Monday, September 24, 2012

Sonlight Review

I guess I should make a note here...this is a Mommy Review. I'm not a teacher. I haven't viewed a bunch of school or homeschool curriculum. This is my opinion of how Sonlight Core A is working for us thus far!

As I explained in my last post, Sonlight has different Cores for different grades. This would be a good time to mention that if you are homeschooling more than 1 child at a time, their advisers will help you combine the Cores and order less material so you can homeschool them all together (and save money). Honestly, I don't work for them. You'd think maybe I was getting some sort of kickback, but I'm not! I'm just really impressed with Sonlight which is why I'm taking the time to write about it!

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1. Core A-Intro to World Cultures---I love it. Want more specifics? You can choose from a 4 day or 5 day curriculum. We chose 5 day. Monday's are Spanish Mondays. My MIL is/was a Spanish teacher so Aiden spends Sunday nights with her and they do Spanish Mondays. They also read the daily Bible passage, start the weeks memory verse, read from I Heard Good News Today by Cornelia Lehn (missionary stories) and whatever other reading is on the list for Day 5. I sometimes send generic writing practice sheets reviewing letters/numbers previously learned. And/or I add math sheets. All of these sheets are from various pre-k and K worksheet books I purchased previously, not from Sonlight. I want him to have the extra practice and I'm trying to use up what I've already spent money on! It's kind of confusing, but Day 5 activities are really his Day 1 with Gigi.

Tuesday's start our Day 1. We start every day reading the Bible while we are still eating breakfast. (We're pretty informal around here.) And we practice our Bible memory verse for the week (maybe 5 min). If you're not really into it, I guess you could skip it but I can think of worse things than your child memorizing Bible verses. We then read a selection either from The Llama Who Had No Pajamas, or Mother Goose. I would never have guessed that Aiden would love these books, but he does. He loves the rhyming in the poetry, he loves the illustrations and he loves the messages.

We then read the selected pages from either Living Long Ago and/or The Children's Encyclopedia. He loves these too. So far, we've done unit studies on dinosaurs, Ancient Rome, Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt. Ancient Egypt was a HUGE hit. These two books are awesome because they have a lot of visual descriptions of the subject you are studying. It has really clicked with him how people lived during those times.

We were then taking time to read the chapter from the chapter book for the week. This was the area of biggest frustration. He wanted to move on and do something more kinetic so he couldn't focus on the story. We've since moved it to our bedtime reading and this has been amazing! He's now really getting into the story and sometimes he doesn't want to stop at that chapter. I'm hoping this is instilling in him a LOVE for books!

Sonlight is very literature based. That's the trade-off from leaving textbooks behind. You have a lot of books...The Bible, various chapter books, poem books, and non-fiction books. Sarita, the owner of Sonlight, says she spends hours and hours reading and selecting books. I believe her! The chapter books we've read so far are The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner and Dolphin Adventure by Wayne Grover. Like I said above on the poem books, I would NEVER go into a library and pick up these two books and expect Aiden to like them. He didn't just like them, he LOVED them! He was fascinated that the children (The Boxcar Children) as orphans were able to fend for themselves and how they went about it. The book was written in 1924 and is still, lesson wise, very relevant! He learned all about scuba diving reading Dolphin Adventure.  The point I'm trying to make is you may have to think outside the box a little...textbooks don't ensure you child will learn more. I would never have been able to make scuba diving interesting and teach on it for a whole week from a textbook. We would have just touched on it and moved on. This way allowed him to really get a full understanding of scuba diving and all the wonders of the ocean!
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2. Language Arts--This set comes with an instructors guide and worksheets. Sonlight says they keep additional worksheets for a couple of years so you can reuse the instructors guide with other children. I ended up copying the worksheets (making duplicates) to save for Luke since he's 4-1/2 yrs younger. I didn't want to chance them not having the replacement worksheets and I want to use this program again with Luke!

We focus on the letter of the week. While I  love the instructor guides, I'm not fully loving the worksheets that come in the LA section. I did not think it was enough practice, which is why I added A Reason For Handwriting and the Go For the Code series. Some weeks have just one worksheet with 3 sections, so you don't even do the whole sheet, you just do this tiny section. I can see how this would benefit a child who had absolutely no writing practice, but Aiden had some, so we usually pick a day and do the whole sheet. Then we move on to our ARFH sheet and GFC sheets. I also don't do all the extra activities in the LA guide, but I like that they are there if I want to add them. If I could make the LA section different, I would make it so you had the option to buy the worksheets separately so you could opt out of them. I want the Instructor's Guide, but not the worksheets.
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3. A Reason For Handwriting--this is what I added first when I realized there wasn't enough practice in the LA book. Generally speaking, this is a good book. It has nice illustrations. What it has that Aiden loves is small green dots that show you where to start your letter. In fact, I've incorporated this into all his writing practice. It's been a big help. Otherwise, I don't see it as special.  You can probably skip it and download free practice sheets online!

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4. Go For the Code--If you're looking to invest in a handwriting program, go with this one! It has traditional practice, but it also has less stressful game sheets (which pictures start with the letter /f/, write 'f' below them). It's more fun that a traditional worksheet. The set comes with 3 workbooks and a teachers manual. I'd definitely buy it again! Hindsight being 20/20, I should have skipped ARFH, downloaded free letter practice and used worksheets from GFC.
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5. Horizons Math--So far, I love this system. It introduces a concept, reviews the concept and builds on the concept. It teaches basic numbers, time, days of the week, ordinal numbers, money and basic math (toward the end). Aiden is really breezing through this book. I have some generic books I bought from Target that I've added to this. He's going through the math book so fast, he'll be through with it way before the end of the school year. My biggest gripe about this book is how they write the number '4'.  Almost nobody writes it like this >4<. They write it open at the top. This has been VERY confusing for Aiden. He's not having trouble with any other number or letter thus far except for this one. Any suggestions on how to get him to understand would be appreciated!

It comes with a few of Math Manipulatives. We've made up our own games using the dice and/or dominoes and the flash cards. Other than that, we haven't used a lot of what's included. There is a bag of pony beads and I have no idea what I'm supposed to do with them. I'm not complaining so far, but if we make it to the end of the year with no description of what I need to do with the extra stuff, I'm going to be aggravated that I paid for it.  Right now, I feel like it's nice to have, but I would've been ok w/o it.  Included in the kit was the Mathtacular video. This is supposed to be great, but we haven't watched it yet, so can't attest one way or the other!

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6. Extras--Book of Time--This is awesome. It's a preprinted book with a an BC and AD timeline. You utilize it through several cores, not just the first one. It comes with several sheets of timeline figurines (stickers). So when you're reading about missionaries or figures in the Bible or certain notable people in history, you cut out the appropriate sticker. The IG tells you who to cut and when to place him/her. A family member discouraged me from using it because 5 yr olds don't really have a good concept of time. I can't argue with that. But don't look at it from that perspective. Aiden likes the action of cutting out the person and studying them while we're reading. He likes putting the sticker in the appropriate time. It becomes more apparent as you place more figures. A few days ago, Aiden said to me, "So Phillip and Peter came WAAAY after Noah?" YES!! Exactly! I LOVE that this will be a wonderful tool for him later in life that he's building now!
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Calandar - This comes with the Core A package. I think it cost $10. The pages are blank like coloring book pages. Aiden doesn't like to color so that's kinda lost on him. But we do refer to it every single day. We say the days of the week every day. This is something I'm doing on my own, it's not a special Sonlight directive. I just remember doing that as a kid and it takes a while to learn the days and day order. We used the stickers to mark all the Holidays and things like soccer practice, dentist visit, etc. We could do w/o them, but they were there so we're going to use them. I let him mark off the day before and we count down to certain things we know we are doing on a certain day (like Nana coming to visit, etc). This is one of those things you can either buy theirs or buy your own.

Maps -  Core A comes with a smaller map that is hole-punched to go inside a binder. I also purchased the larger 24"x36" map. It also fold up in a 12" square. We've used the smaller map more because of space issues here. I think all kids love maps! He can tell you where Egypt and Italy are. We've discussed how you would travel from where we live to Egypt. We use the map to see where the missionaries are and how they travel from place to place. I remember having to memorize continents in the 4th grade. We'll get there too, but he already knows so much more about various countries than I did in K because I've incorporated it into our learning. The Sonlight IGs direct you to do this to a large extent. I've added more when appropriate.

 Time Spent
 I know this sounds like a lot and you're probably thinking we spend the whole day in 'school'. Trust me, we don't! We spend from 2-4 hours a day. Usually more like 3 hrs and this is counting the bedtime reading. It really is amazing how fast a child can learn when it's all one-on-one interaction. I've added some fun activities on certain days that I'll blog about later. Those are the days we run closer to 4 hours. Also days we spend playing the made up games with the flash cards/dominoes and the made-up games for ordinal numbers are days we hit closer to 4 hours.  Aiden's been big on story writing as in dictating a story to me while I type it. This was a Sonlight LA idea that has really stuck! I've decided to make a book for the year of all the stories he tells me. I think it will be great to go back in 10 years and read all his stories. In some cases, I'm adding the picture he was supposed to be telling the story about or having him draw his own picture to go with the store. So it will be his first book! I can blog about the specifics of it later, but those kinds of activities end up taking up a little more time.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Deciding on Homeschool Curriculum

Deciding on a Homeschool Curriculum initially seemed very overwhelming. The same friend who had first recommended homeschooling sent me an email about Sonlight. I'd been checking out their website while we were in the midst of deciding what to do. It looked awesome, but it is also pretty expensive, at least as far as homeschooling curriculum goes.

I knew we did not want something traditional, so anything based solely on traditional textbooks was out. The more I looked, the fewer places I saw that offered complete packages like Sonlight does. The beauty of it is, everything is laid out for you so the time you spend preparing is almost nothing. I needed this! Not only for my first year in homeschooling, but because I'm running a business too. They also allow you to pay out your total cost over the course of several months so that helps with the expense. The number of months allowed probably depends on when you order in the year, but it may be helpful to some!

Once we decided to homeschool, I pretty much just went with Sonlight. I wanted to start school with the traditional school year and I was running out of time. There was definitely a feeling of that I was led to Sonlight too. So, I just went with it deciding that if it was absolutely horrible I could return it (that's their guarantee) and/or I would have time to figure out something different for first grade.

I ordered Core A. It's for ages 5,6.7 and considered the Kindergarten program. Sonlight has developed their own lesson plans and corresponding books for each core. THIS IS AWESOME. You can download a sample of free lesson plans for any core from their website. DO IT! You will see how simply everything is laid out for you. There are empty boxes at the bottom of the lesson plan page so you can add the lessons for Math and/or Science. They also have their own Language Arts section that includes a lesson plan, a letter for the week and creative writing/reading/listening and games. Some of that latter stuff is optional, but it's great that it's laid out for you. The Language Arts section also has corresponding pages for other writing practice books. If you decide to purchase those, the lesson plan already had the pages you need to work on for the letter of the week. Their Language Arts also includes beginning reader books. It really is all laid out for you.

I should also mention the lesson plans are really more like instructor guides. Everything is laid out for you on a daily basis, but there is further explanation for every activity for every day as to what the child is supposed to get out of the lesson. So even if you're reading a Curious George story, the guide tells you what vocabulary words to point out. How to discuss what happened in the story for reading comprehension, etc.

Basically you buy the core package which includes the language arts section and you add on Math, Science and additional handwriting practice. They offer different Math and Handwriting programs, so you'll need to read the reviews and descriptions to find out what you think would work best. Here's what we ended up choosing:
1. Core A-this includes the instructor guide, a massive number of books including chapter books, Egermeier's Study Bible...really it's too much to list. If you are first shocked by the price, take a look at what you are getting. It's A LOT for the money. And don't bother trying to piece meal it off's not any cheaper. I tried that. I also thought maybe I'd go to the library, but my library didn't have all the books on the list, so I bit the bullet and got it all!
2. Language Arts-Sonlight includes this in Core A
3. A Reason For Handwriting - I wanted Aiden to have more handwriting practice, so I added this book.
4. Go For the Code Series-More handwriting practice. This one is more than just copywork. It helps better with letter sounds and recognition. Aiden LOVES this series. I could probably have left out A Reason For Handwriting.
5. Horizons Math - This is a more traditional math, but I liked how it constantly reviews previously taught lessons and/or incorporates them into new lessons showing how you build on concepts.
6. 3" Sonlight binder...I'm adding this on purpose. It's worth more than the $20 they have it listed for! EVERYTHING fits in here! I take out each weeks lesson and keep it in a file folder for that week, but it's worth it to have their binder to keep it all organized!

That's it. I didn't order the science kit. It was like $80. I really wish I'd added it. We bought an $8 science experiment book at Costco and said this would be our science, but it's not really working out like I thought it would. Mainly because I never have the stuff I need for the experiments. The Sonlight kit has all the stuff you need included in the kit, so it would have been much easier. I will either add their kit or the Magic School Bus kits for next year.

Here's the little student opening up the huge boxes when they arrived. Honestly, it was like Christmas. We were both super excited to go through the all the books. He kept saying, over and over, 'Oh, we're gonna read this? I can't wait to read this!'
Like the bottom left pic where he's put a piece of corn over his tooth so he can have a 'gold tooth'? That's my boy!