11 Things That Happen When You Read to Your Child

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11 Things That Happen When You Read to Your Child

It's just plain fun to read a great story to children. When you stop at a cliffhanger, they can't help but beg to know what happens next.

But aside from fun, what good does reading out loud do? Research continues to confirm what we’ve known all along: Reading together does wonders for children.

As you dive into your Sonlight homeschool curriculum, you'll spend hours sharing gripping stories with your kids. In case you ever wonder if it's all worth it, I've compiled a partial list of the wonderful benefits that blossom when you read to your child.

1. Children learn to love books

When you read out loud to your children, you help them enjoy stories far beyond their own reading abilities. Whether children even know the alphabet yet, they can tag along on thrilling adventures and learn that books are a true treasure. Time and time again, Sonlight families discover that reading aloud instills a love of books. After all, who doesn't love to hear a good story?

2. You help develop your children's brains (and their imaginations)

A study in 2015 compared children ages 3-5 who had heard many read-alouds with children who hadn't. The study put children in brain imaging equipment and then had someone read a story to them. The children whose parents had read a lot to them showed significantly more brain activity in the visualization section of the brain when they heard the story.

Even though they couldn't see the pictures in the book, they could visualize what was happening. Children who hadn't been read to much had much less activity in this area of their brain when they heard a story.

As one researcher said, "This brain area is 'a watershed region, all about multisensory integration, integrating sound and then visual stimulation.'" So reading to your children seems to develop key areas of the brain!

3. Children develop empathy

Studies have also shown that reading good literature helps people become more empathetic. When you read the Sonlight Read-Alouds to your children, they get daily practice walking in other people's shoes, as they follow the inner thoughts and experiences of characters very different from themselves. As studies suggest, reading helps us imagine what other people are feeling. What a vital life skill!

4. Children learn the huge vocabulary they need

Children need to hear and read many, many words in order to develop the vocabulary they need to be well-educated. The English language has far too many words to learn through regular conversation alone. But as studies have shown, listening to TV or the radio doesn't build young children's vocabulary. Reading and listening to books read in person, however, do build vocabulary. And not only that, but even children's books contain a much wider range of vocabulary than normal conversation between two college-educated adults. I believe that reading (and listening to others read) often and widely is the only way children will develop a truly robust vocabulary.

5. Children learn about the world

Reading aloud with your children also has an obvious benefit: they learn the content that they hear. This reality is at the heart of Sonlight's approach. When children learn about history and other cultures in the context of a good story, they enjoy it and they remember it. Now that's something I doubt you could say about textbook learning.

As children learn about history through biographies, historical fiction and story-based history books (such as A Child’s History of the World), they form a picture of what life was like at various times and places in history. They remember significant historical events because they've formed an emotional connection to characters who lived through them. They know more than just facts and dates; they understand why and how things happened as they did.

6. Children develop listening skills

Understanding information that you hear is a critical skill in life. Reading out loud develops that skill in a natural and pleasant way. When children hear stories, they learn to translate words into meaning. That helps them in so many ways, and is a vital part of reading comprehension when they read on their own.

7. You expand children's knowledge beyond what they can read on their own

I actually wrote about this here: "The mechanics of reading can be tricky. I think it's analogous to handwriting. You know that a child who is just learning to form her letters can create a much more complicated story when she's talking to you than she could if she sat down to write it. It's similar with reading. Research shows that until eighth grade or so, kids can comprehend a much higher level of writing when it's read out loud to them than they can when they read on their own. So reading out loud to your children all these years helps them access ideas, vocabulary and concepts that would otherwise be out of their reach."

8. You open the door to conversation

Reading together helps you have meaningful conversations with your children. Consider those sticky topics that you know you should talk about with your kids, but you're not sure how. Reading together eases you into that. When you read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, for example, you see discrimination first hand and can talk about the effects of racism on the main character's family. Your children want to ask you about relationships, money, poverty, war, and other uncomfortable topics.

Reading real books together helps you be a huge influence in how they think about these things instead of letting them get all their information from their peers or mass media.

9. Children learn to focus

As you read with your children, their attention spans will lengthen. In a world so full of distractions, the ability to focus on one task will be a huge advantage for this next generation. Even if children are playing quietly with something else while you read, their attention is set on that one story, instead of jumping from Facebook to Twitter to their latest text message. This ability to stay on one task is a vital skill in today's world.

10. You help children develop character (in a way that sticks!)

Reading out loud naturally helps children gain worthy role models and learn what good character really looks like. Life isn't always black and white, and kids learn from the characters they meet in books who make good decisions, and who face consequences and grow from their bad decisions. When you read these books together, you can naturally talk about similar things your own children may be struggling with. The books you read help you discuss real-life scenarios with your children so they can truly grasp what virtue looks like. In this way, I think Sonlight's literature-based approach is far more effective at forming character in the real world than moralistic tales or "character-training" curriculum.

11. You develop your relationship with your child

Relationships are built on shared time and shared experiences. Reading together gives you both. You get to fill up your children's "love tanks" with the love languages of physical touch and quality time. You create a reservoir of shared adventures to reference in your family culture, such as inside jokes or cultural references from books you've shared.

And you accomplish all this in the context of relationship. I love how Perri Klass, a NYT author puts it:

And as every parent who has read a bedtime story knows, [these benefits of reading aloud are] all happening in the context of face-time, of skin-to-skin contact, of the hard-to-quantify but essential mix of security and comfort and ritual.

So here's to a wonderful homeschool year full of beneficial Read-Alouds. Here's to helping our kids grow intellectually and emotionally, all while building family bonds. I trust that God will richly bless your times of sharing stories together.

Take advantage of all the benefits reading aloud can offer your children by homeschooling them with a literature-based curriculum. Switch to Sonlight.

Want more encouragement?

Sign up for Sonlight's bi-weekly e-newsletter

You'll be encouraged by the words of founder Sarita Holzmann, inspired by real-life stories from other homeschoolers, pick up practical tips for the journey and more.

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7 Hints for Keeping Math Time Tear-Free

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Keeping Math Time Tear-Free

Math seems to be the subject that gets the worst reputation. Some kids would rather have a root canal than do their math work. Why is this? 

I think that there are several answers to that question. For the most part, I think math can tend to feel repetitive and thus boring to a lot of kids. Even children who excel at math have their slumps. To combat these periods of discouragement and dread, we need to try to keep math time fresh and tear-free. Here are 7 tips for keeping things novel and engaging during math lessons.

1. Skip Assignments Your Child Has Mastered

No one likes to spend their time on a meaningless assignment. Most math curriculum includes a lot of practice and repetition because that’s how many children learn.

It’s better to have too much than not enough, right? 

But that doesn’t mean that every child will need the extra practice. If your child has already mastered a concept, skip the practice and review work.

Keep going forward. A lot of children thrive on tangible progression, so spending minimal time on review can help your child enjoy math time more.

I recommend you set aside any pages that you skip so that if, at some point, you see that your child actually does need a little more practice, it will be easy to provide.

2. Complete Problems Orally Using Concrete Manipulatives

Math means pencils. At least, that’s what a lot of kids believe. So change things up every once in a while and go through their work orally, allowing them to use manipulatives to solve problems.

My favorite set of concrete manipulatives for math is the RightStart set available here.

You can still use the same problems from the worksheet, but instead of writing them down, let your kids use blocks, toys, or an abacus to show you how they figured out the answer.

If you would like to keep a record of it, write their answers down on the page and note on the top that you completed the lesson orally.

3. Cut Down the Number of Problems

My kids have always had a tendency to be overwhelmed by a page full of math. Even if they know how to do it, a workbook page filled on the front and back is overwhelming for them. When that panic happens, cut down the amount of work by marking out some of the problems.

Do the evens (or the odds). Do three problems in each section. Or choose five problems from each half of the page.

If your child needs the practice, by all means, have them do it. But you can still make it less overwhelming by using a clean sheet of paper to block half of the workbook page. You may also try breaking up work sessions. Try having them complete 10 questions and then take a break.

4. Allow Them to Drill Using Electronics

We all know that repetition and drill is a big part of math fluency. Kids need to be able to quickly recall facts in order to progress to more difficult levels of math instruction.

Online digital games can motivate kids to drill math facts.

For kids who enjoy having some screen-based game time during the school day, you might find online math games are a powerful motivator for kids to finish their math work. For example, “When you finish your math work, you may go play Math Slicer for 15 minutes.” 

5. Check in Often

There is nothing more discouraging for your homeschoolers than completing a math assignment just to discover they did the whole thing wrong!

Don’t let your children practice mistakes. Make sure they are grasping the concept by checking in often.

If you see a mistake, correct it immediately and work the problem together, showing them their mistake. Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect, so don’t let your child practice math wrong. Stay close by and check in every few minutes, gradually giving them more space as they begin to master the concept.

6. Show Math Concepts in Real Life Scenarios

  • My kids really enjoyed seeing how their knowledge of fractions and conversions translated to being able to cook well.
  • They were intrigued when we measured a room and found the area to decide how much flooring we needed to purchase.
  • Figuring the sale price on their new toy can be really exciting.

Help children see the practical value of their math lessons.

These real life scenarios present themselves multiple times every single day. We simply need to point them out to show our children how important math is in real life so we have an answer for the cry, “I’ll never use this again. I don’t know why you’re making me learn this!”

7. Play Games

We learned so much math by playing games, especially the RightStart Math games! Some of them have become family favorites. (Any fellow Corners fans out there?)

I admit I didn’t do much drill with my older boys because they hated it so much. Once I switched over to playing games with them, they both thrived. Through playing games, they learned their math facts, and they also become excellent critical thinkers and problem solvers.

  • Games like Monopoly and Life can teach money skills.
  • Blockus and Jenga can teach geometry and spatial awareness.
  • Yahtzee teaches addition and counting by 50’s and 100’s.

Math doesn’t have to be dull. Teach math by playing games!

A little creativity goes a long way in homeschooling. When you need to freshen up your routine, remember the old adage: A change is as good as a rest. Keep your child’s math time tear-free by switching things up and thinking outside the box. 

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A Homeschooler's Guide to Giving Grades

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Grading Is Arbitrary

Grading can be a struggle as a homeschool parent!

  • You're never quite sure what grade a child has earned or how to weigh grades.
  • You don’t know how to tell what is A-quality work compared to other children.
  • Maybe you've abandoned the grading system altogether. 

Why is the grading system so hard to understand and accomplish, when it seems so straightforward? Are grades even necessary? In this expose of grading, you'll see the complexity of grading and an easy way to give grades in your homeschool.

Methods for Giving Grades

There are many ways to grade, and because grading is arbitrary, they are all correct and valid. Take into consideration all these variations of grades most of us were exposed to during our school days: 

  • Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory
  • Pass/Fail
  • Percentages (usually 100% indicates all answers are correct)
  • Percentiles (standardized tests, for example, say a “child falls in the 80th percentile”)
  • Mastery Grading (a student passes once all assignments are completed)
  • Narrative Grading (a teacher writes comments on a paper or report card about their progress, instead of giving a grade)
  • GPA (a point scoring system that combines grades from all classes)
  • Weighted Grading (each assignment is given a different amount of importance and points, and the final grade is adjusted to reflect this)
  • Grading on a Curve (grades are distributed based on the total final class scores)
  • Class Rank (compares children to other students in the same grade or classes, often used to determine valedictorian status)

What Things Do Teachers Grade?

In addition, there are a lot of factors teachers pick and choose from when grading or designing a rubric:

  • Tests, Quizzes, and Pop Quizzes
  • Daily Assignments
  • Select Daily Assignments (not using all assignments, but picking some at random or pre-selecting assignments to be graded)
  • Attendance
  • Reports/Essays
  • Log-ins (to an online portal or classroom)
  • Following Classroom Rules
  • Participation
  • Oral Reports
  • Presentations
  • Group Work
  • Watching Videos
  • Reading Books
  • Extra Credit
  • Grammar
  • Spelling
  • Clear Handwriting
  • Activities
  • Experiments

Combine this list of things to grade with the different ways to grade from the earlier list and a teacher's subjective decision making, and you see an endless array of possibilities. So one reason grading is so hard is because there are so many different ways to approach it.

Because grading is arbitrary, they are all valid and correct at the same time.

So how should you assign grades as a homeschool parent? Let's dig a bit deeper.

What Do Grades Mean?

At its heart, all grading means basically the same thing.

When students meets the teacher's standards of excellence, they are awarded an A. For each degree of substandard work completed, the score drops by one letter grade.

Any time a student meets that expectation of A-level work, whether it be on a test, in an essay, by showing up for class, or showing their interest in the lecture, they will be granted that grade. If they don’t, a lesser grade will be given. 

This is true whether the teacher is a hard grader or goes easy on the students. It is true whether a teacher has high standards and an expectation of excellence, or is tired of teaching. If a teacher expects all students to do as well as they are able, they will have a hard time giving less than an A. If a teacher expects students to work hard and put forth maximum effort, they will have a hard time granting that A grade, and will choose harder tests and require more work. 

When Grades Are Valuable

Grading is not only arbitrary, it's also unnecessary in many situations.

However, in a public school setting, grades still have value. Teachers need to be able to keep track of which students are meeting standards and how far from meeting all the standards they really are.

While homeschooling parents are far better able to keep track of how well Kendra is doing in spelling, or whether Liam needs help with math, it is far harder for classroom teachers who may have over 200 students a day for only a few hours each per week.

So grades make sense in a classroom.

When Grades Hold Less Value

If my child were getting a C+ in math, that would not tell me whether the issue is careless mistakes, or not understanding long division, or just moving too fast through her math workbook. I would have to examine her work and look for patterns. The grade alone is not enough to tell me what the issue is. 

However, because I am monitoring her daily, I can see exactly what the issue is, and fix it immediately. I don’t need to wait until she drops to a C to see that there’s a concern. If her writing assignments have a lot of spelling mistakes, I don’t need a rubric to tell me she needs to work on spelling more.

Grades and rubrics can help parents to find problems their children are having, especially when children are working independently, but most homeschooling parents instinctively know when a child is starting to struggle with a topic and get concerned long before a child’s grades reach a 70% average. In fact, many start worrying the minute that grade drops too far below 100%. 

Giving Grades in a Homeschool Setting

Here's how I handle grading in my homeschool situation with a wide variety of grade levels in many children.

I work with my students on any areas they are having problems with, and I monitor them frequently in the subjects they do independently. If I see them doing a good job and putting forth a good effort, and I am satisfied with their work, then I give an A. 

If I see there is an issue, or they aren’t grasping the materials, then I take that to mean my work in that area isn’t done. I go back, reteach it, or find a different way to teach it they can understand better. If I see they aren’t working hard, I try to get to the bottom of why they aren’t putting in the effort, and listen to them. I either help them out more, find a way to incentivize them to work harder, or cut back or slow down their workload. When they have met my minimum expectations of A-level work, then I give an A.

There have been times I have had to modify my expectations, such as accepting spelling errors on handwritten works from my dyslexic children, or not taking off points for every time I see a math problem when they did the work correctly but mixed up the order of two numerals. But, for the most part, with adaptations and assistance, they are capable of meeting my expectations. 

Basically, I keep working with my children until they master the work and make that coveted A score.

Because of my approach to grading, at times we have had to work at a lower level than I might otherwise expect. But it has also meant my children are far stronger in those subjects than if we had just moved on. Once they are stronger, we are able to catch up more quickly. This method of grading has helped three of my students not only get into college, but do very well once they are there

While this approach to grading might not work for all families, it is easy to use, easy to keep track of, and easy to understand. 

Grading in Real Life

Most adults don’t get graded in daily life. But we are evaluated on meeting standards of excellence.

  • When people surpass our expectations of them, we feel joy, happiness, surprise, or pleasure.
  • If we drive at the speed limit set by the law and no faster than a given police officer is willing to excuse, we will not be given a speeding ticket.
  • If we surpass the minimum standards at our jobs, we may get raises or praise.

Grades really do mean what you want them to mean. If you want to set high standards and ensure your students have the tools and resources to meet them, that is an admirable goal. If you recognize that your child is struggling with learning delays and is trying their best but just can’t meet the standards and want to lower them, that is a great way to encourage your child to keep trying with their best effort.

If you are laid-back and don’t want to give grades, they really aren’t needed as long as your children are progressing.

You can download the first three weeks of Instructor's Guide from any program. Try it out!

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The Sonlight Approach to Teaching History: History as the Backbone

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The Sonlight Approach to Teaching History

Have you ever wondered what you're doing here on the earth? Ever wondered how our country got to the state that it's in? Ever wondered why people in other countries live differently than you do?

Well, I think the answers lie in understanding history. To put it simply ...

Studying history helps children make sense of their world and their lives.

That's why Sonlight centers on history. Our curriculum chronicles the past in order to prepare children to understand and influence their world in the future.

An Internal Timeline of History

As they learn the story of the world (people, places, and events tied together to tell an historical story), children start to understand the wonder, tensions, and troubles in today's world. They build a framework in which to understand new information about their globe. It's like they develop an internal timeline with anchor points on it, such as the rise of the Greeks, the Chinese dynasties, the Industrial Revolution, and the era of Colonization. (And Sonlight provides a tangible timeline to help this along!)

As children develop this internal timeline, they have places to hang new knowledge.

  • When they learn something new about the Renaissance in Europe, they have context in which to place that nugget of information.
  • When they read about a country in the news, they at least have a vague sense of what that country's story is.

And so the new information means something to them because they have places to hang it. The new knowledge is more than unconnected tidbits of information.

Of course, children who learn history the Sonlight way also get to learn it in an enjoyable way that they actually remember. And so they really get to reap the benefits of learning history. They truly understand how the world's peoples and places came to their present state.

Knowing My Own Place in History

But that's not all.

Understanding the flow of history helps children understand the meaning of their own lives. They learn where they are in the story of the world.

For us as Christians, we know that we are living in the time between Christ's first coming and His return. When we understand that, it helps us make sense of what we're doing here. As I've written before:

The incarnate Christ returned to heaven, and we are His representatives on earth now. He has given us the Holy Spirit to work through us and guide us as we labor to bring God's Kingdom to earth. We are part of God's big plan; we have a role to play, a purpose for living, and a call to serve. We can partner with God, or not. He will work His plan out, with or without us. May we and our children be people who help God's Kingdom advance.

And the story is moving forward! Though we don't know the exact timeline, we do know we are moving to an end point where Christ returns and ultimately redeems His people. He will establish His kingdom in full and we will live forever in perfect communion with Him in the new heaven and new earth. How can this not affect how we live today?

So that's why Sonlight centers on history instead of social studies, unit studies, or any number of other ways to organize your study of the world. It helps our students understand the world and their place in it. This is intentional, and we have seen that it truly works.

The Rationale Behind a Daily History Schedule with Sonlight

If you're new to Sonlight Instructor's Guides, the scheduling can look a bit random. But it is all very intentional to help children soak up their learning.

1. A History Spine as a Foundation

I generally choose a key narrative text as the schedule driver. For example, we use A Child's History of the World by V. M. Hillyer for a child's first tour of world history. It is a non-fiction history book, but it is not a textbook. Instead, the author tells a compelling overview of the history of the world by picking out key narratives told chronologically. He might spend a chapter in Europe, and then transition to the next chapter with "meanwhile in India ..." Then he'll describe what life looked like in India at the time and give the story of a specific ruler or event that exemplifies that era in Indian history. The whole book moves chronologically.

That narrative text forms the backbone of a History / Bible / Literature (HBL) program. Then as you move through that text, we supplement your learning with all sorts of treats. Most HBLs use at least one stellar photo-driven text, such as an Usborne book. So when Hillyer talks about ancient African civilizations for example, the Instructor's Guide will jump you to the section in your Usborne book that highlights those same civilizations. You and your kids will see illustrations of what you're learning and gain additional knowledge from the bulleted highlights. This reinforces and expands what you learned in the primary text.

2. Historical Fiction and Biographies

Then we enrich things even more by adding biographies and historical fiction that help bring that time period to life. This is often a family's favorite part of Sonlight. Since you've read the other history texts, and since you're building your own timeline as you go, you and your kids have context for what you read. That means you will pick up on all sorts of historical significance as you move through these can't-put-it-down stories.

The early grades also include many Readers and Read-Alouds that are just great books and may or may not tie in with the history you're learning. When kids are just learning to read, we focus on helping them practice that skill and get hooked on great stories. The Read-Alouds provide all sorts of cultural literacy and family bonding moments as you enjoy great stories together (such as a perpetual favorite, Charlotte's Web).

Starting in Intro to American History, 1 of 2 (HBL D), most of the Readers and Read-Alouds do link thematically with the time period. This connection opens up a new level of richness in your learning.

Going through a year with Sonlight is like watching a rich tapestry unfold. 

You follow a single thread with your spine, and then get to watch that understanding deepen and come to life in several different ways.

And the best part? The tapestry is already sewn for you! All you have to do is pick up your Instructor's Guide which

  • tells you what pages to read
  • gives you rich and insightful teaching notes to explain what you're learning
  • provides counter-arguments when an author has a clear bias
  • gives you discussion questions
  • ties Language-Arts activities to what you're already reading

This is the way I loved learning with my kids as they grew. And this is the way that thousands of families around the world fuel a love of learning in their kids today. It is an honor to share that joy with you!

See a Sonlight Instructor's Guide for yourself. Download a sample of the first three weeks here.

Want more encouragement?

Sign up for Sonlight's bi-weekly e-newsletter

You'll be encouraged by the words of founder Sarita Holzmann, inspired by real-life stories from other homeschoolers, pick up practical tips for the journey and more.

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12 Missionary Biographies Set in Asia

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12 Missionary Biographies Set in Asia

Sonlight is full of great books, but among all the genres included in the History / Bible / Literature packages, the missionary biographies are probably the most cherished and life-impacting.

Yes, kids are learning geography, history, and vocabulary as they read or have these biographies read aloud to them. But even more precious, their faith in God's power and firm conviction of God's grace are bolstered by these real-life stories of missionaries.

Some of these children grow up to be missionaries themselves, thanks to those tiny seeds first planted in their hearts through a missionary story.

This collection of 12 books centers in Asia, including Burma (now called Myanmar), China, India, the Middle East, and the Philippines.

1. Adoniram Judson: Bound for Burma

by Janet and Geoff Benge

from Sonlight History / Bible / Literature D

This biography is one of many in the Christian Heroes: Then and Now series by Janet and Geoff Benge.

What better place to start this list than with Adoniram Judson, America's first foreign missionary. In the face of incredible obstacles, Adoniram and his first wife Ann were the spark that spread the fire of the Gospel into Burma. Their evident love for the Burmese people is a compelling story of unswerving dedication and sacrifice.

You will be moved and inspired by this novel!

2. Living Water in the Desert: True Stories of God at Work in Iran

by Rebecca Davis

from Sonlight History / Bible / Literature F

Seventeen chapters tell awe-inspiring stories of God at work in the Middle East.

  • One man is overcome by the kindness of a missionary.
  • Another is stopped by a vision of men in blue.
  • One grew weary of his own religion.
  • One found a strange book in a library.
  • One saw a man named Jesus in a dream.

All of these Iranians eventually come to Jesus Christ for His full and free salvation, becoming missionaries to their own people. It's a marvelous book.

3. William Carey: Obliged to Go

by Janet and Geoff Benge

from Sonlight History / Bible / Literature F

You will be impacted dramatically by this thrilling story of William Carey, pioneer missionary to India and the "father of modern missions."

This biography shows Carey in all aspects as one who attempted great things for God, and expected and realized great things from God.

4. God’s Smuggler

by  Brother Andrew

from Sonlight History / Bible / Literature H

Should we obey God or man?

Brother Andrew decides, as so many men and women of faith before him, that it is worth risking his life to distribute the Word of God in places where government regulations prohibit it.

This missionary biography is more thrilling than a spy story . . . and all true!

5. Which None Can Shut

by Reema Goode

from Sonlight History of Science

Did you know that an unprecedented number of Muslims are becoming followers of Jesus? With this book, you get a firsthand look at the diverse, creative, unexpected, and thrilling ways God is reaching the author's Muslim neighbors with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

6. Ida Scudder: Healing Bodies, Touching Hearts

by Janet and Geoff Benge

from Sonlight History of Science

Your children will love this amazing story of a woman who grew up in India and couldn't wait to leave. In one night, three men came to ask her to help their laboring wives. All three refused her father's help (he was a doctor), preferring to let their wives die than break religious taboos. And all three did die.

Ida Scudder realized she could make a difference, and so she went to medical school, then served in India for decades, helping the lepers, founding a teaching hospital, and serving the people.

It's a powerful story that demonstrates how one person can make a lasting difference in the lives of others.

7. God’s Adventurer: Hudson Taylor

by Phyllis Thompson

from Sonlight History / Bible / Literature F

Hudson Taylor was only 21 when he sailed from England. He had already learned he could trust God with the last coin in his pocket; he would need that faith as he set out to evangelize the Chinese.

This missionary biography is a thrilling true story of daring, danger, and dependence on God.

8. In Search of the Source: A First Encounter with God's Word

by Neil Anderson with Hyatt Moore

from History / Bible / Literature E

These thought-provoking stories tell of a culture's first encounter with God's Word.

A translator struggles to help a tribal people understand what the Bible says.

This novel is both fascinating and surprisingly funny.

9. Gladys Aylward: The Adventure of a Lifetime

by Janet and Geoff Benge

from History / Bible / Literature C

Gladys Aylward was an uneducated British housemaid who went to China via Russia in the midst of the Soviet-Chinese war in the early 20th century. Her story of dedication to serve the Lord in China may make you cry!

10. Return of the White Book: True Stories of God at Work in Southeast Asia

by Rebecca Davis

from Sonlight History / Bible / Literature A

God prepared the way for the Karen people of Burma to come to know him. When George Boardman and Adoniram Judson arrived, the Burmese were not terribly interested, but the Karen were desperately ready.

This book is an incredible story of God at work. Don't miss it!

11. And the Word Came with Power

by Joanne Shetler with Patricia Purvis

from Sonlight History / Bible / Literature C

This novel is the moving story of how God's word transformed an entire people--as well as the woman whom He had sent to translate the Scriptures for them.

12. Teresa of Calcutta

by D. Jeanene Watson

from Sonlight History / Bible / Literature F

This missionary biography tells the inspiring and challenging story of Mother Teresa who, for more than 40 years sought to be "the arms of Christ" to the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta.

She's an unlikely hero who went against the grain of our me-first culture. Your children, and you, will be blessed by reading it.

Choose a Christ-centered curriculum that includes missionary biographies at every level.

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33 Techniques for Better Handwriting

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33 Techniques for Better Handwriting

Some children almost seem born to write neatly. From their first letters on, they write carefully and neatly, staying between the lines with enviable precision. Most children, however, need a lot more work to write neatly. Here are techniques to help those children put pencil to paper with novelty and more sensory input.  

Change Writing Device

Something as simple as giving children a better tool can make a difference. Some children find writing in color more motivating; others are sensitive to the sound of pencils on paper. Try these creative ideas to improve handwriting: 

  1. Use colored pencils instead of regular pencils.
  2. Try mechanical pencils.
  3. Test out erasable pens (such as FriXion).
  4. Use gel pens (for the gliding feeling).
  5. Use glitter pens.
  6. Use markers or paint pens. (These do make thicker lines, so it might be harder to stay within the lines, or to trace with for some children.)
  7. Use dry-erase markers on a dry-erase board (Keep in mind the markers on a slippery surface do require greater fine motor skills to maintain good handwriting, so writing on these surfaces might be more wobbly or larger than normal.)
  8. Use dry-erase markers on windows or glass doors.
  9. Use crayons broken in half, or pencils sharpened to about the same length. (Short utensils can improve grip.)
  10. Use crayons. (The thicker lines might make writing harder for some children.)
  11. Use pretty or silly pencil grips.
  12. Use pretty or silly eraser caps. 
  13. Use fancy pens or pencils with feathers, beads, or other decorations attached.
  14. Use colorful pencils with designs printed on them. 
  15. Use a highlighter to write words and have your child trace inside the highlighter lines.
  16. Use a pencil to write, and have your child trace over the lines with a highlighter. 
  17. Use oversized pencils.
  18. Try a weighted pencil grip (weighted pencils or weighted pencil grips can provide extra input and make writing easier for some children).
  19. Test out a vibrating pencil or vibrating pencil grips. 
  20. Use disappearing ink pens.

Provide Different Sensory Input While Writing

Here are ways to alter the way writing feels and the amount of feedback children getting while writing. These are additional ways to make writing easier or more enticing.

  1. Try using different brands of pencils.  
  2. Try using different brands of paper. Especially for children with ADHD or sensory processing disorders, the texture or feel of the paper can make a huge difference. 
  3. Print out writing assignments onto different colored paper. Darker colors will be harder to write on, but white gel pens or crayons can often be seen if the color is too dark. 
  4. Try using a Boogie Board writing tablet or other tablet where the written areas change colors as your child writes. Many digital brands can erase the page at the touch of a button. 
  5. Allow them to use an electronic tablet (iPad, etc) with pen to write on.

Motivating Children to Write

  1. Avoid blaming the child for mistakes. Children already know they aren’t the best writers, but can get discouraged easily if they find their letters are frequently backward or are constantly being reminded to fix mistakes. Instead, try blaming the letters or disguising your correction
  2. Practice motor memory skills apart from handwriting. These skills will make handwriting easier, but without feeling like you are adding more writing to their day. 
  3. Have your child be the Letter Police and find their own mistakes rather than have you point them out. 
  4. Try teaching cursive first. Learning to write in cursive is easier for some children and can help somewhat with letter reversals and letter formation. 
  5. Set a marshmallow, mini M&M, dried fruit piece, sticker, or other small treat after each letter, word, or line, depending on how well your child is writing or how much motivation they need. 
  6. Try watching letter formation videos to help them remember the instructions for each letter. 

How Sonlight’s Handwriting Programs Can Help

  1. Sonlight offers 3 different handwriting programs that each work in their own way to motivate children to write. This abbreviated guide might help you choose a program.

1. Handwriting Without Tears

This program helps to break down every step of the process into manageable bits and bite-sized assignments. While the practice may be lacking for a few children who need more help with motor memory, the shorter assignments with lots of white space and coloring can motivate young writers who need to know their assignment is almost over. 

2. Reason for Handwriting

A Reason for Handwriting works great for children who want smaller daily assignments of writing just one or two words, and then longer assignments once a week where they can show off their best handwriting and share a Bible message with a friend or family member. The special coloring pages and correlating assignments work great for children who are motivated by showing off their hard work. 

3. Getty Dubay

Getty Dubay can help to motivate children who want things to look beautiful. The somewhat fancier letters and slightly artistic design helps make finished work look just a little fancier for the budding artist or illustrator, or appreciator of beauty. 

33. Hold a Coronation Celebration. At the end of a day’s handwriting book, celebrate with your child. Have them pick out the best letter, word, or sentence they wrote that day. You can use any judging criteria you want, and even give different words or letters different awards, such as straightest lines, the best use of spacing between letters or words, prettiest or most handsome presentation, fanciest, etc. Each winner gets a sticker, star, or other decoration, and your child gets lots of praise and attention for their best work. 

Sensory input is important for budding writers. Once children start writing whole words or sentences, many parents drop the fun extras like writing in sand or using a chalkboard. Try adding back sensory input through use of color, presentation, texture, and feedback from the writing utensil. These tricks can make writing interesting again and motivate children to improve their penmanship.

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Is My Child Learning Enough?

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Is My Child Learning Enough?

Every homeschool parent occasionally wonders if their children are learning everything they need to know. Since a literature-based learning approach doesn't use traditional testing, it can be even harder to objectively assess what your children are learning

If you are feeling concerned, it is important to take a step back and examine what is causing that feeling. Chances are, your child is learning even more than you realize!

Is My Child Retaining Information?

Are you worried that your child can’t seem to retain detailed information from your lessons?

If your child is in their early elementary years (K-3rd), your expectations may need to be adjusted. These early years are an important introduction to the world and to learning. However, Sonlight is not designed with the expectation that a young child will memorize dates from history or develop a mastery of grammar.  

Rather, the purpose of these years is to create hooks on which to hang future information. 

The aha moment will come later as their maturity and understanding expands. 

For example, if you read your young children a story about a prairie dog, they will likely enjoy the story. However, it takes on more meaning when you visit a zoo and see the elaborate system of tunnels real-life prairie dogs create. Your children may not have been able to recall detailed information about the habitat of prairie dogs when you first read the information, but a lasting connection is created later when they have experience to hang on that hook. 

In a traditional classroom, the only way to assess students is by asking them to recite facts on a test. With homeschooling, true learning doesn't have to be limited to memorizing facts from a textbook lesson.

Learning is more lasting and meaningful when facts are attached to a real life experience or conversation. Seek out opportunities to help your child form those connections through field trips, cooking, and hands on activities. Or, simply start conversations with your children as you notice connections in your everyday life.  As your perspective changes, you will begin to see the aha moments for yourself.  

Is My Child Falling Behind in Math or Spelling?

If your child is struggling to master skills in subjects like math and spelling that advance each year, it may take a bit of detective work to help them move forward. 

You can begin by considering how your child learns best. Researching learning styles can be helpful, but don't be afraid to trust your gut; you likely already know a lot about how your child learns. After all, you were teaching your children long before they were school age. 

Maybe your daughter has a keen eye for detail that has showed up in her drawings almost as soon as she could hold a crayon. If she begins to struggle with spelling, use that knowledge to create visual cues in her spelling words by writing the letter patterns in different colors. Maybe your little guy is quick to learn physical skills on the playground. Translate that into reciting math facts while jumping rope or marching up and down the stairs. 

Sometimes, in spite of our efforts, the struggle continues. If so, it may be time to consider a different approach. You may need to try a completely different Math program. Evaluate what is not working with your current program, and go from there. For example, if your child is shutting down because the problem sets are overwhelming, you might try one that is less daunting. A little trial and error can be the best way to land on the method that works. If you're feeling lost in the sea of choices, the Sonlight Advisors can help give you an overview of the differences between various math and spelling programs.

Finally, if you are noticing something that just feels off,  it may be a good idea to have your child evaluated by a professional for a learning challenge. Your state homeschool organization likely have some resources for dealing with learning challenges, as well.

Is My Child Behind Their Peers?

Learning may look unique for different children. In the early grades, children do not all develop the same skills at the same time. That is why reading groups and leveled math sessions exist in the same traditional classroom. 

Just because a child is slower to master some skills does not mean they are not learning or not qualified for that particular grade.

Over time, and possibly over several grades, mastery happens.   

When you start to wonder if your child is learning enough, don’t panic! Take some time to consider what learning should look like for your child’s age, maturity, challenges and temperament. Formulate realistic learning goals for the material you are teaching. If you set "knowing the parts of speech" as a goal for your 3rd grader, that may give you the objective measure you need to feel successful. It may also mean that in pursuing that goal, you give less attention to other things that are not as important to you. And that's okay; it's part of the flexibility of homeschooling!

Look for ways in which your child is developing a broader knowledge of the world. You may not be able to measure that, but it can be the most meaningful success that you have. 

Don't be afraid to give things time; it's alright if we're learning how to teach at the same time our children are learning. Try new approaches, be creative, and trust your intuition. Your investment in your children is setting them up for success.

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