Why Sonlight does what it does:
Two values integrated into Sonlight's curriculum
Sarita Holzmann, founder and president of Sonlight, strongly believes in the benefit of reading and helping students see how they can make a difference in the world. These two values permeate every Sonlight program. Sarita says…
I think back to when I was growing up and going to school. What inspired me? What taught me? Where did I learn?
It was not entirely in the classroom!
My fifth grade teacher was very strict and unapproachable . . . except for one thing. Every day, she set aside time to read to us from wonderful books, like The Horse and His Boy, Follow My Leader, and Beautiful Joe. I loved that time. It brought me to other places and moved my soul. The books made me think and feel in new ways. That time every day actually redeemed that year at school for me.
I did not learn just in the classroom. I learned by reading.
Because I loved reading so much, every week I would ride my bike to the library and check out the 50 book limit. I would load them into my saddle bags, ride home, read them all during the week, then bring them back the following week and refill my saddle bags and my heart once more.
And when I think about all those books, I realize – I learned a lot.
No one was cramming anything down my throat. I wasn't being forced to memorize pieces of information that I would then have to regurgitate on a test. I knew the information because I had lived the stories. I had seen them, felt them, experienced them. I had been there.
- When my classmates were studying the Revolutionary War, I was already ahead of them because I had read Celia Garth.
- I had confidence I could take care of a rattlesnake bite (if that ever came my way) because I had read Trixie Belden and had actually experienced dealing with such an emergency because Trixie's younger brother had been dying from such a wound before Trixie helped him.
- I knew about longitude, not because I had made a formal study of the subject, but because I had been there, experiencing what longitude was all about right there beside Nathaniel Bowditch in Carry On, Mr. Bowditch.
I think about my kind of learning and put it up against what my classroom teachers often did: make us memorize "facts," spelling and vocabulary lists, grammar rules, and so forth.
There's simply no contest. Give me the books any day. I will read them. I will learn (painlessly). I will remember what I have learned. I will be able to tell and teach others.
Education – real education – is so much more, so different from memorizing and organizing data! I want children to know not only facts, but the reasons for things, the stories behind the facts, how the facts fit together.
I want them to gain discernment and wisdom. I want them to acquire the ability to place current events – their lives – in the context of today and of world history. I think learning by reading uniquely fosters this, in a way that memorized lists do not.
2. Inspiring Stories of People Who Made a Difference
Right from the start, I wanted to focus on books that place heroes in front of students, people who made a difference in the world.
I don't care if they are people who touched the lives of thousands, like Gandhi or Mother Teresa, or touched the lives of two, like the mother of one special-needs child, who ministers to her husband as well.
I want children – students – to understand that they can make a difference.
I want to inspire them: "God has given you a special role in this world. You can make a difference. Follow Him, find your special place, and fill it."
And so I focus on biographies and the stories of people who make a difference in the lives of others.
Because this is so central to what Sonlight is all about, you will find a dozen or more such books in almost all of Sonlight's programs. That's why the main books in each history program (the "spines" that support the rest) rely heavily on the stories of people. That's why we include missionary biographies in every program, and additional biographies.
People can make a difference. That includes you, and that includes your children.