Back in the good old days when homeschoolers were viewed mostly as illiterate, unsocialized weirdos, curriculum shopping was an endeavor requiring both ingenuity and luck. Fortunately, my mother had a a sort of psychic knack for finding out about used book sales. Some of our favorites were the mammoth sales in which the California school system jettisoned old, “outdated” (read: not trendy, dumbed down, or politically correct enough) curricula.
On one occasion, we got over a dozen beautiful hardcover books of folk songs from around the world, which fueled her children’s choir for several years. On another, I became the proud owner of Livestock and Poultry Production, an unbelievably dry high school (or possibly college) text on farming, which I nevertheless devoured, producing several poster-sized adaptations of diagrams from the book on such fascinating topics as “Common Unsoundnesses of a Horse” or “Choosing Laying Hens.”
The finds were not limited to books. Other sales netted us some heavy duty old fashioned yellow slickers, a sturdy craft table with child-sized chairs, and our beloved family room “cabinet,” which housed everything from biological samples (like the strange parasites removed from other people’s bodies, contributed by my doctor father) to endless craft supplies.
These days, with thousands of books published on homeschooling each year, many curriculum fairs held all over the United States, and hundreds of companies that develop and market products especially for homeschoolers, curriculum shopping can be as easy as buying a curriculum with everything you need in a box. Or as difficult as getting completely overwhelmed with all the options.
I fall somewhere in the middle. As you can read on the left-hand sidebar homeschooling tab, I espouse the educational philosophy of Charlotte Mason, and we use the free (and awesome) Ambleside Online curriculum. Ambleside is a detailed, but very flexible program. Most of the books they use are classics in the public domain, so they’re readily available to download on a Kindle (a huge bonus for people like us, who really ought not to be lugging around even as many books as we do from country to country).
I also have a bit of a classical bent (with more of a Latin-Centered style than a Well-Trained Mind style), as evidenced by my obsession with elementary Latin programs and Greek mythology. And while unschooling doesn’t really figure into my planning (unless you count the four hours of unstructured time outside that Charlotte Mason recommends), it figures heavily into our life.
Homeschooling planning is one of my (nerdiest) hobbies. It’s so fun for me to do that I don’t even mind when the plans are swept away by an impromptu trip to see ancient Greek ruins or visit Star Wars sites. Because hey, I still had the fun of planning, right?
Although I usually like to have a term going, summer or no, we’re currently taking a couple of months off. We still do our outside time, read/listen to classic books, and do our morning devotional, but I haven’t really done enough advance planning to call it an actual “term.” So for the past week or two, I’ve been spending my free time working on the term I plan to start in August. Right now, I am about halfway through the 1300+ page Rainbow Resource Center catalog. Yep, you read that right. 1300 pages. It resembles a phone book, and it has almost every conceivable homeschooling material you could ever want within its fascinating covers. If you live in the United States, they will mail it to you for free. Since I’m in Tunisia, and didn’t have the foresight (or space) to pack my hard copy along with me, I’m making do with the .pdf version.
And it’s so much fun! My wish list includes such diverse items as the Greek Alphabet Code Cracker, a microscope that attaches to your computer, flower presses, Sudoku Puzzles for Kids, stickers of flags from around the world, and paper dolls with Byzantine costumes, as well as more prosaic items like math and handwriting curricula.
If you’re a new homeschooling mom curious about what’s “out there” as far as homeschooling supplies, this catalog will give you reading material for months to come. Every product is reviewed by the staff (who all homeschool their children), and you can always google more reviews for items that interest you. Even if you don’t homeschool, the catalog is full of fun and educational toys and books. The company also puts out an abbreviated holiday gift catalog, perfect for pointing grandparents and other interested parties toward the types of books and playthings you’d really like your child to have.
And no, Rainbow Resource Center doesn’t pay me. I just think they’re cool.