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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!!!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!!!
- 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:
- 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.
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.