. When we moved to Canada after serving six years in the Middle East and in South America as missionaries, we were literally in "Christian" culture shock.

Despite the new "Christian" environment, we knew it would take a lot more than Sunday school lessons and a good Christian curriculum to help us input the strong faith values we wanted in our children.

Raising mission-minded kids in North America today can be extremely challenging. We live in a self-centered culture while the Gospel calls us to be selfless. Our kids have everything they could possibly need or want. I mean everything. They don't know the hardships that most kids in other countries face daily, nor can they understand the true value of following Christ.

We want our kids to grow with the same zeal for the Gospel we have. We hope to impart our passion for sharing the message of hope this world desperately needs to hear.

Missionaries' Kids vs. Mission-minded Kids

This might be shocking to you, but missionaries' kids are not always mission-minded kids.

In fact, our biggest fear as missionaries was our children's walking away from their faith once they grew up. Some missionaries' kids rebel because of the losses they encountered or perceived—moving frequently, leaving friends behind, or thinking that ministry took their parents from them. Yes, we saw this tragedy happen. Missionaries' kids can rebel against all we hold so dear.

We want our children to know God and strongly feel His calling in their lives. Only a strong faith foundation can give them that.

"So faith comes by hearing, and hearing the Word of God." Romans 10:17.

Characteristics of a Mission-Minded Child

  1. Mission-minded kids have a strong conviction of being the salt and light of this world (Matthew 5:13-16).
  2. They want to make a difference in their generation in any way they can, whether their parents are missionaries or not.
  3. Their hearts are focused on praying and giving, doing and serving.
  4. They are filled with compassion for others in their own neighborhood or thousands of miles away overseas.
  5. They are bold, they are fearless, and they are little warriors for Christ.
  6. Mission-minded kids have a sense of purpose and destiny to fulfill.
  7. They know God created them for such a time as this.

How Homeschooling Is Helping Us Raise Mission-Minded Kids Today

As homeschool parents, we have the privilege to hand pick our children’s curriculum. My husband and I wanted a curriculum that emphasized both God’s Word and missions so our children will grow with a strong faith foundation.

We traveled a lot when our kids were little because they could fly for free. Once the third child came along, taking our kids on mission trips became very expensive. No longer could we afford to show our kids the reality of Africa, the Middle East or South America. All we could do was show them pictures or videos and tell them stories.

Homeschooling provides the time we need to dig deeper into learning about a country, its culture, language, foods, landmarks and much more. Also it gives us the opportunity to teach our children to pray for whatever country we’re learning about.

How to Involve Kids in Missions without Leaving Home

1. Read Inspiring Books

Stories are powerful! They open our children's eyes to the beauty and the needs of other nations.

Every year our children learn about the character and faith of men and women who have changed the world in their generation. These men and women heard the call of God and obeyed: "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation"(Mark 16:15).

As we read missionary stories and biographies to our children, our faith also grew and so did the desire to take them on mission trips with us.

Some of our favorite books about missions:

With every story we read, sometimes with tears in our eyes and sometimes with shouts of "Hallelujah," my kids see the love and power of God through the faithfulness of His servants on earth.

They learned about other cultures and traditions, about people who don't have the Bible in their own languages and how others have cared enough to leave everything behind to share the Good News with the most remote villages and tribes.

Every book has inspired us to serve Jesus where we are and do whatever He calls us to do. Often, after reading a story, I saw my children climbing on the chair next to the wall map to mark a country that needs the Gospel. My oldest would promptly say, "When we grow up, we must go to this country."

2. Use Prayer Guides

Prayer guides are great tools to learn more about countries, peoples, and their needs. A prayer guide will help you and your children move from knowledge into action.

I cannot tell you how comforting it is as missionaries to know that people around the world are praying for us and for the country God has called us to. Prayer is a powerful way to partner in missions.

Some of our favorite prayer guides:

These guides remind us that we still have a big mission ahead of us. Many peoples still don’t have the Bible translated into their languages, and many tribes are still unreached.

Who knows if we are raising mission-minded kids today who will be Bible translators tomorrow or perhaps be the first ones to reach a tribe with the love of Jesus?

3. Teach from A Biblical Worldview

As Christians, it is very important that our textbooks don’t contradict the Word of God, bringing confusion to our children. This is another reason my husband and I feel the need to homeschool.

Our job is to teach them to see the world with God's eyes through God's Word. The Bible is first and foremost our primary source of teaching, and everything else must align with it.

By teaching from a Biblical worldview, children will know that the reason they exist is to love and to serve God and others. They will learn science from a creation perspective and be able to see the wonders and power of God in every subject they study.

“Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” Job 12:7-10

God is the center and the driving force of our lives, and His infallible Word is our ultimate life guide. With this is mind, our children are growing with love and compassion for all of God's creation. From the wonders of nature to the understanding that every person matters because they all exist to bring God glory.

I love that Sonlight students see the hand of God throughout history as well. He is in control of all things and will always be. After all, it is His Story.

4. Teach About Other Religions

In order for our children to have an unwavering faith, we must diligently teach about other religions as well as the Bible.

Teaching our children about other religions doesn’t detract from their faith, but gives them even more confidence in it. We don't expose them to other religions to confuse them but to clarify why we believe what we believe.

As a pastor, I see Christians who fear witnessing because they lack knowledge of God's Word and confidence to defend their faith. Having an understanding of different religions will prepare our children to witness to others.

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." 1 Peter 3:15

5. Use Additional Biblical Resources to Teach the Bible

I love how our Sonlight Instructor's Guides are set up with Bible and Scripture memorization at the beginning of our day. It helps us to shift the focus of our thoughts and prepare us for what God has for us.

We have loved every Bible story book we have read to our children through our curriculum. But I have to say that the Egermeier's Bible Story Book has a special place in my heart because it was the first time we went through the whole Bible together as a family. That was a year we will never forget. My children's faith became their own! They couldn't get enough of God's Word, and they always came up with the most intriguing questions. We all grew in our faith together.

Apart from the wonderful Bibles included in our curriculum, we have fallen in love with the Sing the Word CDs that help our kids memorize the Word of God. How precious was the day our children, ages 3, 5 and 7, sang the complete Psalm 1 to our pastor!

We take these CDs everywhere we go. My mission-minded kids love the tunes, and I know that they are engraving God's Word in their hearts.

Sonlight and Missions

Sonlight is committed to giving to missions and partners with several ministries worldwide.

Missionaries overseas like us are able to afford a homeschool curriculum through Sonlight's missionary subsidy. This gives us, as missionaries, a 25% discount while still having the option for the payment plan. Without this bonus, we wouldn't be able to give our children the education we do and prepare them to continue our mission.

Raising mission-minded kids in this generation might be challenging, but it is still possible. Because Sonlight is committed to the Gospel as part of its education philosophy, the curriculum empowers us to raise mission-minded kids.

 Go to SmoothCourse to explore your options for a mission-minded homeschool curriculum from Sonlight.

How to Raise Mission-minded Children • Homeschooling provides an excellent opportunity to raise mission-minded children, passing on our heart to reach the world with the Gospel.
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See From Your Child's Perspective to Flip Frustrations

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See From Your Child's Perspective to Flip Frustrations

One of my goals as a homeschool mom was to raise adults who were not narcissists. I wanted my children to see life from another person’s perspective, to be able to walk a mile in another’s shoes. That’s a big reason why we loved reading with Sonlight. Reading fiction helps people develop both empathy and emotional intelligence. I imagine you are pretty good at both those skills.

So here’s an idea of how to use your empathy and emotional intelligence to bless your family and create a gentler homeschool with fewer frustrations. It’s a simple exercise that can help you gain perspective when you feel your blood pressure rising at home or when you’re baffled by a child’s behavior.

Here it is in a nutshell: When frustrations arise, take a minute or two to think through your child’s experience from their perspective.

See the World Through Your Children's Eyes

Imagine what it feels like to your child to hear what you just said to them. It might have been exactly what you should have said, but it may still be quite disappointing for them to hear.

Or imagine what it feels like for your child to wake up where they do, come into the family space as they do, eat breakfast, interact, get dressed, and so on. Walk through the events of their day from their point of view, and see what you notice.

You might realize something obvious you had overlooked.

  • “Oh no, I bet she’s really hungry!”
  • “I’ve asked him to sit still for the entire day so far!”

Or maybe you’ll notice something more subtle. Perhaps one of your children is getting too much stimulation and needs permission to retreat to a quiet space during the day when they need it. Maybe your daughter is feeling an extra need for affection after her sister has been mean to her.

Check Your Tone Through Your Children's Ears

And sometimes you might realize that your own attitude toward your children is not helping anything. I’ve had to realize this about myself before, and I know it can be hard but necessary. How does your child feel when you’re stressed and you’re talking in that certain tone? Sometimes I’d realize a child was melting down in part because of the atmosphere I helped create by rushing around and being preoccupied. That’s difficult to admit, but it can help you see how to move forward.

Now of course, you are not responsible for keeping your children happy at all times. As they grow, they gain more and more responsibility for their own actions and attitudes.

But thinking through the day from their perspective can help you grow in compassion and respect for your children. Yes, you still must set boundaries for them. But perhaps this quick exercise can give you a jolt of compassion as you enforce a boundary. Perhaps you can deliver the same discipline with a genuine hug and a kiss instead of an exasperated tone.

As you consider life from their perspective, pay special attention to your children:

  • what fills your children with joy
  • what makes them tense up
  • what brings out the best or worst in them

Then once you notice these things, let them inform how you guide your child.

We don’t have to remove all barriers and hardships for our children. Instead, we should support them as they learn to deal with barriers and hardships. We can be open to their experience and help them process their feelings.

So when you need an extra dose of perspective and compassion for your out-of-control children, take a deep breath and consider things from their point of view. It’s just another tool in your tool belt as you raise and educate your precious and unique children. I pray for God’s wisdom and strength for you in this awesome journey.

See From Your Child's Perspective to Flip Frustrations • Christian parenting in a homeschool family • When frustrations arise, take a minute to think through your child’s experience from their perspective. This new point of view inspires compassion.
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Top Photos from Sonlight's 2018 Catalog Cover Contest

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Top Photos from Sonlight's 2018 Catalog Cover Contest

One of the things that we love about our catalog is that we get to feature real photos—and stories—of our customers. Thank you to all of the families who shared #sonlightstories for the 2018 catalog cover contest! And congratulations to the winners!

1st place: C Family of Carlsbad, CA

We are thrilled to announce that the C family of Carlsbad, CA garnered top honors—which means you'll see them again on the cover of the 2018 Sonlight catalog.

Beth reads Carry On, Mr. Bowditch (Sonlight Level D) to Caleb (11) and Isaac (8), while little sister Eliana (3) listens in. The C family has been homeschooling for 11 years, and have used Sonlight from the beginning. • 1st Place Sonlight 2018 catalog cover contest
In the winning photo, Beth reads Carry On, Mr. Bowditch (from Sonlight Level D) to Caleb (11) and Isaac (8), while little sister Eliana (3) listens in. The C family has been homeschooling for 11 years, and have used Sonlight from the beginning.

"History comes alive and is more interesting for us when we read novels about life during those time periods,” writes Beth C of Carlsbad, CA. “Our family loves using Sonlight because it means more time spent together. Our favorite place to do school is on the couch, snuggled up with our bird and the toddler (who gets to start Sonlight this fall!). Eliana and baby Sun Conure always want to do school with us. As a family, we have homeschooled for 11 years, and we are so glad we've used Sonlight from the beginning. We have a wonderful collection of books that we love, and so many memories of time spent together learning."

2nd Place: M Family of Siguatepeque, Honduras

Two sisters with wagons and their brother, photo by the M Family of Siguatepeque, Honduras • 2nd Place Sonlight 2018 catalog cover contest

Here, Linda M's children Grace (11), Aline (9), and Aslan (7) take a break on a walk in their neighborhood.  Linda said,

“I was just recently offered a teaching job at a recognized local school, and along with it came full scholarships for all three kids. It sounded incredible! To actually get paid for my greatest passion! But then, after five years of homeschooling the Sonlight way, we weighed our options and decided that no money in the world could make up for the freedom we currently enjoy! Yes, it is hard work, and not every day is a walk in the park, but we enjoy each other all day. We learn, laugh, and marvel together. We choose when, how and where we want to do school, whether snuggling with pets or lying on the ground. We just can't do school any other way! (And by the way, I was very flattered that a principal of a recognized school believed in what I am doing and the results we're getting!)”

3rd Place: S Family of South Asia

Sonlighter and Asian Village Grandma, photo from the S Family of South Asia • 3rd Place Sonlight 2018 catalog cover contest

Here, Tanya’s oldest daughter Naomi (10, Sonlight Level E) sits with an Asian village grandma. The S’s were guests at a village holiday celebration held at the home of a friend’s relative. Tanya teaches three children, two of them with Level E, one with Sonlight Pre-Kindergarten. And all of them have been able to learn about farm living and Asian culture and customs. And, “Oh,” writes Tanya. “This is the grandma’s normal daily clothing, not just special occasion garb!”

“Growing up, it’s hard to discover where we fit in, where we belong, who we are,” writes Tanya S, who, together with her husband, is studying language at a university in southeast Asia. Tanya is in the middle of her sixth year homeschooling, all of them with Sonlight. “Through Sonlight’s carefully chosen books, my kids are discovering that ordinary people through history were created uniquely to fill special places in God’s story whether in their hometown or across the world. As they read, I can see their courage rise, passions ignite and hearts open to joining the great adventure of living on mission with God. Day by day, story by story, Sonlight helps me build my children’s character, guide their affections toward truth and beauty, and ready these small souls to understand God’s creation, take on life’s challenges and step into their position of world-changers.”

#SONLIGHTSTORIES All Year Round

Whether you submitted photos, voted or simply followed the fun, thanks again for making this year's contest a success. Stay tuned for the April 2018 release of our new catalog, where you'll see these three winning pictures plus many more from families who love to learn together with Sonlight.

Sharing how Sonlight is reflected in your everyday homeschool isn't limited to our annual cover contest. We would love to see and hear your #sonlightstories all year long! Use the #sonlightstories hashtag on social media as you share your thoughts and photos every day!

 You can also log into your account on sonlight.com anytime to upload images and testimonials for use in our catalog, on our homepage, and on our blog!

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The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Homeschool Math Curriculum

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The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Homeschool Math Curriculum

When you were in school, math was either a thing of beauty or a thing of torment. Whichever it was for you, as a homeschooling parent, you get to help your children move towards an understanding of math—whether they end up doing nothing more than tracking their spending as an adult, or get a doctorate in applied mathematics.

Let's look at three big questions common to parents choosing a homeschool math curriculum:

  • How do you choose a math program for your children?
  • How do you know when it’s time to change programs?
  • How do you teach something you don’t know very well yourself?

1. How Do You Choose a Math Program for Your Children?

Here’s the deal: young people have succeeded with all of the popular math programs on the market. Whether you use one of the programs Sonlight sells

or whether you go outside of Sonlight

  • Right Start
  • The Art of Problem Solving
  • Beast Academy

. . . any of these is a good choice that serves thousands of families well.

So the issue is not, “Is this is a good program?” Because they all are. The issue is, “Is this a good program for me and my children?” So do a little evaluation of your preferences.

Video and Computer Instruction

If you like video lessons where you, the parent, don’t have to do all the teaching, Math-U-See might be a great choice for you, as Mr. Demme’s instruction is both charming and thorough. Alternately, Teaching Textbooks offers clear and thorough instruction on a CD-Rom, and Saxon offers DIVE CDs from 5/4 and up. But if you know that you prefer your children to avoid screens, these programs are going to frustrate you. So choose something else.

Experimentation

Think about your early elementary children. Do they just want the instructions so they can get onto the next thing as quickly as possible? Or do they like to play, to experiment, to try new things? Neither of these is bad; each is just a personality preference. If your children like to follow the rules, Miquon is not going to be a good program for them. Miquon is ideal for children who are out of the box thinkers. It grows number literacy in incredible ways and allows for great success . . . but only if your children enjoy it to begin with.

Math Confidence

How confident are you in math? Some of the best math students in the world come from Singapore, and Singapore Math is both easy to use and thorough. But it is taught based on combining numbers to make 10 (since adding 10+5 is easier than 7+8). If you aren’t already confident in math, this is probably not a good option for you. If that’s where you are, try something more traditional like Horizons, Teaching Textbooks, or Saxon.

Math Through High School

If you suspect you’ll be homeschooling through high school, and would prefer to use one program all the way through, you’re looking at either Math-U-See or Saxon. Teaching Textbooks is close—it begins in 3rd and goes through 12th; other programs teach through early elementary (Miquon) or middle school (Singapore—though you can find the NEM program elsewhere if you choose to carry on past 8th grade). Again, it is not a bad option to pick a new program, but if you know already that that sounds stressful, then choose between Math-U-See and Saxon.

Math Manipulatives

What do you think about manipulatives? Manipulatives are the rods or blocks or other tools that your children physically move around in order to solve problems. This is the dominant mode of thinking for children until around age seven, though it can be helpful on occasion in the older grades (think of how much easier fractions are to understand when you can visualize a pie). Ruth Beechick in The Three R’s recommends parents use a program with manipulatives, in the younger grades especially. Math-U-See and Miquon rely on manipulatives. With Horizons they are optional. Singapore doesn’t use manipulatives at all, though you can add them.

Color and Layout

Do your children enjoy bright, colorful worksheets? Horizons has color worksheets. Singapore has cheerful color illustrations in their teaching books, and black and white worksheets. Most other programs are entirely black and white, which is excellent for children who may be overstimulated with lots of color.

Teacher Scripts

Would you feel more comfortable doing something scripted, where your words are written out for you? Horizons and Saxon are both good options for you. Or, if you are confident enough to teach with lesson plans, Miquon and Singapore can work for you.

The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Homeschool Math Curriculum

Research the Programs

After thinking about who your children are, then it’s time to start researching the programs that you are still considering. Read about them. Look at samples of the specific products you are thinking about (available on the product pages under Samples). And then go with your intuition.

If two programs sound equally good, often it’s helpful to talk it all through. And if one doesn't seem to be better than the other, then choose one and try it.

Of course, if you like social proof, go with Math-U-See.  This program is more popular than all the others combined.

And keep in mind, especially if your children are young, that the math program you choose needs to be something you are happy to teach. If you like the program, you’ll be comfortable working with your children to help them succeed. But if you don’t particularly like it, you’re going to find it much easier to skip a day. As you probably know, over time, that contributes to a feeling of failure.

Make a Choice

Choose the program that looks best to you, and if you need to sometimes find a YouTube video to explain a concept, or sometimes allow your children to skip ten lessons because you know they know the content, you can do that.

When you have clarity enough, have your children take a placement test. Math-U-See, Horizons, and Saxon all offer these. Ideally, you’ll offer these to your children before ordering so you know what level to buy. Also, taking the tests can help you get a feel for a program so you know whether the style seems to suit you.

When it’s time to buy, will you be confident in your math purchase? Perhaps not entirely. But you’re going for clarity enough, not complete confidence. Pray for wisdom, and then act. You can do it.

2. How Do You Know When to Change Math Curriculum?

A good rule of thumb is, “If what you’re using isn’t broken, don’t change.” It’s kind of like buying a camera or a new phone—don’t bother to upgrade unless you can state clearly what an improved camera or phone will do for you.

I know it can be intimidating when you talk to a friend who gushes about her program, and you think, “Well, our program worked really well for us this last year, but do I have the same emotional attachment to math that she does? No. Maybe I should switch.”

If your gut says you should switch, go for it. But otherwise, it might just be like when a friend raves about a movie and you watch it and think, “Hmm. We have different taste.” So with math. If it’s a matter of emotional attachment, maybe don’t use that as your deciding criteria.

That said, don't be afraid to change math programs if you pick one and it doesn't work out. Use what you know from teaching your student to help you pick a new program that will better meet the needs you have.

You can start the research process again if you know what specific problem you’re trying to solve:

  • This program teaches fractions in a way I find horribly convoluted.
  • I think my child is getting distracted by color illustrations.
  • There is not enough practice.
  • There is too little repetition of older facts.

It’s not a big deal to change. If you need to, just do it. No guilt. You’re doing the best you can for your children. You did that with the first program you chose. You’re doing it now.

The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Homeschool Math Curriculum

3. How Do You Teach Math When You Don't Understand It?

The short answer is: you don’t need to know it all. You just need to know a little more than your student. If you need to go back to the beginning and start anew, do what it takes.

Having said that, if math is, and always has been, a struggle for you, and you haven’t been diagnosed with dyscalculia, you might look into that. A quick Internet perusal suggests that dyscalculia may be as common as dyslexia, but not as widely known. If your brain is not organized to manage numbers, it just isn’t. You should have no shame over that.

If you suspect you struggle with dyscalculia, or if you are generally stressed about teaching math, you have options.

  • You can pick a program that offers instruction as part of the program, like Math-U-See or Teaching Textbooks.
  • You can ask a spouse or grandparent for help.
  • You can hire an outside tutoring service or a co-op.

Another Math Consideration

Not everyone believes that math in elementary school is helpful. Louis P. Bénézet conducted a fascinating experiment, published in 1935. As a superintendent of a school district, he took some of the elementary schools and instructed the teachers that the children should be taught to read, reason, and recite—with no concentrated math instruction!—until 7th grade. (Meaning, if a teacher needed to approximate a distance as she told a story, she would. But she did not have a time set aside for measuring. And the students didn’t go through math workbooks.)

These students, without studying math until seventh grade, ended up far better able to calculate and think mathematically than their more traditionally educated peers.

If you want to know more, you can find numerous articles online, or read his actual report here (PDF).

Next Steps for Choosing a Homeschool Math Curriculum

Assuming you still want to teach your children math this year, research your options and make a decision. We wish you all the best as you choose—or change—your homeschool math program.

If you want someone to talk through the math decision with you, contact a Sonlight Advisor. These homeschooling moms can summarize the pros and cons of various math programs, and help you clarify a choice for you.

This post was written with assistance from Sonlight Advisor Debbie Miller.

The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Homeschool Math Curriculum
The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Homeschool Math Curriculum
The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Homeschool Math Curriculum
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3 Brilliant Ways to Foster a Love for Reading in the First Five Years

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3 Brilliant Ways to Foster a Love for Reading in the First Five Years • preschool literacy • preK reading readiness

My husband and I always wanted a big family. We also decided early on that we wanted to homeschool. When we had five kids in five years and things got a little bleary, we were intentional about at least one thing: We were going to raise readers no matter how busy our household got.

Even though we had a house full of toddlers, we committed to laying the groundwork for their high school and even college years. Here is how I foster a love of reading in the first five years of a child's life.

1. Value Books

Books—even board books—have always been treated as valuable objects at our house. Before they were officially in school, we showed our children how to handle a book:

  • how to gently turn pages
  • how to protect bindings
  • how to use a bookmark

Today my teen will scour the house for a bookmark for his beloved books instead of harming the bindings by placing them open and face down. In contrast, he will not look for a match to his socks. Mismatched socks, yes. Broken bindings and dog-eared pages, no.

Not that we don’t own a few pen-scarred copies, but we have saved ourselves a lot of money by teaching our little ones how to treat books. Our family priority of valuing books has paid off in worry-free trips to the library and bookstore. With ten kids at home, it is surprising that we have replaced only two library books in thirteen years.

2. Create Pleasant Routines Around Reading

Our earliest reading routine was when I fed the baby. The older siblings knew that when I sat down to feed the baby, they could come over with a picture book from the book basket for me to read aloud. This family tradition created a joyful bond with books as well as with their new baby brother or sister. Every new baby was a promise of new books for the basket. With ten children, the basket filled up very fast!

Nap time and bedtime were for reading great chapter books. Because we had spent regular time reading picture books early in life, moving to chapter books was not a difficult transition.

3. Choose Your Favorite Stories

Share the books you love the most. Read not for the sake of teaching reading but because you want to share cherished stories with your kids.

For example, we love The Jungle Book and other works of Rudyard Kipling. What child can pass up an animated reading of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi or The White Seal? We read through the entire Little House series several times during those preschool years. The kids even looked forward to bedtime, knowing they were going to get to find out the end of a story.

If you need help building your home library for preschoolers, see Sonlight’s Preschool and Pre-K packages for a curated collection of great Read-Alouds that will put your child on the road to a lifelong love of reading.

3 Brilliant Ways to Foster a Love for Reading in the First Five Years • preschool literacy • preK reading readiness
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