4 Tips for Smarter Homeschool Curriculum Choices

Written by Debi Polen, Veteran Homeschooling Mom

‘Tis the Homeschool Curriculum Shopping Season!

As veteran homeschoolers, we’re familiar with the school year planning process. In our homeschooling year, which started in August and ended at the tail end of May or early June, it was not unusual for us to be looking for our next year’s curriculum in April. After experiencing thirteen years of homeschooling, we’ve learned a few lessons ourselves that we’d like to pass on to new homeschoolers who are now being challenged with making smart curriculum choices.

1. Start Planning Early

Ideally, you should be preparing for next year’s curriculum right now. This gives you some time to browse catalogs, talk with other homeschooling families, and shop online for some of the best deals. This is also about the time that homeschooling curriculum fairs begin and are held throughout the spring and summer, giving you hands-on shopping opportunities.

The number of homeschooling sites and curriculum review books and magazines have grown tremendously since we began our homeschooling journey. Because of this growth, the wealth of choices could be paralyzing if you wait until the summer to begin planning for next year. Our advice is to start becoming familiar with these offerings early (for us, that was in April) so that you are prepared when attending curriculum fairs. Nothing beats going into a fair with solid goals and a list of items to review first-hand. When I didn’t do this one year, the stress of having to make a decision from a sea of choices literally brought me to tears.

If this is your first year of homeschooling, you have an additional first step that we actually did to make writing our list of curriculum choices easier: determine each child’s learning style and your own. Once we knew the learning styles, we were able to narrow down the list of curriculum choices because these choices appealed to specific types of learners.

2. Go with What Works

You’ve probably heard the advice to get the most difficult thing out of the way first and then the remaining things to do are easy sailing from then on out. Well, I don’t agree with this advice when it comes to planning your homeschooling year. It’s always a good idea to survey what you know works, determine why, and then use that as a foundation for making a curriculum choice in other, more challenging areas.

For example, our son Stephen learned to read early because he loved to read. We took this to heart when we decided to use literature-based unit studies for most of his subjects starting in Kindergarten. We chose the most highly-recommended literature-based homeschool curriculum for the early years. An added benefit to this curriculum was that there were several volumes in the series. After the successful use of it for our first year, we continued with the other volumes over the next two years.

When it came time to take a more traditional approach to learning history (i.e., away from a unit-study approach toward a subject-driven approach), we reviewed only those curricula that came in a series and that had a plan for multiple years of use. This helped us to create a chronological history lesson plan that lasted from the third grade all the way up into high school.

3. Make a Plan B, and Yes, Even a Plan C

While planning the first year of homeschooling (Kindergarten for us), the literature-based unit studies were perfect for most subjects. We felt the need to have a separate math curriculum because Stephen showed an affinity toward math. So, we let him select his Kindergarten materials from our list of choices after he examined them first-hand at a curriculum fair. We tried not to overwhelm him with choices and we gave him plenty of time to become familiar with each offering. It was highly beneficial that these curriculum vendors had sample books and other supporting materials available for him to touch and play with. It was the equivalent to a taste test, and it was highly effective. And to continue with this analogy, he was ready to devour his two-year math curriculum as soon as we got home, and we let him.

And this caused a little bit of a problem…

It was indeed meant to last two years if you followed the lesson plans provided by the publisher, but Stephen had it finished within a few months. I didn’t know what to do, since I hadn’t looked at higher grades’ curriculum, so mid-year, I took a shot in the dark and chose the other most popular math curriculum that emphasized the use of manipulatives (he was a tactile learner). Unfortunately, the lessons were almost a repeat of the other curriculum and the worksheets were downright ugly and unappealing, but he really got a kick out of the new manipulatives!

Since Stephen finished this second math curriculum earlier than expected, we were forced into making a third decision concerning his math curriculum. His aptitude for math was way beyond his grade level, so we had to choose a curriculum that was both advanced and repetitive enough to drive the concepts home to a young learner. We found this approach in one particular publisher’s math series, and stuck with this series all the way up through Calculus!

The lesson we learned: In order to avoid panic, stress, and confusion in the middle of a school year when your student has either not taken favorably to a curriculum choice or has completed it sooner than expected, it’s always a good idea to make a Plan B, and yes, even a Plan C!

4. Consider Earlier Textbook Editions

Many of us homeschooling parents are familiar with the tradition of requiring a college student to purchase the latest edition of a textbook, even though it hardly differed from the previous edition. Perhaps the change was merely a new cover or an update of a photograph. In effect, the previous edition became a waste and a candidate for the recycling bin.

As homeschoolers, we don’t have to abide by this tradition when selecting our curriculum. In a day when “being green” is a good and easy thing to be, it’s beneficial to both our environment and our pocketbooks to shop for used books, textbooks, and other educational materials. That’s one of the reasons why we decided to open our online store in the first place: to make available the materials that we and other homeschoolers have used in our home schools so that they may be given another turn at being of benefit to others.

The changes made from one edition to the next have less impact on homeschoolers if this older textbook is being used for the first time by a single student. An advantage to this earlier edition is that it will be priced much lower than its original list price, but there may be other instances when finding an older edition is highly desired beyond saving money:

Sometimes a change results in an undesirable difference between the current and previous editions within a series. For example, while we were using a certain literature-based curriculum series in the upper elementary grades, the curriculum was pretty simple: a teacher’s manual and a student’s workbook. The curriculum was excerpt-driven, which meant that you didn’t have to have the full text of the piece of literature for the lessons. Then, the publisher changed the curriculum to be full-text driven, which required that you have the complete pieces of literature (either borrowed or bought). We sought out the older editions within the series because we went with what had worked for us. This is not to say that the newer edition of this curriculum was worthless, but it wasn’t worth its change in format to us because we had started and had gotten familiar with the original format.

There are times when even a drastic change in format does not mean that the content has changed. This is very true with math textbooks. Math is math. A simple math textbook published in 1997 is just as good as one published in 2007. In some cases, the older versions are better because they are laid out with less distractions. In this day when social media has influenced textbook publishers to design lessons with short bursts of information drawn in colorful thought bubbles or clouds, your easily-distracted student may find the newer editions impossible to study effectively. If this type of format is included in textbooks for the higher grades, pages filled with colorful boxes and cartoons may actually be perceived by your student as insulting. In cases such as these, older editions may be the best option.

Used curriculum websites such as ours are highly beneficial when you’re designing your curriculum and find that only an older edition will do.

How We Can Help

We have the educator in mind when it comes to browsing through our offerings of used books, textbooks, and educational materials. Of special note are the Shop by Subject and the Shop by Grade options available in the gray menu bar at the top of the page. You can also Shop by Department if you prefer to browse.

The Catalog Search box at the top of the page is also very useful, especially if you know the author, publisher, or a partial title. As always, we have the Contact Form if you need help finding an item, whether it is located in our online catalog, in our eBay seller store, or in one of our affiliate stores.

We’re here to make your curriculum planning easier. Let us help so that you can be confident, refreshed, and relaxed when next year’s schooling starts.

About ATUB

Another Turn Used Books specializes in gently-used books, textbooks, educational magazines, and educational toys and aids for the benefit of avid readers, homeschoolers, educators, and students. Our online bookstore is built through consignment. We also offer several fund-raising options for non-profit organizations.

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