Christmas Cookie Collection: Almond Shortbread

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History tells us that shortbread finds its roots in the 12th century. Legend has it that Scottish chefs baked shortbread in the dark and dreary winters and put slits in the cookies to represent the rays of the sun. Fast-forward to the mid-16th century and we find that Mary, Queen of Scots was known for her love of Petticoat Tails, a crunchy, thin version of shortbread that was sprinkled with caraway seeds. According to History UK, shortbread was an expensive luxury and common folks only enjoyed it on special occasions such as weddings, Christmas, and New Year.

There are many variations and recipes for shortbread, but in its basic form, it is a simple, buttery cookie created with three basic ingredients: butter, sugar, and flour. Variations occur with the type of leavening (baking powder or yeast) and flavorings (almond, chocolate, fruit, etc…). I fell in love with shortbread as a young mom and added it to our Christmas tradition over the years. It adds a simple but flavorful addition to our annual cookie tray.

DOWNLOAD THIS RECIPE HERE!

This PDF file is formatted to print the same size as Sonlight's Recipe Cards so you can easily add it to your recipe collection!

Almond Glazed Shortbread

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter, softened (butter, not margarine)
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder

Shortbread Instructions:

Combine butter, sugar, and almond extract in a large mixer bowl. Beat at medium speed until creamy. Reduce speed to low; add all remaining ingredients. Beat until well mixed.

Roll dough into 1-inch balls; place a couple inches apart on a cookie sheet.

Flatten balls to ¼” thickness with the bottom of a buttered glass dipped in sugar.

Bake for 7-9 minutes at 350 degrees or until the base of the cookies are lightly browned.

I recommend checking your cookies after 7 minutes. Since the tops of the cookies do not brown, it is easy to over-bake them. Your goal is a light to medium brown on the bottom of your cookie.

Cool cookies for 1 minute on the cookie sheet, then remove them to a wire rack to finish cooling. Cool completely before adding glaze.

Glaze Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 4-5 teaspoons water
  • Sliced almonds

Stir together all glaze ingredients in a small bowl with a wire whisk. Decorate cookies with glaze and a sprinkling of sliced almonds.

You don’t need to be Scottish to enjoy this buttery, chewy bit of goodness. Be sure to add this recipe to your own Christmas Cookie Collection. Sonlight has some great recipe cards where you can record this new favorite. Let your kids decorate the recipe cards with fun Christmas stickers or decorations.

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Christmas Cookie Collection: Gingerbread Cutouts

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Legend tells us that the first gingerbread men were created at the request of Queen Elizabeth I. She asked her bakers to mold pastry into shapes of her favorite courtiers and gave them to VIPs who came to visit during the holidays. She wanted ginger “biscuits” that were edible caricatures.

Whatever the origins of these holiday favorites, making gingerbread cookies was part of our family Christmas tradition when I was growing up. Our German heritage likely generated the inclusion of lebkuchen (a German-baked Christmas treat resembling gingerbread) which I was happy to carry on to my own family’s traditions. Recipes that find their roots in your ancestry are a great place to begin forming traditions for your children, and it provides an opportunity to delve into a little family history at the same time.

DOWNLOAD THIS RECIPE HERE!

This PDF file is formatted to print the same size as Sonlight's Recipe Cards so you can easily add it to your recipe collection!

Gingerbread Cutouts  

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup and 2 Tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup and 2 Tablespoons molasses
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves

Instructions:

In large bowl cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and molasses.

(Note – molasses comes in different “strengths” or varieties. You may be familiar with light or dark versions of name-brand molasses, but there is also blackstrap, treacle, and sorghum. Choose your favorite depending on the flavor you’re after.)

Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl and add to creamed mixture. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate until easy to handle (as long as overnight).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a lightly floured surface roll dough to 1/8” thickness. Cut with cookie cutter.

Keep in mind – the thinner you roll your dough, the crispier your cookies will be. The thicker the dough, the chewier the cookies.

Place on an ungreased cookie sheet to bake. Bake 8-10 minutes.

Remove from cookie sheet to a wire rack for cooling.

When completely cooled, decorate as you like. I enjoy leaving some without decoration – Queen Elizabeth’s gingerbread biscuits are great for dunking in your favorite hot drink!

Now is a great time to begin curating recipes to develop into your own Christmas traditions. Sonlight has some simple recipe cards where you can record your favorites and create your own Christmas Cookie Collection.

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11 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.


A Christmas Carol

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.

SEE THE BOOK

The Gift of the Magi

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.

SEE THE BOOK

The Light at Tern Rock

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.

SEE THE BOOK

The Family Under the Bridge

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.

SEE THE BOOK

The Wonderous World of Violet Barnaby

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.

SEE THE BOOK

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

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.

SEE THE BOOK

A Christmas Carol Picture Book

7. A Christmas Carol Picture Book

Pages of beautiful watercolor and digital media illustrations make this Christmas classic retold a perfect choice for younger family members. All the key elements of Dickens's timeless story are intact, but scarier and sadder points are missing. A charming introduction of an age-old story to a younger generation.

SEE THE BOOK

Year Down Yonder

8. 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.

SEE THE BOOK | SEE THE PROGRAM HBL 100

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

9. The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

A few days before Christmas the Vanderbeeker family finds out that their curmudgeonly landlord refuses to renew the lease on their brownstone. Five siblings have eleven days to do whatever it takes to change his mind. A wonderful story of sibling cooperation and community among neighbors, this is a perfect family read-aloud.

SEE THE BOOK

James Herriot's Treasury for Children: Warm and Joyful Tales by the Author of All Creatures Great and Small

10. 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.

SEE THE BOOK

The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas

11. The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas

Told in brief, daily narratives by seven year-old Vicky Austin, this is a wonderful story of one family's tradition of doing one Special Thing each day before Christmas. Full of creative ideas for holiday activities, the story also focuses on family relationships as they prepare for a new addition to their family.

SEE THE BOOK

Do you have a favorite Christmas book?

What books inspire Christmas conversations in your family? Tell us in the comments or share your favorites with #sonlightstories on your favorite social media outlet.

Exlplore Sonlight's 25 Days of Christmas Traditions

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The History in Your Nativity Scene

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During the Christmas season, I pass by my nativity sets every day. I have several in my house and at the Sonlight office. Their beauty brings a smile to my face.

But their simple beauty is not a fairy tale – most components of nativity sets are rooted in history. Our faith is a historical faith based on real events. So let’s dive in to that fascinating reality.

Two thousand years ago, Palestine was ruled by Rome. For the first time in the Roman rule, Rome was no longer a republic, but an empire. As the supreme ruler, Caesar Augustus wanted to know exactly how many people he had in his vast empire. So he ruled that everyone had to return to their hometown to register for taxes.

Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth. It’s at least 80 miles to travel from Nazareth to Joseph’s hometown of Bethlehem. Quite a trip by donkey for a very pregnant woman!

So they went to Bethlehem to comply with the Emperor’s decree. God also orchestrated this decree of a pagan ruler to fulfill a well-known prophesy. Long before, the prophet Micah had written:

”But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”
–Micah 5:2

Sonlight gives me freedom to be with my family

"I enjoy being home with my boys. Homeschooling is a special way to guide and watch them learn. Sonlight provides a very thorough curriculum that gives me freedom to keep my focus on my children. That is so valuable to me!" The M family, Sonlighters from Louisville, KY

When Joseph and Mary got to Bethlehem, everyone was in upheaval. Everyone was moving from place to place, each trying to figure out how to comply with the census, trying to appease a ruler who was off in another country and didn’t know anything about them.

So there was no room for them in the inns of Bethlehem. Perhaps an innkeeper took pity on this young couple when he offered to let them use his stable. Mary delivered her baby there. And since there is no furniture in a stable, Mary used the manger as a bed for her baby as she rested after the birth.

But why are there a group of social outcastes in the nativity set as well?

Shepherds in those days were not welcome in polite society. Jewish law said that a shepherd could not testify in a court of law.

This discrimination against shepherds seems a bit ironic. Think of Abraham, Moses, Jacob and David – some of the most revered patriarchs of the Jewish faith. They were all shepherds! But somehow by this point in history shepherds were considered an underclass.

So here was a poor, probably uneducated, dishonored group of people that were the first to hear the good news about Jesus. And when I think of Jesus, this is the group He often specifically seeks out. He has a heart of compassion for them and wants them to hear His message; He wants to honor them with this important good news.

And so an angel comes to announce the good news of Jesus, followed by a host of angels singing to the glory of God.

I know a believer in India who jokes that this is the time we need to bring in the Bollywood theme – with dancing and music – because the presentation to those awestruck shepherds was dramatic and big. In Christmas pageants in the US, we usually have the angels just stand there and sing, but it likely was quite the exuberant presentation!

And what about those mysterious wise men?

God put a special star in the sky to announce the birth of the Christ. Back in the days before cell phones or newspapers, this was like a cryptic announcement on a billboard in the sky – available to all who looked up at night. But you needed some background to recognize that star’s significance.

And the people who had that background and acted on the gravity of what they saw was this group of magi, or wise men, from the east.

If you go back in Jewish history, there was a time when Israel was taken into captivity to Babylonia. Among that group were members of the Jewish intellectual class, such as Daniel. Daniel and others would have had contact with Babylon’s wise men, these astronomers who studied the stars and advised the king. Scholars believe that Jews spoke to these wise men about a prophecy concerning a special star that would signal the coming of a crucial king one day in the future.

At least 500 years passed between Daniel and Jesus, and that knowledge had been kept alive among the peoples of the east. So around Jesus’ birth, wise men in the east saw the star and said, this is the star we’ve heard about, let’s go and meet the king. So they probably loaded up a large entourage for the dangerous trip, and set off.

When they arrived in Jerusalem the wise men asked King Herod where they could find the one born King of the Jews. Usually a baby is born a prince; they aren’t kings automatically. But here we have a baby who from His very birth was counted as a King. Amazing!

Herod’s advisors knew the prophecy that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, so the wise men set off. And thus we get this beautiful contrast of who comes to see Jesus, and who Jesus came to earth to save. Jesus came for the poor Jewish outcast as well as the rich, influential Gentile. I think that’s shorthand for saying Jesus came for everyone.

When they found Jesus, the wise men presented Him with extravagant and expensive gifts. Shortly thereafter, Joseph and Mary flee with Jesus to Egypt to escape the violent Herod who wants to kill this new king. We assume the poor family used the money from the wise men’s gifts to fund their journey and survive in a foreign land.

It’s truly an amazing story filled with real people set in time.

So why do we pull out the nativity sets?

I set them out because they remind me of the beginning of a journey where the Father sent the Son so we can know God. No one has ever seen the Father, but we know Him through Jesus who came and lived and walked among us.

And so as we celebrate Jesus – Emmanuel, God with us – let us remember that we celebrate for a reason - and with joy.

Blessings to you! Enjoy this season and have a great Christmas!

Sincerely,
Sarita

Exlplore Sonlight's 25 Days of Christmas Traditions

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What Did Mary Know? A Christmas Devotional

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What Did Mary Know? A Christmas Devotional

I've listened to the Christmas carol, Mary, Did You Know, at least 30 times this season. I find it gorgeous, and I can't stop thinking about its central question: Mary did you know?


Watch a beautiful a cappella rendition of a favorite Christmas carol


Did Mary know? I wasn't sure what Mary knew. So I re-read the Gospel stories again. And I think the answer is yes and no.

What Mary Knew

Bible scholars talk about how all Jewish girls at that time dreamed of being the mother of the Messiah. It was promised that a savior was coming, a redeemer was coming. So when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, I imagine that Mary was surprised and maybe a bit concerned, but I doubt she was flabbergasted. She knew that somebody would bear this baby.

The angel gave Mary an idea of who her baby would be. He told her she would have a son and that she should name Him Jesus. He said her son would be great, that He would be called the Son of the Most High, that He would gain David's throne, and that His kingdom will never end. The angel ends this with the assurance that this will all come true, for "no word from God will fail."

Soon after, Mary goes and visits her cousin Elizabeth, who lived in another town. When Mary walks in the door, Elizabeth's first words are "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!"

What did Mary make of this?

I doubt she was beginning to show yet. So how did Elizabeth know her news? Elizabeth continued with the remarkable question, "Why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"

As further testimony to Jesus' identity, a stunning thing happened the night of Jesus' birth. When Mary was recovering from labor, a group of shepherds showed up in the stable. Think of how strange this would be. But they came with an amazing story. They had been out in their fields when a brilliant angel appeared with good news:

"Today ... a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord."

Luke 2:11

The shepherds left their fields and hurried to Bethlehem. They relayed the story to Mary, sharing the message that her son was indeed the Messiah.

Then, Mary received more wonders when she and Joseph followed Jewish rituals and took Jesus to the temple on the eighth day. A devout man named Simeon showed up. God had told him he wouldn't die until he had seen the Messiah. When he saw the baby Jesus, Simeon took the boy into his arms and essentially said "I can die in peace now because I have seen the Lord's salvation, a light for the Gentiles and the glory of Israel." Wow.

Next, a prophet named Anna came up and spoke about the child as the redemption of Israel. This was not Mary's ordinary trip to the temple!

Much later, the wise men came. These foreigners bowed down and worshiped this young boy. They brought Him kingly gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh – not your typical baby gifts. Further testimony to Jesus' true identity.

So that's at least part of what Mary knew. But what did she not know?

What Mary Did Not Know

  1. While she might have had an inkling of Jesus' origins, Mary probably did not understand that Jesus was in fact God incarnate. That wasn't the traditional Jewish understanding of the Messiah at the time. So as the song wonders, she probably did not know that Jesus had walked where angels trod, that when she kissed her little baby, she kissed the face of God.
  2. Mary did not know the miracles Jesus was to perform. While God has used the prophets of old to perform some miracles, they were never in the magnitude or awesomeness of Jesus' work. Mary would later discover that, as the song says, Jesus would walk on water and calm the storm with His hand. She would see how the blind would see, the deaf would hear, the dead would live again, the lame would leap, and the dumb would speak the praises of the Lamb.
  3. Mary probably expected Jesus to be a political figure who would free the Jews from Roman rule. That's likely how she understood the promise of Jesus as a deliverer, a redeemer, the Messiah. She would discover that Jesus had actually come to redeem the whole world, to make us all new. May it be so.

Though Mary didn't know everything, she became not only the mother of Jesus, but also one of His followers. We don't know much of her story after Jesus' resurrection, but we know she was part of the early worshiping community. She embraced the larger work that her son, the Messiah, had come to do. She rejoiced in her Savior. May we do the same!


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How to Make a Mid-Year Switch to Homeschooling with Sonlight

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How to Make a Mid-Year Switch to Homeschooling with Sonlight

#SONLIGHTSTORIES

"After two years of using a computer/video-based curriculum, something wasn’t working for us. The program left no space for fun, exploring, or developing my little one's interests. Most of all, our relationship began to suffer. Our homeschool day consisted of my supervising Gracia to pay attention to computer videos.

"It was a challenge to make the decision to move to a literature-based curriculum because English is my second language. But it broke my heart to realize that learning had become a burden to my daughter. This was not what my husband and I had in mind when we decided to homeschool; we wanted our kids to love learning. I wanted to learn with my children. I wanted learning to strengthen our relationship while discovering the world together, not for education to be a barrier between my children and me through a computer screen.

"So I took the challenge and switched to Sonlight! All my original expectations about homeschooling were met with Sonlight curriculum!! After a week of starting homeschooling with Sonlight, Gracia asked me when the vacations were going to be over. We were having so much fun that she hadn’t realized we were doing school!"

Maria del mar Gaytan in Miami, FL

We’ve all been there. Something is not working for your child when it comes to education. It's a terrible feeling that can keep you up at night, worried about how to fix the situation.

  • Possibly your curriculum isn't a good fit.
  • It could be a teaching approach that is causing frustration or boredom.
  • Maybe your child's school environment is toxic and causing anxiety.

You know there's a problem. But should you push through and tough it out to the end of the year? Or is it time to try something new—midway through the school year?

If your school experience is more frustrating and less productive than you would like it to be, don’t waste any more time. You can have the homeschool experience you want. Switching to a new curriculum or ending your relationship with the school system doesn’t have to be a painful process even if you are mid-stream in the school year.

Don't let sunk costs in a bad situation keep you stuck. And don't think that you have to wait for a fresh school year to switch. You can make a switch at any point. The sooner the better!

Don't worry about the fact that there's no way you can complete a full year's worth of curriculum in the school year that's left. It's okay! There are three options for dealing with that situation when you make a mid-year switch to homeschooling with Sonlight.


I made the switch to Sonlight with my older children in History / Bible / Literature D, and I haven't had a moment's regret since!

#SONLIGHTSTORIES

"Rosalynne absolutely loves reading, and Sonlight provides her with such a rich combination of books that speak right to the heart. I made the switch to Sonlight with my older children in History / Bible / Literature D, and I haven't had a moment's regret since!"

Lena Q. in Kincheloe, MI

1. Stretch Out a Sonlight HBL

Choose a Sonlight program for you child based on two factors:

Then begin on Week 1, Day 1 of your HBL Instructor's Guide no matter if you're starting in October or January. Work through the program until your school year is finished in the spring. Stop for the summer wherever you are in your History / Bible / Literature curriculum.

For skill-based subjects like Math, Reading, and Language Arts, finish your programs over the summer.

In the fall, pick up the History / Bible / Literature program wherever you left off before summer break. As far as the skill-based subjects, advance to the next level.

There are variations of this method depending on how much time you have left in your school year and what History / Bible / Literature level you choose. The bottom line is this: Finish the skill-based subjects to keep your child advancing and stretch out the History / Bible / Literature to cover all or part of the next school year.


After three years of working with Dutch schoolbooks and trying to fill in the gaps, we discovered and switched to Sonlight with much thankfulness!

#SONLIGHTSTORIES

"We have been a homeschooling family for more than 9 years now on the mission field in Madagascar. After three years of working with Dutch schoolbooks and trying to fill in the gaps, we discovered and switched to Sonlight with much thankfulness! Sonlight curriculum reflects what I want for my children, deep in my heart."

Anita R. in Madagascar

2. Get Ready to Advance with Skill-Based Subjects

If you are close to the end of the school year when you switch to homeschooling with Sonlight, it may not make sense to start a History / Bible / Literature program at all. In that case, choose your Skill-based subjects (Math, Language Arts, and Reading) and complete those before the next school year so that you can advance on time. Without an HBL element, you can fill your days with those skill subjects. Start fresh in the fall with an All-Subjects Package.


We switched to homeschooling last year and were blown away by the difference in my daughter's learning.

#SONLIGHTSTORIES

"We switched to homeschooling last year and were blown away by the difference in my daughter's learning.

Putting together a whole curriculum myself was overwhelming and left me constantly second-guessing if I was doing right by her education. With a 1-year-old running around and another baby on the way, I knew that we need a well-rounded and engaging curriculum for the coming year. Sonlight to the rescue! With the quality of books we received and her initial reaction, I'd say we made the right choice! "

Megan W. in Kokomo, IN

3. Complete Most of the HBL and Call It Good

If you have time to complete most of a year’s worth of History / Bible / Literature, you might decide to simply call it good when its time for your school year to end. Sonlight programs are so rich that you will likely have had a very full year regardless of the number of weeks you’ve finished.

Advance your child to the next level in the fall right on schedule.

Whether you choose one of these ideas or come up with your own unique variation, switching mid-year does not have to mean skipping your summer break or working extra long days just to check every box.

Seize the opportunity to revitalize your child’s education with something fresh. And, as always, the Advisor team is here to help you find a path forward.

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6 Ways to Give Your Homeschool a Progress Report

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6 Ways to Give Your Homeschool a Progress Report

“Okay, let’s do the AAR,” my husband said after a church event our family had organized. We gathered in the living room and one by one gave our two cents, down to our youngest child. “I really liked when we sang the songs, and I liked sitting by my leader, but the bounce houses were way too crazy! We need more grown-ups watching the bounce houses.” she stated. 

This type of family meeting has become common practice in our home. The term AAR comes from my husband’s time in the military, and it stands for After Action Review.

The After Action Review

In the military, after every mission, the soldiers come together and critique how it went. They debrief with questions like

  • What went well?
  • What needs to improve? 

It was clear to us that the practice of constantly reviewing our work is a beneficial practice for multiple areas of life from work to home, even to our ministry at church. We have found it to be particularly useful in homeschooling.

While most public schools are sending out progress reports for the students, I find myself asking my kids for a progress report on their homeschool experience. It's a great way to remind yourself of all you're accomplishing and warding off that feeling of being behind in school. Here are a few ways that we give our homeschool an AAR.

https://www.facebook.com/sonlight/videos/2486207808185619/
Enjoy this conversation between Deana, the author of this article, and Stephanie from Sonlight. They talk about giving your homeschool a progress report and making sure your child's school work is in that sweet spot of not too hard and not too easy.

1. One Word Association Game

Every few weeks, we will play the one word association game. I’m sure that you’ve heard of this. I spill out a trail of words fairly quickly, and my kids tell me the very first thing that comes to mind. It may go something like this…

You say…. Your child says….

  • Cats... Fuzzy
  • Popsicles... Cold
  • Reading... Fun
  • Swimming... Summer
  • Math... Confusing

This simple evaluation technique gives you a lot of information in a short amount of time, and the best part is that your child thinks you are playing a game! Most of the time, the first word that comes to their mind is usually their deepest, truest feeling about each word, so I have found this evaluation method to be pretty accurate.

I usually make a few mental notes about the words my kids choose, and then we circle back around to discuss it later. 

2. Feelings Chart Word Association

This is a more formal variation of the one word association game. In this variation, you’ll need to hand them a feelings chart and briefly go over it, explaining any emotion words that they may not know. My favorite emotion charts have faces that help the child to understand the feeling even if they aren’t a reader or don’t know the emotion word yet. 

In this exercise, you simply go through a typical day and have your child choose an emotion word for each school subject or schedule block. 

3. Listen In…

My girls had the sweetest conversation yesterday in the car. It went something like this:

“I read Hill of Fire today and it was so good! I loved the part about the volcano.” said my youngest.

“I remember Hill of Fire! It was one of my favorites too! Just wait until you get to A Question of Yams! It’s a really good book too. I also really liked The Big Balloon Race. You have a lot of really good books coming up!” exclaimed my oldest.

“I know! I can’t wait to read the one about hot air balloons! I’ve never ridden in one before and I’ve always thought they were really cool!”

“You will love it then!”

That conversation is all I need to know that our reading program is on point.

When your children are actively engaging with the books they read to the point of discussing them with others, you are on the right track! That’s the best evaluation you can get.

So listen in occasionally and see what is making your child tick or causing them to wilt. These organic conversations are one of the best ways to evaluate your child’s schooling, as they are usually very honest with siblings and friends.

4. High/Low

This is a pretty simple evaluation that you can use either on a daily basis or every few weeks. Dinnertime makes the best backdrop for these conversations.

You simply go around the table and have everyone state the highest part of their day and the lowest part of their day. This is a good way to identify struggle areas. If you notice that your child says that science was the lowest part of their day more than once, that's a red flag that maybe you should look into what they dislike about science time. 

5. Parent-Child Conference

A spin on the more common parent-teacher conference, the parent-child conference is every bit as important. In a parent-child conference, the parent interviews the child to find trouble spots. Questions may include:

  • Out of a perfect score of 5 stars, how many stars would you give our homeschool?
  • What is your favorite thing that we do together during school each day?
  • What is your favorite subject in school?
  • What is your least favorite subject in school?
  • Name one thing that you wish were different about our school.
  • How can I be a better teacher for you?
  • What is the hardest part of our school day?
  • What is your all-time best memory of our homeschool? Worst?
  • Would you recommend homeschooling to a friend? Why or why not?

6. A Simple Rubric for Academics

A Simple Rubric for Academics

If you’ve been homeschooling for very long, you’ll probably agree that there is a point in every subject where your child is not bored, but they are also not too challenged. I call this the sweet spot.

A child who is not being challenged will sometimes act out or perform poorly simply out of boredom. A child who is being too challenged will act out or give up because they feel the task is impossible.

As homeschooling parents, we want to find the sweet spot...the place right in the middle of too hard and too easy. To do this, you can use this simple rubric for each subject in your homeschool day.


Subject: _________Too ChallengingJust RightNot Challenging Enough
EmotionsChild complains about this part of the day, seems to dawdle rather than begin, may seem to feel defeated before trying

Child begins work promptly and finishes in an appropriate amount of time, seems to feel accomplishment after completing assignmentChild finishes work within a few minutes, seems bored, may dawdle or push back on the assignment or have a bad attitude
Level of IndependenceChild struggles to begin, asks lots of questions, will not work alone even after practicing with Mom or DadChild works independently for the most part, with a few questionsChild completes work with no help at all, all answers are correct
Sense of AccomplishmentChild seems to feel defeated even after finishing work, no sense of accomplishment, may feel exhaustion after taskChild feels a sense of accomplishment after completing task and still has energy to do something elseChild feels no sense of accomplishment, seems to feel indifferent even though their work is perfect, may even have a bad attitude

GET A PRINTABLE COPY OF THIS RUBRIC


Many times, our children are really trying to communicate with us when they complain or act out. And most children do not really mean, “I hate math.” What they really mean is, “I don’t think I’m good at math and therefore, I think that I hate it.”

I firmly believe that when kids are in the sweet spot of learning, feeling that little push of challenge followed by a sense of accomplishment, they are truly enjoying their education. I would even go so far to say that a student who feels that every subject falls in the just right category is a student who doesn’t hate any subject.

Learning is such a natural thing for a child. It is built into their very make-up, so hating any subject could be an indicator that something is not quite right. If you do find that your child is consistently not in the sweet spot, it may be time to switch curriculum.

A Word of Caution

Please remember that you are asking for honest answers, and these honest answers will not always feel good to your heart. Please don’t take these answers personally. Your child needs the ability to be open and honest with you, so please let them know that in these times, when you are asking them about school, any feeling is valid.

It’s also okay to hear their honest answers and not change anything at all. Remember, you are the decision maker, and ultimately, you know what’s best. However, simply giving your child a safe space to share his feelings has value in itself. 

Asking for and valuing our children’s opinion of their school experience not only helps us make informed decisions about curriculum and schedules, but it helps them to know that they have a voice in their own education. There is power in knowing that your thoughts can help change the way things are. It is my prayer that this simple practice of AAR will translate to even bigger opportunities for their voices to be heard in the future.

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Use our free homeschool placement tests to find the perfect fit in Sonlight curriculum.

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