Why We Sonlight
There are many, many options for homeschool curriculum these days along with many teaching theories (Charlotte Mason, Classical, Unschooling, School-at-Home, Montessori, Unit Studies, and Eclectic Education Methods). I'm linking to a great article which explains each theory and how to determine what might be the right fit for your family. Homeschooling: Which Model is Right for You?
When I first started homeschooling I had no idea there were so many theories. As I read the article I posted above I realized that I pull a little from each theory, and that’s okay! However, the curriculum I use really puts me as a School-at-Home school.
I think some of them sound a lot cooler than the category I find myself in, but it’s not about being peer-pressured into being cool; it’s about finding the right fit for you and your family and your personal beliefs.
If you have talked to me about homeschool before you will likely know that I use Sonlight Curriculum. I have an elementary teaching degree, which is probably why I like the structure and layout of Sonlight. However, you do not need to have ever been a teacher to love this way of learning.
I have used Sonlight Curriculum exclusively for going into my sixth year now. I have taught K, 1, 2, 3, and 4, and we are thrilled to be starting fifth grade with Sonlight.
You may not know this about me, but I like lists. A lot. To increase your joy on this day, I'm going to give you my pros and cons list regarding Sonlight.
Kind of expensive: HOWEVER, most of the curriculum is reusable so I can teach 5 or however many children I have using the same books, over and over. I just need to replace the worksheets and workbooks, of which there aren't many. I'd estimate I spent $50 for consumable materials this year. That $50 includes Science and Language Arts papers, a handwriting book, loose paper, and two new math workbooks. The younger grades are a little less expensive with fewer books, gradually going up in price. I usually spend around $1,000 per school year. If your other option is private school, you can’t beat the high-quality education your child will receive for the relatively low cost of curriculum, especially when you keep in mind that I will teach five (or more) children for that price. I certainly cannot send five children to private school for $1,000 a year.
Writing: I think the creative writing is the weakest part of the curriculum. I thought some of the activities were much too difficult and others too simple. Whenever this happens I simply alter the assignment to what I think is more appropriate. And guess what? You can do that, because you are the teacher! It is simple to find free writer workshop ideas online. Once they are more proficient writers I like my children to take several weeks to complete a longer project (2nd grade they wrote and "published" their own story. I took them through the entire brainstorm to final typed and illustrated copy. Third grade I had them pick a subject, go to the library to do research, write out note cards, and write a short research paper.) I will admit, I did not understand the concept of copywork when I first started using Sonlight, but after using it for years I find that my girls are good writers and use proper grammar and punctuation because of this method. Funny story: I was reading a book to my little girls and every other sentence ended in an exclamation point. My second oldest was sitting next to me and commented on how terrible it was. To prove her point, I exclaimed each sentence ending in an exclamation point. It was hilarious. The next time the little girls asked for that book this daughter said, “No! I can’t stand that horribly punctuated book.”
Instructor's Guide: This makes it so I don't do any teacher planning. I do glance over what we will be studying that week and determine if I need any materials for science projects (most are included). So easy, saves me heaps of time. Gets easier to use the more you are familiar with it. *Caution: this comes in a 5" binder and is terribly intimidating when you pull it out of the box. I take out three to four weeks at a time, place in a small binder that I teach out of during the week. When the week is over, I put the papers back in the large binder.* Another help is to create assignment books for the week. On Sunday nights I spend about 45 minutes writing down each assignment each girl will need to complete throughout the week. This allows them to work independently without constantly needing to ask what they are required to do that day.
Books: Honestly, this was the clincher for me. I love books. Probably too much. As Anne and Abbey were both very early readers it made sense for us to choose a curriculum with tons of books. While I was familiar with some of the books we read, many of them were new to me. I was amazed at the wealth of information that can be learned by reading a well-written book. Sonlight does not skimp on high quality literature. Every once in awhile we come across a book we don't care for. As that rarely happens, we don't feel guilty for skipping it (and you have the freedom to skip books because guess what, you’re the teacher). Sonlight sometimes uses the tag line "the way you wish you'd been taught". This really rings true to me. I hated history in school, but the girls and I can't get enough of it with Sonlight. I’m learning right along with them! We can’t wait to dig into Eastern European and Asian history during grade 5.
No Tests: Okay, there are spelling and math tests. I use Horizons Math and after every 10 lessons there is a test. There are no science tests. There are no language arts tests. There are no history tests. While this seemed a little strange to me at first, the more I taught the more I realized I didn't need to test them. Since I am engaged in the work with my children (most of the time) I ask them questions. Based on their responses I know whether they are grasping the concept or not. Since we are a small group they are free to stop me in the middle of a lesson if they don't understand the concept I am reading about or need a word defined. They do have some worksheets they complete on their own which also help me to assess where they may be struggling. Being involved like this allows me to keep my finger on the pulse of their education. I see right away when one child is frustrated or not comprehending what we are reading. Since that's the case, I'm able to address any issues before they become overwhelming. You do not need to have teacher training to do this! As a mom (or dad) you know your children better than anyone else. Most tests are given in the classroom for teachers to prove their students are learning. You are not under this obligation. *Standardized tests are required in Pennsylvania, where we live, in grades 3, 5, and 8. You can read how to get legal in another post on this site.*
Fosters Independence: Since there is a lot of reading involved with Sonlight, I, and other friends who use it have wondered how it works when teaching multiple grade levels. This fall I will be teaching two fifth graders (ages 10 and 9) and one second grader (age 9), and two Pre-Kindergarten girls (ages 4 and 3). As the older ones get a little older, they begin to take on some of their own educating. I assign them books to read on their own. There are so many excellent read-alouds in every grade level that I despise skipping them. Occasionally I will assign the girls to read them independently. Often Trent will read one of them as the bedtime book and I'll read the other one during school time. Since we are a large family, there seems to always be a younger sister around who would like to be read to. It's not unusual to find an older sister curled up with a wee sister, reading to her. Once they can read well, the children are quickly capable of teaching themselves. Even my first (now second!) grader loves to do her Science on her own. It fills her with a sense of pride and accomplishment to find the assigned pages to read, to complete and comprehend the reading, and answer the two to five questions per day about the reading. I have no doubt that each of my girls will be successful in whatever they put their hand to do as they mature into young women. The reading is also excellent for ESL (English as a Second Language) learners. This is important for adoptive families like mine who have children who learned another language before English. Hearing English spoken aloud is key to future literacy. Don’t be discouraged if your child doesn’t learn to read when they are four (or even five, six, or seven). Some children are not ready to read until age eight. But don’t stop reading aloud once they can read independently. Language and vocabulary can continue to be expanded from listening to a higher level book read aloud.
Christian Based: Sonlight does a great job at incorporating the Bible into all subject areas. We hope to give our daughters a Christian worldview and to see the world in a different way. We have been encouraged in our faith (I include myself in this) in particular by the missionary stories we have read together. One of my daughters thinks she may like to be a nurse when she grows up. Another believes she may be a missionary. And one would like to be a mom. While these ideas of who they would like to be may change as they grow up, the foundation we are laying for them on what a woman of God looks like is essential. We would be proud for our daughters to be any of those things, as long as they are following what God asks of them. I have been impressed by the well thought out and well written Bible portions of the curriculum. Bible and the mission stories are a favorite for all my girls.
Those are just a few of the pros and cons of Sonlight curriculum. I hope it has been helpful. As always, I'm happy to answer questions!
I am a happier homeschool mom because of the ease of using Sonlight.
And full disclosure, I do not receive anything from Sonlight. I could get reward points by giving all of you my rewards ID but it truly is not my goal to receive anything from anyone who may use Sonlight. It’s my honest opinion and review of a most excellent, well thought out curriculum and I’m happy for my friends and strangers to be as blessed by it as I am!