Literature-Based History Curriculum – Level D Intro to American History from Sonlight
When it comes to history, I didn’t want to fall into the single-point-of-view trap. That’s why I decided to switch our whole approach to a literature-based history curriculum.
Reading different accounts of an event would create a broader picture of what actually happened and provide us with the chance to talk about it openly.
Add in an instructor’s guide with strong parent support, an integrated approach, and ease of use and you have the recipe for a perfect history curriculum. That’s Sonlignt.
I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to try out this awesome curriculum.
Before I start, though, please grab your coffee (or whatever beverage you prefer) and sit in your comfy chair, because this is going to be a long article.
This is a sponsored post. I was given the product to review and I might have been compensated for my time. I would never endorse or recommend programs we wouldn’t use ourselves. Read more about it in my Disclosure.
- What’s Sonlight?
- Literature-based learning
- HBL level D: Intro to American History, Year 1 of 2
- Literature-based history from Sonlight
- American history
- What’s inside?
- 📔 Instructor’s Guide
- 📚Literature: Read-alouds and Readers
- ✝️ Bible
- 🏰 History
- What we ❤️ about HBL level D
- Multiple points of view, not a one-sided story
- Academic excellence
- Rich literature-based history exposure
- Flexible open-and-go guide
- Inclusive curriculum with an open worldview
- Some possible downsides
- Video and conclusion
- Giveaway – US only
I find it very hard to think that there are still homeschoolers out there that don’t know about Sonlight. But here’s a brief introduction:
- Christian Homeschool Curriculum – Sonlight is a literature-based, Christian homeschool curriculum, with over 30 years of experience in the homeschooling world.
- Literature-based – What sets Sonlight apart from traditional school curricula is that they use real books, not textbooks, to reach each child and make sure they are exposed to rich, and engaging material.
Constant exposure to great literature will embed academic excellence in your child’s education without too much effort.
- Flexible – The unique setup of Sonlight allows parents to customize their packages to suit their needs, and their advisors are so helpful if you are stuck!
You can choose from various combinations of levels, and weekly schedules, and even customize your package with the books you want.
- Philosophy – Sonlight‘s philosophy strikes close to home because they believe homeschooling is a way of life. It’s more than checking out boxes and passing tests, it’s about offering your children a well-rounded education while maintaining their curiosity and love of learning.
Children are led to learn naturally, through discovery, by observing and analyzing the great literature they read.
- Amazing parent support – The Instructor Guides Sonlight offers are a real help for the parent. They virtually do everything for the parent from weekly schedules, to lesson planning, to comprehension questions.
But what sets these apart from other curricula is that they aren’t only a checklist, they offer so much insight for the parent and they are packed with information and context for each book you read.
A living book is engaging, valuable, and extends beyond relaying information. Living books are written by people that lived the experience firsthand or that are very passionate about the subject. They make you think, analyze and ask questions. Living books are meant to be read slowly and savored. They spark conversations and ideas.
Sonlight is basically great literature brought together and interweaved to create a seamlessly integrated experience. They choose valuable living books that are award winners to serve as thinking launch pads for your kids.
I strongly believe kids (and adults) learn best through exposure and modeling. Modeling writing, grammar, proper sentence structure, beautiful word combinations, complex phrases, descriptions, and good writing, in general, allows kids to unknowingly absorb these into their own ‘toolbox’ to use later.
The textbook approach is good when you need to cover a lot of ground fast, but it doesn’t make for a solid foundation if it’s not (at least) enriched with good literature. That’s why Sonlight is so popular among homeschoolers that want a solid education for their kids.
Unlike other literature-based history curricula out there, with Sonlight the parent doesn’t need to compile lists of books or make plans. Everything is laid out for you: you get a box packed with everything you need for a year. So the parent can spend their time teaching and discussing, not planning.
HBL level D: Intro to American History, Year 1 of 2
History/ Bible/ Literature level D: Intro to American History, Year 1 of 2 is an integrated curriculum that blends together history, Bible, literature, and geography and it all revolves around quality living books. Sonlight users usually use the HBL (History/Bible/Literature) acronym to describe this subject.
Prepare to teach American history from multiple viewpoints while the awesome Sonlight Instructor Guide holds your hand through everything – even subtle nuances you might not have considered before.
It literally opens a plethora of conversation opportunities offering you the chance to discuss widely about all aspects of history- even the controversial ones.
I love that this can be used to cover multiple grades and ages. Level D is recommended for 9 to 12-year-olds (or grades 4-7) and will continue the American History with level E.
But trust me, you can use it much later, too. I still have a lot of things to learn from these treasures.
We chose level D because M and I have never been exposed to American history before. It seemed like a great point to start since it covers American history from before Columbus to the Civil War.
This is a new edition of Sonlight’s level D – Intro to American History, and the most notable difference is that they no longer offer the choice of regular/advanced readers. They also added 14 new books to their list, among which are: The Story of the Amistad, The White House is Burning, and Fever 1793.
Literature-based history from Sonlight
Here’s our history story, top to bottom: we didn’t manage to achieve much. Not from lack of trying, but all in all, I don’t feel that M retained much from the history programs we’ve done so far.
I want M to remember not only facts and dates, but contexts. To be able to carry out conversations about history and I want him to be interested in it.
That’s why I decided it was time to make a major switch for history, so for 6th grade, we will do literature-based history.
Sonlight‘s approach shifted the focus from remembering dates and events to remembering context and details and we are both learning a lot from merely reading and talking about the events. It’s such a change for us to go from the speed of a textbook-based approach to just spending quality time together doing history by reading.
I always felt that American history would be a hard subject to teach because we have no direct connection to it, but Sonlight made this so easy for us!
There are a lot of curricula on the subject out there, but I didn’t want to present American history (or any other history for that matter) from a one-sided point of view.
Sonlight‘s literature-based history approach held such an appeal to me because we get to experience history through multiple stories. We get to read the story of the native Americans before that of Columbus, to experience the rich cultures of people that lived there long before the explorers.
I love how Sonlight managed to arrange the literature in order so we get a clear timeline of history. I would have never managed to put together something so coherent.
And best of all, we get to make connections between facts and stories, to really compare and contrast what went on in various places around the globe at the same time.
Oh, boy! Where do I even begin?
Seeing all those shiny, new books, neatly packed just for you… I’m telling you, it’s better than Christmas, hahah.
So when I received the Sonlight box, I immediately made an unboxing video, which I posted on my YouTube.
You can see all the books we’ve got and I even did a quick flip-through of every book.
I know it’s not the same as receiving this yourself, but you can share in my joy, and scroll down for a chance to win this package yourself!
For a complete list of everything, you can check Sonlight’s website here, but the main components of this curriculum are the instructor’s guide, Bible, read-alouds, history spines, and readers.
📔 Instructor’s Guide
The guide is what I absolutely adore about this curriculum, aside from the great choice of books. I love having ready-made lesson plans and weekly schedules because that means less work for me.
But this guide is so much more than a checklist or a schedule. It’s what helps me tackle aspects of history I didn’t even know about, through meaningful conversations and angles I haven’t considered before.
It holds my hand through controversial matters, offering clarifications and ideas when needed. It’s an instructor’s guide like no other, and I fell in love with its style!
Without the guide, you just have a bunch of good literature and no way to tie them all up or make sure you’re finishing it all in a year.
The instructor’s guide is what helps you turn these wonderful books into a curriculum!
I made a visual for you below, because there’s just so much to say about the guide, but here are the main parts of it:
- covers 36 weeks of instruction
- you can choose between a 4-day or 5-day schedule (make sure to do this before placing your order)
- has a visual plan of the week
- visual tracker to know where you’re at
- easy to implement. There isn’t a lot of reading in the IG for the parent, making this the ideal open-and-go curriculum.
- integrated approach- allowing for a seamless blend of language arts (through read-alouds and readers), history, geography and Bible
- cultural background literacy for an inclusive approach
My favorite parts of the IG
Sonlight‘s IG is excellently organized, simpler to implement, and very, very easy for the parent.
I thoroughly enjoy working from Sonlight‘s instructor guide because it allowed me to have natural flowing conversations with M instead of worrying I needed to sort through too much information and have him lose focus by the time I was done.
*Just go to your preferred level, select the 4 or 5 days option, and click on the Samples tab.
And best of all, since it’s so well laid-out, it’s very easy to adapt, making this the most flexible boxed curriculum I’ve tried to date.
I also love the variety of questions in the IG. Some ask students to analyze, some to summarize; there’s vocabulary, map work, and even cultural literacy -which is a pleasant surprise- and we love reading all the different facts lined in these little gems of sections!
I was pleasantly surprised to see a Christian curriculum so inclusive of other cultures and beliefs!
But Sonlight‘s guide goes even beyond that, tying the information from the books to real life. I can clearly see the amount of effort and knowledge Sonlight puts into their guides and why homeschoolers consider this curriculum to be an excellent choice. It far surpasses any instructor’s guide we’ve had so far.
For example, for Peace Maker, we found out about the ‘three sisters’ (corn, squash, and beans) that were always planted together. The guide didn’t even stop at that and we further read that this is because the beans help nourish the soil since they are nitrogen fixers.
In just a few sentences we found out about the history of food as we know it, how American tribes used to plant them, and what was the scientifical reason behind this.
You can imagine this sparked further conversation about how we should do things in our garden and why the corn we planted didn’t have much yield. Maybe it needed beans?
📚Literature: Read-alouds and Readers
Sonlight reading lists are some of the most popular literature lists among homeschoolers. We’ve been consulting these over the years for ideas when in doubt about what to pick and we were never disappointed.
Their readers and read-alouds are living books, award winners, books that start conversations and ideas, and books that make you think.
I’ve been reading all the books aloud to M so far, even though he is quite capable of tackling all of them on his own. The reason for this is that I am learning with him and I really enjoy reading these books myself.
I like how the IG has some questions that pertain to literary analysis. There are various types of comprehension questions for each book, which keeps kids interested and engaged. I can see M is really invested in answering the questions, too.
The books Sonlight chose are not just historical fiction they are a glimpse into the past. Not just a biography, but a chance to live and feel what the main character did.
We found out about the challenges the first settlers had, the struggles of the tribes, and the first pioneers. Shared their frustrations and difficulties through the pages of a book. We were saddened when the rain didn’t come to grow the corn or when the characters lived through difficult times.
These books managed to paint a full and colorful picture of what life was like back in history. They created the perfect setting for future history dates and facts ,which won’t seem boring anymore since they will be superposed on a solid base, which is not only factual but also empathic.
There’s a gorgeous book of poetry included in this package, as well. It’s part of a series we love and it’s called A Child’s Introduction to Poetry.
This lovely book doesn’t only have poems, but also a background for each poem, and a bit of literary and structural analysis. It’s a lovely journey through the history of poetry. What a relaxed way to introduce poetry into the lives of children!
We greatly enjoyed the chosen poems and I found M browsing it on his own so that’s always a good sign.
This also gave us access to the audio version of each poem online so that we can listen to them being read multiple times.
The integrated aspect of literature-based history in action
The literature-based history from Sonlight is already starting to pay off because M is remembering a lot of details from the books we read so far, and we’ve only just begun!
Here’s how we managed to make connections between various books and how nicely good literature, history, and Bible blended together to paint a complete picture.
I really enjoyed the read-aloud of Peace Maker, the story of a 12-year-old Iroquois that manages to bring peace to the tribes, helping create the Iroquois Confederacy.
The story has vivid details and descriptions that help us understand the lives and customs of the Iroquois people.
I love how their legends and stories are woven into the story and this gave us the opportunity to discuss the differences and similarities between more cultures around the world. This book was an enjoyable read, with a strong peace message that is valid even today.
This continued with us reading from DK’s American History: A Visual Encyclopedia, an encyclopedia full of beautiful images and details about America’s history, where we saw a photo of a longhouse and read descriptions of the native tribes.
To complement all that, the reader suggested for this section was The Corn Grows Ripe, a sweet story about a Mayan boy that has to help his family survive (after his father breaks his leg) by doing milpa.
Milpa is the process through which Mayans plant their corn. I loved this short read and it’s wonderful how the author managed to transmit so much information and paint such a vivid picture of Mayan traditions in a few short chapters.
Finally, we read the Creation story from the Bible, and aside from the Instructor’s Guide questions, we also discussed the similarities and differences in the creation stories described in these 3 reads.
We had deep, meaningful conversations about these differences and I really enjoyed how much we ended up analyzing, casually, with no pressure and no set direction. It was lovely getting carried away by questions and curiosity.
This has been an experience I was craving to have with M and I would personally trade all other curricula we are using for moments like these.
Sonlight has a Bible approach that’s unique, blending Bible teachings with information about other cultures.
The package comes with an illustrated Bible for kids, The Discoverer’s Bible for Early Readers. I like that the text has been adapted so that kids understand what they read.
There’s also the American Indian Prayer Guide which contains information about 36 tribes and prayers for each. It’s an interesting little book that we liked a lot because it also treats the problem of the injustices done to these tribes – again something unexpected and very welcome.
And finally, there’s a CD with Scripture songs (Sing the Word: Great in Counsel and Mighty in Deed) for memorizing Scripture, which I am planning to play for quiet time or the rare occasions M is crafting something.
History is the main reason why I wanted this curriculum, but I ended up using it for so much more.
Don’t expect a textbook-worth of dates and rows of facts. Instead, expect history taught in context, through stories. Expect multiple points of view and read the stories of both sides. In my opinion, this is how all history should be taught.
Expect history told from the perspective of people that lived it, showing kids that history is not just facts of dead people that no one cares about. Live through the struggles with them, empathize or cry with them, analyze their decisions, and be angry, happy, or sad.
This is what living books do: they stir a whirlwind of emotions. And emotions make you remember!
Since history and geography go hand in hand, Sonlight sent us a beautiful laminated markable map that will see a lot of use in our homeschool. We already used it to mark places we’re reading about and it’s such an amazing tool to have. I don’t know why I didn’t think of getting one earlier!
I am planning to use it for our ancient history as well, to mark all the different things that happened around the globe at the same time, so we have a more broad understanding of history around the world.
Next, there’s a Timeline Book with Timeline Figures stickers. We already have the whole collection of Timeline Figures which I was planning to start using for history. We will be using these for years to come to have an easier way to just review timelines of history.
These two just add a visual layer to all the auditory ones, making HBL multi-sensory.
The main history spines throughout the HBL American History year 1 are 3 books.
There’s the DK American History: A Visual Encyclopedia, full of beautiful images and facts that will serve as enrichment for American history studies. Just browsing this would suffice to spark curiosity about the subject.
One of my strategies is to leave these encyclopedias lying around, in obvious spots, and just wait for the magic to happen. M will eventually hit a boredom spot and pick these up on his own, browsing and reading parts that draw his attention. This is how he ended up doing high school chemistry at 9, so it’s a tried and tested strategy in our homeschool.
The Landmark History of the American People, Volume I is a beautiful, illustrated guide to American history from the pilgrims to 1800s. I love that it includes timelines and maps so it will be easier for us to place the historical events in order and space.
The Beginner’s American History is an accessible history of explorers and colonists that we love reading aloud. I appreciate the wealth of information in it as well as the fact that this book has extra comprehension questions at the end of every chapter. So you could use it to add more questions to the ones in the guide if you want to.
What we ❤️ about HBL level D
I think that Sonlight’s HBL level D, Intro to American History is a great place to start learning about American history. Combining so many resources with rich literature will ensure a great foundation for further exploration into the American histoy.
I was a bit skeptical about trying out another boxed curriculum. But I’ve been browsing Sonlight‘s book selections yearly and I knew we would enjoy the literature tremendously.
Still, it was a surprise to see how much we actually enjoyed this program (instructor’s guide included). I say ‘we’ because M is genuinely enjoying this as much as I am.
Multiple points of view, not a one-sided story
I loved listening to a TED talk called the danger of a single story, which I highly recommend.
The author of this talk says that the danger of a single story comes from misunderstanding, lack of knowledge, or simply bad intent. Listening to a single story doesn’t offer you the full picture. In order to have the full picture, you need more points of view and more stories.
That’s what I felt we are getting out of Sonlight: more stories.
I don’t want M to hear only one story of history, I want him to hear as many as possible and make up his own mind, and draw his own conclusions. I don’t want him to be shrouded in misconceptions and preconceptions about the world or its history.
And while it might be hard to get a full account of everything, we are trying to get it covered by reading multiple accounts of the same historical event.
I know M will take an academic route to continue on a STEM pathway- most probably.
But you might wonder why I would steer him towards so much literature, history, and other arts. The answer is simple: I don’t want him to grow up ignorant. No matter what field he will work in, he should have solid general knowledge and be a well-rounded individual.
I want to expose him to great literature, and through it, to the tools necessary to communicate, persuade, and form meaningful connections.
That’s why I feel that Sonlight is just another solid step in our academic journey that will take him closer to becoming an open-minded, well-rounded, and responsible individual.
The rich literature proposed by Sonlight will expose him to a set of tools he will need for better communication skills, making connections, analyzing, and even empathizing with others.
Rich literature-based history exposure
When it comes to making connections between various subjects, I think Sonlight is the perfect choice if your goal is like mine: to have well-read children that can easily analyze books, summarize, connect historical facts and just be good Christians with an open worldview.
This can only be achieved through a lot of exposure to good writing. Good books will also enrich vocabulary, sentence structure, writing, communication, and their investigative skills.
No textbook can ever achieve the academic level that rich literature could bring into your children’s lives.
I also have to say I’m happy to see for once that American history doesn’t begin with the discovery of the American continent but it includes the history of the people that were there before the explorers: the native tribes.
Sonlight started me on the path of no return, having me on the lookout for even more good historical fiction books.
M even asked for more similar stories to learn more about the native Americans. It was great contrasting these stories with previous reads and seeing how preconceptions can skew your view and understanding of the world. It just shows once more how important knowledge is.
Flexible open-and-go guide
Having used a boxed curriculum before, I have to be honest and say I didn’t expect to enjoy Sonlight as much as I did.
Sonlight’s instructor guide is 10 times better than any other IG I’ve used so far! It’s organized visually and I can just open it and do the lesson. No prep!
I am so in love with this guide and the way it’s laid out that I’ve already decided to purchase other levels as well because I want to cover all history in this manner!
Sonlight is excellently organized, simple to implement, and very, very easy for the parent. It’s everything you’ll need for a year filled with meaningful conversations and a lot of learning. Don’t be surprised if you’re learning a lot alongside your kids.
I know many parents complain that it’s overwhelming, but I don’t feel this way. Maybe I enjoy it because I realized along the way that WE DON’T HAVE TO COVER EVERYTHING.
Sorry for the all-caps, but if you’re reading this: stop trying to fit the curriculum, and make it fit you and your family instead. Even if it means some books won’t get read and some assignments won’t get done.
Inclusive curriculum with an open worldview
A huge plus for Sonlight is that it contains multiple points of view and is inclusive of other cultures. This is exactly what I was looking for in a history curriculum.
The guide holds my hand and points out when there might be controversial matters to discuss or analyze and I appreciate the cultural literacy points throughout the curriculum. This allows us to learn more about the cultures by explaining things in context.
I appreciate how Sonlight points out the differences in opinion when needed, offering me the opportunity to discuss the history from multiple perspectives.
Some possible downsides
While Sonlight is an excellently-made curriculum, it won’t fit every homeschool family out there, and it’s OK. Here are some things you might not like about it:
- Planned-out – while this is a strength of a boxed curriculum, some parents might still prefer doing their own planning. Just make use of their literature books then.
- Overwhelming – there is a lot to read, but you don’t have to do it all! You can choose the parts that are important to your family and just do those, just like we are doing.
I also found reading this Sonlight article very useful when talking about Sonlight cons.
How do I know if Sonlight is right for us?
I know a lot of parents are reluctant because of the price tag. What if you pay so much and then it doesn’t work?
Sonlight has a refund policy allowing you to use the curriculum for 18 weeks and if you won’t like it, you can return it. It’s called the “Love to Learn, Love to Teach™” Guarantee.
You might ❤️ Sonlight if:
- you love reading
- believe rich literature can improve learning
- want solid academics for your child
- need an open-and-go curriculum
- want parent guides to hold your hand
- you don’t like prep-work
- learning from living stories appeals to you
- you’ve checked out literature-based curricula and they sound lovely but look overwhelming
You might 💔 Sonlight if:
- you prefer a computer-based curriculum
- creating your own curriculum sounds better
- you just want worksheets and to be done with school asap
- traditional textbooks sound better
I’d say if you love reading and your children love listening and reading themselves, this curriculum would be a great option for you. And hopefully, my long article gave you a better idea of what to expect.
Don’t shy away from trying it out, grab the free IG samples, and hit the library for the reading books. You might be surprised at how much you actually enjoy this. And don’t forget, make use of the free advising service Sonlight has.
Video and conclusion
I know this post turned out to be a monster read! That’s why I also made a video explaining the main features of Sonlight’s HBL level D, which you can find embedded below.
But If you’ve made it this far, reading the whole article, Sonlight might be a great fit for you, too.😁
We love this level from Sonlight and we will be continuing to buy the IGs and the recommended books for history for the years to come.
Sonlight is laying solid foundations for kids to be curious, to analyze and think before acting, and to become well-rounded individuals with an open mindset about the world around them.
And it’s our perfect solution for literature-based history.
Giveaway – US only
And since Sonlight is so awesome, they are also offering a free HBL Intro to American History box to one winner! They will only ship to the US, though.
⭐️ Good luck, everyone! ⭐️
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Is Sonlight, and this particular program you chose, accepted by Bridgeway as part of your curriculum? I am not sure they have tests.
Apparently, they do allow it. Our advisor told me they accept Sonlight. They don’t have tests but she offered us the option to make our own tests instead. And she said it counts as history and literature. So definitely worth asking your advisor if they allow it or not.