Choosing the Right Homeschool Materials for Every Stage

Choosing the Right Homeschool Materials for Every Stage


Homeschooling can be a challenge, even when you have your plans all laid out. There are materials for every kind of learner, from every world view, and to fit any budget. But in this age of wide-ranging choices, finding the right ones for each child can be daunting.  How will you know which one is the best fit for you and your child?

Finding What Works

The first thing to remember is that every child is different. What works for your neighbor may not work for you; what works for your older child may not work for the next one in line. So, look to your child: what is her learning style? Is she a hands-on learner, a visual learner, or a lover of workbooks? Does he love to read, or would he rather be outside in nature? Don’t forget to consider your child’s age and developmental level. Kids can range in developmental readiness, even from subject area to subject area. Determine your educational goals for your child. What do you want your child to learn, and how do you want to measure that learning? What are you willing to do to make it happen, and what are your expectations of your child in the process? What kind of environment are you trying to offer? The overarching goals of your school, and your goals for your child, should mesh.

Planning it Out

Consider your plans. What subjects will be important for you to teach in the coming year? Which subjects do you have figured out? Every parent has strengths and weaknesses. Some subjects just feel easier than others. Which ones do you feel most competent to teach? Do you have some items on hand already that you can use for some subjects? Do you take advantage of a homeschool co-op or do you know other homeschoolers whose strengths might complement yours? Do you have some classes lined up for your child to do outside the home, either online or elsewhere? Plan out the subjects that feel easy first, outlining your goals for each and the materials list, including items you already own.

Money Matters

Budget is important. It is easy to overspend on shiny books and curriculum, especially for younger kids. Save your money for when your kids are older and books, classes, and curriculum are all more expensive. Plan first. Arrange to exchange books and curricula with friends, and shop thrift and consignment stores when you can. Look for used items online. Don’t be tempted to supplement with every book, toy, and manipulative out there. If you have extra money for education, sock it away for later on– either for high school, or college. It is easy to spend just a little money homeschooling younger kids, if you have a solid plan and stick with it. Find what works. Use it.

Where to Find It

Before you hit the stores, conventions, or online booksellers, do your research. Ask other homeschoolers whom you know what their experiences have been, and what has worked for their families. Try to branch out, though, beyond your local circle. Many times families in one area or group tend to become stuck in a sort of rut– everyone using the same things and recycling ideas. Often this is because they work; but there is a chance you might miss something that truly is a ‘best fit’ for your child if you are not exploring a wider range of options because of a lack of exposure. There are online forums for home educators where your questions may be fielded by people from every level of experience and all family constellations. Also, take advantage of the many reviews online of curricula and educational materials. There are reviews available here on The Homeschool Compass as well as other well-respected sites in the homeschool community, such as Cathy Duffy’s reviews. Rainbow Resource ships a phone-book-sized catalog each year, if requested  which is filled with thorough reviews of thousands of curricular options as well as supplementary materials and classroom supplies of every kind imaginable. The Rainbow Resource website is easy to navigate and they have a live chat option which will allow you to ask very specific questions about a particular item. In the beginning, this will take some time. You will find materials that may intrigue you but may not be appropriate for where your child is now. Make mental notes of these, though, because they might work well later on, or even with a different child. As your knowledge base of what is out there grows, you will be able to make well-informed choices. The process will grow easier over time.

Try it On

When you are ready to buy, it can be helpful to hold the materials in your hands to peruse them. This is where conventions can be very handy, particularly for beginning homeschoolers. Take advantage of a local convention to browse curricula. Some areas have academic supply stores like School Box  where you can find materials that might be interesting to you. If you belong to a homeschool co-op, inquire if any of the other parents in the group have experience with the materials you’re considering. One of them may even be willing to lend you their copy to look at for a few days in order to determine if it will work for you. If you can’t hold it before you buy it, the next best thing is to check the publisher’s website to see if they have sample pages to check out. Even Amazon has the “Look Inside” feature for many books they carry, so you can get a feel for what the product offers. If something seems like a good fit for your family, but you haven’t had a chance to review it closely (or even if you have), check the return policy on it. Many times companies have a reasonable return policy and only charge you for return shipping.

If Something Goes Wrong

Okay, so now you’ve found a curriculum you’re really excited about. You bring it home and lovingly set it amongst the other books that have found homes on your “to use this year or next” shelf. You plan the lessons, and you begin working with your child. If everyone is happy, great! If not, go carefully. Certainly, if your child is in tears regularly, it’s time to change something. If your child shows little to no interest in this subject, even though it used to fascinate her, it’s time to change. If you are pulling your hair out trying to implement the lessons, it’s time to change. However, it may not be time to ditch your materials altogether. This is where consulting seasoned homeschoolers can be so useful. Tweaking a curriculum or teaching method is often all that is needed. Maybe the lessons don’t have to be administered exactly as scripted. Maybe every lesson doesn’t have to be covered. Maybe some of the work can be done orally, together, rather than as a worksheet. If you have made some changes after talking with your child, and your chosen materials still don’t seem to be a good fit, don’t be afraid to move on. You’ve learned something about your child’s learning style, your teaching style, and what works for your family. Armed with this information, you will become more discerning. But it is a process, and worth the effort. Remember, even if your child doesn’t love a subject, if they are learning something, you have made a successful choice. Like you, your kids won’t like everything. It’s up to you to decide whether it’s important enough to continue with a subject your child isn’t passionate about. That’s a question of philosophy on your part. Don’t just jump around from product to product, convinced that none of them work because you or your child has had a bad day, or because there are other things going on at home that are affecting your ability to structure your lessons in a productive way for everyone. Curriculum jumping will lead to frustration for you and your child, and possibly even academic backsliding, if done for the wrong reasons. And, your budget will suffer.

Final Points to Remember

Finding the right materials for your homeschool is so important, but it is an evolving process. Don’t worry if you choose some things that, looking back, were just not a good fit for you. That’s part of the learning process. Keep your eyes and ears open as you move from year to year in home education. Learn to recognize good advice, even when it doesn’t apply to you right now. It may someday! Finally, pay attention to the cues of your child. You will be able to see, more and more readily, when he or she is really thriving with a particular system of learning. Home education is all about making clear plans based on your larger goals, and modifying them to meet the needs of a dynamic creature: your child. With a flexible attitude, you will build a successful program each year, and both you and your student will have fun in the process!



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