Friday, May 1, 2015

7 Tips for Buying Homeschool Curriculum

It is spring and the end of school is near; the planning of the next year has begun. Auditions, registration deadlines, and curriculum fairs abound along with the sunshine, rain, and flowers.

On the one hand, it is hard for me to plan for next year because I am so focused on finishing this one; it takes most of my energy just to do school daily because my attention is divided by the many year-end events, the need to finish high school credits, and the sunshine begging us to come out and play.

Yet, on the other hand, I am still in 'school mode' which makes it easier to know where we're at in our different subjects. I have a much better idea than I will during summer about what needs to get done: whether it is just simply ordering the next level or that some area has been unduly neglected and is need of serious attention. 

Another benefit of having the coming school year planned before this one lets out means my books are either here, or will be soon, and then I don't get stuck in the back-orders of August, and we can begin school right away in the fall. With that reward in mind, it is worth the effort to do a little planning now.

This is my list of 7 tips for buying homeschool curriculum, or some thoughts on buying school books. My background is this: a homeschool mom who is finishing her eleventh year, who loves a Carole Joy Seid approach, and who is eclectic and literature based.

1) Embrace that there is always something new, no matter how long you have home-schooled.

Every year that you homeschool, you will need to buy books for the next school year. There is always something new  because, until you've graduated a student that you have home-schooled from birth to graduation, you are at least teaching one new grade each year. There is always something new because you're children's needs change as they grow, silly little creatures that they are.

However, after a few years of schooling, you will begin to gain confidence in how to pick books that work for your family's schooling style, even if it is new to you at that moment at the curriculum fair when you pick that book up. You've never seen it before. You haven't spent hours researching that curriculum on-line and then asking your friends if they have used it. Instead, you pick it up, look at it, buy it, bring it home, and it works. Wow! What an amazing sense of accomplishment and a gratifying feeling of success. If this hasn't happened yet, it will come after an unknown amount of failed decisions. They won't all be great but you'll eventually find your groove.

Although if you're on a roll, beware because you might be just like me. I was feeling confident in my homeschooling, having found a groove that was working for us. Then, BAM. I came up against something new that caused angst again. It was called high school. It came a bit as a surprise how much angst I had as we began high school and how uncertain and new I felt. It was uncharted territory and I did not like feeling like a new-comer all over again. However, I found relief in trusting the Lord anew, embracing the uncertainty, and then just doing it. It's a good reminder that there can always be something new enough to keep me humble.

2) If it's working, don't change it.

Now, I just said to embrace that there is always something new because it is always changing and now I am saying, "If it's working, don't change it." There is a difference between the changes that come due to children changing grades and having new needs, which is different than changing for change sake. Or changing because we are wondering if it is working, or if we could do it better, or if we're missing out on the latest and greatest new curriculum choices that have created a stir in our homeschool circles.

There are many voices out there saying this is the best curriculum. This can feed my insecurities or my desire for creative change, depending on the day. However, in these 11 years I have come to respect that it has taken a lot of time and energy to find a good homeschooling groove.

If it's working, don't change it.

I learned this the hard way by changing several subjects all in one year.  I couldn't do all of them. It felt like starting all over. We didn't accomplish a lot but I did learn not to do that again.  I have found in general that I only have the energy to take on one or two changes in a school year. So instead of trying to change everything or a lot of things,

3) Only change the part that isn't working.

Keep the parts that are working. For instance, if you buy a full curriculum set, and nothing works but the read alouds, keep the read alouds. Or on the other hand, if everything is working in the set, except the read alouds, skip that part and find some other great books to read.

This leads to the next point:

4) Make the curriculum work for you.

It is only a starting point. It is a guide. It is not the law; it is a help. I have found in the subjects that I am more comfortable such as language arts and history, I can be much more free-flowing in the curriculum. Whereas, it has taken me a lot longer to feel comfortable and find a direction in the math and science department.

My sister-in-law is just the opposite of me. She found math and science curriculum that worked for her and has hardly changed her course in that. But that is because she can adapt the curriculum to make it work for her. Whereas, it has taken her much longer to find language arts curriculum because she feels weaker in that.

Making the curriculum work for you leads me to my next point that:

5) In the world of student-learning styles, you must remember that teacher preferences count.

Being able to individualize education to each student is a wonderful benefit to homeschooling. And exhausting. Remember: you are the teacher; you are one person; and how you are made is an important consideration when it comes to curriculum decisions. 

You, the teacher, are the driving force. The curriculum that has you passionate and fired up, or that simply works for you, is the very best choice for you and your family. Even if no one else you know uses it. Even if everyone else is using a different curriculum. Especially if it is the newest, and latest, and greatest, and you just heard about it. But remember, if what you are doing works, keep doing it. Don't change it. The teacher's enthusiasm and interest count for much more than the individual students preferred learning styles.

You need to do what works for you so that you can get the schooling done.

In time, any teacher can learn to adapt the curriculum to the student. Remember it is a guide, and a help and should work for you.

The teacher makes the curriculum work...not the other way around. So, you need to also remember that:

6) It's okay to hate the curriculum you bought, discard it, and start fresh at any point in the school year.

It is okay to try it and hate it. Eventually you'll be okay with that. The more expensive the purchase, the harder it is to admit that it is not working and that you need to just embrace it as part of your learning curve. Sometimes I have found that I need to just try that bell and whistle. And I do. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it flops. Even now, we have four sets of empty work books on my shelf reminding of just such a decision. I just need to sell it and move on, or give it away and move on so that it can stop making me feel guilty. The sooner you can get it off your shelf, the sooner you can stop feeling guilty for that decision.

Yes, you need to stop feeling guilty and remember that:

7) You'll never have the perfect curriculum but if you keep pursuing the calling that God has given your family, you will have great memories with your children. What an honor and a privilege. That's what we will really remember anyways: all this wonderful time with our children. This curriculum buying headache: it's worth it because it means time with our kids.

What tips and insights do you have to share about buying homeschool curriculum?


  1. You have a beautiful family! It's been almost a decade since I last homeschooled my children but reading this brought back so many memories. So glad to see you are sharing your wisdom with those who may be overwhelmed by the possibilities! :)

  2. Thank you for your post. I spent four hours today setting up my curriculum for next year after another four hours yesterday. I found a lot of holes as I went. This leads to my only additional comment. Prepare early so you can make sure you got everything you need. Thankfully, I have time now to get my science for my third kid and math for my fourth that I missed :).


Thanks for being part of the conversation...I love hearing from you. Kathleen

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