Literature based schooling

Some more thoughts about curriculum. I’ve been looking into literature based programs a lot for next year now that he really knows how to read and enjoys doing so. I think these two both are important because if your child doesn’t read well or enjoy reading, you may be setting yourself up for trouble by choosing a literature based approach. Of course if the books are on things that interest the child, they could inspire a love of reading. However, be cautious about the amount of reading required. Heavy reading schedules can frustrate even the most avid of readers. There should also be a good mix of reading levels with some at, some below and some above their reading level. Books slightly below level reinforce reading is easy and fun. At level books keep them from getting bored with too many easy books. Harder books challenge kids to become better readers.

I use to like textbooks for all subjects because I liked the workbooks for reinforcement. However, I am learning that you can do workbooks with real books as well with better results. Textbooks for primary students are often rather dry and watered down. My son kept asking why and how in the science text we tried. He wanted more detail than just “This is a bird. Birds fly.” They use big glossy pictures to try to make up for this. Textbooks also do not have different levels of reading. They are generally all the same level throughout so you do not get a good reading reinforcement.

There are some literature based ready to use curriculum available. Two of the most popular are Sonlight and WinterPromise. Veritas Press also has literature based programs but doesn’t seem as cohesive as the other two companies. Ambleside Online is a popular, free, mostly literature based program using a Charlotte Mason style booklist and your local library. I’ve heard that in some places it is difficult to use Ambleside without buying books because of the number of other families using it make a long wait list for books.

WinterPromise and Sonlight cover many similar topics but have notable differences. WinterPromise has grade level ranges for their programs. They are themed around history (also animals and world cultures for younger students) tied into with Language Arts.They offer guides to adapt their program to older/younger students which may help if you have more than one grade level studying for example US History. Sonlight is a more traditional grade level progression with separate subjects. Sonlight offers a fuller range of subjects than WinterPromise. Both offer teaching guidebooks. Both offer math, LA, history, Bible, and of course literature reading. Sonlight has science for all grades, whereas WinterPromise is very limited. Sonlight offers entire grade level packages called Cores if you want to use them for all subjects. For reinforcing about the topics read, WinterPromise has more activities and hands-on projects whereas Sonlight is a narration based approach. For more discussion on the similarities and differences of Sonlight and WinterPromise see this handy post.

I didn’t know about literature based programs very much when I first saw Abeka. Abeka is a great program. However, I don’t think I want to use it other than Language Arts next year since it is textbook based. It always seemed like a good idea to use real books but it also seemed like a lot of work to gather books then plan the activities and how it would all fit together. Sonlight and WinterPromise have already done that for me! I just need to figure out which program would be a better fit.

For first grade this year he’s reading in First Favorites, a wonderful book collection put together by Veritas Press. It has a guidebook with workbook style activities that go along with each story. They start with easier stories and gradually get longer and harder. I wanted to supplement Abeka since they didn’t have any real books, just the readers. We started toward the middle of the year. We did a story every week or two. He’s really enjoyed the stories and activities. Unfortunately, they only have this for first grade.

The disadvantage of the literature based programs is that they are generally more expensive than textbooks. They may intimidate some families with the sheer amount of books which are to be read in a year. However, with a good guidebook, this shouldn’t be a problem. If you are traveling, the amount of books can be both a plus and negative. It is easier to read and pack small books in a backpack. However, if you will be gone for a long time you must take and keep track of several books. Many programs include Biblical or religion related (usually Christian) readings. These can be easily left out and/or substituted for other books. Some programs even offer a package without them. Homeschool programs often won’t pay for the teacher’s manuals/guidebooks because they include the religious parts along with everything else. They usually cost between $30-$70. However, they are well worth it for first time users of literature based curriculum.

Next year I want to do Winter Promise’s Adventures with Sea and Sky. It is a literature based program with history and science. Then I want to start US History in 3rd grade with either Sonlight or Winter Promise. My friend did Sonlight Core3 this year for 3rd grade which covers US History to the Civil War. They use similar books. I may still use Abeka for Language Arts. However, if he doesn’t take to the literature approach, I call always fall back to Abeka.

I just dropped off my son’s re-enrollment paperwork for his homeschool program. They also had a book swap. I picked up an Abeka country report workbook, a picture dictionary and a book about famous Americans. He looked through the dictionary and is reading the book now.


4 Responses

  1. I like Sonlight, but I think that our family would have a hard time getting everything done that Sonlight recommends. Even though our family doesn’t use Sonlight as our main curriculum, I often look at the Sonlight book lists to help me when deciding on books for our unit studies. I know that if it is included in the Sonlight list, then it must have value.

    I hope that it is working well for your family!

    Sincerely, Julie Simmons

  2. Julie,

    We debated between Sonlight and WinterPromise a lot. My girlfriend used the complete Core3 from Sonlight for third grade this year. She had a hard time getting through it. She and her son were getting frustrated with the pace at times, especially science and math. This fall for fourth grade, she will be modifying Core4. The books are similar (in many cases the same) between Sonlight Cores 3 & 4 and WP American Story 1 & 2, but WP has more activities and less narration which for my very active son was a big difference. I too was impressed with the quality of books from both companies.

    I got WP Animal Worlds for summer enrichment reading and my son is devouring the books but I don’t think I would like it as a year long program. We’ll likely return to them in the future for biology lessons. We’re going with 2 WP programs, American Story 1 (history) and The World Around Me (science), this fall for second grade. If they are as well put together as AW is, it should be a wonderful year. I like the guidebook. It truly is open and go.

    I am using Christian Light for language arts/reading skills because they are very thorough but gentle. I didn’t think WP’s or Sonlight’s LA were very thorough. I didn’t like how they jump around using different series each year.

  3. Hi-
    It sounds like you homeschool much in the way I do- I use Abeka for Language Arts (adding some of my own readers) and Math. I tried Saxon Math in first grade- she liked it, but only because it didn’t challenge her at all! I use Sonlight for Science and History. I like Sonlight’s approach, but it does have flaws. The #1 thing I didn’t like was all the nudity in the first grade history books! (I mean, a simple behind would be one thing, but I thought they were way too graphic.) Also, the whole narration based thing totally discredits the fact that some kids learn quite well that way. I think using the two programs really balances us out. I have not looked at Winter Promise- maybe if it is “gentler” my daughter would like it. She actually tells me she gets tired of hearing about everybody killing each other. 🙂

  4. Holly,
    We use resources from many different places. While a full curriculum from one source may work for some families, it doesn’t work for us. We use Winter Promise for history. Christian Light Education for reading, language arts, and Bible. Math-U-See for math. The rest is just whatever fits best for what they are supposed to cover for things like health, technology, science, and other non-standard subjects. We try to use as many living books as possible which is part of the reason I like companies like Sonlight and WinterPromise.

    My friend uses Sonlight. The reason I went with WinterPromise instead of Sonlight is because Sonlight has so much narration. My son is a hands-on learner which made the activities based approach of WinterPromise better for us. I will get a book from Sonlight’s list at the library that isn’t in WinterPromise if it looks interesting (my friend does vice-versa).

    I haven’t had any problems with nudity or over emphasis on killing with the American History in WinterPromise. I did switch some of the books out for the Civil War because we don’t believe in any righteous war causes so I had him read about the Mennonites in the Shenandoah Valley during that time instead of soldiers. I’m also going to add a book about conscientious objectors during WW1. Other than that, we’ve been very pleased with their book selections.

    We did kindergarten and first grade with Abeka. However by the middle of first grade we were both burned out with the repetition of it. After seeing that the lessons would be similar in second grade, I switched to Christian Light Education for reading skills and language arts. They are still a very thorough curriculum, but have more variety of activities in the lessons. There’s also less teacher prep so we can get through our day faster. Their website is You may want to check out their math. If we didn’t like Math-U-See I’d probably use CLE for math too.

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