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Sunday, September 30, 2012

How I’m Tweaking Sonlight Core 5/F Eastern Hemisphere (Part 1)

This year I was going to use an “open and go” history/geography/literature curriculum so I wouldn’t drive myself bonkers reinventing the wheel…and we settled on using a used Sonlight Core 5 (also known as F), Eastern Hemisphere.

And here I am reinventing the wheel, again.  Ha ha!

Let me digress a spell and talk about that a minute. 

If you want to jump to the point of this post and what how I’m planning to tweak Sonlight, just skip this section, I won’t mind.  I know I talk to much!

025There I was at the playground with the other playground mamas, watching the Littles while our older kiddos are playing soccer. 

And they start talking about curriculum. 

Because homeschool mamas on the playground talk about curriculum. 

Yes, they do.

And one mama says to another mama something like, “You know, when we started out I was SO going to create my own curriculum from scratch, but one of the veteran moms talked me into using a boxed curriculum and I’m SO VERY GLAD I DID!  Because I would be CRAZY otherwise.”

Just call me the crazy mama.

When we started out homeschooling, one of the reasons I eschewed a boxed curriculum was simply because I knew, KNEW, that a one-size-fits-most approach was not going to work with my particular child.

If this kid was at grade level for everything (anything!), we wouldn’t have taken him out of school in  the first place.  We saw in him a need for an individualized education.

Now, a boxed curriculum is not totally incompatible with that, certainly. 

You can start with a course laid out and add and change it as you need to to fit your child’s particular needs.

Because, let’s face it, what the curriculum developer had in mind might not exactly fit your family’s particular goals.

In fact, it certainly won’t exactly fit your family or your child, it wasn’t made for you.  It was made for someone else.

But, a boxed curriculum or even partial curriculum that’s all planned out for you can give you a skeleton to support whatever you wish to add to it.  Because even if you never get around to adding the extras, at least you know that your child will get the basics, and without a lot of planning on your part.

Getting the basics covered:  that’s something that a lot of homeschoolers worry about.  Am I giving them the basics? 

Are they getting at least as good an education as they would in a traditional B&M school?

That’s a valid worry, I think.  In a very real sense, we hold the future of our children in our hands.  That’s an awesome responsibility.

048It scares me to death sometimes.

But there is another way (the way that just might make you crazy), and that’s just to pick and choose from the best you can find (afford) and cobble it all together, schedule, develop your own assignments, and discussion questions. 

Maybe even design your own lapbooks from scratch.

It takes work, folks.  Lots and lots of work. 

And while you may be able to hit the exact goals you have for your kids, it gets rather daunting once you have 3 kids at very different cognitive levels who all need to be educated.

And then you discover that the things you did with kid #1 are definitely not going to work with kid #2 at the same age, and kid #3 is at a totally different level entirely and well…sometimes you just crave having someone plan it all out for you.  Even if it’s not a perfect fit, at least you’ll get the basics covered, right?

And that’s how we arrived at using Sonlight this year. 

Sonlight Core 5 F hasn’t been a perfect fit for our family, but I knew it wouldn’t be perfect.

I knew that my oldest would be able to do Core 5 as written.  I also knew that the younger children would do less and would need the addition of picture books from the library and maybe some hands-on activities. 

I did replace the World Book Encyclopedia articles with readings from Circling the Globe and other resources.  That has worked fine.

But what I had not anticipated was the “get it done” attitude my kids have taken towards the core (except the read alouds, they are enjoying all of those) or the lack of depth as we explore each of these countries.

The fact is that the core is both too much and not enough at the same time. 

Too many countries.  Not enough depth.  Not enough opportunity to truly appreciate other cultures.

Now, to be sure, it’s hard to appreciate other cultures from the other side of the globe without experiencing them first hand.  Let’s not be overly optimistic about how much we can absorb, here.

I had also heard that this was a challenging core partly because of all the reading…I’ve not found that to be so.  The reading is not particularly daunting, in fact, I am regularly adding more reading to my oldest son’s schedule and he gobbles it up.  I think he’s capable of much more than this core is throwing at him.  The reading level is super easy for him (but then he reads at at least a 12-grade level).

I’m not saying this to brag or complain, but to illustrate that a good program is not going to be a good fit for every child or family.  But we can work to make it a good fit with a little extra work thrown in.

We’ve been using the core pretty much as written up this point (we’ve changed the pacing somewhat, but we are following the schedule).

We’re not doing extensive mapping work.  We do locate the areas we are learning about on maps and draw country maps, etc., but we are not locating all the cities mentioned in every book or in all the teaching notes.  It’s simply too much and scatters our focus too much.

We’ve added some videos.

I wanted to start out as is to getting a better feel for how things were going to work for us.

We are 5 weeks into Sonlight Core 5 and I’ve decided to make some bigger changes.

  • We’re going to cut back on the number of countries so we’ll have time to go deeper into the ones we do study.
  • I’ll be assigning additional reading to oldest (perhaps he will read about the countries we don’t actively study, as well).
  • I’ll be creating my own writing/research assignments for oldest.
  • We’ll add a lot of other resources (mostly online and free), including art, food, documentaries, and other literature.
  • I’ll develop some ideas for projects.

Sonlight is a good starting point for us this year.  It’s a good skeleton to add more flesh and skin to.  The flesh and skin is going to make a big difference for us, though.

Let me say right here, that if I was using a different core for each of my kids, I wouldn’t be able to flesh it out this way.  I’d be a raving maniac.

Right now we are studying Japan. 

I’m in the midst of putting together a plan for what we’ll add for this country, but I’ve located a whole stack of library books and oodles of really good stuff online---Japan is easy!

Once I’ve got it in some kind of semblance of order and we’re actually using my plans, I’ll share them with you.

Look for Part 2 of How I’m tweaking Sonlight Core 5/F Eastern Hemisphere (Japan) in about a week.


  1. I am a tweaker too! That's why TOG is so "perfect" for my homeschool. That said, next year I am doing Core 5 (F) because it is the one core leftover from my SL days that my youngest just must experience. I will definitely be tweaking it, because, well, it's what I do. :)

  2. Yes, tweaking is what I do, too. ;0)

  3. Yes!! Ew do TOG, but I love this core from our Sonlight days! I'm totally in the process of tweaking it myself! Lol, ironically doing what you are, slowing it down and delving as deep as I can go with little ones and a high schooler. Extra map work, hands on activities, and different ranges of books. I'm SO excited about it and the kids are loving it so far!

  4. HI there, love what you were doing. How did it go? I am also looking at doing extra writing lessons - would you ever consider sharing your writing ideas? Many thanks Sherid

    1. Hi Sheridan, That seems so long ago! I did share some of the things we added for Japan at the time: but if memory serves, I got burnt out on adding the extras and scaled back closer to the guide. You know what? It was enough! My kids still fondly remember that year. I think they have changed the core pretty significantly since then though. Thanks for stopping by. :) -Susan

    2. Sorry Sherid, my autocorrect changed your name to Sheridan---stupid autocorrect.


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