Sonlight & Unschooling With Curriculum

This is what my family uses!
[long post][homeschooling]

(Scroll down to the bottom if you came here for a summarized list of my personal tips for making Sonlight a successful addition to your family's life.)

Let me clear some stuff out of the way before we start. For those who have not heard of unschooling ... well, the term has many definitions ...
but here is one of the better ones I've seen (this one's from Alison McKee on Sandra Dodd's website):
"Unschooling is a term that the late John Holt coined in the late ‘70's to describe learning that is based on a child's interests and needs. Unschooling does not begin with a parent's notion of what is important to learn and then turn the choices of how to learn the content over to a child. Rather, it begins with the child's natural curiosity and expands from there. Unschooling is not "instruction free" learning. If a child wants to learn to read, an unschooling parent may offer instruction by providing help with decoding, reading to the child, and giving the child ample opportunity to encounter words. If the child is uninterested in these supports, the parent backs off until the child asks for help. The most important thing about the unschooling process is that the child is in charge of the learning, not the adult. Unschoolers often do no traditional school work, yet they do learn traditional subject matter. They learn it as a natural extension of exploring their own personal interests."
I don't feel 100% comfortable having readers think this post contains directions on "how to unschool" because this is just one example. My family practices radical unschooling (aka whole-life unschooling) but that doesn't make me an authority on all of the philosophies about it. However, I do feel all families can apply any or all of the tips and tricks I list at the end of the post whether they unschool, homeschool, or "regular" school. (If you want to learn more about unschooling, the three best places to go are Sandra Dodd's website, Amy Child's podcast, or Pam Larrichia's podcast.)

What is a "boxed curriculum"? It is one-stop shop for homeschooling. It's supposed to make homeschooling easier since everything you need is in one box with day by day and week by week instructions all spelled out for you. It contains all the books, worksheets, etc that you need to teach language arts, social studies, science, math, etc for the whole school year - some even include craft materials. They tend to cost more than other curriculum packages because of all that comes with it.

You may be asking yourself why an unschooler bought curriculum at all - let alone a BOXED curriculum. Well, to be honest, I feared that I'd be taking a huge step back in my journey toward unschooling when I bought this and started using it. But instead, I found that I learned a lot about traditional homeschooling, myself, and my children by trying it out. Funnily enough, rather than restarting the deschooling process, I think it hurried it along. (Deschooling is something you might hear a lot of homeschoolers talk about. It's the term used to describe transitioning from the formal school model to homeschooling or unschooling. It can also be used to describe the transition from homeschooling to unschooling. Read more about it here.) Also, I'd like to add that just because someone has a curriculum in their home, it does not exclude them from being unschoolers. What matters is HOW they use the curriculum. Another note: if you are just beginning to deschool, I highly recommend you DO NOT buy a curriculum. I think it's better to start off deschooling getting to know your kids instead of getting to know a curriculum. The reason why I decided to try Sonlight was because I heard a lot about it in Mom Mastery University. A lot of my fellow students use it and like it. As I learned more about it, I felt it was something my children and I would enjoy and benefit from.

Before I bought it, I had my "school-aged" children take some of the placement tests on the Sonlight website. I didn't stress about whether they were "on-level" or not. I just ordered the levels the placement test suggested. I ended up ordering Sonlight's Kindergarten All-subjects 4-day package with History A. I added on Grade 1 Readers (4-day) and Handwriting Without Tears 1 for my oldest child. I think the placement tests did a good job at helping me select the right levels for my kids. It was a huge investment but I felt comfortable with purchasing after I learned about Sonlight's Love to Learn, Love to Teach money back guarantee and after reading 12 Reasons Not To Buy Sonlight.

After ordering, but before receiving our materials, I was so excited that I read the intro to instructor's guides I bought via free PDFs from the Sonlight website. We received two huge Sonlight boxes on our doorstep in just a couple of weeks after ordering this April 2017 and we were all excited! However, and luckily (in my opinion), we weren't able to dive in full-fledged and stay on the suggested schedule that came in the detailed instructor's guide since we were getting ready to make a big move. Plus, the Sonlight website and their instructor guides stress over and over that the schedules are merely suggestions and encourage parents to skip, speed up, or slow down as needed. As excited as we all were, I started slowly and carefully. I had been deschooling since summer of 2014 and wasn't about to mess it all up now!

We started by exploring and playing with the books and materials with no pressure from me about any kind of schedule.


Introducing Math-U-See manipulatives
(included in Sonlight Kindergarten All-subjects package)
Great for all ages as you can see!


Trying out the Handwriting Without Tears lined paper

After getting familiar with some of the books and materials, I tried different way of organizing the instructor's guide and scheduling our "lessons". I tried too many set-ups to list here - heck, I don't even remember everything we tried. I'd have an idea or see how other moms did it on the Sonlight Facebook Page and Group, and I'd try it for a few days or weeks. Also, what helped me the most was listening to the many courses on homeschooling within MMU. Here's what I found worked for us:

Since we unschool, I didn't pressure the kids to try anything they didn't want to. Since we value honesty here at The Laid-Back Homemaker blog, I have to admit there were times I got frustrated with my children for not wanting to try something or when they tried something and then quickly decided they didn't want to continue. I kept reminding myself that they will learn more when they're enjoying it. So, when we ran into something that they didn't like, we would either skip it or save it for later and move onto something else.

Later I realized that it made it easier on all of us when I asked the kids to just try five minutes of a book or activity. More often than not, at least one of the kids wanted to continue on longer. In that case, I'd tell the other kid they could quietly hang out near us (quietly draw, read, or play) or go play somewhere else. This works well because it causes the kids to be willing to try more things with me when they know we don't have to keep doing it if they don't like it. Also, they enjoy the book or activity more because after the first few minutes they're no longer doing it because I suggested it; rather, they're doing it because they're choosing to. (Side note: suggesting things to your kids doesn't make you not an unschooler. You suggest things to your spouse or friends. Right? Anyway ...)

Many times, those five initial minutes will turn into an hour or two. I've found it's best to let this happen whenever possible. Sometimes, I've even had to promise to pick back up where we left off later or the next day when I had to stop to care for the baby or prepare dinner. This has happened with Math-U-See, history and literature read-alouds, learning DVDs, and QR links from the Usborne children's encyclopedia .. just for a few examples.

Some components of the curriculum won't be a hit with everyone. My oldest doesn't care for Handwriting Without Tears at all, even after trying it multiple times. So we decided that her time would be better spent elsewhere and we can save the rest of her HWT materials for later or for her younger sisters. If the younger ones don't use it either .. oh, well. I can always pass them along to another family or recycle them. (Also, if you have single items in unused resealable condition, you can return them to Sonlight for a refund.) Don't feel like you HAVE to use everything just because you spent the money on it. I hope your goal isn't to get your maximum money's worth out of your curriculum purchase. Drudging through a book or activity to merely go through the motions isn't something you're EVER gonna catch me doing.

Take a break from it (walk away from it) when you need to. (You don't work for your curriculum. You bought it; you make it work for you.) We moved from Texas to Washington this summer. I decided to box up almost all of our curriculum. We were without everything except our children's Bible and literature read-aloud chapter books for over two months. I don't feel like we have to complete all of our curriculum in one year (or at all), so taking this two month break was fine with me. Plus, distance makes the heart grow fonder ... the kids and I were eager to get our books back.

We haven't quite gotten into a full routine but we are easing into some natural daily grooves. We're also making some changes for the homeschooling laws here in Washington. Washington requires record-keeping as well as yearly testing starting at age eight. The state requires 11 subjects to be taught throughout the school year: reading, writing, spelling, language, math, science, social studies, history, health, occupational education, and art and music appreciation. To meet these requirements, what I did was make a daily homeschool record sheet. It has a place for the date and space to write down what we did for each subject. Since we almost always do some type of learning that can be translated into "educationese", I try to log our activities and reading every single day. I don't stress if I forget a couple of days, but it is easier to remember what we did if we write it down right away. Also, Washington state allows for a single activity to count as multiple subjects. So, if we read a non-fiction book about frogs and then discuss it afterward, that counts as reading, language, and science. Lately, since we're still settling in, we've been watching a lot of science stuff on Netflix and YouTube, reading whatever the kids are in the mood for, having conversations, meeting new people, going to new places, and drawing. We've been logging these activities on our daily homeschool record sheet. A cool thing about these record sheets is I can easily flip through and see what we haven't been doing a lot lately. Once we get a little more settled in and I fully unpack my curriculum, I will suggest five minutes of books or activities that will fulfill subjects we've not been naturally getting to.



I print these off seven at a time and keep them on a clipboard on the wall.
At the end of the month, I'll staple them and store them for my personal records.


When we "finish" our current curriculum, I plan to buy Sonlight again. I put "finish" in quotes because we probably won't use everything we bought. I'll consider ourselves "finished" when we get bored with the materials i.e. don't find them challenging or stimulating enough. I feel the curriculum is so comprehensive that it can be used at least twice with the same child. I find reviewing things that you already learned about to be very insightful and rewarding. When I find it's time to purchase from Sonlight again, I will use our experience with our current set to decide what to order next time. For example, I probably won't be buying Handwriting Without Tears for my older child next time; and depending on how it goes from here, I may not be purchasing the language arts package but rely on the readers, read-alouds, and real life applications for that instead.


My personal tips for making Sonlight a successful addition to your family's life:

  • Read 12 Reasons Not To Buy Sonlight before you consider purchasing Sonlight 
  • Start by freely exploring and playing with the books and materials with your kids with no pressure about any kind of schedule 
  • Understand that the schedules in the instructor guides are merely suggestions. Feel free to skip, speed up, or slow down as needed. Take a break (walk away from it) when you need/want to. 
  • Let your kids know you're going to try just five minutes of a book or activity; after five minutes, decide as a family if you all want to continue 
    • When you or your kids run into something you don't like, either skip it or save it for later, and move onto something else or take a break. 
    • Alternatively .. many times, five minutes will turn into an hour or two. Let this happen whenever possible. 
  • Don't feel like you HAVE to use everything just because you spent the money on it. Don't drudge through a book or activity to merely go through the motions. It's not worth the time, effort, and emotional toll. 
  • Use daily homeschool record sheets where everyone can see them to keep track of which required subjects your kids'/family's activities naturally fulfill and which ones you may need to suggest more often. 
  • Don't feel like you have to buy a new curriculum every year. You invested in these books and materials. Reuse them whenever you want. 
  • Don't feel like you have to exclusively use Sonlight. Feel free to supplement with other educational materials and experiences. 
    • Some of my family's favorites are Dragon Box math apps, Usborne Adding and Subtracting Activity Book, The Magic School Bus and other fun shows and movies on Netflix, YouTube, the library, typing.com, church, museums, shopping, visiting new places, visiting others' homes, hosting guests in our home, etc. 
  • Most importantly, don't discount the value of real life experiences for learning (reading street signs, car ride discussions, writing thank you notes and get well cards, games, etc.). Real life experiences shouldn't be seen as a supplement to your curriculum; I use my curriculum to supplement real life learning!


    If you want to know more about Sonlight from someone else, you can peruse their website or call their advisers. If you decide to purchase something, please use my shopping link or use my rewards ID (AK20441924) to get $5 off your order! (not sponsored - but I do get discounts on curriculum when you use my link)


    P.S. If you're interested in Mom Mastery University, I'd love to answer any questions you have about it! If you already know you're ready to enroll, please let them know andrea@thelaid-backhomemaker.com sent you so we can be goal mates!



    4 comments:

    1. YES! I love this; "suggesting things to your kids doesn't make you not an unschooler" that is so true! I think of suggesting something to be right along the lines of strewing. It's amazing what our kids will find they enjoy when they're willing to give something a shot. This would be a great post to share at the Love to Learn party!

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      1. Please forgive me for the late reply! I'll try to remember to link this on your next one!

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    2. I found this because I have basically using the sonlight books and/or materials in unschooling but wasn't sure if that was a thing ;) I don't like "boxed curriculum" that tells us we have to read so many minutes of this set book by this time and ask these questions and write these answers. It doesn't work for us for a number of reasons; my kids enthusiastically share what they are reading and learning because they want to. I think set dictation of narration takes the fun out of that. Some of the books on the lists they have already read. Lots of days we enjoy the freedom to do other stuff; hike, swim, bake, visit friends, read the last 6 chapters of a cliff hanger, go shopping, watch a Netflix or YouTube series. I don't like he pressure of curriculum robbing us from that. But we also have really enjoyed the sonlight books so we have been buying the books from their lists from the thrift stores, online or borrowing from the library. I'm glad I'm not the only one in this type of subgroup of Sonlight. My kids are 10 and 7.

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    3. I found this because I have basically using the sonlight books and/or materials in unschooling but wasn't sure if that was a thing ;) I don't like "boxed curriculum" that tells us we have to read so many minutes of this set book by this time and ask these questions and write these answers. It doesn't work for us for a number of reasons; my kids enthusiastically share what they are reading and learning because they want to. I think set dictation of narration takes the fun out of that. Some of the books on the lists they have already read. Lots of days we enjoy the freedom to do other stuff; hike, swim, bake, visit friends, read the last 6 chapters of a cliff hanger, go shopping, watch a Netflix or YouTube series. I don't like he pressure of curriculum robbing us from that. But we also have really enjoyed the sonlight books so we have been buying the books from their lists from the thrift stores, online or borrowing from the library. I'm glad I'm not the only one in this type of subgroup of Sonlight. My kids are 10 and 7.

      ReplyDelete