I admit that I have spent way too much money for homeschool stuff over the years. Do you remember reading the Sears Christmas catalog each year as a kid? That’s what receiving the phone book-sized “Rainbow Resource Guide” and other catalogs in the mail each year was like for my homeschool friends and I. Out came the sticky notes and highlighters as I poured over every tantalizing page. There was so much to choose from! You’ve heard the term “hope in a bottle” referring to beauty creams, but these catalogs offered “hope in a curriculum.” I wanted the best for my kids – for them to learn a lot, have fun doing it, and become super genius wonder kids in the process. But I only had so much money, so I had to restrain myself. Still, I ended up buying things that I wished I hadn’t.
So, I’ve learned a few things:
- Stick to your menu. Clipping coupons is fine for stuff you actually need from the grocery store, but not if it tempts you to buy something you ordinarily wouldn’t. The same is true for homeschool curriculum. Come up with your plan for the year first (your menu) and only buy what you need. Don’t be tempted by good deals or shiny packaging. The exception here would be great deals, as in garage sale prices (or free), for things that might come in handy.
- Before you buy anything new, make every effort possible to lay your hands on the actual product. Oftentimes the packaging and description can be misleading, not deliberately of course, but because things are hard to describe. Reviews are very nice to find, but even then, we all have different needs and tastes. One person’s expectations may be quite different from yours. My homeschool group used to have a monthly evening meeting (sans kids) where we would discuss a certain topic or hold a curriculum show-and-tell for a certain subject. So, if the subject for the night was English, we would all bring in what we had for English and pass it around so everyone could see. It was a great way to see new things and hear how it worked. You can also put in a request to your email groups to ask if anyone has a certain product that they wouldn’t mind bringing to park day, etc.
- Search for used curriculum first. Good sources: vegsource, usedhomeschoolcurriculum, homeschoolclassifieds, and of course ebay.
Be realistic about how much time you have. We all tend to overestimate how much can be completed in a day/month/year. This can lead to undue family stress and tension if you buy expensive products only to see them sit unused for lack of time. Same thing goes for craft projects. It’s better to expect that everything will take twice as long as you think it should and leave plenty of breathing space in your schedule.
- I know this sounds obvious, but learn to maximize the use of your library. Use your library’s computer system to search, request inter-library loans, place holds, and find out about free resources. Make friends with your librarians and let them know what kind of resources you are looking for. Don’t forget about audio books, music, DVD documentaries, and foreign language materials.
- The greatest library and source of free information is right on the Internet. In fact, if you bought nothing else for your homeschool, a simple computer with an Internet connection is all you would ever need to craft an epic education. Learn where to look and you can find anything! Here’s a few quality free sites to get you started: The Self-Made Scholar, Discovery Channel, Sheppard Software, Ambleside Online, and my number one favorite Khan Academy.
- Lastly, consider minimalism. There is a lot to be said for LESS stuff. I certainly didn’t need, or even use, some of the stuff I bought. Some of the things I used most were things I created myself. Don’t be afraid to use your imagination!