While some teachers just cram facts down kids' throats and hope a sufficient education emerges, the editors and educators responsible for the Sonlight Curriculum take a less extreme, more well-reasoned approach. Education for them is not simply "knowing things," but rather absorbing an understanding of the world we live in as well as the tools leading from observation to true apprehension and interpretation. The Sonlight courses are built around hand-selected literature titles brought into a manageable and cohesive trajectory of study.
How Do These Work?
Sonlight was created to provide active missionaries with full curriculum packages. The courses are not denominationally-specific, and students are introduced to many theological perspectives (mostly Protestant), especially in the upper grades. The creators of the program emphasize the importance of exposing students to different ideas, Christian and non-Christian. Content in the upper levels tends to be more graphically violent and gritty than in the younger grades.
Sonlight provides primarily history-based curriculum for grades K-12. Each year is accompanied by an extensive teacher's manual with a scope and sequence, lesson plans, supplementary information, study questions, etc. to help navigate the extensive reading lists. Each year has a specific theme (usually an historical period) to which most of the literature and history reading applies, while science, math and other subjects are treated separately. There is no "required" curriculum for math, though Horizons, Singapore, and Teaching Textbooks are all strongly encouraged.
A typical teacher's manual has 36 tabs, one for each week of a typical school year, containing detailed daily lesson plans. Appendices include history, reader, and read-aloud study guides. Trying to form a truly comprehensive educational program, the authors have even included information and checklists for gauging students' physical and character development. The study guides include supplementary information, maps and charts, comprehension and discussion questions, and vocabulary words.
There are two possible tracks for every year: the four-day track allows you to get through each week's work in 4 days, while the five-day-per-week track is more comprehensive and includes longer reading lists. Each weekly lesson plan is two-sided, with the four-day track on one side and the five-day on the other. One advantage of the four-day track is that it allows you to supplement with materials you find rather than having to rigidly adhere to Sonlight's schedule.
Sonlight helps students see history as an interconnected narrative of cause and effect. Students are taught to think creatively and logically and to assess everything in light of a Christian worldview. Home education is portrayed as the best choice for Christians since it allows parents to direct course study and integrate biblical thought.
Each year forms a logical progression, so younger students start at the beginning (ancient civilizations), progress to the Middle Ages and Renaissance and on to modern times, etc. Every three years or so the cycle begins over, covering each era in more depth than before, with a couple years devoted primarily to American history. While this pattern exists, it shouldn't be too difficult to transition into Sonlight from another curriculum, or out again when you're ready to move on.
Our Honest Opinion
Sonlight is an excellent concept very well executed. The integration of all learning in the context of a Christian worldview is accomplished with care and nuance. The teacher's manuals are highly specific—scheduling daily readings down to the page number—making it difficult to customize the content while using the manual, and equally tricky to use different editions. At the same time, with the amount of material covered each year the specificity of the teacher's manual can't really be avoided.
Some have said there’s too much reading, and that may be true for many families. Also, in keeping with the theme of each year some of the titles selected don't seem particularly difficulty-appropriate. However, the breadth of each level leaves plenty of leeway for you to customize the reading lists to your own needs and abilities. Remember that this is a fairly teacher-intensive program, requiring lots of parent-student discussion and planning, but also that this is ultimately a very rewarding educational method for both the student and the teacher.
Please Note: Sonlight Curriculum does not sell their materials to Exodus Books. We carry many of the same titles, and are often able to obtain used copies of books they publish. The following is culled from their 2013 website and includes much of their selection, though it is not comprehensive, nor is it in any sort of curricular order. For a complete listing, visit the Sonlight Curriculum website.
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