January 24, 2013

Beware of Shiny New [Homeschool] Toys

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*Note: The above picture is from the Arlington, TX Curriculum Fair which begins May 10, 2013*

We live in a great time to be homeschooling parents. Unlike those who pioneered the homeschool movement, we have resources galore. Not only are textbook companies taking notice and tailoring curriculum specifically for the homeschool market, but our children no longer have to school in isolation. Because of the availability of competitive sports teams and every kind of club imaginable, if you’re not careful, you can run out of time to actually get your academics done.

Then, there is the highlight of many homeschool mother’s years: The homeschool book fair.  There is nothing quite so much fun as being surrounded by books. So much learning potential in one area is enough to make me giddy. But, you have to exercise wisdom. You could spend thousands of dollars each year getting every type of curriculum available. Here are some simple things to think about before you bankrupt your family’s budget this year.

1. Plan out what you need ahead of time.  Well before you go to the book fair (like say January or February) write out what subjects you’ll be teaching next year and what resources you’ll need. Don’t go to the fair without a plan or you’ll spend way more than you either meant to or needed.

2. Just because something is new, doesn’t make it better.  It seems like every year there is some new method to teach almost every subject. Johnny has trouble diagraming sentences? No problem. We now carry this diagramming block set for only $75.00. Sally can’t do fractions? You should be using this computer based curriculum. It’s only $200.00. While there are times that buying the latest gadget will help a student, most of the time it is used for a short time and then gathers dust in the homeschool curriculum graveyard.

3. Stick with what works. If you are always buying the latest curriculum, you never really get to know it. I’ve been homeschooling for close to 18 years. Generally, it isn’t the new shiny curriculum we get the most out of and excites our learning, but the old faithfuls I’ve been using since child number one started school, whose contents I am intimately familiar with. If I do ABeka math one year, then switch to Saxon, then Horizons, then Singapore math, there will be no consistency in their learning. In fact, you will be likely to create gaps. 

That is not saying if a certain curriculum is not working for your children you can’t switch. However, once you find what works, don’t go chasing after each new method that comes out, or a friend says is the “best” year after year like some kind of curriculum whore. No, you haven’t made an eternal covenant with Apologia Science, but if has faithfully taught your children science well, why must you search for something better?

4. Be practical. Yes, you may be teaching anatomy this year and that kit that lets your child build a model of their DNA (with 7000 pieces) might have some educational potential, but ask yourself some questions first.

  • Will you really use it?  I mean honestly, are you going to spend an entire week of school putting together the DNA kit at the expense of every other subject (not to mention your own sanity) or will it just gather dust filling you with guilt just like all those Pinterest projects you’ve pinned to your boards? Think carefully about it and don’t be afraid to put it back on the shelf.
  • Do I already have enough? There are supplemental activities and books that are useful, but you can go overboard too. You don’t need five different types of solar system models or six different books on the Egyptian pyramids, unless you have an older child doing some serious research. Exceptions of course are made for areas of serious interest. I won’t even begin to try to justify how many books I have on World War II and the Holocaust.
  • Ask  yourself if you can get the resource, with equal benefit, at the library? You don’t have to own every single piece of information you are wanting to impart. With a little pre-planning, you can do your entire literature program without spending a dime. Use it for almost all your supplemental material as well. If you know a unit on Pompeii is coming up, check out what your library has available that will be interesting for your child to look at after school. Not only will it save you money, but it will also show your child that learning is something we do all the time, not just during school hours.

Begin planning for next year now. Be reasonable in your approach. Then, when you do hit the homeschool book fairs this year, you’ll be well armed with the discipline you need to shop for your educational needs without putting your families credit history in danger.

Annmarie Worthington is a single mom and freelance writer who homeschools her four children. You can read more about Annmarie, including her conversion and spiritual thoughts on her blog www.annmarieathome.blogspot.com

2 comments - Add a comment below -:

Mama Rachel said...

Awesome post!!! I love all these reminders from the voice of experience. :-)

Dana ♥ said...

So true!! One of the BEST things about homeschooling is all the curriculum choices. One of the WORST things about homeschooling is all the curriculum choices.