Since I began homeschooling over a decade ago, I've been on the search for that one educational method that was the perfect fit for my family. I've tried desperately to find the perfect curriculum for each of my children. And when I couldn't find "perfect," I tried to create it all by myself. Ultimately, I failed. (I did, however, get a lovely case of heartburn.)
I began this journey with the naïve joy of a novice who just didn't know any better and was willing to seek out the best of the best for my children because as every home educator knows, that Holy Grail of curriculum is out there somewhere. How does the song go…. Ain't no mountain high enough….
Unfortunately, there is no perfect homeschooling product, educational philosophy or teaching method. What is an ideal fit for one family may not suit another family at all. What methods work well with my first child do not work at all with my second child and my third child is blowing it all out of the water and making me start from scratch all over again! I've worked my way through a half dozen educational methods, from building my own curriculum to buying "school in a box". Ultimately I found that one item, though imperfect, was my steadfast, continuously used product – it even arrived prepaid.
"What, pray tell, was it?" you ask.
"Who can I order it from?"
"Can they send it Priority Mail?"
It, my dear friends, was my library card.
Now I know you may be thinking – how obvious! We already let the kids check out DVDs and books at our library. We even go every week, rain or shine! But I've got some suggestions for you and they go farther than simply letting your preschoolers check out picture books or peruse the Blue's Clues DVDs on the rack. And even they go deeper than letting your teenagers wander up to the counter with the latest Twilight novel.
Grab your librarian and ask them to point you in the direction of books about education - not just the homeschooling shelf, but titles that the professional teachers are reading! Consider this to be your "teacher training." You'll find methods that don't match your teaching style or your family's personal belief system - but you'll also find options that you can incorporate and adapt for your homeschool.
Next time you're wandering the videos, grab a fitness DVD and call it "Family PE." One of my middle child's favorite activities during library day was to pick a random CD from the music shelves. Some of our DVD and CD picks were total flops, but others led us into cultural forays thanks to titles picked by a toddler who just liked the cover of the CD.
Some libraries offer software loans and audio book downloads; others host preschool story times and teen book clubs; some librarians will even specifically reach out to the homeschooling community by offering activities and gatherings meant just for our community! Many libraries have meeting rooms that can be reserved for your homeschool co-op. And while some librarians aren't familiar with homeschooling, others are thrilled to hear from home educators and will go out of their way to help you find resources near and far. After all, most homeschoolers love books – and we keep circulation up – which means we keep libraries in business.
The best part is your library card is most likely free because most library systems are paid for out of taxes. Some libraries even have a "use it or lose it" funding system, so at the end of each fiscal year they are desperate for input on items to order. Interested librarians can even order books that will serve them and the homeschool community; the Libraries Unlimited Professional Guides specifically address homeschooled youths and teens in some of their titles.
What do you do if your library has fewer resources? Check with larger libraries or regional systems and ask if they offer reciprocal loan cards. Universities and colleges may be willing to work with you on loan privileges as well. They'll also have text books and professional journals you won't find in the average public library – a true delight for the student digging into recently discovered passions from anthropology to zoology and other unique topics!
So the next time you're trying to find that perfect homeschooling product or method – grab your library card. It is your faithful companion to a lifetime of learning.
Melonie Kennedy is a military wife, homeschooling mother, and freelance writer and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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