It seemed like the world started dividing everybody up as soon as I got pregnant with my first child: breast or bottle? Cosleeping or crib? Home or working, or working from home? It got a little worse when we decided to homeschool. It wasn’t my mom’s homeschool world, where you either homeschooled or you didn’t. Now we could unschool, or be classical, Charlotte Mason, traditional, or some other labels I’m pretty sure they made up. I got through all of that with answers that were all some version of, “Ummm… kind of?”
But by far the worst choice I’ve faced is, “Secular or Christian?” For some of you, this is an easy decision, and I’m not trying to change your mind. You might even be judging me because this is such an obvious decision for you. I don’t mind. I get it.
But I’m hoping that the three-or-so people who can genuinely relate to this will appreciate the heads up about popular literature-based curriculum options. We’re progressive Christians. We love Jesus, and believe in full equality for LGBTQ people. We worship the Creator and believe scienctific evidence about the world. We read the Bible, but our friends are Muslim, atheist, Catholic, LDS, basically anybody who wants to play at the playground. That’s how we roll. Rob Bell, Glennon Melton, Jen Hatmaker, Brene Brown, Anne Lamott…. These are our people.
There appears to be no category for us in the homeschool world. We have to choose, it seems. Maybe people like us don’t usually homeschool, maybe they’re hiding. I have no idea.
You three still with me? Good.
We went looking for a literature-based curriculum and found Sonlight and Bookshark (Who named this company??? It sounds vaguely illegal.), which are the Christian and secular versions of basically the same thing — literature-based, preplanned curriculum with a heavy focus on reading aloud. How to choose? We love Jesus and want to integrate learning about faith into our daily lives, but we don’t necessarily want to teach our faith the same way I was taught as a kid. Should we just leave faith out of it and go with Bookshark? Should we start with what Sonlight offers and just discuss it?
In the end, we chose to use Sonlight and modify it.
After some experimentation, here’s what works and doesn’t work for our family:
- We love nearly all of the Sonlight books. We love the Christian biographies and intercultural books, we love the history books, the poetry books. Other than the Bible curriculum (see next point), there’s been only one occasion in the first two years when we’ve just had to totally give up on a book and not use it at all because it didn’t reflect our values, but the other faith-based books they offer have been inspiring for us! We’re glad we chose Sonlight.
- For us, the Bible curriculum has been unsalvageable. We only got through a few weeks of the first year. It felt legalistic and shaming to me, and more into doctrine than relationship. There are memory verses each week and a lot of Old Testament stories that I feel would be better to wait on until a foundation has been laid for kids about Jesus.
- The science wasn’t rigorous enough, and trying to teach around Young Earth Creationism creates more issues that I realized it would. Sure, it effects study of biology, but it also affects study of rocks (how they were formed), fossils, people groups, archaology, and history! The teacher guide even had us skip a poem in The National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry because it referenced Orangutans as our cousins. There’s a real sense of censorship at certain points.
- After quitting the Sonlight Bible curriculum, we bought Telling God’s Story (Affiliate link: See disclosures here), and we love it! A review is coming soon, but for now I will just say that we love that it’s so rich in contextual information about the stories and so focused on Jesus. How lucky are we that it turns out a biblical scholar like Pete Enns homeschools his kids????
- Sonlight is awesome for teaching about other cultures and languages with respect (I’m sure Bookshark is the same), but we have added books to improve the diversity of characters from here in the United States. The US books are pretty White.
- There is no sex education in the first two years of Sonlight. Being a child therapist at heart, I could not have that! We used It’s Not the Stork! (Affiliate link: see disclosures here) and found it to be really comprehensive and helpful. Our dear 6-year-old Sweet Pea was reading it in the back seat of the car one day and announced, “I’ve been wondering about this for a long time!” Sounds like a stamp of approval to me!
I hope this gives you a little bit more information if you, like us, feel a little uncomfortable with the “Christian or secular” decision because you feel somewhere in the middle. If you’re in the same boat, I would love to hear how you’ve made this decision and others like it!
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