Can I let you in on a little secret? Some of us don’t homeschool by the book (pun intended) every single day. There are many reasons I love my Sonlight Instructor’s Guide—such as the structured framework it offers, and the invitation to anchor our days with a Sonlight Morning Time—but sometimes, our homeschool doesn't look picture-perfect. In fact, we don’t even always flow through the Instructor's Guide in a linear way. (Depending on your personality, you either just gasped at the thought of a deconstructed Sonlight day, or you’re breathing a sigh of relief that you’re not the only one.) Here are my six time-saving tips for homeschool scheduling.
1. Rethink the Hours Considered School Time
Life throws curveballs sometimes, doesn’t it? Moves, illnesses, extended visits, medical appointments and other life disruptions can all muddle the orderly plans we’ve mapped out for the school year. When time is in short supply, it can seem difficult to fit all the school subjects into your school day. If you’re struggling to make it through the daily column in the Sonlight Instructor’s guide during the time you’ve set aside for school, give yourself the freedom to move some of those items into the rest of your routine. Remember, as homeschoolers, we have the luxury of learning from morning to night, not just during the hours brick-and-mortar schools allocate for education.
2. Use Sonlight Readers as Rewards
In the early years, when students are still learning to read, Sonlight Readers are designed to provide regularly daily practice toward reading mastery. But once students have attained fluency, there’s no rule confining those fantastic books to school alone. Keeping in mind that readers complement Read-Alouds once you reach History / Bible / Literature Level D, you can use Readers as rewards, to mark milestones, or—my personal favorite—to set aside and tuck into backpacks during road trips, air travel layovers, moves, or holiday breaks. (And don’t forget about the Summer Readers, either!)
3. Allow Kids to Catch Up on Read-Alouds Independently
Reading Sonlight books aloud to kids at bedtime works for many families, but can I be honest? In our home, the nightly routine is short and sweet—no lingering read-alouds. If you find yourself behind schedule on a book to the point it’s affecting your school routine—and you have an exceptionally strong reader, like I do—hand the book over to your child and let him or her catch up.
Of course, I’m not suggesting this as a replacement for reading aloud, but as a quick fix to brings that title back into alignment with the rest of the schedule.
(I’ll add this caveat, though: you’ll still probably want to read the book yourself later anyway, because Sonlight books are just that good. And you can’t truly lead an engaging post-reading discussion unless you’ve also partaken of the book’s delights!)
4. Listen to Audio Books, Even if They’re Out of Sequence with the Schedule
A few weeks ago, my daughter and I took a quick road trip. I knew we’d want to occupy the ten-hour drive with an audio book, but the next book on our Sonlight docket wasn’t available at the library. No matter—we just checked out a different Sonlight title, even though it wasn’t scheduled for several weeks yet. (If you’re open to shifting the designated schedule around from time to time, you can get a lot accomplished.) By the time we returned from our three-day weekend, we’d knocked an entire book off our Sonlight schedule.
And here’s my favorite audiobook tip: ask your librarian what free audiobook options are available to you digitally. You probably have access to more audiobooks than you realize, simply by logging in to audiobook websites with your library card. We can’t imagine life without Overdrive and Hoopla! No CDs to keep track of, no late fees, and no errands to return the audiobook when you’re done.
5. Play Memory Songs Outside of “School Hours”
When I think back to my childhood, one of my most persistent memories is digging my bare toes into the olive green and gold shag carpeting and singing Geography Songs (via cassette tape) while playing LEGO bricks with my brothers.
Was it during school hours? No. Did I complete an accompanying worksheet? Nope. Did my mom quiz me on it? No. Can I still sing the songs and remember my geography facts? That’s a resounding yes!
Sonlight carries the most wonderful memory songs for geography, history, and science as well as for songs for Scripture memory. When you page through your Instructor’s Guide, you’ll see that in some levels, these are scheduled into the daily assignments. But these terrific songs don’t need to stay there—incorporate them into your daily life, outside of school. Play these songs in the car, over lunch, or during free time. You’ll be delighted at how much will stick.
6. Send Some Books to the Free-Read Shelf Early
I’m so thankful for the variety of books Sonlight includes in each level. As we progress through the school year, we move Sonlight books from the “scheduled” shelf to the “free-read” shelf. And the narrative and visual encyclopedias always seem to find their way onto the “books we’ll never sell” shelf.
Do your children prefer to pour over these more visual books independently, rather than listen as the captions are read aloud? My daughter definitely does. And I’ve heard from other Sonlighters, too, that the captions sometimes feel disjointed to read aloud. If you have strong, motivated readers, you may want to consider skipping the scheduled reading for these types of books altogether, and send them to the free-read shelf early.
If you’re worried your kids won’t make the connections between what they’ve read on their own in Time Traveler and what you’re reading aloud out of the history spine, don’t be! A Sonlight education teaches to link big ideas together, and see history in context.
And a Sonlight education is a flexible lifestyle, too, not a rigid set of guidelines. Rather than becoming subservient to the line items in the Instructor’s Guide, give yourself the freedom to adapt the schedule to best serve your family. Your approach probably won’t exactly match that of your fellow Sonlighters—and that’s the point! Homeschooling allows for customized educational plans to meet the exact needs of each child.
So allow the excellent framework of the Instructor’s Guide to direct you, yes, but do not allow yourself to become its slave. Homeschooling is all about flexibility and freedom, and “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Ephesians 5:1)