An Exciting New Kindergarten Curriculum Review
This is the History / Bible / Literature program Sonlighters have been wishing for—a delightful, age-appropriate Kindergarten American History program, done in Sonlight’s signature style!
My name is Katie, and my daughter Kora is almost 5 years old. Even though she’s young, I’ve been homeschooling her for the past year, mostly via reading, educational play, and pooling together an eclectic mix of resources. Overall, it’s been working pretty well for us. Notice how I say “pretty well,” not “amazing.” The thing is, I think most of us want our homeschooling experience to be amazing, especially when first starting out with little ones that we’ve always planned on homeschooling! It’s their first memorable impression of learning. (No pressure, right?) For me, I want my daughter to feel excited about learning, and I want to feel excited about the school time that we share together! Even though the routine we’ve established so far has been far from bad, I certainly hadn’t been feeling like we’ve found “it,” yet.
As a result, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want my daughter’s Kindergarten experience to be, and I’ve been trying to decide the same kinds of things that you might be trying to decide at this point in the year, too! Things like:
- How structured do I want things to be at this young age?
- Should I try a curriculum or come up with my own thing?
- Which curriculum fits our educational values, lifestyle, and overall “homeschool vibe” best?
Why I Decided to Try Out Sonlight’s New “Exploring American History,” (History/Bible Literature) Curriculum for Kindergartners
A couple of months ago, I was in the process of mulling over these questions when I heard about Sonlight’s new “Exploring American History,” curriculum for Kindergartners. The program is literature-based, and includes dozens of novels, picture books, an early reading instruction system, and a two-volume collection about American History entitled Heroes and Happenings. It also has a daily Bible story and weekly Bible verse for kindergartners to learn. While I had never exactly planned to try a curriculum for my daughter in kindergarten (I’d always envisioned us “doing our own thing” at this age), Sonlight’s Exploring American History program definitely stood out.
I mean: American History, Bible, and Literature for 5-to-6-year-olds? To me, the idea of it was as original as it was logical. On one hand, when you think of kindergarten education, American History probably isn’t one of the first things that comes to mind. On the other hand: why isn’t it?
3 Reasons I Was Drawn to This Curriculum
1. I thought it would nurture the insatiable and formative curiosity that all young children have.
If you have a young child, you know how curious they are about – well – everything. They are impressionable, inquisitive little sponges: primed with questions about the world around them, who they are, and who they want to become. To me, these are questions that subjects like history, literature, and the Bible can really help them begin to explore and answer. Essentially, I was drawn to this curriculum because it seemed like it might nurture the insatiable and formative curiosity that all young children have.
2. It is literature-based.
The second reason I was curious about trying Sonlight’s Exploring American History curriculum was that I heard it was “literature-based.” Though I’ve never used (and honestly didn’t really know what to expect from) a literature-based curriculum, I was drawn toward the description. Instilling my child with a love of reading is a huge priority for me as a parent, probably due to the fact that literature has been such a positive force in my own life. Once a struggling reader, my own mom homeschooled me and taught me to love books again. This, in turn, changed my entire academic experience- and my life- for the better! Today, I’m a total book lover (I even have an MA in English), and it’s a passion I want to share with my daughter in a way that’s accessible and fun for her. I am therefore drawn to any academic resource that is in tune with that philosophy.
3. It includes Bible.
A third reason I wanted to try out Sonlight is that I was curious about the Bible portion of the curriculum. I realize that this aspect is not going to be appealing to homeschooling parents who aren’t Christians, but for me (as a Christian parent) I was drawn to a structured, doable way to incorporate the Bible into my young child’s daily routine.
Overall, I’d heard and read good things about this curriculum (and about Sonlight in general) and had some very defined reasons that I was interested in it, as well as some specific things I was hoping it would help us cultivate. I decided to try it out!
Unboxing Our Sonlight Curriculum
The blue and white Sonlight box arrived, and it was heavy. I opened it with a lot of anticipation and maybe a tiny amount of anxiety, wondering, “Exactly how much work have I signed on for my five-year-old and myself?” Then we opened it. We pulled out everything that was inside. I have two words for you to describe both of our reactions:
The whole “literature-based curriculum” thing instantly made sense. This wasn’t a box full of textbooks or packages of worksheets; this box was predominantly full of books! Good books.
Story books! Children’s poetry! Books about history! Stories from different cultures! Classic novels of childhood!
There was so much wonderful children’s literature that I think I actually let out a squeal. My daughter immediately dug into the large stack of shorter children’s books (colorful poetry anthologies, books with engaging pictures and short texts that she immediately tried to read). As you can see from the picture, it really is a LOT of books.
NOTE: This list is for the 5-days-a-week program, which has a few more books in it than the 4-days-a-week program. You can choose whichever one best fits your family’s needs.
How We Used It and What We Thought About It!
While I was really excited about receiving so many wonderful books, I was initially a little bit apprehensive, too. The sheer quantity seemed a little overwhelming at first glance, and I wasn’t sure how I’d put it all together.
But then I saw that I had an Instructor’s Guide!
For those of you (like me) who are excited about the idea of using great books in your homeschool, but don’t want to spend a ton of time picking out which readings from each book you’ll do each day, the Sonlight Instructor’s Guide is the important piece that ties it all together. It has suggested reading from specific books for each day of the week (for the entire program/curriculum). It literally tells you exactly how much of each thing to read with your child each day.
There are also discussion questions to support you as you talk about everything you read with your child. There are ideas for supplementary learning if you want them, too. Basically, it’s all there to keep you on course, and it’s up to you to decide how much of it you want to use. The key here is this: you don’t have to “put all of these books together.” They are already “put together” into this curriculum for you!
As I’ve used the Instructor’s Guide, the main part I’ve really enjoyed about it is weekly, day-to-day planner, as shown below.
Now I’m not a super “schedule-y,” kind of person, but I actually really appreciate the very defined day-to-day schedule in the Instructor’s Guide for several reasons:
- It would be easy to get overwhelmed and aimless working with so many read-aloud books (especially with so many stories and novels). The schedule in the Instructor’s Guide brings in some valuable direction and consistency.
- The schedule makes it easy to know how much time and effort is needed to stay on-course each day.
- I’m not the world’s most organized person, so I like that this layout helps me easily keep track of what we’ve done and what we have left to do.
- Most of all, I like that I don’t have to deal with my least favorite part (the planning), so that I can deal with my favorite part (the learning/teaching).
Our Daily Routine with This Curriculum
I also want to give you kind of an idea of what a typical day looks like for us. Right before we start school time, I’ll grab my binder, look over that day’s assignments, and quickly put together the books we need for that day. If the weather’s nice, I’ll almost always throw them into a bag, and we’ll go outside to do school. Even though there are a lot of books to choose from, you normally only need 4-5 at one time, so it’s very portable.
Some days we do the Bible/History/Literature components back-to-back, and other days we break it up. As a whole, the entire curriculum (Bible, Literature and History components) seems to take us about an 1 hour to do (sometimes more or less). However, if it seems like Kora’s attention span needs it, I’ll do different parts of it at different times throughout the day. Below, you’ll get an idea of how we use each component of the “Exploring American History” curriculum.
We usually ready our daily story from The One Year Bible for Children that comes with the curriculum in the morning. Each Bible story is only about 1 page long, so it doesn’t take long at all to read together. There are also questions at the end of each story that provide a good jumping off place for explanations and discussion. It’s simple and straightforward, but well-paced and clear. I like that it has become part of our routine and is a basis for further discussion.
The other part of the Bible portion is the assignment of one memory verse per week. The CD that came with our Sonlight books puts each memory verse to music, making it easier for kids to remember. I’ll be honest. At first I didn’t know if my daughter would like the songs because they are a bit “old school” in style. However, I think that must be part of the charm because they make her giggle and she enjoys singing and dancing to them. It has also made it easier for me to remember verses. I’ve really enjoyed learning verses together and seeing her excited to memorize them. Sometimes they get stuck in my head, but I think that’s kind of the point!
While there are several books related to history and geography that came with the “Exploring American History” box, the star is definitely Heroes and Happenings ( which comes in two volumes). These books are unique to this Sonlight curriculum, and they introduce kids to American history through teaching them about the influential people who have shaped our country.
Though Kora and I still have a lot left to cover, I can already really appreciate the pacing of Heroes and Happenings, and the clear sense it gives of America’s origins, as well as the important ways that it has changed over the centuries. As a whole, it provides a really insightful “big picture,” while teaching interesting and important details, too! I think it’s really smart that these history texts introduce kids to American history through historical “characters.” For my daughter, having a real, historical figure to connect with in each lesson, rather than a series of events, has helped her relate to the information much more readily.
Each day for the history portion, I’ll read aloud from the Heroes and Happenings section designated for that day in the Instructor’s Guide (or one of the other history book selections). Each short section from Heroes and Happenings teaches about a specific person in American History and discusses their impact on America. The daily sections are only a few pages long each, but we tend to stop often to discuss what we’re reading. This history text definitely doesn’t “talk down” to kindergartners. It’s academic, but still accessible, and there are usually several resources in each section that parents can use to check for their child’s understanding/connection with what’s being read. For example, in each section there are typically: pictures, graphs and bolded terms to discuss. There are also additional suggested readings, questions and activities for each section, and a timeline that you and your child can add to as you go.
As long as I stop and talk to my daughter as we go and use the provided resources to engage her in the material, she hasn’t had any problem following along and learning. I’ve learned things, too, and we’ve both had a lot of fun with it so far.
The literature portion of the curriculum consists of twenty-one children’s novels and story books! These novels aren’t ones that most kindergartners will be able to read to themselves, but they are just right for reading aloud and sharing together. We usually do this after finishing up history, right before bed, or really just any time that some, calm quality time is needed. All of the books are carefully chosen to be age-appropriate, enjoyable, and to truly engage kids in reading–which I love! They are wonderful books, and I’m excited about reading all of them together.
I have just a couple of notes that might be valuable for curious parents. Firstly, though the Instructor’s Guide does contain a schedule for the order in which you’re supposed to read the works of literature, I have yet to find that order to be strictly necessary. At first, I assumed that there would be some overlap with the history texts, but I haven’t found that to be true yet. I think that they are scheduled this way mainly to offer a timeline that will help you read everything in a consistent and structured manner. With that in mind, there’s some room for changing the order around, if you want to do that. (However, keeping to the schedule is one of the things that will make your life simpler as a homeschool parent, so you may not want to touch it).
There is also a section in the Instructor’s Guide that provides supplements for reading together such as: discussion questions, cultural information, vocabulary, etc. Since I like our reading time to feel kind of informal and cozy, I’ll usually discuss and explain as we read together, instead of asking questions afterwards, but you could do it whatever way works best for you.
Since developing a love of reading in my daughter is a big priority for me, I really like how this part of the program seems designed to facilitate a natural love of reading. Having this component as an important part of our school day allows me to share with and teach my daughter in a way that just feels like really good quality time together.
In addition to the literature books intended to be read together with your Kindergartner, this curriculum also came with a 27 mini-cook collection of early instructional readers, called Fun Tales. All of the stories use one syllable, short-vowel-sound words that make them easy for new readers to decode. The Instructor’s Guide suggests a lot of repetition in using the books, encouraging children to practice reading one book daily, for a week, before moving onto the next. It’s slow, steady and meant to encourage a successful experience.
As someone who used to teach reading, this system is similar to other very effective programs that I’ve used with early and struggling readers. It reinforces kids’ understanding of letter sounds in each lesson and uses consistent phonetic patterns so that your child can become comfortable putting words together on their own. This method works really well for teaching reading, not just memorization.
I’d already been using a similar approach to reading with my daughter. Therefore, when I received this reading system, I just decided to use them both! One thing that I think makes the Fun Tales stand out from others is that they also introduce different elements of reading, such as how to use different kinds of punctuation. The books that came with Fun Tales are fun and silly, too, and Kora is so proud of herself for being able to read them!
Is This The Curriculum for You and Your Kindergartner?
If you are considering trying out Sonlight’s new program for kindergartners, I have a few final thoughts about our overall experience that might help you decide if it’s right for you and your child/children!
Note: Speaking of “child/children,” I also wanted to make a quick note for parents who are wondering if they can use this program with multiple children (of a variety of ages). Even though I just have one child, I think that this particular curriculum could definitely be used to teach more than one child/age at once. Even though it’s accessible to kindergartners, it doesn’t talk down to them at all and is definitely adaptable to different ages. As I said, I’m even learning things, especially from the history texts.
This curriculum may be for you if:
- You desire to cultivate a love of reading in your child.
- You hope to create quality family time while homeschooling.
- You want to help your child think critically and understand different different cultures and perspectives.
- Part of your desire in homeschooling is to also nurture spiritual and moral growth.
- You love the idea of an education that is centered in great books.
- You want to spend your time as a homeschool parent teaching, not planning.
On the flip-side, this program may not be for you if:
- You are looking for a learning program that kindergartners can do independently or online.
- You are opposed to the inclusion of a Bible component to the curriculum.
- You want your kindergartner’s experience to be similar to that of public school.
- You are looking for student-directed learning or unschooling.
Ultimately, I can’t tell you if this is “the one” for you and your family. Hopefully, after reading this, you’ll already know if it’s a good fit or not. However, I can honestly tell you that I love it and that my daughter loves it. Within a very short amount of time, this curriculum has taken our beginning homeschool experience from “pretty good,” to “amazing.” It feels like we’re having much more fun, and much more quality time, all while my daughter is blooming and learning so many cool things! I love reading with her and talking about the things we’re reading, like the characters in the novels or the real “characters” from history. I love seeing her get excited to read to me from her Fun Tales or recite her latest memory verse. And as proud as I am about all the interesting things she’s learning, I’m even more proud to see that her spark for learning has been ignited!
Ready to take a closer look at this curriculum?
If you’d like to take a closer look at this exciting new curriculum, click this link to go to the full product information.
Or to read a blog post written by the folks at Sonlight about this curriculum, click this link.
I am starting kindergarten with my daughter in the fall. I love the idea of a literature based curriculum. Thanks for the in-depth review!
You are very welcome! We’re glad it was helpful to you.
Sonlight offers such thorough curriculum. Thanks for this review.
Wonderful article! I have been struggling to homeschool my two 5 year old cousins during this quarantine, however I came across your article and found some excellent tips! I would love to share with with my colleagues who are teaching classical concert music to other younger pupils from home.