Buying Used Curriculum Wisely

What you need to know about buying used curriculum.

Used Homeschool Curriculum

First of all, when searching for curricula, keep in mind that what works for one child may not work well for another. Learning styles, abilities, and reading comprehension play an important part in choosing appropriate materials, books, and educational tools for your homeschool.

Detailed information on learning styles can be found in The Christian Curriculum Guide Manual by Cathy Duffy or How to Home School by Gayle Graham. The Virginia Homeschool Manual also has several articles about putting together your own curriculum.

Everyone wants to save money, especially homeschoolers, who usually find themselves establishing life based on one income. When given the opportunity to save money on curricula, homeschoolers usually jump at the chance. Just check out any curriculum fair where there are long lines and lots of people, you will probably find a used-book dealer or a used-book swap.

Someone once said you should not use just any old book, even if it is free, and they were correct. What you also should not do is use a book just because someone said it was the best thing on the market. What might be the best book for one child may be the worst choice in the world for your child.

What should one look for when purchasing curricula, especially used curricula? The first step is to know what your teaching objectives are. With those objectives as a guide, compare the table of contents of several books. For example, by comparing the contents of health books you could save several dollars by purchasing a “no-name” health book instead of that popular one that all your friends use.

Sometimes just looking at the copyright date will tell you if you should purchase a book. An ancient-history book is not going to change much, but if you are doing current events in history, a 1960 book will not serve your needs.

Also check the academic and reading comprehension levels of the newer textbooks. Compare a 1996 grammar text with a 1970 text. Has it been “dumbed down,” or made easier? Be careful when buying older science books, especially fourth grade and above. New discoveries in medicine and space may warrant the purchase of the more expensive, newer book. Then again, perhaps there is enough material in the old book to use at home, adding the updated material to your child’s studies by way of the library.

Sometimes old books can be used simply for their pictures. Yes, do cut them out! Old books make wonderful additions to those science fair projects and those portfolios.

Time lines can be made more interesting and fun by using real pictures from history. Don’t be afraid to cut up books. We are not in a textbook shortage. Schools all over the country throw out thousands of books every year.

Keep in mind that textbooks are not the only books you might find at used-book sales. Biographies, reference materials, “real books,” and children’s books often have material that would be more interesting and better for your child’s learning style than the traditional textbook.

People often ask if the teacher’s edition is necessary. If YOU think you need it, you probably do. Check out the teacher’s edition. Are there just answers, or does it have valuable teaching aids? What if you don’t know how to teach a concept? Will the manual help? Learn to ask the publisher or the distributor questions that will simplify your purchases.

In Review

  1. Know what objectives you want to teach.
  2. Know your child’s learning styles and your teaching styles. If you have a “unit studies” child and you can’t organize yourself to use the unit-study approach, you probably won’t.
  3. Compare the table of contents of books from several publishers for the same subject. Look through the books for objectionable pictures and topics.
  4. Know what changes are in the new editions. Sometimes only one story or even one line has been changed. If you can get the old edition for less than half the cost of the newer book, you can probably live with the minor changes. Colored illustrations are sometimes the factor that would cause you to purchase the newer edition. Whenever you get the chance, check out the differences for yourself. The bottom line is that each parent has to know enough about his child and his pocketbook to make the decision between the old and the new edition.
  5. The most expensive and widely-used curriculum in the world may not be the best for your child. Don’t pick it just because that’s what someone else picked as his favorite.
  6. Find out about your children. Do your research before buying all those books. It might be good to have your children help pick out their books. It certainly will give you a good idea of what appeals to them.
  7. Talk with your friends about WHY they use certain books. In discovering the “whys,” you may realize it would or would not work for your child.
  8. Last, but not least, do not hesitate to change a curriculum if it is not working with your child. It is far better to spend more on another book than to struggle every day with a curriculum that is not serving the purpose.