Switched-on-Schoolhouse Reviews: About the SOS Homeschool Curriculum
If you’re tech-savvy and you like using computers for work, you’ll probably love the Switched-on-Schoolhouse curriculum. SOS is a computer-based Christian homeschooling curriculum that covers Grades 3-12. In this article, we’ll distill about 25 Switched-on-Schoolhouse reviews from homeschooling moms and students who’ve used the program. We’ll check out the pros and cons of this program, and compare it with other homeschooling curricula. (NOTE: Many people think Switched-on-Schoolhouse is an online homeschooling curriculum – it isn’t. It’s an offline, computer-based program that can connect to the internet.)
- About Switched-on-Schoolhouse
- What Homeschooling Method Does SOS Use?
- Switched-on-Schoolhouse Accreditation
- What SOS Homeschool Reviews Say
- Monarch vs Switched-on-Schoolhouse
- What Grades Does SOS Offer?
- Can You Look at Samples of SOS Before Buying?
- Pros and Cons of the Switched-on-Schoolhouse curriculum
- How much does SOS cost?
Let’s get started!
Who Publishes SOS?
SOS is published by Alpha Omega Publications (AOP). AOP also publishes other homeschooling curricula like:
- Lifepac and
Monarch is described as a ‘media-rich online Christian homeschooling curriculum [that] offers automatic grading and recordkeeping.’ In contrast to SOS, Monarch is operated using an online platform.
Lifepac is described as a student-paced program where ‘students master concepts before progressing in a self-directed worktext homeschool curriculum.’ Because each subject is in separate workbooks, your students can work at their own pace and go more slowly with some or start other subjects early. Some people with children who had special needs or disabilities found this a great option.
Horizons is described as teacher-led and has ‘brightly illustrated workbooks [that] focus on the spiral learning process of introduction, review, and reinforcement.’ Horizons is ‘teacher-led’ in that it is led by the homeschooling parent. It is still a homeschooling curriculum though.
(Note: Lifepac was the first Alpha Omega homeschool curriculum publication in this series, but then they decided to offer this as a computer-based version (SOS) and online (Monarch). So Lifepac is the basis of the other curricula.
What Features Does the Switched-on-Schoolhouse Curriculum Offer?
The features of the SOS curriculum include:
- Automatic grading where parents can preview assignments and look at their children’s scores, projects, and grades. This means everything is online and you don’t have to wade through frustrating wads of paper to find their results. This was a popular reason for choosing the SOS curriculum.
- Multimedia learning activities mean students can learn by watching videos and through computer interaction with learning games.
- A daily work tracking tool where parents can see what their children have been up to that day and therefore keep them accountable for the work they’re supposed to be doing
- Revised content which gives homeschooling parents updated information and more activities than a traditional textbook might offer.
Homeschoolers can also send their parents messages if they don’t know something or want to clarify a question they have.
What Grades Does Switched-on-Schoolhouse Offer?
Switched-on-Schoolhouse only offers Grades 3-12, so you would have to start using another curriculum in your children’s formative years. Other Christian curricula like BJU or Abeka offer great curricula that can be used in earlier years.
Using a non-computer-based program, like BJU or Abeka, is probably a good idea as the thought of children using a computer for a long time when they are so young is not a comforting thought (however, I understand this is a personal choice for every family to work through).
Switched-on-Schoolhouse Cost per Grade
The SOS curriculum costs the same, no matter the grade. If you choose the curriculum without the Bible component, it’s a little less expensive. As of 2019, the cost is around $400USD for one year. This will let you use it on five computers for as many children as you like.
Grade 3 – Five Subject Set – Math, Language, Science, History & Geography and Bible on CD – $390 as of Jan 2019 or on USB it’s 413
- Or Grade 3 – Four Subject Set – Math, Language, Science, History & Geography (NO BIBLE) -$339
- Or Grade 4 – Four Subject Set – Math, Language, Science, History & Geography (NO BIBLE) -$339
- Or Grade 5 – Four Subject Set – Math, Language, Science, History & Geography (NO BIBLE) -$339
- Or Grade 8 – Four Subject Set – Math, Language, Science, History & Geography (NO BIBLE) -$339
- Or Grade 9 – Four Subject Set – Math, Language, Science, History & Geography (NO BIBLE) -$339
- Or Grade 10 – Four Subject Set – Math, Language, Science, History & Geography (NO BIBLE) -$339
- Or Grade 11 – Four Subject Set – Math, Language, Science, History & Geography (NO BIBLE) -$339
- Or Grade 12 – Four Subject Set – Math, Language, Science, History & Geography (NO BIBLE) -$339
How Do I Know What Grade My Children Are Up To? (Switched-on-Schoolhouse Placement Test)
Why the SOS CDs and USB Flashdrives?
I’m not sure why there’s a CD version and a USB version. If you look online, you can see that AOP recently switched to USB flash drives over CDs. This makes sense. I’m assuming the CD version is a little cheaper as CDs are old technology which scratches easily (one mom who reviewed this curriculum complained about the CDs getting scratching easily, so a USB would get rid of this issue).
You can pick and choose what electives you want to do outside the four or five core subjects. SOS electives also offer the topics separately. In particular, you can also purchase over 35 SOS electives including:
- American Literature (Grades 7-12)
- Brittish Literature (Grades 7-12)
- Civil War (Grades 9-12)
- Vietnam Era (Grades 9-12)
- Family Consumer Science (Grades 7-12)
- Earth Science (Grades 8-12)
- General Science III (even more in-depth Science) (Grades 7-12)
- French (Grades 9-12)
- Health Quest (Grades 4-7)
- Fundamentals of Computer Systems (Grades 7-12)
- Fundamentals of Digital Media (Grades 7-12)
- Fundamentals of Programming and Software Development (Grades 7-12)
- Business Computer Information Systems (Grades 7-12)
- Civics (Grades 7-12)
- Small Business Entrepreneurship (Grades 7-12)
- State History on all 50 States
- High School Health (Grades 7-12)
- Consumer Math (Grades 7-12)
- Foundations for Living (Grades 7-12)
- GED Preparatory Courses (Grades 7-12)
- Tutorials for World, Powerpoint, Publisher, Access, and Excel (Grades 7-12)
- Personal Financial Literacy (Grades 7-12)
- Physical Education and Physical Fitness (Grades 7-12)
- Spanish I and II (Grades 7-12)
- Trigonometry (Grades 7-12)
You can also get a College Planner to help you plan your homeschooler’s tertiary education.
What Awards has the Switched on Schoolhouse homeschool curriculum received?
SOS has won 14 awards including one from Cathy Duffy, i-Learn, and The Old Schoolhouse.
In particular, the 2010 i-Learn award gave the SOS homeschooling curriculum first place for:
- High School Curriculum
It won second place for:
- Elementary Curriculum
- Middle School Curriculum
It won third place for:
- Elementary Science
- Trigonometry & Pre-calculus
You can see what other rewards they’ve received on this page.
What Homeschooling Method Does SOS Use?
The Switched-on-Schoolhouse curriculum uses a traditional homeschooling method. Like BJU and Abeka, AOP’s material is also used in Christian schools which means it’s made so children can sit down at a table and look at textbooks or laptops while they do their formal homework.
The traditional homeschooling approach is a good method to use for new homeschooling parents (and experienced homeschooling parents), but I’d also encourage you to research the Charlotte Mason and the Classical homeschooling curricula to see if these methods are a pathway you want to consider going down.
There are also other homeschooling methods you might enjoy reading about including:
- The Charlotte Mason approach
- The Waldorf/Steiner approach
- The Montessori approach
- The Classical approach
- The Unschooling style
- The School-at-home method (also called traditional homeschooling method)
- Multiple Intelligences
- Unit Studies
- and the Eclectic Approach
For a complete list of these methods, see 10 Ways to Homeschool.
How Does the Switched-on-Schoolhouse Curriculum Work?
SOS starts most lessons with children opening the topic they’re working on. They’re then given relevant vocabulary words they need to learn throughout the following reading or other work given.
SOS says this isn’t done in a boring way as children aren’t just given text – they’re given activities and games where they can learn new words and concepts in the text.
If students feel they know the content, they can skip the games.
Children are also given little quizzes at the end of their worktext which they can do after they’ve read the material. Quizzes are usually presented in the following formats:
- multiple-choice answers and
- matching, sorting concepts, and words
When a question is answered incorrectly, the students get another opportunity to answer correctly as SOS displays the question for another try.
Switched-on-Schoolhouse Curriculum Accreditation
If you study the Switched-on-Schoolhouse curriculum with the Alpha Omega Academy, you will actually be studying in an online school. As such, you’ll be accredited. This is what AOP said on their website about SOS accreditation:
Q: What is accreditation?
A: Accreditation is verification by an outside agency that a school is meeting appropriate expectations and is actively pursuing excellence by improving school standards.
Q: Is AOP curriculum accredited?
A: No, only an educational institution can be accredited. Curriculum alone cannot be accredited; it can only be accredited as part of an institution’s program. In other words, because Monarch, Switched-On Schoolhouse, LIFEPAC, and Horizons are not schools, they cannot be accredited.
Q: Are only physical schools accredited?
A: No, Alpha Omega Academy is a fully accredited online school that uses Alpha Omega Publications curriculum. AOA is accredited by the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (NCA CASI), a division of AdvancED, the world’s most trusted and recognized accrediting organization, representing over 34,000 schools.
Switched-on-Schoolhouse accreditation means your children’s work is more easily recognized by colleges. This being said, many homeschoolers have entered university based on their portfolios and other measures such as their SAT/ACT scores.
Monarch vs Switched-on-Schoolhouse
In comparison to Monarch, the Switched-on-Schoolhouse curriculum can be done on a computer that’s not connected to the internet. This can be a good option for those who have a weak internet connection, slow internet or are just concerned about the negative impact of technology overuse.
Specifically, the main difference between Monarch and SOS is the online/offline platform.
As far as the material goes, they’re the same thing.
With Switched-on-Schoolhouse, you’ll buy the material on CD or USB and then use it offline. Monarch requires a login and all the things that come with an online platform (such as internet access and a subscription).
Also, if you’re doing everything offline with SOS, you won’t be able to do some things which require an active internet connection.
Another factor to consider is that SOS only runs on a Windows computer, whereas Monarch will run on a Windows and Mac (OSX) computer. This is a big thing to consider if you’re in love with Mac computers – or you don’t want to buy another computer(s) just so it will be compatible with SOS.
The Switched-on-Schoolhouse curriculum also has more features than Monarch. Cathy Duffy said this about it:
SOS offers more features than Monarch although these may or may not be important to you. In SOS, once you’ve got one student and his or her courses set up, it is easy to add additional courses and students. There is so much customization available to parents that most novices will stick with the basics until they get comfortable with the program. But once you’ve used it for a while, you should experiment with all of the fine-tuning features such as the ability to customize your calendar, create assignment options for students, customize subject reports, and even edit and create subjects.
Duffy also said parents can reset lessons if students need to do it again for whatever reason.
Monarch requires a subscription on a monthly or yearly basis. This subscription is applicable to one student or a family (on a family plan with three students).
Pros and Cons of a Switched-on-Schoolhouse Curriculum
There seemed to be many pros and cons of the Switched-on-Schoolhouse curriculum. Therefore, I split them up and put them below. For the pros and cons that need a bit of explaining, I’ve done this under the bullet points below.
Pros of the SOS curriculum:
- no paper workbooks sitting around the house like you might find with Lifepac or Horizons
- grading is automatic
- you don’t have to worry if your internet is down as everything is offline
- if you have more than two children, SOS is probably going to be cheaper
- there’s no planning
- parents don’t have to do much
- because it’s computer-based children learn how to learn on a computer which is where a lot of tertiary education is moving these days
- if you use a supplementary program, you can put the assignments in manually
- the Bible component was praised
- SOS is a great curriculum if you’re just starting homeschooling
Cons of the SOS curriculum:
- not everyone finds the technology easy to use
- some questions in tests have no relevance to what’s being/been learned
- some questions in tests haven’t been studied in the curriculum yet
- you often need to rework the grading as it’s been unfairly assigned due to different semantics or other issues
- there might be worries over the impact of looking at a screen for a long period of time
- because it’s all computer-based, you need to use a supplementary hand-writing program
- if you buy an SOS CD, it won’t be updated after five years
- you need a computer that’s running 1.4 GHz (a mid-range computer), at least 2GB RAM, and a hard drive of 10GB+
- you need to have intranet happening between kids laptops and the parent’s laptops if you want the results to go to the parent’s laptop
- it’s repetitive
- if children make spelling mistakes on tests, you need to manually fix those mistakes for the grades to come up correctly
- the SOS curriculum seems more parent-friendly than student-friendly
- the SOS curriculum doesn’t work on an Apple Mac (OSX) computer
- the cost is high
Let’s address some of these pros and cons in more detail below.
Pros of the SOS Curriculum
Let’s expand a little more on some of the points above to give you a better idea of what the advantages of SOS are.
PRO – If you have more than two children, SOS is cheaper.
If you were to do everything on Monarch, you have to pay for each child, so if you have many children, buying the SOS CDs will be better as you can use it for as many children as you want.
PRO – Buying SOS also means you can reduce your internet usage
This is because you do everything offline. You don’t need to purchase too much internet every month. You don’t have to monitor your internet as you can do everything offline.
Therefore, if you’re living in a rural or remote area that doesn’t get great internet signals, you’re probably better off with SOS rather than Monarch.
PRO – There’s no planning
The SOS homeschooling curriculum is fully planned from when children study to when assignments are due and testing is done.
You can see your children’s ‘attendance’, written reports, and grades from tests. You can also print these results out for your records.
PRO – Online learning is the way of the future
Because it’s computer-based, homeschoolers will be more prepared for learning online when they go to study in tertiary institutions – which is where a lot of teenagers head after they’ve finished school.
Of course, offline, paper-based learning is also very handy, as you’re learning in a different way and therefore solidifying concepts (see Multiple Intelligences article for more on this), but I think teaching our kids online is a great way to prepare them for the where the world is heading these days.
PRO – You can put assignments from different homeschooling subjects in manually
If you need to use a supplementary program because you don’t like an SOS homeschool subject, you can manually enter the assignment and then your children can tick that they’ve completed it. This means it goes on their transcript and you can keep track of the work they’ve done even if it’s not done on the Switched-on-Schoolhouse platform.
PRO – parents don’t have to do too much
If you don’t have time to do lots of organizing (for example, if you have a big family or newborns), the Switched on Schoolhouse curriculum allows you to leave it up to the program.
PRO – the Bible component was praised
A lot of moms loved that the Switched-on-Schoolhouse Bible component. They said it was a godly curriculum and they loved the Christian teaching in it.
PRO – good if you’re starting homeschooling
A couple of moms said the Switched-on-Schoolhouse curriculum was particularly good if you’re new to homeschooling. They felt it was a gentle introduction to home education.
Cons of the SOS Curriculum
I just wanted to expand a little more on some of the cons of the Switched-on-Schoolhouse curriculum above to give you a better idea of what the disadvantages of using SOS are.
CON – technology isn’t easy to use for some
A lot of moms who’d just started using the Switched-on-Schoolhouse curriculum found the technology frustrating. Others said it was easy to use. Therefore, it’s hard to know if you’ll find it easy or difficult to use. It’s good to note that the technical support at SOS is always described as friendly and very helpful. So I suggest that if you get stuck on this, you call them sooner rather than later.
CON – you often need to rework grading
On the SOS review forums, a lot of students put in negative reviews because they were quite frustrated as they needed to keep asking parents to rework the grades because they were assigned unfairly, or there were spelling mistakes. Parents also complained a lot about this and said it was time-consuming work which felt like a waste of time.
CON – some questions in tests have no relevance to what’s been learned
A lot of SOS curriculum reviews complained that there were many questions that weren’t relevant to the material they were studying.
CON – some questions in tests haven’t been studied in the curriculum yet
Some questions seemed too advanced. That is, they were relevant but students hadn’t studied the material yet. This made for poor grading results.
CON – problems don’t give you a step-by-step reason as to why the answers were wrong.
They just give you the answer. This was a common complaint in the maths subject and many moms said they ended up using another math curriculum altogether. Answers are also in small print which frustrated a lot of students.
CON – you need to supplement writing
Because children are typing everything, they’ll never learn to physically write with the SOS program.
This means you need to purchase (or get for free) a program that teaches them to write.
But, you might be able to do this by using the free Easy Peasy homeschool curriculum.
Note: Parents also have the nifty feature of being able to build supplemental lessons with the SOS homeschool curriculum.
CON – SOS on USB or CD won’t be updated after five years
If you want to use it for subsequent children, the Switched-on-Schoolhouse curriculum will update for five years only.
Note that you’ll need an internet connection to get these updates.
CON – You need a decent computer.
To run the Switched-on-Schoolhouse homeschooling curriculum you need a computer:
- with the minimum requirements of 1.4 GHz (a mid-range computer), at least 2GB RAM memory, screen-resolution of 1024×768, and a hard drive of 3GB+ or
- with optimal requirements of a dual-core processor, 4GB RAM memory, screen resolution of 1024×768, and a hard drive of 10GB.
So, the first option is just a computer that will get the job done (video clips that load smoothly and audio that plays without buffering constantly). And that will cost about $300USD.
To have a computer that’s not going to frustrate you at every turn, get a better one. However, you’re probably looking at $400 at this point.
On the other hand, if you get Monarch, you can get a laptop for $150 and run an internet browser and you’ll be just fine.
So, it’s a bit of a toss-up.
CON – You need to have an intranet to check results
If the parent wants to check the children’s laptop work, yet still stay offline using the Switched-on-Schoolhouse curriculum, they have to have the laptops connected in an internal intranet-style. In contrast, if you were doing everything online with Monarch, you wouldn’t have this problem as you could just login on to Monarch and check your children’s results for the day.
CON – It’s repetitive
Many of the moms had a common complaint about the Switched-on-Schoolhouse curriculum which centred around the texts and games being too repetitive which meant it was boring for their kids.
The material is also very structured because it has to be due to the mode by which it is delivered (computer-based).
CON – parents need to manually fix tests
If a student spells a word wrong, parents have to enter the program and fix the spelling mistakes for the test to then be graded correctly. This takes parents a lot of time, but it seems like wasted time to them as it’s a kink in the program. One parent said this ‘drove her crazy.’
CON – seems more parent-friendly than student-friendly
A lot of the Switched-on-Schoolhouse curriculum reviews said the program was more aimed at pleasing parents (i.e. automatic grading). But, they said it wasn’t student-friendly. I looked at about five reviews by students who had used this curriculum and almost all of the student’s reviews were negative.
CON – not so good for younger grades
One mom said she didn’t like the SOS curriculum for her younger kids as they didn’t like it. As her kids got older, they started to enjoy it more. She didn’t think it worked too well for younger kids (which is maybe why Switched-on-Schoolhouse grades only run from Grade 3 to 12 and don’t include the formative years so much). The advantage of this is that it works better when your kids get older.
CON – doesn’t work on an Apple Mac (OSX) computer
One of the moms who reviewed the SOS curriculum said that because she had only ever used a Mac computer, using SOS meant purchasing three new laptops and setting up the curriculum on an operating system she wasn’t familiar with. This was a very expensive venture for her.
CON – the cost
A lot of mothers didn’t think the SOS curriculum was good value for money given its cost and technological glitches. The curriculum is definitely one of the more expensive homeschooling curriculum’s out there, especially if you compare it with Abeka or BJU. Having said that, if you have multiple children, the cost is quite low as you can reuse the curriculum (and then cost isn’t a con – it’s a pro).
Can You Look at Samples of SOS Before Buying?
Yes, there are quite a few samples of the Switched-on-Schoolhouse curriculum on Youtube. The following video (2016) is an overview of the SOS curriculum samples by Alpha Omega Publishing:
The next one, which isn’t by Alpha Omega Publishing, is by a homeschool blogger which gives us a simple overview of the SOS curriculum. This should give you a really great feel for what the SOS dashboard is like:
Can I Buy a Used Switched-on-Schoolhouse Curriculum (Second Hand)?
When you buy the Switched-on-Schoolhouse curriculum, you’re not supposed to resell it (although some people do).
You are allowed to gift it once. This means you can give it away free to another person, but you can’t sell it. This is part of their terms and conditions of buying and using the product.
Beware buying a used Switched-on-Schoolhouse curriculum as you need to be aware the installation CD only lets you download it onto five computers.
- the first person who had it downloaded it a couple of times and then sold it onto
- another person who downloaded a couple of times who then sold it to you…
- you only have one computer download left and that might not be good enough for your family.
Can I use the Switched-on-Schoolhouse if I’m Not Tech-Savvy?
Alpha Omega offers tech support for people who buy the SOS curriculum new. So, if you’re having troubles and feel like pulling your hair out, call the number on the package and they’ll talk you through setup or any other problems you might be having.
This being said, a few mothers commented that Switched-on-schoolhouse is very easy to install. You just put in the installation CD and follow the instructions.
Also, if you’re considering getting a used Switched-on-Schoolhouse curriculum AND you’re not tech-savvy, you could find yourself in trouble as you won’t be able to get tech support if you’ve purchased it second-hand.
How much does SOS cost?
Depending on what curriculum year you purchase, the cost of Switched-on-Schoolhouse is $400USD +/- $15.
If you buy the curriculum in younger grades, they’re slightly cheaper than if you were to buy curricula from older grades.
This will give you five core subjects – Math, Language, Science, History and Bible.
What Christian Denomination Does Switched-on-Schoolhouse Follow?
Alpha Omega Publishing (AOP) is a non-denominationally Protestant Christian program (this is the worldview they adopt in all their material).
This is what AOP said about its Christian teaching in the SOS curriculum:
With curriculum that integrates a Christian worldview into every subject, students gain a clear view of the interconnectedness of God’s creation while learning to apply critical thinking from a Bible-based perspective.
In the Bible subject, which comes with a complete Grade’s purchase, you get five subjects which include the Bible component. (You can also buy a slightly cheaper version without the Bible component if you’re not religious or you want to do the Bible component with someone else.)
Does the Switched-on-Schoolhouse Teach Creation or Evolution?
The SOS curriculum teaches creation. They hold to a young earth worldview and teach that the world was created in six 24-hour periods.
This is what AOP said on the topic:
The quick answer is that Alpha Omega Academy science courses teach that the world and everything in it was created by God in six 24-hour days, just as the Bible plainly says (Genesis 1:31; Exodus 20:11). Academy science teachers also like to point out that scientific facts from paleontology, zoology, botany, molecular biology, geology, etc., can be interpreted from a creationist (Young Earth) viewpoint more readily than from an evolutionary viewpoint.
While the academy has little desire to get involved in controversies between groups of genuine Christians, I believe we must show young people positive evidence that the Bible presents a literal, historical account, given by a trustworthy Creator, of how and why we are here. To do otherwise is to cast doubt on the rest of Scripture and to cause youth to discount the authority of Scripture in any other teaching that runs counter to popular opinion.
It’s interesting to note that the Abeka Academy has also copped flak for holding to the creationist worldview (you can read more about it on the Abeka curriculum review page towards the bottom of the article).
Switched-on-Schoolhouse Youtube Reviews
It seems to me that the number of potential students in your family who might use the curriculum, the computer platform, and your internet connection would be the biggest factors for determining which option best suits your needs.
It seems like people either love SOS or hate it. The curriculum has a lot of homeschooling reviews that are negative on the topics of technology and its lack of being user-friendly. However, many parents like that they don’t have to do much and grading is automatic. I don’t know that this is a good curriculum if you want to teach your children yourself. But, if you’re a busy mom and this is the only way you’re going to be able to homeschool – go for it!