The following post comes from an interview between host Stephanie and her guests Katy and Judy. Watch the video embedded below or read the full transcript to see why you are qualified to teach your children at home.
Stephanie (00:02): Hello everyone, and welcome to Overcoming Your Fear of Homeschooling. Today I am joined by Judy and Katy. Judy is with Sonlight and I’m going to let her introduce herself. Judy, welcome and why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Judy (00:20): Thanks Steph. So yes, I’m a homeschooling mom of three, all of whom have graduated from school and graduated from college. And now actually I have grandchildren who are coming up to school age. And so, yes, I’m passionate about Sonlight curriculum because it was such a positive experience for our family. I’m also the Marketing Sales Coordinator for Sonlight. So it’s a privilege to be able to actually work with different Sonlight moms and have them go out and talk to people on the convention floor. And even though you didn’t see us this year, we’re believing that that’s going to happen again next year. And so hopefully we’ll be able to see you on the convention floor.
Stephanie (01:05): Great. Welcome, thank you, Judy. I’m also joined by Katy. Katy is a blogger at Homefront Lilies. Katy also has contributed to the Sonlight blog before. She’s an avid Sonlighter, and she wrote this wonderful post that sort of spurred this conversation. I’ll let Katy introduced, and then I’ll go a little bit further into that. Katy, welcome.
Katy (01:31): Thank you. Like Stephanie said, my name is Katy and I am a mom of four kids and we have been homeschooling, we’re starting our ninth year and we’ve been using Sonlight all nine of those years. I’m also married to Michael, my husband, who is a minister. So I partner with him a lot in our ministry and it’s just a crazy busy, exciting life.
Stephanie (02:01): I am sure. Thank you so much for joining us. Katy wrote this great article called Overcoming Your Fear of Homeschooling. And so we wanted to record a little bit about that and talk a little bit about how you can overcome your fears and sort of how you can take that approach even with Sonlight. So the first question that I have is probably one, a lot of parents experienced either parents who are homeschooling already or just starting, or were sort of pushed into facilitating school at home this last year. Tell me you handle it if your child gets overwhelmed with homeschool or school in general, how do you handle if your child gets overwhelmed? Katy, why don’t you start?
The Importance of Taking Frequent Breaks
Katy (03:09): Okay. When I feel overwhelmed or when my kids feel overwhelmed, I think the best thing to do is just take a break. Whether that break is for 30 minutes, for an hour, for a week, like just depending on the circumstance and the situation. So recently I got the book, The Cure, that Amy has written. So I read that and it was like a light bulb went on because it just made so much sense as to why when our kids get overwhelmed and they put up that wall. And after that, it’s like, “No more, I’m done.” And they just put up that wall and it was not coming down.
Katy (03:53): So something I have found to do when that situation happens, especially using Sonlight. What I do is I’ll take our read-aloud and say, “Okay, we’re going to stop, get out some colors, get out LEGO, whatever that they enjoy doing, and I’m going to read.” Because the number one thing that my kids will tell people that is their favorite part of school is a read-aloud. And so for them to just relax and to listen to that book and just enjoy a 30 minute chapter or however long it takes, that kind of releases that stress and that tension and that overwhelmed feeling that they had and me to as well. So I think that’s probably the number one thing I would say is just take a break, find something that your family enjoys doing and that your kids enjoy doing so that they can just take a breather, because if you keep pushing and it’s just only going to get worse.
Stephanie (04:59): Absolutely. Judy. Yeah.
Judy (05:04): I think that’s an excellent approach and that certainly worked well in our family over the years. I think one other thing that I found would often work with my kids would be a change of environment. So if we were frustrated sitting at the table doing math and there were tears over handwriting or whatever I often would do, just what Katy described say, “Okay, let’s take a break.” And a lot of times I would say, “Let’s get outside.” And sometimes we just needed to burn some energy. Sometimes we just needed a change of pace or to look at something other than a book or a workbook. And so sometimes just a change of environment makes a difference as well.
Katy (05:47): I totally agree on that, especially because we have three boys and sometimes just saying, “Okay, run out there and back a couple of times.” And that just kind helps everything come back down to.
Stephanie (06:02): We live in a cul-de-sac and I’d be like, “Okay, I’m going to at time you, you have to run around the cul-de-sac for three minutes. Run!” It helps.
Judy (06:10): Yes it does.
Stephanie (06:15): I think all of that is great. The other thing is there’s only a certain amount of time that you should be focused on a particular subject. So if things get frustrating, it’s totally okay to put it down and walk away and do something else completely. So that’s the biggest takeaway?
Katy (06:32): And I think that for new homeschool parents, the reason I said that is because it’s so important because when I first started homeschooling, I felt like if we didn’t finish this, if she doesn’t get it, if it’s not just so then I’m a failure. And so I would push it and push it and push it. And then I realized I was actually doing more harm than good, so.
Stephanie (06:58): Yeah. So something often that we hear is, “I’m just not qualified to homeschool.” How do you overcome that feeling and what advice do you have for other parents who might be feeling that right now?
Katy (07:13): Well, I would say that if you are wanting to homeschool or if you are homeschooling, you’re probably going to feel unqualified at least once a week or maybe every day, because I feel that way a lot. But in order to overcome that, I think that there are some things that we can do. So reading books, talking to others that have gone before us that are more mature, either years or age, also listening to podcasts, watching YouTube. But will also say that can also be a negative sometimes because if we’re watching those videos and are reading books and everything looks perfect from other people, then we can start feeling bad about ourselves. So you just kind of have to take it with a grain of salt and you have to take it and apply it to yourself and say, “Okay, what are some things that I’m learning? But I don’t have to be like those people, I’m my own person. So I just have to take a few things and apply them to our life.”
You Are Your Child’s Best Teacher
Judy (08:22): You also have to remember that you are your child’s best teacher. You are the person who is the most motivated to see that child succeed, even though there are wonderful school teachers out there, none of them are related to your child. And so you have a high level of motivation to see your child succeed and who taught that child how to get dressed and to tie their shoes and to cut a piece of meat on their plate? You did. And so you already have that teaching relationship with your child.
Stephanie (09:00): That’s great. So there are so many curriculums out there, I’m going to let Judy lead this one because the first thing I want to do is talk about the different types of homeschooling. And then we can talk about how you picked each individualized, how you picked the curriculum that best works for your family. So Judy, why don’t you talk a little bit first about what types of curriculum there are?
Judy (09:23): Well, when I started homeschooling back in the dark ages, there weren’t that many to choose from. But today, if you walk into a homeschool convention and step into the exhibit hall, it can be like a overwhelming kind of a glaze your eyes over experience because there are so many choices out there and that’s wonderful, and it’s a great opportunity. But if you are feeling overwhelmed, a lot of times what helps is to maybe get them into manageable categories or chunks. And so some of the better known types of homeschooling would be a very traditional workbook, textbook approach to homeschooling, probably what we were used to when we went to school. And so there are a number of companies out there who follow that type of program for homeschooling.
Judy (10:18): Then another type of homeschooling style is what’s called the unit study approach where it’s more topical and you take all of the school subjects and kind of build them around a topic like baseball or maybe nature or animals or whatever. And you tie a lot of your school studies into that topic. And a lot of kids find that to be very engaging.
Judy (10:47): Then there is what we call a literature-based approach to homeschooling. And that is exactly what Sonlight is. That is where many subjects like science and history and Bible, instead of using textbooks to learn and to teach those subjects, we use good literature. And we do that because when you wrap literature knowledge in a story form, like you’d find in literature, it’s a much more engaging way to learn. And when you provide context for that knowledge, then kids retain that information much longer. And so for a lot of people, ourselves included, obviously literature based learning is a very good approach.
Judy (11:32): And then you can go all the way to the other end of the spectrum, and you can look at what’s sometimes referred to as un-schooling or delight-directed learning, where instead of following a schedule or a particular curriculum, you are letting your child guide or give direction to your studies based on their interests.
Choosing Sonlight Homeschool Curriculum
Stephanie (11:59): Okay. How about, how did you pick? I know you said that there weren’t a whole lot of choices out there when you started, but tell us how you came to find Sonlight?
Judy (12:12): We went to a homeschool convention a couple of years before our oldest was old enough for school because she was an avid reader at a very young age. And so we wanted to see what was out there. And we had some very good friends who’d had not a positive experience with their schooling choice. And so we kind of walked through that experience with them, prayed with them and kind of went through the steps with them as they chose to homeschool. And so through helping them to do research, we began to consider that for our own kids. And the first year we just chose one because it sounded good and brought it home in a very short amount of time, discovered it was not a good fit for our family, but there was no guarantee or anything on it. So we were stuck with it for a year. And throughout that year, though, we made the best of it, I was constantly talking to friends and saying, “What do you use? What do you use?” And fortunately, one of my friends was an avid Sonlight user, even back then, Sonlight was a very young company at that point. And I was just enamored because it was based on books and I had a child who loved to read. And so that’s how we chose.
Stephanie (13:33): Katy, how about you, how’d you find Sonlight and what do you think made you stay?
Katy (13:43): Well when I started looking into homeschooling because I was not homeschooled, I went to public school and private school and never dreamed that I would be homeschooling my kids. And so when I started looking, I had no idea, like it was a blank slate for me. So I just honestly started looking online. And so I found Sonlight online. And when I found Sonlight, the first time, I was like, “I love this, this is so great.” But I still wanted to see what else was out there. But every time I would look at something else, I would always go back to Sonlight, but kind of like Judy, I just loved all the books and the literature richness of the curriculum. And I really, really hate textbooks. So when I saw how we would be learning, I was like, “This is terrific.”
Katy (14:43): But I wouldn’t say my number one reason, but a very, very high up their reason for finally deciding Sonlight was the all-inclusiveness of it, because being a first time homeschool mom, and at that point we had a kindergartener and two babies, like one and three. And I was just so overwhelmed with all the choices and like how to even start. And the Sonlight was like, “Hey, buy an all-inclusive package and get started.” So that to me was such a lifesaver. And after we got it, I was so glad because it’s just all laid out and all I had to do with open it up and follow what it tells me to do. So that’s kind of how we got started and how we stuck with it, honestly.
Stephanie (15:35): Yeah. I was talking to a friend today who was like, “Tell me about Sonlight.” And I was like, “Okay.” So I start telling her about Sonlight and she’s on her computer on our website. And she’s like, “Wow, that guarantee. Wow, you can get everything and you don’t have to plan anything.” I’m like, “Yes.” So the guarantee that Judy was talking about is actually you have up to a year to use, what is it, 18 weeks of the program, up to 18 of the program. And if it’s not for you, it’s fully refundable. But if we offer that guarantee, we kind of know that you’re going to love it. So we hope that you’re going to love it just as much as we do.
Stephanie (16:18): And the other thing is the all subjects package is the all-inclusiveness. It includes everything you need. It includes the History Bible Literature, which is the core of what Sonlight is, the foundation. And then it also, you can pick math and science and electives and language arts and all the stuff that your child needs and have it shipped right to your door. So that is inevitably I think a lot of what the moms were like, “Wow, I don’t have to spend all my time planning. I don’t have to think…” And my friend also said something about the conversations. She said, “We read this book, but I don’t know if I’ll remember it.” And I said, “Well Sonlight, your sparked to have conversations with our Instructors Guide, there’s a conversation starters. So it’ll give you little tips and tricks on how to have conversations about the books that you’re reading.” And she was like, “Oh, I wish I had that when I read this book.” It was just so interesting to hear her perspective, those conversations that you get to have from the books, also a great thing.
Judy (17:28): And that instructors guide stuff is really Sonlight’s signature product. It is what pulls everything together and what allows you to certainly open and go, the daily schedule is there, so it tells you each day for each subject, exactly what you need to do. There are discussion and comprehension questions built in there and timeline assignments and geography, mapping, map work assignments. And so truly that is the part that I think for me is what kept me using Sonlight was the fact that as I added children to my homeschool, I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel and figure out how much to read each day and go to the library and get all the books. And so yeah, that instructor’s guide truly is a lifesaver.
Following and Flexing the Instructor’s Guide
Stephanie (18:23): Yeah, absolutely. It’s just a guide, you can follow it exactly as it’s written or you can flex it to fit your life. Do you guys follow it pretty specifically, or did you find it was easier to maybe block schedule or change things up a little bit?
Katy (18:43): Yeah. I was going to make a note there, especially for newer people trying to use Sonlight. When I first got it, I thought I had to do everything on it. And then I realized I don’t have to do everything on it, however I want to use it, but it’s there for me.
Judy (19:01): And it’s also a great tool for record-keeping. I homeschooled in a state that was very regulation heavy at the time and so I had to be able to prove on a quarterly basis what my children accomplished in school. And so that lovely grid that Stephanie showed you, you could check mark each box as you complete an assignment, or you could pencil a date in when you did the assignment. If you decided that you wanted to skip an assignment, which is totally fine to do you put an X through it or use a black marking pen and mark it out. And so, yes, by the time I was done with the school year or each quarter, when I had to report, I had a very clear picture of what my kids had done.
A Typical Day of Homeschooling
Stephanie (19:53): That really does help with anyone who might feel overwhelmed, have it all scheduled and planned and ready for you to report all those things. So tell me a little, Katy, I’m going to ask you this question because Judy said that her children have moved on. Although Judy, if you want to jump in and provide any insight on how your day was back in the day, you certainly can. Tell me a little bit about what a day in the life homeschooling might look like, how much time it takes anything like that?
Katy (20:23): Okay. Well, right now it looks a little different because we are homeschooling year-round just because of our lifestyle. It just fits better with us, but the summer time is just kind of different because we’re kind of hit and miss a lot, but I do have do block scheduling for our base. I know you can’t really see it, but this is how I break down our day. And so I do it by blocks because that way it’s kind of more flexible than, eight o’clock we do this, nine o’clock we do this, that that kind of stuff. So we have a morning time that we just have time to do like get dressed, brush your teeth, that kind of stuff. And then just do some contributions around the house, chores if you want to call them, we have breakfast and Bible together. And then at 9:30ish, we start actual schoolwork.
Katy (21:25): I know it’s [inaudible 00:21:28], but we have a daughter who’s our oldest, and then our three boys at the end. So my daughter has always kind of done school on her own, I don’t mean like on her own independently. I just mean I combine a lot with the boys, but with her, I’ve never combined them. It’s just a mixture of oil and water. So we just separate them. So I try to get this school done with the boys and let her kind of do her thing. And then I’ll instruct her as well. But we do that as a block and then we have a lunch break and do lunch as well as play outside or do whatever and just have a break in between.
Katy (22:12): And so then after lunch, we had about an hour that if work is not finished or we need to do something else, then we take about an hour to finish up. So usually we’re done about two o’clock. And like I said, it’s more just kind of a guideline, not necessarily like strict times.
Judy (22:29): I think the only thing that I would add is Katy described what works best based on her family circumstances. And I think that’s really the key is to realize that you can flex your schedule and your day can look like whatever you need it to look like.
Chocolate and Patience
Stephanie (22:52): Let’s talk about patience. I feel like as parents, we probably need it. But also if you’re thinking about homeschooling or feeling a little overwhelmed about the prospect of homeschooling, or maybe you’re in it and you still can’t figure out the patience piece of it, maybe is there any advice that you would give that parent worried about having enough patience to continue or to start teaching their child or to… Anything, anything you can provide? I know sometimes I’d have to take a moment, find my Jesus and move on.
Katy (23:33): Dark chocolate.
Stephanie (23:36): That’s true. That too.
Katy (23:39): Well, the one thing I would say is to go slow. I know that may not sense, but here’s why I say that because if you go at it and just full throttle and you just try to do everything, all at one time and just bombard everybody with everything, people are going to get frustrated and you’re going to get frustrated and you’re probably going to lose her patience, but I’ve learned over the years that if I start the year slowly, then we don’t get as frustrated and we don’t lose patients right off the bat. So if we just start with maybe like one or two subjects and kind of work our way into it. So for the first week of school, we may do two subjects and that’s it. And then the next week we’ll add some more, but it was just learned if we just kind of take things slowly and not rush into it and not bombard people or our children, honestly, people that it just seems to kind of go smoothly because we’re getting used to it together. Does that make sense?
Stephanie (24:52): It sure does.
Judy (24:54): Yeah. I think too, even just in parenting, you are going to lose your patience. There’s no question about that. Sometimes it will be outside circumstances and sometimes it may be something that you’re struggling with that just needs to be resolved. But absolutely. And I think we need to realize one of the things that someone told me who was on the path ahead of me in their homeschooling journey was you need to realize that when your children frustrate you, it most often is not a personal thing. It has more to do with their lack of understanding or poor expectations about things. And sometimes everybody just needs to step back. And so I would often look at my children and say, “I need five minutes of not looking at your face. So please go to your room or go in the other room and I’m going to step aside.” And I would usually go find someplace quiet and I would pray. And it usually was a prayer desperation, “Lord I really need you to help me in this situation.” And I think if, instead of rolling with the emotion of the moment, that we cannot allow ourselves permission to step back and regain our perspective. It benefits our own hearts and it certainly benefits our kids.
Katy (26:17): Yeah, and I think too, that especially new homeschool parents need to hear this, that you’re not going to have great days every day. There are going to be hard days and they’re going to be times that you’re like, “I can’t do this anymore.” But I wrote a post for Sonlight’s blog about how bad days are actually good for us. And I know that sounds counterintuitive, but they are good because then that way it helps us to step back and reevaluate. And it helps us to say, ” I need to change? Do my kids need to change?” It also keeps us humble because it helps us to remember that we can’t do this on our own strength, but it’s the Lord’s strength that will get us through it. And so those bad days are definitely days that, like you said, you have to go and pray that prayer it’s like, “Lord I can’t do this.” So I do want to encourage all parents the bad days aren’t always so bad because they do teach us a lot.
Judy (27:30): Absolutely.
Goal-setting for Your Homeschool
Stephanie (27:32): Judy, I know that before you… We’ve talked about it before, but you wrote like a mission and goals for your homeschool. Did you include your children in some of those, or did you go through them with your children after you’ve picked them? Because maybe them understanding some of the goals of the day or the year of the week, whatever it looks like help a little bit too, right?
Judy (27:56): Yes. Yes. My husband and I would take time somehow. And it varied from year to year, whether we would go out to dinner or just go for a walk or whatever, sometime in the summer. And we would spend some time talking about how the previous school year went and where each child excelled and where each child struggled. And then we would set some goals for the coming school year and we would set academic goals and we would also set spiritual goals for our kids. And just a couple, we weren’t trying to have some massive unreachable goal statement for our homeschool. When our children were younger, I would not say that we included them in those conversations. No, it just became part of how we ran our homeschool. And we primarily did it because I found in… And maybe Katie, you do too that lot about January or February after the holiday, excitement and drama has died. And living in upstate New York, there’s about six feet of snow on the ground. And not a lot you could do outside. I began to wonder in sort of my children, why are we doing this? And so having those goals written down on a little index card on my refrigerator was where I would stop and look at that and say, “This is why.”
Judy (29:17): When my kids got older, we absolutely shared with them, allowed them to set some goals for themselves, because our whole point ultimately was to make them independent learners and good managers of their time. And certainly to have a close relationship with, and personal relationship with Jesus. So yes, we did include as they got older. But those goal setting sessions were important.
Advice for When You Feel Overwhelmed
Stephanie (29:47): Absolutely. Well, the last thing I have is advice. It is like gold, I’m sure to any new homeschooler or someone who’s feeling overwhelmed, what piece of advice would you leave for that person?
Katy (30:07): Okay. I have five quick things and I’ll go through them really fast. So Judy kind of hit on my first one about identifying your purpose. So if you don’t have that goal or that purpose of why you want to homeschool, then you’re going to lose sight of what you’re doing. And so when the hard times do come, then you’re going to be like… You’re going to bail out, “Why am I doing this?” But if you have that focus or that purpose, then you’re going to hold onto that. And I love that you put it on your refrigerator, Judy, to keep it in front of you always.
Katy (30:47): And then also talk to others. And I know I touched on that before, but I just feel like that is such a huge thing. Because I remember just talking to all these moms that had homeschooled for a long time and just asking questions and then asking questions until they were just tired of my questions. But I also remember as a new or looking for curriculum, I remember calling Sonlight and just talking to one of their advisors and I was like, “Wow, you can actually do that. I didn’t know that.” So that was a huge help too, just to talk through my questions was someone that was experienced and just was willing to listen.
Katy (31:30): And then also number three is to let your purpose that you set, let that kind of guide what you do and what curriculum you choose. Because if your family learns or enjoys learning a certain way, then you wouldn’t want to waste your time with something that is opposite of what they enjoy. And so just sticking with your purpose to help you find the right curriculum.
Katy (31:57): And then the fourth thing is, like I said, a minute ago is just to find your strength and in the Lord and let his word be your foundation, because that is what’s going to keep you grounded and that’s, what’s going to help you most. Even when those hard days come, he is going to uphold you, even though if you don’t feel like it, he’s there and he’s going to encourage you and you would be surprised at, a friend may encourage you that day. And you’re like, “Well, I really needed that.” I mean, there’s always going to be some encouragement if you just seek him first.
Katy (32:35): And then lastly, don’t let your home deter you from homeschooling. So if you have a small home, don’t think, “Oh, I can’t homeschool because I don’t have space for things.” Or, “I don’t have a school room.” Or, “I don’t have this or that.” You just have to be creative and use what you have. So in our eight years of homeschooling, we’ve lived in multiple houses, and so some of them we’ve had to space to put a room designated for homeschooling and some of them, we haven’t. Like this one that we are living in now, I just use the [inaudible 00:33:09]. That’s where all of our books go and all of our stuff goes, and then we just do our work at the table or outside or wherever we can. So I would just say, don’t let that be a deterrent to you.
Judy (33:27): I would tack on find yourself a community. And Katy alluded to that already. Look for those who are further down the path on the homeschooling journey than you are, and whether that’s a local co-op or whether it’s a group of people you meet at your church who are also homeschooling, or maybe in your neighborhood. Sonlight has a community called Sonlight Connections. And you can learn about that on our website as well, where you can come and talk with moms and dads, homeschooling moms and dads from around the world in our closed Facebook group. And you can ask questions and they love to share their passion for Sonlight. And before it you’ll become one of those people who love to share your passion for Sonlight. But find your community because we were never intended to do life or homeschooling as a solo act. And so God built into us a desire for relationship. And you need that community when you’re homeschooling.
Katy (34:30): Yes. And I just want to say one more thing now that it came to my mind, but if you are a parent wanting to homeschool, but you’re just overwhelmed by the thought of it or you’re scared. I just want to encourage you not to let that fear grip your willingness to say yes. So if you just say, “Okay, I’m going to start.” Then that’s moving forward. You know what I mean? That’s progress. So if we never start, then we won’t ever move forward. And so you just got to try it. If you get into it and you’re like, “This is not for me.” There’s other options. What does it hurt?
Stephanie (35:14): Absolutely. I appreciate your wisdom and your time today so much. Thank you, Judy. Thank you, Katy. I’m Stephanie Rose, I’m the Community Manager at Sonlight. I realized at the beginning, I forgot to say that. So hopefully you made it to the end because now you know who I am. And I am so appreciative of the two of you sharing all your advice, all your wisdom on Overcoming Your Fear of Homeschooling. Thank you.
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