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The life and times of a home schooling mom of se7en + 1.

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So What’s inside a Sonlight Instructor’s Guide…

June 3rd, 2011 · 27 Comments

I left you hanging a couple of weeks ago, with a blog post showing you what you get inside your Sonlight boxes, I mentioned that for all my careful plotting and planning I had simply forgotten to order our Instructors Guides and that I couldn’t possibly do school without them. A whole lot of wonderfully helpful and sympathetic responses later, thank-you all of you for really caring, the most surprising response was from Sonlight, who ended up phoning me, I was so excited to get a phone call from Sonlight that I was barely coherent!!! After a bit of discussion and a correction to my order, our new Instructors Guides where flying across the world to us. Needless to say they arrived and we were able to start school timeously the following Monday.

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The shocker is, that that was five, nearly six weeks ago… where on earth did six weeks of school go? Apparently, we a love school so much that the time literally flies. Actually, here is a bit of honesty blogging for you: The first couple of weeks of any school year are so hard on all of us as everyone adjusts to new workloads, that are most likely higher than their previous comfort levels, I literally get sucked into school as I try and find a new level of “normality” in our home. The mix-up of students and little people and all the things that are necessary to running a home and a family have to be shuffled and sorted and refitted into a working machine. Not to mention we have been mighty busy!!!

So just why is getting back to school so hard?

On the one hand this is a bit of a “no-brainer” question, after weeks of summer fun and literally being off school for an entire season it is hard to get those wriggly bodies back into their seats. In another sense, all the lessons I have learnt about homeschooling after eight years of it, like be flexible, as long as they are learning, there are different types of learning and so on, zoom right out the window and every year I am back to square one. I looking at a mountain of books to read everyday and collectively the workbooks for all our kids quite simply look like the Himalayas. Daunting. Daunting for the kids and daunting for me. And this is where the value of the Instructors Guides comes in to play.

Firstly Sonlight is not all about the books as many people have been led to believe… The books are fabulous and certainly in the pre-school years just grab the books and read… as you head up the grades you need something to hang all the books together and that is were the Instructors Guides come into play. As my scholars get older and their schooling naturally gets more independent we can not function without the Instructors Guides… You can read all about them on the Sonlight website and you can even download a couple of weeks worth from the website…So I am giving you nothing new here, just really sharing how they work for us, which probably means there is far more within them and I am just telling you about the parts that we use!!!

Basically, there are three guides for each grade. One for history, one for science and one for language arts… When the piles of papers arrive I shuffle and rearrange the pages to suit our style and pop them into a huge master-file, one for each grade, with week by week folders. Then each student has a smaller file with everything they could possibly need for a week of school. These files really are the central hub of my kids school and without them the randomness of the mountain of books would be just too much.

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So just what is inside an Instructors Guide?

  1. The Schedule: There is a plan to get through all those wonderful books and if I stick to the schedule faithfully then we will actually wind our way through them all. This is the part of the Instructors Guides that most of my kids love the most… they love to have a quick peep into it over the weekend to see what new books they will be starting the following week and what science experiments they will be trying. The schedule is not a tight 8 till 5 plot and plan of their time but rather a guide to which pages from which book they need to be read on a given day. I need a schedule… I could do without one and amble through school… I could, but it is so much easier to say to my child: “The Schedule says… read pages 97 and 98 today” … I know the schedule is my scapegoat. Someone to be the police that isn’t me!!! They can tick their way through their Bible Reading, their History reading, their reading books and more each day and I can quickly glance at their schedule and know what they haven’t done on a given day. The thing is I can be incorrigible and where the schedule says read two pages a day I would be suggesting great chunks of books. Where the schedule says read a chapter a day I would be saying lets read this (entire) book today. And for things like poetry I am eternally grateful to have a schedule… because once we get started we just don’t stop and can read and read and read… to know that we have to stop somewhere so that there is more to read next week and to ensure that we savor this weeks work is a good thing.
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  3. The Schedule is Kid friendly: The week before we start our school year I spend a full day with each of my kids plotting and planning what a school day will look like for them. I show them how to follow the schedule in their file and where to find the notes associated with their reading. My children really need a schedule… they do believe that all books once begun should be read in a sitting and I am often very relieved that the schedule suggests saving some for the next day just nudging them gently on to the next topic on their list. If I find interesting snippets for them on the topic of the week, a printable or a puzzle, then I just pop that in with their schedule. A nice surprise to find on Monday morning.
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  5. Notes for each of the books: I don’t read every single book, do I hear a collective gasp(!), but my children do. If they are struggling with a book then I will read it with them but for the most part my older kids do their reading on their own and they certainly don’t want to wait around for me to get round to reading their books to them. So I find the notes really helpful for catching up with my kids’ reading really fast and I will ask them questions based on the notes just to see if they have understood what they were reading. I read the notes when I sit with them during their school day and then we just chat about what they have read. Also the notes are great for teaching my kids to make their own journal notes. If they have understood what they have read then I will often ask them to make quick notes based on the file notes… it is just easier than asking them to summarize the book and ten hours later they are still summarizing!!!
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  7. There are Timeline Reminders: Certainly these are the highlight for my little guys. Believe it or not I don’t rush to our Time Line Book every single time we see a date in our reading. That would be more disruptive than educational. When I read through the notes of the day with a child and see a timeline figure reminder, the relevant child dashes to the back of their file and takes the sticker and pops it into their history journal. They know if there is a sticker for a person or event then it requires a mini-report and that they need to look in the Time Line Book to see what other events were happening at that point in time.
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  9. There are Maps for Each Book: Since we are blogging honestly I will mention that I don’t have a huge wall map up in our kitchen, color coded for each child and filled with their school geographical journey. But when we read through the notes they will often turn to the map for that book and follow a particular pioneer or plot the location of a specific event. Somehow we find it is easier and less confusing to have individual maps for a particular book, that they pop into their journals, than a map on the wall that has so much stuff written on it that we just can not decipher it all.
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  11. There are Comprehension Questions: For all the readers and read-a-loud books, along with the notes and definitions for tricky words, there are heaps of comprehension questions and often we don’t get around to these together but my kids like to read them. Often there are little snippets of information and factoids that my kids love to know… and they love having special factoids and background information up their sleeves!!!
  12. The Language Arts Sheets: If you look at the whole week all at once the language arts can seem daunting, but the day by day and step by step guide makes the whole thing manageable. When my kids struggle with their language arts it is usually because they missed a day and are quickly trying to write the assignment of the week all on one day… When they split it up into a day of preparation and a day of putting it together it really is something they can achieve!!!

    And the Se7en +1th Thing:

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  13. The Science: When I asked my kids what the best part of their files was two of them didn’t even bat an eye as “the science” tumbled out of their mouths… “What about the Science?”… “Everything.” Apart from the schedule and the obvious: When to do what to experiments, what materials they will need and what they provide… brilliant a glance since they tell me that I need to make sure we have in the house like baking powder or food coloring… mostly it is really what they need to get out of the appropriate grade science kit. They love the worksheets even though they really just fill them in and there is very little beautification – maybe thats a boy thing!!! The thing they all they love the most about the science package is the suggested activities at the bottom of the pages, these tie in with the daily readings and are really what my kids love, little projects that they can do on their own steam and packed with great imagination stretches for them. I hardly ever remember to read these assignments but my kids love them and they are exactly the kind of projects that make my kids come back to science the next day eager for more.
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So that’s what is inside… On a Friday afternoon I assess the weeks school with each kidlet and make a list of any things that may have been forgotten or not completed, there are always one or two of those, we swap the “done week” with a fresh week from the large master-file. Then their new fresh files are ready for the next week of school. To be honest I find having a folder of the weeks school quite liberating, I have a quick look at the next weeks topics and really forget about it until Monday morning. If there is a topic that I want them to dig into a bit deeper then I can prepare some materials but mostly the preparation has all been done for me. I think if I were generating a schedule and all the notes and ideas and questions and worksheets and so on myself I would quite simply never have time to do school. So Hooray for Sonlight Instructors Guides and no, they do not pay me to write this… I write it because it is my opinion and because they really work for us, without them school around here would simply grind to a halt.

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Tags: Organizing School · Se7en at School

27 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Sea // Jun 3, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    How do you like Sonlight’s Language Arts- I’ve seen mixed reviews- I’m looking for a 1st and 3rd grader?

  • 2 se7en // Jun 4, 2011 at 1:32 am

    Hi there Sea, You can have a look at sample pages for the language arts on the Sonlight website, here is a link for
    Grade 1 and
    Grade 3. We have enjoyed the language arts, it is the one area where I sit with my kids and do school with them…I have found we need to talk our way through it, they usually need help and direction getting ideas going and flowing. I like that there is something a little bit different every day and I like that it is not madly intensive… one grammar snippet a week and then the writing is definitely training them to think about things over a couple of days rather than throw out an essay off the top of their heads. The writing assignments can be quite challenging, that is why I am there and their examples of what is expected can be miles ahead of what my kids produce… but that’s fine, that’s one reason why we homeschool, so that my kids can work at their own pace. And the optional Friday assignments are usually the ones they like best and head straight for on a Monday to see what they have coming their way at the end of the week. Hope this helps!!! Have a great weekend…

  • 3 Lillian // Jun 4, 2011 at 6:08 am

    Hi Se7en,

    I really enjoyed this post, and I have a couple of questions…

    When do you start each child with having the week’s Instructor’s Guide pages in his own binder? Would that be in Grade 1 or later on?

    Also, I think you do extras with all your kids together, like nature study and other read-alouds. I am thinking about adding in the Veritas Press bible and/ or history cards and song to help my dc learn more about God’s hand in history and to better fit together in our minds the biblical and secular history beginning with creation. I can’t bring myself to leave SL, so this would be a together time, maybe right after breakfast or lunch, kind of a whole family bible time. My kids who enjoy memorizing to music would probably learn the timeline too. Do you have any thoughts on this? I don’t want to add too much to our busy day.

    By the way, except for a bit of things we need to wrap up, we finished our school year today-yea! We are ready for summer, but I am looking at next year’s books. My dd, 7, was excited to finish school until she realized I wouldn’t be reading new Science books to her all summer! At least she can look at or read them to herself and watch the dvd and let things sink in more. 🙂

    Have a great weekend! Lillian

  • 4 se7en // Jun 4, 2011 at 8:19 am

    Hi Lillian… I was just planning a post on all our little supplements!!! All the fun things we do for school… there are lots of things I want to share with my children that aren’t necessarily part of the “syllabus”… These change every year and I have a couple blogged already in the electives section of the school collection. The types of extras are often lifeskill related, and lots of arts and crafts… I slot this type of learning in during meals because that is when everyone is always together, but I will blog about that too. I will be posting about this in the next week or two… So while you are enjoying your summer break watch this spot!!! Well done on finishing up your year and happy holidays to you!!!

  • 5 Christa // Jun 4, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    I am thinking about doing the Pre-K set with my son in the fall…we’re probably going to try him in public school the following year (still debating with my husband…he’s all for it, I am not!) but I am definitely not sending him to preschool. Do you find that the sonlight work is right on for ages? My son will be 5 in November, which means that if I wanted to, in our school district, I could send him to Kindergarten this year…but looking at the Kindergarten work it seems pretty hard, and maybe the PreK work would be better. He’s a smart little guy, so I’m not sure where to start. We already do workbooks and science and everything and he loves it so very much…but he isn’t reading or writing much yet. How do you decide how and when to start your kids? I would love any advice! Thank you!

  • 6 se7en // Jun 4, 2011 at 11:59 pm

    Hi Christa… All my kids love the PReK books… all of them… I read them at bedtime and I am surrounded by all eight of my kids listening in each night!!! They are great classics and really stand any kid well from a cultural literacy perspective… Apart from that in the preschool years we read, read and read… tons!!! And the rest they learn by living… counting in cooking and math in laundry (pairing socks)… Heaps of play and creating and really no workbooks or seat work at all… My almost five year old loves to sit and do school with the older kids but really she is just drawing and cutting and sticking and painting alongside them… I am not at all concerned wether she can count or knows her letters because that can be learnt really quickly when they need it – the alphabet song a couple of times and you are done for example, but they can’t get that play time back… Kids love doing what we do be it gardening or science experiments they really do learn enormous amounts just from life. When my kids get to about 5/5 and a half I start them with “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” (Siegfried Engelmann, Phyllis Haddox, Elaine Bruner) and we work through it really slowly… otherwise this is such a great question… I think I am going to blog it!!! Really… look out for a “Se7en things to do with your pre-schooler post”… I have to add that one of my best friends kept all her kids home from school until grade 1… she reckoned they needed the extra year of play… she was so right, her kids so quickly caught up to speed academically but they had a greater confidence from that extra year of play that has carried them right through school and they have literally romped through high school and even university. I think you are right about the Sonlight K, I only do it when my kids are six, even my super bright one… it just seems easier to do a little handwriting and a math pages and so on, to get used to the idea of school when they are that little bit older. Hope this long ramble helps!!! Keep asking until I have answered your question!!! Hope you have a fun weekend!!!

  • 7 karyn // Jun 5, 2011 at 12:42 am

    I just loved this post! It’s so much fun to see how other Sonlighters do things! We also love and adore Sonlight and wouldn’t think of homeschooling without them! I especially love your idea of mini reports for each timeline figure.

    I’m really looking forward to your upcoming posts [mentioned in the comments above]. We’ll be visiting again soon!

    Have a great weekend – from the Land of the Scorpions,
    :o)

  • 8 se7en // Jun 5, 2011 at 2:01 am

    Hay friend from the Land of Scorpions… So glad you liked our Sonlight post. I know, what’s not to love about Sonlight!!! You can take a look at some of our school journals here and see some really quick history stickers at work. And what can I say – I love posts that raise questions and blog ideas… this blog thrives on them!!! Hope you have a brilliant weekend!!!

  • 9 Luke Holzmann // Jun 6, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    Thank you, Se7en! I can’t come up with words to adequately express how grateful I am you took the time to write all of this up. Thank you!

    ~Luke
    Luke Holzmann´s last blog post ..Taking Time to Connect

  • 10 se7en // Jun 7, 2011 at 12:18 am

    Hay Luke, Thanks for stopping by!!! So glad You liked it… I am sorry it took so long to write, we have obviously been immersed in Sonlight!!! Thank-you and Karla for helping to save my bacon way back then, when I forgot to order those essential IG’s!!! Hopefully a mistake I will never ever make again!!! Hope you have a great day!!!

  • 11 renee @ FIMBY // Jun 8, 2011 at 4:52 am

    linked over from Simple Homeschool.

    So… here’s the shocker (not too shocking actually since I’ve always used the catalog to guide our reading)… I’m seriously considering Sonlight for Celine. She is ready for more direction and structure for her schooling, I’m just trying to figure out how to go about it.

    What I’m wondering is this. How much time each day does it take you to manage this curriculum? I would only be using it for Celine and would not be doing all the read alouds. I can’t give 3 hours, plus I have the other two to supervise (they would not be doing the curriculum but would be reading Sonlight books from the library).

    Thanks!

  • 12 se7en // Jun 8, 2011 at 10:56 pm

    Hi Renee@Fimby I am so thrilled to have you stop over and ask a question… I love your blog and I have so enjoyed reading about your journey. The thing about Sonlight is that it is really up to you how long you spend on it each day… If you want to spend three hours a day on it then you can, if you want to stretch it longer and add a couple of supplements you can, but really I don’t spend nearly three hours a day on any of my kids schooling. Can you imagine what life would be like (3 hours times many)!!! Not to mention that I think three hours is far to long to spend on school in a day… I didn’t say too long to spend on learning – that happens all day, it is inevitable!!! I realized as I typed that my response was getting way too long so I will more fully answer your question in a post that I have planned in response to all the questions that arose from this post!!! The post should be up and ready by the weekend. In the meantime I have answered a couple of Sonlight questions before, you may find this link helpful. Have a great day, I am getting back to you!!!

  • 13 Christa // Jun 10, 2011 at 3:27 am

    I wanted to stop back and thank you for your advice about the PreK work! It was very helpful. I also wanted to celebrate, because just this week my husband agreed to us homeschooling our children! I am SO excited! I have found a local homeschooling organization full of lovely women who can help me with all the paperwork (New York State is highly regulated) and give me lots of advice! I am nervous, but so glad, because I feel like homeschooling is the best thing I can do for my kids. Guess I will have to go back and read ALL your sonlight posts now! 🙂

  • 14 se7en // Jun 10, 2011 at 6:53 am

    Christa, That is wonderful news. I am so happy for you and I hope your homeschooling journey is a fabulous one. I will be writing another homeschool question and answer post in the next day or two. Meanwhile have a great weekend and happy preparations!!!

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  • 23 megan johnson // Apr 28, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    Can you tell me if you write in your IGs or keep them “like new” for subsequent children or to sell?

  • 24 se7en // Apr 28, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    Hi Megan… We do write in our IG’s and I use them as a record of what we have done for school, week by week. We use the schedule and mark the work books and assignments on the IG’s that we have done. I think if I had one or two children using Sonlight I would probably keep them pristine and pass them down… but with eight!!! It is a very easy, for me at least, to keep a record of work we have done. for subsequent students the IG’s do come at a special rate (if you are buying one that you have bought before, I usually update our cores as we go down the lign… I like learning and this keeps some of the material fresh and new for me too. Hope that helps…

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