How to Make Room for Wonder This Christmas

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How to Make Room for Wonder This Christmas

Life is full of rhythms. Times of waiting and times of celebration, times of plenty and times of lack—they weave themselves into the tapestry of our year and make us appreciate each new season in contrast.

Thanksgiving is behind us and Christmas awaits. This in-between season that some observe as Advent can be a sweet time to cultivate anticipation in our children.

When we pause to try and wrap our minds around the idea of Emmanuel, God with us, heaven come down to earth, our children get the best gift we could offer: a pure sense of wonder and awe.

As hectic as this season can be, I believe we serve our children well to mix in space for rest and reflection as well as activity. And whether we are active or quiet, doing a hundred crafts and events or none, we can be intentional about helping our children treasure what is truly precious.

I love the image from the Christmas story in Luke 2:19, that as the shepherds proclaimed and angels sang, Mary "treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart."

Savoring God in Awe and Wonder at Christmas

As busy parents, how do we practically cultivate a sense of anticipation and awe, a delight in Jesus, a longing for His return? And why is this important for home education in the first place? Because God himself is the source of all the truth, beauty and goodness that we seek to impart to our children.

"Life, in any real sense, is the knowledge of God now; and, without that knowledge, there cannot be the free and joyous activity of our powers, the glow of our feelings, the happy living, free from care, the open eye for all beauty, the open heart for all goodness, the responsive mind, the tender heart, the aspiring soul––which go to make up fullness of life." -Charlotte Mason, Ourselves

Making Room for Wonder at Christmas

How do we remember as a family who Christ is and what He has done in the midst of our homeschool days? How do we make room for wonder this Christmas?

That might look different for every family, but a few ideas might be:

  • Walk through verses from Scripture each day that trace the big story of Jesus from Creation to Today. (The Jesse Tree tradition is a fun way to do this as well on a year when you have time to plan ahead for ornaments.)
  • Light a candle each night and sing a song about our Savior's coming.You can find lots of ideas for using Advent candles and readings like this one.
  • Consider drawing names in your family and doing small secret acts of service for one another over the month of December. You can talk about serving in the spirit of Christ.
  • Gather on the couch to read a book that inspires your whole family to love and courage.
  • Practice generosity and find acts of kindness that you can all do together in your neighborhood.
  • Incorporate beauty by doing a simple art study and looking at masterful paintings of the celebration of Jesus' birth.
  • Write Scripture about the promised Messiah for copywork and let your artistically bent children make it lovely through their artwork. (Maybe deliver these as homemade cards with some fresh-baked cookies?)
  • Read Christmas-themed books during Read-Aloud time.
  • Consider the names of Jesus at breakfast each morning this month and read a Scripture that relates to that name and His promises.

Whatever you choose to do that helps you point your children to Jesus, may it not be another activity to add to your ever-growing to-do list, but a way of simplifying down to what matters most to you.

Finding Wonder in Christmas Through a Literature Rich Curriculum

Within Sonlight Curriculum, we don't separate the beauty, fun, interest and context from the facts we are learning.

  • We celebrate the lovely and courageous.
  • We marvel at the contrast between darkness and light.
  • We dive into the story.
  • We tap into the emotions to reach the whole person with an idea.

That's why we call it literature "rich."

In the same way, when we communicate the message of the Jesus of Christmas to our children, let's not just tell them, let's show them. Let's captivate their hearts by leaving room for wonder.

Get our top recommendations for Christmas gifts in our Gift Guide. Plus save up to 40% and get free shipping on orders at least $50.

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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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Using Christmas Giving to Teach Financial Literacy

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Using Christmas Giving to Teach Financial Literacy

Gifts are an exciting part of Christmas. Many of us give gifts to honor Jesus and his amazing gift of eternal life. Others of us give gifts to emulate the three wise men who sought to honor the Christ Child. Regardless of the reason, Christmas gift giving is a wonderful way to teach financial literacy as a Christian homeschool family. 

Many children will know the phrase “it’s better to give than to receive,” but fewer will appreciate the need to give responsibly. Finding gifts for family and friends is easy for most children, but respecting the financial limits of the family is often more challenging. Including your kids in Christmas gift planning provides an amazing opportunity to model responsible spending and godly financial management. Bonus—it's a practical, real-life math lesson, too!

Giving to Friends and Family

God declared we should love one another. One avenue of loving is to give of ourselves: our time, our energy, our talents, and our money. Godly giving involves giving a thoughtful gift, one that shows love and expresses respect. Babysitting for free for an overwhelmed family, raking leaves for an elderly neighbor, hemming pants for a person who can’t sew, or buying a new coffee maker for an early riser are all wonderful examples of thoughtful gifts. 

Here is a quick set of steps to help children think through their gift giving for family and friends this Christmas.      

1. Create a Master Gift List and Attach a Per Person Budget

Have children create a list of all the individuals they wish to buy gifts for this Christmas.

Help them decide how much they (or you as a family) are able to spend per person.

  • Do they wish to cast a large net with small gifts for many people? 
  • Would they rather focus on giving larger gifts to only those most important to them?

Be a sounding board and help them think through how best to use limited resources to show appreciation to loved ones. Make sure your children consider non-purchased gifts that people would enjoy.

2. Price Shop

Purchased Gifts

Many children struggle with budgeting because of unrealistic expectations of how far their money will go. Taking them window shopping at a store or online can help children learn to compare prices. You may also wish to help them understand the value of waiting for a sale before purchasing. 

Homemade Gifts

Children will often suggest homemade items as alternatives to purchased ones. While this is a wonderful idea, help them estimate the true cost of that homemade gift. 

  • Is it something they can do on their own or will they need outside help? If so, how much? 
  • What materials do they need to make the item and how much do they cost?

3. Consider Alternatives for Items Over Budget

Help your children plan alternatives for those items that are too far beyond your budget. For example, a brand new Kitchen Aid mixer might be too pricey, but a hand held mixer might work just as well with less expense. Helping children assess the true value of items by examining quality and price are also wonderful life lessons!

  • Is this purchase something the person needs?
  • Will these items be used enough to be worth the cost?
  • What purchased gifts could we replace with gifts of time, talent, or energy?

4. Consider Limiting Gift Giving with an Exchange

To help keep costs low, consider a Secret Santa exchange. Each child is responsible for only one present with a predetermined dollar limit. A gift exchange like this is a fantastic way for kids to experience the joy of giving without going overboard on spending.

Giving to Charity

As Christians, we are called to give generously. Kids absolutely understand that they should give to those in need. Learning to give without threatening their own family’s financial security is harder to master.

Christmas is a wonderful time to focus on how God has given us everything (James 1:17). He is there for all people, not just those with homes or those with enough food, but for everyone. We can spread God’s love for all by sponsoring families, sharing our blessings, and participating in community and church sponsored gift drives.

1. Sponsor a Family

Help your kids identify a family which could use a boost this Christmas. Decide how you'll help—anything from buying groceries to covering the electric bill.  Take your kids shopping for the kids in the family you've chosen to sponsor. Put your children in charge of selecting the gifts within your predetermined budget. Sponsoring a family is a powerful reminder of how blessed we are to have each other.

2. Closet Treasures

Let your kids help you sort through their closets and find clothes that don’t fit them or that they no longer wear. Take them with you to donate the items to a charity shop, thrift store, or clothes ministry. If you are allowed, spend a few hours volunteering in the shop to make your donation even more memorable.

3. Angel Trees, Christmas Boxes, and Toy Drives

Several toy donations, coat drives, and angel trees requesting donated items show up this time of year. Let kids know that they are helping choose gifts for kids who might not get anything else this Christmas or may not be able to be home with their families. 

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15, NIV) Let us rejoice in God this season and give to others in celebration, because He has given us everything. For “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23, NIV).  

For high quality gifts that will be enjoyed for years to come, look to Sonlight's Christmas Gift Guide.

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8 Books to Inspire Christmas Conversations

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8 Books to Inspire Christmas Conversations

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

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

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

Isaiah 9:6-7

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

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

1. A Christmas Carol

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


2. The Gift of the Magi

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


3. The Light at Tern Rock

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


4. The Family Under the Bridge

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


5. The Wonderous World of Violet Barnaby

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


6. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

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


7. A Year Down Yonder

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


8. James Herriot’s Treasury for Children

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


Get our top recommendations for Christmas gifts in our Sonlight's Gift Guide.

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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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Christmas School: Adding Holiday Cheer to Homeschool Academics

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Christmas School: Adding Holiday Cheer to Homeschool Academics

It’s the time of year when festive carols are playing, Christmas performances are happening at local venues, and streets are filled with beautiful lights on homes. All I want to do is to ditch real life for watching Christmas movies, baking holiday desserts, and wrapping gifts, but I can’t always justify dropping academics for the holiday spirit. 

Changing My Perspective with Christmas School

As someone who tends to be slave to the lists I’ve made and boxes I need to check, I’ve realized that I don’t necessarily have to choose between Christmas cheer or homeschool academics. My family can enjoy the Christmas season and still be learning things, even if we take time off from structured school days.

If it helps you to embrace the freedom of flexibility, think of it as Christmas school. Here’s a list of ways to combine holiday fun with practical learning.

Geography Lessons for Christmas School

  • Sending or receiving Christmas cards provides an opportunity to identify specific cities, states, or countries on your globe.
  • Tracking the shipment of packages can be done on your Markable Map.
  • Watching YouTube videos provides a glimpse of how other cultures celebrate Christmas.

Handwriting Lessons for Christmas School

  • Sending notes of holiday cheer to friends and family is a chance to improve cursive or printing skills.
  • Showing gratitude with thank you cards is an opportunity to practice writing in a straight line on unmarked paper.

History Lessons for Christmas School

  • Reading books from the library shows how the fictional Santa Claus transformed from the story of the real Saint Nicholas.
  • Doing an Advent study or activity teaches biblical prophecy and history.

Literature Lessons for Christmas School

  • Gathering around the dining table to listen as a family member reads a Christmas book during meals can be a chance to hear timeless classics.
  • Turning on an audio book in a room lit only by the lights on the tree is a soothing way to listen to new Christmas stories or old favorites.

Math Lessons for Christmas School

  • Doubling or tripling the recipe for a favorite treat, then determining how many to put on plates to share with community members and loved ones, requires multiplication and division.
  • Monitoring the amount of money spent on each gift and deducting it from the total set aside for the purpose is a lesson in budgeting.

Staying Light-Hearted

Of course, not every Christmas activity needs to have an educational component. The point is not to take the season so seriously that every moment is forced to serve an academic purpose. While I don’t want to shirk our homeschool studies, it’s equally important to have some Christmas fun simply for the pleasure of it!

That means we’ve worn Santa hats when we’ve gone on runs through town, cranked silly Christmas songs in the car, and built gingerbread houses out of graham crackers. Maybe those things don’t appeal to you, but you’d love to invite the neighbors over for a snowball fight, get creative with Elf on the Shelf antics, or cut out paper snowflakes to tape on your window.

As the year comes to an end, I want to know my family and I have savored the Christmas season and forged precious memories. If we focus so much on school work that we forsake the fun and meaningful aspects of Christmas, we've wasted an opportunity as a homeschool family. You only have so many Christmases with your children under your roof. Cherish each one!

Find the most unique and meaningful Christmas gifts for all the children in your life with Sonlight's gift guide.

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Let's Talk About Christmas School

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Christmas school

It's that time of year again ... when the world around us conspires to draw your children's attention from daily tasks and school to dreaming and wishing for the biggest and the best and the latest ____________ (insert name of appropriate toy or technology). The holidays are already a busy time of year, so attempting to keep students focused on homeschool academics can seem an overwhelming task!

I've written about Christmas school before, but every year at this time I'm reminded what a challenge it was to try and homeschool during the holidays. So instead of fighting it this year, I want to encourage you to incorporate the holidays into your school schedule.

1. Make Your Schedule Flex

It is really okay to set aside your Instructor's Guide for a few weeks in December and focus on the reason behind all the hype and advertising. You may want to keep up with Math and Phonics, but plan to set aside your regular History and Science schedules and replace them with Advent-oriented literature and art projects.

2. Focus on Giving

One thing I was determined to do when my children were younger, was to turn around that inherent desire to get stuff into a desire to give stuff. Here are just a few examples of how we attempted to exhibit a servant's spirit at Christmas:

  • Gifts for Jesus Each year we would pray and ask God to point us to a family, organization, or individual that had a specific need. Most often it was a monetary need, and we would work with our kids as they looked for ways that they might earn some money to share. We always looked for creative ways to anonymously give our gift, so that it truly was a gift from Jesus and not something that would generate praise for us.
  • Gifts for neighbors Some years we would create goody bags to deliver to our neighbors and friends. I found inexpensive brown gift bags at the local Walmart and my kids would decorate them with drawings and craft supplies. Then we would bake some small loaves of breads and batches of cookies and make our favorite candies and snacks to share. We had great fun delivering our bags of cheer.
  • Gifts of self This is something we still try to do even as our kids have grown and gone. When they were younger, our co-op group would put together a short program of Christmas music and skits and visit a local nursing home to share. Other years our family was involved in various church-related holiday functions—cantatas, Christmas plays, neighborhood caroling—all great opportunities to share the joy of Christmas with others.

3. Include the Entire Family

Christmas is a community event, not something that happens just for the benefit of one or two. So include your children in your holiday preparations. It was always my theory that if my children wanted to enjoy family gatherings, shared meals, and gifts under the tree, then they could help me with the work involved to pull off those things. Obviously, this looked different each year as children got older and able to do more, but in general, my kids were involved in

  • holiday house cleaning (before and after events)
  • meal preparation (setting the table, assistance with cooking/baking, table decorations, etc...)
  • holiday shopping (for gifts, meal items, etc...)

The more they were involved in making it happen, the more they appreciated when it happened.

Bottom line... plan to keep your holiday plans simple this year and look for ways to make your children part of your planning and preparation. School will not suffer when you take a break from your regular schedule, and you will create wonderful memories for your family to recall in years to come.

P.S. Looking for the educational gifts? Great books or fun games and puzzles are excellent ideas for Christmas giving. 

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8 Ways for Homeschool Moms to Get More Sleep

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8 ways for homeschool moms to get more sleep

For many families, homeschooling means more sleep. And that is good news for kids.

But what about moms? Sleep deprivation seems like part of the job description. And let's be honest: It is hard to serve your family well when you're downright exhausted. Though God will give you strength in the midst of a sleep-deprived season, I encourage you to embrace opportunities to help your body catch up.

Where can you find such opportunities? Though homeschooling won't help your baby sleep through the night (if only!), it does provide flexibility. Here are eight ideas to help you use homeschooling to your advantage to get more sleep.

1. Ditch the Alarm Clock

Wake up when you or the kids are ready instead.

2. Start School When You Want to

If you're out late one night, let school start later the next day.

3. Declare a Quiet Hour Each Afternoon

Little ones can nap, older kids can read or play silently, and you can try to grab a power nap on the couch.

4. Take Care of Yourself as Best You Can

Even when you simply can't get adequate sleep, care for your body in other ways.

  • Choose real food instead of junk.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Do things that help you feel energized. That could mean starting the day with a shower, mascara, or a few minutes outside.
  • Cut out the extra obligations that deplete you.

5. Tweak Your Homeschool Day for Yourself, Too

Use your homeschool day to meet your own needs as well as your kids'. It could be that you share your quiet time with your kids as you read the Bible together. And if something you assume you're supposed to do adds stress to your life (perhaps a separate exercise regime), set it aside for this season and take a nature walk with your children instead.

6. Ask Your Partner to Help You Get More Sleep

Maybe your husband could take the kids outside on Saturday morning so you can sleep in. Maybe he could take the baby when you're ready to sleep at night, so you can at least get an hour or two of uninterrupted rest. Ask for the help you need.

7. Close Your Computer an Hour Prior to Bed

This is one conventional piece of sleep advice that can actually work for moms. TV, smartphone and computer screens make it harder to sleep well when you're ready. So unwind at night with a book, a rhythmic handicraft like knitting, herbal tea, or conversation instead.

8. Choose Curriculum that Gives You More Time to Sleep

I designed Sonlight to give moms the freedom to open and go each morning. If you stay up late at night planning lessons for tomorrow, ask yourself if it's really worth it. I want moms to be able to give their best to their children and spend their homeschool time teaching, not prepping.

This quote from a longtime Sonlight mom makes me smile:

"Thank you, Sonlight, for allowing me a good night's sleep! When I wake up in the morning, I know exactly what each student needs to do that day. The well-organized Instructor's Guide is one of the big factors that has kept us with Sonlight all these years."

Laronda S. of Denver, PA

In the end, remember that this is indeed a season. Your kids will not be young forever. They will move out someday, and you will sleep again. This is your calling for now, and God will give you the grace for the task at hand. Keep pressing on, mom. (And if you can, go take a nap!)

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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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The Four Levels of Rest Homeschool Parents Need

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The Four Levels of Rest Homeschool Parents Need

God seems to take rest pretty seriously.

In this strange year of 2020, you might be more aware than usual of your need for deep rest. Perhaps you don't just feel body tired, but tired in your soul. That's more than a good night of sleep will fix.

Have you ever delineated the different kinds of rest you need? Consider this concrete example from the world of work. Good employers give their employees breaks in the middle of their shifts, time off each day, two days off each week, and vacation time each year. I would never say to a Sonlight employee, "Well, you've had every weekend off this year, why in the world do you also want to take a vacation week with your family?" In fact, I regularly check in with the staff at Sonlight to ensure they're taking time off to rejuvenate.

As a stay-at-home parent, do you respect yourself in the same way? Do you honor the different types of rest your body and soul need? I know it's not always possible, and that certain seasons require different sacrifices. But simply being aware of this concept can help you care for yourself so that you can keep caring well for others.

Consider these four levels of rest and see if you'd like to be more intentional with one or more of them.

1. Daily Rest

A good night's sleep feels elusive to many moms. I know you don't choose to get up in the middle of the night just for the fun of it. But wherever you can, prioritizing a good night's sleep helps you feel your best.

You can be more present to your family and more productive throughout the day if you consistently do what you can to get the sleep you need. If you need to have a daily quiet or nap time in the middle of your homeschool day, do it!

2. Weekly Rest

Jesus made it clear that we are not bound to the Old Testament law regarding the Sabbath. But that doesn't mean we should throw the whole concept out the window.

John and I almost always take a Sabbath rest.

  • When I do, I feel ready to take on the world the following week.
  • When I don't, I feel disoriented and behind all week long.

It's an act of trust to rest on the Sabbath and know that the world will not end. Of course, you'll still need to feed your family and be present for your children, but could you experiment with making one day of the week more of a day of rest for you and your family? Come up with a Sabbath that works for you. It's a rest homeschool parents need!

3. Yearly Rest

I need a vacation each year. I actually take two—one with my family and one just with John where we visit ministry partners around the world. Our annual Family Fun Week means that we set aside our ordinary schedules and take up the primary goal of reconnecting as family. It is a true gift to us all.

I know that especially with young children, vacations may not be relaxing, but perhaps there are ways to decrease the stress and make them more meaningful. (Maybe you could all go tech-free for 3 days, or just spend more time relaxing in nature.) When the kids were little, we'd all go camping a few times a year. When we'd leave, you could just see John setting aside his burdens as we climbed in the car with tent and supplies. It was restorative and life-giving for our family.

4. Long-term Rest

Did you know that in the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to let the land rest completely every seventh year? No planting, no harvesting. That's a radical leap of trust for an agricultural society. And every 50th year was to be a Jubilee Year—an extraordinary year of rest for the land, forgiveness of debts, a time to free slaves, and reconciliation.

We don't think either of these special times were ever practiced much, but the concept should tell us something. Every year of our lives was not meant to be the same. There are occasions for exceptional years or seasons. And 2020 is certainly such an unusual year. Could God be using this year to force you to new habits of rest?

I know long-term rest sounds too impractical for most people to ever pull off. But this could be an aspirational goal for your family.

  • Could you ever take a semester, a summer or even a year somewhere else?
  • Maybe an opportunity will arise for your spouse to work in a new location for a semester.
  • Maybe you've saved up to road trip out West for a few months.
  • Maybe you could finally take Grandma up on her offer to spend the summer at her cabin at the lake.
  • Or maybe you could just keep this in mind for a future season of your life. Perhaps when you're done homeschooling, you could do something extraordinary to reconnect and refocus for the new season ahead.

A season of long-term rest could be a gift to yourself and your family that would have benefits for the rest of your lives.

So what do you think? Does one or two of these suggestions stir something in you? Is there something you could do to make them happen?

The world will not fall apart if you plan rest into your life. Your spouse and children will be better for it. And truly, I believe we are in a better place to receive God's love for us and others when we are choosing to regularly step back and rest in the midst of the chaos.

Want more encouragement?

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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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