Teaching Household Life-skills in a Mixed-age Homeschool Family

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Teaching Household Life-skills in a Mixed-age Homeschool Family

Home maintenance can overwhelm even the most organized of us and create extra havoc when children are involved. There are days I would rather throw in the towel instead of train my children for the thousandth time how to make their bed, pick up clothes, or put away dishes. It can be exhausting and can sap my joy.

Because my four children have two year age gaps between each successive child, they each require a different approach for home management training. These four things can help any exhausted parent find motivation as they teach household life-skills to multiple ages while homeschooling.

1. Focus on Stewardship

If we focus on expecting our children to keep a perfect house—one that is magazine-worthy—we will always be disappointed. But if we keep our focus on honoring God by being good stewards of what He has entrusted to us, not only will the job be easier, we will also teach our children that the work we do is for a greater purpose.

If we start training our children early to understand that we are stewards in this world, the more quickly the truth will take root. Hopefully this will bear fruit that expresses their love for the Lord in all they do whether big or small.

2. Create a Clear List of Jobs for Each Child

What I have found helpful is to make a list of everything that needs to be done in each room of my house. Then according to each child’s age and ability, I assign a few of those jobs to each child. This room-by-room checklist is posted on a whiteboard in our breakfast area so everyone can see it.

3. Walk Your Child Through Each Task Until They Can Accomplish It Independently

When training my children in life-skills, mastery is proven when they can do it independently from the beginning to the end without hesitation.

Achieving mastery is where teaching home management gets especially challenging. If you have more than one child, you will feel torn because you can’t help everyone at the same time. Here are three keys that help me:

  • Pick one room where everyone works simultaneously and you can supervise them all at once.
  • Have your children do their tasks at different times of the day so you can work with one child at a time, as time allows.
  • If you have older children and younger children, start a buddy system. Pair a younger and older child together to work on the same room while you go back and forth to supervise each buddy pair.

4. Keep The Same Rhythm Each Day

Keeping the same schedule (or routine) will help things run more smoothly for all ages. If your children know what to expect next, attitudes tend to stay in check.

Teaching our children to pitch in with home management not only eases our own burden as homeschool moms, but it also provides them with important life-skills. Our children gain a sense of personal discipline and confidence when they take responsibility for a task and see it to completion.

Teaching multiple children at different ages can sometimes feel difficult to manage. Sonlight makes it easier by dividing our curriculum into two types of subjects: Couch and Table Subjects. Learn more here.

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5 Homeschool Organization Tips for Moms Who Can't Stand Clutter

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5 Homeschool Organization Tips for Moms Who Can't Stand Clutter

Homeschooling is an open invitation to clutter. The minute we even consider homeschooling, clutter makes itself at home by way of picture books, paper, art supplies, science projects, costumes, curriculum, snacks, DVDs, mismatched socks, toys, and educational resources. 

And yet, homeschooling is also an open invitation to beauty, truth, and goodness. These are the reasons we homeschool and also the reasons we acquire picture books, art supplies, and educational resources.

How do we make room for more of the good stuff while not losing our minds over the clutter?

The homeschooler who doesn’t mind clutter is #blessed. I, for one, don’t have that particular #blessing. Clutter stresses me out and distracts me from the joys of homeschooling. It storms in the face of beauty, truth, and goodness.

Do you experience this, too? You aren't alone! An article in Psychology Today about the mental cost of clutter explains,

“Clutter can play a significant role in how we feel about our homes, our workplaces, and ourselves. Messy homes and work spaces leave us feeling anxious, helpless, and overwhelmed. Yet, rarely is clutter recognized as a significant source of stress in our lives.”

Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy. D.

Carter goes on to explain that clutter

  • “distracts us by drawing our attention away from what our focus should be on”
  • “makes it more difficult to relax”
  • “inhibits creativity and productivity by invading the open spaces that allow most people to think, brainstorm, and problem solve” 

In other words, clutter can overwhelm the heart-and-soul of homeschooling. 

As I seek to foster creativity, productivity, attention, and a love of learning in our homeschool, part of my work is to manage clutter. It’s humble but meaningful work. Thankfully, with a few organizational habits on hand, you and I can keep clutter at bay and create the atmosphere we envision

1. Maximize Space

The top shelves in closets and the bottom drawers in cabinets are often underused or misused. Take a look in your home. Does the top shelf hold items that could just as well be donated? Is there a bottom drawer in your home that is practically empty?

I like to use top shelves for seasonal items like themed learning tools, blankets, decorations, beach towels, swimming supplies, boots. Bottom drawers are useful for items that a young child uses regularly like bath toys, socks, favorite books, toys, puzzles, and silverware.

Start noticing these underused storage spaces and strategize the items that you may store here. Bonus: by maximizing these storage spaces, you’ll free up storage space elsewhere to be used more strategically.

2. Use Containers Strategically

In my opinion, the right container in the right place for the right item can be a home’s best friend. Think about the things in your home that could be easily tidied and corralled into baskets, bins, and magazine holders

Baskets

We have two large baskets behind the couch: one for cozy blankets, the other for board books. When blankets and books are strewn around the living room, any of us can tidy the room by placing them in the appropriate basket. 

We keep two large, rugged baskets by the front door: one for beach towels in the summer and snow pants in the winter; the other for lawn blankets (we love to read under the maple tree) in fair weather and boots in cold weather.  

Each person in the family has a basket by the door that holds stuff that he or she grabs on the way out of the door, like ballcaps, mittens, socks, sunglasses, wallets, purses, and brushes. 

Bins 

Sturdy, clear plastic storage bins with latches are worth the investment. In our home, these help with book and clothing storage as well as toy rotation. 

Speaking of toy rotation—I’m a fan! (More on that later.) Plan the size of bin that you will need for each type of toy that your child has (LEGO, Calico Critters, blocks, etc.) Label the bin clearly and store the bins in the basement, attic, or a closet. I love that the youngest child can easily clean up his toys if all he has to do is return the toys to the bin. Whenever possible, I purchase clear bins so that I can easily see what is inside. 

Magazine Holders

Use black, white, or color coated magazine holders to sort school books for each child according to the time of day that you use the resources or according to the subject matter. This keeps all of the related books and notebooks in one place and is easy to return to the shelf after use.

Store the magazine holders on a shelf or in a closet.

A helpful side-note: when I’m trying to teach my child to take out the appropriate magazine holder and put it away when he’s finished, I include those steps in his assignment book. It’s an easy check mark for him and the habit is built over time.

3. Rotate the Tools for Fun

For our family, toy rotation is worth the investment of my time, energy, and strategy. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, toy rotation is making a few toys accessible to a child while storing other toys, then in time, exchanging the accessible toys with stored toys.

This rotation practice can be applied to puzzles, board games, math manipulatives, science kits, and any other hands-on resources you use for your homeschool.

Rotating the fun tools (toys) keeps our home tidy, opens up space, and allows our children to connect more deeply with their toys without feeling over-stimulated or distracted. At times, I’ve included toy rotation on my monthly to-do list; other times, I’ve simply rotated toys on a whim. 

4. Declutter and Tidy

On one hand, I am an advocate of consistent, little-by-little decluttering, keeping a daily habit of tossing out broken things, donating unused things, and tidying up. On the other hand, I am an advocate of learning to tolerate a certain level of mess so that I can rest and relax without having everything in order all of the time. 

I used to ask the kids to help me tidy the homeschool space and the playroom a couple of times a day, but now I’ve learned to let those spaces remain lived in until the end of the day when we do one big clean-up. I’ve discovered that I can live with the temporary clutter, and my children appreciate the room to breathe. It’s rewarding to pull things into order at the end of the day and to wake up to a calm and orderly home.

5. Practice Contentment 

One of the secrets to a clutter-free life is contentment. This is especially helpful for homeschoolers. If you have a curriculum and resources that are working well, stick with them instead of looking for the next best thing. This curriculum consistency will provide many benefits to you—including less clutter.

Why Organization Matters

As in every life endeavor, we are mobilized by our motivator: why will you and I work faithfully to manage clutter this year? My why is tucked in this excerpt from A Liturgy for Domestic Days.

“In the cleaning and ordering and

Maintenance and stewardship of things -

Of dishes, of floors, of carpets

And toilets and tubs,

Of scrubbing and sweeping

And dusting and laundering -

That by such stewardship

I might bring

A greater order to my own life,

And to the lives of any I am

Given to serve,

So that in those ordered spaces

Bright things might flourish:

Fellowship and companionship,

Creativity and conversation,

Learning and laughter

And enjoyment and health.” 

Every Moment Holy by Douglas Kaine McKelvey

Having an organized homeschool starts with an organized curriculum. See how Sonlight saves you time and keeps your lesson plans on track.

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Homeschool Arts and Crafts for the Parent Who Prefers Student-led Projects

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Homeschool Arts and Crafts for the Parent Who Prefers Student-led Projects

When I’m looking through homeschool blogs, I see bright, beautiful pictures of children playing with paint and making creations with macaroni and glitter. The parents and children all appear to be having a great time. But that happy scene isn’t true for every family. What do you do when you’re the parent of children who love arts and crafts, but you just don’t feel that joy from hands-on projects? Maybe your projects are usually a flop, but you know your kids crave working with their hands to express their creativity.

My Epic Arts and Crafts Fail

Here's an example of how arts and crafts don't work in my home. Once I decided we would have an artist study and make our own versions of Picasso paintings. I printed pictures of his masterpieces and gathered the recommended paints and supplies from a tutorial I found on Pinterest. Calling my  six children over, I taught a short art lesson, and we dove into painting. Fast-forward one hour.

  • My oldest daughter, 16 at the time, had done a very fast painting and then hied off to her room.
  • My 13-year-old was very carefully working on his 12th version of a painting. He had gotten frustrated with the first 11 paintings and had thrown them out, so he was now creating a new one, with high frustration levels.
  • My 9-year-old was doing paintings that looked nothing like what I had imagined in my head. He was just making a mess and having fun but with no real painting technique.
  • My 8-year-old had walked away over half an hour ago after not really trying.
  • My 5-year-old was crying because no matter how hard she tried, her painting wasn’t good enough.
  • The 4-year-old had gotten less paint on her paper that she got on everything else within her reach. 

I had a headache from dreading the clean-up process. I was exhausted and just wanted to go lie down. 

Why Did Our Picasso Project Fail?

There are parents who can make art projects like this work, and I really admire that ability. But I must admit I will probably never be one of them.

Our art project failed because I tried to do art in a style that doesn’t work for our family. Instead of taking a formal, parent-led approach to crafts and hands-on projects, my family does better when the activities are sparked by my children's own interest and done at their own pace. We're more unschoolers when it comes to arts and crafts.

Our Successful Art Projects Are Student-led

Usually I don’t plan art at all. I simply provide art supplies, and my children are allowed to create in their free time. For some families, this strewing method would result in disaster, but it works for us.  

How We Set Up Our Art Station

For our at-home art station, I divide materials into two large plastic tubs and a book stack.

Tub #1: Non-messy Art Supplies

  • crayons
  • markers
  • papers of assorted styles
  • feathers
  • pom poms
  • googly eyes in all sizes
  • fabric
  • ribbons

Tub #2 Messy Art Supplies

  • paint and paintbrushes
  • the dreaded glitter
  • assorted beads
  • permanent markers

Book Stack for Inspiration

Rules for Getting Crafty

Children who are older and prove responsible can use either art box at any time. Less responsible or younger children can use the second box only under the direct supervision of a parent or older sibling .

Whenever a child wants to do art, they can rummage for the supplies they want, and then they create! When they are done, they put the supplies away and clean up. If they run out of something, they put it on my shopping list, and when I have the time and money, I replace it. 

Sonlight’s Hands-On History Project Kits by InquisiKids

Sonlight is now offering extra activity packs that children can do on their own with little parental help (via InquisiKids). They schedule a project every couple of weeks that expands on the history lessons, providing a depth that goes beyond your reading and discussing

But the best thing about them? They are just like my art boxes, but better

In the kit, there are almost all the supplies you will need to make each craft. And each project is packaged into individual bags to make all the required parts easy to find for small hands. The instruction booklet has step-by-step pictures that make completing the projects easy for the children to do with minimal parental involvement. There are even notes telling when parents should get involved, such as using the oven to harden clay. 

All the child needs to do is find a project from the box, reference the instruction book, and start creating!

My kids love having these history project kits added to our art center because they are equipped to create whenever they are inspired. There's no waiting for me to find the right sized dowel or shop for some obscure craft supply. It’s all right there in the kit.

These kits are set up to help your child succeed at art, even without a lot of parental involvement. My kids love the feeling of success they have when they can independently do the projects (and clean up afterwards). These kits are a lot like my art boxes, miniaturized and organized to create a great project every time. 

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How We Tried 7 Homeschool Philosophies and Settled on Sonlight

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How We Tried 7 Homeschool Philosophies and Settled On Sonlight

When I first started homeschooling, it never occurred to me to adapt to a particular homeschool philosophy. I hadn’t even realized that they existed! I simply ordered every single homeschool catalog I could get my hands on. When I found the Sonlight catalog, I couldn’t stop reading it. I was hooked. I ordered a full package and was ready to go.

A couple of years later, I noticed people around me were talking about homeschool philosophies. This friend thought classical education was best. Another thought unit studies were her answer while still another insisted that eclectic was the only way to go. Because I'm the type who needs to try every option to make sure I’m not missing out, I immediately began to investigate and add certain aspects to our homeschooling day from various methodologies, one after the other.

Here is my own homeschooling journey through seven homeschool philosophies and what I discovered along the way.

1. The Charlotte Mason Philosophy

Charlotte Mason was a wonderful teacher who taught young children over 100 years ago. She loved living books (books that get you involved in the story, rather than have you memorize facts). Into her curriculum, she wove nature and observation. She was always trying to find better ways to teach young children by keeping them engaged. A firm believer in letting a child explore and learn on their own, she championed nature walks, narration, and journaling. Charlotte Mason sounds like someone who could have been my friend!

We were already using living books with Sonlight. Narration was there, too, in the form of Sonlight’s discussion questions.

However, a strict Charlotte Mason lifestyle was not for us. First of all, we didn’t live in an area that lent itself to safe nature walks without driving a considerable distance or paying fees. Because of dyslexia, journaling was more of a battle than a fun activity, and many of the books Miss Mason recommends are fairly dated.

We did add several books to our collection, but we found many were just not as interesting as newer books that had been published after Miss Mason's time. We also liked to intersperse our enlightening reading with a bit of twaddle to lighten things up. (Twaddle is an absolute no-no for Charlotte Mason purists.) Also, looking into the future, we saw that Charlotte Mason was light on middle and high school education, as she focused primarily on the younger children she regularly taught.

I’m always a little surprised when my friends insist upon adhering to a strict Charlotte Mason methodology and using only the books she would have used. This is rather confusing to me, because the one person who thought that Charlotte’s ideas should not be used as a strict guideline for every child and was always searching for ways to improve the curriculum was Charlotte Mason herself. She prided herself on growth and change, based on observations of the individual child.

Sonlight and Charlotte Mason

So while Charlotte Mason comprises an excellent philosophy, with Sonlight I'm able to take advantage of all those things Charlotte Mason didn’t have access to, and create a balanced blend of old and new.

2. Classical Homeschooling

Teaching the Trivium goes back to the times of Ancient Greece and before. The curriculum is largely centered upon The Great Books, a collection of classical works that have lasted through time and stimulate the Great Conversations throughout history. The study of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin is  encouraged for reading books in their original languages and for building a strong foundation in logic.

Implementing the Grammar phase was pretty easy. My children learn best through music, so adding in songs and jingles was no hardship at all. But despite our memorization of events and dates, I felt that the living books from Sonlight actually stuck with them more. With Sonlight curriculum, they were learning without even trying. The Classical method seemed too uptight and rigorous for us. Sonlight also helped my children develop through the logic and rhetoric phases in a way that better fit my relaxed personality.

Sonlight and Classical Homeschooling

Sonlight provides a great framework for adding many of The Great Books. We did add some, but, to be honest, I was getting just as bored with some of the Great Books as my children were. We still add in a couple books per year and keep a plethora of educational songs on hand, but by and large, we’ve left behind the Classical method. After all, with translations, the classical works can be read in English and not in dead languages.

We found that reading a lot of difficult books very fast was not enjoyable for my dyslexic children, even on audiobook. I easily let go of the more rigid confines of the curriculum to suit our more relaxed homeschool style. Sonlight balanced out the parts we were missing.

3. The Montessori Method

I originally thought Montessori would be a great method for my little ones, as it incorporates hands-on methods and is almost completely child-led. There are many specialized manipulatives you can purchase or create yourself to stimulate learning. While I did do a rotation at a Montessori school in my education, I did not seek out teaching credentials, nor do most homeschooling parents need to.

However, implementing the Montessori method at home proved to be much more challenging than I anticipated. First of all, it was very expensive, required vast amounts of manipulatives and print outs, and it took a lot of time to prep all the small pieces.

But the biggest drawback to me was that my children left the activities behind so quickly. I had at one point ordered a Montessori box delivered to our house each month. My children would play with it all day the first day, and then barely touch it again after that. The activities were delightful while they lasted, but they never lasted long. If we had access to the huge amount of resources in a classroom, we may have had more success, but at home, there really was only so much I could provide at a time. And Montessori really only goes so high. Eventually a Montessori educator has to change methodology as they move into the higher grade levels.

Sonlight and Montessori

Sonlight has recently added more hands-on to their programs, and my children have been enjoying those, but in our house, books are our main manipulatives. My children return to their favorite books time and again, and some of our books have been read so many times they have literally fallen apart.

4. The School-at-Home Approach

We’ve tried the school-at-home method a few different times, using different traditional programs—both textbook and online. These programs are nice, because they provide everything you need and guarantee a complete education. But, for a variety of reasons, they just didn’t work well for our family.

First of all, we have a love/hate relationship with textbooks/workbooks. Usually, it would start out with my children flying through 40 or more pages of their workbooks. But it would invariably wind up with half-completed workbooks lying around and nobody with the energy to finish them. I had a hard time with workbooks myself in school, never turning in my homework, and hating the sheer amount of busywork. Obviously, I had a hard time forcing my children to push through when there were a couple dozen workbooks per grade level.

But the hardest part for me was grading them. There were just so many workbooks, and they all had to be graded daily. Even with accredited programs, the parent still needs to grade or monitor the grades in all the programs. When you have 5 children each doing over a dozen workbooks a day, that adds up quickly.

Also, the amount of screen time increased because of all the videos for the classes. In short, I grew uncomfortable exchanging our fun, comfortable stories around the sofa for a bunch of children locked in different rooms all day, watching videos. So we eventually wound up dropping the school-at-home approach.

Sonlight and School-at-Home

We use Sonlight’s carefully selected workbooks to give us just enough of a school feel. But the bulk of our curriculum comes from the living books we enjoy as Readers and Read-Alouds.

5. Unit Studies

If I had unlimited time and money, I would probably dive deep into unit studies and love every minute. But the truth is this method relies heavily on the parent to do the planning:

  • research materials
  • screen resources for content and difficulty
  • organize everything into a cohesive study
  • create a schedule for the study
  • balance all the different academic subjects so nothing is left out

My biggest difficulty with unit studies was getting bogged down in the extensive planning. I'd work on a six-week unit study and end up with enough materials to fill a full school year! Then I struggled with what to leave out or how to extend it without going over the same material 7,000 times and boring my children.

Sonlight and Unit Studies

Eventually I came to realize that Sonlight really is just a series of unit studies, all planned out, scheduled, and ready to go. There's almost no prep work needed on my part.

Instead of planning unit studies, I can use Sonlight as our unit study base and add on to it as our interests lead. Adding to Sonlight is usually unnecessary, but that still doesn’t stop me from layering on extras! Sometimes my kids and I just want more on a particular topic.

6. Unschooling

Before I started trying out various methods of education, I would have guessed that unschooling would be the most effective for my children. They are often highly motivated to learn (translation: obsess) about certain topics, and they enjoy reading about almost anything.

However, I have discovered they aren’t quite the unschoolers I thought they were. There are certain subjects they will go out of their way to avoid. While they do follow my lead when it comes to our studies, if left to their own devices, there are huge chunks of topics they would omit altogether.

Sonlight and Unschooling

So we have created a method I call Sonlight unschooling by unit study. It’s a bit of a mess and hard to describe, but basically we work through one Sonlight History / Bible/ Literature program per year per child, and whenever they become interested in a particular topic, I load them up with extra materials and projects.

As I keep moving through Sonlight, we find another topic and repeat. Some explorations are short (10 -120 minutes) and others are longer (a few weeks). But we always come back to Sonlight as our base for deeper exploration.

7. Eclectic Homeschooling

The eclectic method describes my homeschool best of all. The eclectic approach is simply taking a little bit from two or more methods and compiling what works best for each individual homeschool. Some families combine a school-at-home approach with a classical education, while others find private online schools with bits of Sonlight tied in. This do-whatever-works style is very common among experienced homeschoolers!

Sonlight and Eclectic Homeschooling

My children and I are eclectic unschoolers who use Sonlight as a base to create unschooled unit studies. Sometimes we add a few Charlotte Mason or classical techniques and materials.

That's my current homeschool approach in a nutshell.

I’ve tried all of these seven homeschooling methods and more, and the one item I can’t leave behind is Sonlight curriculum. For the past 14 years, it has been the foundation that assures me we are covering everything we need. Yet it creates so much interest that my children can’t help wanting to go deeper.

My typical response when asked, “Which homeschool philosophy do you use?” is “Sonlight.” That’s all I really need to say to describe it.

Experience a Sonlight Education
1. Pick a history program  2. Add other subjects & electives 3. Review and order
EASY!
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8 Types of Portfolio Proof for the Literature-based Homeschool

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8 Types of Portfolio Proof for the Literature-based Homeschool

Some homeschool parents are required to keep records of their children's’ work by state regulations. Other parents want to keep a portfolio for sentimental reasons or to practice keeping records for high school.

Whatever your reasons for wanting to keep homeschool records prior to high school, it can be confusing to try to keep records in a subject for which there is very little written work. Sonlight relies heavily on reading and discussing. How can you keep records of that kind of learning?

Getting Started with a Homeschool Portfolio

First, check your state’s laws for reporting. Requirements vary widely from state to state, with some states requiring no proof, and other states requiring much more. HSLDA.org helps homeschoolers navigate these kinds of questions.

Basically, it’s up to you to report when you need to and fill out any paperwork. State laws will provide you with a framework of requirements, and don’t feel obligated to turn in more than is asked for.

But What if We Move Later?

You aren't required to comply with the laws of a state until you are living there. So don't worry about keeping records in the case of a future move.

To reassure you, think of an example from driving. If you move from a state that has a 75 mph maximum speed limit to a state where the limit is only 65 mph, you cannot be fined for driving 75 mph earlier that morning in a different state. With homeschooling, you can’t be forced to prove you were meeting Pennsylvania laws while living in Wisconsin, or New York laws while living in Texas.

If you are traveling, consult the state laws for how long you can live in an area without being considered a resident (usually around 30 days). Military families also have special laws that can be discussed on an individual basis with a good homeschool lawyer.

Go Digital! Create an Online Folder

There are many cloud services where you can store digital files and photos. (Google Drive is one of the least expensive ones.) Everything in the list below can be scanned or photographed and uploaded to the cloud so you have a paperless record keeping system.

Most families find a mix of both digital records and physical paperwork is a good middle ground. Do what works for you!

Even though the bulk of your learning may happen through reading and talking, there is plenty of fodder for documenting learning with a homeschool portfolio! Here are eight things that work well to demonstrate a Sonlighter's homeschool accomplishments whether needed for an official evaluation or simply for personal memories.

1. Use Your Instructor's Guide

You can keep a written record right on your Instructor's Guide. Use it as is or make copies of the schedule for your own personal record keeping. (Refer to Sonlight’s copyright policy to verify acceptable use.)

Some people write on the guide, using color coding, initials, and dates to keep track of which children have completed various assignments at what time during the school year. This tip is especially useful when using a guide for more than one child or reusing it with a different set of students later.

2. Keep a Copy of the Catalog

File an entire catalog with your records for the year, marking the HBL, Language Arts, Science, Math, electives, etc. that you used. You can also use a copy of the book list found in the Instructor’s Guide. The sheer number of books you cover in a year with Sonlight is impressive to evaluators.

A less precise but certainly more fun way to record all the books you read is to stage a #sonlightstack photo!

(Not all books pictured are Sonlight titles. Because there's a WORLD of great books to read!)

3. Keep Your Language Arts and Science Activity Sheets

Many Sonlight programs—Science and Language Arts mostly—come with Activity Sheets. Take snapshots of the best work and upload them to your digital files.

Many of the writing assignment in Language Arts, especially in LA 3 and above, tie into the history lessons. By keeping copies of those worksheets, you can show that your child was not only reading and listening to many books about the subject throughout the year but also applying that understanding in their writing assignments. Most schools require only a handful of writing assignments in history, so one paper every quarter or semester is more than sufficient.

Just like the Language Arts worksheets, Science worksheets provide quick and easy records of what you’ve covered this year. A few snapshots of important pages in your online file will demonstrate just how much you’ve covered.

4. Take Pictures of Your Timeline & Markable Map

The timeline shows a variety of people and events you have covered over the year. Take pictures of the busier pages to show what you’ve learned.

Throughout the year as you do the mapping activities, take photos of your Markable Map and store them in your digital portfolio.

5. Document Your Hands-on Projects

Sonlight carries multiple lap books, activity kits, science kits, and coloring books to complement all the great books. By incorporating these hands-on components and taking pictures along the way, you’ll have even more photo evidence of completed work.

6. Keep a List of Field Trips & Extras

Keep track of any extras. Once you start documenting them, you'll be surprised at how often you add these in:

  • websites you researched
  • videos you watched
  • field trips
  • extra worksheets
  • library books you borrowed

On the downloads tab of your user account on the Sonlight site, there is a field trip planning page you can use. Or go the easiest route: simply take pictures of your children at the field trip locale. Upload those photos to your online homeschool portfolio.

7. Record Videos

Your children can document their school year by recording short videos:

  • oral book reports—narration-style talks about the books they are learning
  • short video diaries recorded on-site during field trips
  • an end-of-the-year report on a favorite character from history
  • reading a composition they wrote for Language Arts
  • reciting memory work such as a Bible verse or poem or a famous speech

Simply upload the videos to your online portfolio for safe keeping.

8. Create a Report Card

With a literature-based program like Sonlight, there are few to no grades. And while many parents find grading stressful or simply unnecessary, a report card can have value when it comes to keeping a homeschool portfolio. It’s simply a record of classes with some sort of evaluative ranking (a grade) and maybe a couple of comments. You can find many online templates for report cards online or simply create your own.

You can assign grades any way you choose. Some parents grade on a complex weighted scale, with such and such percentage given for discussion, completed assignments, and scores on workbooks. My favorite grading scale is a simple A or incomplete.

  • A—student completes all work to my satisfaction, seems to grasp content when we discuss it, and seems to retain what it’s all about.
  • Incomplete—anything that isn’t an A. As it is incomplete, it must be reviewed, revised, supplemented, retaught, or presented in a different fashion until the child can master the skill and get an A.

When you homeschool with a method that has a small paper-trail, there are still plenty of ways to record learning for a portfolio. I find digital records much easier to sort, but I do keep a few works of original art created by each child to save as memories. And because my record keeping is so low-key, the documentation process doesn't distract me from enjoying the day-to-day learning experiences with my children. I snap a few photos here and there, upload online, and then get back to our great books, science experiments, and math problems.

A well-planned homeschool curriculum is step one in easy record keeping. See how Sonlight's Instructor's Guides can make all things planning and documenting easy-peasy.

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6 Ways I'm Turning My Kids into Book-loving Readers

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"We are so thankful for all the wonderful books we get to add to our family library each year as we homeschool with Sonlight. Hayden (12) and Sienna (10) are helping put away this year's readers into one of our many bookshelves. We are excited to think of the collection we will have accumulated by the time these two graduate, as we anticipate many more years homeschooling with Sonlight.
— Leila E. of Kakabeka Falls, Ontario

My kids are all heavy readers. In fact, a few of them are known for getting in trouble for staying up too late, reading a good book. I’ve never really had to tell them to read. While I think that reading is probably in their genes, I can look back and pinpoint a few things that we did that helped cultivate that love of reading. 

1. Read and Talk to Your Babies

Building good readers begins early, even earlier than you may think. Actually, good literacy skills begin while the child is still in the womb. It’s never too early to begin reading aloud to your child. While it may seem strange, reading aloud during pregnancy is a great way to bond with your little one. Of course, once the child is born, you’ll be able to step up your game.

First, keep reading aloud. I can remember reading aloud from the Psalms during late night feedings. It was almost the only thing that kept me awake! I read picture books to my children before they could even hold up their heads, and some of their very first toys included the virtually indestructible, crinkly books that baby can use for light reading or chewing! Making books a part of your life early on is a great way to begin a love for literacy.

Of course, reading is a no-brainer for encouraging early literacy, but one other important part of literacy development most people don’t think of is speech. This was one of our favorite games to play with our babies: Whatever noise they made, we made right back to them. Every babble and gurgle, we would mirror. As they got older and they began developing a small vocabulary, we would begin “holding conversations” with them. Even if we didn’t have a clue what they were saying, we would nod and speak to them as if it were the most interesting thing we’d ever heard!

2. Read Often

Take advantage of the little moments. Read aloud as often as you are able. Keep a couple of favorite books in the diaper bag or your purse to read during unexpected wait times. If you find yourself without a book, recite nursery rhymes together or see if your child can remember the rhyming words. 

Car trips are the perfect opportunity to have conversations or listen to songs or audio books. I used to always keep a stash of picture books in the car for when we traveled. Think of easy ways to sneak books into your everyday routines. And of course, a literature-based curriculum like Sonlight will infuse your day with plenty of great books.

3. Make Up Stories

Another important element of early literacy is creating stories. Now, much of this work happens naturally for children. If you’re a parent, I’m sure your little one has told you a fantastical tale a time or two. Of course, there are ways to encourage this imagination exercise.

  1. Wordless Books—One of our favorite wordless books is Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie dePaola. I would explain to my kids that these types of books are wordless and that we get to create the story! I would show them how it’s done, and then they would take a turn, telling a story using the pictures provided.
  2. Round Robin Storytelling—Another way to create stories is collectively with each person taking a turn. One person starts a story and then tags someone else to take over. Keep going until everyone has had a turn. You’ll be amazed by the tales you spin!

4. Create Space for Reading

As kids get older, you might find that it’s a little more difficult to keep them reading simply because of all their activities. Our solution is to create space for reading in our daily routine. When they are little, we read a book before naptime. Not only was it a good literacy practice, but it provided a cue that it was time for rest. As they got older and began to transition out of naptime, we continued Quiet Time. The kids could stay awake, but they had to stay on their beds and rest while reading a book. That seemed to be a good compromise for everyone. 

Now that naptime is a thing of the past around my home, I am finding that my kids still need me to help them create space for reading. By limiting time on screens, we create more time for reading. We also try to gather in the living room in the afternoons for reading. My teenager is finding himself on a different clock now, wanting to stay up later at night and sleep later in the morning, so we have determined that before bedtime is a great space for his reading time.

5. Model the Love of Reading

What the parent does, the children are sure to follow. Making reading a part of your life is a great way to pass on a love for literature to your children. My children have seen me cooking dinner while reading a book. (I can’t say for certain how the dinner turned out on those particular nights!)

I, too, have stayed up far past my bedtime reading, so I tend to be understanding when they do that. We regularly read the newspaper and the Bible. Letting your kids catch you reading is a really important element to developing their own reading habits.

My kids also know without a doubt that I am going to be the most excited person in the room whenever we start a new book together. No one can match my eager anticipation. While they lightheartedly make fun of me for my zest, I know that deep down they are internalizing the role that books play in my life.

6. Make Book Recommendations & Keep a Stock of Great Titles

Books are even part of my love language. I learn my children's reading preferences, and I make book recommendations. We don’t buy new toys often, but my kids know that books are a weakness. If they ask me for a book, chances are good that I’m going to get it for them. They also know that they may come home to a new book, waiting on their bed—just because I thought they might like it.

I’ve also been known to restock the living room book basket with a selection of carefully chosen stories, at least two for each child. They each have a book basket beside their beds as well. Making books accessible is a huge key to instilling a love of reading. This can be accomplished in a few different ways. While we choose to build our home library, making weekly trips to your local public library or organizing a book swap can provide the same benefits. 

Building readers may sound like an impossible task, but it’s really more about making books a part of your family lifestyle than anything else. Finding small ways to encourage reading can translate to big payoffs in literacy development. And if you read this blog post, and you think it’s too late, don’t worry. It’s never too late to encourage reading.

Experience a Sonlight Education

Sonlight is an entire curriculum build around the love of great books. Learn the most enjoyable way. Experience a Sonlight education. Get started here.

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The Quandary of Second-Gen Homeschoolers: Just the Way Mom Did It

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We are a second generation homeschooling family. My husband was homeschooled using Sonlight, and my mother-in-law introduced it to me when we started homeschooling. I love the Instructor's Guides and how easy it is to use. My daughter Anastasia (age 4) loves books because of Sonlight. She also loves science and can't wait until she can start Science A.
—A. family, Sonlighters in Grantsburg, IL

I see you, second-generation homeschool moms. We were the guinea pigs—those of us homeschooled in the 80s and 90s when homeschooling was much less widely accepted than it is today.

In that era, our parents didn’t take us out in public on school days for fear of running into strangers who still questioned the legitimacy, and even the legality, of homeschooling.

Most of us who continue the legacy by homeschooling our own children admire our parents a great deal. They were counter-cultural and had far fewer resources. Back then, helping your child do research meant paging through an actual encyclopedia rather than hopping on the internet and reserving books through the library’s website.

As second-generation homeschoolers, we now find ourselves wanting to continue in the paths our parents blazed, but we wonder sometimes if we’re disloyal by wanting to change our homeschool culture. Maybe we want to add new emphases that didn’t exist in the homeschools we were raised in.

First-Generation Homeschool Mistakes

My parents both attended an engineering university—my dad in the mechanical engineering track and my mom in the electrical engineering track. It may not surprise you that as a high schooler, I took advanced physics and advanced chemistry courses, along with as many math courses as I could fit into my schedule, ending with calculus my senior year. As a homeschooled student, I was well-prepared academically to go into a science and technology field.

But it turns out, I was a Mandarin Chinese major and spent the four years of my college studies taking Spanish and Japanese courses on the side, along with every writing elective that I could get myself into.

My parents did an excellent job of educating me, but they missed the fact that my talent and passion lay in language and writing. They recognized that I was academically gifted, and prepared me very well for the science and math-based career that, from their angle, seemed the right fit for their gifted student. Because languages are not one of their passions, it didn’t occur to them that my brain angled that direction.

I’m not disappointed in the way I was homeschooled. I thrived as a homeschooled student, and I thrived in college when I decided to take my education in a totally different direction. I now spend my days neck-deep in a multilingual education community where I create with words. I’m fully content with the direction my education and passions have taken me in life.

The Second-Generation Homeschooler: Torn Between Choices

As a second-generation homeschooler, I have found myself sometimes torn between loyalty to doing things “the way mom did” and taking my own homeschool in a different direction.

The Second-Generation Homeschooler: Learning from Mom

I’ve decided neither to copy the first generation nor to depart from it entirely, but rather, to learn from the choices my own parents made as homeschoolers. This is the great gift that we have in the second-generation!

We’re not all on our own, figuring out what homeschool might look like. We’ve seen homeschool before; we know what it can look like. And we have ideas for taking our own second-generation homeschools further.

When you design your own homeschool as a second-generation homeschool parent, reflect on your past with questions like these:

  • What classes from my own education have benefited me the most in life post-graduation?
  • What classes from my own education do I have little-to-no recollection of?
  • What type of homeschool experiences and assignments do I remember with joy?
  • What homeschool experiences were difficult or unpleasant, but, in retrospect, were needed for my character growth? Which unpleasant experiences probably could have been avoided?

The Best of Both Worlds—Old and New

We second-generation homeschoolers have both a gift and a responsibility! We need to be thoughtful as we plan our children’s education, not doing things exactly the way we remember merely because “that’s how mom did it,” but also not entirely doing away with the tried and true homeschool methods that worked for ourselves as children and teens.

My school will probably have a little less emphasis on math than my parents’ did. However, I’ve learned from my own experience of homeschool that I want to be flexible, always on the lookout for cues about where my children’s passions and interests lie. I’ve learned that I shouldn’t assume that because I’m not interested in something, that my child won’t be interested in it either. If I find out that I’m raising a little person who’s far more comfortable with numbers than with conversing in Mandarin, well, bring on all the algebra! I’m ready. After all, those advanced math courses I took when I was homeschooled are sure to come in handy someday.

Experience a Sonlight Education

Whether you are a first-generation homeschooler or a second-generation one, Sonlight has a program for your children. See your options here.

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