Use This Powerful Key to Create a Restful Homeschool Atmosphere

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Creating a Restful Homeschool Environment

The moment you step into a spa, something changes. You relax your shoulders and breathe deeply, drinking in your surroundings. Enveloped by a calming aroma, cozy lighting, and soft music, you exhale slowly, admiring the clean, clutter-free atmosphere around you. Yes, spas are restful because you’re temporarily released from your responsibilities—but they’re also restful in large part due to thoughtfully created environments of rest. Would we go to

  • a spa to relax,
  • a library to study,
  • a coffee shop to write, or
  • into nature to unwind

if these places were cluttered, dirty, loud, or filled with tension?

Environment matters. And in our homeschools, atmosphere matters, too.

I’ll preface this by saying I’m not perfect. I don’t have a seven-step plan to achieve platinum status in housekeeping ; I’m not the de-cluttering guru of joy-sparking fame. I leave my bed unmade—and cereal bowls on the counter—more often than I’d like to admit. See, the truth is, this doesn’t come naturally to me. But tidiness doesn’t spontaneously occur for anyone; even expert-level homemakers and organizers.  Being tidy doesn’t just happen. Being tidy involves work. But I work at it—and continue working at it—because I know aesthetics make a big difference. I can

  • focus for longer periods of time,
  • think more clearly, and
  • maintain a patient attitude more easily

in a pleasant environment, than I can in a cluttered one.

And I definitely feel less stressed in a clean space. Compared to adults, most kids are even more distractible—so imagine the impact a disorderly environment has on children.

This one key to a restful homeschool environment is removing clutter.

Overwhelming Visual Environments Can Disrupt Learning

A 2014 study published in Psychological Science revealed kids were “more distracted by the visual environment, spent more time off task, and demonstrated smaller learning gains when the [classroom] walls were highly decorated than when the decorations were removed.”

If you haven’t been inside a traditional school classroom in the last several years, you might be shocked at the current trend to paper the walls with discordant decor of every remotely-educational variety. It’s become an entire money-making industry. (When I toured a small Christian school before making the decision to homeschool, even the ceilings were decorated. I could hardly catch my breath.)

Teachers I’ve chatted with admit Pinterest-obsession has taken over preparation, with many instructors trying to outdo each other with increasingly-gaudy classrooms. Pyschological Science refers to much of this decor as “displays that are not relevant to ongoing instruction.”And as the study and many others like it concluded, these visually-overwhelming displays actually disrupt children’s education.

Cluttered Home Environments Can Disrupt Learning

Most homeschoolers have not recreated the classroom look. Even those who do find educational posters useful do not generally hang them up en masse as seen in the classroom. We haven’t papered the walls with hall passes and behavioral charts. We don’t have rows of primary-colored cubbies or dozens of lined-up clipboards, and we haven’t placed laminated instructions next to every object.

  • But are we reading, squished up next to a laundry basket on the couch?
  • Are we working on neat and precise handwriting with our notebooks pushed up against dirty dishes on a tabletop that’s anything but neat?

Have we replaced the visual environment of school with the cluttered environment of home?

A Restful Homeschool Environment is a Few Habits Away

I’m not writing this to say I’ve arrived; I haven’t. I’m writing this to remind us all that the dozens of tiny things we do throughout the day matter.  I’m writing this to remind myself of the sacred responsibility we have as mothers to cultivate a nurturing atmosphere for our children. As we see the clutter creeping, we can

  • stop to put away the previous school subjects,
  • sweep the three-hole punch confetti into the garbage can,
  • walk through the house to collect abandoned drinking glasses, and
  • load waiting dishes into the dishwasher.

We can also take a few moments to

Messes Don’t Have to be Our Identify as Homeschool Moms

In the short-run, it’s much easier not to do all that, isn’t it?  But I’ve noticed when I skip these menial tasks—when I allow our environment to decay around us—our mood tends to correspondingly deteriorate. Our tempers flare, our fuses run sort. Peaceful atmosphere does not cure human nature, but a chaotic atmosphere doesn’t help it, either. It’s a shorter path to patience in a peaceful space than through the maze of a sprawling, discordant mess.

I live in the real world, and I know you do, too. A certain level of mess is inevitable when you live, work, eat, school, and sleep in the same space. But contrary to popular memes, chaos doesn’t mean we love our kids more. And messes don’t have to be our identity has homeschool moms.

For years, my mom homeschooled three kids through brutal northern winters while my dad worked second shift. She had her hands full. Everyone would have understood if our house reflected the intensity of the season, yet it rarely did. I’m not the clone of my mother by any means, but she taught us to be content and take care of what we had. A clean house doesn’t mean striving and keeping up with the Jones, just as an unkempt home does not mean holier hearts.

If you crave aesthetic beauty, don’t be ashamed. God created orderliness and beauty. If you are overwhelmed with clutter, and don’t know where to start, don’t be ashamed. God will walk with you step by step as you reclaim the physical space around you.

We Can Model the Balance Between Work and Rest

Let’s move toward balance, shall we? Let’s not advocate tidiness at the expense of family relationships, but let’s not slide down the scale toward chaos at the detriment of our families, either. We can practice habits and routines—life skills!—while at the same time speaking life to our children. Pausing for ten minutes to put away the laundry on the couch before we sit down to read aloud will

  • model a good example for our children of balancing chores and rest,
  • allow an opportunity to practice self-discipline,
  • emphasize good habits and routine, and
  • create an even more restful environment for us to share with our children.

Homeschooling with Sonlight is an orderly, yet restful, education. As we diligently work toward our goals, our homes, too, can reflect that same spirit of orderly rest.

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

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Hands-On Ideas for Studying Scripture

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Hands-On Ideas for Studying Scripture

As Christian parents, the word of God is one of the most precious gifts we can give our children. And when we help our kids commit the word of God to memory, we’re giving them a life-affirming treasure they’ll carry always.

Deuteronomy chapter six is often quoted when it comes to raising children, isn’t it? It’s the famous monologue in which Moses admonished the Israelites to heed God’s commandments and, as the Lord instructed,  “teach them diligently unto thy children.”

If you’ve been in Christian parenting circles for any length of time, you’ve likely heard this passage. In fact, you’ve probably heard it referenced more times than you can count.

God’s word is built in to Sonlight. It’s right there in the HBL acronym used to describe each level: History, Bible, and Literature.  For each level, Sonlight has thoughtfully and carefully curated a selection of Scripture to read or memorize (or both) each day. These references are neatly organized at the top of each daily schedule page—already laid out for you!

In fact, using History / Bible / Literature C as an example, over the course of a school year you and your children will

That’s all without even looking outside of your big blue binder!

Interaction with Scripture is Intended to be More than Static Reading

Referring back to the “teach them diligently” passage in Deuteronomy, what does it really mean? The Message translation revives the familiar words anew, and challenges us,

“Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts.

Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children.
Talk about them wherever you are,
sitting at home or walking in the street;
talk about them from the time you get up in the morning
to when you fall into bed at night.
Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder;
inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates.”

As I read through this again, I’m struck by how active this command is. When we break it down, we see action words:

  • write
  • talk
  • walk
  • inscribe

We already know God intends our relationship with him to permeate every area of our lives. And reading through this passage, we also clearly see He expects our interaction with the Scripture to be so much more than reading a few verses daily.

Practical Ways to Make Scripture Instruction More Active

Idealism aside, we all know life happens. How can we carry out God’s instruction to write his commandments on our hearts, in the midst of our nitty-gritty daily life? How does this work in the midst of math worksheets and dinner preparations and laundry chores? How can we, as Sonlighters, incorporate this commandment into our daily habits?

To begin, let’s look at some practical ways to take those Bible verses and make Scripture study an active, integrated, and hands-on process for your kids. (And remember, these suggestions are entirely optional. If you’re content with your current approach, don’t let this cause you to second-guess your decision. But if you’re looking for enrichment and extension ideas, keep reading!)

1. Act out Scripture Passages Dramatically

Sonlighter Anne G. shares that she and her children sometimes “act out stories as appropriate.” These expressions can be as simple as your schedule—and the age of your children—allows; they needn’t be enormously complex. In fact, the added challenge of an improvised scene within a given time limit can be very effective! When I chatted with other Sonlighters about extending Bible instruction, dramatic interpretation was the most popular response. An added bonus? Acting appeals to high schoolers and preschoolers alike!

2. Present a Puppet Show

“My kids like to create puppet shows,” shares Maureen T. If you have young children who enjoy crafty, hands-on projects, this is a terrific idea. Work with your kids to create a set of versatile puppets to be used throughout the year, then use them to bring Bible stories to life. But depending on the ages of the your kids, encourage them to man the puppets and provide the voices themselves. They’ll learn more by figuring out how to express what the passage is saying than by simply watching you.

3. Illustrate and Hand-letter a Portfolio

I’ve written previously on encouraging your child in handwriting and penmanship. Genesis 49 and Exodus 25 remind us God gives everyone different gifts. Some are more artistic than others. That’s okay! If copywork isn’t your child’s favorite, then skip this extension idea. But if you have artists and scribes itching to hone their craft, allow them to select a few sentences of Scripture each day to render artistically into a bound book. No matter the ages of your kids, Sonlighter Maya M. agrees a portfolio like this “will be so sweet to look back on later.” It’s also a great time to

4. Create an Animated Flip Book

Bring stick figures—and Bible passages—to life with some quick sketching skills! Maureen T. lets us take a peek into her own home, sharing, “My kids are really into making flip books to retell a story—or a stick figure stop-motion movie.” She warns, though, to cap the drawing at five or ten minutes, to keep the project from sabotaging your schedule.

5. Record Voice Memos

My daughter really enjoys using the voice memo app on my phone to clearly read Scripture selections and poetry snippets. Listening to the audio playback offers the added benefit of reinforcing what she’s read, which aids in memorization, too. (In fact, when polishing memory work, we use the voice memo app to record recitations.) And recording in a cozy spot in the house also provides a no-pressure environment for working on enunciation and articulation.

Rest in the Promises of God; His Word Will Not Return Empty

There are countless other ways to dynamically incorporate the Scriptures into your homeschool.

  • Recreate a Bible scene with LEGO bricks.
  • Let your children write, highlight, and underline in their Bibles.
  • Encourage margin doodles.
  • Take turns reading aloud. Use expression and dramatic voices!
  • Listen to Scripture set to music.
  • Journal brief thoughts on what the passages mean.
  • Sculpt Biblical characters in clay.
  • Play charades to review the week’s readings.
  • Pause while reading aloud to allow your kids to add sound effects.
  • Write a newspaper account of a Bible story.
  • Cook an ancient meal for dinner.
  • Look up unknown words—a concordance is terrific for diving into word history.
  • Read through the Scripture passage again. Can any part of it be classified as a prayer?
  • Get a wall calendar with a generous amount of room to write, and jot down a short note about each passage in the corresponding day’s square.
  • If you’re pursuing foreign language study, read the section in your target language—lots of parallel Bible tools are available online.

Scripture extension ideas don’t have to be forced or complicated; simply live authentically and talk often with your kids about what you’ve read together. And actively model the habit of reading the Bible;  kids watch what you do as well as listen to what you say.

Be encouraged, fellow warriors. God’s word is powerful. Rest in the promise of Isaiah 55:11,

“So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;

It will not return to Me empty,

Without accomplishing what I desire,

And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”

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.

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Fast and Easy Extension Ideas for The Boxcar Children

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Fast and Easy Extension Ideas for The Boxcar Children

The Boxcar Children has always been a family favorite. We’re glad Sonlight includes this simple, heartwarming adventure in its Kindergarten program (also in History / Bible / Literature A).

Expensive, complicated projects that require a lot of prep work or cost a lot of money are hard for me. So I’ve composed a list of fast, easy, fun, yet fairly inexpensive activities to do after each chapter of the book. Some take a little bit of preparation, so read through before beginning.

We like to read the chapter in the evening, and then do the extension activity the next day. But of course you can schedule them any way you'd like and pick and choose which ones to complete.

TIP: Many families enjoy audio books, but I would skip the audio version of The Boxcar Children. The free versions are usually of an older edition of the book, which contains sensitive issues removed from the later edition used by Sonlight.

Chapter 1. The Four Hungry Children

  • Visit a grocery store or bakery. Compare various types of bread and discuss the nutritional value of various bakery items.
  • Try a few different types of bread. Compare flavors and styles. Rate each to see which your family prefers.

Chapter 2. Night is Turned into Day

  • Visit a water fountain.
  • Take a moonlit walk.
  • Show your children street signs and how to follow the signs home.
  • Create a different place to sleep, like the haystack in the story. Try a tent or sleeping outdoors. My girls liked making a blanket pile inside and covering it with sheets to hide under.

Chapter 3. A New Home in the Woods

Although you probably don't have any empty boxcars laying around, you can still have fun by pretending.

  • Get a large box to serve as a boxcar and a few toys to represent the children.
  • If you have a lot of LEGO bricks, you can build a boxcar out of them. If older siblings are around, they might enjoying adding fine details to make it more realistic. Add mini-figures for each child.
  • Drive past a train station. Point out different train cars (you don’t have to know them all). Some basic car types are flatcars, tank cars, livestock cars, engines, cabooses, and the boxcar.
  • Visit a train museum, or take a train tour or ride, if available.

Chapter 4. Henry Has Two Surprises

  • Discuss animal safety, (never touching a dog while eating, not distracting a service dog, dog allergies, etc). Visit a kennel or pound to see dog types. 
  • Add a toy dog to your boxcar.
  • Go blueberry picking. If that won’t work, get berries from a farmer’s market or store. 
  • Make blueberries and cream. Enjoy with fresh bread, hard cheese, and milk.
  • Explore pine trees. Compare fresh and dry needles. 
  • Use paper strips or LEGO blocks to make a bed in your boxcar.

Chapter 5. The Explorers Find Treasure

  • Taking a trip to a dump didn’t seem very safe for my girls, so we took a trip to a second-hand thrift store instead. We found two household items that would liven up our home. And each girl chose one inexpensive item (like Benny did with his pink cup) and one book.
  • Add dishes to your boxcar. A toy tea set, or paper dishes work well.
  • Allow your children to help wash dishes after a meal. Even if they aren’t perfectly washed, it’s a good life skill to practice.

Chapter 6. A Queer Noise in the Night

  • Henry needed to work to earn money, but we decided to work to help others. I asked each of my girls to come up with one way we can help a neighbor. One girl suggested we help an elderly neighbor unload groceries (she was just returning from the store) and the other suggested we make the same neighbor cookies. We did both.
  • The cookies were an extension already, so we sat down and enjoyed freshly baked cookies and milk, just like Benny.
  • For a different snack later, we had bread, butter, and jerky.  After our meal, we practiced cleaning up.
  • Lacing cards and activities can be used to pretend to hem tablecloths, like Violet did.
  • Making brooms from sticks isn’t something I’m skilled at, but we do have one for sweeping our yard and cleaning outside. We practiced sweeping—both outside and inside—along with mopping, vacuuming, and squeegeeing.
  • Henry helped the doctor wash his car. Your children can try helping an adult wash a car. Or if you’re like me, and that seems like more work than you want (or the weather isn’t cooperating), you can drive through a car wash.
Intro to the World: Cultures | History / Bible / Literature A

Intro to the World: Cultures | History / Bible / Literature A

Chapter 7. A Big Meal from Little Onions

  • Practice gardening, weeding, or thinning vegetables. If you have no garden, perhaps a neighbor would allow you to help in exchange for a few vegetables to make soup with.
  • Gardening isn’t really my thing, so we went to a farmer’s market and I had my girls look choose some vegetables. We brought them home and washed them. 
  • Make vegetable soup. You can use your favorite recipe, or use the basic recipe in the book with your own modifications for flavor. We don’t like onions or turnips, so we made lentil and vegetable soup. If you aren’t interested in making homemade soup, a can or two of vegetable soup, along with a few vegetables to chop up and add in, are more than sufficient. You can make your soup on the stove, or over a grill or fire. We served ours with thickly sliced French bread, popped in the oven until crisp and crusty.
  • Organize a garage (or other area in need of some attention) like Henry did.

Chapter 8. A Swimming Pool at Last

  • Most people don’t have a convenient brook to transform into a pool. But we were still able to have fun by pulling out a kiddie pool and letting the girls splash around. In colder weather, a bathtub will suffice.
  • Try washing a light item of clothing, like a sock, by hand with your children and then hanging it to dry.
  • The boxcar children made a meal of eggs scrambled in butter, with bread and milk. You might enjoy this. For a bit of extra fun, check your area to see if any hens lay different colored eggs. We had a neighbor who sold eggs from a rainbow chicken.

Chapter 9. Fun in the Cherry Orchard

  • If you can, try cherry picking. It’s a fun activity with a treat you can take home.
  • Eat cherries. You can try different varieties or have cherries with cream or ice cream.
  • Mrs. Moore and Mary served cherry dumplings. Make your own cherry dumplings or buy dumplings. My girls weren’t as fond of cherries as I had predicted, so we had apple dumplings instead.

Chapter 10. Henry and the Free-For-All

  • Have a race day with your own family or invite friends or neighbors to participate. For fun races, this is a good place to start.
  • Make a book like Benny’s. If your child’s isn’t reading yet, make a book with their name and few words that would be important them and let them draw pictures. If they are reading and writing, they can make their own book, or you can write words for them to copy. A stapler and a few pieces of paper are all you need.
  • Eat baked potatoes (made either in a fire or in an oven) with toppings of your choice. The boxcar children blackened theirs in fire, then added butter and salt and served with milk.

The Doctor Takes a Hand

  • Make a toy bear. You can use a stocking or a kit, depending on the level of crafting you want to attempt. I took the easy way out and purchased each girl a stuffed bear from the dollar store. Have your child name the bear.
  • Trim your child’s hair if it’s time.
  • Talk about scissors safety: things they should and shouldn’t cut, not running with scissors, not throwing them, etc.
  • Violet gets very sick in this chapter, and they need to get an adult to help. This is a good time to discuss what to do if someone is hurt, sick, or abused. You can talk about ways they can help someone feel better (getting a cold compress for them, playing quietly, etc.), and how to call 911 in an emergency (and only an emergency). Practice the steps to unlocking and dialing a phone and using the emergency button.

James Henry and Henry James

  • The Boxcar Children meet their grandfather and get to know him. This would be a good time for your child to interview a grandparent, asking for stories about their childhood and things they learned growing up. For a fun memory, you can record this conversation as a keepsake. If you don’t have grandparents available, interview another adult such as an aunt, uncle, family friend, or neighbor. 

A New Home for the Boxcar

  • The boxcar children found personalized bedrooms waiting for them. Your children can make pictures designing their own rooms for themselves or the boxcar children.
  • Go shopping together and purchase something small to decorate their rooms.

After the Story

The Boxcar Children Movie stays close to the story line and is fun to watch. It’s sweet and safe for most young children. The Boxcar Children has many, many sequels. The first 19 are by the original author, and more than 100 other books have been added after that.

Try HBL A (or any other program) for three weeks. Download a sample of any Sonlight Instructor's Guide for free. Click here to get one for any level, preschool through twelfth grade.

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Keeping Track of Your Homeschool

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Keeping Track of Your Homeschool

There's a lot to keep track of as a homeschool parent! Your state, district, or umbrella school may require documentation. But even if it doesn't, you have your own day-to-day record keeping that lets you know what to do next and helps you keep tabs on your own progress. When you multiply that record keeping for each child you are teaching, keeping track of your homeschool can be a chore!

Fortunately, when you homeschool with Sonlight, keeping track of your homeschool is relatively easy thanks to the handy Instructor's Guide (IG) that lays everything out for you. But since each family is different, you may need to layer additional methods on your IG like these tricks I've outlined below.

Keeping Track of Pages for the Day

When homeschooling with Sonlight, we need to keep track of two types of pages so we can easily start our day:

  • pages in the books we’re reading
  • pages in our Instructor’s Guide 

It's open and go, but if we don't know where to open to, we aren't going anywhere!

Although bookmarks may seem an obvious choice for the our Readers and Read-Alouds, they can easily fall out if people are careless about how they carry books. But when it comes to the bulky IGs, a regular bookmark is impractical, of course.

The solution? I’ve found that repositionable adhesive flags are perfect for both jobs.

For our books, when we finish any assigned reading, we simply move the flag from where we left off last to where we’ll pick up next. In our IGs, we stagger flags over the subject area pages for the week we’re currently in:

  • History / Bible / Literature (HBL) over Day 1
  • LA over Day 2
  • Science over Day 3

This method (as shown in the top photo) makes it easy to flip back and forth from one page to another during a particular week of homeschool.

You can find adhesive flags in a variety of lengths, widths, and colors. Some even have arrows at the tips. The variety of options can take your organization up a level if you want to color code according to student or subject. 

A Peek Inside an Instructor's Guide

Keeping Track of Multiple Kids

If you plan on using one Instructor’s Guide for multiple kids, you’ll need a way to keep track of what work each child has done. As our oldest started school, we would put an X in the corner of the appropriate box every time he completed a particular assignment. Along came our second, and I knew I didn’t want each future kid to have to count X’s to figure out which assignments he needed to do, especially when skipping assignments would mess up the count.

The solution is to give each child a symbol.

  • Child 1 is an X.
  • Child 2 is a circle.
  • Child 3 is a heart.
  • Child 4 is a star.

They are able to quickly glance at the IG and know which assignment is next because it’s the first one without their unique symbol in the box.

Maybe you have (or hope to have) too many kids for symbols to be practical. If so, try using dots in different colors that correspond with age. You could also assign numbers that are based on age or, if birth order doesn’t sync with the order your kids go through a particular IG, the order they use that IG.

Keeping Track of Time, Week by Week

Many homeschoolers have a relaxed approach to when things get done and don’t worry about staying on a particular timeline. Others have a lot of structure, making sure that each day’s and week’s assignments are done in order and on time. If you fall into either of those categories and it’s working well for your family, keep at it. If, however, you fall somewhere in the middle, you’ll need figure out how to pace yourself so you don’t end up too far ahead or behind.

In our home, we figure out when we want our school year to end, and then go back a couple weeks to build in some wiggle room. If we end up needing those two weeks, we’re grateful to have them so we can still end our year on time. If we’re able to complete everything before those two weeks, then we’re rewarded with a longer break. It’s not important to us if a day’s work gets done in a day, as long as a week’s work gets done in a week. So once we’ve determined our starting and ending points, as well as factored in any planned breaks, we figure out which week of school needs to be completed by the last Friday of each month and write that week's number on the corresponding calendar square. (For example, in the photo above, I've marked that week in the IG as week 12 in my plan.)

This approach provides enough structure that we all finish the year when we want to, but still allows freedom for each child to pace the daily work as desired.

Whatever it is that you need to keep better track of—pages, kids, or time—just keep experimenting with these ideas until you find what works well for your family. 

Simplify your homeschool and streamline record keeping. Try three weeks of any Sonlight Instructor's Guide for free. Click here to get one for any level, preschool through twelfth grade.

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8 Books to Inspire Christmas Conversations

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It’s officially my favorite season. Christmas fills my house with joyful music and family gatherings as we wait in hopeful expectation for Christ’s arrival.

While carols, gifts, and yummy treats are nice, the true meaning of Christmas is much better, bigger and broader than the boundaries of one day. I invite you to remember and reflect on why we celebrate. Let us not forget that Christmas commemorates God’s perfect love coming to earth in the form of Jesus Christ.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” 

Isaiah 9:6-7

The true meaning of Christmas is that Jesus arrived on Earth to rescue us from our sins. In His arrival, we garner hope and peace with God. Let us remember and rejoice, that God gave His Son to us to make us part of His family.

To inspire Christmas conversations among your family, we’ve collected some favorite Sonlight Christmas books. These books provide an outlet to not only experience the Christmas season in other cultures but also in other walks of life. From homelessness in France to Yorkshire farmland, use this list to explore the true meaning of Christmas with your children.

1. A Christmas Carol

The classic Christmas tale captures the spirit and meaning of Christmas. Follow Ebenezer Scrooge as he visits his past, present, and future to finally open his heart to those around him. This story is filled with love, goodwill, mercy, and self-redemption.


2. The Gift of the Magi

When a couple struggles to scrounge up enough coins to buy Christmas gifts worthy of their devotion, they make sacrifices to afford the perfect gift. After realizing what the other has done, they realize that the true gifts of Christmas can be found right in their humble apartment and not in a store.


3. The Light at Tern Rock

A simple but pleasurable Christmas story for all ages. A boy and his aunt are stuck on a lighthouse island over Christmas. When the retired lighthouse keeper goes out to the rock to substitute in for the current keeper, she brings her nephew. They fully expect to be back to the mainland in time for Christmas. But as the days pass … something has gone wrong. This is a story about betrayal and forgiveness. A telling lesson on how to prepare one's heart for the coming of the King when there is so much anger and hurt.


4. The Family Under the Bridge

Set in Paris at Christmas. A homeless family meets a homeless man who begrudgingly adopts them, and they form a new family unit. A delightfully warm story.


5. The Wonderous World of Violet Barnaby

Reeling from her mother’s death, father’s new marriage and two new step-siblings, Violet finds a letter from her mother that includes a list of things to do to celebrate the yuletide season. With a good look at family, and how to deal with emotions, Violet learns some moving lessons.


6. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

A comical and impactful story of incorrigible children who discover the true meaning of Christmas. When the dictatorial pageant leader breaks her leg, a hapless mom has to figure out how to lead the pageant. This is both uproariously funny (truly laugh-out-loud funny) and a tear-jerker.


7. A Year Down Yonder

A lovely story of a middle-class high school girl from the city thrown into rural 1937 living with her country grandmother. The vast changes in landscape and tradition give this young lady quite the shock, but the story is filled with adventure and heart-warming experiences. There is a lovely chapter on how Grandmother surprised her granddaughter for Christmas.


8. James Herriot’s Treasury for Children

Travel to Northern England in the early 1900s and explore the tales of a Yorkshire country vet. From the animals to the townsfolk, these stories are family treasures. The highlight is The Christmas Day Kitten; the story of an unlikely dog owner pushed into cat ownership. When a stray cat brings a woman her kitten on Christmas Day only to die hours later, the women and her Basset hounds welcome the kitten into their life. One of the best gifts this human has ever received and it turns out she is a cat owner at heart.


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4 Ways to Combine Homeschool and Housekeeping to Get More Done

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4 Ways to Combine Homeschool and Housekeeping to Get More Done

It’s tricky to find a healthy balance between schoolwork and housekeeping. Consequently, it’s not uncommon for a family to favor one at the expense of the other. There will inevitably be times when not a single chapter of any book gets read and no math equations get solved, but your home gets organized from top to bottom. Or maybe your home will look like a tornado blew through, but your kids are mastering their math lessons, you're getting your scheduled science activities done,  and you're ahead with your Read-Alouds.

Those days and weeks are part of life, but what if you could combine school assignments with household chores more often? Here are some ideas that work for me to integrate learning into our day-to-day routine so I can get more done in less time.

1. Math Multi-tasking

We’ll sometimes quiz each other on basic math facts while doing yard work or driving down the road. Usually I’ll throw out two numbers for young kids to add and older kids to multiply. I occasionally change things up by having everyone take turns giving an equation to solve. In that case, the first to answer gets to offer the next equation.

Sometimes I check workbook answers—read aloud by a child—by glancing at a teacher’s guide on the kitchen counter as I stir what's on the stove. At other times a sibling goes through a stack of flashcards with another kid who’s busy washing dishes.

2. Reading Time Savers

Here's a go-to time saver! Read aloud while someone works on a household task:

  • I read aloud while a child folds laundry.
  • An emerging reader reads aloud while I prepare a meal.

We often rely on free audio books from our library or through a paid service. Your kids can listen to school books while pulling weeds, eating lunch, or vacuuming (with ear buds). Or an audio book can give you uninterrupted time to take care of your own housekeeping tasks or lie down for an hour while they listen and play quietly.

3. Songs for Chores

I’m not talking about music as a subject here, but as a method of learning. Sonlight has tunes to help your kids learn science, history, geography, and Bible. We just crank up the music when it’s time to mop floors or scrub bathrooms.

4. Spelling On the Go

I almost always give spelling tests during meal prep because it’s a school task that doesn’t require all of my attention like reading does. I can check for the next word while slicing vegetables and tell a kid if their spelling is correct while flipping pancakes.

Practicing spelling words is also an easy thing to do in the car. Since I have multiple kids who are capable of reading, I have my kids quiz each other while I focus on driving.

There will always be times you need to focus on either household tasks or school ones, but seizing opportunities to combine the two is an efficient use of the limited hours you have each day. I'd love to hear how you overlap your school day with housekeeping! Leave a comment below.

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

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6 Keys to Easing Homeschool Anxiety in Extended Family

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6 Keys to Easing Homeschool Anxiety in Extended Family

There’s something about going off the beaten path of education that causes anxiety and uncertainty. Even the most supportive and loving families may be unhappy when a mom or dad mentions homeschooling. Reactions may range from a raised eyebrow of shock to outright opposition. In the middle of those two extremes, you'll see a great deal of anxiety and worry.

Here are a few keys to ensure you provide the support and knowledge that grandmas, grandpas, aunts, and uncles need to feel at ease with your choice to homeschool. While it's not your role to manage their emotions and actions, there's a lot you can do to ease homeschool anxiety in extended family.

When you take these steps, you make your decision easier for them to swallow and reduce any friction in your relationships.

1. Pray

Prayer can never be underestimated. Before you make the decision to homeschool, spend time in personal prayer. Be sure you are submitting the desires of your heart to God’s will before you take the next step. After you feel the Lord nudging you to take that next step, spend more time in prayer with your spouse. Then, pray with your spouse and your children. Finally, take it to your extended family. Pray for hearts to be opened to the Lord’s will. Ask them to pray with you about homeschooling. Never take on homeschooling until the Lord has gone before you and prepared the way.

2. Understand the Concern

Chances are good that you’ve felt uncertain about homeschooling at some point as well. Maybe you have overcome the uneasiness, or maybe you are still dealing with it. Either way, put yourself in the shoes of your worried family members, and make sure they know that you can understand their uncertainty. Tell them that you will be happy to answer any questions. Let them know that you welcome their input, while respectfully reserving the right to make the final decision. Make sure to establish that you count on their support.

3. Invite Family Into Your Homeschool Regularly

The single biggest mistake a homeschool parent can make, in regards to family support, is to shut the family out. There is value in being open and transparent. We, as homeschoolers, can take a cue from public schools here. Public schools consistently open their doors to the community, inviting family in at every opportunity. We can do this in homeschool as well.

There are many ways to invite family into your homeschool. For example, last year, my mother-in-law came every Friday to teach a lesson from her area of expertise, music and food nutrition. My kids loved Grammy Fridays and looked forward to them each week. My father-in-law and my parents regularly stop by for impromptu science lessons or simply to give hugs and see what the kids are working on.

Local family is invited to our annual homeschool showcase. For our out-of-town family, we keep a Facebook page just for our homeschool where we share accomplishments and special projects. Transparency gives me a sense of accountability, and it puts family at ease, helping them know that you are taking your child’s education seriously.

4. Ask for Help

We cannot do this on our own. There will be areas where we are weak and need to ask for outside help. Before you look elsewhere, try looking to your family. Do you have anyone who might be willing to help?

  • Maybe there is an uncle who would love to come walk your oldest child through the biology dissections.
  • There may be a grandparent who would love to come listen to the kids learn to read.
  • Maybe you could look over math curriculum options with your elementary school teacher mother-in-law.

Sometimes, grumbling is exacerbated by family members feeling useless. There is nothing quite like bringing in all your resources to create a complete, varied education for a child who is well-loved. If you think this is the case in your family, look for ways to ask family for help. Even if they can’t provide educational support, they could teach a skills-based lesson or make dinner for you during a busy week. You will be surprised by how much this small gesture can change things.

5. Gratefully Accept Constructive Critique

Everyone deals with critique in life. Coaches critique players, bosses critique employees, and rightfully so. This is a necessary part of life. Constructive criticism is how we grow. As homeschooling parents, we are not immune to critique. Rather, we should regularly submit ourselves to constructive critique from our spouses and trusted extended family members. Those who truly have the best interest of your children at heart should have a voice in your homeschool.

When my husband and I had just begun in children’s ministry, we invited a wise couple with experience to come see our service. After the service, they critiqued us quite heavily. I won’t lie—it hurt a little at the time, but as we reflected on their words and prayed in earnest, we realized that they spoke truth. Their motive was pure... love for us, our ministry, and the children under our care. We took their critique to heart and changed our ministry to reflect their wisdom. We almost immediately began to see the fruit from applying their wise suggestions.

That being said, you will also need to develop the ability to discern wise critique from foolish or unnecessary critique. We didn’t accept every bit of the critique that night. Some of it, we realized, just didn’t line up with the vision we felt God had given us for the ministry. So, we didn’t change the things that we saw were working on a weekly basis.

The same is true for homeschool parents. We should give family an opportunity to have a voice, but we must then discern what to take to heart, and what to kindly discard. Also understand that there is a difference between constructive critique and toxic critique. If you are dealing with the latter, you should distance yourself from that individual where possible.

6. Always Speak Positively About Family

“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” We’ve all heard that saying, and those are wise words that we try to live by. Those words are especially true for family. I don’t think it’s appropriate for families to speak negatively about each other to or in front of the children. We make every effort to make sure that our children know how blessed they are to have so many people supporting and encouraging them.

Back when I was a teacher in public school and heard of someone choosing to homeschool, I , too, was very uncertain. So when I felt God calling us to homeschool, it took me a while to warm up to the idea. I continued to pray until I felt sure it was the right direction. I’m thankful that God demonstrated patience with me in this, and from a grateful heart, I try to give the same grace and patience to those in my life who are not quite warmed up to the idea. But let me encourage you, if you have a loving family, you are blessed. Give them time to adjust to the idea of homeschooling, pray for them, and involve them where possible. They could be one of your greatest allies in this homeschool journey.


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