How to Get Kids (Actually) Excited About Summer Reading

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How to Get Kids (Actually) Excited About Summer Reading

I started my covert mission at the birth of my first child. As my first act in the campaign to raise readers, I zealously held Goodnight Moon in front of my three-day-old baby's face, read those precious words in my most expressive voice, and sighed that he obviously had good taste in books as he smiled back at me. (I might have glared at the nurse who said his smile was probably gas.)

Four children and a little sleep deprivation later, I've relaxed many of my standards. (Anyone else have a crawler who regularly helps himself to stray cheerios off the floor?) However, my belief in the power of helping my children love to read hasn't changed a bit.

We all know reading is important for our kids, but our best intentions often run into this thing called real life. As you gear up for summer, here are seven ideas to set you up for success in lighting that reading fire.

The Dog Days of Summer Reading

The dog just might spark a love for reading in your child. Having your kids read to a pet is not only a fun way to motivate them to read, it also gives them a patient and nonjudgmental audience. Of course, if you don't have a dog, a willing cat, hamster, or even chicken will work.

Research shows that reading to a dog, even 15 minutes a week can dramatically improve reading fluency. In a ten-week study by the University of California, kids increased reading fluency by 12-30 percent.

Create Space for Summer Reading

Take a look around your home. Does every chair face a TV? What activities does your living space encourage?

Try this challenge: Set up at least as many comfortable spaces to read as you have screens in your home (phones included).

Start by thinking about where your family gravitates. Choose something decorative to hold a selection of books and make that space comfy. Don't forget to keep books in the car and the bathroom. You could even have your kids build a reading fort!

I was inspired by my local library to use shallow wooden book crates for my kids. I keep these in strategic locations around the house, filled with books I know they'll love. My kids can rifle through the crates, see the covers, and put the books back easily. This (almost) solved my problem of the always-messy bookshelves. Even my pre-readers spend hours splayed out on the rug "reading," partially because the books are right on their level.

As you think about making space for reading, consider making space in your summer schedule as well. If you have no margin and rush from one activity to another, you won't have time to relax with a good book. Clear a spot on the calendar and take time for reading!

Listen to Your Doctor. Dr. Seuss, That is.

Turns out Dr. Seuss had it right when he said "Fill the house with stacks of books, in all the crannies and all the nooks."

A recent study shows that if you want to boost academic performance, the best thing you can do is build your home library.

The results—gathered from households in 42 nations—were clear: “Regardless of how many books the family already has, each addition to the home library helps children do better (on the standard test),” said Mariah Evans, sociologist and research team lead.

Bonus: Home library=no late fees.

Get Caught Reading this Summer

Have your children ever caught you eating chocolate and not begged for some, too? The same thing happens with books, but with less mess and fewer calories. When my kids see me enamored with a book, they naturally mimic this behavior and get a sense that reading is what we do.

This mirroring of behavior actually happens at the neurological level. Even when you are reading, your child's neurons are firing as they learn to imitate you.

So while you put your feet up to read a good book this summer, you can pat yourself on the back that you are busy modeling a lifestyle of learning for your children. Ah, sacrifice!

Keep Reading Aloud Through the Summer

Even if you take a break from school for the summer, keep reading aloud. Whether you do this over breakfast, after swimming, or before bedtime, reading aloud is one of the best ways to bond with your children, increase vocabulary, and generally help them love books. So don't stop! Cuddle on the couch and enter into new worlds and adventures side by side. You want your kids to see reading as a part of your family DNA, not merely a school thing.

Use Cliffhangers

Want a sneaky tip to whet a reluctant reader's appetite? Read aloud right until you hit a cliffhanger and then take a break, but be sure to leave the book out and easy to find. Your child might just be motivated to keep reading himself to find out what happens! (You can also do this by reading the first book in a series, then leave it up to your emerging reader to read the rest on his own.)

Choose Quality Summer Books

Can you believe that 42 percent of college graduates never pick up a book again after graduation? They got the degree, but they missed out on making the joy of reading a natural part of life.

We want to raise children who will value lifelong learning, who see books less as duty and more like friends. The type of book you hand your children makes a huge difference in their inclination towards summer reading.

Just what makes a great book? If you want your kids to fall in love with reading and to establish a mental database of good language patterns, they need books with compelling plots, interesting characters, and beautiful writing. Choose premium fuel for your kids' minds and hearts.

After nearly three decades of book reviewing and choosing, Sonlight founder Sarita Holzmann, knows a good book when she reads one. (You can read about Sarita's All-Star Test for choosing Sonlight books here).

In the search for the best books, Sarita and the Sonlight team comb through hundreds of pages of catalogs for promising titles, and read or review about 214 books a month. And those books aren't preschool picture books, but 214 chapter books. So just in the last year, the team reviewed around 2,400 books. Whew!

“Out of every hundred books I read, I find only two or three that might merit becoming part of one of our programs. That's how few books there are that have the depth, the beauty, the cultural sensitivity, the inspiration, or the winsome, scholarly character I am looking for.” —Sarita Holzmann

Snag Sonlight Summer Readers

If you want to spark a love for reading, but don't think you'll have time to review 2,400 books to find the best of the best this year, we'll do the hard work for you with the launch of this season's Sonlight Summer Readers.

Our hand-picked summer reading packages are grouped according to gender and grade range to help you find the set that's sure to get your child excited, and each package comes with a built-in discount. You'll also find a variety of genres. You may be surprised to find a new favorite author or books series you might never have picked yourself.

So if you're trying to build your home library for summer or any season, check out these high quality, twaddle-free, wholesome books that follow the Philippians 4:8 principle. These page-turners are truly fun—the type you'll have to pry from kids' fingers at lights out. Now that's summer reading at its finest.

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Helping Third Culture Kids Understand Home: Books that Speak to the Expat Child

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Helping Third Culture Kids Understand Home

Third culture kids (TCKs) are a fascinating group of individuals who can identify with parts of several cultures, but never feel fully at home in any of them. These are very often missionary kids (MKs) or military kids. While their passports may label them as Americans or Canadians, they may feel more like Brazilians or Cambodians.

The question, “Where are you from?” can be one of the most difficult questions for them to answer. 

The Problem of Home

“Are you glad to be home?” a friend asked my 3-year-old shortly after we returned to the United States for a visit. My daughter gave me a confused look, and I could see her thinking, “What is this guy talking about? This isn’t my home!” 

The concept of home will always be a challenging one for TCKs. My children are American citizens, but the older ones were born in India. My oldest daughter felt particularly attached to India, and it annoyed her that she was not an Indian citizen. Once when she was about five, an Indian man asked her where she was from. My redheaded, freckle-faced girl looked up at him and replied firmly, “India.” When my family visits the States, we joke that our minivan is our home. 

Now that my children are older, they have developed their own standard answers to the question “Where are you from?” but even as they are giving their rote answers, I can see in their eyes that there is much below the surface that is hard to express and even harder for mono-cultural people to understand.

I have found that my kids, and other third culture kids I know (including my 70-year-old TCK father-in-law) really come alive when they are with other TCKs. They are with people whose lives and experiences may be vastly different from their own, but who share the commonality of living between worlds. There is something life giving about spending time with people you understand well and who understand you. It can give you a feeling of home. 

How Books Have Helped My Children Understand Home

Sarita often talks about the importance of stories, and it was while going through HBL E with my oldest that I realized what an impact books could have for TCKs. Our family was going through a major transition at the time as we were grieving the loss of one country while preparing to move to another. Then we read In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson. Though the main character in the story had a very different life and situation from ours, my daughter could strongly identify with the fact of leaving the place that had been home and learning to adjust to a completely different culture and situation. 

A year later we read Homesick and cried as Jean Fritz and her family were forced to leave the place she had thought of as home. Even books like Daughter of the Mountains and The Witch of Blackbird Pond have become special favorites of my TCK family because the characters learn to adapt to and thrive in cultures different from their own. 

I love watching my children enjoy these books and identify with the characters who are adjusting to different cultures, dealing with both humorous and frustrating cultural situations. Through these books, we understand that living life between two worlds, while not always easy, is a privilege that holds a great deal of joy. 

It is easy to think we are alone in our situations, and TCKs can feel that more than most. However identifying with these characters has brought a sense of comfort and peace to my children as they see that they are not the only ones dealing with these issues. These books have also given them a better understanding of who they are as Third Culture Kids. While they may never feel fully at home in any particular country, they can appreciate the culture in which they currently live as well as the unique culture they possess as TCKs.

Books that Speak to Third Culture Kids

Throughout our years of homeschooling with Sonlight we have come across multiple books that speak to Third Culture Kids. Here are several to add to those mentioned above:

  • Heartwood Hotel (HBL K) – A transitory mouse finds a place that just might become home.
  • The Cricket in Times Square(HBL C) – A gentle introduction to crossing cultures with the adventures of a country cricket who adjusts to life in New York City.
  • Sarah, Plain and Tall (HBL D) – A mail order bride must learn to thrive in a new culture when she moves from Maine to Kansas.
  • The Year of the Dog (HBL F) – A Chinese American girl learns to reconcile the culture of her family with that of those around her.
  • Habibi (HBL F) – A girl moves with her family to a new country and culture and must learn to understand and accept it.
  • Born in the Year of Courage (HBL F) – A Japanese boy unexpectedly finds himself in America and must learn to adapt.
  • It’s A Jungle Out There! (HBL H) – An American missionary kid tells stories of growing up in the Amazon.
  • Dragon’s Gate (History 120) – A Chinese boy is sent to America to work on the railroad.
  • My Heart Lies South (Lit. 130) – An American woman moves to Mexico, marries a Mexican, and must adjust to the culture, language, and way of life of her new family.
  • They Loved to Laugh (Lit. 130) – An orphaned girl moves in with her Quaker family and finds an entirely new culture within the same country.
  • Indian Captive (Lit. 130) – An girl learns to understand and appreciate the culture of her captors.
  • Stink Alley (Lit. 130) – A young orphan is adopted by the Puritans in Holland and must learn to fit in to the Puritan culture.
  • Children of the River (Lit. 330) – A teen girl in a Cambodian refugee family tries to become an American teenager while struggling to follow the expected traditions of her family’s culture.

A Better Country for Christians

In Sarah, Plain and Tall, Sarah has been missing her old home in Maine and tells her future husband Jacob that “there’s always something to miss, wherever you are.” 

TCKs live between worlds, and no matter where they are, there will always be something and someone to miss. 

This can be difficult, but it can also be a great opportunity for us as parents to point them to Christ and remind them that this world truly is not our home. For those who are believers in Christ, we know that our longing is for “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16 ESV). 

The apostles Paul and Peter remind us that we are “aliens and strangers” on this earth as our citizenship is in heaven (1 Peter 2:11, Philippians 3:20). Our TCKs can take comfort in the fact that while they may never feel truly at home anywhere on this earth, they have an eternal Home in heaven where there will be no more painful goodbyes and where they will be fully, truly at home

Until that time, TCKs need to know how to live in this world in a way that honors God. They have a unique understanding of the world that other people don’t have. How can God use that in their lives for His glory?

Missionary Biographies

Missionary biographies can be a great example to TCKs of what God is doing around the world in and through His people who are willing to cross cultural boundaries for the sake of His name. As they see the eternal work that others have done, they will have a better perspective on eternity. This can give them a clearer vision for their own lives, and it can also help TCKs who are missionary kids better understand what their families do and why. 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, 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, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2a).

  • Stories from Africa(PreK) – Stories of God’s faithfulness to His people in Africa
  • The Good News Must Go Out (HBL A) – Stories of God at work in Central African Republic
  • Return of the White Book (HBL A)– Stories of God at work in Southeast Asia
  • Catching Their Talk in a Box – (HBL B) – The Story of a missionary lady who makes gospel recordings for people to use the world over
  • George Muller (HBL B) – The story of a man of prayer who ran orphanages in England supported solely by prayer
  • And the Word Came with Power (HBL C) – The story of Bible translators in a remote village
  • Gladys Aylward (HBL C) – The story of a single missionary to China during the Soviet-Chinese war
  • With Two Hands (HBL C) – Stories of God at work in Ethiopia
  • Adoniram Judson (HBL D) – The story of one of the first missionaries to modern-day Myanmar who completed a Bible translation that is still in use today
  • Bruchko (HBL E) – The story of a young man who traveled to South America as a missionary without support
  • William Carey: Obliged to Go (HBL F) – The story of “The Father of Modern Missions” who did church planting and Bible translation in India
  • God’s Adventurer: Hudson Taylor (HBL F) – The story of an English missionary to China who went against the flow
  • Mary Slessor: Forward into Calabar (HBL F) – The story of a poor mill worker turned pioneer missionary in Africa
  • God’s Smuggler (HBL H) – The story of Brother Andrew who risked his life to take the Bible around the world
  • Cameron Townsend: Good News in Every Langauge (History 120) – The story of the founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators
  • Peace Child (Lit. 130) – The story of how God prepared a cannibal culture of Iran Jaya to receive the Gospel of Christ
  • Living on the Devil’s Doorstep (History 320) The story of a pastor’s son who becomes a missionary to the black sheep of society in Afghanistan and Holland.
  • There’s a Sheep in my Bathtub (History 320) – The story of an American family church planting among unreached people in Outer Mongolia
  • Eternity in their Hearts (Lit. 430) – Stories of how God worked to prepare peoples’ hearts for the gospel before missionaries arrived
  • Evidence Not Seen (Lit. 430) – The story of a single missionary’s faith, courage and survival in New Guinea during World War II
  • The Insanity of God (Lit. 530) – The story of missionaries who went through a crisis of faith and decided to learn from the stories of other believers around the world
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Enter to Win Sonlight Science Curriculum

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Sonlight Science: Literature-based, Hands-on, and STEM-integrated

As part of the new product releases of 2021, Sonlight Science has been revamped! Taking a hint from national science standards, the product development team has enriched the existing Sonlight Science and made it more robust. This new Science still has the same literature-rich foundation that all Sonlight programs have, but now the week's experiment ties directly to what's being studied for the week. You still have an experiment book, a supply kit, Activity Sheets, and an Instructor's Guide which lays everything out for you.

Fill out the form below to enter to win one of these new science programs for yourself! Three winners will be selected to receive their choice of level. Then keep reading to learn what's new about Sonlight Science and what's the same.

Enter to Win Sonlight Science

Sonlight Science Is Literature-based

As part of the revamping process, the product development team went through each of the books used in Sonlight Science to make sure they are the best books on the subject. They replaced out-of-date titles and added new ones, always making sure the titles are age-appropriate books with great illustrations and easy-to-understand explanations just like you've always come to expect from Sonlight.

You'll see old favorites like The Magic School Bus. And you'll see a lot of new books about inventors and engineering. Just as before, each level still has a science biography. These books teach you about a scientist's work, how they came to their discoveries, and the mistakes that they made along their scientific journey. For example, Level C includes a new biography of Nikola Tesla.

Sonlight Science Is Hands-on

For 2021, Sonlight Science takes a new approach with the weekly experiments. We've always had an engaging combination of reading about science and then experiencing science at home with an activity. But the program didn't always tie the weekly activity directly to that week's reading passages.

Now everything is clearly connected so the activity you do each week correlates with the books you read.

Just like before, Sonlight Science provides the materials and clear directions you need to do the activities. You simply gather the materials you need and walk through the instructions. You'll have a no-stress, successful experience with your kids.

Sonlight Science Is STEM-integrated

Also brand new for 2021 is the STEM integration. The product development team incorporated the Next Generation Science Standards' emphasis on thinking like an engineer into the curriculum.

The programs guide students to define a problem and then come up ways to provide a solution. Children will test their possible solutions, make improvements, and really learn how to think like a scientist as they use science for practical applications.

Kids love this approach because they can take the reins and explore. It's a modern approach that builds on a child's natural curiosity, encouraging them to make guesses, take things apart, try different approaches, and observe results.

This ability to think scientifically is a skill that teens will need both in college and/or in the workforce. In fact, every adult needs these skills!

Watch the Video Introduction to New Sonlight Science

For a more in-depth discussion, play the video below. It also includes an experiment demonstration at the end.

A Typical Week of Sonlight Science

The first three days of a week, you'll be reading books with your child. Your Instructor's Guide includes lots of notes that point out concepts and vocabulary words to discuss and tells you any household supplies you'll need for day four (that aren't already included in your supply kit).

Day four is your experiment day. On this day, you generally don't have a reading passage. Instead you work through your activity. Children who are in fourth grade or up may be able to do the experiment on their own! The directions are clearly explained.

The fifth day is your day to read from high interest books about inventions or engineering.

Sonlight Science: Literature-based, Hands-on, and STEM-integrated
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My Journey from Public School Booster to Homeschooler

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My Journey from Public School Booster to Homeschooler

Like so many parents, my husband and I entered the 2020-2021 school year full of concerns about educating our children. As graduates of the public education system, we prioritized living in a neighborhood within an excellent school district. We both worked full-time to afford our modest home with its access to public schools, rated among the best in our state. We also felt that the best thing we could do for our children was to earn enough money to support their extracurricular interests and to save money for their future college expenses.

After the birth of my first child 7 years ago, I scaled back and continued working part-time after the birth of our daughter two years later. Juggling the competing demands of work and home was not easy for me, and I ended up feeling as though I was failing as a mom and as a colleague. I also believed that I lacked the patience and self-discipline needed to fulfill the role of a stay-at-home mom. Thus I decided that my best use as a parent might well be as a wage earner alongside my husband. I returned to work 75% time, which allowed me three afternoons a week to spend with my son and daughter.

As our children settled into remote learning last spring and my husband and I tried to adjust to working from home, we soon realized what a challenge this was going to be for all of us. My six-year-old sat day after day in front of his iPad, eyes glazed over as his teacher did her level best to engage with 22 kindergarteners via Zoom. My four-year-old flatly refused to participate in any of the virtual learning presented by her preschool. All in all, it was a subpar educational experience. 

We spent a good portion of the summer debating educational options after watching our children attempt and fail at remote learning throughout the spring. We discussed virtual public school, in person private or charter school, and simply keeping our fingers crossed that the public health situation would improve and allow our children to return to their classrooms soon.

During one conversation with a friend about our plans, she mentioned she was considering homeschooling her son. Wow! Homeschooling was not on our radar! After all, we both worked nearly full-time, and so much of our planning and preparation for raising our children had centered around providing them with the best educational opportunities available…outside our home. I’ll admit that my first thought was, “Well, homeschooling might be an option for you, but we could never make that work.”  

Diving Wholeheartedly into Homeschooling

Maybe you’ve heard that saying: We plan; God laughs.

I found myself reading more about home education: the various educational philosophies, curriculum options, reviews, and so on. I quickly fell down the rabbit hole of the internet and became overwhelmed with the myriad options and opinions out there.

Fortunately, I discovered a review of Sonlight curriculum early in my research and I began looking through the catalog. When I saw many of my favorite childhood reads listed in the programs, I knew I had found my people!

My all-time favorite activity to enjoy with my children is reading aloud.  I also wanted to provide more religious education to my children, so I appreciated that each level included a full Bible curriculum. Sonlight seemed to be the perfect fit for our family!

We took the plunge and ordered HBL K to delve into American history and literature with my 4- and 6-year-old, along with LA and math programs recommended by Sonlight for my son. I continued working nearly full-time, and we relied on our nanny to teach much of the curriculum this year.

The Many Benefits of Homeschooling

My children have certainly enjoyed their year of education at home. They complete their academic work within 1-2 hours a day, and I don’t think it’s dawned on them yet that our read-alouds and history readings are part of school! They have enjoyed having plenty of free time for outdoor play and my son has really flourished with Sonlight’s approach to phonics and reading.

More importantly, I  have relished the few opportunities I’ve had to teach them. Being present to witness their wonder and curiosity as we learn together has been an amazing blessing to come from this year.  During our afternoons together, we have taken nature walks, discovered new properties of light and water through science experiments, and spent a lot of time reading outside under a tree munching on their favorite snack, popcorn! 

Over the last few months as the world around us seemed to be moving toward more normal operations, my husband and I began discussing our plans for next school year. I realized that God had been working on my heart this entire year to reconsider our priorities and plans for our family. Since beginning this process, I have read so much about the challenges facing our public schools, and the rewards that can come from educating children at home. 

I have heard and meditated on the wisdom of so many moms before me who pointed out that few of us are born with the patience required to shepherd young children day in and day out! I realized that I craved more time with my children to watch them investigate the world around them, and time to strengthen our relationships with each other.  As we celebrated birthdays throughout the year, I acknowledged how quickly time is passing and that my little ones are growing up right before our eyes. I came to believe that maybe, with God’s help, I might be able to do this thing for real.

Planning for Next School Year

Next school year, do I really want to go back to getting just the leftovers of my son's time and energy? My son had just 7 months in public school, but I remember how tired he was at the end of each day, and how we had at most an hour or two of time together before supper and bedtime.

I question the wisdom of working hard each day to pay someone else to raise our kids.  In my profession as a doctor, I might be essential, but I am not irreplaceable—there are many capable people who can do my job. Yet my children have only one mother. 

Thus began many rounds of discussion and prayer with my husband. Could we make the changes necessary to allow me more time at home to teach our children?  Would these sacrifices be worth it in the end, many years down the road? Did we really believe that we could provide a superior education? Would my employer even be open to reducing my time commitment at work? What about our children? Would they miss seeing friends at school?

My husband was initially wary of prolonging our homeschooling experiment. He had several concerns about how home education would affect our finances, our marriage, and our children. We debated and discussed, crunched numbers, and reviewed various scenarios. I believe it was God’s hand that allowed me to remain open-minded during these talks. I resisted the temptation to bombard my husband with facts and figures, proving the benefits of homeschooling. After all, as recently as a year ago I had never even considered the possibility of homeschooling. Now I was asking my husband and my children to go all in on a completely different way of life!

The Verdict Is Still Out

I had to admit that our children might very well do just fine in our local public school. We had no evidence thus far that they were struggling in the traditional classroom setting. I was making quite a big ask of my family!  As much as I want my husband to consider the benefits of homeschooling, I need to think about any potential benefits of working full-time and enrolling both of our children in the excellent public schools we carefully sought out so many years ago.

We have yet to make our final decision, so as much as I’d love to end this article with a big pronouncement that we are homeschoolers for life, I can’t quite say that just yet! I’ve continued to read, listen, and pray about this decision for our family. I might have even purchased some materials already, just in case!

No matter what path we ultimately choose, I believe that God will lead us down the right path for our family. I am so grateful for this year with Sonlight that has opened my eyes to a completely different way to educate our children and prepare them for the life God has planned for them.

You Can Homeschool
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Book-ending Our Homeschool Days: The Legacy of Sharing Great Literature

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Book-ending Our Homeschool Days: The Legacy of Sharing Great Literature

I texted my 22-year-old son, Mason, “Hey, I just taught Miller about banned words.” Mason, like his younger brother Miller, found this same banned words lesson useful when he was a struggling writer at 12. He texted back “NOGI,” which is code in our house for “Not of General Interest.”

It made me laugh. His response may sound disrespectful, but in our house, it’s an inside joke gleaned from several Read-Alouds of Cheaper by the Dozen over the years with our four children. The father in the book insists that all dinner conversation must be educational and of general interest. One night he declares that he’s going to teach them all how to multiply large numbers using square roots. One child blurts out, “Not of general interest.”

Cheaper is one of our family favorites, and this retort is now a permanent part of our family phraseology, particularly because I tend to think everything must be educational.

When I first selected Sonlight curriculum for our homeschool 20 years ago, I did so primarily because of all the amazing books featured in the catalog. I wish I could be paid to read all day, so one of my life goals was to make my children into readers. At the beginning, I never could have imagined how the reading aloud would make an impact, not just to educate everyone, but to bond us together.

Sharing Stories Brings Family Connection

We have grown together in our love of books and language, but also have a high level of family connection through shared stories. In retrospect, reading aloud has been the central most important aspect of our homeschooling.

Our four children are spread out over 12 years, and one way to keep homeschool centered and on track each day was to require everyone to listen to the day’s Bible reading and current Read-Aloud most mornings and evenings, including weekends, even if it wasn’t from their current History / Bible / Literature level. This created a quite literal bookend and anchor to each day.

We included Read-Alouds at more than one level, and when a child was struggling to keep up in Readers, I would throw one of those in as a Read-Aloud as well. We also continued in the summer evenings, picking up extra stories as Sonlight changed selections or other books I wanted to share. My kids have requested re-reads or continuations of many Sonlight favorites:

I have read The Sherwood Ring aloud at least six times.

There have been times of family crisis when just about the only thing we accomplished was Read-Alouds. I believe our reading habit kept us sane and intact during difficult times involving moving, a new baby, my mother’s death, and several miscarriages. Reading aloud continued to serve as an anchor and a shared story to look forward to each day. One time we read until 10 p.m. because the boys just had to know how The Hobbit ended.

By about age 16-17, my children gradually excused themselves from reading time as they were increasingly busy with jobs, activities, and college classes. Most mornings and evenings will find me reading just with Miller these days, but I am grateful that he possesses most of the same shared stories with his older siblings.

Our Life, Impacted by Sharing Great Literature

Aside from the regular NOGI comments and other book quotes, we have named our home Rest-and-be-thankful after the ancestral home in The Sherwood Ring, and will randomly make references to Young-Fu, Gladys Aylward, Little Britches, Johnny Tremain, Tom Sawyer, Nathaniel Bowditch, Brother Andrew, Bilbo, Daniel in The Bronze Bow, Prince Brat from The Whipping Boy and dozens of other favorite characters who come up in conversation.

One time years ago when having trouble keeping up with my sons while walking, I asked them to slow down. One turned around and quipped, “Mom, we can’t walk as slowly as you can,” adapting a favorite line from a Rani Jungle story.

If you have little ones, know that all the reading aloud will reap tremendous rewards. Don’t give up.

  • I know when they are little and their attention span is less-than-ideal, it is hard. I thought I would lose my mind trying to get through Johnny Tremain aloud the first time with my two very little boys all those years ago. It gets easier, and their attention span will improve.
  • I know you think they aren’t paying attention, and sometimes they aren’t, but they will surprise you when you least expect it and connect the dots while reading something else.
  • Audio books count!
  • Reading aloud removes barriers. Kids can enjoy the story without the struggle to read on their own. One of my late readers would read the books alone after we finished them together.
  • Children can understand books read aloud several grades higher than they could tackle on their own because you are there to explain.
  • Our daughter (18) says reading aloud is her top favorite childhood memory.
  • Our four kids have truly impressive vocabularies and grasp of the English language.

My life has been a success. No one is handing out medals for my accomplishment, but I am content that I have taught four children to read and shared the love books with them.

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Starting as a New Homeschooler: Two Key Guideposts

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Starting as a New Homeschooler: Two Key Guideposts

“Homeschool? You must be crazy.”

I fired back those words at my husband as he gently suggested we homeschool our soon-to-be-kindergartener. We had just moved; I was pregnant with our second daughter. I frantically searched for reasons why we shouldn’t homeschool, but frankly, I just never planned for it. I grew up in public schools and thought that was what we would do with our family. I questioned how I could teach my daughter at home, and how she would ever get the interaction she needed with her peers. However, my husband’s reasoning did make some sense. The local school was half an hour away, and with a newborn baby, the transportation and waiting in school lines could be difficult. Being at home with my daughters could provide flexibility in our schedule. So the seed was planted.  

As I continued to visit public and charter schools around us and research our options, I also began to pray. Opening my heart to God’s direction for how we should educate our daughter was the turning point for me. The Holy Spirit began to gently show me that homeschooling our daughter was the direction He was leading us. I saw in His Word that we parents are called to train our children.

I laid aside all my preconceived ideas and fears about homeschooling, and surrendered to God’s direction for our family. 

So, with a decision about schooling made, I now began the monumental task of knowing where in the world to start. I talked to every homeschool mom I knew. I spent hours online researching curriculum options. I went to a homeschool conference. 

Out of my extensive searching came two very valuable pieces of advice: 

  1. Know your why. 
  2. Limit your curriculum search. 

Fortunately, this advice stopped me from going down the rabbit hole of never-ending choices and complete frustration my first year of homeschooling.  

1. Know Your Why

Having a vision for your child’s education is probably the single most important piece of advice for new homeschoolers. Your vision will get you excited about starting your homeschooling journey. And it will carry you through those days when you are ready to quit…when you are ready to march your child up to the public school doors and say “Take her!” (I know I’m not the only one who’s had that daydream.)

So, why are you considering homeschooling? And I don’t mean just the reasons that make life a little more flexible and convenient. Sure, for me, it was more convenient to keep my kindergartener home. That meant less time on the road and not having to wait in school lines with a newborn baby. That also meant not having to struggle getting everyone dressed and out the door every morning. We know how difficult the morning chaos can be when it’s time to go somewhere.

Those are nice reasons, but those will not carry you through those really rough days.  

As I searched my heart, and asked God to show me why He wanted our family to homeschool, I realized He had given me the amazing privilege to train my daughter. I could spend those precious hours with her at home not only educating her, but also sharing God’s love with her. It is a calling and a privilege to homeschool my child.

Ask God to show you your vision for your child’s education. His direction will guide and keep you during those difficult days.

2. Limit Your Curriculum Search

Continually researching curriculum options can lead to feeling overwhelmed. I talked to so many moms about what curriculum they were using. Everyone seemed to be doing something different, and most had pieced together different curriculums for each subject based on their preferences.

I was intimidated by all the choices. How could I ensure I chose the best curriculum for my daughter?

Fortunately, in the midst of my search, a wise friend advised me not to obsess over all the different curriculum choices in the vendor hall at an upcoming homeschool conference. At the time, her advice seemed odd to me. How could I choose a program without looking at all the choices? However, as she was much further along in her homeschooling journey, I decided to listen. Now, I realize how much sense she made. While I did get to see some curriculum at the convention, I didn’t spend hours panicking over the choices. I focused instead on attending sessions that encouraged and motivated me on getting started as a homeschooler. Just hearing stories of generations of homeschoolers was the fuel I needed to ignite my own vision. Instead of being discouraged by all the options and not knowing where to start, I came away refreshed, renewed, and energized.   

As I finally made my decision on what curriculum to use, I asked these three main questions.

  1. Did it have a Christian viewpoint?
  2. Did it have a plan I could follow?
  3. Were all the books and materials I needed included?

I remembered seeing Sonlight at a friend’s house. It checked all of those boxes; plus it included so many wonderful books.  My daughter and I already loved to read together. The peace of mind in knowing that I would have all the materials I needed and a plan to follow was invaluable to me in starting our homeschooling journey. I didn’t have to spend hours planning and piecing together materials. Everything was already put together for me.

So, I chose Sonlight and stopped looking. I had a plan in place to get going on the vision God had given me for teaching my daughter. And looking back on that first year, I’m so glad we chose Sonlight. We learned so many lessons about the world around us from God’s viewpoint, and the literature set a solid foundation for her language and reading skills.   

Homeschooling is a journey. Let’s start the journey with joy, peace, and excitement about how God is using this time in our lives. On my journey, there are still days when it’s hard, when I feel like giving up. But I choose to keep going. I remember my why, rest in Him, and see God’s process. Homeschooling is refining me as much as it is refining my children. And ultimately, God has entrusted to us the privilege of training our children.

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But I Don’t Have the Patience to Homeschool

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But I Don’t Have the Patience to Homeschool

This retort was my mental refrain anytime I encountered someone who homeschooled their children: I don't have the patience to homeschool. I loved the idea of homeschooling, but just knew that I lacked the tolerance to spend all day, every day shepherding my young children through reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Enter COVID. Like so many others, we decided to try homeschooling after a failed attempt at virtual learning last spring. I knew in my heart that home education might be the best option for our family, but I wondered how I would juggle teaching and parenting without losing my cool daily. I figured that patience was a virtue. Some are born with it, and some…well, some of us are not.

We have certainly had our ups and downs this year, and I have relied heavily on the wisdom of other homeschooling moms who shared their experience so feely. What I’ve heard over and over is that very few of them felt naturally endowed with an excess of patience and tolerance. Instead, they embraced homeschooling as an opportunity to develop patience, all in the service of strengthening their relationship with their children.

So, how did they do it? Here is a breakdown of five practical tips I’ve picked up over the last few months for cultivating patience and diffusing tension during the homeschool day.

1. Start Your Day Over

We all have bad days, and things can snowball out of control rapidly. During a phone conversation with a friend on one of those bad days, she suggested that we all (myself and my children) count to three and start our day over.

Although starting over seemed like a laughably simple solution, it worked!

Now, when I feel myself tensing up, or see my kids getting overwhelmed with frustration, I know what to do:

  • acknowledge the situation
  • take a deep breath
  • count 1—2—3
  • start the day or the lesson over

2. Relinquish Control

So many times, my tension and irritation originate from clinging too tightly to my agenda for the day. One of the benefits of homeschooling is that we have the freedom to follow learning’s natural ebb and flow, chase down rabbit holes, and focus on the educational opportunities that present themselves.

I have found that when I am able to let go even just a little bit of my bright ideas and follow my children’s lead, it goes a long way toward increasing our peace and joy in learning, and my patience with my children

3. Pray

Although it is a goal of mine to start each day with prayer, it’s also an invaluable tool throughout the day. When agitated, I try to pause and ask God for help in the moment. I ask him to help me do my best and to remind me that my little ones are doing their best, too. This is not novel advice, but for some reason it’s so hard to remember when we’re in the thick of things!

Even a simple prayer will do: “God, please help me to be patient with these little souls in front of me” or “God, please help all of us to do your will today.”

4. Manage Expectations

We call it the witching hour at our house. You might have another colorful name for it. But, each day, around 4:30-5:00 pm the wheels seem to come off the wagon around here. We’ve all had a long day by then, nerves are a bit frayed, and our coping skills are nearly exhausted.

I have come to dread this time of day, steeling myself for tantrums and meltdowns as I try to prepare dinner, help our older boys with schoolwork, and keep my younger ones engaged in some type of activity. I tend to shift quickly into reactive mode, bustling around trying to get this child to quiet down, this one to focus, this one to leave me alone so I can just “do this one thing!”

Not surprisingly, these afternoons often end in tears for at least one of us, sometimes all of us! 

Eventually, it dawned on me that I get frustrated and flummoxed every day by something that should be completely expected and predictable.

My children are just doing what children do when they get tired and bored.  I can keep snapping and picking at them, which isn’t working too well, or I can accept things as they are and do my part to alleviate our stress.

I started by making time to read aloud in the afternoons, an activity we all enjoy that promotes closeness and camaraderie. After having some dedicated time with me as reader, my young children were much more content with independent playtime while I made dinner or helped our older boys. Whenever possible, I tried to celebrate the little ones’ attempts to help me make dinner by enlisting them in setting the table, folding napkins, or getting out the utensils. Again, it comes back to expectations. It probably wasn’t too realistic of me to expect some quiet time to myself at this time of day. So, instead of shooing everyone out of the kitchen, I now try to involve them in cooking and other simple chores whenever possible. Recalibrating my expectations for this particular part of our day has increased my patience with myself and my family.

5. Practice Self-care

We’ve all heard the spiel on the airplane to first place the oxygen masks on ourselves, and then assist our small children. If I am frazzled, depleted, or stressed out, I will have nothing left to give my children. 

As an introvert, I need a bit of quiet time each day. But since I feel guilty scheduling this time or setting boundaries with my children, I never get the time alone I crave. I have thankfully learned from the experience of others that it is perfectly okay to plan a daily quiet time for myself and for my children.

Once I have taken that time to recharge, I am then much better equipped to engage with my children and respond to them in a loving and patient way.

While I don’t put all of these suggestions into practice every day, I am content with progress, not perfection.  I have learned that it doesn’t really matter how much patience I have, but rather how much I’m willing ask for more and reach for one of these solutions when I find myself falling short. COVID gave me the push I needed to try homeschooling, and the wisdom of homeschooling moms before me has given me the tools I need to enjoy this journey with my children.  

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