Handling the Hard Days of Homeschooling

March 17, 2021

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Handling the Hard Days of Homeschooling

Homeschooling is a wonderful choice for a family. Kids get superb academics and family bonds deepen. Yet in spite of the advantages, there will still be difficult days. At times you’ll wonder why you chose this path. And you may even want to quit.

Learn from two veteran homeschool moms who have counseled thousands of homeschool parents. They can help you take a fresh perspective on your difficulties and find some bedrock principles for building your homeschool lifestyle. With these truisms in place, you can better handle the hard days of homeschooling.

TRANSCRIPT: Advice from a Reluctant Homeschooler Turned Curriculum Founder

Watch the video above or read the transcript below to digest the same information in a different format. 

Stephanie (00:02): Hello everyone and welcome. Yay. I’m so happy. I’m Stephanie from Sonlight. I’m the community manager. I have today with me, Judy and Sarita Holzmann. Judy is with me in the marketing department, and you might have seen her if you’ve ever attended a convention. She is a veteran homeschooler and is out there talking to all kinds of people about homeschooling. Sarita Holzmann is our president and founder. She is the Sonlight guru. She’s the person who picks the books. She’s the person who started this 30 years ago. Congratulations, Sarita, on 30 years, and thank you both for being here. I think it’s great. Sarita, I am so happy that you’ve joined us. I know that you have a unique homeschool story, and it might align with some of the parents who are joining us today. Could you share your story with us and how you started homeschooling?

How Sarita Became a Homeschooler

Sarita (01:01): I’d be glad to, and Stephanie’s right. Back in the day when I was [inaudible 00:01:07], a lot of people were homeschooling and some of the moms had decided they were going to do it, and they were planning when their kids were babies. That is not my story. My husband came to me. He said, “Oh, I wonder if we should homeschool our children.” We were living in Southern California at the time, and schooling was very expensive. The school system where we lived was very poor. Kids were bused to a very substandard school. So we were… The only option we felt like we had was to put our kids in the local Christian school, but it was very expensive. He said, “Oh, maybe we should homeschool our kids.” He had been to a family that was homeschooling. The kids were sharp, and they were articulate. They asked good questions, and he was very impressed.

Sarita (01:46): And I said to him, “You’re not putting me in that box. They figured out how to do that. Why in the world would we reinvent the wheel? I don’t want to do that. That’s not where I live and breathe.” But our finances pushed us in a particular way. And I thought, well, could probably do it for one year because you probably won’t ruin your children forever if you don’t do it exactly perfectly for that one year. I took my nerves in my hand and decided I would try it. I found out that I really loved it. It was one of those where I felt like I had a really great chance to meet my kids. And I got to know them in a really unique, in a precious way. And this many years later, I am so grateful God allowed us to do that with our family. It was something that I came in, kicking and screaming, but I’m going out saying, even if you don’t want to, it could be that this is something that’s a great opportunity for your family as well. Been very, very good for our family.

Stephanie (02:46): Yes. I love that story. I think so many people can probably relate to that. Then you find out that you absolutely love it.

Sarita (02:55): Love it.

How Sonlight Curriculum Came to Be

Stephanie (02:58):So why did you start Sonlight? Can we talk a little about that? And maybe how literature-based works together?

Sarita (03:07): Let’s start with Sonlight. Why I started the company was, back in the day, this was of course 30 years ago; 30 years ago there were just a couple of companies that said, “We supply curriculum for schools and we’ll also let homeschoolers use it.” I thought, I had used a textbook education, and I thought, I don’t necessarily want that for my children. While they’re solid and while they can be full of good information, it can be dry and dull. What I decided to do instead was to pick what I felt was the best of the best and use it with my own kids. And after a year, I kind of like, wow, we’re just having so much fun.

Sarita (03:48): A neighbor who lived in my backyard, who was a missionary who was home from the field came and she said to me, “Sarita, what we really need to do is pick the best of the best and put it in a box and send it to friends of mine who live overseas. Because if you think it’s hard to pick materials here, it’s 10 times as hard overseas. You can read about something in a catalog, and you’re like, “Oh, that looks like the greatest thing since sliced bread.” And then you order it, it takes six months to get there, and then it doesn’t work at all. So if we could figure out what are the best materials, put them in a box and send them to friends of mine, that would be a great thing.” And I thought, well, I’m a pretty organized person. I could probably do that in the afternoons while my children nap.

Sarita (04:31): We were in a missions community at the time. One of the things we had been told was the first main reason people came home from the field was they couldn’t get along with one another. I thought I can’t do anything about that. But the second reason they came home was they didn’t know what to do with their kids’ education. I thought, if I could solve that, if I could keep a missionary on the field for one more year, boy, that would be a great thing to do. So I thought, well, let me try that. And that’s really how Sonlight started. It was one of those where I got together with my backyard neighbor, we talked things through and worked things out, and she wrote the original schedules and she told her friends, and that’s really where Sonlight started.

What Is Literature-Based Homeschooling?

Sarita (05:07): So basically, what is a literature-based curriculum? Basically, it uses books. Sonlight happens to have a history theme. So we choose a topic of history that we want to study. We’ll pick a couple of great books that will help us with it. Then we plug in Readers and Read-Alouds that tie to that history. So there’s all kinds of connections that happen in the brain. We found it to be a very effective way to learn partially because a story, of course, pulls you in. It’s compelling and it grips your heart. It’s something that kids can’t wait to get to the end of. They’re engaged the whole time while you’re reading a story to them. It makes the history that you’re studying come alive because you have protagonists and antagonists that are warring with one another and things are happening in the story. But it’s one of those where we found that this is the most effective way. Kids remember the things that they hear in the stories that grip their hearts. Judy, you want to add anything to that?

Judy (06:07): I think the other thing that’s always impressed me about learning with books is that it gives context to what you’re reading. When you learn from a textbook, you’re memorizing dates from here and names from here and events from over here and kids hang on to them just long enough to spit them back out on a test. And then all that information disappears. At least it did for me. So when you put that information in a story and you give context and emotion that connects the student to the information, they hang on to it for a very long time.

Sarita (06:45): We found that students will get on a standardized test somewhere and they’ll have multiple choice questions there and the kids, because of the way they’ve been taught, will be able to reason out the answers to things, even if they’ve never memorized the dates. And, of course, we don’t recommend that you memorize things anyway, because you can look up anything on your phone, right? So if you have a plan and a big picture overview, and you have stories that have made it all come alive… Very, very effective way to learn.

Sonlight Catalog

The Sonlight Instructor’s Guide Makes Life Easier

Stephanie (07:14): Absolutely. How many people remember their favorite childhood book, right? Read it and reread it. Well, think about if those books taught you great things about history. So true. Let’s talk a little bit about the Sonlight Instructor’s Guide. Judy, I wanted to talk a little bit about this because I think it’s important that people understand putting together all of the literature in a schedule really does help it work out. So I have a schedule…I have one here that I’m going to show while Judy talks a little bit about the Sonlight Instructor’s Guide.

Judy (07:52): Sure. All those books, I mean, if you’re a book lover, like I am all those books, that’s amazing. The problem comes when Monday morning of the first day of school rolls around and you think, “Well, now what do I do? You know, I’ve got all these books and which one am I supposed to read? And how much am I supposed to read?” That’s where Sonlight’s Instructor’s Guides come in. We’ve taken all of that literature, and we’ve categorized it by subject. Then we’ve scheduled it by day. So each day of the week, each title that you’re reading, you know exactly how much you’re supposed to read, what you’re supposed to accomplish in that day. And in addition to that, those Instructor’s Guides have discussion and comprehension questions, and map assignments and timeline assignments; all of the resources that you need to be able to be sure that your children have not only heard what you read, but understood and are taking away.

Sonlight Instructor's Guides

Judy (08:56): We’re hooking information in a lot of different ways because we know that if we take one piece of information and teach it multiple different ways, the kids hang on to it. That’s what that Instructor’s Guide does. It also gives you a very easy way to keep track of how much school you’ve done. If you live in a state where you have to report regularly how much school your children have done, that schedule portion of the Instructor’s Guide, each time you complete an assignment, you check it off or you pencil a date in there and you have a concrete, solid demonstration of all the work that your children have accomplished during that school year.

Stephanie (09:43): This is super flexible. It’s made to be flexible. Like Judy said, some people go through the day, each day. Some people will block schedules that they’ll do science, or maybe even language arts or something on a certain day, so they’ll pull things out and they’ll work sort of across this way. If you get into a really good book and your children keep saying, “Mom, don’t stop reading,” just keep reading and mark that off as you go and come back to something else the next day. So it is super flexible.

Judy (10:15): Yes, it is what holds Sonlight together.

Literature-Based Learning Is Enjoyable

Stephanie (10:18): For sure. Let’s talk about the literature-based education approach and how it really does make learning more enjoyable. We touched on this a little bit, but Sarita, maybe you could talk a little bit more about that.

Sarita (10:34): Well, I think as you mentioned earlier, when you have a great book, it both grips your heart, it can teach you great vocabulary, can teach you empathy, things that you would never, ever, ever glean from a textbook. It’s a way of… We call it painless learning, right? It’s just a way of learning things in a way that are approachable.

Sarita (10:57): I can remember going to a convention way back in the day, and one of the speakers said, “Oh, my husband worked in the next room and he worked as the principal. And he would come in and take care of discipline problems as they arose,” and I thought, I actually can’t even relate to that because it’s one of those where, as you sit and read stories with your children, you have a chance to both interact with them and you get to talk with them about deeper levels because stories bring up things in very natural ways. We can talk through issues. We can talk through things that are important. Important topics can come up from a book and you can handle things in a way that kind of takes it out of you, but still impacts your heart and the hearts of your children. Judy, do you have more to add?

Judy (11:42): That last part was especially meaningful to me when I was homeschooling my children with Sonlight. Those relationships, those bonds that we developed over time that we really didn’t even realize were happening just because we were reading together. And we were having conversations about fun things, but also about very difficult topics that come up when you read a well-written book. Not only are students getting superior academic education, literature-based learning, but even more than that, you’re developing relationships within your family that last a lifetime.

Sarita (12:20): How many of us can say, “Boy, I liked my kids beforehand, but wow, I love my kids, now.” I know how smart they are. And I had this chance to really invest in them and [inaudible 00:12:34] just does all kinds of great things for our families, doesn’t it?

Stephanie (12:39): I want wanted to say the Instructor’s Guide does have some discussion topics. So Judy mentioned this, but you go off of these topics once you start reading these books, these are just conversation starters, but things come up throughout the entire book that really are meaningful.

Facing the Hard Days of Homeschooling: Focus on Your Goals

Stephanie (12:59): So let’s get down to the goods. We have probably new homeschoolers joining us today. We also have veteran homeschoolers today. Let’s talk a little bit about the advice that you might have for both of those groups of people and neat tips or anything that you can provide them that might help them on their journey. Judy, do you want to start?

Judy (13:27): I think there’s three things that I try always to remember to share with new homeschoolers and with homeschooling moms who we often meet on the convention floor, who come back and say, “Boy, has this been a year. And I’m not sure I can do this again for another year.” I say to them, I think number one, it’s very helpful if you decide what your goals are before you start. My husband and I used to each summer, find a way to block out some time, maybe we’d go for a walk together or maybe we’d get dinner together or whatever, and we would talk about the challenges that each of our kids had in the previous school year and the victories that we celebrated with them. Then we would turn around and look ahead and say, “Okay, we’re going to choose three spiritual goals for each one of our kids and three academic goals.”

Judy (14:21): I would write those down on an index card, nothing fancy, and stick them on my refrigerator. It was there for those days when I couldn’t remember why it was, I was homeschooling my children, especially in January, right after the holidays, when everybody’s coming down off that sugar holiday high and in upstate New York where I’d homeschooled there’s six feet of snow on the ground and you really don’t enjoy going outside. Why is it I’m doing this homeschooling thing? And those goals were easy to see and easy to find. It was a good reminder, and it also helped as my kids got older to set expectations for them. They knew what our goals were, what our focus was going to be for the coming year and so there were no surprises. I think the other thing that was very, very helpful for us was that we constantly fostered what we called the team mentality.

Facing the Hard Days of Homeschooling: Build a Team Mentality

Judy (15:21): This was not a teacher-student or a mom and dad-kid mentality most of the time. Homeschooling became part of our life. We didn’t just educate our children from nine to noon or eight to four or whatever. It became, what someone once said to me, was a lifestyle of learning. The only way that that was going to work was if we all worked on it together. My kids learned how to do laundry, and they learned how to cook meals, and they learned how to make beds and all of those things, what we all did, because if we all shared that part of our daily life, then we also all got to enjoy the fun things, the field trips and the vacations and the, “Hey it’s seven o’clock at night, and it’s still 80 degrees. Let’s go get an ice cream cone” kind of things.

Judy (16:17):That team mentality also did away with the, “Well I made my bed and did the dishes, what did he do today?” kind of attitude. Even if it did come up, we would just pull the kids back and say, “Hey, we’re a team here. It doesn’t matter what he did have. What part have you done to help the team today?”

Facing the Hard Days of Homeschooling: Rely on Community

Judy (16:40): I think the last piece of advice would be to keep in mind that no mom, no dad, no homeschool is an island unto itself. You need a community. You need encouragement. If you’re just starting, and you’re brand new to this, find a veteran homeschooler, who’s that much further down the path on their homeschooling journey than you are and pick their brains because I’m here to tell you 99% of homeschoolers love to share their experience and what works for them. That’s just who we are. Take advantage of that. If you’ve been homeschooling a very long time and you’re getting tired and you’re discouraged, then that community is helpful in helping to restore and refresh and remind you of why you’re homeschooling. You might be able to find a homeschool co-op, hookup with your state homeschool organization. Hopefully next year, you can attend a convention again, where you can get encouraged. Or as you’ve already mentioned, Stephanie, join Sonlight Connections. There’s a lot of great conversation, questions being answered, and encouraging things being shared on that Facebook group. You want to be there.

Sonlight app

Sarita (18:06): I totally agree with what Judy’s saying. I think the idea of the lifestyle of learning, that was a huge shift for me when I started homeschooling my kids. Before that, it was kind of like, well, the schools are handling it, they’re doing it all, but then it became, well, what can we learn from this? So you do the ranger talks, or I can remember we took a vacation one year to the Hot Springs while we got books out geothermal energy. I mean, I’d never have done that before homeschooling. It’s a super great opportunity to take things and move in new directions and learn things all of your life. Honestly, that’s a super great thing to learn for your family and to model and to say those kinds of things.

Facing the Hard Days of Homeschooling: Teach Children How to Learn

Sarita (18:48): One of the things we would want to do is teach our children how to learn. That’s kind of tied to this, where they have something that interests them, then you say, “Well, let’s look up more things on that. Let’s look it up on a map. Let’s look it up. Let’s go to the library and get additional books on this. This is of interest to you.” Why wouldn’t we teach our children and help them to understand that they can learn all of their minds. It’s super, super important to say we have an opportunity always to be learning and growing. It’s just one of those great things that we have a great opportunity.

Sarita (19:20): I think we can also lean on resources. For our moms right now that are trying to homeschool their kids totally in, on their own, that’s harder. Like Judy had mentioned, get on these community groups, get on people with moms that are there. Get somebody who can help you with things that are out there and that you need to have done.

Sonlight Scope & Sequence

Facing the Hard Days of Homeschooling: Learn Together

Sarita (19:39): I think one of the things that happened in our family is, you can learn together. While I was really, really good at algebra when I was in school, it was easy for me. I totally understood it. I had a harder time with geometry. So when my son got to geometry in high school, I thought, “Uh-oh.” What we chose to do was go through his geometry book together. And by gum, if we didn’t come up with strategies and figure out how to do things more effectively, but in that, we were modeling even how to learn and how to grow together. At the end of it, I can honestly say, we both got better at geometry. But you do it together and it’s a way to say, “Maybe I don’t know how to do this, but let’s figure it out together.” And that’s all of life, right? When you come up with a situation, you want to be able to say, “I don’t quite know how to do that, but let’s work it out together.” Super great tool that we can have with our children. We can grow and learn together. It’s a great thing to do.

Sarita (20:35): We can share the load. If you don’t want to teach creative writing, which probably a lot of us have struggles with, maybe you find someone who’s good at that within the homeschool community and say, “Can we trade off jobs? Can you teach my child how to sew? And I’ll teach your child how to make soap,” or whatever thing you might have that’s out there. Homeschoolers are great at sharing their pooling and their information. All of us can learn different things from different people. So find somebody who’s out there who can help you with those kinds of things. Go to the different experts that are out there, expand into your community. I know when my children were younger, the library had programs that they could connect into or junior colleges have programs that you can get into. You can get tutors. I mean, you don’t have to do this alone. There’s resources that are out there. Just ask. There’s going to be somebody who could come alongside and help you with the things that you want to do.

Sarita (21:33): These are great ways to encourage our moms as we try to teach our children because Judy’s right. Some days, particularly January is hard, but I think too, a lot of times we think, “Oh my goodness, I can’t teach this because I don’t know enough about this.” Honestly, the teaching part of it’s probably the easiest part of it. The homeschooling that’s the challenging piece of it is the training and the mentoring, which we have to do anyway. Right? Our teachers maybe, can say, “Okay, I help you sit still right now,” but to teach our children how to live life, that’s the challenging piece.

Facing the Hard Days of Homeschooling: Stay Humble

Sarita (22:10): Finally, recognize that this is the beginning of a journey. My notes say, stay humble. We cannot possibly teach our children everything they need to know by the age of 18. And honestly school systems can’t do it either. But if we can raise up kids that love to read, that love to learn, there are no barriers for them at all. They can do what ever God has called them to do. And we have an opportunity as parents to mentor and to walk alongside and to join with our children and enjoy the journey as we do it. It’s an opportunity to impact our world through the lives of our children.

Sarita (22:54): May it be that you and your family grow in this time. You know, I pray blessing on you. May you enjoy this time with your children. May your children rise up and call you, blessed. May you enjoy and pull it together and love learning together. And may this be the beginning of a lifetime journey of just a great fruit in the life of your family. May your children be empowered to do whatever God calls them to do. And may this be your very best year ever. Judy, have anything to add?

Judy (23:31): I don’t think there’s another thing I could say. Just a hearty amen. Amen.

Sarita (23:35): Thanks.

Stephanie (23:35): Agreed. Thank you both so much for that advice. I think it’s invaluable. So thank you so much.

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Handling the Hard Days of Homeschooling


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