Sonlight Curriculum was started by a homeschooling family that wanted to provide the best materials at a reasonable cost for families living as overseas missionaries. They based their programs on the educational philosophy of Dr. Ruth Beechick—structured, yet flexible enough to maximize real-life learning. Influenced by Charlotte Mason’s ideas, they also wanted to include real books. In addition, they wanted to create a program that doesn’t require too much time from busy parents.
These ideas reflected the needs of many homeschooling families, both on and off the mission fields. As a result, Sonlight has grown to become one of the largest curriculum suppliers in the homeschool market.
Sonlight has designed comprehensive grade/age level programs with carefully selected resources. "Open and teach" instructor’s guides outline lessons for each day using specific pages within the materials provided. All guides, whether for Core Packages or individual subject areas, include week-by-week lesson plans with record-keeping calendars, thorough instructions, student activity sheets, answer keys, and much more. The easy-to-use guides are one of the best and most important features of Sonlight Curriculum.
Although Sonlight does not oversee your homeschooling efforts, the Sonlight website offers a number of free resources (webinars, podcasts and more), and experienced curriculum advisors are available at no cost for one-on-one consultation.
Sonlight sells build-your-own packages (see Option 1) and complete curriculum packages that include every subject (see Option 2) for preschool through high school, but you may also purchase any of the individual items found in the Sonlight packages.
Option 1: Customizable Core Packages
Sonlight’s preschool to college prep program is literature-based and integrated around historical themes. Each of the 16 available Core Packages (covering history, geography, Bible, language arts, and literature) is designated as appropriate for a range of two to five grade levels. Cores also include read-aloud books (which parents read to children) and readers (real books rather than textbooks, which children read on their own).
Read-aloud books are excellent choices that you might enjoy having in your family library, even if you weren’t using Sonlight. Bible instruction uses scripture and other resources, including biographies of missionaries and Christian heroes. This is essentially a Protestant program, although the “History of God’s Kingdom” Core presents a very even-handed study of church history and doctrinal issues comparing Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox positions.
Most Core Packages focus on an area of history, such as world, U.S., or eastern hemisphere. Core A, for example, is an introduction to world cultures. The two preschool Core themes are “Fiction, Fairy Tales, and Fun” and “Exploring God’s World.” At the upper level, Core themes are Church History, British Literature, 20th Century World History, American Government/Economics, and World History and Worldview Studies.
All Core instructor’s guides have geography and timeline activities and study guides for all history, reader and read-aloud books.
Core Packages give you the ability to customize the educational experience to fit your student’s skills, interests and goals. Sonlight will help you put together the package that meets your needs, at no additional cost.
In kindergarten through third grade, when reading and writing abilities vary widely, you may choose the level of the Language Arts/Readers package that best matches each child’s skill level. In upper-elementary through high school, the language arts component is integrated into each Core-level package.
Language arts material in the Core guides incorporates all of the instruction for phonics, grammar, composition, and most other language skills. I am particularly impressed with the weekly writing assignments built into the curriculum. Additional books in the packages might be for handwriting or spelling. Sonlight has created some of their own phonetic readers for the early stages of reading, but after that they use real books from other sources.
Language Arts Guides are included with the Core and refer to some of the books that come in the corresponding Core Package, so if a child needs a particular level of language arts, that might dictate which Core you choose.
Math, Science and Electives
Math and science function independent of the Core such that separate packages can be combined with your choice of a Core to customize the curriculum.
For math, Sonlight offers three or more choices for most levels. Answer keys or solution manuals are part of each program, but there are no Sonlight instructor’s guides; they are not needed.
Science packages include an instructor's guide, an assortment of books, and supplies for experiments and activities.
Elective packages or resources are also available for critical thinking, foreign language, art, music, geography, Bible study, typing, church history, driver’s education, worldview, physical education, health and nutrition, public speaking, and computer programming.
Option 2: Full-Grade Packages
If you don’t have the time or inclination to customize a Core Package, you can order a Full-Grade Package that contains everything you need to teach one child for an entire year covering all subjects. Preschool through high school Full-Grade Packages—14 in all—are generally the most convenient way to order, and they offer the deepest Sonlight discount.
All Core Guides for Full-Grade Packages include geography and timeline activities and study guides for all history, reader and read-aloud books.
Package costs vary from $285 for preschool to about $900-$1000 for high school levels.
Sonlight offers a one-year money-back guarantee, and returning Sonlight customers receive additional discounts. Though prices for the Core and Full-Grade Packages might seem to be on the upper end, note the number of books you get—no need to visit the library or search online. Also, most of the books you receive are non-consumable, so you can use them through the years with your other children, all the while building a quality library.
You can save even more by teaching multiple children with the same course material whenever practical, adding different grade levels for math and language arts.
While Sonlight’s hallmark is the use of real books—literature, historical fiction, and topical fiction rather than texts, they occasionally use textbooks and workbooks such as Saxon Math, Miquon Math, Teaching Textbooks, Primary Mathematics, All About Spelling, Apologia science texts, and Handwriting Without Tears.
Sonlight emphasizes activities that have clear educational purposes, with optional hands-on activities for elementary-level Core programs. Though parent-child interaction is required at times, little time is required for lesson preparation. Some homeschooling parents report that the hardest thing is finding time to get through the many read-aloud books.
Sonlight has proven to be an excellent option for families that want something different than traditional curriculum but may lack the experience to put it together on their own.
I also strongly recommend reading through Sonlight’s information (online catalog available at www.sonlight.com/request-catalog.html) or chatting for free with one of their curriculum advisors before determining which program, levels, or resources to use.