Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sonlight: My Review

One of KJ's cousins is thinking about using Sonlight material with her son next year, and she asked about our experience with it, so as the French say, Voila!  I thought I'd attempt a little review.
I think Bethany (aforementioned cousin) is drawn to Sonlight's emphasis on books and literature, which is what I was drawn to as well.  One look at this collection in the catalog, and I was sold!

I am a sucker for good books.  The above pictured items are from Sonlight's Core A collection.  A "core" consists of the read-alouds, Language Arts, Bible, and History/Geography.  You can choose to purchase a Core and add on Science, Math, and other electives, or they also have an entire grade level package put together that I think may be a little cheaper, but I think it comes with a few less books.  It's also easier to pick and choose what you want/need using a Core.  The different Cores can be used and adapted for a 3-year range.  Core A, pictured above, and what we used for Ella's first grade year, can be adapted for grades K-2 or ages 5-7.  

We chose to use Core A last year because 1) A friend had most of the materials and books and was willing to lend them to me. 2) Ella was in the middle of the age range. 3) I like starting at the beginning of things.

Thoughts on Age Appropriateness of Read-Alouds
I would say that most of the books chosen for read-alouds in this core were on a level that Ella could understand and enjoy.  There were two exceptions that I can think of:  After awhile, some of the stories in I Heard Good News Today just seemed to old for her.  It's a collection of Christian missionary stories, some of which were really good and encouraging, but some of them were beyond her comprehension, and some referenced the suffering and martyrdom of people in a way that I thought was a little much for her age.

I haven't read this book yet, but we also decided to skip Twenty and Ten, which is probably a good story, but from the description, I also thought that Nazi soldiers hunting down Jewish children at a French school during WWII was a little heavy for Ella.  

As I already mentioned, choosing a Core is flexible because you can pick and choose which books you want.  Since I had several books being loaned to me by a friend, I checked our local library's catalog to see which books they had available, and then only purchased the books that remained on the list.  I also chose not to purchase the Bible storybook, because we have several of those already.

The Core Teacher's Guide
You can choose whether or not you purchase the teacher's guide, which is your lesson plan for the Core.  It contains the plans for Bible, History/Geography, and your Read-Aloud.  Could you skip this?  Yes, you probably could.  We did not use the Bible portion because we have a family devotion time at night, and Ella was already memorizing Scripture through our church's Awana program, so we skipped that part.  The read-aloud section, of course, gives you a schedule for reading the books and a few discussion questions, as well as lists of vocabulary your child may be unfamiliar with.  Sometimes there is some helpful background information about the book or story.  If you feel okay with just reading the books in the Core at your own pace, it's probably not absolutely necessary you have the guide.  The main work for you would be if you chose to do History and Geography without the guide, though most of these lessons were just reading in the various Usborne Encyclopedias purchased, so you could do it if you were so inclined.

Language Arts
The Language Arts portion of Sonlight's program is what I had the most mixed feelings about.  I enjoyed their natural approach to language learning sometimes, but I also felt like there wasn't enough emphasis on the actual teaching of parts of speech.  We chose not to buy the Readers last year because the first grade readers looked way too easy for Ella's reading abilities, and I'm so glad we did!  We also had access to Hooked on Phonics first and second grade materials, so I didn't think the other readers were necessary.  Sonlight does offer you some choices on the reading level of the Language Arts material, so I would definitely look at the samples provided and assess where you think your child is.  Ella just had a really good Kindergarten teacher and was beyond the suggested grade levels.

What I loved Most about Sonlight
I love having their lesson plans.  Of course you are free to change things around, and do as much research and extra planning as you want or have time for, but with Sonlight, you don't have to spend hours of extra lesson prep time.  It's all laid out for you.  Once we got into the swing of things, I rarely looked ahead for the week, I had all the materials I needed at home, and all I had to do is look at what we were supposed to do that day.  The only things I needed to look ahead at for the week would be science experiment supplies (to make sure we had things on hand) and if were going to read a book I planned to check out from the library.
I loved Sonlight's Science program, as did Ella.  She will tell you that Science and Math are her favorite subjects.  Science is the weak point in my knowledge bank, and Sonlight made it so easy, having the experiments all laid out for you.  They were fun, and I learned new things every week!  Or, maybe old things that I never cared about before.  They also sent a box of most of the things you need for experiments, so there were only a few odds and ends I might have to gather every now and again, and they have those written down in the lesson plans for you at the start of each week. 

Learning from History and Literature
The Sonlight approach of learning from history and literature apart from "boring textbooks" as they say, is a really good one, I think.  I think we learn the most about life and history from reading good books, and it's fun and exciting, and easier to remember than memorizing facts.  Each core has an over-arching theme or goal.  For Core A, it is World Cultures, exposing your child to the truth that there is a whole world out there of people who are different and live differently than you in the present and in the past.  I think the goal was met; we read books that took place in China, pioneer America, Appalachia, England, missionary stories from India and other far-off places.  We studied about the way people lived in the Alps, in the deserts, in the rain forests.  It really was a fun and good overview of many different cultures, and I think Ella was learning without it feeling like "learning."  

I think Sonlight may be expensive in comparison with other programs, but it's distinct advantages are the lesson plans, and the quality of the books you buy and read.  The books included are some of the best in children's literature, and they are the kind of books I would want to buy for my children anyway; now I just have a reason to buy them!  They are the kind of books you're happy to keep for your future grandchildren, share with family and friends, or even sell to other homeschooling families. 

We had a good first experience with Sonlight, and I plan to use it again next year, with the exception of Language Arts.  I think I'm going to put together some of my own things for that.  I also think, that with some adaptations, I might be able to use Core A for James for Kindergarten if we continue with homeschooling.  We shall see!

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