President of Sonlight Curriculum, Ltd.
I remember my first year home schooling ... before Sonlight.
My husband John and I were on "missionary support" and poor as church mice. We had four kids at home and we were living in a two-bedroom, 800-square foot rental house. The rent on that house took half our income.
And then we spent another quarter of our income on tuition to the local Christian school so our oldest daughter, Amy, could get a good education.
It was when our oldest son and second daughter were about to join Amy in school that I decided maybe I should swallow my pride and look into this homeschool craziness. John had suggested homeschooling a year earlier, but I said, "You're not going to enslave me by making me homeschool!"
Yes, that's the way I felt! I really was afraid I would become a slave!
But now, pushed to the wall financially, I thought maybe homeschooling could stretch our family budget...
Our first homeschool investment saved us thousands...or so I believed.
In March 1989, John met a pastor's family in upstate New York who introduced him to Ruth Beechick's books and some of the other materials that have become the bedrock of Sonlight Curriculum. When John showed me what he had found, I decided I'd be willing to at least give homeschooling a try.
So John and I promptly invested $2,000 in books and educational materials we thought might work. (Understand: that was over 20 years ago! $2,000 then would be equivalent to much more today.)
"That $2,000 is only two-thirds the cost of Amy's tuition," we told ourselves. "And we will be able to teach two children for that price!"
But useless materials robbed us of those savings!
The problem was, I soon found that I couldn't use half the materials I purchased. They had sounded great in the catalogs and in the magazine ads, but once I began to use them, they didn't work the way I wanted. So they wound up sitting on the shelf gathering dust. I realized I had wasted $1,000 of our already meager income!
Some people ask, "Why didn't you return those materials?"
Answer: I couldn't.
Why? Either because the item was no longer "new" (after all, how do you find out if something will work with your kids? You have to use it, don't you?)...or it wasn't worth returning (the money back wouldn't have covered my shipping costs—not to mention the time it would have taken me to pack it all up and ship it).
So we were out $1,000 for materials we would never use.
The other materials we bought, I absolutely loved. And my kids and I had a great time. Meanwhile...
My neighbors were crying, "Homeschooling is so hard!"
During that fall and winter, I began to realize that my experience was starkly different from that of other local homeschoolers.
I'd talk with them and every now and then ask, "So how's it going with homeschool?" Often, they'd burst into tears: "Oh! Homeschooling is so hard!"
"It is?" I'd ask myself in astonishment. "We're having a great time!"
I found that one neighbor, Becky, agreed with me. She and her kids were having a great time, too. But Becky had lived in Morocco. She knew what it was like to have to buy homeschool materials in the worst circumstances.
"If you think it's tough finding decent homeschooling materials here in the States," she said, "you ought to try it overseas!"
She hesitated a moment and then said, "You know what we should do? We should put together a company that gathers the best of the best materials and makes them available in a one-stop shop."
Because of her international experience, our very first concern was to make a curriculum useable for Americans living overseas.
And that's how Sonlight began: with a concern for low-income American expatriates living in difficult situations. If Sonlight could meet their needs, we thought, then it could meet the needs of just about anyone.
Sonlight saves you time, money and stress by hand-picking literary "all-stars" for you.
You ought to see the look on salesmen's faces when they tell me their products will "make us a lot of money" and I tell them...
"Sorry, I'm not interested. I'm not convinced your product is the best. And I don't care how much money we could make; if I'm not convinced it's the best, I won't put it in our catalog."
Having been burned myself, I decided I wouldn't let us carry anything that might cause a customer to feel she had made a poor decision. In order to find the best, I peruse publishers' catalogs. I review all the books that come my way (on average, more than 50 sample books every week from various publishers). I read—I mean really evaluate, in depth— close to a dozen books a week.
I also listen to all our customers—especially when they recommend a book they think is better than something I've chosen. (If what they have found is truly better, then I want to get that book into our curriculum!)
By the way: I've been doing this for over 22 years. Please multiply that out with me. To make the calculations easier, let us assume I have averaged only 10 books a week (low) times 50 weeks a year times 22 years...that "underestimation" equals 11,000 books.
That's a lot of books! Being able to compare and contrast so many books helps me evaluate any new ones I read. And it helps me find the true all-stars, which are the only books that make it into a Sonlight program.
To be a Sonlight All-Star, a book has to pass my 7-point test.
Except in rare circumstances, every book in the Sonlight catalog has to pass the following 7-point test:
- Real/realistic characters. Heroes should not be flawless. Anti-heroes ought not to be thoroughly detestable. They need to be nuanced and complex—the way real people really are.
- Solid character development. The protagonist must change (for the better) over the course of the book.
- Content that adds to the reader's cultural literacy. The book's plot, setting, characters, or vocabulary—something—must contribute to a reader's knowledge about world events and cultures, or their understanding of "the way things work" in human relations ... in life.
- Intriguing, multi-dimensional plot.
- Emotionally compelling. The story has to move me.
- Verbally beautiful. The writing must be superb and allow for fluent reading—silently or out loud.
- Re-readable. You have to want to read it over and over again.
The only time I ignore these rules is when there's a subject we have to address and absolutely no book meets these seven criteria. I'll put a lesser book in the spot only until I find a better one. You may be sure I stay away from trite, formulaic books. I also avoid the dry-as-dust tomes that merely recount "facts and figures"—the kind of books that exist solely to pump young minds full of information.
At this point in my life, out of every hundred books I read, I find only two or three that might merit becoming part of one of our programs. That's how few books there are that have the depth, the beauty, the cultural sensitivity, the inspiration, or the winsome, scholarly character I am looking for.
Having chosen finalists for All-Star consideration, however, our work isn't done...
Sonlight saves you hundreds of hours by scheduling the books for you...
Once I find the all-stars, I then schedule them into the curriculum. Among the questions I ask:
- Into what specific time period, geographical area, and cultural milieu does each book fit?
- Where do these books best fit in our overall curriculum?
- What tie-ins are there between this particular book and others we are studying that year?
- How long and difficult is this book to read?
- How much time should we allot it within our overall course of study?
- Where are the natural breaks within the text that will match the demands of our overall schedule?
At this point we create the Instructor's Guide: the schedule, the assignments, the notes and more.
...and by providing a wealth of learning activities to surround them.
- My team and I develop academic exercises to go along with the books we choose: dictation assignments, discussion questions, writing assignments, etc.
- We add notes to call your attention to details that will contribute to your children's cultural literacy.
- If certain passages are unclear, or if the author appears to be coming from a biased perspective, we do the research necessary to provide you with further explanations, commentary, or counter-balancing arguments.
- We craft teaching pointers to help you discuss important but tricky subjects (such as slavery in the US before the Civil War) with your kids.
- For Preschool through level F, we develop hands-on activities that coordinate with and enhance learning. These activities are low in parent prep time and big in educational payoff.
We have invested hundreds—probably thousands—of hours in every one of the Instructor's Guides we publish. And we update and improve them each year. You will always benefit from the latest research, the best input, the most thorough study we can provide.
The Sonlight Curriculum Instructor's Guides (or IG's, as we call them) schedule and help you teach all the History / Bible / Literature subjects (history, geography, Bible, reading, spelling, grammar, creative writing and more) plus Science.
They also include pages of practical teaching tips and information that will help you teach effectively.
And our work still isn't done.
Sonlight puts together all the necessary "extras," so you don't have to.
Most of us need far more than books and Instructor's Guides in order to teach effectively and well. Just a few of the necessary "extras" we've found and that we make sure to include in our All-Subjects Packages:
- Science supplies kits. We've put together materials you probably don't have lying around the house, plus the stuff that, even if you own it, you're not likely to put your hands on at a moment's notice: everything from marbles and powerful magnets to wire, thumbtacks, straws, mirrors, seeds, paperclips, and more.
- Maps. We weren't satisfied with any of the maps we found on the market, so we put together a really wonderful "Markable Map" for your students to record the places they study and where different events occur. We also include a set of erasable pens you'll use with it.
- Math manipulatives—physical objects that help kids understand math concepts.
- Handwriting supplies. And more!
Don't learn the hard way like I did ... let Sonlight do the work, so you can do the teaching!
Try us and see if the work we've done can't provide you the benefits you've been longing for: the joy of discovery, great conversations with your kids, a revitalized homeschool experience. Best of all: where else are you going to find all these benefits combined with a guarantee like ours?
- A one year, money-back Love to Learn, Love to Teach™ Guarantee
- 10% off everything you buy for a full year when you buy a History / Bible / Literature or All-Subjects Package.
Please, let us serve you...as we have served so many others.
Find Your Homeschool Curriculum Now
If you'd like to get more advice and information about the homeschooling process, please check out the following encouragement: