Starting as a New Homeschooler: Two Key Guideposts

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Starting as a New Homeschooler: Two Key Guideposts

“Homeschool? You must be crazy.”

I fired back those words at my husband as he gently suggested we homeschool our soon-to-be-kindergartener. We had just moved; I was pregnant with our second daughter. I frantically searched for reasons why we shouldn’t homeschool, but frankly, I just never planned for it. I grew up in public schools and thought that was what we would do with our family. I questioned how I could teach my daughter at home, and how she would ever get the interaction she needed with her peers. However, my husband’s reasoning did make some sense. The local school was half an hour away, and with a newborn baby, the transportation and waiting in school lines could be difficult. Being at home with my daughters could provide flexibility in our schedule. So the seed was planted.  

As I continued to visit public and charter schools around us and research our options, I also began to pray. Opening my heart to God’s direction for how we should educate our daughter was the turning point for me. The Holy Spirit began to gently show me that homeschooling our daughter was the direction He was leading us. I saw in His Word that we parents are called to train our children.

I laid aside all my preconceived ideas and fears about homeschooling, and surrendered to God’s direction for our family. 

So, with a decision about schooling made, I now began the monumental task of knowing where in the world to start. I talked to every homeschool mom I knew. I spent hours online researching curriculum options. I went to a homeschool conference. 

Out of my extensive searching came two very valuable pieces of advice: 

  1. Know your why. 
  2. Limit your curriculum search. 

Fortunately, this advice stopped me from going down the rabbit hole of never-ending choices and complete frustration my first year of homeschooling.  

1. Know Your Why

Having a vision for your child’s education is probably the single most important piece of advice for new homeschoolers. Your vision will get you excited about starting your homeschooling journey. And it will carry you through those days when you are ready to quit…when you are ready to march your child up to the public school doors and say “Take her!” (I know I’m not the only one who’s had that daydream.)

So, why are you considering homeschooling? And I don’t mean just the reasons that make life a little more flexible and convenient. Sure, for me, it was more convenient to keep my kindergartener home. That meant less time on the road and not having to wait in school lines with a newborn baby. That also meant not having to struggle getting everyone dressed and out the door every morning. We know how difficult the morning chaos can be when it’s time to go somewhere.

Those are nice reasons, but those will not carry you through those really rough days.  

As I searched my heart, and asked God to show me why He wanted our family to homeschool, I realized He had given me the amazing privilege to train my daughter. I could spend those precious hours with her at home not only educating her, but also sharing God’s love with her. It is a calling and a privilege to homeschool my child.

Ask God to show you your vision for your child’s education. His direction will guide and keep you during those difficult days.

2. Limit Your Curriculum Search

Continually researching curriculum options can lead to feeling overwhelmed. I talked to so many moms about what curriculum they were using. Everyone seemed to be doing something different, and most had pieced together different curriculums for each subject based on their preferences.

I was intimidated by all the choices. How could I ensure I chose the best curriculum for my daughter?

Fortunately, in the midst of my search, a wise friend advised me not to obsess over all the different curriculum choices in the vendor hall at an upcoming homeschool conference. At the time, her advice seemed odd to me. How could I choose a program without looking at all the choices? However, as she was much further along in her homeschooling journey, I decided to listen. Now, I realize how much sense she made. While I did get to see some curriculum at the convention, I didn’t spend hours panicking over the choices. I focused instead on attending sessions that encouraged and motivated me on getting started as a homeschooler. Just hearing stories of generations of homeschoolers was the fuel I needed to ignite my own vision. Instead of being discouraged by all the options and not knowing where to start, I came away refreshed, renewed, and energized.   

As I finally made my decision on what curriculum to use, I asked these three main questions.

  1. Did it have a Christian viewpoint?
  2. Did it have a plan I could follow?
  3. Were all the books and materials I needed included?

I remembered seeing Sonlight at a friend’s house. It checked all of those boxes; plus it included so many wonderful books.  My daughter and I already loved to read together. The peace of mind in knowing that I would have all the materials I needed and a plan to follow was invaluable to me in starting our homeschooling journey. I didn’t have to spend hours planning and piecing together materials. Everything was already put together for me.

So, I chose Sonlight and stopped looking. I had a plan in place to get going on the vision God had given me for teaching my daughter. And looking back on that first year, I’m so glad we chose Sonlight. We learned so many lessons about the world around us from God’s viewpoint, and the literature set a solid foundation for her language and reading skills.   

Homeschooling is a journey. Let’s start the journey with joy, peace, and excitement about how God is using this time in our lives. On my journey, there are still days when it’s hard, when I feel like giving up. But I choose to keep going. I remember my why, rest in Him, and see God’s process. Homeschooling is refining me as much as it is refining my children. And ultimately, God has entrusted to us the privilege of training our children.

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But I Don’t Have the Patience to Homeschool

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But I Don’t Have the Patience to Homeschool

This retort was my mental refrain anytime I encountered someone who homeschooled their children: I don't have the patience to homeschool. I loved the idea of homeschooling, but just knew that I lacked the tolerance to spend all day, every day shepherding my young children through reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Enter COVID. Like so many others, we decided to try homeschooling after a failed attempt at virtual learning last spring. I knew in my heart that home education might be the best option for our family, but I wondered how I would juggle teaching and parenting without losing my cool daily. I figured that patience was a virtue. Some are born with it, and some…well, some of us are not.

We have certainly had our ups and downs this year, and I have relied heavily on the wisdom of other homeschooling moms who shared their experience so feely. What I’ve heard over and over is that very few of them felt naturally endowed with an excess of patience and tolerance. Instead, they embraced homeschooling as an opportunity to develop patience, all in the service of strengthening their relationship with their children.

So, how did they do it? Here is a breakdown of five practical tips I’ve picked up over the last few months for cultivating patience and diffusing tension during the homeschool day.

1. Start Your Day Over

We all have bad days, and things can snowball out of control rapidly. During a phone conversation with a friend on one of those bad days, she suggested that we all (myself and my children) count to three and start our day over.

Although starting over seemed like a laughably simple solution, it worked!

Now, when I feel myself tensing up, or see my kids getting overwhelmed with frustration, I know what to do:

  • acknowledge the situation
  • take a deep breath
  • count 1—2—3
  • start the day or the lesson over

2. Relinquish Control

So many times, my tension and irritation originate from clinging too tightly to my agenda for the day. One of the benefits of homeschooling is that we have the freedom to follow learning’s natural ebb and flow, chase down rabbit holes, and focus on the educational opportunities that present themselves.

I have found that when I am able to let go even just a little bit of my bright ideas and follow my children’s lead, it goes a long way toward increasing our peace and joy in learning, and my patience with my children

3. Pray

Although it is a goal of mine to start each day with prayer, it’s also an invaluable tool throughout the day. When agitated, I try to pause and ask God for help in the moment. I ask him to help me do my best and to remind me that my little ones are doing their best, too. This is not novel advice, but for some reason it’s so hard to remember when we’re in the thick of things!

Even a simple prayer will do: “God, please help me to be patient with these little souls in front of me” or “God, please help all of us to do your will today.”

4. Manage Expectations

We call it the witching hour at our house. You might have another colorful name for it. But, each day, around 4:30-5:00 pm the wheels seem to come off the wagon around here. We’ve all had a long day by then, nerves are a bit frayed, and our coping skills are nearly exhausted.

I have come to dread this time of day, steeling myself for tantrums and meltdowns as I try to prepare dinner, help our older boys with schoolwork, and keep my younger ones engaged in some type of activity. I tend to shift quickly into reactive mode, bustling around trying to get this child to quiet down, this one to focus, this one to leave me alone so I can just “do this one thing!”

Not surprisingly, these afternoons often end in tears for at least one of us, sometimes all of us! 

Eventually, it dawned on me that I get frustrated and flummoxed every day by something that should be completely expected and predictable.

My children are just doing what children do when they get tired and bored.  I can keep snapping and picking at them, which isn’t working too well, or I can accept things as they are and do my part to alleviate our stress.

I started by making time to read aloud in the afternoons, an activity we all enjoy that promotes closeness and camaraderie. After having some dedicated time with me as reader, my young children were much more content with independent playtime while I made dinner or helped our older boys. Whenever possible, I tried to celebrate the little ones’ attempts to help me make dinner by enlisting them in setting the table, folding napkins, or getting out the utensils. Again, it comes back to expectations. It probably wasn’t too realistic of me to expect some quiet time to myself at this time of day. So, instead of shooing everyone out of the kitchen, I now try to involve them in cooking and other simple chores whenever possible. Recalibrating my expectations for this particular part of our day has increased my patience with myself and my family.

5. Practice Self-care

We’ve all heard the spiel on the airplane to first place the oxygen masks on ourselves, and then assist our small children. If I am frazzled, depleted, or stressed out, I will have nothing left to give my children. 

As an introvert, I need a bit of quiet time each day. But since I feel guilty scheduling this time or setting boundaries with my children, I never get the time alone I crave. I have thankfully learned from the experience of others that it is perfectly okay to plan a daily quiet time for myself and for my children.

Once I have taken that time to recharge, I am then much better equipped to engage with my children and respond to them in a loving and patient way.

While I don’t put all of these suggestions into practice every day, I am content with progress, not perfection.  I have learned that it doesn’t really matter how much patience I have, but rather how much I’m willing ask for more and reach for one of these solutions when I find myself falling short. COVID gave me the push I needed to try homeschooling, and the wisdom of homeschooling moms before me has given me the tools I need to enjoy this journey with my children.  

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A Reality Check for Your Deepest Homeschool Fears

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A Reality Check for Your Deepest Homeschool Fears

By now, you know the drill: every once in a while, you read an article, talk to a homeschooling friend, or discover a new educational blog… and pretty soon your head is spinning. Should we do more? Better? Are we doing enough? Are my kids behind?

I get it. You're afraid. 

You're afraid your kids won't learn what they need to know to be successful in life. You worry you're not qualified to teach your kids. You fear that one day you might realize that you failed

Take a deep breath, my friend. 

Learning advanced algebra by a specified date doesn't guarantee happiness in life. Following every twist and turn of your curriculum doesn't automatically lead to a fulfilled life or financial stability. 

We often have the same unrealistic expectations about homeschooling as we do about life in general: perfection.

All-or-nothing, high standards, focus on the results, pushed by fear all the way. But life (and homeschooling) is never perfect. And it shouldn’t be.

Living Is a Journey of Discovery

This journey isn’t perfect, and it never will be. Do pay attention, though, because each turn of the path requires an adjustment.

Try to stop comparing your journey to someone else’s. Listen to your gut. Remember, your kids are watching you. And if they see you taking chances, tackling new things, correcting, bouncing back from setbacks, growing, and learning, so will they. 

They’ll begin to follow their inner voice, developing independent learning skills, self-reliance, and confidence as they go. It’s true, you don't know what's next. But you're not here to control their learning. Your job isn’t to prepare your kids for college. Your kids will prepare themselves for their future. On their own terms.

Let your kids learn to trust their choices, navigate their learning, practice how to get started, and get things done. It won't be perfect. But trust that it will be exactly what they need.

Have comfort in knowing that you and your kids are always learning. You’re learning from books, life, siblings, museums, documentaries, playing games, talking to strangers, as well as the homeschool curriculum you picked. 

Slow down. You don’t have to do all the things. Everything. All the time. 

Curriculum Is Merely a Guide 

Your curriculum is not written to be followed to a tee. It’s not here to control you. It’s here to guide you. Its purpose is to direct your effort but not to hold you prisoner. 

Be responsive to the cues your children give you. Observe. Listen. Give it time. Let it grow.

When you lie at night wondering… 

  • Is it okay to work across the schedule instead of up and down each day?
  • Is it okay to do homeschool in the afternoon, at night, or on weekends?
  • Is it okay to take a day off?
  • Is it okay to ...

The answer is almost always yes.

We don’t trust ourselves enough. But you know what?

You’ve Got This. You Can’t Fail.

If you go into homeschooling with the mindset that you can’t fail, then the formative choices you make around the quality and quantity of schooling will be more in tune with the whole range of your kids’ educational needs.  

When you begin to feel anxiety about skipping a particular topic or about taking part of the day off, tell yourself some good things: “I’m the best teacher for my children. I trust myself. I’m not alone.”               

Fear often comes from deep insecurities. One of the biggest myths around homeschooling is that in order to do it right, we must be qualified. This fear is what keeps us forever discounting what we do have to offer. And we have a lot to offer: love, experience, compassion, safe boundaries, stability, security, nourishment, wisdom, sleepless nights, a shoulder to cry on, cookies, hugs, and a passionate desire for our kids to succeed.

I know for a fact that no matter how tired or busy you are right now, you’ve worked fiercely to make sure your children thrive. Today and every day. 

But there is a kind of short-sighted preoccupation that happens on some homeschool days. We fixate on the number of pages, the problems completed, and the pages read. The checklist becomes an all-consuming goal. Before we know it, the seemingly ordinary day is turned into a race to get it done no matter what. The kids are not on board; we lose a sense of perspective. 

Breathe in. Breathe out, my friend.

Now think: Is this topic vital for your child’s success in life? Can it be learned later today? Next month? In a year? Can it be learned differently? Is this truly necessary? 

How often is great effort dedicated to fitting in something that is not supposed to fit in? 

So much brain power channeled into doing something that doesn’t have to be done?

Preparing Children for a Future None of Us Knows

We have some funny ideas about success in life. We sometimes think we can predict future success by the number of math problems or spelling words they complete today. 

Really?

The truth is, we don’t know who our children are going to want to be when they grow up: life extension technicians, space travelers, bloggers? We don’t know what they will be passionate about: quantum computing, space tourism, self-driving cars? We don’t have a clue about opportunities that will come up for them or what life will be like in ten, fifteen, twenty years.

When you go to bed worrying: What do my kids need to learn to succeed in life? How can I best prepare them for a grown-up life, know that you’re not supposed to have all the answers. Not right now, and maybe never.

But you can always, in the words of American poet Mary Oliver, “keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” And trust that you and your child will figure it out as you go.  

Let go of the outcome. Your kids are their own people, in their own path, and they need to find their own way.

It means trial and error, mess, learning opportunities that come out of setbacks, more mess, skipping parts nobody cares about, and developing patience and even appreciation for the times when things don’t come out as you had envisioned them.  

Reach Out to an Expert

Getting a good education doesn't have to mean devoting strained and frustrated hours to following every little bit of a particular curriculum. Or sticking to a certain schedule. Or trying to live a particular philosophy.

Homeschooling is all about having the courage to blaze your own path. The choice is yours. You can change things up, skip this, add that. You can learn outside, inside, on the mountain top, or in the soup kitchen. 

Most importantly, remember that you are never alone. Mentors, guides, and advisors are always available to help if you are truly questioning yourself.  People used to say it takes a village to raise a child. I invite you to be part of the Sonlight village, and we’ll be part of yours. 

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Stories from New Homeschoolers: How We Know Our Kids Are Growing

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How We Know Our Kids Are Growing

We asked new 2020 homeschoolers to chime in with their thoughts about measuring progress. We asked:

This school year with Sonlight, your kids have not taken quizzes/tests or received letter grades. So how do you know they are learning? What kind of growth have you observed, academically or otherwise? And are you satisfied with the progress they have made this year at home with you?

These parents blew us away with their confidence. There were no wishy-washy guesses or uncertain answers. They know their kids are growing. Because they've been teaching their children themselves day by day, they have intimate knowledge of exactly what their children have mastered.

And, wow, have they mastered a lot! These families have seen incredible progress in reading skills and math mastery. Plus they have savored in-depth discussions as a family and observed their children recalling material from lessons weeks and months prior. These Sonlight students are learning, and the learning is sticking. Here's what they said:

Their Progress Is Obvious! I'm There to See it Firsthand

"My kids were previously in private school. They did no letter or number grades in elementary, and we only saw their finished work a few times a year. Assessments were subjective and often obviously cut-and-pasted from another child's report! With Sonlight, I hear my kids answer questions, make connections, and ask for more information (and more reading aloud) every day. I can see so much growth in their knowledge and pride in their learning. I think that what I'm teaching is valuable, and they have picked up and internalized that perspective. They're always saying, 'I bet no one at [my old school] has learned about this yet!'" —Emma T. L.

"Both older kids in school will ask questions about their work and apply school to every day things. I see their wheels turning. I see them gaining confidence because of the work and not having to worry about the stress from testing."—Jackie S.

"I see my first grader using math in every day life (adding and dividing). I also knew what level of books he was reading when we left school and where he is now. He’s able to make connections in his science and history reading when we go on field trips, or see something else in a different book, or when a similar topic pops up again. My first grader is using Level B and my 4-year-old just started Science K. The youngest is learning about ants, and my oldest instantly recognized the honey pot ant from his reading 6 months ago. It’s also a lot of fun to look back at the language arts worksheets. To flip back through all of the work from an entire year, you can see how much progress has been made." —Amber L. B.

"I know my daughter is learning and progressing by looking at her work now and her work at the beginning of the year. We can have conversations about topics we have studied and she can discuss the information. We watch films and documentaries to extend the topic, and she understands the material." —Pamela R.

We Have Rich Discussions

"The biggest thing for me was realizing all 3 of my little kids are actually auditory learners. This explained some gaps in their previous traditional school settings. It also meant that all the read-alouds and read togethers have been a perfect fit for them! I am often amazed at what they recall and can discuss intelligently. We struggled a bit with poetry at the beginning, but today at week 27 it was incredible listening to them pick up on different meanings and analogies that they were totally clueless about at week 1! We had such a lovely conversation about them. Today the older two were reminiscing thru their readers and showing each which ones they would just love to read too! One was particularly sad that she finished a book today (she really loved it). The science has them wanting to learn more and more. Some of the things I keep thinking are too difficult, but I am clearly underestimating them as they just want to learn more and more and grasp so much! I will also say, mine all have some learning challenges. Not having stressful tests; tons of worksheets/busywork; being able to fidget, snuggle and flop on the couch instead of holding it together at a desk all day has also been a game changer." —Becky S.

"We are a little more than halfway through our curriculum, and I was scared with the task of teaching my first grade boy how to read. Well, 6 months later and he is reading, confident, and telling his younger brother how excited he is for him to learn how to read next year. As far as what they know or are learning I was touched, and proud when an hour after reading chapter 4 of Abandoned on the Wild Frontier, my son asked me how slaves were treated on a plantation and why couldn't many slaves read or write. We had a half hour conversation about these topics. WOW!!! I love Sonlight for these unique and meaningful conversations that are shaping my kids characters in ways I could not have expected."—Julia R.

"My daughter (15, 10th grade) and I have had some amazing discussions about the books she’s read and some that we are reading together. She also amazes me with the things that she picks up on and remembers from the history spine A History of US. We’ve watched a few movies about specific time periods such as North and South about the Civil War, and she can add in context, extra information, or make educated guesses about what will happen next based on the events and historical figures she’s learned about. ❤️" —Wendy M. G.

My Kids Tell Me They Are Learning

"I think this is one of the many blessings of homeschooling. I don’t have to wait for a quiz or test to see how my daughter is doing; I’m constantly assessing her understanding and making adjustments to best suit her needs. And really that’s all assessments need to be right? A litmus test of what they’re learning and how I’m teaching.
We’re working through the Kindergarten curriculum this year and her growth has been amazing. We’ve kept a journal for the creative expression activities and can see amazing growth there as well. She has gone from dictating a sentence to writing several on her own! We’ve been working through the readers, and just after the new year things really clicked. She picked a children’s Bible she had been gifted and just started reading. She looked up at me, beaming and said, 'Mommy, I can really read!' She can see the growth, which has built confidence and a love for learning. I’m so grateful for all the ways Sonlight has been a blessing to our family.❤️" —Cassie-Ryan R.

"My daughter has told me often that she learns far more at home. Other days she has asked to go back to school because there she can tune a teacher out. She says she can't tune us out! Her father teaches math and science, and I teach everything else. Our discussions are so much richer and our family is stronger because of homeschooling with Sonlight." —Heather F.

My Children Love Learning

"Not having tests, grades, and stress has been like heaven for all of our family. My son learns because it is interesting for him and not because he needs a grade. The result after the tests was that he forgot what he memorized. Now, no pressure at all. I see that he is learning because he can talk to me about all the countries we have learned, give me his opinions about cultures, etc. And also I can see how he is able to read, understand and have his own opinions. Besides, by teaching him, I can see what are his weaknesses and I can help him with them. Another important thing for me is that I can solve his doubts about issues like faith, death, war, suffering, etc. and not letting those to be explained by other people. For my son and for my family, Sonlight is a blessing." —Jenny S.

"Before we started homeschooling, I never realized my kids had test anxiety. We know they are learning and retaining because they are applying their knowledge in everyday life. My child who hated reading now reads for pleasure. Two of my other children have started writing novels. And my oldest daughter is creating a coloring book for her younger siblings. When they were able to release the stress of tests, it allowed them to fall back in love with learning, creating, and exploring." —Ashley D. C.

High Scores, Mastered Skills, and Reaching Goals

"New 2020 homeschool mama here! My son had a hard enough time sitting through 30 minutes of speech therapy in front of the computer, so I knew online learning was not going to work for him. Not only has my son's reading and comprehension improved, he has reached all his goals in his IEP. My daughter was not supposed to start Kindergarten until this fall. She is already reading, has finished her math ahead of schedule, and has started her math for next year. They love having school at home and were so excited to look at the new catalog when it came in the mail! I have been asked if I am sending my kids back to public school in the fall and I tell them no way! My husband and I are totally satisfied and in love with Sonlight! Thank you, Sonlight, for making school fun for my kids and me. " — Dawn C.

"Just had this conversation with relatives, LOL! We know they're learning because they can successfully complete the material. Also their skills have noticeably improved." —Elyse E.

"My daughter has gone from 71% reading accuracy to 97% in the last year. She has met all the 2nd grade standards for the end of the year. (She was about a year behind one year ago.) Thanks, Math U See! 🙂 She now reads grade level material and only really needs to work on fluency. She was probably reading at a mid-K level at the end of first grade. Her reading comprehension is something like 99%. Thank you, read-alouds! 🙂 I can only imagine where her history, science, and literature knowledge stand, being almost done with HBL A. I am super proud of her and myself. I was terrified to not do her justice." —Angela G. S.

My Kids Talk About What They've Learned

"I know my son is learning when he tries to reenact lessons from history or that we read in science when he plays. Sometimes he'll say, 'Hey Mama, remember when...' about something we read months ago just to see if I remember or to compare it to something we currently learning about." —Julie Metott

"My 7-year-old meets my husband at the door daily to tell him all about the things he learned that day. His natural curiosity has flourished, and the all-boy in him is grateful he doesn’t have to sit in a seat all day like he did in school. My 9-year-old is sad we’re almost done with all the books for the year, and she’s scouted out the new curriculum and looking forward to next year. I can’t complain about the desire and love they both have for learning. 😊" —Theresa C.

"Without the grades and tests my kids learned to enjoy learning. One Sunday Shaylin went up to a member of our congregation and told him all about narwhals. Until Shay told him about them, he thought they were a mythological creature. The man she was telling is a teacher. (For the record, he’s not a science teacher, and I’m not making fun of him or thinking he’s uneducated. I found out a lot of people thought they were mythological.) He came up to me, impressed with the amount she knew and applauded that we could allow her to really explore her own education." —Katie J. B.

Most of the parents quoted above did not originally plan to homeschool. But they have been successful at teaching their children thanks to Sonlight curriculum. They know their kids are growing! You really can homeschool, too. And Sonlight can help.

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Enter to Win Sonlight's New Preschool Curriculum

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How to Feed the Mind of Your 3- or 4-Year-old: Sonlight's New Preschool Curriculum

If you are parenting a 3- or 4-year old, you need to know about Sonlight's new preschool program! It's the same literature-rich style that all Sonlight programs are based on but with dozens of improvements for 2021.

With this new preschool program, you will instill wonder, excitement and a love of learning that lasts a lifetime. Enter to win a package for yourself and then keep reading for more details about all this program entails.

Sonlight's New Preschool Program

GIVEAWAY: Enter to Win Sonlight Preschool

Although the giveaway is open through July 2021, the #sonlightpreschool hashtag entry is open only April 1 - May 31, 2021. There are so many opportunities to gain extra entries, so take advantage of them all!


What's the Same about Sonlight Preschool

Sonlight Preschool was created around great books. And it's still based on Read-Alouds that you will love savoring with your children and adding to your home library. These are books that keep young children's attention and beg to be read and re-read without being wearisome for the parents.

It can be difficult to weed through all the titles at the public library, and with the Preschool program, the best of the best are already picked out for you.

These books convey cultural literacy that your children need. For example, all children need to know the story of The Gingerbread Man and his familiar refrain "Run, run, as fast as you can. You can't catch me. I'm the Gingerbread Man." Kids also need to be familiar with Cinderella so they can understand a Cinderalla story means a transformation from oppression to glory.

Reading aloud also helps children slowly increase their listening skills and attention span in an enjoyable and age appropriate manner. And of course, kids are exposed to hundreds of new vocabulary words that they learn in the context of meaningful communication (versus word lists).

Emme Kim's Vision for Sonlight Preschool

The 2021 update to Sonlight preschool came about because Emme Kim, a Sonlight consultant, reached out with suggestions of how to make it better.

Emme Kim, Sonlight consultant

Emme is a Sonlight curriculum consultant and the mom to three girls ages 18, 16, and 12. Her oldest is in her first year of college while her younger two are still at home being homeschooled.

In college she studied bio-psychology at UCLA and had originally planned to go into public health. But after sensing God's call, she earned a master's in theology with a concentration in children's ministry from Fuller Seminary. Eventually Emme discovered the Montessori method of education and became certified. She both taught and supervised teacher training in different schools for about seven years.

Sonlight is blessed to have her leverage this expertise in updating the older Preschool program into this new even more robust Preschool Package.

What Is a Montessori Approach to Preschool?

Sonlight's newly updated (in 2021) preschool program takes a Montessori approach. Dr. Maria Montessori devised this way of teaching young children in the early 1900's. It's based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play within a social environment.

Three- and four-year-olds are learning so many new things every day. In a Montessori environment opportunities are structured to give youngsters a sense of "I can do this!" Feeling capable gives them confidence! They know that they can do many simple tasks such as

  • cutting a banana
  • pouring water
  • washing and drying dishes
  • putting things away where they go
  • sweeping
  • making a snack

Sonlight's new preschool program provides preschoolers age-appropriate activities like these so they can experience success.

Montessori calls these preschool years the absorbent mind. With this new program from Sonlight, 3- and 4-year-olds are absorbing the wonderful read-alouds, listening to the language, and learning empathy through the stories. They begin to learn how to connect with people in different situations and understand how it might feel in somebody else's shoes. They grow emotionally and spiritually through the Bible devotionals and through the stories. But they also activate their senses through the hands-on materials.

  • They're smelling and tasting their food that they've cut and prepared.
  • They are learning courtesy and grace by sharing that food with family members.
  • They grow in responsibility by taking care of their things, washing and drying their dishes, helping out, and putting things away where they should go.

These activities set the stage for your child to feel successful and have a lifelong sense of accomplishment.

What's New About Sonlight Preschool

The program includes all of the activities that we had in our previous little parent guide, so we haven't taken anything away, we just really added to it.

1. A 3-day Weekly Schedule

The new Sonlight Preschool provides a very doable 30-week schedule of 3-day weeks that tells you exactly what to read daily.

2. Bible Questions

We've always had Bible readings, but now the Preschool program has questions that help kids focus their attention on what they've read. It's very simple and natural.

3. Pre-Academic Activities

We've added different activities for pre-reading, pre-writing, and pre math. These are things we hadn't had before, but Emme's Montessori training enabled her to provide the perfect way to integrate these in a no-pressure way.

  • For pre-reading, children use cards to learn the letters of the alphabet and their sounds.
  • For pre-writing, children learn how to hold a pencil, develop pincer grip and fine motor coordination, and begin to write the letters of the alphabet.
  • For pre-math we help children conceptualize numbers through counting physical objects. They also learn the geometric shapes.

4. Foreign Language (Spanish)

Studies have shown that when kids pick up a foreign language at a younger age, it sticks more easily. So we added a little Spanish book with Spanish words and pictures. For moms who aren't familiar with Spanish, we added an audio so they can nail the pronunciations.

5. Science

We added science by way of a little book on animals and another book about how the body functions.

6. Music

Emme also scheduled weekly songs for the kids to sing and memorize.

The Tools in Sonlight Preschool

Children learn best by doing, so we've selected tactile materials that are especially effective for reinforcing pre-writing, pre-reading, pre-math as well as daily life skills. The program automatically includes these helpful teaching tools in a Supply Kit:

  • 11 tactile numbers (0-10) with textured surface
  • 26 tactile lower case print letters with textured surface
  • 10 plastic geometric shapes with knobs and frames
  • large number flash cards 1-10 
  • nylon knife
  • bingo markers
  • 12 colored pencils with grip
  • 6"x9" clipboard
  • child safety scissors

Preschool Add-ons That Are 100% Worth It

These extras are not part of the basic program, but are absolutely worth adding to your purchase.

SKILLS

Sonlight’s preschool program embraces a nurturing learning environment where children are not even aware they’re developing critical reading and math skills. They are simply exploring the world around them and enjoying life! As your children work through this curriculum, they will learn these skills:

SOCIAL & BEHAVIORAL SKILLS

  • Gain self-confidence, independence, and personal responsibility
  • Master listening skills
  • Develop compassion and empathy

LANGUAGE & LITERACY SKILLS

  • Begin learning a foreign language
  • Strengthen pre-reading skills through a sound of the week activity that emphasizes the phonetic pronunciation
    Build pre-writing skills by learning how to write lowercase letters
  • Hear cadence and rhyme

MATH & SCIENCE SKILLS

  • Gain an introduction to early math skills and understand quantities and numerals from 1-10
  • Wade into rudimentary science
  • Introduce science and social studies they can see by exploring a farm with animals, how food is digested, our five senses, how we grow, and what people do for work in the community

ARTS & SOCIAL SCIENCE SKILLS

  • Grow in their cultural literacy
  • Explore various styles of music: praise and worship, classic preschool songs, the phonetic alphabet song, and songs that make you move

PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT SKILLS

  • Develop spatial reasoning and fine motor skills through hands-on play
  • Strengthen fine motor skills in preparation for writing by tracing shapes and letters, using scissors, and sorting
  • Practice fine motor coordination through daily practical life skills—cutting food with a safety knife, pouring liquids, sweeping, and washing their own dishes

CHARACTER & SPIRITUAL SKILLS

  • Pray in order to help them dig deeper into the truths

Meet Sarita and Emme

Dive more deeply into Sonlight's new Preschool program in this interview with Sonlight founder Sarita and Sonlight consultant Emme Kim.

Enjoy the Relaxed Pace of Sonlight Preschool

Sonlight Preschool is a 30-week program scheduled just three days a week. It's light enough to stay enjoyable for such small children. You can use the schedule in whatever way works best for you. Follow it closely if you like the structure. Or veer from it and enjoy the activities and books more buffet-style.

A true Montessori environment allows children a lot of freedom to move and to choose. You have that freedom here as well. I suggest you start your day with a Bible devotional. Then move on to some of the scheduled read-alouds. Then identify the tools and Spanish words that are scheduled for the week, and lay them out on a table so your child can choose the next thing to enjoy. Let the morning flow naturally, moving from interest to interest.

SONLIGHT PRESCHOOL

If you'd like a bit of structure for your 3- and 4-year-olds, and something that tells you what to cover each day, Sonlight Preschool will be a great fit! This program demonstrates to every mom or dad that homeschool is not hard. With this program, you'll feel confident that you can have a lovely preschool experience at home.

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How Moms & Dads Parent Together as a Homeschool Team

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How Moms & Dads Parent Together as a Homeschool Team

I am so thankful for my husband John's role in our family. In fact, he's been so instrumental in my children's lives, it's almost annoying. What do I mean? Well, not that I'm bitter or anything, but when my children wrote their essays for college on who was the most influential person in their lives, every one of them listed their dad.

I couldn't help thinking, "Now wait a minute! I'm the one who did all the work!"

  • Who homeschooled them?
  • Who drove them to swim meets and stayed to cheer?
  • Who was present every minute of every day?

Sure John's role was important, but he was working. How is it possible that he had such an impact?

Although I can muster quite a bit of feigned mom indignation, I seriously couldn't be more pleased that the kids respect their father and have learned so much from him.

But their answers were the catalyst for some thought-provoking questions about the role and influence of dads within the home and homeschool.

The Impact of Fathers: A Little Active Presence Goes a Long Way

While I know a number of exceptions to this generalization, I would say many dads feel somewhat removed from the homeschool environment. They leave for work early, come home late, and often miss out on the day to day experiences of learning that moms get to experience. This doesn't mean, however, that dads have to sit on the sidelines!

I would challenge dads: Don't be discouraged if you feel you don't have the presence you would prefer at home. Use the time you do have, even if it's only a few minutes of time together, sharing stories on the couch in the evening. Make an effort to ask questions, listen, and bond with your children and they will treasure your interest and thrive on your attention.

Although I was our primary homeschool instructor, John gave counsel to our children when they needed him most. When one of my more sensitive children was in tears, John would sit with her for an hour or more asking questions and giving an adult perspective and a listening ear.

Dad's Perspective Is Strategic for Homeschool Success

Because John was a bit removed from the minute-by-minute quality of our homeschool, I think he could sometimes offer a more objective perspective to what was happening. He would notice issues I didn't because I had been too mired in them to see. John's input helped our family gain insight that kept us on a good path toward our goals.

John and I embrace our differences as we realize we truly complement one another. Where I am weak, he is strong and vice versa. We choose to focus on each other's strengths instead of noticing all the weaknesses and failures of the other person.

We are a parenting/homeschool team.

I want to challenge moms in this way: Please celebrate your husband's role with your children and in your homeschool. Don't belittle or begrudge his level of involvement, but help him find creative ways to interact with your children. Your kids will feel his intentional pursuit of relationship as well as the level of your respect and friendship with their father. In fact, they may write their college essays about it later!

For the Single Moms or Dads

If you are a single mom or a single dad, I hope this talk of teamwork doesn't just lay a fresh burden on your shoulders. Instead, I hope it encourages you that you do have a Helper.

My prayer for the single parents who are homeschooling is that God would sustain you just as he promises to be a Father to the fatherless. As you balance your many roles, I ask the Lord for an extra dose of patience and sensitivity. I pray for your endurance as you carry double weight in raising your children. And finally, I pray God will provide the counter-balancing adult role models your children need.


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The Three Rs: Covering the Basics as a New Homeschooler

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The Three Rs: Covering the Basics as a New Homeschooler

When you think about a good education, you think about the three Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic. How might you approach these key areas in your children's homeschool education? Here's a basic overview of the foundations you'll want to cover with your very young children.

1. Reading

Let's start with reading, because that is my passion. If you can encourage your children to read, you'll do them a great service. When they read, they

  • build their vocabulary
  • build imagination
  • develop an understanding of history
  • begin to grasp what makes good and great writing

I recommend that your children read every day. And even better than just having your children read to themselves? Read out loud to them as well.

There's a unique dynamic that happens when we read aloud to our children. As you share that activity together, you can generate topics to talk about. When you come across issues (like bullying, for example), use that as a jumping off point for meaningful discussions.

I believe that reading also produces a love of learning (especially when compared to dull textbooks). Giving your children a love of learning is a true gift indeed.

How to Teach Reading: Phonics vs. Whole Language

But how should we teach reading? I highly recommend the phonetic method. School systems tend to use whole language reading. For example, students look at the word girl and memorize the meaning of this particular combination of letters. With phonics, they learn to sound out the g, the ir combination, and the final l.

The main reason I think schools use whole language is that it's a little faster and can start kids reading sooner. But a (major) disadvantage is that about a third of the kids just don't get it. With the phonetic method, you prepare kids to read anything that comes their way. I learned through whole language and used to have trouble when I encountered a long word I hadn't seen before. As an added perk, phonics instruction helps kids learn to spell much more effectively.

I recommend that you begin with phonetic readers. Beware of the many whole language readers in the beginning to read section of libraries. If you see difficult (non-phonetic) sentences like, "Look at the kangaroo with her baby, a joey" in early readers, run! Your kids won't be able to sound those out.

The most effective way to get your kids to read is to start with phonetic readers that practice the sounds your kids have been learning and allow them to build on what they learn. Start with the easiest letters to hear and distinguish, like f, p, t and s. Look for short vowel sounds as well, since approximately 60% of all words have short vowel sounds. For example, you want words like fad instead of fade.

Sonlight curriculum is designed around a phonetic approach and assigns phonetic readers that align perfectly with the lessons.

2. Writing

I recommend using dictation as the method for teaching your children how to write. In the beginning, allow them to copy words and sentences. Eventually, you can start to dictate: you speak sentences and they write them down. This is a very easy and effective model to teach writing.

If you use excellent writing as your material for copywork and dictation, your kids will benefit from focusing on solid writing mechanics. They'll naturally practice capitalization, punctuation and good sentence structure.

I suggest having your children do some form of writing every day. Sonlight schedules this for you!

Handwriting

Since most kids need to learn the physical act of writing, I recommend the program Handwriting Without Tears. It's an engaging program that walks parents through every step in teaching proper handwriting. I don't think the handwriting is particularly gorgeous, but it is very readable and doable.

Spelling

In the first years of my homeschooling journey, I didn't think I needed to teach spelling. I had taught my children phonics—surely that was enough! But then in third grade I had my kids take some standardized tests. The results made it quite clear that I did, in fact, need to teach spelling. Don't make my mistake. Choose All About Spelling or Spelling You See — both excellent programs I wish I had used with my children.

I've found the most effective method for that is to teach words in groups. For example, practice lots of ea words together one week: ear, hear, fear, dear. This technique helps students learn patterns in spelling.

Grammar

The reason we teach grammar is to clean up our writing. If you have your children look for the verb in a sentence they wrote and there isn't one ... they can know it's probably a fragment. I suggest teaching grammar naturally as you walk through life.

  • Point out nouns, verbs and adjectives.
  • Analyze sentences in your dictation.
  • Put a symbol above each word in a sentence noting whether each word is a verb, adjective, adverb, etc.

These day-to-day activities will help solidify the grammar concepts you're teaching.

3. Arithmetic

For math, education experts recommend that young children use lots of manipulatives. These can be anything from white beans to custom-designed products that match your curriculum. Math deals primarily with symbols, and young children often don't understand what symbols mean. Manipulatives connect real-world meaning to the abstract symbols of math.

So if your kids are stuck on a problem and can't figure it out, think of a way to show them in the physical realm what you want them to figure out. For example, give them an intimidating pile of beans and tell your kids to count them. That might seem hard. Next, have them separate the big pile into smaller piles of 10. Then replace each pile of 10 beans with 1 popsicle stick with a 10 written on it. Then count the popsicle sticks to find the total number of beans. This activity will help them understand and remember why we use base 10.

The MathTacular DVDs are particularly great for connecting the real-world to potentially difficult math concepts.

Math facts are a necessary evil, so please make sure your kids learn them. (You don't want them counting on their fingers when they get to calculus!)

Workbooks in math can be a comfort to moms, but I'm not convinced they're as necessary as we tend to think. If you use math and talk through math problems in your daily life, that's probably enough to reinforce the lessons. But if you want extra peace of mind and want to know you're completely on track, workbooks can be a comfort to you.

So there they are: the 3 Rs. If you do these with your children, you're doing plenty to provide your children with an outstanding education that will serve them well.


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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.


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