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. Also influenced by Charlotte Mason’s ideas, they wanted to include real books. In addition, they wanted to create a program that didn’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. Although Sonlight does not oversee your homeschooling efforts, the Sonlight website offers a number of free resources (webinars, podcasts, the Sonlight app, and more), and experienced curriculum advisors and mentors are available at no cost for one-on-one consultation.
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 instructor’s guides include week-by-week lesson plans with record-keeping calendars, thorough instructions, answer keys, and much more. The easy-to-use guides are one of the best and most important features of Sonlight Curriculum. There are separate packets of student activity sheets for language arts and science. New in 2023 are online instructor's guides that include the content of the printed guides plus digital record keeping, the ability for students to upload assignments, alerts that assignments need grading, the ability for parents to provide feedback to students, printable activities and resources, and printable reports. Students also have easy access to their assignments, schedules, and grades. Parents have access to the online instructor's guide for 12-months from the date of enrollment and should download coursework, proof of work, gradebooks, and reports before the end of the 12-month period. (When you purchase an online guide, you get a print copy as well. You can purchase only an online guide, but the price is the same as for both.)
Sonlight lets you build your own curriculum for preschool through high school, with individual items, packages that cover one or more subject areas, or an all-subject package. Most subjects allow you to also select Instructor’s Guides that schedule lessons for either four days or five days per week.
Sonlight’s preschool programs differ from the other levels in layout since they are focused on learning readiness, read-aloud books, and beginning reading and math. You can read my separate reviews of Sonlight’s Exploring God’s World Pre-K program and Sonlight Phonics K.
For kindergarten through twelfth grade, Sonlight has history-themed packages that are the heart of the program. All packages for kindergarten through about twelfth grade combine history, Bible, and literature, integrating the subject areas as much as possible. For history, they use an assortment of historical fiction, biographies, fact or information books, and other resources, usually alongside one spine book that helps provide a chronological thread for learning.
Each history-based package is appropriate for a span of two or more grade levels, so you might be able to combine students working at different grade levels so that they use the same core package. Core packages also include read-aloud books (which parents read to children) and readers (books that children read on their own rather than school-designed readers). In addition, supplemental Sonlights Hands-on History kits or lap book kits are available for some levels.
You can always choose parts of a package. For example, if you combine two students in the same history package but they read independently at different levels, you might select a different package of books for independent reading. (The read-aloud books generally tie more closely to history topics and should be used with all students in the course.) The instructor’s guides have geography and timeline activities and study guides for all history, reader, and read-aloud books.
The 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 package presents a very even-handed study of church history and doctrinal issues comparing Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox positions.
The history-based packages, their themes, and age or grade levels are as follows.
History/Bible Literature Packages
K: Intro to the World: Cultures, ages 5-7
A: Exploring American History, ages 6-8
B: Intro to World History, Year 1, ages 7-9
C: Intro to World History, Year 2, ages 8-10
B+C: Intro to the World History, One Year Condensed, ages 8-10
D: Intro to American History, Year 1, ages 9-12
E: Intro to American History, Year 2, ages 10-13
D+E: Intro to American History, One Year Condensed, ages 10-13
F: Eastern Hemisphere, ages 11-14
G: World History, Year 1, ages 12-14
H: World History, Year 2, ages 13-15
W: World History, One Year Condensed, ages 12-14
J: History of Science, ages 13-15
History/Bible (high school courses)
Level 120: American History, grades 8-10
Level 220: History of the Christian Church, grades 9-11
Level 320: 20th Century World History, grades 10-12
Level 420: American Government/Civics & Economics, grades 11-12
Integrated with the high school history courses are literature/language arts courses:
Level 130: American Historical Literature, grades 8-10
Level 230: Classical Literature, grades 9-11
Level 330: 20th Century Literature, grades 10-12
Level 430: American Literature, grades 11-12
Adding Other Subjects
For kindergarten through third grade, you can select a language arts package that covers phonics, spelling, beginning grammar, and creative writing. For grades four through eight, language arts packages focus on grammar, mechanics, and creative writing. Of course, the emphasis on different areas shifts depending upon the grade level. The first five language arts program are labeled for specific grades: K, 1, 2, 3, and 4. Language Arts packages D through J are aligned with and have the same identification letters as do the history/Bible/literature packages, but you can select a different package if it better suits your child. Keep in mind that the readers for the language arts packages are the same as those included in the history/Bible/literature packages. You don’t need two sets of them!
Most of the instruction comes from the instructor’s guides, but these packages also use supplemental resources from other publishers such as books from Explode the Code, Wordly Wise, Spelling You See, and Handwriting Without Tears.
For high school, you have a choice of six packages that combine language arts and literature. They increase in difficulty in the order I list them: American Historical Literature, Classical Literature, 20th Century World Literature, American Literature, World Literature, and British Literature.
Science packages include an instructor's guide, student activity sheets, an assortment of books (for most courses up through eighth grade), and kits with supplies for experiments and activities. The assortment of books is used as the source material for each course, and it might include informational books, biographies, and activity books. (One exception, Science H: General Science, relies primarily on the Exploring Creation with General Science textbook.) Science ties in strongly with the history core which studies the history of science. The science package supports the history package with a lab book and resources for experiments. High school science courses for physical science, biology, chemistry, physics, advanced biology, and advanced chemistry all use a textbook and include complete labs.
The entire science courses for the first six levels (K, A, B, C, D, and E) have been redone in 2021 through 2023 to align with the Next Generation Science Standards. Sonlight has created Discover & Do components for each of these courses—a book with experiments and activity pages, videos, and a kit with supplies. The Sonlight instructor’s guides for science for levels K through D incorporate the Discover & Do components along with a selection of books such as information books from Usborne and science-through-stories books such as in The Magic School Bus series. The other science courses past Level E will eventually also be revamped to align with the standards. Meanwhile, all of the science course components work together to make it easy for the parent to teach science with hands-on activities.
Math and Electives
Math is independent of the other subjects, and Sonlight offers a number of choices for math programs that includes Math-U-See, Horizons Math, Singapore Math (Primary Mathematics), Saxon Math, Miquon Math, and RightStart Math. These courses have their own teacher guides, so they have no Sonlight instructor guides.
Sonlight has created electives packages that correlate with all of the history-based packages from kindergarten through high school level. The packages don’t cover all of the same topics. For example, Elective A teaches art creation, art appreciation and physical education; Elective B teaches art (with activities) and music appreciation; Elective F teaches art and typing; Elective G teaches music appreciation and computer programming.
Aside from the prepackaged electives, Sonlight sells other elective resources such as Artistic Pursuits courses and supplies, Rosetta Stone subscriptions for foreign language, the book Home School Family Fitness, and much more.
Sonlight offers a one-year money-back guarantee, and returning Sonlight customers receive discounts.
Sonlight has proven to be an excellent option for families that want something different than traditional curricula but may lack the experience to put it together on their own. They do a great job of combining interesting books with hands-on learning. While 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.
To assess whether Sonlight is a good fit for your family (or not), read the “20 Reasons” article on their site.
I also strongly recommend reading through Sonlight’s information (online catalog available at sonlight.com/request-catalog.html) or chatting for free with one of their curriculum advisors before determining which program, levels, or resources to use.
Note: I review many of Sonlight's individual courses—too many to link here. You can enter "Sonlight" in the search bar to find them.