My family started our homeschooling journey 11 years ago with a traditional Christian curriculum. Wait, did I just say that on the Sonlight blog?! Yes, it’s true. Although I am a second-generation homeschooler, I am a traditionalist by nature. I also earned my bachelor's degree in education, so I was trained to follow traditional teaching methods.
I always knew I wanted to homeschool my children, and when the time came to begin teaching my oldest, I gravitated to the traditional. Because we live overseas, we purchased several years of curriculum at once, took it halfway around the world in our luggage, and prayed we wouldn’t regret it.
My oldest daughter was a worksheet kid, so she did great with the traditional curriculum at first. Two years later, however, she was already getting burned out with the worksheet approach. Little brother had started school by then as well, and he hated worksheets from the start. Additionally, though my daughter loved to read, she wasn’t enjoying the readers that came with her curriculum.
I was beginning to wonder if there was a better option.
The Sonlight Revelation
Around this time, I read a post on a homeschool blog that mentioned literature-based homeschooling with Sonlight. I had never heard of that approach, but I was greatly intrigued. I have no idea how many hours I spent pouring over the Sonlight website in those first couple of weeks, but I don’t think we got much schoolwork done during that time!
Our family already loved books and already spent a good deal of time reading together, so Sonlight, with its emphasis on great literature, looked like an obvious choice. I told my husband, “We already read all the time, so it would be great if that could be a big part of school!” That was the beginning of my love affair with Sonlight.
We soon switched to Sonlight from the traditional curriculum, and eight years later my only regret is that I didn’t know about Sonlight sooner. Why is Sonlight curriculum such a great thing for Third Culture Kids (TCKs) specifically? There are four primary reasons for my family.
1. Building a Great Library of English Books
When I discovered Sonlight, my oldest was in 2nd grade and had grown in her reading ability to the point where she was blazing through easy chapter books faster than I could provide them. She found her traditional curriculum readers boring, and living in Asia meant that we did not have access to libraries or to many books in English, especially quality literature. I excitedly realized that using a literature-based curriculum like Sonlight would allow us to build our own library of great books that our children could return to again and again.
Not only has it provided hundreds (probably thousands) of hours of enjoyment, our Sonlight library has provided my children with an excellent education that is light on worksheets and textbooks and heavy on delightful, meaningful books.
Getting all those books overseas has not been easy though. Many of our books are now in their third country, having gone from the United States to India and then from India to Cambodia.
However we now own nine full History / Bible / Literature programs (HBLs) plus Science, and my children have shelves full of enjoyable, quality books to read over and over. Other international Sonlight families will understand what a blessing this is to my family!
2. Growing Together as a Family
It is important for any family to be close-knit, but it is especially important for Third Culture Kids because of their unique perspective of home and self-identity. For my family, books have made a great contribution to family togetherness.
Many of the books in our Sonlight library have become family favorites. We always have two HBLs going at a time, and read-alouds are a family affair. If you visited our home, you would often hear someone quoting from a favorite Sonlight book or referencing a book character in one way or another. My children even named two pets after animals in I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade from HBL F—Bayan and Bator.
The real-life heroes of missionary biographies have helped my kids better understand and appreciate the unique situation God has given them. That insight has been invaluable.
Sonlight books have given our family more common ground and allowed us to share many special times together.
3. Teaching a Biblical Worldview
Whether we are intentionally teaching our children worldview or not, our children are learning a worldview from birth.
My family lives in a Buddhist country, so as a Bible believing family, it is crucial that my husband and I teach our children to see the world through the lens of God’s Word. They need to be able to look at the culture around them, whether the Buddhist culture of South East Asia or the Post-Christian culture of the United States, and critically (but lovingly) understand and evaluate that culture in light of God’s Word (1 John 4:1).
Sonlight books allow our children to vicariously experience situations through the lives of historical or fictional characters and learn from them. Sonlight does not water down the hard facts of life in this world, but introduces difficult topics to our children so they can learn to respond to them from a Biblical perspective.
Whether our children are sharing the joys and sorrows of a homeless family in The Family Under the Bridge, rejoicing with George Muller over answered prayer, struggling with a group of French children as they hide from the Nazis in Twenty and Ten, or weeping with Adoniram Judson in the loss of his wife and daughter, they are beginning to learn about the realities of life.
The Sonlight Instructor’s Guide steers us as teachers and parents to help our children work through these issues and see that God is working in and through all of those things. No matter the situation, He is sovereign, and He is good (Colossians 1:16-17, Matthew 10:29-31). As we guide them in thinking through these sorts of things, they are absorbing our Biblical worldview.
4. Growing a Heart for the World
One of the aspects of a Biblical worldview that we want to instill in our children is a heart for the world. The fact that my children are TCKs and have spent most of their lives outside of the United States does not automatically mean that they will be burdened for people around the world. They are still prone to being self-centered just like any child. A heart for the world must be modeled and taught.
Sonlight provides us with specific books that allow us to learn about and pray for specific people groups as a family.
- Around the World with Kate and Mack
- Window on the World
- American Indian Prayer Guide
- 100 Gateway Cities
My kids know a lot about the three countries and cultures they have lived in, but it has been so good for them to learn about specific prayer needs of people in other cultures. Praying for people gives us a love for them, so even when we are not currently using an HBL with one of the above mentioned books, we are usually using one of them anyway as a prayer reminder during our family devotions.
Sonlight’s method of helping children learn history through literature has also given my kids the opportunity to read books of both true and fictional characters living in many different countries and cultures. As we read these stories, we come to sympathize with the characters and truly care about what happens to them.
Sometimes, like in The Perilous Road, characters we come to love are on the opposite side of where we would typically find ourselves. This has sparked countless conversations in my family, and through it my children have learned that they don’t have to agree with people in order to love them. Discussions around Sonlight books have helped my children have a heart for the world.