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This year will be our 9th year of homeschool… Jacob will be in 9th grade, Jaden in 3rd. While I'd love to say I know everything there is to know about homeschooling, the truth is I probably learn just as much OR MORE than my boys every single year. Homeschooling is a journey, for my boys and especially for me. The mantra I live by is that there's ALWAYS something new to learn. When it comes to choosing the right homeschool curriculum, I feel like we're finally settling into our sweet spot; however, I know that circumstances can change and what one child excels in, another may struggle. That ebb and flow requires flexibility on my part.
We've tried a LOT of different curriculums. There have been a few that we've stuck by and others we've let go because they simply weren't a good fit, either for our style of homeschool or for either of the boys. I feel like I've relaxed a lot too, both in my approach and in our schedule. We've always used an eclectic mix, and I've always pieced together our curriculum for each year.
For so long, I dreamed of using Sonlight for history and literature. Last year I finally bit the bullet and ordered our first Cores, piecing together what I could without spending all of our hard earned dollars and cents.
Last year was the year where I felt like we finally entered a sweet spot when it comes to school. What we did worked so well for our family, and to put it bluntly, we had a blast. We read SO MANY books. When I asked the boys about changing things up this year (I'd been approached about Classical Conversations), they wanted no part of any change. They firmly stated they enjoyed what we were doing and wanted to keep things the way they were. Success… Homeschool success. Insert happy dance because I was happy with how last year had gone too. While I'm implementing a few minor tweaks, for the most part, things will remain the same.
So, to get to the main point of this post… Let's talk shop.
How to Piece Together Homeschool Curriculum
There are so many amazing resources for homeschool curriculum, it's not even funny. Virtually anywhere you turn, you'll find opportunities and resources you can use in your own homeschool.
When I ordered this year's curriculum, I actually sat down with a notebook and mapped out everything we would need. This is where you need to start. Make a list of subjects you'll need to cover, and then list the resources you'll use. Maybe you dream of using Sonlight. Yes, it's expensive, but where there's a will, there's a way. Take a look at what they have to offer for the grade levels you need, and start creating lists of what you need for each subject.
Once your subjects are all mapped out and you've listed your resources/curriculum choices, it's time to compare and contrast, utilizing the following resources. As you shop each merchant, don't forget to Google for coupon codes… There's a good chance you can either get a significant discount or land free shipping on your purchase.
Before you shop, the library is a great place to start. Search your local library for books you need. I keep a running tab of the books we'll need, and when those books came up in our schedule, I look them up online, email myself a list of the call numbers, and off we go to check them out. FREE books are always a good thing.
Utilize your local homeschool community by letting others know what you're in search of; you never know, another family may have the exact resource you need at a significantly discounted price. We are fortunate to have both an online and in person homeschool community where we live, and members are always swapping emails, looking for or selling books and curriculum. They also have an annual used curriculum sale, which can be a huge help in finding what's needed for the coming year.
Check local used book stores. You never know what you'll find on the shelves at a local book store. Where we used to live, we had a used Christian bookstore with an entire section dedicated to homeschool curriculum and materials. I'd disappear into that section of the store and come out with armfuls of significantly discounted books, resources, and manipulatives. Be sure to see if you have one of these in your neck of the woods.
Check your own bookshelves. I will admit that I've actually ordered a book (or two) that we already had on our shelves, and I didn't even realize it. Don't forget to check your own shelves before you go on the search.
Have you heard of Thrift Books? Oh my word, it is AWESOME! When I was searching for this year's books, I mentioned to my husband that it just felt too good to be true. But true it was. The prices on Thrift Books, especially if you're willing to buy a book in acceptable shape (vs. like new), are amazing. In fact, you'll probably be tempted to buy a few for yourself while you're there.
This probably goes without saying, but Amazon… And don't forget about Kindle books. I've gotten Kindle copies of some of the books we need for much cheaper than print. For example, I paid $1.49 for a history book we were in need of this year. Books can be very affordable on Amazon, especially if you're willing or able to purchase Kindle books. And Prime shipping rocks my world as a homeschool mom, that's all I'm gonna say. Keep in mind, you can also find used copies listed for sale on Amazon. Sometimes you'll literally pay pennies + shipping. If you're willing to dig, you can find amazing deals.
Bid for books on eBay. Especially if you're trying to piece together Sonlight, you may be able to find actual lots of books with several of the titles you need. And I just have to get this off my chest. If you're guilty of bidding too soon on auction items, STOP in the name of all that is cheap. I've watched so many great eBay deals go sky high because of bidding wars (I'm talkin' you might as well buy new). It makes no sense. The key to winning a great deal on eBay is waiting 'til the last possible second to submit the bid you're willing to pay. It works, and when you've won, you feel on top of the world 'cause you probably just saved your family a ton of money.
Christian Book Distributors is another one of my favorite resources. And here, I want to give a shout out to their amazing customer service. My first shipment of curriculum with them arrived with only 1 book in a very messed up box. I put in a call to customer service, and they shipped me a new box, completely free of charge, no questions asked. I can't say enough good things about CBD.
Finally, don't forget to check directly with the merchants themselves. Sometimes you can pick up the curriculum you need, straight from the horse's mouth, cheaper than you can anywhere else. They may also have sales or special discounts, helping lower your price point. Too, if you're using Sonlight, there are a few books and materials you can only get directly from Sonlight, including their Instructor Guides (unless you're able to find them used, which is a good possibility).
A Few of Our Favorite Curriculum Choices
So, what are a few of our favorite curriculum choices, you ask? This list could go on and on. I'm a self-professed curriculum junkie.
I love, love, love All About Reading and All About Spelling. All About Reading has made teaching Jaden how to read so much easier and better than I ever imagined. I wish we'd had it with Jacob, though we did use the spelling program with him. Jaden absolutely loves All About Reading, especially when Ziggy the Zebra comes out to play.
I know there are a lot of opinions about this particular curriculum, but Teaching Textbooks has made our homeschool lives so much better, especially when it comes to Algebra. I decided to put Jaden into Teaching Textbooks this year, as well, so we'll see how it goes. Both our boys tested a grade ahead with placement tests, so be sure to take the provided placement tests before ordering.
Well-Trained Mind Press is another favorite of mine. If you've never read The Well-Trained Mind, I highly recommend it. We'd used Story of the World for years, along with First Language Lessons; if you're just not up to piecing together a bunch of books for a program like Sonlight, Story of the World is so, so good. It's an affordable history curriculum, and both you and your kids will learn things you never would have imagined. You'll also read lots of real books (most of which you can usually find at the library) along with the history readers and activity books. It's amazing.
Last year we switched to A Beka Book Science, and let me tell you, it made science fun again! Jaden and I did loads of experiments, and Jacob was able to finally enjoy science again. It's a rigorous curriculum but very user-friendly. I'm actually using Abeka Language and Cursive with Jaden this year too.
Wordly Wise and Easy Grammar… Both boys are expanding their vocabulary with Wordly Wise, and since Jacob's sort of graduated into more of a Literature focused program with a lot of creative writing, we switched to Easy Grammar, which gives him about a 10-15 minute lesson per day.
And then, of course, Sonlight for Bible, History, and Literature. From a mom standpoint, I love Sonlight because lesson planning has become so much easier for me, which is pretty important with a new baby in the family. I sit down for about half an hour on Sunday nights, and lesson plans are done. The boys love it because they're reading and learning so many things. The books we get to read have been amazing. I say we… Jacob is pretty much independent at this point, with me supervising and helping as needed. Jaden, on the other hand, I get to work with a bit more, and we read a lot of the books together. But the conversations we're able to have surrounding things they've read… It's one of my favorite things about homeschooling.
So, there you have it. Piecing together curriculum isn't as hard as it may seem. It mostly takes a little bit of time and effort on your part as the teacher. But it can be done. And piecing it together can save a lot of money in the long run.