14 Reasons NOT to Buy Sonlight®

by John Holzmann, Sonlight Co-Founder

Sonlight® Curriculum is not for everyone. While we have been able to serve thousands of families for almost three decades, if Sonlight is not a good fit for you, we would rather you discovered that now, while you're simply reading our catalog, rather than later, after you have become frustrated and wasted time trying to use a program that's just not you.

Toward that end, then, here are 14 of the prime reasons customers have told us Sonlight hasn't worked for them. Are these true for you? Or could Sonlight be a good choice?

Practical Concerns

1. You're unable or don't want to do a lot of reading.

When you use Sonlight Curriculum, you and your children will read. A lot. Sonlight's programs center on books and reading.

If you and your children don't like reading, let me give you this encouragement: Many parents have purchased Sonlight in hopes that the great books will hook their family's reluctant readers. In the vast majority of cases, their hopes have been realized. Children, adults -- even adults who have always preferred electronic media to printed books -- have become avid fans of reading... because Sonlight books are that good.

So even if you don't like books now, you might still consider Sonlight. (Want to know more? click here.)

2. You can't spend the time that the Sonlight approach requires... or are convinced there's no way Sonlight can be as efficient as it claims.

Sonlight requires about two hours of a parent's time -- less in the very early elementary years, a bit more in the early middle elementary years, then back down again later on. High school can vary from almost entirely independent work -- no parental time -- to (our preference) an hour or so of purposeful discussion. It's up to you.

You can find specific time requirements in each program description.

If two hours a day is more than you can manage right now, we hope you'll consider us again when your schedule eases up a bit.

"Two hours or less is all well and good," some respond. "But... really? School in two hours?!? There's no way a program that requires so little parental involvement and has no active teaching component can be as good as one of those online programs, with real classroom teachers, that require six or eight hours of screen time a day.

"How can you possibly get enough information or enough thinking into my child's head in only a couple or three or four hours a day?" I could respond in several ways, but let me mention just three reasons to believe such efficiency is possible.

  1. Sonlight works: Sonlight grads regularly go on to top schools all around the country. Meet some of our Scholarship Winners. Sonlight has had students go on to Harvard. Stanford. Duke... .
  2. Sonlight is more efficient than standard classroom schools: Homeschoolers don't have to include all the standard administrative and other tasks often required in classroom schools: roll-call, announcements, candy sales, book sales, lining up, passing out papers, testing (and returning the graded tests), holiday parties, etc., etc. ... Nor do we have to include recesses, lunch periods, assemblies, and so on... .

    If you think about it, once you remove all the "other" activities they are required to do, most classroom teachers are able to engage their students in real educational activities for only two or three hours a day.

    By contrast, homeschooling can be much more efficient. And when you use Sonlight, with its carefully crafted Instructor's Guides and emphasis on only the most efficient exercises -- you're looking at a tremendously reduced time requirement.

    And when their school time is over, your children can go on reading, or engage in whatever creative, sporting, artistic, or other activities catch their fancy and meet your desires for them.
  3. Sonlight is more efficient than computer-based educational methods: When you learn by means of intellectually and emotionally engaging stories, you don't forget. There is no need for drills. No need for constant reminders of what you were supposed to learn. Kids incorporate deep into their inner selves the things they've learned... .

    Which is why we so often hear stories from parents about how their children go on to play-act the very things they have learned in school: they wind up building pyramids or saving yellow fever victims or running presidential campaigns for Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis... .

When you learn in this manner -- rather than through boring exercises on a computer screen -- why would you need to spend any more than two hours a day "doing school"? Your children will know, remember, and live out far more of what they learn during their two hours of school each day than will their peers who spend six hours or more using other educational methodologies.

Personality Predispositions

3. Your children are extra sensitive.

If one of your children becomes upset if they hear about volcanoes or other natural disasters, or if a story set in a war zone makes them cry, Sonlight might not be a good fit for your family. We are aware of children like that. Things that don't bother others make them uncomfortable. In our home, we had one like that. So we would read the book to her brothers while she wasn't in the room.

For most children, Sonlight books are well within age-appropriate bounds. In the elementary grades, especially, they deal with real life situations in thoughtful, gentle ways. And yet... .

I think of Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs (about a four-year old boy back about 1940 and his 94-year-old great grandmother who dies; part of the Preschool package). Or Charlotte's Web (Level B Read-Aloud [approximately 1st or 2nd grade]), Hill of Fire (about a volcano that erupted in a farmer's field in Mexico; Grade 2 Reader), or Titanic: Lost and Found (Grade 2 Reader): If you know your child is likely to be traumatized by books like these, maybe Sonlight will be a poor choice for you. At least for the time being. Or you can work your way around the difficulties if or when they arise. Sometimes we parents simply don't know... .

4. You don't like stories that make you cry.

Some parents find it exceedingly uncomfortable to cry in front of their children. It doesn't matter if the tears are brought on by something of beauty or suffering, a sense of exquisite joy or sadness: the crying itself feels wrong to these people.

I think most parents cry at Sonlight books because we have a deeper understanding of love and connection, of the fragility of life, and of how impactful certain behaviors can be. (I think of the end of the race in Stone Fox [Level D Advanced Readers Package], where one person engages in an act of unexpected and overwhelming grace.) Our children, meanwhile, will listen to the same story and have no clue why we respond as we do.

Thus, for example, when your children read Sarah Whitcher's Story (a Level D Reader), about a girl who gets lost in the woods for a few days, they might think, "Cool! An adventure!" But if you read it, you might think, "Those poor parents! How did they handle it?"

And when Sarah is eventually found, you might get choked up because you're relieved and happy... and overwhelmed at the beauty of how the story has been told... all at the same time.

Sonlighters often describe our books as poignant, heartwarming, powerful, deep, and thought-provoking. And you are likely to do the same. You may regularly find yourself choked up or brought to tears as you read your children's schoolbooks!

Why? Why does Sarita choose books like these?

Because part of what makes a book great is the emotional connection with the characters and that the story itself bears a significant, positive emotional weight. That is part of what makes a book great.

But beyond that, from an educational perspective, we have found -- and studies bear this out -- that students remember much more of what they have read when they have connected emotionally with the events and characters they read about.

Besides creating unforgettable mental images, books with which the reader connects emotionally help them develop moral imagination. As your children begin to understand, through stories, how the world looks and feels to others, they develop the capacity to empathize with others and to understand how their actions affect the lives of others -- far better than if they only understand intellectually that their actions have consequences.

But if you dislike crying or don't want to show your emotion to your children: what then?

Perhaps you should simply plan on taking a break during your reading. (I had to do that on many occasions myself when I would read to our children at night.) I would encourage you to consider that sharing your tears with your children is actually a gift.

If you're not at a place where you can concider this right now, Sonlight may not be a good choice for you. At least not for the present.

5. You are uncomfortable owning books that assume evolution.

Some of the books in both our history and our science programs assume an evolutionary/oldearth perspective. Some of them do not.

Please know that, in the early years, even if a book includes pages on prehistoric man, Sonlight does not schedule them. In later years, when a book has evolutionary content, we provide notes so you can discuss your perspective with your children.

But if you believe that owning books that assume evolution is against your conscience or too dangerous for your children (because they might read them on their own), then Sonlight will not be a good fit for you.

6. You would prefer a program that includes suggestions for group study, such as in a homeschool co-op.

Sonlight does not include any materials or recommendations specifically designed for use in a multi-family, group study context.

For Sonlighters who prefer to be involved with a co-op, we offer a 4-day option. This version of Sonlight includes fewer assignments and less reading, so you have that "extra" day to join the co-op.

If your primary concern is about community: Sonlight does not leave you isolated. Between company-sponsored forums, a Facebook community, occasional online events, and the opportunity to connect with Sonlight Advisors throughout the year, re-phrase: you will definitely be cared for, connected with, and supported!

7. Sonlight doesn't carry certain products you want or need.

Sonlight committed itself from the start to sell only "the best" in each subject category. Over time, however, we came to realize there isn't always a single "best." There are good reasons that some people prefer Singapore Math® while others prefer Saxon®, Math-U-See®, or the Life of Fred® series. There are compelling reasons some people want Handwriting Without Tears® while others prefer the Getty-Dubay® series. And so we have slowly added options in these areas where we realize there are good reasons to choose alternatives. But in our core subjects -- our History / Bible / Literature, Science, and Language Arts programs -- we are convinced we have put together "the best."

Since you have full flexibility to mix-and-match, you have every reason to buy everything together in an All-Subjects Package and enjoy the generous 20% discount, the Love to Learn, Love to Teach® guarantee, and all the other benefits Sonlight offers.

In fact, if Sonlight is really unable to serve your needs in a particular area, you may still come out ahead if you buy an All-Subjects Package and give away to family or friends whatever few pieces you didn't need.

And if there is a product you wish we would add to our offerings, please let us know so we can serve you better in the future.

Content Preferences

8. You want a program that is religiously neutral.

Most Sonlight books are non-religious. But the Sonlight Instructor's Guides are not religiously neutral. They are written from a biblical, Christian perspective.

The Guide authors believe that the Bible is the Word of God and speaks to the issues of today. Even if you don't use Sonlight's Bible program, Sonlight will not offer you a religiously neutral curriculum.

9. You seek a program that's written from the perspective of someone other than evangelical Christians who grew up in the United States.

Sarita and I are evangelical Christian, middleclass, white Americans. We were born and raised in the United States. We are the children of firstand second-generation European immigrants. We are delighted to also serve people who live in well over 100 different countries and who come from Catholic, Mormon, Muslim, Jewish, and other religious persuasions as well. Still. There is no getting around our cultural limitations. We seek to be as sensitive as possible to the perspectives and values of those from other backgrounds.

If you are able to overlook our limitations and provincialisms, we would love to serve you. (We would also be grateful if you tell us when the things we say show insensitivity or seem odd to you. If something we say bothers you, maybe we can figure out a way to speak in a manner that will better serve you and all of our customers.)

10. Your children really like worksheets.

"My son just does his work and can get on with his day!"

We understand this appeal. But do you remember how much more challenging word problems were than the quick practice problems in a workbook? That's because, with word problems, you actually apply what you've learned to something more like the real world. And that usually takes more time and thought.

It might not be as easy, but I think you'll find it to be worthwhile.

11. You prefer classroom-style study, with lots of quizzes, tests and grades.

Many customers worry that a program that lacks testing will leave their children unprepared for another learning context.

Our perspective: Unlike the majority of classroom teachers, most homeschool parents have significant daily, personal, one-on-one contact with each of their students. Particularly with a reading-based curriculum like ours, one-on-one contact almost completely eliminates the need to evaluate our children's progress through quizzes and tests.

When you read a book, for example, you'll discuss it with your children: "Why do you think he wanted to do that?" Or, "What does this mean?" If your children are able to answer your questions, you will know exactly how much they have understood -- or failed to understand.

Many parents say they are comfortable with the idea of informal "testing" like I've described for day to day educational needs. But what about if their kids need to transfer to a classroom or need to take the SAT or ACT in anticipation of attending college?

These are good questions. The answers are pretty straightforward.

  1. Some math programs, and all the Apologia science programs, include tests. As you anticipate a transition, give your child practice with these kinds of tests.
  2. Depending on where you live, your state may require annual or intermittent standardized testing. Whether required or not, we recommend you have your children tested on an occasional basis just so you know if you are missing some key skill or subject matter.

Sarita herself discovered the benefits of testing with her children. She had assumed, if you taught your children to read using phonics, they would know all the rules, spelling would make sense, and they would be good spellers.

It wasn't until she had her childeren take a standardized test that she discovered, "Oops! I need to teach spelling."

And so it is with other skill-based learning. The standardized tests will give your children practice at test-taking, can give you some hints about where you may want to beef up your teaching, and, actually, may encourage you about how well you are doing!

Reality: some people reject Sonlight because we made the strategic decision not to include quizzes, tests, grades, or some of the other trappings of a standard approach to education. But there are ways to overcome whatever potential difficulties there may be. I would sure feel badly if you let our choice in this area cause you to miss an otherwise wonderful educational opportunity.

12. You want most school years to focus on U.S. history and culture.

When using a standard curriculum in the United States, students generally devote 10 of 12 years to the history and culture of the United States -- a nation that has existed for less than 10% of recorded history and includes fewer than 5% of all the people in the world.

Sonlight recognizes that Western culture -- and, over the last 150 years, American society, in particular -- has enriched the world in many ways, and we happily cover its unique contributions. But we also seek to emphasize the unique contributions, strengths, weaknesses, and needs -- both physical and spiritual -- of the other major peoples and cultures on Earth.

Sonlight devotes more than twice as many years to the rest of the world as it does to the United States, including study not only of Western history and culture, but the cultures and histories of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and indigenous peoples around the globe.

Why? See "Sonlight's Commitment to Missions Giving" for a partial answer. If outreach to those who have never heard of Christ fails to rock your boat, you may want to consider the fact that we live in an increasingly globalized world. Those who are likely to be most successful in the years to come will have knowledge and capacity to transcend national boundaries. Despite these, what we believe are compelling, reasons to pursue an alternative balance in our curriculum, we recognize that some people simply disagree. If that is you, then Sonlight's 12-year program is likely not to meet your preferences. Though we think we should be able to serve you for several years! We would like to invite you to try our program... .

13. You fear that, if you use Sonlight, your children will miss something.

When Sarita started homeschooling, she felt concerned that other children would know something that our children wouldn't. "What if they never learn that Paris is the capital of France?"

I've heard other parents express similar fears: "What if we're visiting relatives and someone assumes Sally has learned about George Washington but she hasn't?"

Reality: in the early grades, especially, you can be almost assured that students in one school will have learned some things that their peers in another school have not. Different curricula follow their own order. But notice the qualifier: in the early grades.

Over time, if you use a robust program, like Sonlight, the differences will disappear. In fact, because Sonlighters learn so much and, in general, become such eager learners, you are likely eventually to tell a story like this one from Christy H of Galena, MO.

She said she has sometimes wondered whether her children are learning enough. But "then my kids randomly bring school into conversations with others -- for example, when my 8-year-old discusses ancient Egypt and Rome with my cousin who is a history major in college, or when my 6-year-old explains to her fisherman grandpa why his boat floats... . Then I know we are doing okay!"

When you consider the quantity of reading, and the wide range of books and characters your children will meet in Sonlight, you will find that they will readily and knowledgeably engage with people -- not just children, but adults, too (including park rangers and museum guides) -- on an astonishing variety of topics.

But whether your children can demonstrate their superior knowledge or not, we don't believe anyone should expect to learn everything they need to know for the rest of life by age 17 or 18... which is why Sonlight aims not merely to convey basic information, but, far more, to create within students an inquisitive spirit and love for learning. With Sonlight, you set the stage for your students to continue learning even after they have completed their formal education. They will pick up, later, any information they may have missed during their school years... because they want to.

I beg you: don't let this reason stop you either from homeschooling or from using Sonlight.

14. You want to teach history in a fouryear, chronological cycle.

Many homeschoolers like the idea of teaching world history in a four-year cycle, repeated three times over the twelve years their children will be homeschooled.

Sonlight and the Flow of History

At Sonlight, we absolutely believe students need to understand the flow of history, the timeline of events. And they also need to understand where things happened, among which peoples they occurred, and, most importantly, why. So every Sonlight History / Bible / Literature package emphasizes historical periods and incorporates timeline activities.

But rather than following a consistent four-year cycle three times over, we break the pattern by focusing on certain places, eras and types of history that a regular four-year cycle will usually gloss over.

So, in addition to two two-year treks through world history in the early elementary and middle school years, we are pleased to offer:

  • a two-year and one-year investigation of American history.
  • a one-year intensive course on the history of the Christian church.
  • 20th century world history -- such an important century for understanding the world today.
  • a year spent on the Eastern Hemisphere, learning about the cultures and practices of the majority of people on earth.
  • a year covering a set of common prerequisites for college: studies in civil government and economics.

So while we understand the appeal of the fouryear cycle, we love these other topics too much -- and believe they are too important -- to skip over them or deal with them superficially within a broader world history theme taught three times over.

Does this non- four-year cycle cause students difficulties? No.

You may wonder: How can that be?

It's not a perfect analogy, but consider flashbacks, scene-changes, and changes in visual perspective you run across in well-written books and movies. Do they cause you difficulties? (On occasion, I'm sure, some poor writers or filmmakers destroy their works through incompetent use of such techniques.) But, by and large, when used properly, such techniques can actually contribute to a more vibrant experience, and deeper understanding, than what you would enjoy without them.

From our perspective, Sonlight's specialized studies work in a manner similar to these techniques of accomplished writers and movie makers. There is no compelling reason to pursue an unbroken four-year cycle three times over... while there are compelling reasons to take time to engross oneself in more focused studies that can enrich your understanding of broader sweeps through history.

Teaching All Your Children with One Program

Besides the idea that an imperfectly-chronological approach to history may detract from students' understanding, there is another reason a few families say they want to pursue the four-year cycle approach to history. They have been told they can cover the same material with all of their children at one and the same time.

And our view: while such an approach sounds good in theory, it doesn't work in practice. How can you effectively teach a kindergartener the same things a middle schooler or high schooler is learning? Yes, you may be talking about some of the same events, but what are the real lessons you want your children to learn?

Child development studies make clear: the brains of elementary students are very different from the brains of middle or high school students. They have different attention spans, different comprehension levels, different processing abilities, and, frankly, different needs, when it comes to absorbing or interacting with concepts, philosophies, events or historical movements. From vocabulary to maturity, students change dramatically as they grow up. And while children within an age range of about three years or so can usually do well together, we don't think combining children of ages much more widely spread than that encourages or permits the best education for all.

As a result, we suggest that if you have children within about three years of age, use one Sonlight History / Bible / Literature program and one Sonlight Science program for all of them, but split children up either individually or into smaller study groups when the age range between children diverges more widely.

Then, of course, no matter what you use for History / Bible / Literature and Science, you will likely need completely separate materials for each child when it comes to the more skill-based subjects (Math and Language Arts); each child has likely developed to a unique skill level and needs exercises and instruction tuned to his or her individual needs.

Is the four-year chronological cycle approach to history a legitimate and superior alternative to Sonlight's approach? Maybe. I'm not convinced. But it is possible you will be. In which case, of course, Sonlight will not be a good choice for you.


I hope this article has helped you identify the reasons you may want to choose a homeschool supplier other than Sonlight. Or, if what I have said has helped you to see why Sonlight may be your best choice to meet your homeschooling needs, then we would be grateful for the opportunity to serve you.

14 Reasons NOT to Buy Sonlight®