While adults often find pleasure in picture books (who doesn’t love the hilarious hippos George and Martha?), it is best to enjoy them with eager children. And picture books don’t expire. You may find yourself intending to read to the 4-year-old, and the 10-year-old wanders in to join you. Treasure these moments! What a gift!
2. Picture Books are Masterpieces of Storytelling
Rather than sprawling tales of 800 pages, you get a moving story in several dozen pages, often with only a few words per spread. One of the true masters of the craft, Robert McCloskey, tells an astonishingly intricate story about One Morning in Maine. How he manages to interconnect teeth, feathers, clams, spark plugs, and ice cream . . . it’s a wonder!
4. Picture Books Are Greater than the Sum of Their Parts
The written word interplays with the illustrations, creating something unique and precious. You might be able to recite the entirety of Horton Hatches the Egg, and it would be a cute enough recital. But without the illustrations of steadfast Horton, and disgruntled Mayzie, and attendant animals . . . you’d be missing so much. Watch for those bits of genius, and enjoy.
5. Picture Books Offer a Range of Art
Watercolors and whimsy, a cartoony style or a detailed drawing, bright colors, muted, black and white.... If you are facing gray November days, find some cheery picture books to boost your spirits and offer a visual feast. And if you can find Goldbug on every page of Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, so much the better!
Although many Sonlight customers keep their Sonlight books for future grandchildren, and many Sonlight students don’t want their parents to part with their books, the program that enjoys the most continual use is the picture book program Sonlight Preschool. Parents report that their children take these books out regularly from ages 2 to about age 8 (and sometimes beyond). With great art, and great story lines, excellent vocabulary, and the wonder of connection, it’s not hard to see why!
Curious to see what an education filled with great picture books might look like for your family? Go to SmoothCourse to explore your options.
Want more encouragement?
Sign up for Sonlight's bi-weekly e-newsletter
You'll be encouraged by the words of founder Sarita Holzmann, inspired by real-life stories from other
homeschoolers, pick up practical tips for the journey and more. Plus, you'll be the first to hear about product updates, special offers and more!
I love to supplement the literature-based approach of Sonlight with hands-on crafts and extension activities. Besides the Hands-on History kit available for purchase, I like to add on even more projects inspired by the great books we read. I find that besides keeping my daughters happy, creative, and busy, the fun we have inspires their own book-based pretending during their free play time.
James Herriot’s Treasury for Children is one of my favorite books from Sonlight's History / Bible / Literature A. Besides the delightful collection of stories, each page has beautiful illustrations. The lovely art and the heart-warming stories of pets and farm animals inspired these extension activities, projects, field trips, and learning activities listed below, organized chapter by chapter.
I hope you enjoy them as much as my daughters and I did! These ideas will probably inspire your own creative activities based on whatever craft supplies you have on hand and what interesting locales you have in your community.
Chapter 1 Moses the Kitten: Enact the Chapter
I bought kitten stuffed animals from the dollar store for acting out the story of Moses the kitten. First he was lost and abandoned, then found by my little girls, and finally taken home to be cared for and cuddled. I had my girls practice a few times, and when their father got home, we put on a little play to narrate the story.
Chapter 2 Only One Woof: Charades
In this chapter, Gyp the dog manages to live without vocalizing. We had a short talk about muteness and why some people can’t speak. Afterward they practiced communicating without speech. I gave them a variety of situations to express without words:
wanting to take a nap
feeling lost or lonely
Although we had several false starts, eventually they were able to express themselves without saying a word.
Chapter 3 The Christmas Day Kitten: Draw a Picture
For chapter three, one of my girls came up with a simple activity. She suggested we draw a picture of a Christmas gift suitable for a cat.
Instead of actual animals, I improvised with photos I found online of children with animals or pets. My girls had to judge the animals in the photos, arrange them in winning order and award the two blue ribbons (also simple paper crafts) they felt were the best.
Later that afternoon, they grabbed their own stuffed animal menagerie and began lining them up, awarding ribbons to their favorite pets. They did this imaginative book-based play several times, with my 6-year-old taking special pains to make sure that each animal won at least one award.
Intro to the World: Cultures History / Bible / Literature A
Chapter 5 Blossom Comes Home: Making Butter & Safety Pointers
When it came time to read this story, I poured half and half and a dash of salt into a glass jar. I had my girls take turns shaking the bottle as we read chapter 5. I told them to keep shaking it until the liquid turned solid.
When our story was done, our container was still sounding rather liquid, so we spent some time talking about safety, namely what to do if you are lost. We discussed these actions:
looking for someone safe to ask for help (someone in a uniform, or a woman with small children in tow)
waiting and not wandering around because their father and I will always start looking for them in the last place we saw them
staying calm and trying to think and pray, instead of crying and screaming
memorizing mom and dad's telephone numbers and full names
never going away with strangers
always sticking with their buddy or sibling, so they are never alone
When we finished this talk, we opened our container and discussed dairy products. I had my children compare the bit of half and half in the bowl, tasting and touching it, comparing it with the butter we had just made. We then spread our butter over cinnamon rolls and had a snack with milk.
Chapter 6 The Market Square Dog: A Trip to the Market
We live in Mexico, and almost every day, the tianguis are open, so we have a nice open-air market to visit all year-long. We took my girls to the market, and gave them each 20 pesos (about $1.50 USD) to spend. On our trip, we even managed to see a dog in the market, just like in our story.
If you have an open-air market of any type, including a farmer’s market, take the time to take your children on a quick field trip. Look at items you normally don’t peruse and experience it through fresh eyes by paying attention to all the surrounding sights, being careful to look for any animals. Or you might enjoy going to a kennel or a dog pound, pet store, or anyplace new or interesting where an animal might be walking about.
Chapter 7 Oscar, Cat About Town: Decorate Hats
The hat-making competition in this story from James Herriot’s Treasury for Childreninspired own hat-making project. At the dollar store it was a cinch to find cheap straw hats, ribbons, fake flowers, and hair bows. After we read this chapter, I put my 5- and 6-year-olds to work, making their own hats for our competition.
When w judged the hats, one of my girls won the award for most creative hat, and the other won the award for using the most decorations. Printed paper blue ribbons were the prize!
Chapter 8: Smudge, the Little Lost Lamb
This chapter would have been a great time to visit a petting zoo, but we didn’t have time for a trip like that when we read this story. Maybe you will!
Instead we made our own lambs from these simple craft supplies:
paper and foil
toothpicks or matchsticks
small googly eyes
We rolled paper into a ball shape for the body of the sheep, taping down the edges to help it hold its form. Then using a cold glue gun, we glued cotton balls over the surface of the ball to create the sheep's fleece. Toothpicks formed the legs, and construction paper scraps became the head. We glued on the eyes, and our little sheep were complete to run and play as little sheep do.
After the Book: Even More Extension
James Herriot also wrote several other books, and although many of them are for adults, if your children love animals, they may enjoy hearing you read them as long as you’re willing to edit out some long passages or sadder details. There are also two movies and a TV series about his adventures as a country vet. My girls found them hard to sit through as they are geared toward an older audience, but a true animal lover might enjoy them.
Whether you’re just starting off on this journey of homeschooling and need a little guidance or have been at it a while and need a pep talk, sometimes it’s good to review the basics. What better way for a homeschooler to do that than in alphabetical order, ABC-style.
A is for Arithmetic
Nail down the basics of math, regardless of how long it takes each kid to master them.
B is for Books
Expose your kids to a variety of titles, encouraging them to try new genres and subjects without pressuring them to like the same ones you do and giving them freedom to enjoy ones you don’t.
C is for Creativity
Explore various forms of art, craft, and music through museums, concerts, exhibits, plays, books, video, and websites. Give your kids an opportunity to experiment with their own ability to create.
D is for Different
Seek out relationships with people who don’t homeschool because variety is the spice of life. We’re all better people when we don’t exclude from our lives those who live differently than we do.
E is for Exercise
Movement helps clear our heads for easier learning, regulates our emotions, and keeps our bodies healthy. Make exercise a priority by regularly doing some gentle stretching, going on bike rides, lifting weights, or whatever appeals to your family.
F is for Flexibility
Accept that school, just like the rest of life, won’t always go as planned. Make necessary adjustments, stay flexible, and keep moving forward.
G is for Guilt
Take responsibility for your choices, but don’t feel guilt for not meeting the expectations of people whose opinions don’t matter or your own unrealistic ones.
Don’t get so consumed by school checklists that you fail to take advantage of the opportunities homeschooling provides for you to live a little.
M is for Mealtime
If reading a school book to your kids while they’re all in one place with hands and mouths occupied would be helpful, do it. If, on the other hand, you’d all benefit from a chance to chat about ordinary life, watch funny YouTube videos together, or just enjoy some silence, then do that instead.
N is for Nature
Get outside, whether to hike long trails, play at a local park, look for bugs in the back yard, or do math on the front steps.
O is for Options
There’s no one perfect way to educate all kids, which means there’s a plethora of options for every aspect of school. Figure out which options are best for your kid, family, and season of life, then move forward without apologies for your choice and plenty of acceptance of what other families choose.
P is for Pencils
Buy good ones and use an equally good pencil sharpener.
Q is for Quiet
Have a period of time each day that’s silent, naps for littles and down time for bigs. Your kids need to learn the value of rest and you need the break in your day.
R is for Reconsider
Take time to evaluate if the way you’re homeschooling is going the way you want it to. Continue with what’s working well or is important enough for you to struggle through, tweak the things that aren’t quite cutting it to make them work better, and ditch what has proven to be ineffective for your family.
S is for Structure
Figure out how much structure your family needs, both the individuals in it and the group as a whole, then manage your days accordingly.
T is for Typing
Make sure your kids can type proficiently on a computer keyboard.
U is for Unity
You can’t do everything, so be sure to include the whole family in taking care of home and school responsibilities. There’s strength in numbers.
V is for Victories
Acknowledge goals that were reached and efforts that were made, even if they were small.
W is for Write
Use daily journals, writing prompts, structured curriculum, or free writing. Just have everyone write something each day.
X is for XXIV
Teach your kids to read Roman numerals, then look for them in real life.
Y is for Yield
Be willing to set your own ideas aside in order to try your kid or spouse’s idea.
Z is for Zippers
Don’t use cool or wet weather as an excuse to stay inside. Zip up your coats and get some fresh air when everyone’s going stir crazy during the winter.
These ABC basics are all things I need to be reminded of on a regular basis. If you feel like you’re treading water as a homeschooler, just pick a couple things from this ABC list. Focus on them for the time being and give yourself the freedom to let the rest go until you’re ready to deal with them.
Curious to see what this type of home education might look like for your family? Go to SmoothCourse to explore your options.
My second son is a junior this year. STEM subjects come naturally to him. For example, he is currently holding a solid A in calculus, and given the choice between spending an afternoon testing physics laws or digging into Shakespeare, well… the Bard would lose.
Science, technology, engineering, and math fields (STEM fields) are highly touted. But friends whose teens have similar interests are often surprised that we’ve chosen Sonlight for our STEM-leaning son.
“My daughter wants to be an engineer. Sonlight isn’t a good fit for her, because she doesn’t need all that literature.”
“My son is very science-minded and doesn’t really like reading. All those books would just drown him.”
My daughter plans to study science in college. A literature-based program won't work.
Getting Past Easy and Challenging the STEM Student
People do have their strengths. I’m not saying they don’t. But when a child is an ace crawler, we don’t decide that they don’t need to walk.
In every area of parenting, we are to encourage our children to branch past their comfort zones and try their wings in newer, challenging areas. That doesn’t change just because your daughter is older and her interests are becoming more specific.
If your child thinks that great biologists, engineers, statisticians, and computer programmers are ignorant of the vast body of great literature, they’re misinformed.
Albert Einstein was known to maintain a prolific library
Steve Jobs felt that 1984 (and several other classic titles) should be required reading for everyone.
People who are successful in their area of expertise are rarely the type who never pick up a book. Great literature is the universal common denominator among innovators from all fields. It’s the background music to which the symphonies of science and math are written. So STEM students need great literature, too!
STEM Students Need a Foundation of Cultural Literacy
Besides simply being an excellent exercise for the brain, great literature like the selections from Sonlight’s high school curriculum allow teens to enter in to the Great Conversation— the tradition of great writers and thinkers, expanding on the ideas presented in earlier works. The majority of adults in America have read To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, and The Chosen. These titles are a starting place for engaging with others in the context of a body of shared knowledge.
Literature also provides a window into the emotions, experiences, and worlds we otherwise can’t touch, giving us a deeper human experience and one that develops us into well-rounded and empathetic people willing to be used by God for His glory. Reading about men who’ve experienced war, women who have suffered mistreatment, and political regimes run amok makes us better able to bear the burdens of our neighbors.
Given those qualifiers, the life of every man is clearly made better for the books he has read. There’s no reason not to enjoy a buffet of great literature throughout high school. Personally, I’d be delighted for one of my children to become an auto mechanic. I’d be even more pleased if he or she was an auto mechanic who had dipped a toe into Jane Eyre.
Sonlight has homeschool consultants available to talk to you about choosing the perfect high school curriculum for your teen. Click here to schedule an appointment.
Have you seen the video where someone is trying to line up a litter of cute, cuddly kittens? If you haven’t, let me spoil it for you: it doesn’t work very well! As you can imagine, it’s a full thirty seconds of constant redirection, repositioning, and mayhem. To everyone watching, it’s hilarious, but to the poor person trying to herd those kittens, it was exhausting.
This image hits close to home for homeschool moms of multiples. Some days, homeschooling multiple children is very much like herding cats. As soon as you get one seated, another pops up and wanders off, and the day is similar to the old whack-a-mole game.
Can you relate?
I know I can! Many of the moms of multiples that I meet love the idea of a literature-based education, but they have no idea how it actually works in a real family. After all, ideas look great in a shiny catalog or on a pretty blog, but putting them into practice can be another story. I know because I’ve been there.
This overwhelmed feeling is particularly noteworthy among mothers with young children. So I dug back to my earlier years with my children and pulled out an older schedule. Here is a peek into my world a couple of years ago when I had a preschooler, first grader, fourth grader, and a fifth grader.
Homeschooling Multiple Children: The Morning
We are fairly early risers and always have been, so we start our day at 7:00 by getting dressed and eating breakfast. Ideally, my kids would make their beds and do their daily chore, but realistically, that only happened about half the days that it should have.
By 8:00, we were ready to gather in the living room for our first round of Couch Subjects. During this session, we would do our Bible Study and Memory Work. As we went through the year and improved our attention span, I began to sprinkle in poetry readings and missions studies, such as Window on the World. Usually by 8:30 we were wrapping up our first Couch Subjects session. With littles, you don’t want to tax their attention span. Instead, start small and allow it to naturally grow with the course of the year.
Rule #1: Always work with the littles first, moving youngest to oldest.
I have found that if I start with the older kids, I will never make it to the younger ones.
You also want to catch the littles when they are fresh, so 9:00 was a good time for us to begin our preschool day. While my bigger kids went off to start working on their Math and Language lessons, I would sit down at the table and work with my preschooler. We would go over all her work for the day. At the beginning of the year, I would sit with her until she completed her work for the day, but within the first six weeks, I was able to get her started and then send her off to finish her activities independently.
Of course, in preschool, this included some handwriting practice and a lot of fine motor activities. After my one-on-one session with my youngest, I would pull my first grader in, and we would read through the scheduled books in HBL A. Then, my preschooler would go off to finish her work, and I would work with my first grader on her lessons. We would go over what she had already started, and I would introduce any new concepts or go over any questions she had.
Rule #2: Never allow interruptions when working one-on-one.
Always insist that the other children skip the section if they are stuck and go to their next assignment until you are available.
By this time, we were all ready for a break, so at about 10:00, we would have recess. The kids would go out to play, and I would have thirty minutes to do some housework. At 10:30, I would call them in, and they would grab a bag of goldfish and settle in for the morning read aloud. At this point I was working on two separate HBL levels. So, I would pull a Read-Aloud from either one, but I always chose a book that I felt everyone would enjoy reading together. This did mean that a book here and there would be skipped in one HBL or another, but I always continue reading aloud even in the summers, so I never feel guilty about skipping the occasional Read-Aloud during the school year.
Rule #3: During Read-Alouds, keep hands busy.
In the younger years, that might mean giving them a snack of goldfish, raisins, or cut grapes. In the older years, puzzles and handiwork make fine listening activities.
At 11:00, I would turn my attention to my older boys. They would each get their own one-on-one time with me as well. We would review what they had completed, and I would answer any questions they had. I would teach a new concept as needed. At times, they would become frustrated or we would not quite finish up within the allotted thirty minute time slots, so I would make a note to meet with them again in the afternoon.
Rule #4: Keep littles quiet and busy during tutoring sessions with siblings.
Try a special quiet toy box, puzzle, or coloring activity. Or you may find that this is a great time to allow screen time for your littles.
By noon, we were ready for our lunch break and another recess.
Homeschooling Multiple Children: The Afternoon
Usually by 1:00, I would put my girls down for their naps, and then I would tackle my boy’s HBL books. I always enjoyed this time because my boys were at the age where they were curious about everything in the world. We enjoyed long discussions, stemming from the books we read together. We would also work on projects during this time.
Rule #5: Even when younger children no longer nap, they still require some quiet time every day.
Set up and implement the practice of Quiet Time in your home until your child is ready for full days.
By 3:00, the house was a buzz again with everyone awake and ready for the final stretch. This was always the perfect time in my house to sneak in those fun science experiments that everyone wants to watch. Around 3:30, we would wrap up our science and I would make the final rounds for the day. I would answer last minute questions and go over math problems one more time. Then, we would set a timer and make a big cleaning sweep through the house so it would be clean when Dad returned home.
Rule #6: Constant communication with your spouse is a must.
Although you are not in a public school setting, purchase a daily folder for each child's work for Dad to see. I also put a daily behavior and work log in their folder so my husband knows how they each behaved. This feedback provides another layer of accountability for both me and the kids, and it keeps Dad in the loop and equipped to squash problems before they get out of hand.
Homeschooling Multiple Children: The Evening
I have always held to a pretty strict No Homework Policy in the evenings. After all, our school is all homework. In the older years, it may become more and more necessary, but in those younger years, I try to have a clear-cut school day. However, my husband does come home and check folders. He will look over their work and help when needed, and he is also happy to listen to them read in the evenings while I make dinner.
Rule #7: Establish expectations and routines early and spend time modeling and practicing those expectations.
As children become lax at meeting those expectations, take some time off to re-establish the flow and reiterate the rules and routine.
Every family is different, and every family’s day will hold at least some variations. That makes us unique. However, implementing a literature-based education is possible. Combining HBL levels and encouraging age-appropriate independence will help your family reach that goal. As with every curriculum, it won’t be perfect. Some days, you’ll feel amazing, and some days, you’ll want to give up. You’ll skip a book here and there, and you’ll neglect science for a week or two (or three!). But it will be okay. You will be amazed at how much your family will learn and grow together.
For obvious reasons, people want to know the ways homeschooling can be good for their children. Many people also talk about how it benefits the adults, but always in context of their role as a parent or the family as a whole.
What about the parents as individuals? What opportunities will homeschooling give a parent to grow as a person, not only as a mom or a dad?
Homeschool Benefit 1. Managing Your Time
There’s simply no way to add the major commitment of homeschooling without it impacting the pace of your days. Regardless of your natural bent in this area, you’ll have to make some changes as a homeschooler.
If you tend to be a structured person who thrives on schedules, you’ll have to flex. You will discover the ability to set aside your plan and move forward with a smile on your face.
If you’re one who usually goes with the flow, you'll have to be disciplined. You will experience the value in setting firm boundaries and enforcing timelines.
Learning to swing a little toward the opposite end of the time management spectrum is one big way you will grow as a homeschool parent.
Homeschool Benefit 2. Appreciating Your Strengths
What is your homeschool super power? Is it one of these:
finding creative ways to memorize facts
having lots of patience when people are slow to understand
coming up with activities that are both fun and instructive
Whatever it is that you’re good at, homeschooling gives you a chance to either discover an latent strength or confirm one you already knew about.
Although a prideful attitude that believes your strengths determine your worth is a problem, an awareness of what you do well is a positive thing when you look for ways to use your strengths to improve your own life and bless other people.
Homeschool Benefit 3. Identifying Your Weaknesses
There’s nothing like sharing a roof with people to make your own weaknesses clear as day! Homeschooling ramps up the intensity of that awareness.
How is this apparent negative actually a positive? First, it keeps us humble. As we see and accept that areas of our life need improvement, we’ll more easily accept and have patience with the flaws in others. Second, it gives us an opportunity for personal growth. As the saying goes, acknowledging a problem is the first step toward resolving it. Rarely does a weakness manifest in only one area, so our efforts to make changes pertaining to weaknesses in homeschooling will have a ripple effect in the other parts of our life.
Homeschool Benefit 4. Growing Spiritually
Homeschooling provides ample opportunity to seek the peace and wisdom that only God can give:
being thankful for the blessings that homeschooling brings
feeling overwhelmed in the hard stretches of teaching
adapting to changes in our family’s circumstances
Whether it comes from frazzled desperation or contented gratitude, anything that consistently drives us to our knees in prayer and leads us to read our Bibles is a good thing. The more our own spiritual tank is filled, the more we’ll have to share with others.
These four benefits will clearly make an impact on your family as you homeschool, but they’re also life skills that will serve you and those in your life well long after your nest is empty or your kids have transitioned to other schooling options. Homeschooling, after all, isn’t just about the kids. It’s about everyone in the home, including the parents.
Curious to see what a homeschool lifestyle might look like for your family? Go to SmoothCourse to explore your curriculum options.
Your Instructor’s Guide is highlighted and indexed. Pencils are sharpened, and your basket holds all the books for the day. Your coffee is hot. The Bible is open to the right page.
Everything is perfect. Then, it dawns on you. Something is missing. Where are the kids?!
I can relate to this scenario because it happens to me regularly. Reining in a first grader, a kindergartner, and a preschooler is no small feat. Add in the infant who equates napping with medieval torture, and wow! I’m sure you can understand why I hum the Mission Impossible theme song as I make breakfast each morning.
Fortunately, I have a tried and true arsenal of tricks to rein in my kids. Through trial and error, toil and strife, I have found joy in homeschooling, too. I have a strong belief that homeschooling, although hard (cue that Mission Impossible music), is the right choice for our family! I also come equipped with a lot of caffeine and complete faith in Jesus: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
1. Rein in Kids with Food
Truth? You have to feed them anyway! Use this fact to your advantage. While your kids are eating, you have a captive audience. After you satiate their minds with knowledge and their bellies with food, they’ll be ready for a mind break and off to play. In the wake of the storm, your coffee will taste so much better!
2. Rein Them in Outside
All those books that are wonderful to snuggle up to on the couch are just as enjoyable, if not more so, outside. Read under a favorite tree, on a picnic blanket at the beach, or on the front porch just before a storm.
3. Rein Them in on the Go
Homeschooling would be a piece of cake if it weren’t for all our other earthly needs. Still, cars need oil changes and pantries need groceries. No matter how hard I pray, dinner still won’t make itself. Being portable is the solution.
Take your Couch Subjects™ with you! I keep our current Read-Aloud, Readers, and reference books in a ready-to-go bag that I can grab on the way out the door. We have spent many an oil change reading up on Greek myths. Just ask Bill, our service guy. He’s learned a ton too!
Table Subjects™ work the same way. Invest in a few clip boards with internal storage, so the kids can quickly unearth copywork or science worksheets on the go. I recommend keeping a glue stick and a pair of safety scissors handy as well.
4. Rein Them in On the Road
You’re going to be in the car anyway. Plus, the kids are trapped. Go for it!
Sing and memorize scripture verses.
Listen to audio books.
Quiz your kids with flashcards on a ring.
Discuss your latest Read-Aloud
Lyrical Life Science is a current favorite with my kiddos! You really haven’t explored all science has to offer until you’ve sung about cold blooded vertebrates to the tune of When Johnny Comes Marching Home!
5. Rein Them in with Music
Sometimes I need everybody in one place when it’s not meal time or driving time. My solution? I play chopsticks on the piano. Seriously, it works!
When they hear chopsticks being played, the kids run to the room and have a seat on the carpet for announcements. I make sure to reserve this method for when I’m calling them to do something fun like poetry tea time or hands-on history!
Now, here’s the whole truth about what happens when I have finally achieved the perfect homeschool flow:
The baby will wake up and need a diaper change.
The timer on the stove will ding.
The mail carrier will drop a package at the door.
Fear not! Just take a deep breath, pray, and pick any one of the options above to get back on track!
Your turn! I’d love to hear and try some of your suggestions! What methods work for you? How do you reign the kids back in when they go off course?