Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sonlight's Early Readers--What level to choose?

If you are contemplating using Sonlight's early readers and language arts, and don't know what to choose, perhaps this may help you. Since the readers and language arts work together, I always recommend that you choose the language arts level that will meet your child's needs and then get the readers to match.

[As a note, these Reader/Language Arts packages can be mixed and matched with Cores P4/5 -Core C, after that, when you move into Core D and above, you always use the readers that come with the Core because they reinforce the history being taught.]

If you have a precocious reader, you may find that the language arts level you need to start with will have readers that are too easy. That is OK. The readers support the language arts and many of the LA assignments refer back to the readers.

Many people want to know what to do if the readers are too easy. My suggestion--use them in conjunction with the language arts and then let you child read their science, history, library books, sequels to books you have read, more books by a favorite author, etc. You don't need to worry about reading with precocious readers, but you do not want to skip laying  a firm foundation in language arts. Eventually their language arts skills will catch up with their reading.

So, here are my recommendations for which level to choose:
  • Grade K Readers and Language Arts--LA introduces the most common sound for each letter and it teaches one letter a week. By week 6 students are reading and writing short words. They are reading Fun Tales [little Sonlight books] by week 10. Before you are half way through the year, they are writing sentences with capitalization and simple punctuation. It is best if a child knows their letter sounds when they start this program, but it is not essential. Move at a speed that is comfortable for your child--slowing down or speeding up the pace as needed.
  • Grade 1 Readers and Language Arts--I recommend that children be able to three letter, short vowel words with fluency and confidence to start this level. Your child should also be able to write a complete sentence. [If your child can't, you can always go slow and work on writing skills, but I am just saying what you child should ideally be able to do.]
  • Grade 2 Readers and Language Arts--At this level, your child should be able to read vowel-consonant-silent e words and simple multisyllable words with confidence and fluency. They should also be able to write more complex sentences and to be able to write 2-3 in one sitting. Sonlight says, "This complete Language Arts program gives you all the tools to help you teach children to form and organize their thoughts, construct basic sentences and write simple paragraphs. You will likely serve as their scribe."
  • Grade 3 Readers and Language Arts--The reading level here has a wide variety of words and your child should be able to read long-vowel words and 5-6 letter words with fluency. The readers are short chapter books. This level teaches writing a 5 point paragraph, so they should have a firm grasp of writing sentences before starting this level.  
  • Grade 4-5 Readers and Language Arts--It assumes the child can write a paragraph [taught in Grade 3 Language Arts] and the assigned readers are chapter books along the line of a Little House on the Prairie book. The assigned amount is more than in other levels too-usually reading 2-3 chapters per day, 5 days a week. There is continued work on writing paragraphs and more creative writing.  Sonlight says, "Perfect for students comfortable with writing sentences and short paragraphs without much hand-holding. You may still want to serve as their scribe on more challenging assignments."
 I hope this is a helpful overview of what level to choose. If you have specific questions, feel free to email me for advice or to set up a phone consultation.

Take care,

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Summer of Mom...

Learning to Sew
I was reading the Sonlighter Club Forums today and this idea caught my eye. The ladies were talking about taking a semester off of all extra activities for their children and one mom said she has declared it, "The Summer of Mom." No lessons, so sports, no regular activities, no running around miles and miles a day to get to some activity or other.

It is the Summer of Mom--lazy days at home.

Family Summer Vacation
I love it! Most of our summers were that way when our kids were growing up but as I look around me it seems that there are not very many families who choose NOT to engage in lots and lots of activities. As I read the forum it was interesting to read all the activities that these homeschooled children engage in.

Here are a two examples:

  • Sometimes I would love to cut back, but I'm not exactly sure how. My dd [daughter] absolutely loves her voice lessons and gymnastics. My son adores gymnastics and cubs. He takes piano, too, and they both take a French class, and I also have them in swimming. 
  • We have at least 12 places to be every week. We have co-op 2x a week, guitar, son's discipleship group, small group, park day, skating, a lot of church meetings for the plant (up to 3/week), and Keepers at Home. I try to keep reducing activities but more just seem to come up.
Older siblings reading to younger

I had friends years ago that had schedules like this.They have four children and each one was in several activities, plus they went to public school all day and were very involved in their church. They ate supper in their van 5 nights a week as they were racing from one event to the other--many times Dad and Mom going in opposite directions.

I asked my friend why she did it. She looked at me like I had two heads and said, "Jill. There is so much bad in the world these days that if you don't keep your kids busy they will get into trouble. "

Working with Dad to build a play house.
So, in her case it was fear.

But what about burn-out [kids and parents]? What about kids having time to find their own fun, beat their own boredom, discover their imagination and work out their own rules in games and sports? What about not being "activity dependent" and always wanting to be organized and entertained? What about family meal times and down time after supper to chat?

Those things are very intangible. You can't measure them by wins and losses or recitals--they are not quantifiable so are not considered important.I think that is so sad. I can not imagine rushing around all the time. It must be exhausting.

Learning to do outdoor cooking.

So, if you find yourself snowed under by a myriad of activities, lessons and scheduled "fun" and you would like a break. I recommend to you "The Summer of Mom." Kick back, turn on the sprinkler, read aloud to your kids in the evening, eat dinner together, have a picnic for lunch, play games, sing songs, nap, take walks and let the kids use their imaginations to create and to dream. I think you will all be better off for it and when summer ends, re-evaluate your activities to determine what is worthy of your time and what isn't. I think the "Summer of Mom" might be the best thing you have done for your family in a long time.

Take care,

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Death of Picture Books?

A good friend of mine, Gale W., sent me a link to a New York Times article from last year. It about broke my heart and actually, I had a few tears in my eyes as I read it.  The article?
Bob enjoying Make Way for Ducklings!

"Parents have begun pressing their kindergartners and first graders to leave the picture book behind and move on to more text-heavy chapter books. Publishers cite pressures from parents who are mindful of increasingly rigorous standardized testing in schools. 

“Parents are saying, ‘My kid doesn’t need books with pictures anymore,’ ” said Justin Chanda, the publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. “There’s a real push with parents and schools to have kids start reading big-kid books earlier. We’ve accelerated the graduation rate out of picture books.” 

I have met these parents and thousands like them. Thousands you say? Yes. I have talked to tens of thousands of parents, homeschooling and traditional schooling parents, and have heard this same thing. It is heartbreaking. What about the great picture books that I shared with my kids when they were little? What about the common family culture and enjoyment you get when you share picture books like
  • Bill Peet books
  • Dr Seuss
  • Make Way for Ducklings
  • Classic Fairy Tales
  • Berenstain Bears
  • Harold and the Purple Crayon
  • Peter Rabbit Stories
  • Anything illustrated by Eloise Wilkin
  • Go Dog, Go!
  • Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel [Mary Anne]
I could go on. These are the very essence of childhood, the foundation for appreciating the arts, cultural literacy and making sense of the world we live in. Children and adults who will never go on a safari can experience one through picture books. And how about historical picture books such as the books? These are wonderful for children of all ages. I still love these books and Scotty just about  wore out his D'Aulaire Greek Myth book when he was in late elementary/early middle school. 

Picture Books! Most of you know I am a grandma now, and oh how lovely it is to pull out the picture books again. Though my two granddaughters are still at the board books stage now, I get to share picture books with my niece Violet every week.  Old friends come out to meet me as we share these books. Curious George is still curious, The dogs still have the Big Dog Party in the tree that charmed me as a child, Mary Anne is still Mike Mulligan's best friend, the Pokey Little Puppy is still rolling "pell-mell" and on and on.

What a rich heritage to share with our children, our grandchildren, our nieces and nephews. The article went on to say--and this is the part that really wrenched my heart because I know it is true...

"Dara La Porte, the manager of the children’s department at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington. “I see children pick up picture books, and then the parents say, ‘You can do better than this, you can do more than this.’ It’s a terrible pressure parents are feeling — that somehow, I shouldn’t let my child have this picture book because she won’t get into Harvard.”

And this makes me cry.

Let us rob our children of the joy of picture books--let us rob ourselves of the joy of sharing picture books with our children, because of what? College???


We don't need more kids who can read at 5th grade level when they are 4 years old, we need more kids with imaginations who get to cuddle up with mom or dad on the couch to share great picture books. It makes me weep to think that we are so busy trying to get our kids ready for college that we miss the joy of childhood and family and relationships along the way. I am not saying that the death of the picture book is going to destroy families as we know them, but this trend of pushing and pushing and pushing our kids through childhood is not good.

And this next quote, should come as no surprise:

"... Laurence is 6 ½, and while he regularly tackles 80-page chapter books, he is still a “reluctant reader,” Ms. Gignac said.Sometimes, she said, he tries to go back to picture books.
“He would still read picture books now if we let him, because he doesn’t want to work to read,” she said, adding that she and her husband have kept him reading chapter books" 

Oh, how I long to take Laurence into my office and let him read the myriad of picture books I have on the lowest shelves, just waiting for young friends.  I would love for him to be able to read the "Barely There" books by Steven Cosgrove which enchanted Chad all those years ago, with their flowery language and intricate artwork.   How I wish I could make his parents understand how they are depriving their 6 year old son of the magic of books and the wonder of reading, but forcing him to always WORK to read.

Big brother Chad reading a picture book to Kari and Scotty.
I can read hard-technical books, just like Laurence can read chapter books, but I also love to read juvenile fiction and to re-read the Little House on the Prairie Books and I read The Great and Terrible Quest, every single year--sometimes twice a year. Does that make me a slacker? I guess you don't have to worry about me getting into Harvard, though, since I am already a college graduate.

It is just not my Grandma/Momma heart saying this. The article goes on to say,

"Literacy experts are quick to say that picture books are not for dummies. Publishers praise the picture book for the particular way it can develop a child’s critical thinking skills. 

“To some degree, picture books force an analog way of thinking,” said Karen Lotz, the publisher of Candlewick Press in Somerville, Mass. “From picture to picture, as the reader interacts with the book, their imagination is filling in the missing themes.” 

Many parents overlook the fact that chapter books, even though they have more text, full paragraphs and fewer pictures, are not necessarily more complex. 

“Some of the vocabulary in a picture book is much more challenging than in a chapter book,” said Kris Vreeland, ...“The words themselves, and the concepts, can be very sophisticated in a picture book.”

I believe this. I believe in picture books and the ability to educate, enchant and engage children in a way that a chapter book cannot.

Here's to the picture book. May it never die.

Take care,

For some great ideas of picture books to read to your children, or for older children to read to themselves, I have to recommend Sonlight's Preschool Collections.

Fiction, Fairy Tales, and Fun for Little Learners 

I helped develop this curricula.  Amy and I worked together to create a program for young children that incorporates lots of great picture books, some activities and a few games. This is a great program for 3-4 year olds.

Exploring God's World

I was privileged to be able to write hands on and developmental activities for this program. Sonlight trusted me with the awesome task of adding these type of activities. I consulted state standards for 4-6 year olds, interviewed a few early childhood teachers, read lots of books and articles in order to come up with meaningful activities with a purpose.

A few Blog posts that might be interesting for you:



Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Top Three Things You need to know if you have a Pre-Schooler...

Granddaughters with wooden  food.

Well, I know I am not really full-time homeschooling anymore, but I do have my two granddaughters that come over a couple of times a week. We play with toys, sing songs, read board books and generally just have fun hanging out together.
My boys as preschoolers, back in 1982**

I really love little kids. They are so funny in so many ways that I find myself laughing right out loud a lot when they are around. I also love watching how they play and find it amazing that their natural curiosity leads them to do the very things they should be doing to develop their fine and large motor skills.

I have been doing a lot of research lately about what kind of things you can do to help your child develop in this area. I have read state standards, researched various activities, become very familiar with the Montessori method and gleaned ideas from various websites.

And, after all this research I have come up with the top three things to help your child develop as they should. So, for those who are interested, here goes:

  • Limit TV and computer games. They not only steal time, but they rob of children of imaginative play and of taking personal responsibility for entertaining themselves.
  • Read, Read, Read to your children. Reading teaches them a lot about language, it excites their imagination and broadens their world. READ!
  • My youngest son loved hats!***
  • Have classic toys available. These include [but are not limited to] balls, paper, crayons, scissors, blocks, toy cars, dolls and riding toys. With these simple toys a child can master many activities and have lots of imaginative play.
During my research I found an excellent resource for developing fine motor skills in preschool to first grade age children. I looked at many, many books and a lot of web sites, and talked to early child development teachers and this one book incorporates nearly every single idea that I found everywhere else.

It is called:

Activities for Fine Motor Skills Development, published by Teacher Created Resources. It has simple ideas, recipes, finger play games, black line masters to copy and much more. It is an amazing resource that I wish I would have had when I did my licensed home day care and when my children were young. It is well worth the price.
The best resource I found--very parent friendly!

So if you have preschoolers I encourage you to get this book, limit TV and computer games, read to your children and have classic toys available.

  • **A reminder of my hardest year--three preschoolers and temperatures that winter that were below zero most of the time. That was a looooong winter!
  • ***Scotty--he loved hats and I particularly love this picture because it seems to capture all the fun and seriousness that is bound up in a preschooler.
Take care,

For more of my Pre-School thoughts and suggestions:

Lies, Lies, Lies...

I recently purchased the book by Todd Wilson called, "Lies Homeschooling Moms Believe." Now, if you are not familiar with Todd Wilson, he calls himself the "Family Man." I have never heard him speak, although he attends many homeschool conventions that I attend as a vendor. He has these little stickers he gives out that say something like, "My wife is my hero, she homeschools," and he passes them out to homeschooling dads.

For that reason, and that reason alone, I thought I liked him. But actually, I don't know him at all. I have seen him at conventions and know that he speaks, but what impressed me is the little stickers extoling the virtues of a homeschooling mom.

I had heard this book was very encouraging and so I bought it because my library didn't have it and only had one avenue for getting it through inter-library loan. They called me after some time and said they had located this now out-of-print book but the lending library charged nearly $15 to borrow it, did I still want it?

I don't think so.

I got it from Amazon for about $10 including shipping. I thought it would give me some ideas for my blog and give me some new insights. What it did was make me mad.

I found some of the ideas great, but I felt they were said in a very condescending matter. And--this really ticks me off--he comes across as some expert who knows how EVERYONE feels. How is that possible? How can he know something about every homeschooling mother?

He spends a great deal of time saying that Satan is behind all the insecurities and failings we have. I really have trouble believing that Satan is behind it all. I mean. what about our own human frailty? Maybe he meant that comes from Satan too, and I am not one to deny Satan, but not one to see him behind every failing or insecurity I have either.

He says  EVERYONE [homeschooling moms] Believes these false lies:
  • Everyone's house is cleaner than my house
  • Everyone fixes better meals than I do 
  • Everyone is more spiritually disciplined
  • Everyone's marriage is better than mine 
  • Everyone else can do it ALL but me
and that " All homeschooling moms say harsh, sometimes hateful words to their kids and husband...

He says "the real truth is that all marriages stink from time to time. They argue, see things differently, say cutting comments or give the silent treatment sometimes. ...That's ALL [his emphasis, not mine] marriages."

  I hate to sound braggy, but that is not my marriage. We don't give the silent treatment or make cutting comments. Not to say we aren't grouchy from time to time, but cutting comments, I don't think so. I don't believe I have ever said hateful words to my children or husband. I am not trying to sound holier than thou, but I really don't think he knows what in the world he is talking about.

He encourages homeschool moms to be "REAL" and then goes on to say that if you have something you are good at, "baking bread, making nice clothes for your kids, etc." keep it to yourself. You don't want others to feel bad about themselves. OK, so my question is, "How is that real?"

But, this is what made me rant and rave to Bob for a while."Women are prone to believing lies...We are all prone to believing lies, especially women...So, as we discuss the lies homeschooling moms believe, realize that this is an area in which females are more susceptible." UGH!!

Is this condescending or what? To me it sounds like he is saying, "Homeschool mom I am all wise and wonderful and poor little you are gullible, so I am going to tell you what to believe and to show you that you are better than you think you are."

I mean how sexist is that? And how patriarchal he sounds. I am still furious about that statement. There are other statements about how men are less gullible than women and so forth.  Who is this guy and what decade did he fall out of? I know he is younger than I am and yet my Dad wouldn't have bought this sentiment.

The book goes on and on about how we are all as good as each other, how we are all too hard on ourselves and so on. And, in all fairness, he does say that " After finishing this book, I don't want you to try harder, but I do want you to enjoy your kids more. I won't ask you to be more diligent, but I hope that you'll laugh easier. I'm not trying to make you better, but I desire you to feel secure in your shortcomings."  OK, that's nice.

He also makes nice statements like "God gave your children exactly the mother they needed," and "You are the best. You're number one. Numero uno! Primo teacherero! Plan A."

Of course you are gullible, prone to believing lies, shouldn't tell anyone about things you are good at...

I did find some gems in this book, but all in all it seemed like a poor attempt to boost up what are thought to be rather lame-brained women. I will be finding a new home for this book. I might take it to Half Price Books, but on the other hand maybe a quick trip to the fire pit might be more productive. I would hate for any homeschooling mom to believe all the lies in this book.

Take care,

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Play is work...

Play is Work...

Play is work.

For kids, I mean.

I get so frustrated with all the preschool programs that teach academic things that I could scream! {My sister-in-law as a pre-schooler-- she has been a legal assistant for over 30 years]For kids, play is work! I think if adults would realize that, we would not try to rush and ruin the built in educational system that God has designed for little children. They are inquisitive, they ask questions, when they are ready to know something they try to do it, or ask about it, they learn quickly. And they play.

I love watching kids play. They are so creative. I mean, when I watched my boys play with match box cars they would drive them around, make engine noises, create road systems [small motor coordination], toss them up and let them drop [gravity training], see how many they could put in a bucket [spacial training], sort them in a million different ways and so forth. Look at all that math learned through play.

When Kari played with the same toys, she did a lot of the same things, minus the engine noises. She would drive the cars around and say things like, "OK, lets get out and buy some milk," or "Here we are at the library." Same cars, different play. She was much more verbal, much more directed- and her play was work too.

And the sandbox. I LOVE the sandbox-talk about play being work. Kids use small muscles, large muscles, engineering, city planning, molding, sculpting, getting along with sandbox mates and so forth. And if you add water to the sandbox, things just get better!

OK, I will admit it. I come from a long line of sandbox lovers. We always had a LARGE sandbox-not those little plastic turtle things they have now-a-days, but a huge sandbox that was so big that we had to have a dump-truck come and dump a load of sand at our house. I had one as a child and so did our kids. We thought of it as standard child rearing equipment. My mom loved the sandbox. As a grandma she would sit with the kids and play if she had a chance, and at the beach she was always playing with sand in some shape or form. My mom told me once about the sandbox she has as a kid and how she played in it till she was really too old for it.

I said, "How old were you mom?"

Mom, "Well, till I started dating your father." [And she wasn't kidding! She was 15 when she started dating Dad!]

See what I mean about having a history with sandbox play.

But, in addition to that-bikes and rope swings and balls and wagons and puzzles and blocks and dolls are all part of work for kids. They need play. They learn more from play than from some contrived activity at a pre-school.

Now I am not saying that preschools are all bad, nor am I saying that if a 3 year old wants to learn their letters you should withhold information; all I am saying is preschool is not necessary to have a well rounded child. They will not have their academic future ruined if they do not go to preschool or have preschool at home. Seriously!

I mean, my generation never went to preschool-we never heard of it. Yet, there are rocket scientists, brain surgeons, Nobel Peace Prize winners and so forth that are my age. How did we manage to actually learn to do anything without preschool? Playing. Good old fashion play.

For kids, play is work. I believe that with my whole heart.

Play. is. work.

More about preschool tomorrow...
Take care,
[This is something I posted before, but as I keep getting more and more calls and questions about preschoolers, I felt it would not be bad to re-run it.]

Friday, April 8, 2011

Why Sonlight®? Aren't all Literature Based Curricula about the same?

I get this question a lot. Many folks want to know why I love Sonlight® so much and why I think it is the best out there. So, for those who wonder...

So, why Sonlight® as opposed to other curricula that are out there.

Reading great books inspires children to do their own hands on activities such as drawings, writings, pyramids out of sugar cubes, beaver dams out of sticks and mud and so on. Many curricula have plans for moms to spend lots of time and money preparing coordinating hands on activities. Sonlight and I believe we just need to provide a learning-rich environment and great books--and that is all you need. The kids will take it from there.

Sonlight®'s goal [and my personal goal] is that of creating Ambassadors for Christ that are equipped to reach THIS generation. With Sonlight®'s broad base of books and their detailed IG teacher notes, children are taught to "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." I know with the well rounded education they get from Sonlight® that they have been prepared to go to a our state universities, sit with people of varying backgrounds, and they have not been judgmental, but seek to understand where the person is coming from, then show Christ's love to that person--as an Ambassador.

I found many curricula try to advance their own religious agenda, but with Sonlight® the information is given to you and then it is up to you to interpret it to your kids. The study notes constantly remind us to measure what this person or nation did by looking to God's word, but they are very balanced and lead kids to learn how to think critically and not to believe something just because it is in a book.

And, the thing that makes Sonlight® head and shoulders above any other curriculum--the Instructor's Guides [IG]! If you are convinced that the literature approach is the way you want to go, look at Sonlight®'s Instructor's Guides. They are amazing--and another benefit, you can get all the books from Sonlight® so there are no fruitless trips to the library and book store.

The editions match the IG right down to the paragraph and page number. They schedule every reader, read-aloud, history, science and Bible book and have great study guides for each book. The study guides have notes on everything from place and setting, to maps and time line suggestions, as well as comprehension questions [with answers], cultural literacy and nature questions and much more. The IGs save you so much time, and are so complete, they are unparalleled.

Those are a few reasons I heartily recommend Sonlight®.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Homeschool Resource Library

Need to Place an Order? If you know what you want, go here and enter the item numbers. If you need help please email me for a free consultation or to make a phone appointment. 
Please Scroll Down to see my
Homeschool Resource Library
~~~May it be an encouragement to you~~~
I would love for you to visit my Facebook Page

I invite you to:

  • To get to know me better ~"The Whistle" is a short article telling why we started homeschooling and it tells what our kids are doing today.I hope it will encourage you
  • NEW! Homeschool 101--Homeschooling questions answered--Podcasts, videos, articles and more to help you with every aspect of homeschooling--from deciding if it is right for your family to preparing high school transcripts!
Welcome to my personal Homeschool Resource Library
[ A collection of wit & wisdom gleaned from over 132 years of parenting]

General Homeschool Advice: 
  • NEW! Come listen to my one hour talk on How Living Books Teach [broken into 5 separate audio files]
  • NEW! The Language Police--why it is so important to use real literature [rather than textbooks] to teach [A three part blog post]

Preschool Tips and Advice:

Sonlight Specific:
High School Helps

  • NEW! High School Planning: Here are some great brochures and charts you can print off [Developing a Plan, Recordkeeping, College Bound, Off to Work, Time Line-Keeping on Track and You can Homeschool Through High School.]
[Sonlight has the best microscope and awesome science programs. In college I majored in earth science and environmental science. I love good science--but until I found Sonlight Science my kids did NOT share my love of science. Sonlight's great books, science supply kits and day by day lesson plans helped me share my love of science with my children. From pre-school up, Sonlight Homeschool Science Packages are the best!]

[Kari Homeschool Graduate-Chad University of Kentucky Graduate]

General Parenting:
For more encouragement and help, visit:
My blog:
 Sonlight's blogMy Posts on the Sonlight Blog

Drop me an email and I can assist you that way or we can set up a no-cost phone consultation.