Welcome to Part 3 of my series on beginning homeschooling! If you’ve gotten this far with me, you’ve been thinking about bigger picture ideas and setting up your general framework for a successful homeschooling venture. Now you’re ready to fill in all those lovely shelves with fun materials. So where to begin?
With rare exception, I don’t use boxed curricula – those neat, convenient packages that walk you through each day of your unit. I much prefer a research based approach, which puts me and my kids in the position of scientist/explorer/archaeologist. This method takes a lot more time, energy, and creativity, but it is the biggest secret to our success as a homeschooling family.
Now I hate to disappoint you, but I’m not going to tell you what to pick up, because you may be working with a 6 year old who loves math, or a 12 year old who is totally into literature. Instead, I’m going to give you tips on how to find the best resources. And just so you know: I’m working on a list of my favorite treasures that I’ll be uploading to my Curriculum and Resources page soon. I’ll let you know when it goes up, but I’m looking at early September.
Start with General Reference Books
When beginning your homeschool library, start with some general reference titles that you will use again and again. My go-to recommendation is Lisa Rivero’s Creative Home Schooling. If you have gifted kids, also pick up Genius Denied by Jan and Bob Davidson and Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children and Adults by James Webb. For history, I enjoy DK’s History of the World to help me do overarching unit plans. This helps me understand and create my general history outline, which I fill in with fun kid-friendly resources. I also like DK’s Take Me Back. It’s like the History of the World, but more fun; we use both of those history books every semester. That’s it. Those are the only books I started with; everything else changes with the topic.
For Crying Out Loud, Get a Library Card!
Most of you probably already have a card, and if you don’t, what a perfect opportunity to explore your community’s greatest resource! I have a fabulous job as a part-time children’s librarian, and fully enjoy its wonderful resources for every topic we study. It literally saves me thousands of dollars. When you go to the library, introduce yourself to the children’s librarian, tell them what you’re embarking on, and ask for a tour of their collection. (Offer to schedule a later time if the librarian is busy.) Ask about their displays, and where they put their new books as they come in. Ask them to show you their favorite materials, and things that most patrons aren’t aware of. When I get this kind of request, I will often spend over an hour with the patron, and will load them up with armfuls of my favorite gems. Showing off our collection is my favorite part of the job.
In the Library: Take a Tour
After the tour, take your own self-guided trip through the collection. Your library will either use the Library of Congress or Dewey Decimal system to organize books by subject; make note of where each subject is situated. Also try to understand why the subjects are stored where they are (another great question for a librarian!). For example, the physics books in the Dewey system are stored in the 500s (science), but you’ll find the simple machines (wheels, screws, wedges, etc.) in the 600s (applied science and technology). Unless you’re well versed in library organization, you might miss big sections of the collection, so again: ask that librarian!
In the Library: Spend Time Getting to Know the Collection
When you find a section of interest, sit down and settle in. Pull out each book, one at a time, or take a small stack, but explore them all. Check out the titles you find kid-friendly and interesting, even if you don’t end up using them. Check also for copyright dates, usually found in the beginning of the book, but sometimes at the end. You don’t want to check out a book about solar energy that was published in 1998, no matter how pretty it is. When I check out a science book, unless it is incredibly general, I try to find materials that have been published in the last 5 years, and less than that if I can help it.
In the Library: Master the Art of Cross-Referencing
Don’t settle for just one section. Take astronomy for an example. In the Dewey Decimal system, the astronomy books are stored in the 500s. But what’s that over in the 200s with Greek Mythology? Oh ho! Books on the mythology of the constellations! I’m going to take those too, because astronomy is a fabulous gateway for studying Greek myths. While I’m there, I’m probably going to take some additional Greek mythology texts. But then I’m going to head over to the 921s, which are the biographies. Don’t know the famous astronomers? No problem. You can either search the library’s catalog for astronomers, or open up one of the astronomy books you picked up in the 500s and browse it for important names. Then take books on Copernicus and Gallileo.
And we’re not done yet! There may be fun picture books that explore astronomy or Gallileo (people love writing books about that guy). And in our library, we have a collection of non-fiction books for the very young crowd. I’m going to look for books there too, because we have such a nice collection of picture book biographies, which are often beautiful and memorable and perfect for all ages. Hmmm. Putting those books aside, I’ll head over to the DVD section (which we have sorted by the same Dewey system as the books), and I’ll browse the same Dewey numbers I did in the book stacks, pulling out anything that looks good. After I’ve searched for historical fiction about astronomy or Gallileo or Copernicus or Greek mythology and perused our subject-based magazine section, I’ll head over to the adult stacks, looking for PBS documentaries. We loved watching Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Origins of the Universe when we did this unit.
And that’s just finding books using visual browsing. If you head to your library catalog and do subject and general keyword searches, you’ll find dozens more.
In the Library: Bring Your Brainstorming List
One idea can lead to another when you brainstorm like this. And always – always – ask your librarian for help in finding this stuff. They should know the collection backwards and forwards. Try this activity right now with history. Take a moment and write down everything you can think of that could be useful and help you expand your studies. Go ahead – really. Right now. Write the word “history” down on a piece of paper and underneath write down as many general words and subjects you can think of that could help you explore it. Practice your cross-referencing skills. Don’t read ahead until you have a small list.
Got your list? Here’s mine; let’s see how similar they are. History, cookbooks, art books for cultural projects and art history, CDs for music of the era, biographies, religion section for whatever religion was the thing of the day, folklore, books on cultural holidays, science to explore particular science advances of the era, or one on geography to explore major environmental events (for example, volcanoes if you’re studying something like Pompeii); DVDs for documentaries, historical fiction picture books and novels, and subject-based magazines. Try bringing your brainstorming list to your librarian and get them to help you fill it in.
Oh, and one more thing: if your library doesn’t have what you’re looking for, you can either 1) ask them to order it, or 2) ask them to request it from another library; they can get books shipped in from libraries all over the country, often just for a dollar or two. But keep in mind – they need time to do these things. If you need it next week, you may be out of luck. Planning a month or two ahead will help you get what you want.
And finally, don’t forget your public school district’s library media center. Depending on your district, this library, typically reserved for teachers, is also available to home educators. Ours is stocked full of hands-on kids and projects, expensive experiments, DVDs, microscopes, puppets, and games. I pay just $25/year for full use of their materials.
Toys, Gadgets and Games
Now that you have a crate of books and videos in your living room, you’re going to want to supplement with fabulous, engaging TOYS. You’ve saved money by using the libraries, so now have a little fun shopping. Some catalogs I like to keep on hand are Carolina Biological and EAI Education. I just browse them, like a kid in a candy shop, ordering things that fit in our larger project goals. I also use Google of course, using combinations of search terms like “games,” “education,” “chemistry,” “history,” and “Vikings” (when we studied that). And of course I’ll ask my friends for more ideas. Again – check back on my Curriculum and Resources section soon. I’ve got some things there now, but it will become more useful next month.
Other fun places to find little treasures are the Barnes and Noble children’s section and clearance table, your library’s public book sale, and for classroom furniture, your public school district (they often have a warehouse or regular sale for surplus material) and your government surplus store. Homeschoolers are good about sharing their used materials with others, and I’ve taken advantage of that more than once. You might try the Homeschool Buyers Co-op as well – they enjoy bulk rate discounts on materials when enough homeschoolers sign up for a particular product. The membership is free, and their website is easy to browse.
When you’re putting all this together, don’t feel you have to be an expert in everything. If you have a homeschooling co-op that shares your general values, take advantage of it. When Ian was ready to study music theory, I contacted a local university professor and arranged private theory lessons. When Eva decided to study trumpet, I put her in with a private teacher and signed her up for public school band. When I noticed that Ian was stalling in math, we decided that a peer group would better suit that subject; I ditched my homeschool materials and enrolled him an advanced geometry course at the public middle school. I’ve tried online education, and last year Ian Skyped in with his retired genetics-professor-grandfather across the country to study biology. Husband Jamie often pipes in for special topics in literature, history, and theater. I’m as much manager as teacher. My job is to secure a fabulous education for my children; nobody said I had to personally provide it all.
Here’s another post on stocking the classroom cupboard, and of course check out my extensive collection materials under Resources. What other questions have you got for me? Pop them in the comments, and I’ll do my best to help you out.
This post is a part of the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum August 19th blog hop entitled “Homeschooling: Where and How to Begin.” To see the other posts in the hop, click here or on the image to the left.
NOTE: I accidentally posted this series a week before the GHF blog hop! So don’t forget to hop along with them NEXT week to read other homeschoolers’ advice on how to get started!
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