Friday, 25 September 2015

Sonlight: First Week

Last week we moved back to East Africa. On Monday we started our new curriculum. We chose Sonlight for several reasons:

1) We have seen some really positive results. My first positive encounter with home schooling was about 10 years ago, in southern Africa. A family had seven children aged between 4 and 19, and so you could really see the difference in each stage. What impressed me most of all was the way these children could critically appraise evidence and reach a conclusion in a way which I was unable to do until I worked for my PhD. When I spoke with the family, it became clear that a large part was the well-structured and well-balanced curriculum they used, and this was Sonlight. The children all also spoke highly of their education.

2) It is very Biblically based, and seeks to instil children with a godly worldview. The integration of Bible, history and world cultures enables discussion right from the start about what is conventionally taught and what the Bible teaches (Week 1 of Grade 1 kicks off with a discussion of evolution, dinosaurs, the age of the earth etc - it does not shy away from controversy, but presents the Biblical view clearly and correctly)

3) It is similar to the style we had adapted to over the past few years - lots of reading together, lots of reading out loud, lots of discussion. The only criticisms I have ever heard of Sonlight are that the parents spent quite a lot of time reading out loud, but we had already based much of our education on this anyway, so it seemed a natural progression.

So, after the first week, how has it been? Short answer is: Wow. This has exceeded my expectations and I am thankful to God for such a positive start! More specifically:

1) You can get quite a lot of advice before you choose a Sonlight curriculum, especially if you are teaching more than one child. I chose a Core package with the other subjects added on because the core is recommended for children within a 3 year interval. My boys are 6, 5 and 3, and indeed for the core parts, all three of them seem engaged.

2) Then, I had chosen handwriting K (starting off - with manipulatives and very basic letter and number forms) and Grade 1 for the younger two (my eldest seems to write reasonably so I did not feel needed a handwriting module). The youngest is delighted to have his own materials, and both the younger two have been asking for their handwriting books. I chose 'handwriting without tears' out of the different options. We have quite a strong family history of dyslexia (although haven't noticed any signs in the children as of yet), and also my middle child does seem quite obstinate at times. They love the way the letters are described. It's amazing - to go from objecting to writing to actually asking for it from the moment they wake up!

3) With regard to Language Arts, I have obtained Grade 1 and Grade 2. We've started the older two at the start but are deliberately going faster with the six year old, in order to stretch him. I have never seen anything quite like the elation of my five year old as he correctly read his first page of a book. Sonlight author John Holzman has written the series 'I can read it!', and in our household this has proven very true. Right on the very first day!

4) We went for Singapore Maths, having considered the other options too (Saxon and Horizon). We did not want excessive worksheets and repetition (my boys tend to turn off and make almost deliberate mistakes when they are asked to repeat things too many times!) and also, the people we know who are best at maths are from Singapore. It seems to be working really nicely. We bought the textbooks and an extra copy of the workbook and both older boys are going at the same pace here.

5) Science - a lot is familiar to them, but it's nicely structured and I like the way it ties in with what we are doing in world cultures. They were extremely excited to blow pieces of paper across the floor to prove that air is a substance. It was incredible to see their delight

6) One thing I was uncertain about was they way the schedule involves reading short parts of several books, whereas previously we might read fewer books but complete them in a single or a few sittings. I was not sure how that would work out, and whether it might cause frustration. But in fact it has been working well, and has helped balance out the attention between the boys of three different ages (my eldest could listen to a whole novel, whereas the younger two prefer shorter sessions). The rapid change of pace is good and refreshing. In the afternoons we have spent more time reading some of our non Sonlight books, and so we have the best of both worlds. Also, there have been a couple of days when the boys have been more restless, and so the change of topic can help resettle them.

7) My husband and I were together for the first three days of the week, so able to work together and get a feel for it. Out of the two of us, he was a bit more reluctant to buy a package, but it has been quite delightful to see how much he has been enjoying it too.

I am very grateful for this positive first week! Not every moment has been easy, and I am sure there will be weeks that feel more like a challenge. But for this week, we feel like we have established a new pace, a new routine and are excited about the weeks and months ahead!

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