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How to Avoid the 12 Most Common Curriculum Money Traps

By Melissa Morgan
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #54, 2003.

Despite our best efforts, it is nearly impossible to avoid making a poor purchase in the world of homeschool curriculum. Here's how to avoid twelve money traps and save money.
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Melissa Morgan

We've been caught in our share of homeschool curriculum traps. For instance, the fancy new Latin curriculum conveniently "vanished" in my child's closet. My son liked the 40-year-old library discard replacement better. Cheap school-style math workbooks turned answer-key-error spotting into a family sport. Finally, I cringe to think about the elementary level "complete curriculums" that went virtually untouched. Our kids preferred Mom's homemade worksheets.

Even the most frugal homeschool family sometimes buys the wrong educational materials. Using the wrong curriculum wastes money and time. A bad fitting book makes learning about as pleasant as a root canal without anesthesia.

Avoid These 12 Traps

What's a homeschool mother or father to do? Avoid these money wasters:

Repeating mistakes. You've heard the old saying, "Fool me once; shame on you. Fool me twice; shame on me." If you and your child hated the book or the publisher last year, this year will probably not be better. Avoid this trap. Try something, anything else. What do you have to lose?

Warped worldview. Our family chooses to homeschool in order to "train up our children in the way they should go," biblically. We don't appreciate books that attempt to tear down the values that we teach to our children. We stay away from materials that gloss over or distort the truth. Read knowledgeable reviews from sources (such as this magazine) that share your worldview. Preview materials by borrowing from libraries or friends before you buy.

Redundant buying. Avoid buying things you already have, or could easily make. In our family, the Bible plus the "3 R's" reign supreme. We buy materials for our most important subjects first. After that, if we have money left, we can buy extras.

Imitating friends. Homeschoolers often try to "keep up with the Jones' and buy the wrong curriculum for their family. Can the Jones' children do advanced algebra in fifth grade? Do the Smith's kids play classical piano? Good for them. Don't let it affect your decision to guide your own children according to their individual gifts.

Wrong learning style. Most educational materials teach primarily through sight. This method won't work well for many, many kids and parents. Some people learn visually. Others need to touch and manipulate solid objects. Still others must hear all about it to learn. Find out how your kids learn best. If you learn differently than your child, it won't seem "natural" to you. However, you'll find it easier in the long run, if you go with the grain built into your child.

Too much busywork. Many, many of the "school-like" materials over-emphasize drill. Very few homeschoolers need as much drill as school kids. Homeschoolers usually learn all the time, not just during "school." Try substituting real-world learning for drill time. Buy material that doesn't bog you and your kids down with busywork.

Too little practice. I haven't seen statistics on this, but homeschoolers in my experience usually score higher on concepts and lower on computation. In other words, homeschool kids can often understand how to do math, but can't do it fast. If you want your child to work more quickly, look for extra drill work in your curriculum. Please use it only if your child needs it. You know your child best. You don't need to dot every "I" and cross every "t."

Too little testing. Some parents use a packaged curriculum and test frequently. Others downplay testing or never test at all. If testing lurks in your child's future, will he or she be prepared? Find out more about testing from your local homeschool group. You can purchase test preparation materials from many homeschool suppliers. You can also find graded checklists, to get a feel for what your child should know.

School curriculum. We've come a long way since the days when educational materials were all geared for the classroom. Homeschoolers can pick and choose from curriculum suppliers who design their wares especially for the home. Publishers of books for homeschoolers take into account the one-on-one learning that works well in the home. If you feel you must buy material published for schools, you may want to eliminate unnecessary testing and grading.

Curriculum is too hard. Some homeschool and private school curriculums work several grade levels above government schools. You may or may not expect your child to work at that level. Children with learning differences may feel frustrated with a too-fast pace or higher reading level.

Dumbed-down curriculum. I attended government schools. It seemed like we studied the same period in history every year. We never made it through a textbook. In a homeschool, many kids can study higher grade-level, or even adult-level, books that aren't textbooks. Some homeschool kids can easily read four or more high-interest non-fiction books in a school year. Why make them plod through a dull, patronizing text that turns their favorite hobby into some form of torture? That leads us to the final curriculum trap.

Ignoring Interests. Remember to encourage interests and hobbies. Look at catalogs or web sites from three or more different curriculum suppliers. If your child likes animals, look for curriculum that includes pictures and stories of animals. Try offering your child choices. A child may be encouraged to excel in a subject, because he or she loved the picture of a horse or racecar on the cover!

Is It Too Late?

Suppose you've already ordered your books for the year. Is it too late to correct a mistake?

Your mistake could really be the right book at the wrong time. Maybe it could still be useful, in a few years, or with a friend or sibling. If you're reasonably sure that you'll never use it, check the return policy.

If you can't return it, check around your local homeschool support groups. Many support groups host used curriculum fairs at the end of the school year. One person's terrible curriculum is another person's treasure.

Where to Find Bargains or Sell Your Used or Unwanted Curriculum

Sell, buy or trade at these used book web sites:

Find curriculum sources and testing resources at the author's web site:

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