Literature Based Homeschooling

Are you interested in learning more about literature based homeschooling?

Sarita Holzmann is the founder of Sonlight homeschool curriculum, one of the leading publishers of literature rich curricula. In the following interview, she discusses the benefits of homeschooling with great literature.

  1. How old are your children, and how long did you homeschool?

    My husband John and I have four wonderful adult children, ages 22, 25, 27 and 30. We started homeschooling our middle two in 1989, when they were in kindergarten and first grade. By the end of the year, our oldest (in fifth grade at a private school) demanded to learn at home as well. We homeschooled through middle school, and each child went to public high school.

    At that time, there didn't seem to be the resources available that there are today to give students a rigorous and rich high school experience at home. All four children thrived in high school and college after the preparation they received at home.

  2. Why did you decide to homeschool your children?

    In 1989, John and I lived in Pasadena as missionaries with an international organization. The public schools in our neighborhood were simply not an option for us, and the private Christian school tuition for our two oldest children was absorbing nearly half of our income. It became clear that we couldn't keep paying tuition (especially as our youngest children approached school age), so we took the plunge to homeschooling . and loved it! Our children blossomed socially and academically as they learned in a safe and stimulating family environment.

  3. How would you define literature-based homeschooling?

    Literature-rich curriculum uses great books as the centerpiece for learning. Where others choose to rely on textbooks and other educational media, we opt for outstanding books and delightful stories that will capture children's imaginations and instruct them at the same time. Carefully and strategically selected literature serves as the base of the core of a curriculum: history, literature and geography.

    Discussion questions and activities centered on these books make for a complete learning experience. Families can use this "core" with children of multiple ages at the same time. They then add other key subjects (Language Arts, Math, Science, Bible and electives) as best suits each child. Some literature-based companies suggest or produce curriculum for these additional subjects that compliments the approach of the core curriculum.

  4. How did you become interested in literature-based homeschooling?

    When John and I were raising our children, it seemed natural to us that great stories led to great conversations with and among our kids, helped their imaginations develop fully and gave them awareness and sensitivity to others who lived in different cultures and/or periods in history. We found that children actually want to engage issues - historical, spiritual, ethical, social - when we present them in the context of great stories. As we explored this method, we found that a full, rich, engaging curriculum naturally centered around literature.

  5. What are the benefits of literature-based homeschooling over other homeschool methods?

    Literature-based homeschooling invites children into a more engaged, interactive and connected style of learning than other methods. For example, if you're studying the American Revolutionary War with your children and you rely primarily on textbooks and worksheets, your kids will probably be able to spout off facts and dates about the war, but they may not understand the fuller context of that time period or have a grasp of what it was like to live then.

    But when you approach the Revolutionary War from a literature-based perspective, your kids will identify with people living at that time and understand the social climate of Colonial America. They may not know exact dates, but they will grasp the larger context of what was happening in the world at that time and what factors led to and influenced the war. They'll have a bigger picture that will stick with them and be useful throughout life.

    What's more is that children approaching the Revolutionary War through great books are much more likely to enjoy learning about it. Children like stories. And when they encounter facts and figures not as dry, abstract slices of information, but rather in the context of a story . all of a sudden that information becomes relevant and easy to remember! Stories serve as anchors for facts and figures that would otherwise be lost in the great sea of information. Think about how much you remember about the Revolutionary War from the charts and timelines you studied in school. Now think about the story of Paul Revere. Chances are that Revere's story alone allows you to remember much more context and relevant information about the war.

    Finally, a literature-based program facilitates positive, engaging interaction with your kids. When you use literature as the foundation of your curriculum, you'll find it's much easier to spark conversations. Good conversations. Significant conversations. And this helps your children develop a true love of learning and the confidence to explore whatever captures their imagination. All this adds up to you being able to guide your children in their discoveries as they eagerly engage in deep learning. And we all want that, don't we?

  6. Are there any disadvantages to literature-based homeschooling?

    Literature-based education should be strategic, and it often should be quite structured. However, it does not lend itself as directly toward clearly marking achievements as other methods. Families who want to feel good about completing a certain number of worksheets or computerized lessons each day may feel that they're not accomplishing enough with a literature-based approach.

    Since the learning taking place with a literature-based program is more holistic (e.g. it helps students develop critical thinking skills and the ability to analyze situations from different people's perspectives), the signs of growth are more organic. As parents interact daily with their children, they have an accurate grasp of what their children are learning. Even though progress along the way is harder to measure, children who use literature-based programs graduate with full, rich educations and the tools to succeed in college, careers and family life.

  7. What role do tests and worksheets play in a literature-based program?

    Because most homeschool parents have daily, personal, one-on-one contact with their children (unlike most classroom teachers and students), I find that, in general, homeschool parents are well able to evaluate their students' progress without quizzes and tests. When parents read with their children, they naturally ask them all sorts of questions: "Why do you think he wanted to do that?" "What does this word mean?" "What would it have been like to live at the time of this story?" From their answers and conversations, parents can easily tell exactly how much they are retaining. The History, Literature, Geography and Language Arts components of literature-based programs tend to focus more on natural learning styles and therefore do not incorporate many worksheets.

    Math and Science components of any curriculum (including literature-based programs) tend to be better suited to worksheets. Even so, Sonlight's Science program and recommended Math programs do not depend heavily on worksheets.

  8. What type of families/students are well-suited to literature-based homeschooling?

    Parents who are eager to play a large role in their children's education and formation tend to be particularly pleased with literature-based programs. These parents find that a literature-based curriculum allows for the lively conversations, family-bonding and opportunities for discipleship that they crave.

    While textbook-based curriculums tend to teach the curriculum company's strict specific doctrines, literature-based programs give parents freedom to use the general approach of the company (e.g. Sonlight is an Evangelical Christian program), while helping their children understand their family's particular beliefs and manner of interacting with the world. Families who highly value spending time together and learning together will appreciate the opportunities such a program creates.

  9. What type of families/students struggle when using this homeschool method?

    Families who want a straightforward, facts-and-figures based approach to education tend to be frustrated with literature-based education. Literature presents all sorts of real-life quandaries that parents will want to discuss with their children. Parents who prefer to carefully control everything their children experience (e.g. they don't want their children reading any sad stories) may find that they have to discuss more with their children than they'd like.

    Also, parents who want every component of their curriculum to center around Biblical texts will also find a literature-based curriculum disappointing. While some literature-based curriculum companies (such as Sonlight) believe that academics ought to be based on and intentionally related to Scripture, most do not believe that everything children read must be accompanied by a reference to or quotation from Scripture. Instead, literature-based Christian approaches tend to help students develop a broad worldview rooted in Scripture and aware of the world around them.

  10. What advice do you have for parents who are overwhelmed by the prospect of spending hours per day reading to their children?

    Despite the emphasis on reading aloud to your children in the younger years, literature-based homeschooling takes a relatively small amount of time when compared to classroom school. Instead of your children being in class for six hours a day, your kids will be "in class" for only one-and-a-half to two hours at the kindergarten level and four to six hours in "grade" six. Your involvement, on average, will be one-and-a-half hours at the kindergarten level and just two to possibly three-and-a-half hours in "grade" six. Is that really a lot of time?

    Also, since good literature-based curriculum allows you to use the same "core" program (which includes the read-aloud books) with multiple children, you won't have to read separate books out loud to each child.

    At first, kids may need a little time to warm up to the idea of sitting and listening to you read. But if you're truly reading great books, the stories will suck them in and they will soon become avid listeners (and usually, avid readers themselves). The benefits of this special time shared with your children will likely outweigh the cost of spending part of your day reading out loud.

  11. What advice do you have for parents who have to manage the educational needs of children of a wide variety of ages?

    What a blessing to have many children and be able to teach them all! I recommend finding a curriculum company that allows you to teach multiple children with one curriculum. Perhaps your 5 and 7 year-olds can do one core program together as your 4-year-old sits in for their read-alouds. Your 10 and 13 year-olds can do another core program together. You can combine the same children for their science programs, then match each child with the specific levels of Math, Language Arts and electives that fit their needs. Though this may sound overwhelming at first, rest assured that many, many families do this with great success . and that the moms keep their sanity too!

    With a curriculum company (like Sonlight) that provides detailed teacher guides, you don't have to worry about planning all the different lessons for your kids each day. You can just open the Instructor's Guides and teach. A little intentional scheduling and the right resources, and you're on your way.

  12. What advice do you have for parents who are concerned with the lack of hands-on activities in literature-based programs?

    While hands-on learning is crucial in early Math programs, and science experiments add untold value to Science curriculums, literature-based programs typically avoid the parent-driven, time-consuming hands-on activities that other programs may feature. Activities like making raccoon-skin caps, creating giant maps of the world and cooking Pilgrim-era Thanksgiving meals don't, in my opinion, provide enough educational value to make it worth the countless hours that parents pour into them (and the exhaustion they often induce!).

    The experience of Sonlight customers is that as they read dynamic and engaging books to their children, they fill their minds with strong mental images and challenging ideas. The children decide, on their own, which activities they want to do, and they prepare for those on their own with minimal (if any) parental guidance.

    There are also online resources, including Sonlight's vibrant online forum community, that can offer parents specific ideas for hands-on activities that coordinate with a literature-based approach. If you still want to do big projects, you'll find the help you're seeking on those forums!

Has Sarita's valuable insight left you interested in learning more about literature-based homeschooling?

Check out part 2 of our interview, Literature-Rich Homeschool Curriculum, in which she shares advice for choosing curriculum, along with information about Sonlight.

Follow this link to read reviews of Sonlight curriculum that were written by other homeschoolers.

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