Some homeschool milestones feel huge. There's nothing quite like the joy of watching a child learn to read. But most milestones are a bit quieter than that. And they often go unnoticed.
As you go along day by day faithfully raising and educating your children, I suggest you take a step back and periodically look at some of those quieter forms of growth. They can be so encouraging.
You may find this a great year-end activity, or a way to shore up your motivation as you plod along. Looking back can also be a huge testament to God's work in our lives.
Think back to the beginning of this school year and what your children were like then. Where were they academically, socially, emotionally, spiritually, physically? Now think about how they've grown and changed this year. Take a sheet of paper and complete the following sentences at least five times for each child.
Let's say you have a child named Sam:
"At the beginning of the school year, Sam ______________. Now, Sam ______________."
Keep writing until you are rejoicing in how Sam has grown this year.
Perhaps he learned to ride a bike or how to share with his sister.
Maybe he finally grasped long division.
You could think about specific subjects, character issues, major accomplishments, relational growth, etc.
If you captured photos of your child’s first day, be sure to take one on the last day of school, too. Then you can compare the physical changes that have taken place as well. (They grow so fast, don’t they?)
Use this paper as a keepsake to review in the years to follow. In addition, a Sonlight Memory Book is a great tool to document your children’s growth throughout the year. After you have captured how much your children have grown, why not celebrate your own growth as well? Sometimes it may feel as if our struggles never bring change, but as we follow Christ, he does work in our hearts.
Taking the long view can be a true act of praise to see how God has grown us over the past decade. Try to write ten statements like this:
"Ten years ago, I _________________. Now, I ________________."
Keep it positive, and thank God for the ways he has grown you into someone a little more loving, a little more mature, a little more Christ-like. Although everything from academic growth to spiritual growth can seem painfully slow sometimes, when we take a longer view we can see that we are in fact growing up.
To paraphrase John Newton, may we all say, "I am not the person I ought to be, I am not the person I wish to be, and I am not the person I hope to be. But I am not the person I used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am."
Acids and bases are common knowledge in our culture, so much so that the term litmus test means not simply to test for pH level, but also to make a determination on whether or not something—or someone—is acceptable. It’s interesting how these terms make their way into our vernacular, isn’t it?
Create an Anthocyanin Indicator from Cabbage Leaves
Does it strike you as odd to use red cabbage to create a pH indicator? It’s no less strange than how extracting dye from lichen, which is how litmus paper is made. (Yes, lichen! Thankfully, cabbage is much easier to obtain.)
Materials needed for step one:
1 head of fresh red cabbage
Sieve or strainer
Large beaker, jar, or pitcher
(Scroll down to see what additional supplies you’ll need for step two, when you begin testing the pH levels of various items.)
Activity Instructions for Step 1
To create the indicator liquid, first remove a dozen leaves from the head of cabbage.
Use scissors to cut up the leaves, then place all the pieces in the blender.
Pour distilled water into the blender until the pieces are submerged.
Blend. Strain the resulting mixture into a large bowl.
You won’t need the cabbage pieces in the strainer anymore, but the violet-purple liquid is now your anthocyanin indicator. Exciting! Transfer to a beaker or pitcher if desired, for easy pouring.
Why distilled water instead of tap water from your faucet? Distilled water is more likely to have a neutral pH. Since the anthocyanin indicator needs to have a pH as close to neutral as possible, this is important. You can try seeing how tap water affects pH by creating one batch of anthocyanin indicator using distilled water, and another batch with tap water. Are the colors the same?
What Exactly is Anthocyanin?
We’ve used this word a few times now. What does it mean? Anthocyanin is really just a big word for water-soluble color. We see anthocyanins in all sorts of
foods such as
blue potatoes, and yes,
What makes anthocyanin such a fascinating pigment—and so ideal for this acids-base experiment? It changes color depending on its acidity or alkalinity!
If you’ve observed hydrangeas, you’ve seen this principle in action. Gardeners can manipulate the color of hydrangea blooms from pink to blue by changing the soil from neutral to acidic. Of course, unlike the instantly-visible results we’ll be seeing in our experiments today, hydrangea plants react much more slowly to changes in pH. (As a fascinating aside, hydrangea color actually depends on aluminum. Acids and bases in the soil make the aluminum more—or less—available.)
But let’s get back to our head of cabbage.
Testing Foods for Acidity With a Cabbage-Based pH Indicator
Now it’s time to use the anthocyanin indicator we made from cabbage to test various foods and household materials for acidity.
Materials needed for step two:
The anthocyanin indicator liquid you previously made
At least five small glass jars or containers with lids
Several cutting boards and knives
Optional: Additional foods and materials to test
Activity Instructions for Step Two
Label the clean, dry jars as follows: control, lemon, tomato, baking soda, vinegar.
Pour a roughly equal amount of anthocyanin indicator into each labeled jar. Reserve some liquid in case you want to test additional items—or in case you make a mistake.
Now take a moment to download the accompanying lab sheet and jot down what you’ll be testing. Don’t forget to make predictions. Do you think a tomato is going to be acidic, or basic? What about a slice of lemon? Baking soda? What color will the indicator liquid become? Record your guesses for each. (Optional: If you wish to experiment beyond the four items specified, you may collect additional jars and household substances, list the substances on the chart, and proceed in the same way.)
Use a clean, dry cutting board and knife to slice a wedge of a lemon. Squeeze lemon juice into the jar labeled lemon, then drop the wedge in the liquid, too. What color is the indicator liquid? Cap the jar securely and shake well, then observe again. Has the color changed or deepened at all? Write down your observations.
Repeat the process using a wedge of tomato. (To avoid confusing results due to cross-contamination, wash your hands first, and use a clean knife and cutting board.) Observe and record the color before and after shaking.
Pour a splash of vinegar into the indicator jar marked vinegar, and jot down your findings on your lab sheet.
Again using clean hands and equipment, add a spoonful of baking soda to the appropriately-labeled jar, and observe. What color do you see? Record your observations. Does this color indicate an acid or a base?
(If you opted to test food items beyond these four, complete the additional experimentation now, taking care to ensure no cross-contamination. Don’t forget to record what happens!)
Why Does the Color of a pH Indicator Change?
It’s satisfying to see a natural palette unfold, but why does this happen? When we introduce an acid to the indicator, a chemical reaction takes place and the indicator liquid is now more positively charged. But we introduce a base, the resulting chemical reaction means the cabbage water carries a more negative charge.
As the substance dissolves and the water molecules in our indicator
gain H+ ions to become acidic or
lose H+ ions to become more basic,
the overall molecular structure changes somewhat. That’s all very interesting, but what does it have to do with the color change? Intriguingly, these changes in molecular structure affect light rays—and light influences how we see color!
The contrast is perhaps most obvious when we compare baking soda and vinegar. The light interacts much differently with the structure of the base (baking soda) than it does with structure of the acid (vinegar). As a result, the color our brain and eyes observe in one are nowhere near the same as the color we see in the other.
Playing with food is fun, isn’t it? It’s even more fun when we get to explore the science behind it all, like we did in this experiment. Science F guides upper elementary and middle school students through big topics in Health, Medicine and Human Anatomy, maintaining a playful feel with fun experiments and demonstrations. And punctuating literature-based learning with these hands-on projects creates such a memorable and meaningful learning experience!
Download a free Science Lab Printable for recording your own kitchen chemistry experiment with pH. Use the form below to request it.
In our neck of the woods, it has been a long school year, and we’re all looking forward to a summer break. Come June, we’ll trade in our lesson plans for the trampoline, the pool, and popsicles. But because I’m a Type A Mom, I can’t let the whole summer go without some kind of goal setting.
But every summer, I try to do something that sets us up for a successful school year. After all, summer affords me extra time to help my children build good habits, learn useful skills, pursue healthy relationships, and tackle the necessary chores that get overlooked in the hustle and bustle of the school year. So every June, I choose a few things that will be life-giving to our homeschooling schedule come September.
Set Up Your Family for Success This Summer
What might make your upcoming year happier, stronger, or smoother? What habits, chores, skills, or relationships could you build during the summer so that your upcoming school year thrives?
Next year, I’ll be homeschooling grades 9, 6, 3, kindergarten and pre-k, while nurturing a 1 year old. (Wow, that looks intimidating! You can pray for me.)
I want our summer days to be peaceful, but I need to tackle a few basic things this summer that will help us to thrive in September. After brainstorming and prayer, I’ve chosen to focus on these three goals. I hope they inspire you in your summer goal creation.
Summer Goal 1. Potty Training for the Three-year-old
Summer Goal 2. Reading for the Soon-to-be-kindergartener
She’s ready and summer is such a happy time to sit side by side for a few minutes each day with one of the Sonlight K Readers. We’ll both be more relaxed. We can snuggle on the couch, sit on the porch swing, or lay on a quilt in the shade. The early days of sounding out words requires lots of patience. Hopefully, I’ll have more of that in the summer!
Summer Goal 3. Recreational Reading for the Rising Third Grader
If I can help my son to become a more confident reader, his upcoming school year will be so much more enjoyable in every subject area. He’ll appreciate the independence and—I believe—will fall in love with books.
Our local library hosts an amazing summer reading program that motivates all of our kids to read as much as possible. I’ll use the Sonlight Summer Readers and stock his shelves with plenty of interesting reads—fiction and nonfiction. Then I’ll enable him to keep track of his accomplishments and to redeem his own tickets at the library.
Keep the Goals Simple This Summer
Every summer, I am tempted to tackle too many improvements. I’ve learned the hard way that more than a few summer projects overwhelm and discourage my kids. If we all band together around a couple of manageable goals, we are much happier and much stronger come September.
Go ahead and brainstorm the gazillion things you would like to improve by September 1. Pray about which items are the most essential. Ask your husband and child to weigh in on the decision.
Then choose one to three things from your list. Write each goal in clear wording and communicate this clearly to your family. Identify the outcome that you are hoping to achieve, the behavior you’ll pursue to get there, and the benefit that it will have on your home life. Then, take it all in stride and see how it fits into your summer.
Just think—you and your family are being good stewards, preparing for a hope-filled future!
One of the most talked-about benefits of homeschooling is how it frees families to travel more often together, mainly because they are not tied to a strict school schedule. In addition, homeschool families can avoid the more expensive and busier peak travel times when schools are out of session.
But homeschool moms are good at finding ways to make sure that the education continues even when homeschool is not formally happening—even when on the road on on vacation. Learning doesn’t have to stop just because we’re on vacation! In fact, family travel is one of the most valuable learning experiences you can offer your children! Here are five ways to inject more learning into family vacations.
1. Let Your Kids Do the Planning
Within parameters you set, let your kids do the vacation planning! If you have preteens or teens, learning how to plan an itinerary and manage a vacation budget can be a great experience. Give them a budget, a reasonable driving distance or a general destination, and let them research the attractions, lodging, restaurants, and activities. Tell them that they need to consider:
the interests, ages, and abilities of everyone in the family
cost of entry tickets
probable weather forecast your travel dates
Their goal is to present a potential plan for Mom and Dad to review and tweak. Being responsible for planning a trip that will appeal to the whole family will teach your children a great deal about the amount of preparation that goes into travel. It will make this family vacation one that they’ll remember even more vividly (and appreciate more fully) because they were part of the process.
2. Read Books About the Region Prior to Your Trip
Lay the foundation for what your kids will experience on vacation by reading great books about the locale or history of the area. For example, if you’re visiting a state along the east coast of America, a Sonlight Read-Aloud about the early years of American History, might be a good choice.
My family is based in Southeast Asia, and my parents chose to take a family trip to Cambodia, in honor of their 25th wedding anniversary. In preparation for the trip, my teen siblings and I read First They Killed My Father. This book is one that shows a vivid picture of Cambodia’s history during the Khmer Rouge regime. It provided important perspective as we later visited the Killing Fields memorial in Siem Reap.
3. Read Aloud in the Car on the Trip
The books you choose could have a specific connection to your destination, could be part of your scheduled Sonlight curriculum, or could be any great recreational read-aloud. One of the most memorable books that my family read aloud on one particular trip was A Murder for Her Majesty. One of my sisters plans to name her firstborn son after Geoffrey, a favorite character from that book, so you could say it was a hit.
A well-chosen family read-aloud helps pass the time on long car rides, keeps minds active, and, if the chapters end in cliffhangers, may even reduce the number of requests for bathroom stops.
4. Plan for Variety
Any homeschooler knows you can learn anywhere, but some locations have a little more educational potential than others. I love a good roller-coaster as much as the next girl, but you can bring depth into a vacation by blending time for relaxation, time for action and adventure, and time to stimulate the mind with visits to museums, aquariums, historical sites, factory tours, and the like. A healthy mix is important.
Lean too heavily on the adventure and the high-energy touring, and the family may return home too tired to jump back into the work and school schedule. Lean too heavily on the relaxation side, and the trip may be boring for kids.
5. Debrief at Home
Plan some form of enjoyable family debrief after you return home from vacation. You know your family and what they consider torture versus what they enjoy.
You’re convinced that the state-mandated, fill-in-the-bubble tests are not terribly helpful. Instead, you're certain that sitting with your child one-on-one day in and day out gives you a much better gauge of his skill mastery. But you’ve got a niggling curiosity… are your kids really retaining what you’ve covered in your homeschool lessons?
It’s normal to wonder what information is sticking with your kids. As homeschool parents, testing reveals just as much about us as it does our students:
Are we offering the right environment for learning?
Are we using the optimum level and right curriculum?
These can be important questions to ask. But is a written test the best way to assess what your kids remember and how you can do your job better? Usually, no.
Do Homeschoolers Test?
While tests, in all their incarnations, are a necessary evil in society, they aren’t usually required in homeschooling. Some states do require annual testing, and college aptitude tests in high school are generally unavoidable. But Sonlight’s History / Bible / Literature programs don’t actually come with written assessments. And your child can, with no ill effect, sail through four years of upper level Apologia Science without unwrapping the test booklet.
Assessing a child’s understanding of a topic in a creative way is often a more complete picture of what he or she actually knows. Plus it reveals insights about the effectiveness of your teaching methods. Most homeschooling parents have already realized that how something has always been done is often not the best way to do it.
Thinking Outside the Testing Box
So how does a homeschool parent test without, well… ,testing?
Anything that digs into previously covered material can be used to assess retention. That conversation you and your 10-year-old had about Across Five Aprils while washing dishes at the sink? The one where he shared detail after detail about the Civil War? Put that down as an oral test because you now know how firm his grasp is on the history you presented.
Your first and third grader just cordoned off an area of the backyard and began a detailed reenactment of the action in Archaeologists Dig For Clues? Listen close, because you might get first-hand feedback on how well they understand the concept of uncovering ancient life—no true or false questions required!
Some other options that will get the job done painlessly:
1. Create a Review Game
Using any board game as a review is easy. Simply ask questions from the appendices of your Instructor’s Guide instead of rolling dice or pulling cards. Students must provide a correct answer before advancing their token. Nearly any game be used in this way! Make sure you play along as well, allowing your kids to make up their own questions to ask you!
2. Assign a Project
There are dozens of unique ways to know your kids are retaining their homeschool lessons without the confines of a test:
making a display board of facts
writing a comic book of a historical figure’s life
Let your child make a short movie to illustrate the steps of a math formula
By flipping the script and letting the study be the teacher, they might even be able to pass on their newfound knowledge to their younger siblings— a decided bonus!
Adding these assessment tools to your toolbox will help you revisit areas that need more work and move on from topics that have been thoroughly covered. They’ll help you tweak your presentation skills as you work to become the homeschool teacher your kids need. You will learn to use your strengths and teaching style to maximum advantage. Best of all, these creative assessment methods will answer any questions you might have about how your kids are doing— without stress!
Homeschooling is not perfect. It also is not the answer to all the world’s problems; it’s not even the answer to all your family’s problems. So much of what you will see on social media paints a picture of a happy homeschooling family where all things are wonderful. I’m sure that I have added to that overall picture more times than I’d like to admit. But homeschooling is much more than reading outside in the sunshine and smiling lovingly down at your children as they complete their math work.
It is work. It is hard work. Here are six truths about homeschooling that people may not be quick to tell you. Although these realities are hard to cope with at times, they are all normal and to be expected.
1. You Will Want to Quit
Every year, at some point, you will want to quit. There may even be three or four times a year that you will want to quit. That feeling is completely normal. I don’t know a homeschool mom who doesn’t occasionally get burned out.
“ Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
There is a holiday for everyone under the sun. There actually is a Homeschool Mom Day on the calendar, but I don’t know when it is, and my kids certainly don’t. Even if I knew when my day was, what am I going to do?
Tell my children to make me a card?
Give them money and tell them to get me a present?
Have them tell me something nice about myself?
Yeah, I know, it sounds pretty ridiculous. Homeschooling moms are probably among the most under-recognized people. In fact, chances are you only hear feedback when you mess up or forget something. This is normal.
“...Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…”
Enter into homeschooling, knowing that you aren’t doing it for the awards and graduation speeches. Understand that it is a job that requires intense faithfulness. Resist the temptation to find your value in your occupation, and lean on God to show you your worth in Him.
3. You Will Fail
You will fail. It is part of life. You will not teach everything you need to. There will be gaps in your child’s education here and there.
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
Think about your mission statement. If you don’t have one, write one. Our mission statement has always been to diligently teach our children to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. We believed that if we focused on that one objective, God would bless the rest. He has, time and time again. I fail quite often, but God never does.
4. Homeschooling Can Be Lonely
Homeschooling moms can go days without meaningful adult interaction outside the family. I can still remember when going to the grocery store was the highlight of my week. Even now that my kids are older, I sometimes still find myself feeling lonely. You will miss out on things that other families are doing, and you’ll find yourself a third wheel in conversations about public school. This is normal.
“Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
You are making disciples. We can see from the Scriptures that making disciples can be lonely. Keep your head up, and find a friend you can call or message regularly. Find opportunities to get out each week, even if it’s just a trip to the grocery store.
5. Homeschooling Will Cost You
Homeschooling will cost you money and time. You may find yourself driving used cars and wearing off-brand clothing. You will pinch pennies and clip coupons to help here and there. It won’t feel glamorous. You may give up a career for a time, and you will most certainly give up hours in your day. You may feel the sacrifices more on some days than others. This is normal.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Homeschool moms and dads put this verse on display every day. Remind yourself what matters and care less for the things of the world. Find the humor in your uniqueness, and teach your children how to do the same.
6. It’s Going to Be Worth It
I have a tendency to worry. So one of my go-to strategies for worry is to play “Worst-Case Scenario.” When I started this homeschooling journey, I imagined and faced the worst case scenario.
My worst case scenario was that my kids graduated high school knowing absolutely nothing and were socially awkward. Even if that were the case, which I know won’t happen, we would still have hours upon hours of time spent together. We still would have millions of conversations about current events, history, fiction books, science, and anything else under the sun. Nothing would ever be able to take that away. We would still have all that. And if that’s what we walk away from homeschooling with, then it’s all worth it.
Nope, homeschooling is not all rainbows and butterflies. On a daily basis, it is hard work that takes faithfulness, self-discipline, tough skin, and more prayers than you could ever count. But it is worth it.
Every second of every day...worth it.
Every veteran homeschool mom I’ve ever spoken to says the same thing, “It was worth it. I would do it all over again.”
I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your rules before me.
Choose the way of faithfulness. Be faithful in the little things, day in and day out. Even when it isn’t easy, set your eyes on God the Father. It is all for God, all for His glory.
You know you’re a little behind in checking those Creative Writing assignments, but every day, your high schooler has his Sonlight Student Guide out, and a book in his face. You’ve seen him at the computer, day in and day out, as you’ve hustled a load of clean laundry from the dryer to the coach while simultaneously listening to your middle schooler read aloud. You know he’s working.
And then, you finally scrape together a moment of free time and pull out your own Instructor’s Guide. Things seem off. You compare week numbers, backtracking to find individual assignments. You’re concerned. Your concern turns to surprise, your surprise turns to shock, and just like that, the gig is up! Your high schooler is severely off track, and he didn’t clue you in.
Who is Responsible for the Lapse?
Your first reaction is probably to drag your teenager to the table and read him the riot act. And yes, it’s true that the burden for completing the workload suggested in the Student Guide falls on the student. Sonlight has taken the work out of planning high school— so much so that it’s tempting to hand over that guide and assume your kid has all the tools he needs to succeed at his disposal.
But no curriculum works in a vacuum. You’re not meant to shelve your own Instructor Guide and check out.
Instead, you’re meant to find freedom in giving your high schooler some independence to develop the skills of self-led learning… while providing much-needed accountability and support. So if you suddenly find that six weeks’ worth of reading has gone undone, the burden of responsibility is shared evenly between teacher and student.
What’s Missing from the Assignments?
Once you’ve gotten past the relational issues of realizing what’s happened (and don’t be fooled, it does feel relational!), it’s time to begin assessing what’s missing. Let the personal sense of indignation go and take inventory.
Compile a master list of assignments.
Correct any work that’s been sitting in your To Do folder as well, making sure that it’s appropriate and done to your standards.
You may find that your high schooler has dropped only writing assignments or only chemistry. More often, this kind of slip will show up in multiple areas, so be thorough.
When Did The Missing Work Start?
A full accounting of missing work will often point succinctly to where the breakdown began, unless your child has been attempting to catch up and has filled in some of the gaps on his own. It might also show where you stepped back and lost track of progress— which will help with your next step.
Why Did the Lapse Happen?
Things were fine until
the new baby was born
your child started a new part-time job
a new skill was introduced
your family started volunteering at the senior center three days a week
Having an idea of where the break occurred makes understanding what happened that much easier. There could be learning issues, emotional needs that have to be addressed, or comprehension difficulties at work. Of course, all of this is assuming that there is a verifiable underlying cause.
Let’s get real: sometimes, the work has gone undone because your teenager simply didn’t want to do it, or because he has been wasting time elsewhere. Maybe you have a real reason, too, or maybe you’re just stretched thin and didn’t feel like you needed to check in. At any rate, it’s time for a hard conversation about priorities, follow through, and time management.
How Are We Going to Catch Up with Homeschool?
List in hand, it’s now time to take what you’ve learned and move to the action phase. Depending on the length of time this has been going on and the cause, you get to decide what's appropriate:
Natural consequences time—your teen will do all the work, and he's done when he's done.
Grace time—you decide to forgive a portion of the work, abridge assignments, or change the format in which the work must be completed.
Being aware of your state’s requirement for grading and graduation is important here. Come up with a plan, and support your student on a daily basis for the best results. Remember to address all the issues at play, and not just give a checklist of work. This is a great opportunity to mentor your older child through time management, minimizing distractions, and creating an effective work environment if those things haven’t yet been done in your homeschool.
At the end of the process, hopefully you will have guided your child through something much more formative and character-building than a punitive smackdown. Remember that, no matter how grown up those 15-, 16-, 17-, and 18-year-olds seem, they’re still works in progress. Using this lapse as part of their education and discipleship takes a potential failure and turns it into a valuable learning opportunity. Hold on to that, mom, and extend grace all around!