Choosing curriculum for the year can be an exciting–and daunting–task. There are so many considerations: learning style, teaching style, homeschooling style or philosophy, subjects you want to cover, and (of course) budget. I think we can all agree that, given unlimited funds to put toward home education, we would have no problem spending it. Unfortunately, that’s simply not the case, and most homeschooling families (that I know) are on a pretty modest budget. So what do you do when it comes time to make those curriculum decisions and you’ve got less to work with than you’d like?
1. Do Some Soul-Searching and Nail Down Your Top Priority
Before you start getting whiplash from all of the curriculum threads trending on Facebook, it helps to sit down and really assess your goals for the next year, and your top priorities accordingly. If you really want your child to soar at math next year, and feel they’re plugging along just fine in reading, you may want to prioritize math when it comes to distribution of funds. Or maybe you really want to emphasize hands-on natural sciences and field trips next year. In that case, a better allocation of your budget may be to splurge on passes to national and state parks nearby.
Really take the time to decide where you want to invest the most time and money in your homeschool before you load a single cart. With all of the wonderful resources, curriculum packages, supplements, games, books, and apps being shared online, it can be very easy to over-do it and lose sight of the journey you and your child are actually on. If you’re going to spend some money, spend it where it matters the most according to your values and vision for your homeschool, as well as the specific needs of your child.
2. Start Early and Shop Second-Hand
If you’re on a tight budget, it pays to get an early start. If you have your book list drafted out by late spring, you can spend the whole summer shopping used book stores, library sales, eBay, and used book groups on Facebook. There are many groups, online and in-person, where curriculum sales happen regularly, if not on-going. If you’ve already decided what programs you want to use, you can give yourself more time to find them second-hand.
You may also want to do a Google search of your city to find teacher’s supply stores nearby. Many times, these are a great place to find gently-used or discounted curriculum and supplies. For example, I just recently found a wonderful store in Denver called The Bookies. They have everything from Explode the Code to Joy Hakim’s Story of Us series and if you pay cash, you get 15% off their already-lower prices! Needless to say, I was lost in there for many hours and emerged with a great (discounted) set of letter and letter blends unifix cubes, tons of great math manipulatives, and a “rocks and minerals” kit to compliment our science curriculum for next year.
3. Cheap is Great but Free is Better
Using the library to stock a literature-based curriculum can save you a lot of money, but you need to be organized to pull it off. A great strategy is to spend some time looking up all of the books on your list in the library database. Make sure that, a) your library carries the books, b) there are at least a couple of copies of most of them in circulation, and c) you know how to reserve them when it’s getting close to the week(s) that you’ll need them. If you’re using a curriculum that is built on obscure, out of print, brand-new, or very popular books, this may not work. But if you can use the library for at least some of the options, it’ll save you a little money.
If you’re in the traditional Charlotte Mason circles, and many of the books you need are obscure or out of print, don’t worry! Many of these can be downloaded for free or very cheap in online databases such as Project Gutenberg, Librivox (mostly audibook format), and Open Library. I know that reading from a kindle isn’t the same as reading from print (especially with children) but these platforms have saved me, and many other homeschooling families, a lot of money and a lot of trouble trying to find all of the great living books in a literature-based curriculum.
4. Avoid FOMO (Fear-Of-Missing-Out) By Sticking to Your Vision
Shiny object syndrome is real, and so is FOMO (or “fear of missing out.”) It usually hits when we’ve already locked in our curriculum choices for the year. We’re feeling good, we’ve ordered what we need, we have our book list at the ready, and then, one day while scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, we see something else that we absolutely must have for next year. And then something else. And something else. Before we know it, we’ve added a whole lot more to our plate (and our bank statement) that wasn’t even part of our original vision. Be careful of FOMO. It’s usually based on what works for someone else. Before you jump in, make sure that it aligns with the vision you have for the year ahead, and that you’re not just purchasing because everyone else is using it.
5. Before You Buy a Curriculum, Make Sure You Actually Need to Buy a Curriculum
I firmly believe that curriculum is a resource for the parent educator, and nothing more. Some parents want or need a resource, some parents do not. If you’re in the camp that is confident that you can teach your child math and reading through a handful of manipulatives and early readers, go for it! If you want to teach history by watching documentaries and checking out books from the library, you absolutely should. If your idea of a great year of science involves Pinterest, passes to the local museum, and raising chickens, do it! Not every family needs a curriculum. It all depends on the style of homeschooling that works for you and your confidence when it comes to teaching certain subjects. Don’t feel pressured to purchase a curriculum if that doesn’t fit your vision, your needs, or your child’s learning style. Homeschooling is a uniquely individual endeavor. And even if you do decide to buy a curriculum, don’t feel like you’re a slave to it. Curriculum works for you, you do not work for it. (Click here to read more on keeping curriculum in check.)
And here’s one last tip to help save money as you choose your curriculum:
Bonus Tip: Shop the Sales
Most curriculum providers have at least one sale a year, if not more. Check their website for information about sales, or ask the parents in your Facebook groups if they know when it usually goes on sale. Follow the social media pages of the curriculum you like. And it definitely pays to get on their mailing list–this is where most companies announce their sales first! These sales vary greatly, from 5% to 50% off or more, depending on the company, and they can make a big difference when it comes to stretching your budget.
Blossom and Root runs a 30% off sale every April and every September. From now until April 30th, you can save on any curriculum in our store by using code “inbloom30.” Click here to visit our store today!
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