Happy New Week to ya!
Alright, if you’ve been following along you know that we are
in the midst of a sort of “War and Peace”- like series of posts on
homeschooling. You can read the first installment here and part two here.
And now we have come to the part where I tell you exactly
what it is that we are doing, the nuts and bolts of our homeschooling. I’m going to say right here and now
that what you will read in a moment will make your head spin. It’s going to
seem overwhelming and maybe confusing. I know this because it was very hard for
me to see the big picture until we were really putting it into practice. It’s also probably going to make you think, “What??? What’s this big list of curriculum stuff?” At first glance this seems to really go against our sort of explore-the-world-and-follow-your-passions take on homeschooling. Bear with me, okay?
Take a deep breath and imagine yourself here:
Now read on, but know that it will make a LOT more sense
tomorrow when I tell you how all this fits into our daily/weekly life. If you start feeling a little faint, just return to your seat by the river for a few minutes. Put your head between your knees if you need to and take a few cleansing breaths.
Here we go:
First and foremost, we are, after a great deal of thought
and consideration, using Sonlight.
In a nutshell, this is a curriculum in which the bulk of the
learning is achieved through real, honest to goodness, books (not textbooks).
When you purchase a “Core” package, you get a whole bunch of chapter books, a
36 week plan of study (complete with discussion questions, map and timeline
activities, etc, for each book. This is minimal and not “busy work” at all),
and related reference books.
You can add to that, should you so choose, your choice of
math programs, throw in some handwriting, language arts, science, and even some
electives like art, music and foreign language studies. We didn’t add in all of
that stuff, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
First, let me say that I was VERY cautious about buying into
Sonlight because, well, I don’t do real well with anyone telling me when to do
what, and I do even less well at following charts and lists (great at making
them, not so good at following them). Plus, considering the
price tag, I felt like it would be a very big deal to try this out and find
that we couldn’t stick with it. (Although, they do offer a new “time payment”
option, allowing you to stretch out the bill a bit and they also let you try
the goods for 18 weeks. If you don’t like it, you can send it back for a full
refund in that time.)
I was pretty convinced though that the key to meeting all of our needs was going to be adding in just the right amount of structure to our days. So, after a lot of repeated poking around their site, and
several months of hand-wringing I finally broke down and ordered it. I’m so,
SO glad that I did. It has been exactly what we hoped for and then some. After
4 weeks of sticking to the plan (with some minor modifications) I (and they)
could not be happier.
Sonlight has adhered to our list of “homeschooling needs and
desires” so well! I will explain more about exactly HOW it fits into that list
tomorrow when I show you how it all works when put into action.
If you are even
thinking about someday trying out Sonlight, I would really suggest you
read their 27 reasons to love Sonlight and (in my opinion even better) the 27
reasons NOT to choose Sonlight. They’re pretty spot on.
We ended up with the 4 Day Core 1+2, Condensed Introduction to
World History with Advanced Readers. To that I added Singapore Math and A
Reason For Handwriting.
I’m really happy with our choices save for a few things:
I chose the Advanced Readers because my guys enjoy
reading and are good at it. My oldest has read a few Beverly Cleary books that
I thought would be comparable to the ones on the reading list. As it turns out,
those “readers” (which are not readers at all, but chapter books meant for them
to read on their own) are a bit too advanced for my boys. They can read them,
but slowly and jerkily and hence not so enjoyably.
So, we just have two read alouds. We read the one that they
are SUPPOSED to be using as a read aloud at lunch time, and the one that they
are supposed to be reading on their own at bedtime. It works just fine.
So far the books that we have read are not ones that I would
have chosen or that they would have chosen on their own, but they’ve been very
good. (Red Sails to Capri, The Whipping Boy, More Stories From Grandma’s Attic and currently Shadrach and Ginger
Pye) Some of those books have taken me (and them) a few chapters to really get
into, but by the time we are finished we were wishing there were more pages. So… good stuff.
Since our readers were too advanced, I decided to go back to
the Christian Light Readers that we had been using before and for the first
time add in the “Light Units.” These are a set of 10 small workbooks that go
with each reader. They review the story, and work on some writing and language
arts skills. It takes about 4 weeks to finish one unit and then you get to
chalk that off as an accomplished bit of work and get a fresh new book to work
in. I like that sort of built in incremental achievement.
The boys like these books. They are sweet and old fashioned
but also interesting. I wasn’t so sure they’d dig the Light Units, but I’ve yet
to hear a complaint. I think they offer just enough information and review
without being work for work’s sake. They introduce things like homophones,
synonymns, contractions and the like, and they also teach kids to use the sorts
of pronunciation symbols found in the dictionary, which is turning out to be
I’ve also been less and less fond of Singapore Math lately.
I like the idea behind it… they teach to the “why” of math rather than rote
drills and memorization. But as the concepts have gotten more complex I felt
like the boys weren’t getting enough practice and that some of the things they learned a while back hadn’t stuck as well as we thought. There are extra practice books that you can buy, but I wasn’t really hoping for MORE work, just more comprehensive work.
So, considering the success of the Christian Light Reading,
I thought we’d try out the math. It has a similar 10 workbooks per level
approach. It’s a spiral program, meaning each day’s work includes some of the
stuff you’ve already learned and mixes is a new concept too. Our books just came on Thursday, so I can’t yet speak too much to how well they work in practice.
My two oldest boys are more or less on the same level
mathematically, so I just ordered the Grade 3 teacher’s guide and two 301 light
units so that we could try it out without investing too much. After having a look I think it’s going
to go really well. It seems to be like the reading books – just enough work to
be useful, but not so much that it will burn them out.
My youngest really is getting such a great big kick out of
being big like his brothers. He wanted SO badly to have “math books” too, so I
bought a 101 light unit for him.
He’s done several pages over the weekend, just cuz he
likes it. I don’t know how long that will last or how the others will take too
to this math program, but I’ll keep you posted. Maybe we’ll end up back with Singapore, maybe with Math U See (I’ve heard so many great things about it), maybe we’ll stick with Christian Light. Maybe one thing will speak to one child and the others will be lit up by something else. I just can’t say right now.
The boys dig the handwriting because they are learning
cursive, otherwise known as “fancy writing.” So that’s working out fine.
The only other thing we added to the Sonlight Core was something we were already
doing… Spelling Power. We don’t do the suggested spelling stuff with the
Sonlight materials. It seemed a little arbitrary. We’ve been doing Spelling
Power off and on for a year now and really like it. My boys see it as a game. We have lots of spelling bees, so they see spelling time as practice for the big event. Basically, with this program you test FIRST, then just study the words you missed. That way
there’s no extra fluff work.
As for science, art and music… we do lots of nature study
and experimenting so I didn’t really think this was necessary at this
The boys also each take music
lessons (Luke plays the fiddle, James the guitar and Ryder is beginning to
learn some things on the piano from Mama), so again, I didn’t think we needed to add to
that right now.
We do own and sometimes use “Artistic Pursuits, Book 1,” as well as a number of drawing
books. I get lots of ideas from Art Projects for Kids too. Mostly though we visit museums, check out
art books from the library, have various replicas of famous works around and
keep lots of art supplies on hand. So far that’s an art program that’s serving
us very well.
So, is your head spinning now? Just writing it out it seems like
so much, but really it’s folding into our day so nicely – inspiring,
illuminating, edifying and also leaving lot’s of that precious UNPLANNED time.
So please, come back tomorrow and I’ll show you how the
day/week plays out. It will make so much more sense, and sound like a heap more fun, then. Pinky swear.