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Sonlight History of Science and Language Arts J Review by Charlotte Gochnauer

Sonlight Curriculum
8042 South Grant Way
Littleton, CO 80122

I love teaching multiple subjects from the same source, and one company that excels at creating complete curriculums is Sonlight Curriculum. I received their newest additions to their middle school curriculum, History of Science and Language Arts J.

History of Science is in their J level, which is meant for grades 8-10, ages 13-15. This is not just history, but also includes Bible and literature. The main history books that are read throughout the year are three books titled The Story of Science. These are written by Joy Hakim and explain how science progressed through history. If you are not familiar with Joy Hakim than you are in for a treat - she writes in a very engaging style with lots of colored illustrations. These books are an excellent way to see the advancement of science through the ancient times, Middle Ages and modern times. There are many other books that are also read during the year that compliment history.

There are also two separate reading assignments. The first one is read-alouds, and most are works of fiction. The second reading assignment are the readers, which are meant for the student to read on their own. The wonderful things about Sonlight is that all of these books are included. Some of the titles include Holes by Louis Sachar, Penny From Heaven by Jennifer L. Holm, The Outlaws of Sherwood, by Robin McKinley and A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.

Bible is also covered in the J series. Throughout the year your student will read through different theology books including What’s So Amazing About Grace?by Philip Yancey, Finding Truth, by Nancy Pearcey and others. There is also a chapter of the Bible to read each day; these are chronological and go through multiple books of the Bible. There are also scripture memory verses for each week, which range from two to three verses for each assignment.

The spine of all Sonlight courses is the Instructor’s Guide. Each week is laid out in the guide and begins with a daily schedule, so you can easily see what should be assigned each day. There are also a few maps to refer to as you progress. These are colored, made on heavy duty glossy paper, and very handy to help show your student where events took place. There are also some timeline figures included. These are actually printed on peel-n-stick backing, so all you need to do is cut them out to place them on a timeline. And the weekly schedule conveniently has a symbol whenever you need to add a character.

After each weekly schedule there are some pages of notes. These are invaluable. They will give insights for the teacher, and specific notes on each chapter. I really appreciated this section. Throughout the year, your student will be reading from mostly secular material, and these notes from Sonlight help me as the teacher know how to deal with evolution and atheism with a Christian perspective. There are also discussion questions for each chapter they read in the history books. And finally, there are vocabulary words with definitions. I appreciated having all of this information in one place and so easy to access. There are also sections in the back of the guide which have vocabulary and discussion questions for both the read-aloud and reader assignments.

The guide also has a Current Events assignment. It is highly suggested that your middle school aged student be reading some kind of publication on world and national events. Then, each week they are required to give verbal reports on the things they read. And not just the factual information, but they are asked to take a side and have an opinion about the event.

I also received Language Arts J, which goes perfectly with the History of Science. The book list for this series are the same books that the student is reading in their readers section of the History of Science. But there is more to language arts than just reading! Writing is the other side of language arts, and Sonlight has plenty of writing practice in their program. Throughout the year, the Instructor’s Guide will have students write a fantasy story, response paper, a memoir, a compare-contrast essay, and much more. There are fun assignments like designing a travel brochure, or newspaper article. One of the longer assignments has the student publishing their own newspaper.

The Instructor’s Guide helps the teacher to assign these writing exercises and give information on how to write each one. Evaluating these writing assignments might sound overwhelming, but Sonlight has made this much easier on the teacher by providing appropriate rubrics. These grids help you evaluate each paper and make grading much easier.

Grammar is also taught weekly in Language Arts J. Each week there is a different part of grammar that is focused on. The program begins with nouns and verbs and then progresses to adverb forms, verb tenses, prepositional phrases, and much more. There is an activity sheet to be filled out each week which not only has grammar exercises, but dictation as well. Dictation is tied into the readers since these dictation passages are taken directly from the books they are reading.

I used this with my 9th grade student and we were able to get through about six weeks during our review period. I loved the schedule in the Guide; it made it very easy to see at a glance what I needed to assign and what books to have on hand. The notes in the guide were invaluable and very useful. Knowing when my daughter was going to be reading about evolution and reading tips and even a Christian rebuttal was very helpful.

I didn’t feel like the amount of reading was too much - for example on a day in the fifth week she read a chapter of the Bible, a chapter in the reader, The Gammage Cup and a chapter in the book Archimedes and the Door of Science. Then we read together a chapter in The Story of Science, a chapter in the read aloud book A Ring of Endless Light, and a poem from National Geographic Book of Natural Poetry. She then worked on her memorization passage and prepared a current event oral report. Added to that is the work she did that day in the Language Arts program which includes dictation, an exercise in pronouns, and spending time on a compare-contrast essay. This amount of work is very age appropriate for middle school students.

I only had two small issues with a couple of books in the curriculum. The second read aloud book is A Ring of Endless Light, by Madeleine L’Engle. This book follows a teenage girl as she tries to find romantic love and is tangled in three different relationships. There are other life situations in the book that are good, and we had some great conversations, but I would have felt that this book would have been better as a reader, especially if I was reading it aloud to my son. The other thing that I struggled with were the two books by Philip Yancey, that are required reading for Bible. He is a mainstream Christian and while I am a Reformed conservative, there were some things that I disagreed with theologically. My student and I read the book together and I do feel it was a good read for the most part. There are many truths in it, and as we read we were able to see the slight differences in our faith.

I was very impressed with the quality of books that were in this year-long course. They, along with the notes, led the student to explore science and see God’s hand in the minds of some very talented individuals. The literature and language arts sections were also very impressive. Many of the books my daughter has not yet read, and I was especially excited to have a read-aloud schedule to do with her. Reading aloud is so important! I also liked that she was required to keep up with current events and report them to me. We had some very interesting conversations about what is going on in the world and how we as Christians should respond.

Sonlight’s emphasis on literature is very refreshing! I really appreciated how all of the individual books came together and how much my daughter learned, even in those six weeks. I am planning to use this in the coming year and am excited about what she will learn.

-Product review by Charlotte Gochnauer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, September, 2018