Sonlight's Top Ten Goals

by John Holzmann

Sonlight grew out of our family's experience as Sarita and I taught our four children.

Below are ten of our top goals from when we were homeschooling. Do these sound like goals you'd want when you homeschool your children? If so, I imagine Sonlight could be a good fit for your family.

Sarita and I wanted to…

1. Teach them to seek God's Kingdom first.

"Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33): we believe this is the primary goal Jesus set before all of us who claim to be His disciples. We need to pursue this in every part of our lives.

Sarita and I want to keep that goal in front of ourselves – and our children – at all times. And we have adopted that as our first goal for Sonlight Curriculum – the company and the curriculum.

2. Create learners' hearts.

What good does it do to pour information into children if they never learn how to learn, or if they never want to learn?

When students want to learn, even after their "formal education" has ended, they will continue to teach themselves whatever they want to learn.

We pursued this goal with our children in many ways. One example was our choice to study history instead of social studies.

The standard social studies approach seeks first to teach students about things with which they are already familiar, like "our community" or "our state."

By contrast, Sarita and I sought to expose our children to things that were different and unfamiliar. That way, they would enjoy the delight of new and unexpected experiences. Only after they had become familiar with the unfamiliar did we "re-introduce" them to their own culture. Now they could see it in a larger context.

With each new discovery, they were excited to learn more. We follow that same approach at Sonlight.

Besides our desire to generate enthusiasm and interest, we focus on the unfamiliar and "foreign" because we want to…

3. Raise children with godly hearts for the world.

God's plans are for all nations, all people groups. As Revelation 5:9 says, there will be some from "every tribe, language, people, and nation" worshiping before God's throne at the last day. So we want never to forget what is foremost on God's heart. Nor do we want our children to forget God's purpose and plan. So we focus not only on the West and western history, but on the world as a whole.

Most young children find it hard to imagine anyone lives all that differently than they do. They have no idea there is a big world around them filled with people who have completely different experiences from their own.

So Sonlight begins exposing students to world cultures and world history in the very earliest years. We not only read about people in the United States; we also read about Incan llama keepers, child factory workers, Tibetan mountain villagers, young women in the Middle East, and more.

Not only do Sonlighters read stories; students also use informative guides that lead them to pray for people they don't yet know: some who are close to home, and some on the other side of the planet.

We know that these kinds of inputs can create a yearning within students to make a positive difference around the world. It prepares them to bring the Good News of Jesus to all peoples, whether by prayer, by giving, by going or, simply, by living lives that are pleasing to the Lord right in their home towns.

4. Inspire them to honor Christ boldly, in speech and conduct.

We believe the Christian faith is not merely intended to grant us eternal personal comfort; it is meant to change the way we live and, through us, to alter the world around us.

That's why, from the earliest years, we include materials to help children memorize Scripture and understand what the Bible is all about.

But the legacy of God's people extends far beyond the Scriptures. It continues to the present day.

And so, each year, Sonlight includes biographies of faithful followers of Christ who, by God's grace, have transformed cultures around the world. We want children to learn about true heroes – people whose lives they will want to emulate.

And we want your children to see these people as they really were: people whom God used despite their imperfections. (If God can use a former con man and thief, like George Müller, let alone a former persecutor, like Paul, there is hope for God to use us all.)

We want children to sense the excitement and challenge of following Jesus in big and little ways – not only at home and church, but in the worlds of music, art, competitive sports, and, as they get older, the worlds of business, work, and cultural development.

5. Train them to become winsome, effective ambassadors for Christ.

In 2 Corinthians 5:20, Paul says that we are "ambassadors for Christ."

Ambassadors represent their home country in a foreign country.

Competent ambassadors know their home country. They also know the interests of the government that sends them. And they know their authorized message. When ambassadors are engaged in negotiations, they can't say or commit to anything they want. They have to stay within the bounds of what they are authorized to say, what they are authorized to offer. They know these things very well.

But beyond the interests and causes of their home country, they study to know the culture, attitudes and interests of their host country. They learn what their hosts think, believe, and value.

And they learn how to effectively communicate their home country's message to their hosts. They are the bridge between their home and their hosts.

What a wonderful calling. In order to train our children to become effective ambassadors, Sarita and I sought to help them know Christ and to know and understand the people around them. And Sonlight seeks to do the same.

And that dual focus – to know Christ and the people and peoples of this world – ties in with the next goal… .

6. Teach them how to listen well to opposing views.

Someone has said that God gave us two ears and one mouth and we ought to use them in approximately that ratio – two times as much listening as talking.

It makes sense. The act of listening communicates powerfully to another person that "I care" – an especially powerful message for Christian communicators.

Sonlight uses two vehicles to teach students to listen.

First, it has them listen to books that are read aloud to them.

Studies have shown, and we have seen it ourselves: children whose parents read to them regularly are far more capable of listening and understanding what they hear than are children whose parents don't read to them.

Sonlight Read-Alouds are so enchanting, they draw you and your children to read together. And so your children will learn to listen.

The second vehicle to teach students to listen: We seek to communicate different sides to an argument. We want students to learn to respond appropriately and confidently to ideas different from their own.

It is not easy to listen to other perspectives. Our natural tendency is to be so intent on declaring our views, sharpening our arguments, huddling with those who think as we do, or cheering spokespeople for "our" side… that we fail to hear what advocates for the other perspective have to say.

We are far more comfortable to remain ignorant of other people's claims than to first become fully aware of what they have to say, and then either find quality answers or, possibly, admit they have a point we had never thought about before.

Sonlight, by attempting to present different perspectives, seeks to encourage students to hear (rather than fear) other sides of an argument.

This goal, about learning to listen, fits well with the next one, too:

7. Convince them, through experience, that God is faithful.

In other words, Sonlight teaches students – in the supportive environment of their parents' home, with the help of their parents – the tools, techniques, knowledge, and skills of godly intellectual warfare (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).

We want students to be convinced, through experience, that there are legitimate answers to questions coming from "the other side." Not only so, but, even when they don't happen to know the answers, they need not fear.

They need not fear because the truth – God's truth – will prevail. He who is in us truly is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). And He who is by our side really will give us the right words to say when the time comes (Matthew10:18-20). Students come to know this not just in their heads, as an article of faith, but in their hearts, through experience.

What I have just said above is intimately tied to another goal Sonlight pursues:

8. Inspire them to do academically excellent work.

Through our books and Instructor's Guides, Sonlight seeks to demonstrate academic excellence.

Sarita goes to great lengths to find books that capture beauty, engage important ideas, grow students' understanding of the world around them, and exhibit the highest standards of excellence.

Sonlight's Instructor's Guides, too, draw students along in the learning process, by asking questions and presenting opposing arguments to encourage students to dig deeper into the matters they are studying.

We believe Sonlight's broad, internationally- and liberal arts-oriented, academic education has a direct and valuable impact on a person's Christian ambassadorship. The person who has "done his homework" is better equipped to communicate effectively with a person who is coming from a different perspective than is someone who has not.

A Sonlight education also prepares students to provide for themselves and their families; they are better prepared than others to compete in the marketplace.

9. Create within them a love for books – and prepare them for action on important issues.

Sarita and I can't imagine a quicker, easier, more enjoyable way to gain wisdom and knowledge than to read great books. We believe quality literature, whether written by Christians or non-Christians, should cause us to search the Scriptures to find out what Jesus would say and do in similar circumstances.

And as students seek answers and think about these subjects, they prepare themselves for the future when they will themselves be involved in situations similar to those about which they've read.

10. Raise culturally literate adults.

In his bestselling work, Cultural Literacy, E.D. Hirsch, Jr. argues that there is a certain basic set of background information every person must know to understand a culture, let alone influence it.

This information includes historical events, significant persons, movements, groups, stories, and ideas; all the things that have shaped the culture. People who know these things are culturally literate.

Sonlight seeks to produce culturally literate young people. That's why you'll find so many famous books in our curriculum – and, in the advanced high school years, even some works whose authors promote a decidedly non-Christian or even anti-Christian view of the world. (I think of books like The Great Gatsby, Heart of Darkness, The Metamorphosis, Brave New World, The Grapes of Wrath, and The Scarlet Letter.)

We believe Sonlight students need to be aware of these books and their content so they have a foundational base of knowledge and, more importantly, so they will be prepared to respond to these cultural influences in a strong and Godly fashion.

We want to help students move far beyond the basics, being able to "get along" in our culture. We want to raise world-changers: people who will influence the culture and make a difference – for good.

One of our joys: we have seen Sonlight world changers begin making their marks in the world.

These were ten of Sarita's and my top goals as we taught our children, and they have been at the center of our thoughts as we have developed Sonlight Curriculum over the years. Do they sound like goals you'd want for your children?

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