How Does This Secular Curriculum Address Religion Throughout History?
As a secular curriculum our goal is to keep the study of religion academic. We will study its influences, myths, and practices where it applies to a culture. To exclude the study of religion from history would be disingenuous at best and at worst leave a learner with an incomplete education. We will never posit religion or religious myths as fact.
Religion and passive religious comments are woven throughout literature and therefore hard to fully exclude. We work hard to look for the finest quality books without any religious influence, but there will be an odd time when the benefit of a book outweighs a small implication of religion, for example a mention of church or God in passing. Instead of passing up this great work, we will do our best to add a small note (indicated by the speak bubble in the Legend) that a mention of religion is contained in the days reading. This will allow you as the Learning Partner to make the choice to address the mention, breeze right through it if it does not concern you, or change the wording to your liking.
At Torchlight we hold that each family should decide what is right for them. In practice we personally prefer to start any reading containing mentions of religion with a disclaimer of, “Many people in the past and in our present, choose to believe stories to explain the unexplainable.People throughout time have been uncomfortable not having answers to difficult questions. We call these stories this religion. When they mention ________ this is an example of one of those stories.” Then we proceed to discuss our personal thoughts and instill that we respect each person’s right to hold their own belief system as long as those beliefs do not impose harm upon others. By given you the heads-up we hope to provide the opportunity to address these instances in a way that fits your family’s choices.
What if My Learner Simply Dislikes Reading?
This happens! Not to fret, Torchlight has many truly engaging audiobooks in our ranks. We recommend letting children do a “mindless task”, a.k.a. something that does not occupy much concentration. Examples of this are playing with a chunk of clay (a personal favorite). They can even be asked to mold a figure of something they hear about in the story. another option is doodling, which tends to work better for older kids that are accomplished doodlers. Other options include playing with a rubber band, knitting (or crocheting), or simply walking around the kitchen island as you read or both listen. We also have a list of alternatives and we make a concerted effort to include variety, like engaging and educational comic-books. If Torchlight ends up just not being the right choice for you, we understand and our feelings won’t be hurt. We still wish you the best of luck finding your best fit!
How Do I Integrate Physical Activity?
Teaching healthful movement is personal to each family, but studies suggest that small bursts of time outside can reinvigorate learning, absorption, and attention. If things are starting to go sideways and become stress-inducing we encourage a break with a little physical activity. We have included curriculum for science (Be Naturally Curious) and our recommended Reading (Logic of English) that include lots of full-body activities and games purposely, but we also encourage daily movement during learning. This is the driving force behind our Pantomime Poetry. Some Cosmic Kids Yoga is great any time of day, even as a break between subjects. A quick outside game of “What Animal Am I?” or “Can You be a________?” on the lawn as they run from side to side acting out their given or chosen animal can be a lot of fun and just what is needed to break-up the day. Conducting lessons outside is also a well-loved option and greatly encouraged. We support coming up with (or using these) options to pull from when the need arises.
Why don’t you include cultural crafts in Level K?
The main benefit of crafts is to hone fine motor skills and work on process. We have included cross-curricular art that involves shapes, cutting skills, and solid process skills practice. We also include drawing, which is of the utmost importance to fine-motor development and imagination. Many scheduled and extension projects are also included. We prefer to stay away from crafts that attempt to reproduce cultural artifacts because we find far more value in children being introduced to the real artifacts and learning to respect the customs and beauty behind how and why they are made. There are a handful of extension projects that do illustrate a skill through reproduction, but without treading on the cultural significance. We do include a lot of fun exposure to works of art, both paintings and music, in this level. We hope this bring forth many wonderful questions followed by deep discussions and lead to aspirations of creating their own art. Future levels will include art activities based on technique and historic significance. We also hope our families will consider adopting the frequent practice of allowing learners to mold clay, draw, paint, or color during read aloud. This allows some kids to process better while giving them opportunities to explore art mediums with no expectations, just their own creativity.
What is your philosophy regarding handling questions?
One small note on how questions were intended to be handled with this curriculum. This will address both literature comprehension questions and general inquiry questions, so bear with us. Each family has their own style, but it might help to know our ideas when formulating this curriculum. We honor the phrase, “I don’t know, but let’s look it up!” The intention is two-fold; We want children to understand that age and position does not equal infallible or all-knowing and we want them to inherit the habit of inquiry and research. We believe it is more than alright not to have all the answers at the tip of your tongue, but develop the habit of allowing a question to drive them to educate themselves. We live in an information age and what we feel is most valuable is competence and drive to find what you need and problem solve. We feel this comes from practice that develops a healthy habit.
Comprehension questions are a standard part of most curriculums with a literature component. Torchlight is a bit different. While we might include some questions as a guide, we prefer to provide notes to the learning partner that help set-up any reading for success. These notes will address learning opportunities in the form of deep discussions regarding philosophy, psychology, logic, morals/character, and exploration of ideas.
The reason for this approach is to allow for a more organic flow of reading, discussion and inquiry. To assist in this Torchlight has provided our signature Questioning Trees coupled with notations when applicable, which will increase as the levels progress. Standard discussion questions have a tendency to stifle organic thought and inquiry. They also have a reputation for simply testing whether the reader completed the assigned reading as opposed to really thought about what they were reading. We hope this approach will change that with open-ended Socratic questioning that asks the reader to ponder what they are curious about and develop a healthy habit of wondering as they read.
Why is literature-based learning effective?
One of the goals of Torchlight literature studies is to help learners engage with literature thoughtfully, allowing them to gain a worldly perspective, empathy, and insights into human psychology without having to travel the world. Socratic-inspired literature studies help set learners up to read more difficult literature later in life and truly have the skills to break it down and understand it. This skill bleeds into social skills, reasoning, self-knowledge, and many more skills.
Every time a child experiences a book, they exercise empathy and build their vocabulary. That is Torchlight’s goal. The more we read and carefully discuss what we read the better we get at spotting themes, tropes, and nuances in literature, effortlessly, and joyfully gaining skills. When you become good at this you feel more connected to the characters, the author, the world around you, broadening your perspective about the world, yourself, and others.
Are there hands-on components as well?
Yes! Torchlight is an eclectic literature-based program, which means we cater to many different learning styles and strive to use the latest research-based methods in our pedagogy. Torchlight includes audiobook options, hands-on projects, year-long writing projects, hands-on art projects, engineering challenges, video learning, handicrafts, and so much more.
Does Torchlight include all standard subjects?
Aside from our Level Pre-K, which includes all subjects, all other Torchlight levels are created for maximum flexibility by having each family adding their math and reading instruction programs. Most learners are asynchronous and require programs tailored to their learning needs for these subjects. While Torchlight has some recommended programs listed as “top picks,” all families are welcome to choose the programs that fit best for their learners. All recommended programs are located within each level and chosen because they are well-crafted and well-researched.
Torchlight levels also include at least one extra “subject” within each level. In Pre-K we cover emotional intelligence. Level 1 includes world mythology. In Level 2 we start our studies in logic. Level 3 covers innovation. Our upcoming Level 4 will dive into moral philosophy.
Why do you include writing in kindergarten?
Our Level K includes writing opportunities that are to be dictated verbally to the learning partner. A child does not need to complete the physical act of writing to become a writer. Being a writer involves learning how to put our thoughts into comprehensible communication for others to benefit. This practice can be practiced early and often without taxing the growing physiology of a child. We do include a few activities in Pre-K that help learners to practice writing their names but do not require any lengthy writing for young learners.
If you are using Level K with an older learner, as many of our users do, these writing assignments are a wonderful fit for older learners to complete on their own.
What does "Socratic inspired" mean, and is it similar to narration?
Socratic education is a very different approach than narration. Narration’s aim is comprehension through a lens of your own experience. Socratic questioning and discussion’s purpose are to find deeper truths, including the questioning of your own experience. Socratic discussion aims to broaden your current worldview, as opposed to using it as a filter. It challenges what you know, how you know it, and forces the learner to bring their own set of core knowledge into question. The methods help form the habit of continually testing your current ideas and worldviews.
Socratic discussion is not something you can fully implement with an entry-level learner. It takes the building of skills, maturity, and formation of big ideas layered on top of a slowly developed habit of open-ended questioning that progresses into a well-formed cycle. With Torchlight, in Level K the goal is to instill a love of reading with an academic focus and support a wider worldview. Then, to gently focus on developing a habit of looking deeper without closing off discussion in favor of regurgitation. Learners will become accustomed to open-ended questions with no singular correct answers. There is a reason we use the terminology of “learner” and “learning partner.” There is not one person in this scenario with the right answers. The learners are developing the tools they need to find answers alongside their learning partners. As the levels progress, the questioning will deepen further still, and the cycle of Socratic thought introduced. Logic, as a subject will be introduced and practiced in Level 2. Psychology and philosophy will also continue to have a heavier presence as the learner enters higher levels. The ultimate goal is to make the learner competent in using the skills throughout their life to find solid truths, continually test those truths as new information presents itself, and be comfortable with their conclusions regarding abstract concepts that have no one truth (philosophy). This practice develops skills to question their beliefs instead of staying rigid. It is a skill that applies far beyond the classroom experience.
For what kind of learner and learning partner would Torchlight be a good fit?
Torchlight was created for many different types of learners, from classical education with a twist to unschoolers. Torchlight provides structure and resources while welcoming tailoring. Each week presents multiple topics for exploration, all woven together, allowing for layered learning and rabbit trails, if you choose to take them. Each week also contains an “extensions” section full of extra resources for further learning and alternative learning options, and a year-long project that helps tie the weeks together.
Is Torchlight flexible or strictly structured?
Torchlight can be used to the letter with our optional weekly schedule or as a flexible checklist. Being you and your learner’s educational experience, you should feel free to tailor it in ways that bring joy to your learning, allowing you to get the most out of every last drop!
Are more levels planned for a future release? If so, is there an estimated timeline for releasing future levels?
Torchlight will be releasing one level per year plus new individual studies as time permits. Torchlight builds skills with each level. In Level K, we focused a lot on global and cultural exposure. Exposure garners inquiry, interest, and understanding, the first step in fostering your learner’s worldview building. In Level 1 we add in partnership writing, cultural storytelling, and deep discussions about the observations we are making, which adds depth to their discoveries and offers methods of processing the world around them. In Level 2 we add in multiple writing styles to help them harness this new communication medium and allow them to take ownership. We also introduce vocabulary and grammar to slowly give them the tools needed to feel they can use this communication method successfully. In Level 2 we start our logic and research studies. In Level 3 we will be adding in short weekly editing and writing opportunities inspired by the literature. Hands-on projects help them explore how they relate to the literature and how they feel about more complex ideas or quandaries presented within the literature, providing strong self-reflection moments and getting them used to the beginnings of written analysis, research, and even art curation. We will also learn different methods we can use to discuss and observe art and connect art pieces to time, place, and artists’ intention versus our emotional response. We will learn about the very human artists behind the moniker of “master” to bring these pursuits into perspective and understand that we are all capable of producing art. Through our inquiry and innovation thread, we will be learning how to fail and fix until we succeed when something is meaningful to us. In Level 4 we will be learning more about scientists and authors and how to organize our big ideas into something more than short writing pieces and observations with long-term projects. We will be tackling open questions of morality and grey areas through philosophy studies and literature that ties in historical errors and victories. Through all levels, we are growing our ability to take in information, process it through multiple angles, and exhaust possibilities before landing on a well-thought-out worldview. Then, communicate our perspectives while keeping our minds open enough to take in more information that could change the trajectory of our thoughts.
All this to say that Torchlight will continue venturing to grow learners that love to learn and will be able to master the skills (academic, cultural, philosophical, etc.) required to function successfully within our societies while being engaged and challenged. We venture to pull back the curtain on the successes and failures throughout time and place that make humanity worthy of study. We will continue to provide materials to accomplish this as long as users invite us into their homes/learning spaces.
Does each level correlate to grade level?
Each level does roughly correlate to the equivocal numerical grade level. By “roughly,” we mean that Torchlight is a very flexible program created with tailoring in mind. Each level contains extensions, alternates, and extra book additions needed to tailor the level for older learners. Our writing assignments are open-ended, allowing for the learning partner to set the expectations on complexity, whether you choose partner writing to ease your learner into the process or you have a proficient writer that prefers to write novels!
With that said, Torchlight is known for being on the advanced side of academics. Therefore we have a large portion of users finding a perfect fit in the lower levels with older learners. A large contingent of our users report Level K has a very wide user range from approximately ages 4-12 due to its extensions.
How can I expand the levels for an older learner?
Torchlight levels include an extension list in each week and an alternate/additional older learners list for the spines included in each level. Our Levels 1 & 2 are the only levels that do not yet contain the alternate/additional older learners list within the curriculum, but the list can be found in Member’s Resources.
Our year-long projects are open-ended, allowing the learning partner to tailor expectations to the learner’s ability.
Where can I find the accompanying workbooks and supplements?
All workbooks, appendices, and accompanying lists and documents are included in your download .zip file. Be sure to extract the .zip file to access all parts of the curriculum.
How long do I have to download my purchase?
All Torchlight levels come with a 60-day download term, so be sure to save your purchased copy to your computer.
Can I use one level with multiple ages?
Absolutely! Due to the flexibility and added resources to all Torchlight levels, it is perfectly suited to be used with age ranges. Having the math and reading instruction separate (except in Pre-K) allows for further tailoring in these subjects.
The writing assignments are open-ended, allowing for separate expectations from each learner, dependent on their abilities.
In Level Pre-k and Level K, do you have to go in weekly order?
These levels work well as stand-alone weeks with a few exceptions of weeks written to take advantage of time-of-year events and weather. Level Pre-K comes with alternate math & pre-reading schedules that you can follow to keep these lessons in order for skill-building while you skip around the weeks, as you wish.
In Level K, why are the countries not grouped by continent?
Focusing on one continent at a time seems more intuitive and structured, but cognitive scientists have shown that spaced retrieval of information is far more effective in an educational setting, allowing for shorter focuses, switching gears, then revisiting. Practice in retrieving the information and building upon it with a fresh perspective helps with retention and allows for a clearer separation of culture from country to country.
This method also plays right into exploring history in chronological order, which is what we will be doing in future levels.
Is the PDF download all I will need to start?
You will need the books included in the book list at the beginning of each level and the supplies list to complete all hands-on projects. We do recommend, for ease, that you purchase the spines, which are notated within the book list.
What is the easiest way to see if my library carries the books needed?
To make vetting your library very easy, many users find the Library Extension add-on (works with Chrome and Firefox currently) very useful to check if their library has a good selection of the required books. Once installed, you can click on each linked book on the Level’s page, and it will take you to Amazon, where it will show if your local library carries copies. You can also print out the book list and bring it to your friendly local librarian for help.
What if my library does not carry most of the books? Do I need to buy all the books?
Most libraries are wonderful about ordering requested books. They want to carry books their patrons want. You can start by looking into inter-library transfers to acquire all the books needed. If that is not a complete success, you can bring in the printed book list and ask your librarian how to request books to be purchased by the library. If all else fails, used and discount book shops and sites are a good alternative.