Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Thoughts on Sonlight's Core F

Christopher and I just finished up Sonlight's Core F, which he shared with his sister Grace (she finished three weeks ahead of him). We had a lot of fun with this Core and I am glad I will get to do it again with my younger two.

 I wanted to post a few thoughts on this Core while they are fresh in my mind.

First off, you can see how I tweaked Core F in this post. We started this Core in the pre-BookShark days, so that was not an option for us and I did have to make some modifications. Core F is definitely the most religious Core we have done from Sonlight to date, mainly because it uses so many missionary stories. But there is so much good stuff in this Core that it was worth the small amount of time it took to come up with a few alternate books. We used the 5-day version of Core F.

A few notes.....

  • 100 Gateway Cities: We did use this book, though I am not sure that I would again. It is mostly just a collection of facts about each country in the Eastern Hemisphere - it wasn't really a book I thought would be easily substituted for, which is why I decided to use it. It was quick to read each day, but pretty dry. There is a little section on suggested prayers for each country and I told my kids to just ignore those parts. We had several discussions over the year about how there is absolutely nothing wrong with people having different beliefs. 
  • The missionary stories: This Core uses quite a few missionary stories: we read some and skipped others. I read both Mission to Cathay and Teresa of Calcutta aloud and found nothing preachy in either. I mean, obviously, there is a lot of religion mentioned in the books (they are about missionaries, after all) but I thought they were just plain interesting stories, plus they gave a lot of good cultural information. Teresa had the kids feeling a bit squeamish with some of the graphic descriptions of illnesses, but I felt like they were ready to hear about that sort of thing and it definitely gave us an appreciation for Mother Teresa's work! I had the kids read David Livingstone  because I thought they should know about him and they liked that one a lot. We skipped William Carey in order to read a Gandhi biographyAnd Grace read Mary Slessor, but she complained a lot about it - she found it too depressing - and I ended up skipping it with Christopher due to time constraints, so I can't comment too much on that one.
  • The China Kit: I have mixed feelings about the optional China Kit for this core.  The calligraphy portion of it was okay...the kids enjoyed trying it out, but I don't think the materials were the greatest. The kit also includes chopsticks, which we already had, so we never used those. There was also a little card game, but we never got around to playing it. If I had it to do over, I would just buy a nicer calligraphy set for the kids to try out. 
  • Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? I have to say that a lot of this book went right over Christopher's head. Probably mine too! We had some interesting discussions though and all in all I think both kids got a good basic introduction to economics. I am thinking it would be better read at the high school level, though.  On Amazon, the recommended age for it is 8th to 10th grade, and I think that seems more reasonable.
  • World Book and the Eastern Hemisphere pages: I had heard of some people having issues searching for articles on the World Book CD-ROM, but we did not experience that.  The reading is a little dry -it is an encyclopedia!- and I sometimes chose to get library books about the country instead of reading the articles.  Grace read (or at least skimmed) the articles and filled out her Eastern Hemisphere Notebook pages on her own. These pages are sold by Sonlight and I really liked the format of them. The kids were assigned a small amount of writing to do most days...maybe filling in a timeline, working on a map assignment, or writing down things they found interesting from the readings.  For Christopher, I mostly read portions from the assigned World Book article out loud and helped him pick out the information needed to complete his sheet.  At the beginning of the Core he was still frustrated by the act of writing so he did a lot of dictating while I wrote.  But we stuck with it, and by the end of the Core, he was doing all of the writing by himself with no problems. I think the kids learned a lot this year about researching - how to skim articles, how to pick out important information, and how to summarize.They each ended up with a pretty impressive binder full of info on these countries. I think the World Book CD will still be useful as a research tool going forward, though I do see they have updated the Core to include a World Book DVD.  Here are a few completed EHS pages.  
  The Adelie penguin page above is part of the "Choose Your Own Adventure" part of this program. To wrap up the study of each area, several project ideas are suggested.  There is usually a recipe or two, a craft idea, writing ideas, or making a country or animal fact card - like this penguin one. Sometimes we also chose to end our study of a country by making an ethnic meal (or getting Thai food as takeout, which was very popular!).

  • The Read-Alouds: Most of the read-alouds for this Core were a hit. Our favorites were Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Seven Daughters and Seven Sons, and Shadow Spinner.  We also really enjoyed having Best-Loved Folktales of the World to read on day 5 (we did the 5-day program).  The assigned folktales matched the country we were studying and were a fun way to end each week. We skipped a couple of the read-alouds. Neither kid enjoyed A Horse and His Boy when we tried to read it a few years ago, so we didn't bother with it again. We also skipped The Land I Lost, because some of the stories in the book were pretty graphic. I have to be somewhat careful reading aloud,  because I have a six-year-old listening in. So reading a story about a monkey that dismembers a toddler...yeah, that isn't going to cut it. To be fair, there were warnings about that story in the Sonlight Instructor Guide, but some of the other stories also had similar graphic things in them and there just didn't seem enough value in the book to offset the bad.
  • The Readers: We skipped two of the readers to  make this program more secular - Star of Light and Hudson Taylor. I would have liked more of the readers to be at a higher reading level, but overall the books were enjoyed and there was a pretty good variety. The kids most enjoyed reading The Hobbit, even though they had read it once already. I stared out pre-reading the readers so that I would be better prepared to discuss them with the kids, but it quickly became too hard to fit that in. I think it would be ideal to be reading the books myself, though. I think my favorite from the lot was Around the World in 80 Days. I was a bit iffy about reading Sadako and the Paper Cranes and almost skipped it (cancer is a bit of a sensitive topic around here, because of my mom). In the end though, I made the book optional and both kids chose to read it. I read it too, even though it made me cry. We got the origami kit and the kids made quite a few things from that, so that was great.

This Core took us about a year to finish, Christopher took slightly longer with it. We bogged down a bit here and there on the weeks that were heavy with Eastern Hemisphere Pages, but I am very glad we stuck with it. Both kids are doing Bookshark World History 1 now and the readings are much more streamlined.  Core F had the kids reading small sections from books like 100 Gateway Cities, All the Small Poems, their reader, and the World Book articles. Bookshark has them reading The Story of the World, an occasional reading from The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia, and their reader each day. We read the poetry and the read-aloud together. So, fewer books overall, but the readings are a bit longer than Core F. We have a 4-day reading schedule now, instead of the 5-day option I always got with Sonlight.  I am finding it really helpful to have that extra time to catch up on things we missed earlier in the week, but the kids did miss those extra books at the end of the week at first.

 I was curious to see what differences there were between Sonlight's Core F and the new Bookshark Eastern Hemisphere. When James gets to this Core I will most likely replace our Core F with the Bookshark version. I counted three differences in the read-alouds (no missionary stories and no Best-Loved Folktales, since that was in the five-day program). The readers are also mostly the same, except that Hudson Taylor and Star of Light were swapped out for two secular titles. The biggest difference is in the history section, where the more religious books, like 100 Gateway Cities and the missionary stories were swapped out for books about Nelson Mandela and Gandhi. I also see an extra book about Ibn Battuta and one about the Sahara. It looks like the EHS pages are still used in Bookshark. 

Whew! This post took me the better part of a month to write for some reason. It was very much written in bits and pieces here and there, so I am pretty excited to actually be posting it! I would be happy to answer any questions about this Core in the comment box or through email.

Till Next Time!


  1. I am just catching up on my favorite blogs, and I see I've missed a bit here! The amaryllis and bluebirds are so pretty, and I love the gingerbread houses! You list a few books I think my children would be interested in... the Mother Theresa, Gandhi, and David Livingstone titles.

    I hope you all enjoy your holiday season very much! Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

  2. Hi Kim, i know this is from a while ago, but I am taking my students through this curriculum and am not quite sure how the history part works. We are barely in week 1 and we have the world book (encyclopedia) but not the work pages yet. I was able to get the search smartly thing as a sample, is that that for all of week 1 or do the search smartly activity all in one day? thanks.

  3. Hi Evelyn - I wasn't sure what search smartly was, so I looked it up - it looks like an updated version of the Eastern Hemisphere pages that we used. The pages you would do each day are scheduled right in your instructor guide. Looking at the Core F IG sample, you would complete "China Overview" for Week 1 Day 1, then "China Communism" for Week 1 Day 2, etc.. You will usually only complete a section or two of a page each day. The sample looks like it's a mix of pages for the whole year, so I think you would need to wait until you have your pages to start them.

    I hope that makes sense, if not feel free to give a shout, I'll try to help! I was confused about this Core too when we first started.

  4. Love this! Excited to start BookShark's Eastern Hemisphere soon!

  5. I am glad I found your post. Thanks for the insight which is really helpful. I start Core F this year too with our 9 yo boy and am a bit overwhelmed, especially with the readers and read-aloud books. Normally I would like to go quite deep with each book so I have a feeling that asking him to cover 2 chapters a day as suggested in the IG is a bit too much. Thank you too for the reading titles that you swapped for Sonlight's.

    I am thankful for your comments on the 100 Gateway Cities and the China Kit. I have been wondering if I should buy them and now think that I'll substitute them with materials from other sources.

  6. You are very welcome! Enjoy your year!


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