On Being a Catholic Using Sonlight

I mentioned earlier that I enjoy reading the Sonlight Curriculum catalog and I know I’ve mentioned that many times that we use Sonlight. I think most of you know that we’re Catholic. Jamie asked me for advice at how to use Sonlight as a Catholic.

First, let me admit that I am not a Sonlight expert. We have used Sonlight (SL) for our entire homeschool experience which as I write this, is 4 years: pre-K through 2nd.

I love using SL because of all the wonderful books, many of which I remember fondly from my own childhood. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of them myself! I also enjoy the educational philosophy of Charlotte Mason – living books, short lessons, narrations – and the SL curriculum fits it very well.

To add to all of that wonderfulness, SL is a Christian company! Which means that their books are carefully selected to represent a Christian viewpoint. I never have to worry about the content of a SL book.

However, SL is a non-Catholic company, which I guess means that they are Protestant. OK. So we’re not going to have any books about Mary or the Saints. There are going to be very few, if any, mentions of going to Mass or priests or saying the Rosary. I’m OK with that. And I have heard, though not personally experienced for myself, that some books in later Cores are misrepresent Catholicism. We are only on Core 1, so we will deal with these issues if and when then come up. I actually think that this could lead to a good discussion about our Catholic faith and how it differs from other Christians.

I was surprised recently to read that another Catholic homeschooling mom will deliberately avoid books in the SL catalog marked with an X “because they are religious, therefore Protestant.” That got me thinking. I went and looked at the SL catalog. One of their many book annotations is an X to let you know that the book is from a Christian publisher. To me, that does not necessarily equate to a religious book, but maybe that’s semantics. I looked up which books in Pre-K, K and Core 1 were labeled with an X. Some of them weren’t surprising, a couple of them I would have given an equal chance of being from a secular publisher.

In the 3 cores that we have used, I have only excluded 2 books. One was their version of Mother Goose rhymes, which they have replaced this year. I thought it needed more pictures, and substituted the Richard Scarry version instead. The other book we didn’t read was Hero Tales, a collection of biographies of Protestant heroes. The only reason I eliminated it was because it was boring! In fact, many non-Catholics on the SL Forums eliminated this book, too, for the same reasons. I actually have no problem with my children learning about any brand of Christian heroes. All are called to do God’s work and we can learn from their examples.

Actually, that is how I approach all of SL books of a religious nature. The missionary stories have been excellent in teaching my children about the people around the world. The books have sparked discussions on how to treat people of other faiths. We have prayed for many of the peoples we read about. I have yet to find any of the books to be offensive to a Catholic. My personal opinion is that to summarily dismiss a book as being Protestant would be to miss out on many wonderful stories. Most of the time, you can never even tell the denomination of the Christian group being discussed. Those missionaries could very well be Catholic.

Now one book, Leading Little Children to God, did make mention of “the Lord’s Supper”, not meaning Mass, but – and I’m guessing here- a Protestant Eucharist service. We read it together and I simply made it clear that for us, that meant going to Mass and going to communion. Just a little tweaking in one chapter in an otherwise great children’s devotional. That chapter could even be skipped.

Another book, From Abeku to Zapotec, is a book about people without the Bible in their own language. Each page has a nice picture and maybe 2 or 3 paragraphs describing their lives. That’s it. The point of the whole book is that children pray for these people, that they may get Bibles in their own language. No need to miss out on this book just because it’s labeled with an X!

When it comes to the SL books, as a Catholic, you just need to decide for yourself what you are comfortable with. I would strongly recommend buying all the SL books in a Core(it gets you a good discount) and pre-reading the ones that may be questionable. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised. If not, that’s OK, too. You will almost certainly be able to find an acceptable substitute. Or, if your children are older, you may want to read the books anyway and discuss it from a Catholic perspective.

I do add some Catholic touches to our school. I use the Seton religious education books because I’m not completely happy with the RE classes at our church. I have the Loyola Book of Saints and Book of Heroes, which I used in place of Hero Tales and on various feast days.

I don’t really feel like every single subject needs to reflect our Catholicism. Math is math is math, you know? I use Horizons Math, which SL happens to sell, because it works for our family. The same with handwriting. We’re using Handwriting Without Tears because it works. I don’t like their cursive style, though, so I was about to switch to A Reason For Handwriting. But if my son is going to learn to cursive writing out passages from scripture, he might as well use Seton’s handwriting manual and write out Catholic Catechism. I’m rethinking this, though, as he’s really struggling with cursive. We
may go back to Handwriting Without Tears. At least he’ll be legible.

With any curriculum, you need to use what works for your family and put aside what doesn’t. There are more Catholic Sonlighters than you’d think, and you can ask for their input on the SL Forums, which you can get free access to for 30 days. I found one thread there that talked about some of the issues I’ve mentioned here: Sonlight and Catholic. There is also a Catholic Sonlighters Yahoo Group. The folks on that group would be very helpful in pointing out where things should be left out, edited or discussed.

Hopefully I’ve been helpful. Please feel free to ask more questions and I’ll try to answer as best as I can.

More Mac and Cheese, please!


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  • I can’t speak for Sonlight, but I have purchased Abeka (another Christian homeschool resource). In fact, Mother of Divine Grace (wholly Catholic) specifies Abeka Math through 3rd grade and Abeka Science in 3rd and at least 4th grade (I haven’t looked beyond that yet).

    But MODG did NOT specify Abeka Language Arts. I wanted something other than what MODG used, so I went with Abeka since I was already a customer. The curriculum is good, and I don’t mind the talk about missionaries and Pastor Smith that much. Nor do I mind the frequent references to icons of Protestantism (Martin Luther, famous preachers, etc). But the sentences like, “I was saved on July 10, 1998” are awkward. They’re not offensive, but it’s just not the way we Catholics talk.

    Now, I don’t believe that everything we use must be wholly Catholic with constant references to saints, rosaries, the Mass, the sacraments, etc. I don’t think these things are bad, I just don’t have to have them in every single subject every single day. But if I had to choose between frequent Catholic references or frequent Protestant references, I would choose the Catholic ones.

    The science text, thus far, has been generic Christian. THAT, I really like. God made the world, isn’t it great, isn’t it perfectly designed? If the texts were all like this I see no problem using a Christian program instead of a Catholic one. But if the texts include theology or culture (Mass vs. service; priest vs. pastor) then I would limit my kids’ exposure to those texts. Does that make sense? There’s only so much Protestant talk I could take before I would feel the need to counter it with all-Catholic stuff.

  • Nice post. Are you using Window on the World? Maybe SL has discontinued it?

    Just curious because we aren’t Catholic, but this is one book that I’ve seen glaring problems with.

    Another one that got my knickers in a twist repeatedly was 100 Gateway Cities in Core 5. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be praying for these cities, it just bothered me that the authors gave the impression that to be counted as “Christian” only Evangelical, born-again types could be counted. :(

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