Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I am giving away a Kindle Fire....

I am getting excited about my conventions this year. They promise to be the best yet. If you live in the Midwest you may want to come to the Cincinnati "Great Homeschool Convention" in mid-April.

I will be having a drawing for a Kindle Fire this year! This is something I am personally offering. Just come by one of the two Sonlight booths and sign up. Not only will you get a chance at the Fire, but you will also be able to get a new 2012 catalog, a coupon good for $15 off an order of $50 or more and bring a friend and you can each chose a free book!

I will also have a daily drawing for a "Pamper Yourself Basket" which will be a Sonlight tote bag that has handcrafted soap, hand scented lotion, chocolate and other goodies.

You need not be present to win the Kindle Fire or the Pamper Yourself basket, but I will be awarding the baskets daily and the Fire on Saturday at 5:00 pm.

I will have lots of samples, several full cores, all the instructor's guides and a great team to help you with any questions you may have.

Bring a friend by and you can both chose a free book. You can follow me on Facebook by going to Paths to Learning and liking me. You may also want to check out my Homeschool Resource Library. Let me know if I can help you in any way. Email me at

PS: I will also be in Indianapolis at IAHE March 30-31.

Improved Stuff at Sonlight...

A note from Sonlight I thought you might be interested in.

Seventeen Sonlight moms [I was one of the seventeen] crowded around to hear about the 2012 Sonlight product line. Several had helped us design the changes. All were excited about what they saw. The conversation flowed with comments like, "Did you see how easy to use these Instructor's Guides are now?" "This just makes so much sense." "Our moms are going to love this!"
So what did they see? Big changes this year to serve your day-to-day homeschool needs. Enjoy your first peak at the 2012 improvements:
This year, your Sonlight Curriculum will give you:
  • Enhanced and re-designed Instructor's Guides for Cores A - G
  • More complete Core Programs
  • Improved Language Arts instruction
  • Enriched Bible instruction
Watch the video to learn more. Then stay tuned as we start to release more details next week. This improved curriculum goes live on April 2. 

More to come,
Tim Heil

Friday, February 17, 2012

On Facebook?

I would love it if you would "Like Me" on Facebook.


Homeschool Demographics Evolve...

According to a recent article in USA Today and my own observation, more and more parents are turning to homeschool because they want their children to have an excellent education. "Parents are disgusted with the school system, " Norma Curry of Cincinnati says, "The majority, they're just looking for something better."

The article focuses on a few families who are NOT homeschooling for religious reasons and emphasizes that most parents do want to transmit their values, but those values are not necessarily the stereotype of the evangelical Christian homeschooler.

I think this explains the huge draw of the homeschool conventions put on by "Great Homeschool Conventions." While the organizers are Christian, the conventions have a remarkably mature philosophy of encouraging many vendors and speakers and encouraging parents to use the materials in the manner they see fit. This is in stark contrast to many of the old-school conventions which dictate what may and may not be displayed. Many do not let any books that teach about evolution, for example.

Great Homeschool Conventions are growing exponentially, and I think one reason is that today's homeschooling parents do not want a paternalistic organization telling them what is appropriate to teach their children. They want to decide for themselves. And, secular or Christian or Muslim or atheist, the Great Homeschool Convention can meet their needs.

If you have never been to a homeschool convention, or if you have only gone to ones sponsored by state homeschool organizations, I encourage you to try one of the 5 GHC, they are awesome. I will be at the Midwest one Cincinnati on April 19-21.  I will have two Sonlight booths where you can pick up catalogs, register for the drawing for a Kindle Fire and pick up a cloth Sonlight shopping bag. The large booth with have LOTS of samples and a great staff to help and encourage you. The smaller, will have catalogs and information.

I hope to see you there,


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Top 100 Books for Children...

USA Today had a great article yesterday naming the 100 "Greatest Books for Kids," ranked by Scholastic Parent and Child magazine.

I beg to differ on some of them, but #1 was Charlotte's Web and I agree with that. Also on the list were such classics as Goodnight Moon, Green Eggs and Ham, Anne of Green Gables, Corduroy, The Secret Garden, The House at Pooh Corner and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see." All great choices.

There were books for older children such as The Giver, Hunger Games, Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone, Anne Frank the Diary of a Young Girl and others.

With such a wide field I am sure it was hard to narrow it down to just 100, but on the whole, it is a pretty good list. If you want to read aloud to your children on a regular basis, this would be a great place to start. I have a couple of other sources I go to to pick out great literature for children that I would like to share.

Of course, the Sonlight Catalog is one of the first places I look. If you would like one, just let me know and I will get one in the mail to you quickly. You can just email me at

Another list I love is the 1000 Good Book List  compiled by Classical Christian Education Support Loop. There is also this list for college bound students.

I realized when I was a young mother with a newly minted college degree that I had a pitiful education when it came to reading great literature. The above list for college bound students is a great place to start if you, as an adult, want to become more culturally literate. I remember reading Uncle Tom's Cabin for the first time after I got out of college and it kept me spellbound. I first read many other books such as To Kill a Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn and The Witch of Blackbird Pond"  when I read them to my children. What treasures! What a richness of language. What insight into culture. What a great way to interact with your children and to pass on your core beliefs.

If you are looking for good books, start with these lists and see which ones appeal to you, then read, read, read. There is so much to discover through great books.


Monday, February 13, 2012

The Long Path

 I posted this when I started this blog, but I thought some of you might like to read the inspiration for this blog.

When I started this blog, I named it Paths to Learning because I love to take walks, especially ones that are off the beaten path. Raising 5 kids, being a stay at home mom and homeschooling besides, was another “off the beaten path” hike I took and I saw many similarities between the two.

I started to think about the hardest [non-metaphorical] path I ever took and my mind went back over 35 years to a time when my sister Gail and I were camping in Rocky Mountain National Park.

We had driven out from Michigan in her VW bug for a week’s vacation. We surveyed the topographical maps and took short hikes to accustom ourselves to the thin air and higher altitude. I always get altitude sick, so for the first few days we did the regular tourist hikes around Bear Lake, up to Emerald Lake and a few others. We took a hike up to Twin Sisters and got in a hail storm attempting Flat Top. Then, two days before we were to go back to Michigan, we went to a ranger talk in the park.

It was the old days, where the ranger built a nice fire, got out his slide projector and then proceeded to talk about the night’s theme. That night it was “Long’s Peak.” Long's Peak is the highest peak in the park—towering over the other peaks at over 14,000 feet. The East face is bleak and threatening and only skilled mountain climbers can make the peak that way; but, if you go around the back, there is an easier way.

The ranger showed flora and fauna, talked about seasons and so forth, but when he said that if you wanted to make the peak in one day you had to leave the base station at 3:00 am—Gail and I looked at each other and smiled. We have always been kindred spirits of sort, and we knew.

We were going to try it.

We actually left the fire-side program, and smelling of wood smoke and bug spray, we made our way back to our tent. Gail said, “Well?” and I nodded. We set the alarm for 2:30, packed our day packs and lay down to sleep. Morning was going to come way too soon. By 3:00 am we were parked at the trail head, dressed in layers, flashlights in hand. We signed in the trail registry, and were off.

It was dark and very lonely. I don’t know if Gail was scared, but I was. I mean, what were we doing? Two girls on a path in the mountains in the middle of the night—what were we thinking?

We started up. And up. And up. There was only one way to get there, and that was up. It was dark. Very dark. There was a low cloud ceiling so not a star, not a ray of moonlight, nothing but our feeble flashlights to show us the next step. We couldn’t see the whole trail, just the next step. I kept thinking of bears but I nearly had myself convinced they were not nocturnal, so they were probably sleeping.

The trail was rocky—I mean we were in the Rocky Mountains-what did we expect? I can’t remember who tripped first, but before long, both of us had fallen more than once and we had scratched up our hands and I think I was crying. It was awful and so dark and so hard and uphill and the air was so thin. We must be crazy. I think our flashlight broke, but maybe not.

At any rate, we were about ready to give up. I wanted to; Gail said why didn’t we try just a few more minutes. But, it was too hard for flat-landers like us. Just too hard.

Then it happened! If I live to be one hundred I will always remember this image. We came to the end of a switchback, kind of hovering over the valley below, and the sun broke through the cloud cover. The clouds were swirling around just below our feet—like waves on the beach except the sun broke over them and turned them gold and orange and red! It was like heaven itself, all shiny and glowing. The radiance was unimaginable and the whole side of the mountain leapt to life under the rays. We knew, without saying a word, that giving up was not an option.

We were going up.

After that, the going was still steep but at least we could see where we were going. We knew it was overcast and cloudy for those poor campers below, but we were above the clouds and all was right with the world. We continued on—over the boulder field [just like the ranger’s slides], through the key hole where it is so windy that on some days hikers can’t go past it because they will get blown off the mountain, and then we scrambled up the back side of Long’s Peak following the “fried egg” symbols on the rocks. There isn’t a path there, it is too rocky, so the rangers or naturalists many years ago spray painted fried egg symbols on the rocks so hikers will know where it is safe to climb.

I don’t think I mentioned why we had to leave so early in the morning. The reason is that you have to leave the summit at 11:00am to get far enough down the mountain so that when the usual afternoon storms come in you don’t get hit by lightening. I mean, you are the tallest thing in the park when you are up there, and unless you want to get fried like the egg symbols, you better be leaving the summit at 11:00 am.

We arrived at the summit, panting and exuberant! The air was so thin. We signed the register which is kept in a screw tight metal container, each ate an orange and some granola and just soaked in the view and the knowledge that we did it! We couldn’t have done it alone—no way. We needed each other. We encouraged each other. We helped each other up when we fell. Together we did it!

Then, before we knew it, it was time to head back down to our camp. Down the fried egg trail, through the key hole and across the boulder field where we picked up the path again and we were on our way down.

I can’t remember how long it took to get down, but I know we were gone about 11 hours or so altogether. What an experience! After that, no matter where we went in the park we could see Long’s Peak and we knew we had been there, we had been at the top. We could do anything!
I am not going to make analogies to parenting or homeschooling or setting goals or anything. I think you can make them yourself. I just wanted to recount this adventure so you could see the significance of my blog title, Paths to Learning.

[ Also, as a note, the total distance was 15 miles round trip, elevation 14,259 feet with a gain of 4,259 feet, difficulty rating: strenous.I found this great blog with really awesome pictures and way more description of how difficult the trail to Long's Peak really is.]

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Refer a Friend or Yourself to Sonlight and get a great gift...

I just got back from Littleton, Colorado where I spent several days at Sonlight Curriculum learning to be a better Sonlight Consultant. I thought about what I like most about my job, and it came down to two things...

  • Encouraging parents
  • The Books

That is why I LOVE being a Sonlight Consultant—the parents and the books! As I was thinking about my favorite Sonlight book- The Great and Terrible Quest--which is one I never would have read [or even heard about] had I not been using Sonlight with my kids; I thought of you and all the other parents who love great books.

The Great and Terrible Quest is a wonderful book because while being mysterious, it conveys some important values that are missing in many books. It drives home the message of selflessness, honor, courage, looking out for others, sacrifice and so much more. The characters seem very real and symbolize the best and worst of society.

At any rate, because of my love for books and homeschooling parents I have decided to make this offer:

If you have any NEW-TO-SONLIGHT friends** that are interested in Sonlight, please refer them to me so I can be their personal consultant. You can either email me their names and addresses or they can contact me directly [via email or phone] and let me know that you referred them.

When they place a Sonlight order of $50 or more I will send you The Great and Terrible Quest*  or the Norman Rockwell print "The Land of Enchantment" as a thank you gift and I will become their personal consultant so they can email or call me year round with questions and concerns. It is a win-win situation for everyone.

As always, please let me know if there is anything I can do to help or encourage you. I have many helpful tips and suggestions regarding homeschooling and parenting on my Sonlight web page at Feel free to peruse it when you have a chance.

If you are not yet a Sonlight customer and have never signed up with a consultant at a convention, and want to refer yourself that is allowed! 

Just let me know your name and address before you order and after you place a $50 or more order, I will send you either the Great and Terrible Quest or  the Norman Rockwell Print. Pleas email me at with the information or for a consultation.

[Norman Rockwell's "The Land of Enchantment" from The Saturday Evening Post. Full-color 12.75" x 23" print on heavy art stock.]

Take care,


**A New to Sonlight Friend is one who has never ordered from Sonlight or signed up with another consultant. They are also new if they ordered only a catalog or if they ordered under $100 (total lifetime) worth of Sonlight materials.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

All Chocolate Chip Cookies are not the same!

I made some awesome chocolate chip cookies last week. The recipe called for roasting pecans for 10-15 minutes, then putting a bit of butter and salt on them, then grinding them up in a food processor and using this mix to replace some of the flour.

I used real butter, real vanilla, farm fresh eggs, real dark chocolate chunks and mixed the batter oh so gingerly so the cookies would be a melt-in-your-mouth delicacy. I scooped out rounded masses of the buttery mix, baked them on parchment paper for exactly 12 minutes and slid them on to waiting cookie racks. Can you see the delicately browned cookies? Can you smell the buttery, nutty chocolatey morsels? They are crisp on the outside and gooey and rich in the inside. Oh, my...heaven in my mouth. [recipe here]
Now, contrast that with a bag of Chips-Ahoy. I mean, they are both cookies, they both have chocolate chips, they both are round--but what exactly is partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil and artificial flavoring? They are not gooey, they are do not melt in your mouth, but in a pinch they will do and when you have a hankering for a cookie, they are not too bad.

So, when I was thinking about cookies, it made me think of curriculum. When you teach your kids by reading them great literature and exposing them to ideas and thoughts contained in literature, it is like the homemade chocolate chip cookie. It is pleasing and satisfying. Kids want more--they want to dig deeper, they enjoy the experience and learn an incredible amount as they go along. Learning through literature appeals to old and young, rich and poor, eager learners and slower learners. We can learn so much through stories--we can be transported across time and space and can experience more than we could possibly experience in our own lifetime. It is rewarding and satisfying.

But, when you learn through text books, it is kind of like a store-bought cookie. It is kind of the same--but it is not really the same at all. Textbooks take a bunch of great history or science and pre-digest it in a sort of "readers-digest" format so you get the gist, but none of the passion. Incredible events such as the explosion of the space shuttle are brieffly covered, a date given, and then the article ends with something like "but even though this launch was not successful, the space program learned from their mistakes so future launches were much safer."

UGH! Where is the passion? Where is the mourning? What is the point of the event? It leaves one wondering why they bothered to even read this book and how many pages more are assigned. Kind of like wondering why you are wasting your calories on a Chips Ahoy, when you could eat a Mrs. Fields cookie. There is just no flavor, no satisfaction-- no character at all to the cookie or the text.

Whether you are homeschooling or your kids are in a traditional school--please read to them. Read them books with passion and excitement. Introduce your kids to your heroes or read classic literature to them. If you don't know where to start, ask me, ask your librarian, ask an English teacher or get a Sonlight catalog and use it for a reading list. Use this summer to ignite your child's interest and imagination and to strengthen family bonds and have true quality and quantity time with them. Read to them and maybe whip up a batch of cookies too! It couldn't hurt!

Take care,

Recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies.