I have been using Sonlight curriculum continuously since 2002, and I plan to use for at least the next seven or so years. So, it’s about time I wrote up a detailed review of it.
Note: This review is for Sonlight’s History / Bible / Literature packages. I’ll review Sonlight’s Language Arts and Science packages in a future blog post.
Pros of Sonlight’s History / Bible / Literature
The best part of using Sonlight’s History / Bible / Literature packages for the last 14 years is that I now have an amazing home library of children and young adult literature. It’s a diverse collection, containing a fabulous mix of all genres, fiction and non-fiction. I have a 17 foot wall of built in cabinets more than 3/4s full with books (the other less than ¼ is full of other stuff like science supplies, board games, art materials, and such).
I love that I don’t have to go searching for the components of Sonlight. Every last item needed for Sonlight can be ordered all together and complete. Of course, I can also order any item separately as well. I love that I can order as much as I need or as little as I want; they make it easy.
Sonlight is so much more than a box of books. What makes Sonlight so unique is its Instructor’s Guides. Sonlight schedules that box of books down to the exact page numbers you need to read each day of the school year. Plus, the Instructor’s Guides are full of discussion notes, vocabulary words, comprehension questions, and so much more.
It has a wide perspective.
This may be the best, yet hardest to explain, thing about Sonlight. Through Sonlight we have discovered the far corners of the world and history. It is deliciously and sometimes difficultly foreign. Sonlight is much less American-centric than anything out there, and we benefit greatly from it. Sonlight does cover American history and culture, and covers it better and more deeply than most anything out there. Yet, it spends more time and more focus on world history and cultures. I love that my children come away with a heart for the world’s people.
Cons of Sonlight’s History / Bible / Literature
It’s too full.
In the early levels, each day’s reading isn’t much, so if you miss a day and need to double up, it’s no big deal. I found it easy to do five days’ worth of Sonlight in just 3 days a week in levels C and below. However, as you go up in levels, they get so full. It’s difficult to get a full day’s worth of Sonlight’s History / Bible / Literature G finished in one day, with math, science, writing, and everything else. We cannot double up on it to make up for a missed day. Which means, if we spend half a day a week doing PE or Toastmaster’s Gavel Club or something, then we end up a day behind in Sonlight (because the four R’s have priority and take half a day by themselves).
It changes yearly.
Every year Sonlight makes changes to their levels. Most years most levels only get slight changes, such a minor rewording of the Instructor’s Guide or a book or two removed and others added in their place. This is reasonable, as books go out of print or better books are published.
However, every year one or two levels receive massive overhauls. A large fraction of the books are changed, the order of the things covered is rearranged, and so on. Sonlight offers a 50% discount on repurchasing the same Instructor’s Guide in the future, but often it takes another $100 or more worth of new books to fully upgrade an old level. Since very little of Sonlight is consumable, you can always just reuse an older level. The problem comes in with resale. If a level you have receives a massive overhaul the following year, it’s value can go down.
It doesn’t incorporate activities or hands-on learning.
Sonlight is focused on enjoying great books, but just listening to and discussing is not engaging enough for some children. You won’t even find worksheets or notebooking, with the exception of History / Bible / Literature F. Some students do well with the literature only approach; my oldest two children thrived on it and even complained the few times I tried to add in some hands-on projects or notebooking. However, my younger three children need the hands-on learning and interaction with the material in order to really be engage. I have had to search out activities and lapbooks for them to add into Sonlight.
Recently Sonlight has begun offering kits to go with the lower levels, but these have just 4 or 5 simple projects for each level. If your children need hands-on as much as my three younger children need it, you will have to find much more than one of these kits.
It’s advanced, too advanced.
If you do Sonlight according to their Full-Grade Packages, do not be surprised if you find it to be far too much. This isn’t about ABCs/123s advanced, either. Since Sonlight is a literature based curriculum, listening comprehension plays a large part in it. Not many 5-year-olds are ready to listen to, learn from, and enjoy chapter books with few to no illustrations per chapter. Mine sure weren’t. Not one of my children were ready for the level of comprehension needed for History / Bible / Literature A when they were kindergarten aged.
If you look at the description page for the Sonlight’s a History / Bible / Literature level, you will see that each is recommended for ages two or even more years older than the Full-Grade Package would indicate. For example, the Full-Grade Kindergarten Package includes History / Bible / Literature A, which Sonlight lists as appropriate for 5 to 7-year-old children.
Here’s a different example of how Sonlight is too advanced if you pay attention to their Full-Grade Packages. History / Bible / Literature F is recommended for students 10 to 13 years old, yet it is packaged in the 5th Grade Full-Grade Package. Yet many, maybe even most, 5th graders are not up to reading 19 novels in just 180 days, especially when 14 of them are above 5th grade reading level. One is even on an 8.5 grade level!
Sonlight freely admits it is not for everyone.
They publish an article titled, 12 Reasons NOT to Buy Sonlight. If you can get through all 12 points of that article without any red flags flying in your head, then maybe Sonlight would be a good fit for you.
Bookshark is a sister company of Sonlight, offering basically the same product without the Christian content. I’ve heard people offer up Bookshark as a lighter version of Sonlight, but I haven’t found that to be so. Yes, Bookshark only offers a 4-day a week option, but when you compare the titles in Bookshark to Sonlight of the same level you find that the number of books is very similar. In some categories, Bookshark has MORE books. So that means Bookshark isn’t lighter: it’s just the same amount of material squeezed into fewer days. If you are not Christian, you may find Bookshark a better option than Sonlight. However, the Pros and Cons I have detailed here about Sonlight would also apply to Bookshark.
What I want you to take away is that Sonlight can be an amazing education for your children, but only if you are willing to make adaptations to make it fit your family’s unique needs.
I make Sonlight work for us by choosing a level that fits the middle range of my kids. That means we are doing History / Bible / Literature F, appropriate for ages 10 through 13, with my 9, 11, and 13-year-old students. In order to make one level fit such a range of ages, I have to make adaptations. For example, my youngest isn’t up to reading the level F Readers at all, so that means I read at least some of the Readers aloud. (Some families find doing multiple levels easier than making adaptations to one level, but I have tried that and it did not work well at all for us.)
I have to add things into our Sonlight studies to help my students with their need to interact with the material in multiple ways. We watch lots of documentaries and the occasional period movie, we do lapbooks and notebooking, and I find, or help them find, hands-on activities and art projects. But as I described above, Sonlight is very full. In order to add things in, I have to be willing to allow a level to last a year and a half or more. Or, I have to be willing to skip books and other assignments to make it all fit within a year.
In short, Sonlight is a good choice for us because I love reading aloud to my children and they love listening to me read aloud. However, in order to make it work very well for us, I have to freely, and sometimes heavily, adapt it to our needs.
Have you used Sonlight?
What adaptations did you need to make for it to work well for your family? If you you haven’t used Sonlight, what aspects of it made you decide not to use it?