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Sonlight Curriculum is *not* a new company to me. In fact, I have to admit that they are more like an old friend. And I do realize that sounds like an odd thing to say about a company, for heavens’ sakes . . . but those who’ve been "Sonlighters" for more than a couple of years might know just what I’m saying here.
I started using Sonlight with our family when my eldest boys were in 2nd and 4th grade. After several years as an eclectic homeschooler, I was worn out from spending hours and hours hunting down the best math, science and English programs I could find, creating my own schedules, and forever worrying I was missing something. A friend told me about Sonlight, saying that it was a program focusing on History, Reading, and Bible, and designed to be used with multiple ages. She also said that it was used by many missionary families around the world because the program didn’t focus solely on American History for years and years, as so many homeschool programs do. I knew I wanted my children to have a heart for the world, and that I wanted them to know as much as possible about different places and peoples. I ordered a copy of their catalog, read it cover to cover, and fell in love. It sounded like a perfect fit, and after praying about it, I really felt like the Lord had led us to Sonlight–it was basically as if someone with my own mindset and priorities but way more experience and knowledge about what was available on the homeschool market had already done all the legwork for me, choosing just as I would have for myself. We were hooked.
Sonlight was all it professed to be and more. When we received our first box, it was literally like Christmas at my house! A huge box full of book after book after book was gleefully opened and the books looked even more interesting than the packing peanuts! My kids had to be held back from reading them all immediately. And I was thrilled to have such a bookshelf, full of wonderful books that I knew wouldn’t be loaded with twaddle, but that we all could really learn from and enjoy at the same time. Since then, every year, Box Day has become an occasion. We have to wait til *everyone’s* available, and we have to take a photo. It’s a family holiday, for heaven’s sakes.
Along with History, Readers, Read Alouds, and Bible, Sonlight carries wonderful products to round out your days . . . math, extra English, science, and elective programs which have been tested and found to work. We’ve truly been happy with almost everything we’ve used–I think there’s only been one math program in all these years that just flat-out didn’t work for us!
Cuddling on the couch with a great book became a wonderful part of our days. We were learning together (me, too!) and I loved it, and continue to love it.
These days, unfortunately, some things have changed. The big boys aren’t quite as likely to come sit on the couch with me to read a story (though they can sometimes be coerced or bribed with treats.) I can’t read *everything* to *everyone* all the time, and the topics the older kids need to cover are not necessarily child friendly, as you’ll hear more about in a minute. Now, Sonlight has grown with us. The Cores in later years are designed to be done more independently and the Instructor’s Guides are written to the student. That leaves me pretty free to hand them the schedule and then follow up with them later while I work with the ones who are unable to work on their own.
Fast forward to today . . . and we’re working through our seventh (I think!) Core from Sonlight. My two eldest are now on Core 400, American Government. We are enjoying it, and I’m thrilled with what they’ve learned this year. I’ll write more about that another time! I promise you I’m learning even more than they are, probably because I’m older and wiser and actually know that I WANT to know what they’re supposed to be learning! Along with the completely scheduled Instructor’s Guide are notes on each book with questions, vocabulary word suggestions, etc. Reading the notes that John Holzman, who along with his wife Sarita founded Sonlight back in 1990, wrote for these books has been extremely enlightening and interesting for us all.
I was wonderfully blessed to receive SL’s "20th Century World History Program" to review. Written for 11th/12th graders, this is a heavy duty program. From John Holzman’s notes in the forward . . .
"We have held off teaching 20th century history as long as possible partially because it is so ugly . . . it is by far the most violent (not counting the Flood) in all of world history to the present."
And yet . . . modern history must be known and understood as well as ancient history if we’re to avoid making the same mistakes over and over. The description on the website for this Core program reads:
Prepare your older students to understand, engage, and transform our world.
This year you and your teens will journey through one of the most fascinating and challenging time periods in all of history—the 20th Century.
Along the way you’ll encounter: two world wars, the first airplane flight and moon walk, and a bomb powerful enough to level an entire city. You’ll also uncover amazing advancements in medicine, science and technology, a war fought without a single shot, the "taming" of the wild west, the joys and sorrows of the industrial revolution and much more.
You will travel to far-off lands and to the streets of small American towns to study the roots of the political, social, and cultural wars that continue to rage today. Best of all, you’ll discover how to respond to the opponents of God as you defend your faith and challenge theirs while confidently sharing biblical truth.
There are 42 books in this set, so I’ll refrain from giving them all to you here. One major change that’s been made recently is the History spine; apparently a CD was being used in the past which some people found difficult, so the new spine is The Visual History of the Modern World. This is a truly beautiful book, loaded with pictures, focusing on one decade at a time. While the pictures are in black and white (color would have been nice!) there are so many that I suppose the cost would have been ridiculous, and it was nice to see a real picture of Marie Curie for the first time, even without color! The student is to write a decade summary every few weeks, which is a great idea to really get the main events pressed into their minds.
For Bible, the focus this year is on Apologetics. Know What You Believe and Know Why You Believe are both excellent books which help the student define what their faith is really about. CS Lewis’ classic Mere Christianity is a great book that everyone should read, and Steve Farrar’s How to Ruin Your Life by Forty will challenge them to think through their choices in this important time in their lives–and in the times to come.
You’ll need to add in science and math curricula, along with foreign languages and any other electives you wish your student to cover. But of course, it wouldn’t be Sonlight if there weren’t also a plethora of readers included, and you won’t be disappointed. From All Quiet on the Western Front to The Metamorphosis by Kafka (won’t your mother-in-law be impressed to hear that your kids are reading Kafka?) China’s Long March to The Hiding Place, the books are engaging and challenging. I enjoyed many of them myself for the first time and can’t believe how much I’m learning by homeschooling my kids. Having every day’s work laid out for you (and them) is also very convenient; you’ll just go through and write in the assignments for math, science, and phys-ed that you’ve chosen for your child. I have my kids check off each assignment on the weekly schedule as they’re done. Language Arts is incorporated into each week’s work and correlates to the reading they’re doing for history or literature.
Now, I do have one snag with Sonlight in these later Cores. When my kids were younger it didn’t bother me to "just read to them," and have them narrate what they’d heard back to me. I wanted them to love learning and enjoy being together, to glean wisdom from the stories we read together and get some basic ideas about different times in history, etc. I’m not much of a fill-in-the-blank person, especially during the early years. However, like many of you, I find myself in a different position with my older children; I want to really know that they’re retaining what they’re being taught, and they *need* to learn to do a little regurgitation, albeit with their own twist, "on command" so to speak. We belong to a private school which is an umbrella school for homeschoolers, and they’d like to see my portfolios once in awhile (egads!) So I have to admit it . . . I’d like to see some worksheets, quizzes and tests. Don’t get me wrong–there are plenty of questions written out in the guides located at the back of your Teacher’s Guide. I do have my kids read the questions and answer them in a notebook. It does seem like it would be easier, though, if they were printed out *alone* rather than with the answers. And tests, too. While they’re used to tests for math and science, they haven’t really learned well to prove out what they’ve learned in History. I know last year when we worked on American History there were moms on the Sonlight forums (another bonus! See the website!) who had located test guides available seperately for the "spine" of that Core, and I ordered them to use. I guess I just feel that I would like to have something to file in a notebook to show that a) we did the work and b) they actually deserve the grades I’m giving them; something a bit more concrete than my personal opinion. Could I make up tests myself? Surely, and I often do. But I would rather they did it for me. Can’t we have our cake and eat it, too?
The true beauty of this program is its vast expanse. Honestly, I feel my kids have received an exposure to the world over the years that, because it’s always undergirded by a vision for the truth, has given them more of a true understanding of what’s "out there" than anything else we could have done. When others speak of homeschooled kids being sheltered, I smile and think that I’d stand any one of my kids up any day alongside one from another system and feel great about my children’s understanding of various religions, ethnicities and history. To top it all off, both of my oldest boys desire to serve God overseas, and while I believe that desire was obviously hard-wired in there by God Himself, I also firmly believe that it was expanded by the fact that they were introduced to that world with all its problems and pain by Sonlight, with me holding their hand all along the way.
The price for this package–Bible, Literature, and History/Geography, is $589.27. Whew, I know. But you have to remember what you’re getting . . .
That’s 42 books, plus the Instructor’s Guide which tells you how and when to use every book, what each book is about, and is full of information and questions for you and your student. You can find these books elsewhere, yes . . . but in most cases, the time and effort and frustration spent to do so isn’t quite worth it! The people at Sonlight are so sure that you’ll find this to be "The way you wish you were taught," that it’s GUARANTEED. They have an incredible, 18 week guarantee. If during that time you decide you don’t like it, you can return it–used book and all. Amazing! Read more about the guarantee here: http://www.sonlight.com/love.html .
I think one of the greatest articles ever written about Sonlight is their own list . . . 27 Reasons Not to Buy Sonlight. http://www.sonlight.com/not-to-buy.html
Yes, you read that correctly! If you’re not sure yet, this is a great article to read and will honestly let you know whether this is a program that fits your own personal beliefs and knowledge about homeschooling–and education in general.
So, the review is done. This Core is wonderful, well-organized, and clearly laid out. I’m looking forward to getting a deeper look at the 1900s–and at the same time, dreading some of the conversations I know we’ll need to have. This fall, we will plunge headlong into 20th Century World History–right after my 2nd son gets back from his summer missions trip to Papua, New Guinea. It will be bittersweet, because we expect his oldest brother, our first Sonlighter, will still be serving in Brazil at the time. He will miss Box Day. Largely because of Sonlight, he will be living out what he’s learned.