Goals and Regrets: Do Not Use Sonlight

"I am now regretting choosing Sonlight."

The Sonlight Curriculum Regrets review has been gnawing at the back of my mind for a few days now. The literature-based approach to learning has failed this child "miserably."


I can't argue with the fact that Sonlight failed this family. But this begs the question: Why? Why did Sonlight fail? ...or, perhaps more telling, what did Sonlight fail to do? Sonlight failed--because of such an emphasis on reading to your children--to get this girl ready for a first grade phonics test she needed to get into a private school. Granted, the review does point out that if you continue homeschooling, Sonlight may work for you.

So why is it that Sonlight may not prepare your child for a specialized classroom setting?

First, like all education options, Sonlight will not likely match a school's narrow requirements. Not because Sonlight is somehow academically inferior, but because the emphasis is different. Every transition from one schooling approach to another requires a reassignment of priorities.

Second, Sonlight's Top 10 Goals could be different from the school you are considering. If excellence on Phonics and Math tests are the goals of a school, Sonlight's goals will not align.

If you are looking for a program that will cram testable standards into your child's mind in the first year or two of school, Sonlight may not be for you. Again, not that Sonlight students don't excel. If you want to see just a few examples of Sonlight students' success, check out this year's Scholarship Winners. It's important to consider the goals of the academic program you are considering.

This drops us back where we started: Choosing a homeschooling curriculum. Far more than what your student may do in the following year, the question to consider now is, "What are my goals for my child's education this year?"

Have your educational goals changed over your years of homeschooling?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

About Luke

Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad
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18 Responses to Goals and Regrets: Do Not Use Sonlight

  1. Kathryn says:

    I'm feeling a little defensive on Sonlight's behalf! Granted, it isn't right for everyone--but you go to great lengths to make that clear to potential customers and to help us determine whether it is right for us or not. I found the articles on "Reasons NOT to use Sonlight" and outlining Sonlight's goals to be extremely helpful, and reassuring, when I made the choice to start Sonlight 2 years ago. I can understand your disappointment and frustration here, Luke, but honestly I don't think Sonlight has failed in what it is trying to do or what it is trying to be. If this mom intended all along to send her child to a private school for first grade, seems like she should have found out what their requirements would be and made sure whatever she chose as a kindergarten curriculum would help her meet them.

  2. Elizabeth Hinely says:

    I quit worrying about test scores as much after I read the entire test to a dyslexic child. I realized that many of the questions had a politically correct slant that my children would not recognize as a correct answer, such as a question about the pilgrims and why they celebrated Thanksgiving. The correct answer appeared to be "they were thankful for the help of their Native American neighbors." What? How about thankful to God? It was eye opening. Standardized tests have a world view. I prefer that my kids SEE the REAL world, but, through the lens of a Christian World view. That is why I love Sonlight.

  3. Jo says:

    I use and love Sonlight, but honestly I think the reviewer had a point - I've had my frustrations with SL K and first grade curriculum also - having transitioned back to the US now from overseas which has also meant a season in our local public school for my first and third grader (soon to be second and fourth.) In all honesty, SL starts out VERY slowly with little repetition in the phonics dept. I feel like it works well for the gifted child (like my oldest) who detests lots of repetition and worksheets, cuz he usually gets the concept first time around. However it DOES fail the child who learns best by creative repetition. Worksheets are FUN for my second child - when I stopped using SL and put him in PS (yes, with assessments every week and 22 kids in his class) he began to thrive - and progressed reading far more rapidly than I had even dared hope to expect. He is much more fluent in reading and writing, and enjoys it now.

    However, in all fairness, SL does offer add-ons to the phonics program. I've used those and added on even more when necessary. I also feel that reading level and mastery evens out with SL and other educational paths probably about 3rd or 4th grade, and then Sonlight pulls AHEAD of others. So that's why I will continue with Sonlight. And I will continue to find other things that mesh with SL to meet each of my individual child's needs.

    You said it well, Luke, "What are my goals for my child's education this year?" To me, that's what it's all about.

  4. Liz says:

    We just finished Sonlight K, but did supplement with an additional phonics program. We had an awesome year with Sonlight and plan to continue with World History next year! We are currently re-reading the I can read it books! It is amazing to hear the progression in my daughter's reading skills from the beginning of the year until now!

  5. Melinda S. says:

    Well, SL DOES recommend the use of Explode the Code, a basic phonics program, as well as a 1st grade reading program that some parents feel moves too fast--so I think perhaps it's as much a question of what the priorities for a parent or child are, as anything. If a parent does not choose to use the possible phonics options, then they will find their child has less phonics, in the end.

    In my experience, many private schools also expect all their students to be a year or more ahead, especially in reading. The school my daughters attended in the early years required kids to read consonant-vowel-consonant words in order to get INTO kindergarten! A standard-sequence program would clearly not be enough for a child to gain entrance to a school like this.

    If a parent knows a child will be moving into an advanced school, or any school at all, really, they need to make sure of the requirements, and work towards any that might be unusual.

  6. Laverne says:

    As an experienced school teacher I know that the criteria for success are very narrow! School entrance tests highlight this. My children and I have really enjoyed the superior quality of literature that Sonlight chooses for each Core level, we learn so much together and enjoy it too! I have had to 'unlearn' alot of what I was led to believe was important in education to be able to be a more relaxed and successful homeschooling parent ..... and am learning all the time.
    I think you've put it very well, Luke. Each parent has to determine what their academic emphasis or priority is. Keep up the great work Sonlight - you've helped enrich our lives!

  7. Ellen says:

    I don't really think this is a failure on Sonlights part. If you choose to homeschool you are choosing to think for yourself. Sonlight literature is just that, It is literature. It is not a School teacher who comes into your home and does all your thinking and work for you. It is the tools needed for a successful education. A carpenter does not look at his hammer at the end of the day and say, "you know you just really let me down today, we should be further then we are". Rather if you run into a job you do not have the tool for, you definitely go to the store and buy the tool needed. Same with Sonlight, If the tool is not included that you determine you need with careful thought and planning before hand, then you find what is needed, you get it and you apply it. I am a free spirit, homeschooling alone is a triumph of grace for me. I love Sonlight. I love Sonlight with the fervor of a drowning man. :) If I start going under the water (so to speak) I get out my Sonlight catalog and read about other peoples experiences and their success stories, and I get all excited again to press on!

  8. Marcee says:

    I'm with Kathryn-this failure is NOT due to Sonlight! And shame on the parent for saying so.

  9. Luke says:

    Thanks, everyone! Glad this post resonated with so many of you. And may you find the tools that you need to meet your goals in the coming years... be then part of a Sonlight Core or something you add on <smile>.


  10. Heather says:

    Well... Sonlight *did* fail my kids and it wasn't because of entrance exams or anything. They simply learned very little in their three years of using Sonlight (core, language arts, and science). It doesn't work for everyone. I find the reasons not to use Sonlight article to have a very condescending tone, but the points are very true and should be considered. As an immature homeschooler (i.e. one that had not been homeschooling very long) I didn't know what would be best for my kids. Now I do. Sonlight isn't it. Doesn't make it bad, just highlights the fact that no curriculum works for every kid.

  11. Luke says:

    Great point, Heather. That's one of the reasons Sonlight has the Love to Learn guarantee. And I am so glad you have found something that works for your family. It has been fun to glance at your updates on how well your children are doing!


  12. Penny says:

    I just can't imagine a child not being able to test on grade from using SL, but maybe that's just because we have used the supplementary material AND every child has their own curve. We are halfway through second grade, this is our second year of SL, and my son reads above a 4th grade level for fun on his own. It suddenly happened on it's own a few months ago. We've always used the supplementary material though since my son had so much trouble with spelling tests.

  13. Sarah says:

    I personally didn't really like the style of Sonlight's LA for teaching kids to read. And I found the reading and writing to be a mismatch in levels. We're constantly having to mix and match LA levels to do reading from one level and writing from another, which is so confusing. And it seems like many or most of the moms I talk to on the boards have the same problem.

    That said, Sonlight's strength has always been the cores. The science and LA generally seem to be considered a little weak. So I wouldn't throw out what Sonlight does really well (the books) just because I didn't love the science or LA. I do wish the LA hadn't been integrated into the core, though, but I guess I'll have to see what I think about the LA once we reach Core D and kids start to even out in level.

    Besides which, if you know you're only going to homeschool for a year, wouldn't you plan for what you wanted your kid to cover before starting school? I mean, surely if you knew they'd test your child for entrance, wouldn't you look to see what they test and focus on those things?

  14. chapman55k says:

    Luke says:

    If excellence on Phonics and Math tests are the goals of a school, Sonlight's goals will not align.

    This seems like crazy talk to me. Granted we did not start Sonlight until our kids were in third and fifth grades, but we spent six years total in your core programs. We bought all our math from you and experienced what I believe are pretty stellar results in both that and reading.

    First, I do not know why Sonlight would not work for the vast bulk of people who are paying attention to the educational process. Short of some very special needs on the part of a student, I cannot imagine there was no "operator error" or lack of attention on the part of the teacher(s). Even with the one area (part of one subject for one year) where we really hated the material, we were able to get around the deficiency fairly easily by talking to the kids about what was wrong and with very minor supplementation that we would have done anyway.

    Second, we disabused ourselves of the idea that we or our kids were brilliant relative to everyone else. So that left us with only the Sonlight program, hard work, and teaching methods to differentiate our kids from others.

    We experienced particular levels of success in Math and Reading. I think you might even be aware of some of that success. I do not think you need to apologize to the doubters. I am happy to talk to anyone about how we accomplished what we accomplished and the integral role played by Sonlight in all that.

  15. Luke says:

    Thanks for jumping in here and defending our Phonics and Math programs. I agree that they are excellent -- as you have well demonstrated [smile].


  16. Elizabeth says:

    As a mother of five, four of whom have been in "Sonlight first grade" with the same additions (we use Rod & Staff for phonics and Bible stories), I believe the child matters more than the curriculum.
    These four children - same family, same teacher, same curriculum - would have tested at 4th, 12th, 6th, and K grade levels in reading, spelling, and phonics halfway through first grade. The K-level child is dyslexic, but making huge strides! The outlier started reading at age two (her choice, not ours!) and never stopped.

    I think Sonlight is first-rate, because we *connect* with the stories we read.

    Best wishes!

  17. Athena says:

    Your catalog points out the reasons why Sonlight may fail. I think she should have looked at the reasons more closely, considering that she planned to put her child in school in first grade. I do think, though, that you raise an important point in asking "What are my goals for my child's education this year?" Truth is, Sonlight did "not" work for us, either. Because we have to follow our home country's educational system (Home Econ starting in 4th grade, every academic subject needing five tests per quarter). Our Social Studies alone consists of Philippine History, Word History (Core G) and current events. With a church service in our house every week, I simply couldn't Sonlight. But. We continue even though we're now on our 3rd year and only just past the halfway mark in Core G. Because we continue to have Sonlight moments.

  18. Luke says:

    Thank you for sharing your stories, Elizabeth and Athena. I hope many people are encouraged by what you share.


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