How Literature-Rich Homeschooling Awakens Your Child's Natural Passion for Learning

Sonlight Curriculum is unique compared to most other homeschooling companies because we include so much high-quality literature in our curriculum. Where others choose to rely on textbooks and other educational media, we opt for great books and delightful stories that will capture children's imaginations and instruct them at the same time.

But why would we choose to rely on literature instead of other "tried-and-true" materials? Is literature really all that much better?

Three Reasons to Use a Literature-Rich Approach to Home Education

We believe a literature-rich curriculum is ideal for a homeschooling environment because:

1. Literature conveys information in an enjoyable format.

One of the most famous lines from the classic movie Mary Poppins was, "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down."

That's how we feel about literature. It takes valuable information and knowledge — that may be rather bland on its own — and wraps it up in an "easy-to-swallow" story.

Think back to your childhood for a moment. Do you remember the books your mother and father read to you? The Cat in the Hat, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, The Berenstain Bears, The Poky Little Puppy... ?

Do you remember the books you read by yourself, after you "graduated" from read-aloud time? Nonfiction books about dinosaurs, airplanes, and horses... Fiction books like Frog and Toad, Make Way for Ducklings, Homer Price, Old Yeller... Can you picture them... remember the stories... recall the characters?

If you answered yes, I'm not surprised. Most of us remember in vivid detail many of our favorite childhood books. In fact, it's not at all uncommon for us to want our kids to read the same books we read as children.

In those books you read as a child, you gained valuable insights, practical information, exposure to various cultures, and a desire to acquire — or avoid — certain character qualities. There was literally a world of knowledge and experience right at your fingertips. And you wanted to enter that world... and enjoyed it when you visited.

2. Literature conveys information in a form that is easy to remember.

Facts and figures devoid of context are difficult to remember. That's why a lot of memory systems rely on mnemonics and other memory tricks to memorize raw data.

But put those same facts and figures into a story — give them context — and all of a sudden, it's easy to remember the information! Stories serve as anchors for facts and figures that would otherwise be lost in the great sea of information in your mind.

3. Literature encourages you to interact with your kids.

Many parents struggle to get their kids to talk to them. But when you use literature as the foundation of your curriculum, you'll find it's much easier to spark conversations. Good conversations. Significant conversations.

When you use a literature-rich program like Sonlight Curriculum, you'll read aloud to your children. As you do, your children will ask questions about the story, about the characters, about words they may not have encountered before.

You'll have a chance to reply to your children's questions. And from time to time you may find that your children's questions lead to entire conversations — the kind of conversations that will shape their thoughts and values.

When your children read on their own, you'll find it quite common for them to initiate conversation with you without being prompted... because it's enjoyable for children to talk about the stories they're reading. Especially good stories.

But even if your children don't initiate a conversation with you, the Sonlight Study Guides provide plenty of great discussion questions to help you along.

Elaine B from Massachusetts told us:

Sonlight gives us a platform in which to explore and discuss the world in light of our beliefs. My kids are learning how to think critically and logically by reading all kinds of books and discussing all kinds of issues with us. Sonlight has become more than a curriculum. It is part of our lifestyle.

Interaction with your children is vital to their education. And literature, more than any other educational medium, encourages this interaction.

Literature Brings History Alive

Here's just a short segment from Sonlight's Third Year Read-Aloud, Johnny Tremain. (Remember, you have just read typical excerpts from a couple of 7th grade textbooks. This is part of Sonlight's "3rd grade" program.) It describes Boston citizens watching British soldiers return from their defeat at the Battle of Lexington:

Although no townsmen, except only the doctors, were permitted on the wharf, Johnny knew that hundreds of them stood well back and in the darkness, gloating. They were not saying much, only watching. Then one man began to whistle and the next took it up and the next and the next. The whistling was shrill as a fife. They had not forgotten the prophecy of that morning, 'They go out by "Yankee Doodle," but they'll dance to it before nightfall!'

'Yankee Doodle' filled the darkness....

Four more boats were coming in. Johnny dared move out onto the wharf, but he still kept well in shadow. More wounded. Could these be the very men who had started out so confidently? Bedraggled, dirty, torn uniforms, torn flesh, lost equipment. Faces ghastly with fatigue and pain. Some were twisting and crying out.

The first boats were filled with privates. They had been packed in, and now were being tossed ashore, like so much cordwood. Most of them were pathetically good and patient, but he saw an officer strike a man who was screaming.

Johnny's hands clenched. 'It is just as James Otis said,' he thought. 'We are fighting, partly, for just that. Because a man is a private is no reason he should be treated like cordwood.'1

The literature-rich approach provides the context; it communicates information in the midst of a story. You can't miss the drama because "you are there." You feel the pain. You grieve the losses.... You are there, in the thick of things. And you understand and remember. Maybe not the exact dates. But you remember the years, or the general places and times in history. Because you understand the broader context.

As Shary in Virginia wrote recently,

I think remembering dates is relatively unimportant, but yesterday I decided — just for fun — to ask my 10-year-old son, "What year did Franklin Roosevelt take office?" The book from which I got the question provided three choices for answers: 1933, 1903, 1973.

My son's response: "Well, let's see. The 1920s were when the US was doing really well and people were making lots of money. Then the stock market crashed and we went into the Depression. So it had to have been 1933 when he took office."

My response:Thank you, Sonlight!

Do I care that he remembered the exact date? No. Do I care that he knew enough of what was going on that he could figure it out? You bet.

Literature-Rich Homeschooling Is Not "Too Hard"

Some people wrongly assume that using a literature-rich curriculum is "too hard." They feel overwhelmed by the number of books we include in our curriculum. They feel hesitant to teach their children real history using fiction. And they feel ill-equipped to deal with the broad range of situations and issues they'll encounter during the year.

You might be experiencing some of these same feelings yourself right now. If you are, please let me address your concerns.

1. "It will take way too much time to teach using a literature-rich curriculum. It will take far less time to leave them in their classroom school, hand them a textbook, or put them in front of the computer."

Despite our emphasis on reading aloud to your children in the younger years, Sonlight takes a relatively small amount of time when compared to classroom school.

Whereas students who attend classroom schools are in class for six hours a day, your children will be "in class" for only one-and-a-half to two hours at the kindergarten level and four to six hours in "grade" six.

And your involvement, on average, will be one-and-a-half hours at the kindergarten level and just two to possibly three-and-a-half hours in "grade" six.

Is that really a lot of time?

I've spoken with a lot of moms who have their kids in classroom schools. I can't tell you how often I hear them lamenting the untold hours they spend shuttling their kids back and forth to school activities, "volunteering" to serve as classroom monitors and teacher's helpers, participating in fund-raising activities, and helping with homework.

When you add it all up, a classroom school will demand as much of your time as homeschooling will.

And what about textbooks and computer programs? How wonderful it sounds: just "plug them in" to their textbooks and workbooks or computer programs and — Hey! You're done! What could be simpler?

But is it simpler? Is that savings in time worth the costs you'll pay?

Remember:

  • You'll miss all that intimate snuggle time with your little ones.

  • You'll miss the life-shaping conversations you could be enjoying with your children — conversations that happen because you consistently spend significant time together.

  • You'll miss, when they become teenagers, the relationships you could have enjoyed with your children: relationships that include mutual respect, honor, and trust as they turn to you, rather than their peer group, for insightful counsel about their lives.

Of course you have to make your own decision. There are costs involved in choosing to spend time with your kids. There are also tremendous costs you'll pay if you choose not to spend that time.

2. "I couldn't possibly teach my kids — and, most especially, teach them history — using literature! Textbooks, workbooks and computer programs may offer only a relatively mediocre education, but at least I can be sure I won't be risking my kids' entire futures on some untested method of 'education' that someone I don't know claims could be better!"

Let me first note that Sonlight Curriculum has been around for 15 years. And, as you will see on page 149, many of our students are graduating and moving on toward college. And not just run-of-the-mill colleges, but some of the top universities in the nation.

So the claim that literature-rich education offers something more than textbooks, workbooks, and computer programs is not just sales-talk. It's real.

But let us talk about the matter of teaching history with literature.

On the surface, of course, the idea that you can use fiction to teach real history sounds ridiculous. But when you think about it, there is a lot of common sense to the notion.

First, good historical fiction is based on solid research. That means the fiction your children read will contain many historical facts and be based on real historical events.

The dialogue, of course, is made up. But even the dialogue is based on what the author has been able to learn from historical records about all the individuals' personalities and habits.

Second, keep in mind that neither textbooks nor great literature are entirely free from error. In fact, when it comes to history, you'll find many nonfiction sources that contradict each other. One textbook says one thing, another says something else.

History is never as simple and straightforward as we would like it to be. It's big and it's complicated. The important thing is that you teach your children how to think so they can examine multiple sources — both fiction and nonfiction — and form their own opinions about "what really happened."

But beyond this, the Sonlight Instructor's Guides contain schedules that lay out your children's assignments day by day; study guides that help you keep up with your children's reading; comprehension questions that help you gauge your children's understanding; and much more.

Even if you have no prior experience, the Instructor's Guides will help you quickly ease into a teaching role. And within a few weeks you'll be teaching like a natural.

Yes, the number of books Sonlight includes in its programs might look overwhelming, but the indispensable support of the Instructor's Guides will help you persevere through all the challenges and joys of homeschooling your children. (See page 10 for the full article about Sonlight Instructor's Guides.)

3. "Frankly, I'd be scared to teach my kids. I don't know enough! How would I know if what a book says is true or 'made up'? And how can I be sure I'm covering everything my kids need to know?"

One of the biggest fears parents who have never homeschooled express has to do with the possibility that their children will ask them questions they can't answer. Or that they — the parents — will fail to teach their kids something (or a whole lot of somethings) that their kids really need to know.

And so, they fear, they will fail their children. The kids won't qualify for the college education Mom and Dad so ardently desire for them. Or the kids will become social or intellectual outcasts.

Sarita likes to point out that she has never met a homeschooling mom whose teenage child is unable to read. And the classroom schools meanwhile? You've heard the statistics: 20% to 30% or more of all kids taught by the "professionals" don't know how to read! (And you worry that you may not be able to teach your kids?)

A mom is simply unwilling to let her child fail. If one method won't work, then she'll find another that will.

So it is in every area of study.

You have resources you can turn to and experiences you can draw from to answer almost any question your children can ask.

So what if your children ask questions that stump you?

Our advice: confess you don't know the answer and tell them you would love their help to find it. Then teach your children how to find the answer. All of you will grow together in the process and you will almost assuredly discover some fascinating things you never knew before!

But beyond that, you'll find that our Instructor's Guides — the guides that cover History, Read-Alouds, Readers, and Bible — include incisive questions and large quantities of vital information that will help you give your children a more balanced perspective on almost everything you read — and they will help you answer questions your children may ask.

So, for instance, in the Sonlight D guide you'll find an article that discusses who really "discovered" America. (Hint: it wasn't Christopher Columbus.) And in the G guide you'll find a note that explains some of the shortcomings of Susan Wise Bauer's Story of the World.

Despite these valuable aids, the truth is your kids will "miss" some piece of information that their friends know. It's bound to happen. But, truly, it doesn't matter. Public and private school kids will miss certain facts and figures, too. However, your kids will have the know-how and desire to find the information they need.

What Our Customers Say

Our customers echo much of what I've told you. But I think you need to hear it from them... so you know we're not just "blowing smoke." Here is a brief collection of just a few things they've told us recently about their experiences with Sonlight's unique curriculum.

Sonlight is not your traditional "sit-at-your-desks-and-let's-pretend-this-is-a-classroom" curriculum... it is not rote memorization for the sake of memorization. It is real learning, from real books. It's "let's whet your whistle and keep you coming back for more" kind of learning. It's what kids want and it's what moms need. It's just plain good.
— Lisa M, 4 January 2005

One of the goals my husband and I decided on was that we want our children to learn how to think and not what to think. We could see that workbooks and textbooks would not help with that goal. The other goal we had was that we wanted our children to fall in love with learning. What better way to do that than to read together and enjoy what we are reading... to learn from great books?
— Linda in Idaho, 7 January 2005

We have encountered many textbook students who are overwhelmed and confused when they read several sources with conflicting opinions. But Sonlight has taught my son how to evaluate opinions and think logically. He can recognize an author's worldview, compare it with a Biblical worldview, discuss the issue rationally, and form his own opinions. I can think of no greater goal of education.
— Sandy C, 10 December 2004

What these Sonlight customers are saying is not isolated. We literally receive hundreds of notes like these every year.

We would love it if you'd allow us to show you how exciting and enjoyable Sonlight's literature-based curriculum can be. We would love it even more if we could provide you with such a positive homeschooling experience that you feel compelled to tell us your success story next year.

Try Sonlight with an 18 Week Guarantee

If you think you'd like to give Sonlight Curriculum a try... if you want your children to love to learn and to think critically about the many viewpoints they'll be exposed to in life... then I encourage you to take advantage of our "Love to Learn" Guarantee: "Your kids will love to learn or your money back." You'll have 12 weeks to see if Sonlight is right for you and your family with absolutely no risk on your part. (See page 148 for details.)

No matter what you decide to use, we pray God's blessing on you as you seek to educate your children at home.

Have questions about just how a literature-rich homeschool experience can work in your family and with your schedule? Talk with other homeschooling moms online at the Sonlight Forums. Or call us at 303-730-6292. We look forward to serving you!


1. Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain (New York: Dell Publishing 1943), 240-241. Sonlight item #DA04. Back to Article

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