You and Your Child Can Share the Gospel in India this Fall

LauraAll Posts, Discipleship, Family Fun, Sonlight

We want to share the good news about Jesus, but we are so self-indulgent.

Every morning, we gather at the breakfast table and thank God for our opportunity to learn and to develop our gifts for Him. We ask Him to use us in His world. Little by little, we want to learn how to love God and how to love people. Little by little, we want to share the good news with our friends and neighbors, near and far.

But I’ve gotta be honest with you: it’s hard! It’s hard to keep our eyes on Jesus when we are prone to focus on ourselves. It’s hard to offer our time and talents for Him when we have so many opportunities to indulge ourselves and to pursue our own pleasures. When I scan our schedules and budget, I’m alarmed by how consumed we are with ourselves. Even in our homeschooling, I’m tempted to make much of ourselves, while relegating Jesus (and the people He loves!) to the sidelines.

Lately, I’ve been asking God to give me more love for Jesus. I’m asking Him to help me guide our children toward living for Jesus, not for ourselves. 

May our prayer be, “More of you, Jesus. Less of me.” 

Here’s an Opportunity to Make Much of Jesus!! With Our Kids!! 🙂

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

Most days – during this season of our lives – the kids and I stay within the borders of our home, our town, our county. Every once in a while though, we get an opportunity to jump the hedges and reach out to the larger world.

This week, I heard about an awesome opportunity for us to share the gospel in India… and YOU can join us!

(This comes at such a wonderful time for us because our friends have recently adopted a precious child from India. Our kids have already been caring about India for the long haul of that adoption process. Now that they’ve met their newest friend – and are smitten – they will be even more invested in this opportunity.)

Did you know that 4 out of 5 people who believe in Jesus do so because of something that influenced them by the age of 14? In India alone, 22 million kids will turn 15 this year. Our family believes God has called us to do all we can to reach these kids before this great opportunity is missed.

A Free Opportunity to Learn about India Together

Would you like to join us in partnering with Mission India and Sonlight for a campaign called “Experience India“?

During the month of October, we can all learn how much people in India – especially kids – need to know Jesus! Over 400 million people there have never even heard His name. So, let’s do something about it!

Once you sign your family up, you’ll receive a FREE Adventure Pack (includes a free virtual reality headset) that will allow your family to walk in the footsteps of children in India – almost literally – through virtual reality! And once your experience begins, expect powerful videos, engaging devotionals, memory verses, special activities, and transformational stories from India that will captivate your family!

An Invitation to Raise Money for Year-Long Children’s Bible Clubs

There are no strings attached to the awesome opportunity to learn about India through “Experience India“.  But there is an additional opportunity!

In November, we’ll all have the opportunity to then raise money for Year-Long Children’s Bible Clubs, where kids sing songs, get homework help, and best of all, learn about Jesus. Let’s get creative in raising money – the kids can save their spare change, sell crafts, and earn money through odd jobs. We can ask friends and family to join us in supporting these Bible Clubs through a fundraising page.

Just $24 enrolls one kid, and Sonlight is matching gifts given by November 14, up to $100,000!

Join us in telling kids in India about Jesus!

Sign up for “Experience India” anytime until September 28th. Click here to learn more about it!

You and your child will learn about the children in India through the Virtual Reality Experience through the month of October. 

Then, you and your child can raise money to fund the Year-Long Children’s Bible Clubs from November 1, 2018 – November 16, 2018. 


How To Teach Multiple Sonlight Grades: Our Daily Sonlight Schedule

LauraAll Posts, Homeschooling, Sonlight

Two of the most common questions about Sonlight Curriculum are…

“How do you teach multiple students?” and,

“How much time does it take to teach multiple Sonlight grades?”

I don’t have all of the answers, but I’ll share what works for us AND give you a peak at our weekly schedule.

(P.S. I received Sonlight 100 in exchange for a series of blog posts that contain my honest opinion. This is one way that I can help provide for our family while sharing helpful information with you!)

First, a little background: We have 5 children and 3 of them are using various Sonlight curriculum.

Until last year, I kept all of my kids in the same Sonlight level, custom-fitting Language Arts and Math for each student. Halfway through last year, I noticed that our 7th grader needed more of a challenge, so she began Sonlight 100 American History while the rest of us finished Sonlight D.

This year, she’s still going strong with Sonlight 100, while our 5th grader is doing the complete curriculum for Sonlight E Intro to American History Year 2 of 2.

I use Sonlight E for our group History and Read-alouds (our 2nd and 8th grader join in). And, our 2nd grader is doing the 2nd grade Sonlight Language Arts curriculum.

Planning our weekly schedule took time and attention…

This summer, I invested a lot of prayer, time, and consideration crafting our weekly schedule. I worked diligently to figure out how our daily schedule would best promote a strong education, peace, independence, community, goodness, truth, and beauty.

What you see in our weekly schedule is a labor of love. Of course, following through with the schedule every day is a labor of love, too. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? God has called me to this beautiful and important work and I want to do it with my whole heart.

I am the schedule keeper…

I hesitate to share our daily schedule online because whenever I do, I get push-back. Critics say I’m too rigid, that I’m stealing my children’s freedom, relaxation, and wonder.  On paper, our daily schedule doesn’t look like the “gentle rhythmsthat other homeschoolers prefer.

I keep my eye on the clock.

I move us from one thing to the next when the time comes.

(But, I do it in a gentle, calm, and organized way. Does that count?)

I do this because it works best for our family.

I am happier with order and structure.

In my opinion, we have a peaceful-yet-productive atmosphere in our home. I think my kids are fun and that they have fun. Most of the time, they’re spunky, kind, curious, and relaxed kiddos.

We tend to have very happy days – even full of freedom and wonder. Our careful schedule is one of our vital tools.

Each day, we aim to complete each assignment in the Sonlight curriculum, but if we don’t finish something, we simply make a note of it and return to it the next day. If I get behind on the read-aloud schedule, we catch up by listening via audio book in the car.

I adjust the schedule as often as necessary…

As much as I am keeping the schedule, I am also always adjusting the schedule. I keep my eye open for how each child is faring. Does anyone seem too distracted? too isolated? too bored? too overwhelmed?

How can I adjust our plans to bring life into each child’s day?”

I make little adjustments on the fly and jot notes on my printed schedule. After each 6-week session, I analyze the entire weekly schedule. I keep the elements that are working and make changes where necessary. I print out a fresh schedule for the upcoming 6-week session of homeschooling.

Our schedule is based on our “best day ever”…

That’s really how I title our schedule: “Best Day Ever!!”

That title reminds me that this schedule will only happen when everything is humming along perfectly and all 6 of us are happy, healthy, and amiable.  How often does our day actually go according to plan? I don’t know… rarely? But, I do know that this schedule is our ideal and our expectation. It’s kinda like a compass that keeps us coming back to regular and good work after the tantrum, the bee sting, the frustration, or the mishap.

Without further ado…

Here’s my schedule for teaching Sonlight to Multiple Grades at Once:

(And here’s a link to the PDF: Sonlight_Daily_Schedule_With_Multiple_Grades.)


Session 1 (August 20 – September 28)

7:00 a.m. Kids wake-up (dress, make beds, chores)

7:30 – 8:00 a.m. Delightful Breakfast & Clean up (Play New City Catechism)

8:00 – 8:15 a.m. Personal Devotions (for the big kids)

8:15 – 9:00 a.m. Mom: Circle Time w/ 2nd grader, Pre-K-er, and 2-year old (calendar, songs, nursery rhymes, Bible story, games)

8th grader: Math-U-See Algebra

5th grader: Practice Violin (8:15 – 8:45)

9:00-9:30 a.m. Mom & Pre-K-er (using The Good and the Beautiful Pre-K)

8th: Sonlight 100 History

5th:  Saxon Math 6/5 (8:45 – 9:15), then Rosetta Stone French (9:15 – 9:30)

2nd: Play with 2-year old (We call this “BROTHA TIME!!”

9:30 – 10:30 a.m. Mom & 2nd Grader (Math, 2nd Grade Sonlight LA, All About Reading)

8th: Sonlight 100 Language Arts

5th: Sonlight E History (9:30 – 10:00), then practices Piano (10:00 – 10:30)

Pre K: Plays w/ special toy or does school drawers

2-year old: Crib Time (Blinds up! Music on! Fun toys and books in crib! When he’s ready to get out, he sits at the table with us and has a snack/ plays with a table toy like playdoh, a little tool box, or art supplies)

10:30 – 11 a.m. Mom w/ 5th Grader (Sonlight E Language Arts – especially Spelling, Dictation, and Writing)

8th: Typing (10:30 – 10:45), then Special Interest until 11:30 (sewing, choreography, science, art, photoshop)

2nd Grader: Sonlight LA (Explode the Code, spelling words, handwriting, copywork)

Pre-K and 2-year old watch a show (like Little Bear, Daniel Tiger, Leap Frog, etc.)

11 – 11:30 a.m. Mom: Five In A Row (FIAR) w/ 2nd Grader, Pre-K, 2-year old

8th: Special Interest

5th: Sonlight E Language Arts (including Wordly Wise)

11:30 – 12:00 p.m.  Lunch, clean-up

12:00 – 12:30 p.m. Mom: w/ each child (otherwise, recess/ free time until 1:00)

Monday: Violin w/ 5th Grader

Tuesday: Piano w/ 5th Grader

Wednesday: Bible Study w/ 8th and 5th Graders (trying Navigators 2:7 Series)

Thursday: SCIENCE/ LIT.  CO-OP

Friday: 8th, 5th, and 2nd: Take Dictation/ Spelling tests

1 – 2 p.m. Quiet Time

8th, 5th, and 2nd do Sonlight Reading assignments + Free Reading

Pre-K plays in room (sometimes naps)

2-year old naps

2 – 2:30 p.m. Afternoon Symposium: Part 1

M: Cards/ letters for people

T: Art Study

W: Nature Study

Th: Science/ Literature Co-op

F: Play a Game

2:30 – 3:00 p.m. Afternoon Symposium: Part 2

Sonlight E read-aloud while kids sketch or do water color

3 – 3:30 p.m. Tea Time w/ a delicious snack

M: Adventures in Odyssey

T: Share excerpts from Reading Journals

W: Adventures in Odyssey (Mom meets w/ mentor)

Th: Current Events

F: Poetry

3:30 – 4 p.m. Chores

6 p.m. Dinner

Scheduled evening activities: ballet lessons, worship team practice, meetings, etc.

In conclusion…

It’s easy to post an impressive schedule online at the beginning of the school year and never really implement it IRL. I feel confident in sharing this schedule with you because it’s very similar to the schedule that we enjoyed last year (and in years past). Lord willing, this is not just my “beginning of the school year pie-in-the-sky ideal that will fizzle away in a week or two”. This is really our daily life and it really works for us. Things are going well as we get the school year up-and-running.

(Now you know why I don’t talk on the phone during the day. Or knit scarves. Or run a business. Or follow through in creating even a smidgeon of the blog posts, YouTube videos, podcasts, or Instagram posts that flit through my mind. 🙂 I’m okay with that. These precious days – carefully filled with learning, connecting, discipling, and playing with my children – are what I want to do most of all.)

So, what are your questions? What other tidbits of “how homeschooling works for us” would you like to know?? 


How I Organize My Sonlight Homeschool Curriculum and Student Work

LauraAll Posts, Homeschooling, Sonlight

Check it out: A sustainable way to utilize the gargantuan Sonlight Instructor’s Guides!

This year, I’ll be teaching Sonlight 100 to our 8th grader, Sonlight E to our 5th grader, and Sonlight LA 2 to our 2nd grader.

You know what that means: larger-than-life Instructor Guides (IG). As much as I LOVE the wisdom, guidance, and plans packed in each IG, I don’t want those wide 4-inch binders stacked up on my desk. They’d be heavy. They’d be formidable. I wouldn’t use them! That’s why I came up with this plan that keeps our IG’s at my fingertips.

(First, a disclaimer: I have a new appreciation for anyone who can make their photographs of binders look beautiful. Wow. Mine look so… un-Pinterest-y. I guess the point is that I keep things simple: white binders, tabs, and clear labels from the label-maker are all I need.)

Here’s what works for us:

First, I plan our school year according to 6-week sessions. (Typically, we take a break for the 7th week, give or take a few weeks, depending on how it all works out around holidays. This gives me time to regularly re-evaluate our learning experience and restock the 1-inch binders.)

Then, I make my own slim “Mom’s Binder” that I can easily access every day. It’s a 1-inch binder with tabs that hold each child’s 6-week IG material. (It also includes plans for 6-weeks of preschool, morning time, and anything else that I like to keep on hand for daily use.)

Here’s a glimpse into that world: You’re looking at the Sonlight 100 LA section… (In the left-hand pocket, I keep the list of Sonlight 100 spelling words for easy access. On the right, I keep 6-week’s worth of IG material. Easy peasy.)

(P.S. I received Sonlight 100 in exchange for a series of blog posts that contain my honest opinion. This is one way that I can help provide for our family while sharing helpful information with you!)

Our 8th grader has a 1-inch binder for Sonlight 100 LA and Sonlight 100 History: Sonlight 100 provides a thorough Student Guide that contains most of the information in the parent’s IG. This works well for us because our 8th grader is very self-motivated and she does a great job keeping track of her own assignments.


Each 1-inch binder contains 6-weeks worth of the Sonlight 100 Student Guide for that subject. Each binder has a section for the  entire year’s worth of MAPS and any important Appendix items (like the comprehensive list of timeline figures).

It’s stored on the shelf next to a magazine file holder for that subject. Here’s a glimpse of her shelf. (Doesn’t it look so blissfully organized? You can tell we’re still basking in pre-school year organization. Love it.)

For those of you who are using Sonlight for younger kiddos, I also snapped a photo of my Pre-K and 2nd-grader’s shelf. Basically, magazine file holders are easily pulled off the shelf when I work with each child.

One contains all of the Pre-K Sweetie’s work.

One contains our 2nd grader’s math curriculum.

One contains our 2nd grader’s reading curriculum. (We’re using All About Reading and Sonlight LA 2 this year. (For most kiddos this is completely unnecessary, but All About Reading has been such a great fit for our boy and we’re going to stick with it for one more year.)

There you have it! Every 6 weeks, I pull out the bigger IG’s and simply exchange the past 6-week’s pages for the next. How do you organize your Instructor Guides? Tips and Tricks??

Want to Inspire Creative Writing? Try Sonlight Language Arts

LauraHomeschooling, Sonlight

So far, six of the kiddos in this picture love to write.

(The littlest one is still learning her ABC’s…)

Six of them have won young author awards for creative nonfiction.

And six of them have been raised on Sonlight Language Arts.

Half of these kiddos are mine, half belong to my dear friend. She and I have been friends for our entire motherhood and our children have grown up side by side. This spring, her girls wrote and illustrated outstanding picture books for the local library’s Young Author’s competition. They won 1st, 1st, and Honorable Mention.


100% of her students are incredible, thoughtful, creative writers! This points to one incredible teacher.

So I asked, “What’s your secret to raising such good writers??”

(This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for your support!)

Her answer: “Sonlight Language Arts.”

She said it’s as simple as following the curriculum. She doesn’t rush things, she doesn’t skip much. She simply progresses through the curriculum day upon day.

Then, she mentioned three specific benefits of the Sonlight Language Arts curriculum:

First, the read-alouds spark her daughters’ imaginations, build their vocabulary, and teach them effective sentence structure. Through the read-alouds and readers, her girls spend hours with excellent writers.

Secondly, the gentle Language Arts assignments build clear, precise communicators. Step by step, day by day, grain of sand by grain of sand. Again, she doesn’t rush things, she doesn’t skip much.

And finally, she took Sonlight seriously when it encouraged her to be the scribe for her creative children in their early years. As her spunky first and second graders imagined new civilizations, or created uses for a ball of string, or rattled off a list of words that describe the sunset, she’d write down their words and read them back aloud.

(Sonlight encourages young children to develop the skill of handwriting through handwriting curriculum and dictation, but wants to help kids to create and write stories without the complication and hardship of handwriting. It’s a brilliant plan!)

These days, her girls can handwrite easily, so they keep their notebooks close by and are constantly writing, writing, writing.

May the young authors continue creating, writing, and contributing to the world. Thank you, Sonlight Language Arts, for the gentle, solid, effective start.

5 Things I’d Tell My Newly-Wed Self: And Notes for Marriage Today

LauraAll Posts, Marriage

After 16 years of personal experience, Ryan and I wholeheartedly believe that God is for marriage and He wants us to make it.

That’s why He faithfully helps one frail human being love another frail human being, day after day.

For us, this has been a miracle of epic proportions.

Every June 8th, we celebrate our anniversary with the same prayer, “Lord, thank you. You have done great things in us. What would we do without you?!”

Ryan and I recently had the opportunity to encourage a group of newly-weds. We each shared a list of “5 Things I’d Tell My Newly-Wed Self”.  Here’s my list.

Dear Newly-Wed Self,

1. Be honest with yourself, your spouse, and God.

“Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.” Psalm 51:6

It can be terrifying to share anything that reveals weakness, regret, need, or inefficiency, but I urge you to face this fear! Instead of working hard to maintain a strong, confident, got-it-together exterior, work hard to slow down, reflect deeply, pray openly, and speak clearly about yourself.

You will never regret being transparent and vulnerable with your spouse, no matter how hard it is to choke out the words or work through your humanity together.

2. Learn how to keep healthy boundaries.

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Corinthians 9:7

Do not give your affection, approval, time, or energy under compulsion, manipulation, or guilt. This is not loving, generous, or submissive: rather, it’s dangerous and destructive to you and your spouse.

We all coerce and manipulate one another to some extent. Learn how to identify and overcome this unloving element in your home.

Enable and fortify healthy forms of communication.

Continually develop your own thoughts, desires, expectations, and voice. Share these valuable aspects of yourself with your spouse. Anticipate – and work toward – mutual respect.

Prayerfully figure out what you want to give so that you can give it cheerfully, healthfully, wholeheartedly.

3. Pride and self-righteousness are lying to you.

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6

Don’t waste a moment thinking you are better than your husband.

Don’t think that you would make a better “spiritual head of the home”.

Don’t think that you know everything about your husband’s heart, motives, or spiritual journey.

You’re not more righteous because you have completed more Bible study workbooks than he has.

You’re not more righteous because you stay awake and take pretty notes during the sermon and he *ahem* dozes off. You’re not more righteous because you read infinitely more theology books than he does.

Attending a weekly women’s Bible study, keeping a more-regular daily devotional time, and building more orphanages does not mean that you love Jesus more than your husband does… nor does it mean that Jesus loves you more than he loves your man.

Oh dear girl, be humble.

Continually ask the Lord to search your heart. Indulge in confession and repentance of your own sin; then you’ll be free to notice your husband’s surprising spiritual strengths. You’ll be free to cheer him on!

Pray for your man, thank him, and notice the unexpected ways that God works in his life.

4. Be generous with yourself.

“One gives freely, yet grows all the richer, another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.” Proverbs 11:24

“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6:38

Ask God to help you overcome your guardedness, your trust issues, and your stinginess. Your marriage will blossom insofar as you give life to it!

Be generous with your smile.

Be generous with your stories, your strengths, and your support.

Be generous with your hugs, kisses, and affection.

Be generous with your hope, your joy, and your song.

5. Stop criticizing asap.

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for the building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29

Take this 30-day “Husband Encouragement Challenge” asap and create a new normal.

(The challenge: “For thirty days, don’t say anything negative to or about your husband. Also, say something positive to and about your husband each day.“)

By Day 3 of your negativity fast, you will be AMAZED by the frequency of your urge to say something negative. As God gives you the grace to refrain from criticism, complaining, and negativity, He’ll also give you the grace to choose encouraging words that build up your man and your home.

This is going to rock. your. world!

Get to it.

And finally, dear newly-wed self, 16 years from now, you’ll write a little blog post about marriage and you’ll think, “Ooo, I want to keep growing in these things! I want to be more generous! I want to take that 30-Day Encouragement Challenge again!” But this time around, you want to – not because you need to – because you’ve grown to love your man.


Can You Combine Sonlight D+E with Sonlight 100?

LauraHomeschooling, Middle School, Sonlight

One of the beauties of homeschooling is learning together as a family.

As our children get older, I’m always looking for ways to gather everyone around the table to learn a common subject together.

History continues to be a great source of interest and unity in our homeschool. Every afternoon, we mix our ages and stages to enjoy a beautiful blend of stories, facts, maps, and watercolors.

(Just so you know, I received Sonlight 100 in exchange for a series of blog posts that contain my honest opinion. This is one way that I can help provide for our family while sharing helpful information with you!)

Good news! Sonlight D/E + Sonlight 100 pair well together.

With Sonlight, elementary students and junior high students can study the same historical time period, while being challenged appropriately.

This past year, I taught Sonlight 100 to my 7th grader and Sonlight D to my 4th and 1st graders.

We didn’t intend for things to work out as well as they did. We were just plugging along with our beloved Sonlight D studies of Early American History when we received a wonderful opportunity for Vivienne – our 7th grader – to begin Sonlight 100. I knew she needed more of a challenge, but I didn’t want to send her off into another historical time period or topic. Sonlight 100 was the perfect solution to our puzzle.

The timing couldn’t have been better.

“The abundance of sea-fish are almost beyond believing.” – New Englander 1630 from The Landmark History of the American People Volume 1

Viv tackled the Sonlight 100 curriculum while the rest of us – the 4th and 1st grader – continued to work through Sonlight D.

The beauty occurred when we realized that Viv’s Sonlight 100 history correlated perfectly with Sonlight D.

In the mornings, Viv read the Sonlight 100 assignments by herself – digging more deeply into the historical time period – and then joined us in the afternoon for tea, snacks, Sonlight D history and read-alouds.

Often, I would read the day’s selection aloud and all of the children would watercolor a scene in their art books from the reading – whether it was a prayerful George Washington, New England fish, or Sacajawea’s sweet papoose, Pompey.

While they worked, Viv would talk about her Sonlight 100 reading. Most of the time, she contributed quirky and lesser-known facts, which added interest to our studies and enriched our understanding of the era like, “Did you know that Benedict Arnold was fascinated by shoes?” and “Once, James Madison lost his hat and wouldn’t leave his room for two days until someone got him a big, fur hat he could wear.”

I LOVED that we could still share our history reading together and I plan to continue this plan next year.

Sonlight 100 spans early and modern history, so you can partner it with Sonlight D, Sonlight E, or Sonlight D/E.

(In our case, because Viv didn’t begin Sonlight 100 until mid-year, she’ll be completing the curriculum in the fall of 2018. It just so happens that when she picks it up again, she’ll be very close to the time-period of Sonlight E, Modern American History, that my 5th and 2nd grader will be exploring.)

Now I’m wondering, have you discovered a way to gather your children to learn together? What works for your family?

Help for the Child Who Internalizes Other People’s Negative Emotions


I am so thankful to be part of a generation of adults that aims to build empathy in children. Most of our kids need to learn how to identify with someone’s struggles and sorrows. They need to learn to jump in, speak up, and give life.

But some kids internalize too much.

They all-too-easily feel all of the pain and heartache; they shoulder the burdens of the world. They need to learn how to process and respond to negative emotions in a healthy and biblical way. These kiddos have a natural inclination toward empathy – maybe even a God-given gift of empathy – they just need to grow in wisdom.

Christians walk in the light of both Galations 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ,” and Galations 6:5 “…for each one should carry his own load.” It takes discernment to know when – and what – to carry for another person, and when to help a friend bear up under his own load.  (I first grasped this concept from Cloud and Townsend’s life-changing book, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life.)

How do we help a child who unnecessarily feels responsible for another person’s bad feelings or bad behavior?

Here’s one idea…

It was late afternoon.

I was cranky and hungry.

The kids had just shared a huge bowl of buttery popcorn while watching a summer afternoon movie.  I took the quiet minute to fix myself some apple slices, pub cheese, and crackers. I placed it on the table next to my book, sat down with a sigh of relief, and savored a bite.

On cue, the toddler released a high pitch scream from the other room – as if a herd of rhinos were kidnapping him. While I jumped up to save the day (there were 0 rhinos), one adorable four-year-old girl took my place at the dining room table.

When I returned crankier and hungrier than ever, she was dragging a cracker luxuriously through the pub cheese. She tipped her chin up and dramatically descended the cheesy cracker into her mouth. Ironically, she was dressed up in her pink satin princess dress, complete with a beautiful tiara.

The poor girl had no idea that the scene was about to change dramatically.

Evil Queen Mother, enter stage right: “Hey, that’s my snack!” I snapped. “You kids just had your snack! This is MY snack! Please go play somewhere else.”

She froze, mouth still open, cracker suspended in the air. As quick as a wink, she removed the cracker from her mouth and skittered away.

The other kids who had gathered, presumably in hopes of their own turn at the pub cheese, skittered away just as quickly.

I sat down with a sigh of remorse.

The abandoned cracker was propped awkwardly in the tub of cheese, looking surprised at its simple twist of fate.

I ate my snack in high dudgeon and unusual quiet.

After I swirled the last cracker around the bottom of the pub cheese container, I went outside to make peace with my sweet daughter.

She was now dressed up as cowgirl, leading her pink scooter-horse to its stall. Happy as a lark, she had moved on from the incident.

I sat down on the porch swing and my 7-year old son climbed up beside me, snuggling close.

“I”m sorry, Mom,” he sniffled. 

“Sorry for what?” I asked, ruffling his hair.

“I’m sorry for what happened in there. Sorry that you don’t get to eat enough snacks. We kids eat so many sacks, but I want you to eat all of the snacks.” He cried big, unashamed tears.

“Oh, my sweet tenderhearted boy,” I said. “I appreciate that you care about me, but I need you to know that this is not your fault. It’s my own responsibility to feed and take care of myself throughout the day. I got too hungry and I let my crankiness take over. My angry response toward Audrey was wrong.”

He sniffed a big old sniff and lay his head against me, burdened.

“You know,” I added, “My snack-fit had nothing to do with you. You didn’t eat my snack. I didn’t yell at you. And you certainly don’t need to feel badly or to apologize.

There were bad feelings swirling around in there, but you don’t have to take them. Just because other people are mad or sad doesn’t mean that you have to take those bad feelings on as your own burden.

“Really?” he asked, wiping a tear off his cheek.

“Really.” I answered.

We swung back and forth for a few minutes, thinking.

Then I got an idea. “As you get older,” I began, “You’ll learn how to tell the difference between bad feelings that are your responsibility and the ones that aren’t.

It’s kind of like getting your luggage from the baggage claim area at the airport.

You get off your plane and you have to get your luggage from that big conveyor belt, right? Think about all of those suitcases that are rolling by! Black ones, blue ones, red ones. Big, little. It’s important that we know what our own baggage looks like so we can take responsibility for it and carry it home. But we don’t take the other people’s bags, do we?

Bad feelings are kind of like luggage: some are yours to carry, others aren’t. Sometimes you do need to take responsibility for bad feelings, maybe you need to apologize or to care for someone in a special way. But other times, you do not. You’ll grow in wisdom, learning how to discern the burdens that God wants you to carry.”

By now, that sweet boy was sitting up tall, almost ready to hop off the swing and return to his bike.

I took two more minutes to add,

“What would we do if we were at the baggage claim area and we saw someone who couldn’t lift his bag off the conveyor belt and get it into his car? We would help him, wouldn’t we? Sometimes, we are called to help people figure out how to carry the burdens of life, we come alongside them and help them in many different ways. I think you’ll be the type of friend who helps others to grow stronger and wiser so they can live well.”

I could tell: this particular burden was lifted. He smiled at me, all toothless and cute, and ran off to play.

This is just one little conversation in an ongoing discovery. How do you help your child to understand empathy, boundaries, and compassionate love? I’d love to know.


How to Be a Mom When You Have a Cold


I’m fighting a cold as if it’s the dead of winter and the germs are flying everywhere. I’ve been up all night, propped up on pillows, breathing through my mouth like Napoleon Dynamite. When my throat begins to tickle, I dive for a spoonful of the honey on my nightstand to preempt a coughing spell. A couple of our little ones have the same cold, so it’s surprisingly convenient that I’m awake so I can pop up and get them a sip of water when they are in the midst of their own coughing fit. (The blessings of motherhood can be peculiar.)

Meanwhile, the calendar says it’s June, but it’s chilly and wet. In our town we don’t sing, “April showers bring May flowers”; we sing, “April showers bring May showers,” but now we’ll all have to add on a phrase to sing, “April showers bring May showers and May showers bring June showers…” There’s just an awful lot of showers, rain pouring down these farmhouse gutters, as if we’re running a very popular waterpark. But we’re not.

Where’s the sunshine?

Where are the flowers?

When the morning birds herald the beginning of each new day, my sinuses finally decide to drain so that I can breathe. When the alarm goes off, I’m just beginning to feel like I may finally fall asleep. I want to pull the covers over my head and try. Under the covers, my thoughts are muffled. If I do this, I’ll still be cranky and it will be even harder to fall asleep tonight…

SO, I get out of bed and go for my morning walk. Even in the rainy season, the sun still rises, the mercies of God extended to His creation. I see the same hills and valleys every morning. The same cows, the same barbed wire, the same grass growing lush as anything. I take it all in and begin to pray. I will never tire of this country walk. I let my eyes take in the scope of its beauty.

When I get home, I open my Bible for a few minutes. I’ve been reading through the book of Matthew – just a couple of verses at a time – and asking myself, “What does this passage tell me about God’s heart for people?” I’ve discovered that behind every command, every parable, every story, God demonstrates that He loves people and wants us to thrive, that Jesus is our saving grace.

And just like that, the kids wake up, windows are opened wide, breakfast is served, and dreams are discussed (Oh, not dreams like, “One day, I will save poor, dying children,” but literal dreams, like “I dreamt I wanted to help Malachi to pull his tooth out, but it was weird because his tooth was in my mouth, so I just kind of sucked it out and said, “Hey Malachi, I got your tooth out!” Yep. That sort of dream.)

It’s summer break! It’s June! And yet I’m wearing jeans, a sweatshirt, and wool socks. My nose is stuffed. I’ve lost my voice. The sun seems dim.

Yet, my calling persists: to be Mom today.

To love children, nurture them, fight for them in prayer, teach them the ways of God, and point them to Jesus. To care for myself and their daddy so that we can thrive as a family. Yet it feels like an impossible calling.

I raise my hand to rub my aching head and am reminded of the gift God has given me to guard me in weary seasons like this. The helmet of Salvation rests miraculously over my congested, muddled head. I remind myself that my hope is in the Lord. Jesus guards my thoughts and makes me confident in a battle that otherwise would turn my head. On this particular chilly summer day, I’m reminded of the song that the Israelites would sing when they were making the weary trek to the temple. They’d be almost there when a daunting hill would loom before them, the temple glittering on top.

How are we going to make it to the top? They’d wonder.

Then they’d sing,

“I lift up my eyes to the hills.

From where does my help come?

My help comes from the Lord,

who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;

he who keeps you will not slumber.

Behold, he who keeps Israel 

will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;

the Lord is your shade on your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day,

nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;

he will keep your life.

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.”

Psalm 121

Are you looking upon the day ahead as if it’s a hill looming high and ominous? The Lord will keep your life today. He has always kept your yesterdays. He will always keep your today.


Feeling BLAH About Homeschooling? How To Keep On When You Want to Quit

LauraAll Posts, Homeschooling, Sonlight

For the first time in my life I feel uninspired about homeschooling.

There’s no magic. No sparkly feelings. Nothing.

This is odd for me because I’ve been a homeschool enthusiast since I was a child.

While other kids dreamed of becoming the POTUS or the first person to set foot on Mars, I gazed starry-eyed at the prospect of gathering my children onto my lap for heartwarming songs and beautiful stories.

When I gave birth to our first child – a tiny little girl, born 5 weeks early – the doctors put her under a heat lamp and hooked her up to monitors. I pulled a rocking chair up to her warming crib in the NICU, leaned my chin over the plastic sides of her bed and read the Bible to her. (That sweet baby was Vivienne, my thoughtful, creative, sincere daughter who will be turning 13 years old any day now.) She was just starting out in the world, wearing a stylish purple band across her eyes to protect them from the heat lamp and a gold heart sticker covering the heart monitor on her chest. That was Day 1 of our sweet homeschool. That NICU was our first classroom.

(Almost) every day ever since then, my heart and mind have been full of enthusiasm for homeschooling. I’ve researched curriculum, planned field trips, dug elbow-deep into art projects, read countless books, designed tot trays, created file folder games, orchestrated schedules, and have felt so thrilled by my calling as a homeschool mother.

But all of a sudden, I have no inspiration whatsoever.

There is no brainstorming.

There are no field trips.

Art projects seem like mountains to climb.

Field trips seem like punishments.

To top it all off, I’ve become very cynical about all of the exhausting Pinterest ideas out there and am like, “You’ve got to be kidding me….” regarding all of those enthusiastic homeschool bloggers out there (oh, the irony).

It’s all understandable: I’ve been going through a season in which I’m just tired, not to mention that I’m working at my full capacity. We can’t always feel like a million bucks. So I get it, but I just don’t like it.

One thing is for sure: I now respect anyone who home schools without a natural interest in homeschooling! Wow, is it tough to slug through without all of the feelings.

Having to continue homeschooling without my typical drive or enthusiasm is extremely difficult.

(I received Sonlight 100 in exchange for a series of blog posts that contain my honest opinion.)

Here’s what’s keeping me on track until the last day of school:

Our Sonlight curriculum.

I appreciate our Sonlight curriculum more than ever because it tells me what to do.

The quality of my children’s education isn’t dependent on my ups and downs; it’s not limited by my oscillating feelings, my unpredictable bursts of creativity, or my fragile energy level.

In the past, I’ve chosen Sonlight because it’s a springboard for all of my ideas. When I’m feeling inspired, Sonlight provides a firm foundation on which I can build, accessorize, and enrich our homeschool education.

Now that I’m feeling uninspired, Sonlight provides a firm foundation that is specific, high quality, and complete with or without my enthusiasm. On my worst days, the younger children and I just keep following the well-planned curriculum (this year, Sonlight D), completing what we are able. My oldest daughter – who is totally enjoying Sonlight 100 – keeps a copy of the curriculum in her binder and keeps herself on track. 

I am so so glad that we are following such a lovely curriculum, otherwise, honestly, I’d still be in bed.

And all of the little ones? Well, they’d be raiding the pantry and watching Daniel Tiger. Or Spy Kids. Or Animal Mechanicals. Which, of course, they’d love, but just think how much richer they are because we are reading aloud The Lewis and Clark Expedition and watercoloring scenes of the rugged heroes crossing the Rocky Mountains? (It’s true that I feel like I’m the one crossing the Rockies as I gather everyone around the table to read one more chapter. Sonlight is my Sacajawea in the midst of the Shoshones, my Old Toby on the Lolo Trail.  Each day, despite the struggle, my children and I arrive at a satisfying vista. I am deeply thankful for the guidance and encouragement.)

(Did you know that Sonlight is a full-service curriculum provider, so you can get the best options in a single, customized program? From Preschool to High School, you can get every subject and every grade to teach your children. Each curriculum comes with a thorough Instructor’s Guide that walks you through the assignments, the concepts, and the conversations that you can have with your child. It is so user friendly and created with an honest-to-goodness human parent in mind.)

Most importantly, God Himself is keeping us in the palm of His hand.

Every day, I rely deeply upon the grace of God, which He extends to me and my children regardless of our feelings or accomplishments. What would I do without His guarantee that He holds all things together? Our Heavenly Father is the one who has gathered us here and He is singing songs of love and telling a grand story about never-ending, never-changing faithfulness and love.


Enrich Your Middle Schooler’s Socialization Through Literature: A Tom Sawyer Book Club

LauraAll Posts, Books, English Literature, Homeschooling, Sonlight

(I received Sonlight 100 in exchange for a series of blog posts that contain my honest opinion.)

Build homeschooling socialization while reading a good book together!

When an author tells you straight-up what he wants you to do with his book, you pay attention. Especially when that author is the renown Mark Twain.

This year,  Vivienne’s 7th grade Sonlight literature curriculum includes The Adventures of Tom Sawyer In the preface, Twain writes,

“Although my book is intended mainly for the entertainment of boys and girls, I hope it will not be shunned by men and women on that account,  for part of my plan has been to try pleasantly to remind adults of what they once were themselves, and of how they felt and thought and talked, and what queer enterprises they sometimes engaged in.”

Viv and I figured that if, way back in 1876, Mark Twain wanted her to get a kick out of Tom Sawyer’s adventures, we would read the book just like that. We intended to have some fun with this one.

It’s even more fun with friends!

We wanted to invite some friends along for the ride and we didn’t have to look very far.

It just so happens that I teach a middle school literature class for Viv and her peers once a week. We agreed that this would be the perfect fit: we’d devote the third quarter to a Mark Twain book club.

Fifteen enthused peers read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer together. It was my job to guide them toward, well, entertainment the whole time.

We read the book over the span of 8 weeks, covering 4 – 5 chapters each week. In the end, I can confidently say that the students thoroughly enjoyed the book together and I was honored to sit in on their laughter and discussions.

Ideas for a Tom Sawyer book club:

Whether your student is reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as part of Sonlight 100 or another curriculum or you are simply wanting to connect with your child in a meaningful way, creating a book club around such a fun masterpiece will be worthwhile.

Have fun, have fun, have fun.

“There comes a time in every rightly constructed boy’s life when he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure.” – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

I kept my eye on Tom’s antics and looked for any way we could simulate his adventurous spirit in the narrow basement classroom where we meet each week. Our options were very limited, but that didn’t stop us! One chilly day in the middle of February, the students worked together to escape through the windows. They helped each other up and out of the narrow openings, tromped through the snow back into the classroom. When they returned, their cheeks were rosy and their spirits were high. That simple little escapade primed the for a thoughtful discussion about adventure.

What’s so great about adventure? 

They could answer this question because they could still feel their blood pumping.

When Tom whistles, take a whistling break.

When he does gymnastics, see if anyone will imitate his antics

When he eats an apple, eat an apple.

Hold a memory-verse competition, dig for treasure, take a field trip to a cave.

Talk about the countless superstitions. How are they similar to our own superstitions?

Appreciate Twain’s powerful use of satire. Then, take a look at some modern-day satire (try The Babylon Bee) and try your hand at writing some satire of your own.

Keep a Tom Sawyer Trading Bag

Viv suggested that the students keep a trading bag with “Tom Sawyer-esque treasures” to trade with one another and it ended up being a fun addition to the class. Students kept stashes of marbles, corks, toothpicks, and licorice. I kept a stash, too – including a disinfected chicken bone – and let the students riffle through it now and then.

This all came about early in the book when we read an irresistible and poetic description of the treasures that Tom Sawyer has traded with his friends.

And when the middle of the afternoon came, from being a poor poverty-stricken boy in the morning Tom was literally rolling in wealth. He had, besides the things I have mentioned, twelve marbles, part of a jew’s harp, a piece of blue bottle-glass to look through, a spool-cannon, a key that wouldn’t unlock anything, a fragment of chalk, a glass stopper of a decanter, a tin soldier, a couple of tadpoles, six fire-crackers, a kitten with only one eye, a brass door-knob, a dog-collar – but no dog – the handle of a knife, four pieces of orange-peel, and a dilapidated old window sash.”

The book is full of intriguing knick-knacks that fill the boys’ pockets and that come in handy in almost any circumstances. So, with explicit rules about one-eye kittens and fire-crackers, we joined Tom Sawyer in his collecting of treasure.

Read aloud.

Twain wrote in the vernacular, which means he gives his characters authentic expressions and accents that may be difficult for your students to read at first. We listened to the first chapter on a top-class audio recording so we could jump right into the story without being turned off by the difficulty of unfamiliar language.

Throughout our meetings, we would often listen to scenes from the audiobook.

One week, we wanted to practice using the vernacular ourselves so we listened to the scene first, then divided into groups and read the scene aloud. After practice, we shared the scene with one another, appreciating the difficulty of really sounding like a character from that place and time.

Keep a commonplace book.

Encourage each student to jot down favorite quotations each week. Some students will copy the humorous tidbits, others will copy the descriptive writing, still others will copy the life lessons. These commonplace excerpts are a great way to spark conversation.

Simply ask, “What did you write in your commonplace book?” and let the conversation evolve from there.

Be sure to keep a commonplace book, too! Your students will want to know what catches your eye.

Enjoy conversations about the book.

Sit back and guide the students with a few good conversation starters.

What did your students like?

What made them laugh?

What made them shiver? (Believe me, there is plenty of shivering in Tom Sawyer.)

I am a Read-Aloud Revival fan, so I use Sarah Mackenzie’s helpful questions to prompt conversation. In her newly released Read-Aloud Family, Sarah provides 10 poignant questions that you can ask about any book and expect to connect with your student. I stick with these and am never disappointed. (Amusingly, the one question that you can apply to every chapter of Tom Sawyer is “Should he have done that?”)

Try Reader’s Theatre.

To introduce my students to reader’s theatre, I distributed the script from Chapter 2 – the famous whitewashing scene. I divided them into groups and let them practice. They loved sharing their scenes with the class. Then, in small groups, they  took responsibility for transforming a scene from Tom Sawyer into their own reader’s theatre script. They included sound affects and shared their performances with an audience of peers and parents. For the performance, we just lined 5 stools across the front and they read the scripts as if they were on radio.

Several of them have been asking to do it again and again! I think reader’s theatre helped them to step into the story, without the pressure of memorizing lines or blocking.


What about the racial issues?

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” – Mark Twain

It’s no secret that Twain’s portrayal of racism in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn presents difficulty to educators.  Some educators opt out of the novels. Others look for revised editions that modify some of the racial words. You will have to choose how to address this topic with your students.

Here’s how I approached it: I asked the students to copy Twain’s quote (above). I told them that Twain carefully chose his words in an effort to speak out against racism.  He lived in the South in the 1800’s when there was more racial tension – and infinitely more inequality – than there is today in America.

Mark Twain was undoubtedly anti-racist.

In both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Twain intentionally wrote about the racist outlook of the 1800’s because he strongly opposed it. (Did you know that Twain was friends with African American educator Booker T Washington, he co-chaired the 1906 Silver Jubilee fundraiser at Carnegie Hall for the Tuskegee Institute – a school run by Washington in Alabama to further “the intellectual and moral and religious life of the [African American] people”. He also personally helped fund one of Yale Law School’s first African American students, explaining: “We have ground the manhood out of them [African Americans], and the shame is ours, not theirs, and we should pay for it.”)

In his writing, Twain chose to use the vernacular – including words like “nigger”, “injun”, and “half-breed” – so that we could hear the characters exactly as they were. He wants us to examine a community of people and be able to to identify the racism, the ignorance, and the hatred. He wants us to be smart, discerning, and gracious.

Here’s how I chose to approach it:

I chose to lead the students through the classic The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as Mark Twain wrote it. Before we read the inflammatory words and descriptions, I prepare the students. I tell them that these are serious and powerful words and attitudes that were present in the  in our society.  I tell my students that Mark Twain is trusting us with these words – that I, their parents, and God are trusting them with these words.

I ask, Will you see these words for what they are: a window to the soul of a society that dehumanized people who were made by God and in God’s image?

Will you handle them wisely?

Or, will you use these words – and others like them – to put people down?

I hope that each one of us handles these words wisely and lovingly.

I hope that this sparked your imagination for ways you can invite some students to join you in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer! You’ll have a wonderful time together.