In your quest for secular homeschool curriculum, you have no doubt encountered Torchlight. It is one of the most recognized curricula in secular homeschool circles. I wrote a bit about it in my overall secular curriculum reviews, but I’ll go more into depth with this Torchlight Curriculum Review here. Hopefully it will help you make the best choice for your family.
Torchlight Curriculum Review: The Pros and Cons
Torchlight describes itself an eclectic secular homeschool program. They make claims and provide opportunities to include games as well as other methods of learning. The website says this curriculum takes “a distinctly secular approach with Humanist underpinnings.” It is not common to find secular homeschool curriculum, let alone with humanist underpinnings. It got my attention right away!
Torchlight claims to use a Socratic Method of engagement to make connections to the materials. The goal is to fall down several rabbit holes, to instill a love of learning, and foster the ability to ask quality questions. In this Torchlight Curriculum Review, I’ll give you my honest opinion from my experiences when I used level K, Worldly Wisdom, with kid #4.
What Grades Are Covered with Torchlight Curriculum?
Currently (as of 2022), Torchlight covers 5 grade levels and then also offers individual studies. It is my understanding grade levels are being added so eventually this program will also cover the higher grades. Of course, like most homeschool curricula, each level can be used for multiple ages and you could easily combine kids into one level if you wanted.
Please note, the individual studies offered are actually part of varying levels. So before you purchase an individual study, make sure you don’t already have these materials. There is a warning on the website about this, but unless you read closely, you might not see it.
How Much Does Torchlight Curriculum Cost?
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All levels of Torchlight Curriculum are sold as PDFs only. There is no option to buy a pre-printed/bound instructor’s guide. Prices do vary between levels but you can expect to pay $30-45 for each level. If you still prefer a printed copy, you can use a printed service or buy an Epson Eco Tank printer. Trust me, it’s worth every dang penny!
Be advised though, in the Kindergarten level called Worldly Wisdom, you do also need to purchase a few supplemental materials, especially for Science. You will receive a coupon code for the recommended program, Be Naturally Curious, but it is an additional cost. I’ll talk more about Be Naturally Curious below.
You can expect to see sales on Torchlight Curriculum in late June and again in November. Sales have historically been 10-15% off the regular PDF prices.
How is Torchlight Curriculum Organized?
The PDF will contain the book lists, notes on implementing the Socratic method, as well as weekly and daily schedules. On each level you do have the option of previewing a sample week. This will help you see how each week is laid out. In this respect, it is pretty open and go. Each week has a section for “learning partner prep” that gives you a heads up on what materials you might need to gather.
What subjects does Torchlight cover?
Torchlight is an eclectic, literature-based curriculum. It is NOT Charlotte Mason-inspired, although at first glance, you might guess otherwise. The core subjects of language arts, science, and social studies are covered in each level. There is generally art, cultural components and 1 elective course for each level as well.
Torchlight is literature based, but there is no set instruction for reading. You will need to teach your children how to read on your own or with a different program.
Math is included in the pre-k level, but after that you will need to supply your own math instruction. (I use Math Mammoth.)
Torchlight Curriculum Review: The Pros
Okay, so let’s get in to it. What is great about Torchlight and what worked well for my family? Please keep in mind with this Torchlight Curriculum review that every family is different and your set of circumstances will be unique from mine. So take everything with a grain of salt.
The book choices! Ah, the book choices! They’re so pretty! Torchlight Curriculum mostly focuses on modern literature and poetry. The choices are thoughtful, secular and encourage a global perspective. There is quite a range in reading difficulty within one level, which makes it easier to combine kids – there will be a book for everyone.
There are notes made in the guide if there are any questionable religious sections in the literature. The booklist also gives alternatives for substitutions or just added enrichment.
Torchlight Curriculum also has lots of hands-on opportunities. In level K, for example, you get to try some international cooking projects. The science projects are hands on. The art projects are wonderful.
I love all the themes for the various ages. This thematic focus keeps things fresh for each new level. The bonus electives with each grade also help create new connections to the materials.
After using Torchlight for a year, (well to be completely honest, we didn’t finish the year) I feel there are some definite cons to this curriculum. This is the part, though, where it’s really important you take into account your own personal family circumstances and personalities.
My biggest beef with Torchlight is that it is very parent-intense. And you might think that’s a good thing – why else would one homeschool if not to spend time with their children? At the time, however, I had 4 kids in 4 different levels of school and was also working part-time as a homeschool mom. Every minute counted and I just did not have time, patience, or energy to complete all the beautiful hands on projects included in the curriculum.
My second critique of Torchlight is again not actually the materials itself but rather the layout. I am a type A person and I like things to be laid out in a logical manner. Level K, for example, is a tour of the world but you jump all over. One week you might do Peru, next week is India, then it’s back to South America again the next week. I think the idea here was to keep kids from getting bored with one continent, but in my opinion it just ended up feeling really disjointed. As a result of this, the literature selections also didn’t match up with the countries you were supposedly studying for that week.
Part B of my critique on the layout is the instruction guide. Each week has a weekly overview and then a list by subject of all the things to be done that week. It felt really clunky to me. I would much prefer each day to be written out rather than just a big list of everything for the week to accomplish in science, for example. Again, I think this is probably done to reinforce the idea that Torchlight Curriculum is flexible, but it was not working for me. Instead, I felt the need to actually retype everything out into a spreadsheet so I could see easily which days were more intense and which were lighter. By this time in my secular homeschool journey, I had been using Build Your Library for several years. So this format critique may also just bother me because I was so used to the layout of BYL that Torchlight’s didn’t work for me.
Critiques #3 and 4 do actually have to do with the materials themselves. As mentioned above, the kindergarten level requires you to purchase Be Naturally Curious as the science portion. It is a beautiful secular science program. It is quality. The issue is that in the Torchlight schedule you only use portions of this extra curriculum you had to buy. It also jumps around and doesn’t necessarily coincide with the other subjects you are learning at the time. The Torchlight schedule skips several lessons or activities in the Be Naturally Curious units. I used this level with my youngest but all of her siblings wanted to join in her science! Be Naturally Curious is a wonderful secular science curriculum and I wish Torchlight actually utilized it to its full potential.
So up in the pros section of this Torchlight Curriculum Review, I praised the book choices and they are wonderful! They are mostly modern selections which can be both a pro and a con. Pro because they are relevant to today’s kids and they are generally easy to find on Amazon or at your library. This is also a con, though, because sometimes they are so new your library won’t have them yet or they will still be a higher price because they were just released.
The final minor critique I have for Torchlight is that the literature selections often use series of books. This is great if your kids happen to like that author and series. But if your kids don’t like that particular series then you have to find several substitutes throughout the year. There are so many great books out there! I wish Torchlight introduced an author or a series with book 1 and then used other selections as well.
Would I Recommend Torchlight Curriculum for Secular Homeschoolers?
In a nutshell, I would absolutely recommend Torchlight. I have chosen Build Your Library just because it suits my family and our circumstances better, but Torchlight is a beautiful curriculum. I love how inclusive it is and it focuses on social emotional learning as well as academics.
If you take into account the cons I listed above and still think it would work for you – then absolutely give it a go. The PDF is affordable (especially if you wait for the Torchlight sale) and most books you should be able to get from your library. There are also Torchlight specific Facebook groups to help you with ideas for implementation.
It can be hard to find a quality secular homeschool curriculum, but Torchlight should be at the top of anyone’s list, in my opinion.