Thursday, March 31, 2011

I’m Making a List and Checking It Twice

No, I’m not talking about a Christmas list. I’m talking about the list that, if fulfilled, makes every homeschool mom as excited as her children are on Christmas morning. I’m talking about next year’s curriculum list. We may as well admit that we start dreaming about next year’s curriculum almost as soon as the new-book smell wears off in October.

We want the best for our kids, but sometimes it takes a few tries to figure out what the best curriculum is. One thing I had to learn the hard way is that there is no one-size-fits-all curriculum. Kids—even in the same family—do not learn the same way or at the same rate. Sure, it’s easier on us to plan and teach using the same stuff over and over again (or at the same time to teach them all together), but is that really what’s best for our individual children? It’s probably a whole lot cheaper to use the same stuff over and over again, too, but at what real cost? I tried for several years to make my kinesthetic, auditory learner sit quietly to read and fill in worksheets at the same speed as her overachieving, visual older sister. Everyone thrived when I finally let go of my expectations and let each girl learn in her own way at her own pace. I felt less pressure as well.

During the fall and early spring months, I carefully evaluate each curriculum to see how it’s working with each child. Do we need to switch out math books since we’re learning all-new concepts? Is the grammar book all review? Can we switch histories so we can do it all together? Is my general budget changing so that I need to plan to spend less, or can I spend more?

The List:

After evaluation, the next step is to make a list (you didn’t think I could write an article without making a list, did you?). I like to make a separate list on regular notebook paper for each child, even if several children will share some items. I start by listing all of the subjects I anticipate teaching the following year; I double-check the subject list against my current planner so I don’t leave out something important. You may need or wish to check your list against state standards, if required by law, or a what-your-child-needs-to-know-when list.

Next, I fill in the curricula that I know I’ll be purchasing or pulling off my shelf. For instance, I used the same history and Bible curriculum for years, so I didn’t have to think about it. I also store my in-between curricula (after my oldest, before my youngest) on a designated bookshelf and peruse it as I think about what we’ll be using the following year. Then, I fill in the possibilities. At first, some subjects may have more than one. Be sure to write down the publisher, lowest cost, and place to purchase each item.

Now comes the fun part: looking at catalogues and online sites and talking to friends about the new stuff! Most companies will send a free catalogue if you request one. If you’re fortunate enough to live near a new or used curriculum store, find a babysitter and take your list to browse (leave your money at home for the first trip!). Reading reviews is a good way to get a general feel for a product’s value and possible fit for your family’s learning style.

After I nail down the essentials, I take a look at my budget to see if I can afford to add any wish list items to my actual shopping list. We’re ready to buy; here’s the next strategy:

For Convention Goers:

Well before the convention begins, you’ll get a map of the vendors’ hall and a list of all the vendors and workshops. I start by circling most of the workshops, but then narrow my list down to a more respectable number. Even though there’s supposed to be time scheduled around the workshops for shopping, there’s never enough time, so be sure to allow for that. Some people like to map out their vendor stops on the map, but I don’t usually do that since I like to look at everything.

Anyway, once you arrive at the convention with your list and your cash (not all vendors take credit cards and/or checks, so it’s a good idea to have some cash), you’re ready to start shopping. A word of caution: you WILL be tempted to buy just about everything in sight! Resist the temptation. On your first pass through the vendors’ hall, purchase only the essentials on your list. It’s okay to look at everything else, but wait until at least your second pass through before you start indulging in the extra goodies.

For Non-Goers:

If you absolutely can’t attend a physical homeschool convention, you’re ready to shop with the online/catalogue vendors that you’ve already determined have the best prices. But, don’t forget about the small homeschool stores, either. Don’t use them just to browse; keep them in business by patronizing them. I know that it’s hard to find the balance between getting the best deal for your money and spending your money in the best place, though.

Organizing your homeschool curriculum wish list is a win-win idea. Happy shopping!


This post appears in "The Organized Homeschool" column of the Mar./Apr. 2011 issue of Home School Enrichment magazine.

Q4U: What's your best curriculum-buying tip?