Before you use Sonlight, it's good to know what you're getting into. Here are 20 of the most common reasons why Sonlight hasn't met the needs of some families and why parents opted against Sonlight altogether. Do you see yourself in any of these?
1. Your kids don't like reading
Sonlight's programs center on books and reading. You'll read forty or so books in most Sonlight programs.
If you don't like reading, Sonlight probably isn't going to be a good fit.
But if your children don't like reading, be encouraged: for many families, the superb Sonlight books transform their reluctant readers into book lovers. Children and adults have become enthusiastic readers. Sonlight books are that good.
2. You prefer the idea of a computer-based program
Overall, Sonlight parents are involved with almost all of their children's schooling in the elementary and middle school years. We believe Sonlight books spur far too many topics for discussion to leave the teaching to someone online. You get to offer your steadying hand and thoughtful input everyday.
In some subjects, you can choose to supplement with a screen-based teacher. In Math-U-See, for example, Mr. Demme teaches the basics. In Science, you might choose to use the Discover and Do DVDs for science experiments, rather than do them yourself.
Additionally, your Instructor's Guide has done as much of the preparatory work for you as possible, so almost every minute of your time is spent in direct, face-to-face interaction with your children. Even so, Sonlight programs require about two hours a day of a parent's time – less in the very early elementary years, a bit more in the middle elementary years, then fewer hours again later on.
High school can vary from almost entirely independent work – no parental time – to an hour or so of purposeful discussion. It's up to you.
You can reduce the total time requirement for each level by skipping assignments or, if you have more than one child, by combining students. To educate your children the Sonlight way, you get to invest time interacting with your children.
3. In school, your primary focus is character development, and less on academics
Sonlight is highly academic. We believe that parents have a responsibility before God to help their children to acquire wisdom, knowledge, and a foundation for future service. A well-rounded liberal arts education in elementary, middle, and high school is valuable preparation for almost any post-high school pursuit. Graduates can choose a specialty in college, trade school, missions, the military, or the work force.
Sonlight parents share regularly that their children's professors report that they are the best writers, the best thinkers, the most well-read and, the best-informed students in the class. And students who come to Sonlight after a few years in classroom school regularly see their test scores rise substantially. (See the Sonlight scholarship winners, for just a handful of the gifted Sonlight students who graduate this year.)
But you don't have to wait until high school for stellar academics. In the elementary years, parents teaching kindergarten students are astonished by how much they learn.
Sonlight is an excellent option, whether you choose it because of the academics, because of the lifestyle, or because you, yourself, like to learn.
And you always have the option to work on character issues. You'll be with your children every day! There's plenty of opportunity for you all to grow in grace.
4. You like creating your own homeschool program
Erika Evans wrote about her experience with this on the Sonlight blog.
"It took me hours to collect ideas and organize materials. If one of the projects bombed with my kids or didn't work as planned, I felt I had wasted a ton of time and effort." But she hesitated to use a boxed curriculum because she feared "that it might sterilize our experience, that it might limit what we could learn and accomplish, that it might include too much busy work, that it would not allow for child-led learning, that it was a lazy mom cop-out which would lessen the home school experience for me and my children."
But what she found was that, with Sonlight, the reality was the exact opposite.
"Having resources at the ready meant that we were always able to find interesting books to read and projects to do – right out of the box. There was always more material to cover and more ideas to discover. Not having to organize our entire day on my own meant that I was more available to the kids and actually had more time, not less, to help them explore their unique and individual interests.
"I found that reading them quality stories led them to ask more questions and become more invested in their learning. They wanted to know more about the topics we were covering and cared about the people and events in the books. Big box curriculum wasn't holding us back! It was giving us structure to zoom ahead in freedom!"
If you delight in researching and augmenting your children's homeschool, you can have the best of all possible worlds when you use Sonlight as a foundation and add to it. As Erika says, "Having ready-to-go resources has truly made things easier, provided increased freedom, and improved the amount and quality of time I'm spending with my children. "
Sonlight brings you more freedom with the help of a basic structure.
5. You're hesitant to make such a large purchase without seeing it firsthand
If you can attend a homeschool convention near where you live, a veteran Sonlight mom will be present to show you curriculum materials and answer your questions about the program. Click here for the listing of locations and dates.
If you are unable to attend a convention, you can download the first three weeks of the Sonlight schedule from our website to get a general idea of what your lesson plans will look like.
And please remember that Sonlight backs your satisfaction 100% with the "Love to Learn, Love to Teach™" Guarantee. Take a full year to use half (18 weeks) of the program. If, at any time, you are unhappy with your History / Bible / Literature or All-Subjects Package in any way, simply return it, used books and all, for a complete refund of everything you paid.
And if you want to talk to someone, like you could in a bookstore or convention? Our Advisors are available to you.
6. You prefer crisp, fact-based books, not stories that move you
Sonlighters describe our books as poignant, heartwarming, powerful, deep, and thought-provoking.
These are excellent books. Part of what makes a book great is your emotional connection with the characters, and a story with emotional depth. Sonlight books are great, so you'll have emotional connection. (Read Sarita's 7-point criteria for "Sonlight all-star" books)
Beyond that, from an educational perspective, students remember much more of what they have read when they have connected emotionally with the story and characters.
Depth of emotion also helps your children 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.
This is why we include books that move us.
7. You don't want to expose your extra sensitive child to natural disasters or other real world experiences
For most children, Sonlight books are age-appropriate. They are funny, poignant, exciting, and interesting books that deal with real life in thoughtful, gentle ways. They are not meant to be shocking, aggressive or inappropriate.
And yet they do deal with real life.
If your children become upset if they hear about volcanoes or other natural disasters, or if even the mention of the word "soldier" makes them cry, Sonlight might not be a good fit for your family.
Some families find that there are certain books they might set aside for the time being.
Often though, we find that children are eased gently into stories that help them process the world around them: the beauty and joy, and yes, sometimes pain, that is involved.
8. You expect the Instructor's Guide to be a taskmaster and not a guide
Your Sonlight IG is merely a schedule, a record, not a standard to hold yourself to.
Most parents pick and choose among the suggested assignments. Even if they read most of the books, they might ignore some of the comprehension questions, or skip some of the writing assignments.
Some people don't get to the timeline figures during the school year, and spend a few hours during the last week of school, putting a full year's worth of timeline figures onto their timelines all at once – a year-end review!
Some parents allow their children to drop two Readers a year, so their children only read fifteen or so books.
Some will just use the Discover & Do DVDs in lieu of experiments in the early years.
Or they will do the Read-Alouds at night, as bedtime stories. Or they will read some of the Read-Alouds during the summer, when the children are bored.
And, with all of these options, they are still fantastic parents who have given their children a terrific education.
The IG is a Guide, not a taskmaster.
9. You want your children to be following the same sequence as your local school district
In the early grades, 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, the differences 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 had sometimes wondered whether her children were learning enough.
When 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 on an astonishing variety of topics.
With a Sonlight education, your children will not merely absorb basic information, but, far more, they'll develop 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.
10. You want your children to lead their course of study
Sonlight Curriculum is structured – more so from Sonlight D on. However, just because the Instructor's Guide plots a course of study, you don't have to do precisely what it says. Sonlight Instructor's Guides are designed so you can readily modify the program. In fact, some unschoolers have appreciated having the foundational structure Sonlight offers: it gave them more confidence to launch out on their own beyond what the Instructor's Guide suggested. They have woven their free-form program around the Sonlight base.
If you love the idea of lots of literature, and are willing to modify the program to meet your needs, you should do just fine with Sonlight.
11. You want Scripture on every page of your teacher's manual
Sonlight academics are based on, and intentionally related to, Scripture, and the hope is that Scripture changes Sonlighters into the likeness of Christ. Bible reading, Christian teaching, and memory verses are an integral part of each Sonlight HBL program. In G through high school, rigorous Bible study (including apologetics and Church history) is woven into the programs.
But not every page in the IGs has a Scripture quotation.
When a passage of Scripture provides insight or understanding to a subject, the IG will often mention it. But in general, the Sonlight approach is to provide rich materials that help you engage in more natural conversations about Scripture with your children.
When you read The Hundred Dresses in Sonlight A, for example, the story itself presents wonderful opportunities to discuss Biblical principles in real-life settings. Why should we care for others? What does kindness look like? How do we stand up for what is right?
Instead of specific Bible lessons, Sonlight allows you to decide what is most applicable to discuss as you read the Bible daily. Depending on the unique needs of your children, you can teach whatever character principle you want to focus on then.
If you wonder whether the Christian parts of Sonlight will fulfill your goals, please download the free three-week samples of the Instructor's Guides from our website. You'll be able to get an idea of how we incorporate God and scripture into our curriculum.
12. You don't want to own books that assume evolution
Some of the books in both the Sonlight History and Science programs assume an evolutionary/old-earth perspective.
Usually, when a book has evolutionary content, the IG offers notes so you can discuss the different perspectives on the beginning of the universe with your children.
But if you'd rather not own books that assume evolution, Sonlight will not be a good fit for you.
13. You want a religiously neutral program
Most Sonlight books – ninety percent or more – are non-religious.
But the Sonlight Instructor's Guides (IGs) are not religiously neutral.
The IG authors come from a biblical, evangelical Christian perspective. They 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, nor will you avoid all references to God, the Bible, or Christianity.
14. You want to study American History every year
Western culture – and American society in particular within the last 150 years – has enriched the world in many ways. With Sonlight, you'll learn about its unique contributions with four solid years of U.S. history and culture.
But Sonlight also devotes eight years to the rest of the world, including not only Western history and culture, but the cultures and histories of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and indigenous peoples elsewhere around the world.
With Sonlight, your children are prepared not only to think about, pray for, and serve Americans, but peoples and cultures around the world – wherever God may lead them.
Of course, from a secular perspective, we live in an increasingly globalized world. As international commerce increases, you may have practical reasons for your children to study the cultures and peoples beyond America's borders as well, offering them the knowledge and capacity to transcend national boundaries.
See Sonlight's complete Scope and Sequence.
15. You don't want your teacher's notes to come from American conservative Christians
The primary Sonlight developers – John and Sarita Holzmann – are evangelical Christian, middle-class, Americans. Born and raised in the United States, they are the children of first-and second-generation European immigrants. As John said,
"We are grateful to God and to our parents for the heritage we enjoy. Yet we recognize that our backgrounds mean our perspectives are limited, though we seek to be as sensitive as possible to those from other backgrounds.
"If you are looking for a broad-based, internationally-focused curriculum that is deeply committed to looking at issues from ‘all sides,' and if you can overlook some of our (usually unwitting) American provincialisms, we expect we can provide the kind of educational program you are looking for."
John and Sarita have attended a wide range of Bible-believing churches over the years, though they do not push a particular Christian denomination or theology.
Sonlight is delighted to serve people who live in over 150 different countries and who come from Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, Mormon, Muslim, Jewish, and other religious persuasions as well. But please realize up front – Sonlight's developers come from a particular perspective.
16. You prefer frequent, written tests
From its foundation, Sonlight was designed to capitalize on the efficient, tutorial environment of the home.
Because you're in daily, personal, one-on-one contact with your students (unlike the relationship that exists between most classroom teachers and their students), you'll be able to evaluate the progress of your students through means other than quizzes, tests and gradable worksheets.
When you're reading a book, you'll likely discuss it with your children: "Why do you think he wanted to do that?" "What does ____ mean?"
If your children are able to answer your questions, you will know exactly how much they have understood – or how much they have failed to understand.
Such methods for gauging progress should give you the feedback you need to be confident in your children's day-to-day progress.
But what if your children need to transfer to a classroom, or need to take the SAT or ACT in anticipation of attending college?
These are good questions. Two possible answers:
- Some Math programs, and all the Apologia Science programs, include tests. As you anticipate a transition, you can give your children practice with these kinds of tests.
- Depending on where you live, your state may require annual or intermittent standardized testing. And whether required or not, you can have your children complete standardized tests on an occasional basis so you know if you are missing some key skill or subject matter. 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! (Sarita herself discovered the benefits of testing with her children. She had assumed that since she taught her children to read using phonics, they would know all the rules, that spelling would make sense, and that they would be good spellers. It wasn't until she had her children take a standardized test that she discovered, "Oops! I need to teach spelling.")
Homeschooling doesn't have to be school-at-home regarding tests and measuring … unless you want it to be.
17. You want hands-on activities every day
Sonlight does include hands-on activities. But hands-on has never been our emphasis. We believe that the educational value of many activities often aren't worth the hours of preparation the parents must complete.
So, more often than not, we encourage you that as your children read about new places and people, allow them to decide for themselves what activities they want to do. A box, after all, may become their time machine, cave, airplane, or house.
With Sonlight, you'll find some suggestions for hands-on activities in the Science Guides, along with Science experiments. Some books include suggestions of crafts. Many elementary students incorporate hands-on manipulatives with their Math. And, new in 2018, we've included a few hands-on projects that complement a few History / Bible / Literature levels.
18. You want to teach with worksheets
"My son just does his work and can get on with his day!"
Worksheets are so appealing, aren't they? How much easier to solve the basic Math problem 6-4=2 than it is to solve a word problem. 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.
So, too, with education.
A Sonlight education deals with real-life, practical things that take time and effort to think and talk through.
When, for example, you read the book of Luke with your children, they'll hear Jesus say some really unexpected things: the story of the man who commended the dishonest manager; the worker who hid his money and then gave it to the man who had multiplied his already.
And it will take time to work through what Jesus means.
That's not as easy as answering a catechism question, like "Who was Jesus?" with "God the Son." But it is meaningful.
Not easy, but worthwhile.
And for the worksheet-loving children, they can enjoy Sonlight's Language Arts and Science worksheets, and additional worksheets for Math, Vocabulary, Grammar, and Handwriting. Even with a Sonlight education, you can get in plenty of worksheets. Just not in History and Literature, where the depth and breadth of the information requires more discussion and thought. And, most years, not in Bible, either.
19. You want to teach all of your children the same materials, no matter the difference in their ages
The claim that you can cover the same material with all of your children, no matter their age, at one time is very enticing. It makes sense that you'd want to do everything together. But, there might be more to consider.
First, while it is true that great literature appeals to a span of ages, it only works so far. Few kindergarten and first grade students will grasp books whose content is designed to challenge their fifth and sixth grade siblings (let alone high school students).
Even beyond basic comprehension, there is the issue of maturity. At a certain point, the range becomes too great and you might find you are not challenging your older students, while at the same time, the younger children are overwhelmed.
So what has Sonlight done to help parents teach multiple students? You'll find age-appropriate programs for Preschool through High School that, because of their literature base, are easy to combine for children within about three years of age. You can use one Sonlight History / Bible / Literature program and one Sonlight Science program for all of them, with skill-based subjects (Math, Language Arts, perhaps Reading instruction) for each. This allows you to keep Sonlight's broad international focus, the great literature base, and the depth of discussions while moving everyone forward at their appropriate levels.
But when the age range between children diverges more widely, separate your children into smaller study groups.
In sum: if your children are spaced more than about three years apart, consider whether you really can teach all of them the same subjects at the same time. There comes a point when your children might benefit from separate programs. Read more about how to teach multiple students.
20. You want a four-year, chronological cycle of history
Many homeschoolers like the idea of teaching world history in a four-year cycle, repeated three times over the course of twelve years. It makes sense that History should be taught in chronological order, and it takes about four years to adequately cover history from creation to the modern era.
Every Sonlight History / Bible / Literature package emphasizes Geography and incorporates timeline activities. This ensures that your students will understand the flow of history, the timeline of events. And they also will understand where things happened, among which peoples they occurred, and, most importantly, why.
But rather than following a consistent four-year cycle three times over, Sonlight breaks the pattern by including additional focus on certain places, eras and types of history that a regular four-year cycle might skip.
So, in addition to studying World History over a two-year period in both the early elementary and middle school years, with Sonlight, you'll study:
- a total of three focused years on American History;
- a one-year intensive course on the history of the Christian church;
- 20th century World History – 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.
Do these breaks in the chronological study confuse children? No. We've found that just like a properly filled in back-story only helps the narrative, so too your students' understanding is enhanced when you see and talk about parallels and contrasts with peoples, cultures, and events of other times and other places.
Chronology is important, but it is not paramount. There are true, compelling reasons to take time to focus on additional studies.
While there are real reasons why you might decide that Sonlight is not a good option for your family, there are also many good reasons why it might be the best decision you make this year.
We are with you every step of the way: from helping you determine your school plan, to encouragement and prayer throughout the year. If you need assistance, contact a Sonlight Advisor.
Whatever program you choose, from whatever supplier, we at Sonlight pray God's blessing on you in finding the best homeschooling materials to meet your needs.