Kids love stories.
Almost all children love a good story. We believe kids respond better to great books with great characters than to boring textbooks. The connections they make with those characters and their adventures make it easy to develop a love of learning.
Sonlight is a literature-based homeschool curriculum. In fact, we pioneered this style of homeschool back in 1990 when we started the company. When you use Sonlight, you and your children will read many of the best children's books available. We find this to be a great foundation for education, since reading is the basis for comprehension in most academic subjects. Kids who read often and at length develop agile critical thinking and analytical skills. Those skills help them excel in writing, math, science and more.
Even if your child is a reluctant reader, many parents have used Sonlight to get their own reluctant readers hooked on reading. In the vast majority of cases, this strategy has worked quite well! (Sonlight books tend to hook skeptical parents, too.)
Sonlight provides tremendous value and is a worthwhile investment in your children's future.
Sonlight® All-Subjects Packages come with all the books and resources you need to teach your child at home. You won't need to hunt for books at the library or bookstore. You won't need to spend time figuring out how to teach your child.
Homeschoolers have high regard for our well-known Instructor's Guides (IGs). Our IGs simply help you be a great teacher, and parents recognize the tremendous value in that. Each IG comes packed with organized teaching content, discussion questions, and notes to help you have meaningful conversations with your children about the daily material.
We believe such high quality curriculum is worth the investment. Many families say our curriculum packages are priced very competitively for the value they provide.
This is your children's education, after all. With Sonlight, your children will receive a proven, well-rounded education. Your days will be coordinated and scheduled for you, with all the materials you need. Sonlight provides world-class, bend-over-backwards customer service that helps you every step of the way. Sonlight will help your family love your homeschool experience.
Compared to other programs, Sonlight also saves you money by…
• Helping you teach children at different grade levels with the same curriculum package (See Teaching More Than One Child?)
• Letting you re-use curriculum with your younger children as they grow. When the younger ones are ready, you can pull your used program off the shelf, order a few extra resources and get started! There are very few consumable items in the All-Subjects and History / Bible / Literature Packages.
You get this peace of mind and support from Sonlight for an investment that roughly equals the price of a cup of coffee per day. Compare the value and support you receive with other curriculum options, and you will realize what a great value Sonlight really is.
To see how Sonlight's cost compares to buying from competitive booksellers (new or used, on- or offline), using the library, or trying public or private school, check out the article about Sonlight's price. And don't forget about Sonlight's interest-free payment plan options.
Sonlight presents more than one side of a case.
Some parents shy away from Sonlight because they may:
1. believe it is wrong to teach about beliefs or practices different from their own;
2. want to introduce these ideas later than families who love Sonlight tend to;
3. lack the time or confidence to discuss controversial ideas with their children.
Few parents are eager to introduce their children to the trickier aspects of life. But the fact is that your children will run into false and foolish ideas some day.
Given that reality, consider whether you'd like your children to encounter those ideas on their own, or at home, with your help and the support of a well-thought-out curriculum.
We believe that parents should introduce children to difficult subjects such as poverty, war, the origins of the earth, and other religions. Sonlight helps you share your views with your children as you encounter these and other difficult subjects. We help you teach your children why certain positions are false or questionable. We help you teach them how to respond to people who believe differently — in gracious strength and humility.
We designed Sonlight® Instructor's Guides to help you do all these things. All you have to do is follow along and share your heart with your kids.
Sonlight uses a more effective method than formal testing.
Sonlight does not replicate a classroom at home. We focus on the unique benefits that homeschooling affords. For example, homeschool parents have daily one-on-one contact with their students. This equips parents to evaluate students' progress without quizzes and tests.
When you read a book, for example, you'll discuss it with your children: "Why do you think he did that?" "What does this mean?" As your children answer, you know how much they have or haven't understood.
Sonlight does provide tools for you to measure your children's progress. Our methods are less formal (and some say a lot simpler) than classroom-oriented programs. Still, Sonlighters have found that these methods can give you all the feedback you need. As your children get older, we help them practice taking tests so they're ready for standardized tests and college. But in the younger years, you're free from that anxiety and hassle.
Sonlight does not require time-intensive hands-on activities.
Sonlight has more options for hands-on activities in the elementary grades than most of our competitors. But those activities are not central to Sonlight. They are simple and targeted for specific developmental benefits. We don't assign intensive activities that require lots of parent prep time. We encourage child-led activities based on their own inspiration instead.
The All-Subjects Packages for Preschool and Pre-Kindergarten have abundant hands-on suggestions. We tied these into your learning and researched carefully to make them developmentally appropriate and effective. The History / Bible / Literature packages A through E (for ages 5-12) include weekly suggestions of activities that also correlate with your learning. Sonlight's Science programs contain many activities and experiments. We also emphasize hands-on activities in early elementary Math programs.
But we won't tell you to make raccoon-skin caps, create giant play-dough maps of the world or cook Pilgrim-era Thanksgiving meals. These kinds of activities may be fun, but we don't believe their educational value is worth the enormous prep time for parents.
Sonlight books inspire kids to all kinds of creative pursuits. And they prepare for those activities on their own with minimal guidance from us. From reconstructing a pioneer cabin out of bedsheets to acting out the Trojan War in the backyard, Sonlight students will surprise you with what they come up with.
If you love to prepare activities for your children, you can find lots of suggestions on Sonlight Connections. If not, you're freed from the guilt: your kids can have a great childhood (and education) without them.
Sonlight emphasizes world history and world cultures.
In a standard American history/social studies curriculum, students begin with study of "my school," then move outward to "my community," then "my state," "my country" and so on. They devote 10 of 12 years — over 80% of their school years — to the history and culture of a nation that has existed for less than 10% of recorded history and houses fewer than 5% of all the people in the world!
We appreciate that Western culture has enriched the world in many ways. We want to highlight the unique contributions of American society in particular.
But we also believe that God respects and loves people of all racial or cultural backgrounds, so Sonlight emphasizes the other peoples and cultures on Earth.
Sonlight students begin their studies outside the United States (see our Scope and Sequence), so that when they look at American history and culture, they will understand how and why American culture is different.
In all, Sonlight devotes four solid years to U.S. history and culture. Due to their rich content, those four years are equivalent to at least eight in almost any other program.
But Sonlight also devotes eight years to the rest of the world. That includes Western history and culture, as well as that of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and indigenous peoples worldwide.
We believe God desires to bless all nations and peoples of the world (Rev. 5:9). So we help you prepare your students to think about, pray for and serve people around the world.
And as international commerce increases, there are practical secular reasons why children need to learn about the world beyond America's borders. Future employers will appreciate your children's broad and diverse knowledge.
Sonlight helps parents be involved and share their values.
The full Sonlight program will not work if parents hand it to their elementary or middle school children to do on their own. Even your high school students will get the most from Sonlight if you engage them in discussions about what they've studied and what they're thinking as a result.
The complete curriculum (including History, Bible, Reading, Language Arts, Science, Math and Handwriting), requires a parental time commitment of about 1.5-2 hours a day in the early years, 2-3.5 hours in the middle years and 1-3 hours for older students. (Your children will also spend a fair bit of additional time on independent work, particularly in subjects such as Reading, Math and Handwriting.)
Why all this parental involvement?
Because Sonlight equips you to pass on your values and worldview to your children. The Bible says you should talk with your children about these things "when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up" (Deuteronomy 6:7, 11:19). In other words, you must invest a significant amount of time and talk with your children in order for them to understand your worldview.
Sonlight equips you to make the most of that time.
We help you read and talk about things that matter. Your steadying hand and thoughtful input builds deep bonds with your children. In turn, they gain confidence in you and turn to you for insight and guidance. You find yourself serving as trusted confidant — a privileged role that most parents would love to fulfill.
Sonlight incorporates Scripture holistically.
We believe that academics ought to be based on and related to Scripture. Bible reading, themes, memory verses and study are an integral part of each Sonlight program. The Bible study includes apologetics and Church history, which can be quite rigorous in the upper levels. We want to help students find sure footing in their faith. Some parents, however, like to see a reference or quote from Scripture on nearly every page.
We believe there are many times when a certain passage of Scripture provides good insight on a topic. We do quote or reference the appropriate Scripture there. But in general, we try to help parents engage in more natural conversations about Scripture with their children.
For example, World Cultures (level A) includes the beloved book The Hundred Dresses. The story presents great 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?
We do not fill up our Instructor's Guides with Bible lessons for each of these principles. We instead let you decide what is most applicable to discuss. Depending on the unique needs of your children, you can teach whatever character principle you want to! We find that this fluid, natural method tends to stick with kids much more than simplistic moral tales about character traits.
Sonlight does the prep work for you, but does not schedule each nitty-gritty detail.
Sonlight helps parents avoid hours of prep work. Our complete curriculum lets you spend your homeschool time interacting with your students instead of preparing.
You can just "open and go" each morning, knowing what to do each day. But we don't tell you what time to start school in the morning. We don't tell you what order you have to teach the subjects each day. Though planned out for you, the lessons are not scripted. Even if you're new and a bit timid, Sonlight parents say we give them the confidence to be their children's best teacher.
On the other end of the spectrum, some parents enjoy creating their plans from scratch. They find it energizing instead of draining. If this describes you, Sonlight gives you lots of flexibility. You can use the Instructor's Guide as a framework and then add details to whatever level you want.
Sonlight includes stories that impact you emotionally.
Sonlight president Sarita Holzmann has a true gift for choosing books that children and parents love (and that serve great educational purposes). As part of her rigorous 7 criteria for choosing Sonlight books (see p. 161), Sarita chooses books that are so well written they help you feel an emotional connection with the characters. As a result, some Sonlight stories and characters will stay with you forever, and some may even bring tears to your eyes.
Please know: Sarita does not choose sappy, nostalgic or sentimental books. Rather, she looks for books you could describe as poignant, heartwarming, powerful, deep and thought-provoking.
Moms have said these books create a "wonderful heartache" or "positive mark on your heart." The emotions also make the books memorable. Students remember much more of what they read when they have emotionally connected with the characters.
Such books also help children develop moral imagination. As your kids imagine how the world looks and feels to someone else, they develop the capacity to empathize with others. The emotional impact of such books helps children see that actions affect the lives of others. They learn through believable characters that actions do have consequences.
Sonlight provides a robust academic education.
Sonlight is highly academic. We believe that we homeschool parents have a responsibility before God to help our children acquire wisdom, knowledge and a foundation for future service while they are under our care.
We believe this helps prepare students for whatever God calls them to do. 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.
That's why Sonlight Instructor's Guides assign reading assignments, discussion questions, map activities, written reports and more. It's why they suggest additional subjects students might study, languages they might learn, skills they might want to develop, and so forth.
But consider an elaborate Thanksgiving feast. No one expects you to sample "some of everything." So it is with Sonlight. Most parents pick and choose among the assignments. Most do all the reading, but many skip some of the discussion questions. Some stretch a program over more than one year. Many spread out the Read-Alouds, using some as bedtime stories and some in the summer, when the kids may be bored.
Sonlight offers you a rich academic feast and encourages you to challenge your students. But we also give you the flexibility to do what is best for your family. The point is not to check off every box in your Instructor's Guide, but to help prepare your children to do whatever God calls them to do. Sonlight stands with you in that quest.
Sonlight acknowledges the gray areas of history.
Sonlight recognizes that much of history is open to conflicting interpretations.
Many of us learned history as simple facts. But we often can't possibly know exactly what happened. We may know the primary facts about major events, but we also know that historical writings and archeological interpretations come from subjective human perspectives.
Most of history was written by the "winners." So we strive to at least consider the viewpoint of those on the other side. For example, the defeat of the Spanish Armada probably looked quite different to Spanish eyes than it did to the British. Both perspectives are valuable.
Sonlight seeks to give a fair representation of both (or more) sides of important issues. We want to encourage students to think critically. We want them to respectfully engage with those who hold differing perspectives.
Sonlight builds character through reading and conversation.
Character is of utmost importance. Parents love that Sonlight helps them raise children of godly character. How do we do that?
Sonlight believes that "character is caught, not taught." People develop good character by observing the behavior of others whom they respect. They develop it by letting the truths of the Bible sink into their life. Children grow as their parents address character issues as they arise in real life.
Sonlight helps parents and children discuss real moral questions together. Sonlight biographies and books give students role models worth emulating. We help children consider the lives, moral dilemmas and behavior of believable characters in realistic stories. Families read books together with protagonists who confront realistic ethical and moral dilemmas, where just like in real life, it's sometimes hard to know what to do.
Children see right through moralistic tales. So the presence of true conflict and struggle in our books makes their moral or character-oriented lessons believable and memorable. Children remember the consequences of actions — good and bad — from believable characters.
When they read of real people (or believable fictional characters) who face real challenges and remain faithful, children also develop heroes worth imitating. Children will be inspired to live with courage and faithfulness, just like their heroes. Character grows out of this inspiration.
Giving children admirable role models helps them far more than giving them facts to memorize about character traits.
If you have a strong desire to do "official" character training each day, you might choose to supplement with a character development program. But most parents find the Sonlight approach far more enjoyable and effective.
Sonlight does not use a four-year chronological cycle for history.
Advocates of the four-year cycle approach often cite two primary reasons for the idea:
1) They say it makes sense. History should be taught in chronological order, and it takes about four years to cover history from creation to the modern era, and 2) a four-year cycle permits them to teach all of their children — no matter their ages — one subject at the same time: Ancient History one year, Middle Ages another and so forth.
This approach works well for many families, though it usually requires much more prep work from the parent than Sonlight does.
Our view is that students do need to understand the flow and timeline of history. But they also must understand the where, who and why. This sometimes requires a separate narrative — a flashback — that may be out of order chronologically.
Is that bad? No!
Think about the last movie or book you enjoyed. It probably included a flashback scene to fill you in on preceding events. This jump to another time probably helped you understand something important about the characters and the scenes to come.
Similarly, we help students' comprehension when we remind them of parallels and contrasts with peoples, cultures and events of other times and places.
Every one of our History / Bible / Literature packages emphasizes historical periods and incorporates timeline activities. When we are teaching about any particular people group or part of the world, we teach in chronological order.
But we don't believe chronology must trump geography (i.e., place) and culture.
Sometimes it's worthwhile to focus on the history and culture of a particular place: American history, perhaps; the Eastern Hemisphere nations; or civics in an historical context.
With respect to the second idea — that a four-year approach lets you to teach all your children with one curriculum, we agree that it helps to teach children together… as long as the children are within a few years of one another. We encourage you to do that with Sonlight: combine your kids so you use as few HHistory / Bible / Literature programs as is reasonable at any one time.
But there comes a point where, say, a middle school student won't get the kind of "meat" she needs from a book written for first grade readers. And few kindergarten and first grade students will grasp books whose content is designed to challenge their seventh grade sibling.
So with curriculum on a four-year-cycle, you are left either teaching way over or under your children's heads, or doing significant prep work to meet all their needs.
Sonlight's approach reaches a happy medium that combines students as much as possible while also connecting them to the wonders of history at their own level of learning. With the prep work already done, you can relax and know you are doing justice to each child's education.
Sonlight has a broader focus than just the "Great Books" and the "Great Conversation."
Sonlight Curriculum introduces students to many of the most influential "Great Books" of Western intellectual tradition. We also help students enter into the "Great Conversation" of Western culture.
In other words, our program includes many classic works. That's why many families use Sonlight as a foundation for what they call a Classical Education.
But we don't think that 12-year-olds need to read The Aeneid. Asking a 14-year-old to read Augustine's City of God or Calvin's Institutes is more likely to make him hate reading than it is to give him a thirst for the big questions.
As one woman wrote, "The Great Books will be drudgery to anyone not yet taken captive by the Great Questions, the Big Ideas. If you are not yet given to pondering the meaning of life, it is doubtful you are ready to read the ponderings of others."
Our goal is to raise children who love to learn and love to read. So we think students need to be prepared to understand the books' content and to feel passionately about issues the books raise.
To this end, Sonlight waits several years later than some in the Classical movement to schedule the more difficult works. When we do schedule difficult books, we usually intermix them with more modern, fun works.
We show students that school and learning can be a mixture of disciplined hard work and of pleasure.
We also believe that some issues can wait for college or personal study in the adult years. If students have been inspired to pursue a lifelong career of learning, when the appropriate time comes, they will get around to the "Great Books" they've missed. Far better to let adults choose these books for themselves than to extinguish their love of learning while they are still teenagers.
Sonlight is not an "unschooling" approach.
Sonlight Curriculum is a structured program. As Reason 11 discusses, that doesn't mean you have to actually follow the structure. Our Instructor's Guides let you easily modify the program.
If you lean toward unschooling, and are willing to modify the program, you should do just fine with Sonlight. Some spontaneous souls tell us they appreciate the foundational structure Sonlight offers. It gives them confidence to launch out on their own beyond what our program suggests. They weave their free-form program around the Sonlight base.
Sonlight seeks a balanced view on the Christian character and roots of the United States.
Sonlight Curriculum wants children to develop a missionary heart for all of God's world. We want them to embrace all peoples with realistic discernment — European Americans no more and no less than others.
We are as fascinated as the next person with those aspects of American history that are uniquely Christian. We are happy to point them out. But we seek to go far beyond this.
For example, we seek to show how things look(ed) from the perspective of the peoples displaced by the European colonists. And we discuss issues of racism (for example) not only as they may have impacted the American Civil War, but in other contexts as well. Over the years, we've found that this desire for a balanced perspective sets us apart from a large segment of the homeschool curriculum community.
Sonlight includes books with non-Christian characters and themes.
Sonlight does not promote unbiblical practices or ungodly behavior. But we do believe a book should be judged on its positive value, rather than the negative attributes it omits. The fact that a book contains no potentially offensive material does not necessarily make it a worthy read.
As you read some of the greatest literature ever written you will (particularly in the older grades) probably encounter words, ideas or characters that will offend you.
What great opportunity to talk with your children!
The Sonlight experience is a joint parent-child effort. Your reading will spark conversation about your values and beliefs. You will naturally help your children learn to evaluate wise and foolish behavior.
But if you only want books with overt Christian themes in your home — to the exclusion of "literary masterpieces" or cultural essentials — then you will probably have difficulty with some of the classic literature we offer.
Imagine eating a flavorful fish, grilled to perfection. The nutrition and flavor make it worth your while to "work around the bones." So it is with the meaningful literature we include.
If you can read around an occasional use of offensive language in an otherwise outstanding work, you should do just fine with Sonlight— at least through the History / Bible / Literature 200 program. (The 300 and 400 programs for mid- to upper-high school include a few raw works, as noted in the Instructor's Guides.)
For a more detailed discussion of this issue, see Why Sonlight Uses Certain Books that Some Homeschoolers Won't Touch.
Sonlight is unabashedly Christian.
Ninety percent or more of our books are nonreligious. But the Sonlight Instructor's Guides are not religiously neutral! They are written from an unabashedly biblical, evangelical Christian base.
We are not strident in our Christian views, but we are not hesitant to suggest where and how we think the Bible, as God's Word, may speak to the issues of today. We have written our Instructor's Guides from that perspective.
We don't claim to represent or advocate the views and practices of any specific denomination. Our primary commitment is to the preaching of Jesus' "evangel" — His Good News — among all the peoples of the Earth.
By merely eliminating the Bible portion of our programs, you will not eliminate all references to God, the Bible or Christianity. At the same time, many families who do not consider themselves evangelical or even religious use the program happily and successfully.
In our experience, those who love Sonlight most are the parents who hope to raise children with a heart for the world, ready to do whatever God calls them to do.