Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Sonlight for the Secular Homeschool

We're almost four months into our homeschool year and I have to say it has been one of my favorites. This is in no small part due to Sonlight. For years I pieced together a curriculum which focused heavily on history, geography, and literature. And while I'm pleased with the outcome (my two oldest, Peter and Ethan, graduated with a much fuller knowledge of those three subjects than I did), I have come to a point where I just don't have the energy to do it all over again. Maybe if I'd been taking copious notes during those twelve years on everything we ever read, discussed, and studied, I'd have an open and go curriculum ready and waiting for me. Unfortunately, I was under the impression our family was complete. I figured at this point I would be through having to use any curriculum at all. But by the time Peter and Ethan were teenagers, it was clear we were ready for our family to grow. Along came Bess, Max, and Rose, and while I'm so, so happy they did, I find myself at the beginning again. I'm sixteen years older than I was when we first homeschooled, and man, I feel those years. The energy I had then for planning our days has evaporated. I'm just too darned tired to sweat the small stuff. You want to eat candy before dinner? Well, that's not an argument I want to have, so go ahead. You refuse to put on pants for breakfast? Well, pants probably aren't that important in the grand scheme of things, so yeah. You want to skip science to watch Dora the Explorer for the freaking one thousandth time? Well, Dora did teach you the Spanish word for chocolate, so I'll take a nap while a talking map and a monkey make you bilingual.
These aren't the decisions of a woman who is pumped and motivated to spend her evenings choosing books, writing discussion questions, and creating fun, imaginative crafts.

I really love homeschooling. I do. I'm just at a point where I want a little help. And that's where Sonlight comes in.  Sonlight has saved me countless hours of research to find just the right books for our history studies. It's literature-based with living books teaching history, rather than dry textbooks. My kids love it and so do I. Our days are much more relaxed, because I'm more relaxed. I don't have to worry about whether I've planned enough or too much. The instructors guide lays out everything we need to do with notes for discussions, timeline activities, and mapping. Sonlight plans everything, as I did through all those years of teaching Peter and Ethan, but without the headache.

So can Sonlight be used by secular homeschoolers? Yes. Easily. The majority of the religious material is in the IG which only I read. I skip anything I don't feel we need. The handful of books which are religious can be replaced with similar secular titles from the library. If, for instance, the missionary story for the day focuses on India with mapping and timeline activities, I just replace it with a secular story about India and do the activities. Sometimes if I feel it's of no educational value, I just eliminate a book or story without replacing it.

The IG is so easy to use. I open to the week for a quick glance at what we're reading, and then turn to the following pages for a more in-depth look at the history and literature selections. A map with all the locations from the readings is there, and so are instructions for what dates and figures to enter on the timeline. Everything is already done for me. I don't have to schedule anything. It's very easy to tweak, and even though it's all planned out for me, the schedule isn't burdensome. We can use two days to complete a day of work or, when we're motivated, finish a week of readings in a day. The cores are easy to tailor to more than one age level. We have an advanced 6 year old and a not-quite-as-advanced 5 year old using the same core.
Yes, Sonlight is an evangelical company, and yes, they do believe in a young earth. And shockingly, yes, there is a paragraph at the back of the IG on how to talk with children about homosexuality with a short script on how to explain to your children why gay marriage is wrong.(As the mom of a bisexual son, this made me grind my teeth in frustration.) However, all of these issues are in the IG which my children don't see, and I can ignore.(The script on how to make your child into a future bigot made a swift trip to our garbage can.)

So that's a quick look at Sonlight. I hope it's helpful. I remember, when I was first considering Sonlight, searching a long time online to find any real information on how Sonlight could be used by secular homeschoolers and not finding much. So here are a couple of helpful resources on how to secularize the cores:

SonlightSecular Yahoo Group

Our Enchanted Place Blog: Sonlight Cores

For a three week sample of any core:

IG samples

My next post will be on secularizing Core A.

Until next time!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Vegan Pumpkin Pie

The year our family became vegan, I immediately began my quest to find a great pumpkin pie recipe. Thanksgiving was still a few months away, but I knew the lack of a dairy-and-egg-free version of our favorite dessert would derail any hopes of keeping the holiday vegan. My kids love,love,love pumpkin pie. And so began the Summer of 100 Awful Pies. Well, maybe not 100, but I baked enough terrible pastries to make us wonder if we ever wanted to eat pumpkin again. Our criteria for the perfect pie was that it had to be smooth and sturdy, not a goopy mess (as many were), with just the right amount of spice. So I baked pie after pie. Some were flavorful but pudding-like, some sturdy, but with way too much tofu and not enough pumpkin taste. In the end, not finding one we liked,we developed our own recipe. We took the best components from the non-vegan recipes we used to enjoy as omnivores and created this one. It's spicy, smooth, delicious, and slices beautifully. To help it retain its firmness, it's best served cold. We prefer pumpkin served chilled anyway so as not to have a pie which tastes too vegetably. Our family likes this recipe better than our old non-vegan one. And with  Vegan Whipped Cream, we don't miss the cool whip.

1 can(15 oz.) pumpkin(I prefer Libby's)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 package Mori-Nu Extra Firm Silken Tofu
1/2 cup unsweetened soy or almond milk
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. table salt
1 & 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground allspice

Add ingredients one at time and blend in a food processor until smooth, scraping the sides of processor bowl with a rubber spatula between each addition. Make sure all the tofu is blended with no white bits remaining. For best flavor, cover and refrigerate pumpkin filling overnight.
Prepare one unbaked pie crust. I use the Classic Crisco Pie Crust. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Pour filling into pie crust. Use a pie crust shield or aluminum foil to keep the crust from browning too much. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until center is completely set.
Cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate until cold. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Thanksgiving "Unit"

We don't usually do unit studies, but I do tend to create projects and choose read-alouds based around holidays. It's mainly because I get bored quickly doing a whole unit on any one topic, but a few days of focused reading and art projects for a holiday is short enough to hold my interest. I know, I know, our homeschool should be planned around the kids' interests, not mine. But the reality is that if I'm bored the kids are bored. It's hard to enjoy a unit study if mom is reading in a monotone and drinking gallons of coffee just to keep her eyelids open. I admire all you Unit Study Moms, I do. But keep it far away from me. I'm bored just thinking about it. Pass the coffee.

So here's our short Thanksgiving "unit":

by Wende & Harry Devlin

by Wende & Harry Devlin

by Alice Dalgliesh

by Kate Waters

by Anne Kamma

And because our "turkey day" is vegan:
by Ruby Roth


The voyage of the Pilgrims, England, Plymouth, and their original destination in Virginia.

Over the River and Through the Woods(This was Bess' idea. She loves to sing.)

Bess and Max are learning how to make a vegan pumpkin pie from scratch.


And that's our "unit". We're having a lot of good discussions from our readings, even a few about how shopping is replacing Thanksgiving and how hard won labor rights are being slowly destroyed by corporations and greedy shoppers. (Mom on her soapbox.)

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with family and friends!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Our Curriculum 2013-2014

I thought I would post a short rundown of the curriculum we're using this year, and in the next few days follow with some reviews. We're far enough into the school year where I have a pretty clear idea of what homeschool purchases are working well for us. Overall, I'm really pleased. Every July I spend an inordinate amount of time driving my family, myself, and anyone who will listen completely crazy as I try to figure out what curriculum to buy. I decide, I second guess, I hyperventilate, change my mind half a dozen times, and then finally buy the books only to spend the ensuing days regretting the purchases. But this year my neuroses seem to have paid off. We've had a very productive couple of months. I think we've found just the right balance of history, literature, and workbooks. I'm only listing the books I bought, not the resources we already owned and are currently using. I'll focus on those in a later post.

Bess is 6 and in First Grade. She is learning with:

Sonlight Core A with Grade 2 Readers(We are not using the Bible or Language Arts portion, just the History, Read-alouds, and Readers schedule.)

Horizons Math 1 


Zaner-Bloser Spelling Grade 1

Zaner-Bloser Handwriting Grade 1

Evan-Moor Daily 6-Trait Writing Grade 1

Noeo Biology 1

Language Smarts B from The Critical Thinking Company

Building Thinking Skills Primary from The Critical Thinking Company

Artistic Pursuits Book 1

Max is 5 and in kindergarten. He has a pretty laid-back schedule. He has Asperger's, and can become easily overwhelmed, so we do school when he's ready to do it. He is learning with:

Mathematical Reasoning A from The Critical Thinking Company

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons

Zaner-Bloser Handwriting K

Evan-Moor Everyday Literacy Science

And Max is sitting in on Artistic Pursuits and about half of Sonlight Core A.

And that's about it. Reviews and a post on how to make Sonlight Core A secular coming soon!

I hope everyone is having a great school year! 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Vegan Brown Sugar Cinnamon Cookies

This recipe is a modified version of our favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. I'm pretty sure the original chocolate chip version came from PETA, at least that's what I scribbled onto my recipe card years ago. One day, with a hankering for cookies, and no chocolate chips, I came up with Brown Sugar Cinnamon Cookies. It was a hit with the kids. In fact, my 19 year old, Ethan, says I found the bliss point.

1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/4 cup Earth Balance margarine
1 & 1/4 cups light brown sugar
2 Tablespoons almond milk, soy milk, or water
2 Tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 2 Tablespoons water
1 & 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 & 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 & 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment.
With a mixer, beat shortening, margarine, sugar, and almond milk until well combined. Add cornstarch mixture and mix until incorporated. Use a spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl.
Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl, and then add to creamed mixture.
Mix on low speed until evenly moistened.
Drop rounded tablespoons of dough 3 inches apart on the parchment covered cookie sheet.
Bake for 8 to 11 minutes, until sides and top are just golden brown.(They will look very soft and under baked, but they will firm up as they cool.)
Leave cookies on baking sheet for 5 minutes, before moving them to a cooling rack.
This makes about 30 cookies.(fewer, if you eat as much cookie dough as I do)


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

This Week

Outside my window...I"m watching the squirrels busily digging in the yard, frantically getting ready for winter. One watched me from the neighbor's tree today as I was walking to our backyard. With a large nut crammed into his mouth, he still managed to chatter a loud warning. I'm pretty sure he was saying some fairly unflattering things about me. Joke's on him. I saw where he buried the nut!

I am thinking... about how nice it is to have a child who sees beauty everywhere. Bess brought me this "beautiful bouquet of flowers". And when I put the weeds into their "vase", they did look lovely in the kitchen window.
I am thankful...for cold weather.These Midwestern summers are unbearable. With the amount of humidity we have, I'm sure the next step in our human evolution will be the addition of gills. So glad for a reprieve for a few months.

In the kitchen...baking tons of bread, and making paninis. Our panini maker was a good purchase. With a new baby keeping me busy, it helps to have a way for the kids to make a meal for themselves.

I am creating...a Brisbane pattern scarf for my five year old son. It feels great to knit again!

We are reading...Charlotte's Web by E.B.White

I am reading...Homeward Bound:Why Women are Embracing the New Domesticity

I am looking forward to...Halloween! Jack o' Lanterns, roasted pumpkin seeds, and trick or treating with my children. It never gets old. This holiday feels timeless. Old fashioned yet new at the same time. My kids swear I laugh in the same places every year when we watch It's the Great Pumpkin,Charlie Brown. And they're probably right. I'm sorry, but Snoopy howling and crying at WWI songs is still hilarious!

Around the house...I'm preparing to clean closets. Well, mentally preparing. I'm not sure how much I can get accomplished with a three month old.

In Our Homeschool...We're taking the week off. I'd scheduled a break for this week, and we certainly need it. Time for a few Halloween crafts!

Have a great week, and a Happy Halloween!

The format for this post was inspired by The Simple Woman's Daybook