I mentioned in one of my last question and answer posts that our family has successfully used Sonlight Curriculum as a basis for multi-level teaching in our home. Many of you were interested in a more detailed post about Sonlight pros and cons and using it with multi-levels.
If you haven’t read my previous posts on how we homeschool or why we homeschool you may wish to as they will give you a basis of where we are coming from and why Sonlight is a good fit for us. Before I go any further let me mention that while Sonlight is a great program for our family, I always hesitate to recommend it to others because every home and homeschool is different and just because we enjoy it and it is a good fit for us, doesn’t mean that it will fit in your home or work with your style of homeschooling.
Our family has been using Sonlight since the winter of 2004, Amber was 7, Kaitlin was 5, Matthew 4 and Alyssa 3. We also had 3 preschool children.
What is Sonlight? Sonlight is a literature based Bible, history, literature and reading curriculum that is fully scheduled on a day by day basis. We have also used Sonlight for language arts and science. They sell those components separately.
We use Sonlight as the basis for our curriculum, but it is not the only thing we use. We do a lot of additional memorization and Bible reading as well as considerable amounts of extra read alouds. (We like to read aloud for at least two hours each day.)
Click here for a glimpse at a Sonlight Instructor’s Guide.
How we use Sonlight:
- We read the assignments (except the children’s individual readers) together as a group.
- We discuss what we have read and other topics that the readings trigger in the kids heads. This is the part that is optional for the smaller children, depending on what is being discussed. We are currently discussing economics and the price-wage spiral, inflation, money supply, etc. I’m allowing the younger ones to be excused from those discussions.
- We work through hands-on projects together.
- We look up the locations that we are discussing on the map. I begin by asking the youngest children to locate it and then move to older children if they aren’t able.
- We keep a time line of important people and events.
- We don’t always do the discussion or comprehension questions but we always discuss our readings.
- We talk about Sonlight most nights at the dinner table. It keeps daddy current with the conversation and is built-in review for the children.
We will be beginning two levels of Sonlight next year. Both Sonlight level 6 and Sonlight level 1 cover the first half of world history, while Sonlight level 7 and Sonlight level 2 cover the second half of world history. So even though we will be working with two different levels, we will still be studying the same things and be able to maintain the family conversation.
What we love about Sonlight:
- Literature selection – Even homeschoolers who don’t use Sonlight curriculum use Sonlight’s reading lists because they choose books that are not only well written with quality content, but are fun and fascinating to read. I attribute the fact that our children all enjoy school to the superb literary selections that Sonlight chooses.
- Pre-planning is already done, I spend my time teaching my children not lesson planning – Lessons are planned out on a daily basis, I simply open the instructor’s guide and begin working through the assignments with the children. A lot of homeschoolers have said that Sonlight is time consuming for the parent and I’m not going to disagree with that. However, all of that time is spent directly reading to or teaching my children. That is what I want to be doing with my time. There is a difference between having a program that requires significant amounts of time to lesson plan, research and pre-read and a program that requires significant amounts of time teaching your children. Sonlight falls into the latter category.
- Method of teaching – Sonlight’s method of teaching is organic and laid back. Important information is not presented to the children in a list or condensed paragraph that they must then memorize and be quizzed over. It is presented in the context of literature, of a story and is thought about, discussed and perhaps researched.
- Simple to teach multi-levels – I have used one level of Sonlight with children ranging in age from 13-4. Of course, our 4 year old is not getting the specific political tensions between the Japanese and the western world, but she knows that Commodore Perry is the man who opened trade with Japan and she can find Japan on the map. She may not understand the why’s and how’s of the Great Depression, but she knows that a lot of people lost their jobs.
- Flexibility – Sonlight is especially well suited to covering more or less than is written in the curriculum. Our children enjoyed studying about the War Between the States. Since Sonlight is literature based it is simple to choose additional books and resources and add them to our schedule as we studied that particular time period.
- Teaches children to think- Because Sonlight uses literature to teach, the children are accustomed to thinking, discussing and analyzing almost everything that they read. We sometimes have a difficult time getting through our reading assignments because of the questions and conversations that are sparked by the content.
- Incorporates geography and timeline work with day to day assignments.
- Creates a family conversation – When we began to use Sonlight this is how I described the change in our homeschool. Whereas before the children had been reading and studying more independently (yes even at 7, 5 and 4) Sonlight created a conversation. We were learning together and “school” was the most popular topic of conversation. When the Olympics occurred just a few years after we had studied Greece our family was able to discuss what we had learned because we had learned it together. (This would be true of most multi-level program.)
- Presents a balanced and honest view of history – With one exception Mark and I have been very please at the balanced approach with which history has been presented.
These strong points of Sonlight work with how we homeschool to create a strong back bone for our curriculum. It also helps us in our goal of strong family relationships. The beauty of having the basics mapped out for us is that it gives us a solid plan to cover everything, yet allows us to customize it as we see fit.
What we don’t love about Sonlight:
- Doesn’t thoroughly integrate Biblical history – This is my biggest criticism of the program and would be a deal breaker if we wished our children to work more independently but because I’m directly involved in teaching Sonlight to the children, I control how much Bible history is included.
- There have been a few literature selections that we felt were inappropriate. – Again, because I’m reading nearly everything aloud, this becomes a non-issue. However, I do not recommend that parents give Sonlight to their children to work through independently. I try to read the independent readers before the children get to them and there have been some that we have had our children skip.
- Sonlight’s independent readers tend to be below our children’s reading level. This is easily solved with all of the additional reading that our children do on their own. Sonlight schedules readers that are easier than the child’s reading level for the purpose of encouraging the children’s love of literature and making sure not to discourage them with books that are a struggle for them to work through. This was most problematic for level 1 and level 2 of Sonlight and we assigned a lot of extra reading. Now however, our children read so much that I don’t usually assign specific books but allow them to read where their interest lies. (Our 9 year old is currently enjoying “20,000 Leagues under the Sea”.)
We use Sonlight to teach multi-levels simply by exposing the younger children to the information and the discussion, by encouraging them to be involved in map work, asking questions aimed at their comprehension level after each reading and including them in the dinner table discussion by asking them questions about the basic people, places and events, whereas the older children focus more on the “whys” and “hows”. We also select additional read alouds if we feel that they need more exposure to a specific time period. We incorporate all our children similarly with science and I will be writing a separate post about using Sonlight language arts for multi-levels, or rather my version of Sonlight language arts.
Each year when we reevaluate our goals, plans, where we are and where we are going, we consider switching away from Sonlight and research other multi-level teaching programs. Every time we have come to the conclusion that, for us, Sonlight is the best fit.
So there you have some basic information about Sonlight in our homeschool. What did I miss? What do you still wonder? Want to come over for a day of school at our house?
If you decide to purchase Sonlight through one of my links, you will receive a discount on your order and I will receive credit toward future Sonlight purchases that our family may make, so THANK YOU for making the effort of using these links to place your order!