Curriculum Choices: Sonlight Explored

(Disclosure: Once a month here on Simple Homeschool, I’ll be giving a review/overview of various curriculum options. I’m beginning with Sonlight because it is the one with which I’m most familiar. All information in this post is based on my own experience and opinions.)

Stories have the power to teach, comfort, and transport us to faraway lands. As someone who majored in literature during college, I’ve always loved and enjoyed learning through both the autobiographical and fictional accounts of others.

That’s why when I discovered Sonlight, I could hardly wait to start learning with my kids.

When I was first considering homeschooling, a friend mentioned Sonlight to me. Later I checked out the website and found myself immediately intrigued by their tagline–The way you wish you’d been taught.

Sonlight carries a range of packages covering Pre-K to high school levels. Each level contains a core program combining literature, history, and geography together under a theme for the year. Other subjects are available as add-ons if you need them.

Each core program comes with an Instructor’s Guide–a lesson plan completed for you. The Instructor’s Guide has each week’s readings scheduled for you, along with any other assignments for that week. Sonlight aims to be internationally-minded, so many book selections focus on other parts of the world.

As a newbie just getting started, the Instructor’s Guide appealed to me immensely. I loved the idea that I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel or figure everything out on my own.

We’ve now completed two years of using Sonlight and have no plans to switch in the foreseeable future. We have used two levels of PreK and I have personally worked through one of the high school programs on my own. I can testify to the richness and depth of the material for all ages.

Photo by Desirea Rodgers

Much of our success with Sonlight, I believe, has been because we’ve adapted it to suit our family.

I no longer feel compelled to strictly follow the Instructor’s Guide, and it is rare that I do so. But I still find it a comforting resource to have on hand if and when I need it. There have also been a handful of times when a selected book hasn’t connected with us for some reason, so we’ve moved on to a new choice.

In any curriculum the key to success is making it suit the uniqueness of your children and your family.

Helpful Points to Remember:

  • Sonlight Curriculum is a Christian company specializing in literature-based homeschool programs. Most of the books in each core program are secular choices, but the company does have a Christian perspective and worldview.
  • It’s possible to combine a variety of ages into one Sonlight level. Since all three of my children are close in age, they are all able to use the same material together. Not only is this a huge timesaver for me, it also means we get to enjoy learning as a team.
  • Whole curriculum packages are available, allowing you to purchase materials for an entire year through Sonlight. You can also piece it together according to your needs and wants. Some choose to just buy the Instructor’s Guide and use the library to gather the books they need. I buy the core books and Instructor’s Guide directly from Sonlight, but I buy our math, science, and other materials elsewhere.
  • Even if you don’t end up using Sonlight, the catalog itself is an amazing resource to use as a reading list for various ages.

Further Reading:

Sonlight does an excellent job helping potential customers figure out if it’s the right curriculum for them.

Here are two helpful articles:

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She serves as editor of Simple Homeschool, and blogs about mindful parenting at Steady Mom. Jamie is also the author of two books: Steady Days and Mindset for Moms.

Comments

  1. We have been using Sonlight since our daughter was in 1st grade – and she’s now in 9th grade. We have no plans to do anything else because we absolutely love it! It’s a great program for my incredibly verbal, need-to-read-all-the-time daughter, but it’s also been good for my dyslexic son because of all the read alouds. Until this year, we didn’t follow the Instructor’s Guide very closely. This year, my 9th grade daughter works quite independently using the IG and I’m sticking more closely than usual to the IG with my son. We can’t say enough good things about the history and literature portions of Sonlight.

    We’ve also liked the Sonlight science up until about Core 6 or 7. Definitely by Core 100, I started branching out into other curricula. I think that Sonlight’s Language Arts has been weak, as well. They have made a number of changes in the lower grades in the last few years, so I can’t comment on how it is now. I just didn’t feel like we had enough guidance on teaching writing, so I’ve been using different programs.

    Sonlight does require some tweaking to use with a dyslexic student. My son isn’t going to read all the readers that are scheduled. I do have to say, though, that reading aloud just about every day of his life has been very good for his language skills, even though he has to work extra hard at spelling, penmanship, and writing. I’ve had to go beyond Sonlight to find curricula to meet some of his other needs, but using the Sonlight Core has been wonderful!

    And, no, I am not a paid advertiser – lol!! I realize that’s what I must sound like – I’m just a satisfied customer. Sonlight isn’t for everyone, and it’s not even perfect for us. But, I think it’s a high quality program that most homeschooling parents would do well to at least consider.

    Catherine

  2. This is our 2nd year using Sonlight, and we love it! We did Core K (kindergartenish level) last year, and we’ve moved on to first grade this year.

    I’m totally with you…I love the easy to use instruction manual. You took the words “I don’t have to reinvent the wheel” right out of my mouth! I use that phrase constantly to describe Sonlight’s manual. I also use the resources when I want to. We do our own thing a lot.

    I’m continually amazed at how much I learn in 1st grade! I tell people that all the time. I love Sonlight’s literature selections; they are fantastic. We are currently reading aloud from “Little Pear” and my girls just love it! My 5 year old sits and listens to my 6 1/2 year olds curriculum on a very consistant basis. I feel like we’ll be able to have a lot of fun with it once she gets to the same curriculum since she’ll already be familiar with the material.

    Last year, we only did the Core. This year I added Sonlight’s reading program as well as their science program. I’ve been very impressed with the science program…I think reading (content!) will improve once we are through the I Can Read It! series (yay next week!).

    We hung two awesome maps (which we purchased on our own), one of the world and one of the United States, and everytime a country or continent is referenced in our reading, we head straight to the map and find it. I’m so impressed with the variety that we encounter. My kids know the continents and the locations of several major countries…it really impresses me (and not in a boastful way!).

    Overall, I can’t say enough good things about Sonlight to this point. Ask me again in 10 years! :)
    .-= jackie’s last blog: menu.planning.question =-.

  3. Shannon J says:

    I bought a used Core 3 for my children and used it as an ‘afterschool and evening’ activity while I was trying to convince my ex to let me homeschool them. (He never did agree.) I enjoyed it as did the kids but there was some quality that I can’t put my finger on that didn’t fit us as well as I had wished. I have two 4yos now that I hope to homeschool and while my husband is much more open to the idea, he still isn’t sold on it so I have to ‘prove myself’ this next year in order to win his approval. For that reason I’ve been looking at preschool curriculums and I’m having a really hard time figuring out if any are worth their expense/time. I haven’t looked recently at Sonlight’s PreK bc their website was down the day I was trying, but I did look at others that I got to from this blog (thanks!). I end up getting excited about one, but then with futher inspection realize it really isn’t the right one either. Right now I’m considering Peak with Books from Moving Beyond the Page. I keep coming back to my true love in early childhood education being very child-led (Reggio-style) and that is not conducive to a bought curriculum. So on one hand I WANT to know I’m covering everything and there’s a plan for the days/weeks I’m not feeling organized, but on the other hand I don’t know if any curriculum is really a good fit. I’ll look again at Sonlight’s PreK core. Can someone tell me…why would I choose this over just getting great stories from the library? (Sorry this is so long…)

    • Hi Shannon. We visit the library often and get many wonderful books, but at least in our house, the Sonlight books are “ours”–and the kids have a really special attachment to them. They are read, reread, flipped through, loved, on a daily basis. For me, I just really enjoy having quality books that belong in our permanent library.

      But yes, in theory, you really could accomplish the same thing with a library card if you needed to!
      .-= Simple Homeschool~Jamie’s last blog: Curriculum Choices: Sonlight Explored =-.

  4. We have used Sonlight all year – Core K and Pre-K 3/4. I LOVE them both! The reading selections are just amazing, as others have said, and there are so many books my son has loved that I never would have chosen for him. As to just getting great pre-K books from the library, I think that’s fine, but I love having all these great books on our shelf all the time – the kids ask to read them again and again. While I love the breadth of the stories and am fairly happy with Sonlight’s science and language programs, by far our favorite part is that we’re cuddled up on the couch or the beach or in the yard or halfway through a bike ride reading great books. Reading has just become part of who we are as a family and fits into every other part of our lives. I am so pleased that my kids consider learning to be something that can happen at any time and in any place, not just sitting at a desk or a table for a couple hours each day. Having it all here and planned out (for when I’m in the mood to use the plan) frees me up to be the homeschooling mom I want to be. That’s worth the price to me.

  5. Jennifer says:

    I really wanted to like Sonlight. In fact I LOVED Sonlight. My kids not so much. I thought at first it was just my son, that is very visual and has some issues with reading. However, my 3 year old that LOVES books also was very bored with their story choices. I think they are great books, but over and over again, I got the feeling that most of the books were just too advanced for the age level Sonlight said they were for. I felt that was confirmed as I looked at other curriculums and found the same books scheduled but for two to three grade levels ahead of where Sonlight had put them. Will I go back to Sonlight? Maybe some day. But right now I need things easy and struggling to tweak Sonlight to fit my kids just wasn’t worth it.

    • Hey Jennifer!

      Have you tried just using a lower level for your kids? The K core can be used for 1st or 2nd graders too, and you can just choose the appropriate level math and language arts to pair with it.

      It still might not be the right choice for your family, but I just wanted to mention that the levels don’t have to be grade specific!
      .-= Mandi @ Organizing Your Way’s last blog: Question of the Day: How Do You Use Technology to Get Organized? =-.

      • Jennifer says:

        Yes I was using Core K for my read alouds or my second grader and I was using P3/4 for my 3 year old. I was looking ahead for next year and started to buy some of the readalouds and just realized it was NOT going to work again, so we choose a different curriculum for next year.

        I am really sorry it didn’t work for us. I think Sonlight is a great company. But I think they need to make their Cores match the grade levels better.

    • Amy Taylor says:

      I agree that the level of some of the books are way above what my son could comprehend. He is 7 and has Asperger disorder. I was assured that this would not be a problem from the curriculum advisors. I have core 1, and was amazed at some of the read alouds. The back of the books even state they’re for 10 year old and up! The history curriculum I will be saving because I think it’s great, but maybe at a six or seventh grade level. I think that the science program is great, language arts, not to bad, but they could use more spelling reinforcement. I won’t be using Sonlight next year. I’m really amazed that more people don’t think that Sonlight has advanced curriculum beyond age level. Even though I have a special needs child, I am hands on and sit with him the whole day so he has an understanding of the curriculum.

  6. As you know, we use Sonlight too. Actually, I’ve been using Sonlight since before I had kids! I used the original pre-k program when I ran a home daycare, and I’ve been in love with it ever since.
    .-= Mandi @ Organizing Your Way’s last blog: Question of the Day: How Do You Use Technology to Get Organized? =-.

  7. More than anything else, I use the Sonlight catalogues as a resource. I look up what literature they recommend for certain ages and then go to the library and pick up the books…for free! I’ve found good materials (handwriting, Saxon math, history books, etc) through the catalogue, but then go order the books directly from the publishers.
    .-= Jennifer Jo’s last blog: Behold! I bring you biscuits! =-.

  8. Thanks so much for writing this up! I love reading about people’s experiences with Sonlight [smile].

    If you have questions about choosing or using Sonlight, please chat with a Sonlight Advisor: http://www.sonlight.com/SCA.html

    ~Luke
    .-= Luke Holzmann’s last blog: Sonlight’s 2010 Catalog Proofs =-.

  9. We don’t use the full core packages, but I have ordered from Sonlight over and over again because I love the books and resources they offer. Several of our favorites have come from them. (Geography Songs, Sing the Word, Mathtacular DVDs (HUGE hit with my boys) and so many books at various levels.)
    .-= Heidi @ Mt Hope’s last blog: Spelling: It’s a Good Thing =-.

  10. I have been researching homeschooling for about a year now. Every time I find a new curriculum I like, I end up coming back to Sonlight and the Charlotte Mason Method. Thank you for sharing this and I love reading the comments from people already using the program. I think I’m going to see what books our library system has for the P 3/4 and P 4/5 and purchase the remaining. My daughter turned 3 in November and should start 3 yr. old PK in the fall. However, I think she will be board with the P 3/4 and is ready for the K Reading. Guess I’m already learning how I need to customize. If anyone has suggestions of how to implement some of Charlotte Mason’s methods using Sonlight, I’d love to learn from you.
    .-= Michelle’s last blog: Real Food Challenge: Letter to Jenny =-.

  11. I LOVE Sonlight! I’ve used it for Pre-K, K, and 2nd grade. I love the fact that most of the planning is already done for me, and the time my kids and I have spent reading quality books together has been invaluable!

  12. We’ve been doing Core 1 this year with my 8yo (2nd Grade) and my 5yo (k) has been listening in. I have really tweaked it to fit our needs ~ using just the history books and the read-alouds as scheduled. My kids have loved every single book that we have read! We are planning to do Core 2 next year and adding in some Core K read-alouds when we have time (to appeal to my 5yo and 3yo).
    .-= Wendi’s last blog: Winter Nature ~ Woodpecker Sighting =-.

  13. I spent the year before we began homeschooling visiting everyone we knew who home schooled and watching a day in their lives… little did I know how inconvenient I was being!!! I stopped visiting when I arrived at a Sonlight home!!! I vanished into their bookshelves and was so excited to rediscover books I would love my kids to read and had completely forgotten I had read – it was like coming home to book land!!! Needless to say I signed up so that I could revisit a whole lot of memories… turns out I have learnt so much, maybe more than my kids as we have schooled with Sonlight and this our eighth year and I am still thrilled to be reading and learning everything that Sonlight sends our way!!! We just love it!!!

  14. How fun to read this post and all these comments! We are a Sonlight home as well, 7 years and counting! Just gets better every year!
    .-= Prairie Chick’s last blog: Coat of Arms =-.

  15. jessica says:

    We’re using Sonlight for the first time this year with my Kindergartener & 2nd grader; my preschooler sits in on a lot of it as well. I love the Core but won’t be ordering their language arts next year. I love all the read alouds, the wonderful Usborne books… I think the Instructor’s Guides are a fantastic safety net, you really can just roll out of bed and get to it without a lot of prep work.

  16. We started using Sonlight halfway through last year and LOVE IT. My son who was in K at the time was having a hard time with reading and a friend suggested we try Sonlight. It has made a huge change . I order indivdual LA/reading programs for my boys who are in 1st and 3rd this year and combine the science and history all sonlight curriculum. Next year I will also be using the core preschool program for my 3,4, and 5 year olds. The best thing for me about sonlight is the IG’S as a Mom of six under 8 its all layed out for me and I don’t have muuch planning!

  17. I really appreciated the timing of this post about Sonlight, as I’ve been researching HSschooling materials for about a year and plan to go with a literature-based curriculum for my 5 yr old son.

    I find myself being continually drawn to Moving Beyond the Page’s curriculum though, and would love to see it highlighted on this blog at some time. Their website if very thorough and answers most of my questions, but I’d love to know from other Homeschooling families. It seems very similar to Sonlight, so I’d love to know if anyone has experience with this program. Thanks!

  18. This is perfect timing! We used Tapestry of Grace this year, and I started looking at the Sonlight catalog halfway through the year. I love their literature picks and that they spend a whole year on US history. We are big readers, and I also like that I can get advanced readers for my youngest, without it being inappropriate material.

    I just added up the cost last night and showed my husband. That is the only thing that might prohibit us from doing it. Since my girls are so far apart, they can’t do the same core. But I believe God will provide!

    Thanks for this review, I am even more convinced now :)
    .-= Angela @ Homegrown Mom’s last blog: Do you Have a Family Fun Night Idea? =-.

    • jennifer says:

      Have you checked local curriclum fairs? They are in full swing right now, I picked up a 95% complete sonlight core,la, and science 1 for 150$. I needed to order some of the activity sheets, missing magic school bus, but I think we are going to be fine skipping a few and hitting the library. They had pieces and instructors guides for almost every level. Also we have a used book store with a homeschool section. Just a thought!

  19. How explicitly Christian are the materials? This certainly sounds like an interesting curriculum, as my daughter loves books, but we’re not Christian. I’d be okay with a few Christian ideas and stories (we’re trying to get good background in all of the world’s major religious traditions), but if more than about 5-10% of the materials have this focus, it’s probably not the right choice for our family.

  20. I never looked at Sonlight because I am not an all-in-one-box curriculum kind of person but I was looking for a History curriculum for my boys and wanted to focus on the US and Sonlight came up in my searching… I have already been reading most of the literature books aloud to my children from the Sonlight’s curriculum which surprised me and then I checked into the history and I really like it so I will be ordering it. Hopefully it goes well because I love the focus on the Eastern Hempishere for the 5th grade History/Geography.

  21. lori coleman says:

    I am SO happy that you chose to review the Sonlight curriculum!!! I absolutely drool over their catalog on a regular basis…it is at present sitting on my nightstand! I have found some of their offerings USED on the web, and was tempted to purchase….but with 9 kids…I am presently homeschooling 5 boys ranging in ages 8-4, I must be so careful what I pick, I cannot literally afford to change my mind! Could you also please do a review on Christopherus Homeschool? I am so intrigued with them…What should I choose? Everyone please let me know!

  22. I like hearing all this feedback about Sonlight. We are in week 8 here doing Core K. I really love the books and love the program and the instructor’s guide. I have 4 boys – ages 7, 4 1/2, 2 1/2 and 4 months. The only thing I wish is that I had picked the Core before this one. K is great for my 7 year old, but my 4 1/2 year old is not joining in as much as I had hoped. I think a lot of the reading is over his head, even the science is too advanced for him. I think I would have done just as well with a younger core and my 7 year old still would have loved it. It’s definitely pretty advanced. I’m just having trouble combining the kids and kind of battling getting the reading done with my 7 year old while also keeping the littler ones occupied. It can get really chaotic. And I feel like my 4 1/2 year old is really getting nothing out of it, and then I feel bad that I’m not more focused on him too. But overall I’m really pleased, especially without access to a library, the books are HUGE for us.
    .-= Leslie’s last blog: Jude’s first haircut =-.

  23. Yay! We love Sonlight here!

    Our first two years of homeschooling involved and eclectic mess of curriculum. I easily became frustrated with managing it all. Then, we heard about Sonlight- Praise the Lord for blessing that Company and making my homeschool day much more happy. We love the content of the IG, love the Core Study books and love, love, love the read alouds! I recommend this to all homeschoolers- it is worth every penny!
    .-= Rachel ‘s last undefined: If you register your site for free at =-.

  24. I wonder if you might consider reviewing Oak Meadow sometime? We are considering using it next year and just wonder if anyone else has and likes it?
    .-= Amy’s last blog: good byes =-.

  25. I love Sonlight! I think that even if my kids ever go to school outside the home, I will still order the core program for them!
    .-= Beth’s last blog: A Resurrection Story =-.

  26. Hi Jamie,
    I just received my first order from Sonlight. We have just been using the catalog as a guide for our read alouds but I received the Core K History and will be using that. I am thinking about core 1 and am wondering how helpful the IG really are.
    Also someone mentioned a review about Christopherus. I have a copy of some of the books if you would like to look at them. We are planning on using it in the Fall. It is very open/Waldorf. And includes a wonderful story.

    Hope to see you in the neighborhood. :)
    .-= Rosemarie’s last blog: beach day =-.

    • Hi Rosemarie. Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you! The IG isn’t essential, but we have just started Core K and I do like how the History Readings from various books have been connected in the IG–so we’ll read a bit about Ancient Egypt in one book and the next day a bit from another book.

      I like that they’ve figured that out for me. But the read-aloud schedule is not a necessity at all. I’d love to take a look at the Christopherus materials sometime if you don’t mind!
      .-= Jamie ~ Simple Homeschool’s last blog: The 7 Keys of Great Teaching in Leadership Education =-.

  27. jennifer says:

    As I stated in earlier post, I recently bought second hand an almost complete sonlight curriculum. After I plunked down a big chunk of change (150 dollars) I got home to realize that a few weeks were missing. I was sick. The binder was so well organized, i really think some were just somehow inadvertently taken out. After I stopped hyperventilating, I noticed in the instructors guide intro, there was a very clear layout of what books and subjects were covered in what weeks. 7 of the activity sheets are also missing, but they are skippy, some are used in 4 day, some in the 5 day. Also I should mention while it is completely laid out, there is even in la and science a topics layout, I am very excited to look ahead have fun library choices for those subjects, or maybe rent a dvd that relates to what we are studying. I don’t want ‘everything done for me’, but I like that base so I am free to add all the fun things to it.

  28. I am currently using the complete Core K (excluding math instead we use Math*U*See) with my oldest son who is 6 years old. This is his first official year of Kindergarten. My son is thriving!

    He knew his letter sounds and vowels prior to beginning our school year but wasn’t reading yet. By week 7 using Sonlight he was full on reading. I was thrilled!!

    We are currently on week 13 and for the most part loving Sonlight. I don’t know what I would do if I did not have the IG’s. It is an absolute lifesaver for our busy lifestyle.

    I personally am very happy with the Language Arts, Reading and Science programs.

    I feel like the History is a little weak however it is only Kindergarten.

    I couldn’t keep his attention during Bible so we switched to another children’s storybook Bible. He loves the “Arnold Lobel Book of Mother Goose” and “The Lama Who Had No Pajama” and “The Box Car Children” however, many of the re-alouds are way over his head so I am saving them for next year or the following and supplementing with other books instead.

    Hope this helps.

  29. So you use Oak Meadows curriculum plus part of the Sonlight curriculum? What else do you use? I’d love to see a run-down of all you use right now to design your family’s learning experience :) (BTW– I’m an adoptive mama, too– of 1 from Russia and 1 in process from the U.S.

  30. We also use Sonlight and love it. Like many, I have modified our use of the IG. We use a unit study approach; one week of science, one week of history/geography, etc. This allows us to go more in-depth with each topic and delve into any questions that arise as the result of our reading. I am so content with Sonlight that at a recent curriculum fair nothing seemed interesting!
    erin’s latest post: Woefully Wednesday

  31. I noticed that this post still has old link codes. Please consider updating to the new Affiliate links or switching to the Rewards Program: http://www.sonlight.com/rewards.html

    Feel free to delete this comment. I couldn’t find an email address quickly, so I decide to leave a comment instead.

    ~Luke
    Luke Holzmann’s latest post: What Good is Christianity

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