On June 9, 2017, the last day of the 2016-2017 school year, Orange County Inspire families, teachers, staff and vendors, gathered at TeWinkle Park in Costa Mesa for our last official Inspiration Park Day of the school year, and our first ever curriculum swap!
As a long-time homeschooling parent in Southern California, one of the most educationally resource abundant places, as well one of the most expensive places to live in the nation, I am a huge fan of curriculum swaps--for several reasons. Most obviously, they have helped my family save money on homeschool curriculum and classroom resources. We have saved significantly on all kinds of things that align with our interests and studies, even if they were not the exact items we were looking for (that is often the most exciting part of curriculum swaps!).
On rare occasions I have found the exact items we were planning to pay full price for, and saved significantly. Those times were immediately magical, like pulling into a front row metered parking space at the beach that still has a few extra minutes left on it. You’re instantly smiling and almost ready to give money away at that moment. (Experienced homeschool kids like mine have a sixth sense for this phenomenon and attend curriculum swaps hoping for a little bit of extra funds to flow in their direction for comic books or Legos!)
But it’s the other moments at curriculum swaps that have regularly given me a different type of magical experience that has more lasting value than the savings (especially when the savings get spent purchasing another homeschool lego set!). Gaining access to different and exciting materials I may not have considered purchasing, but have the freedom and joy to explore without any real expectations or plans is one of those awesome experiences. This is how my family was introduced to Keva Planks, the simplest concept; a lightweight block, called a plank, made of wood that can easily be stacked and built upon. I purchased a small bucket’s worth of Keva Planks for about $15 and was surprised by the thirst with which my children played with these planks. These are no ordinary wooden blocks! They have captured my children’s imagination like no other wooden block ever has (my teenage homeschoolers still love Keva Planks). Check out the Keva World Record Tower! Shortly after that enchanted purchase we attended our first CHN Family Expo where an entire room of Keva Planks was waiting for kids of all ages in the Kid Village.
The times when I got to meet the families who were giving away the swap materials, were genuine treats. We got to find out how they used the curriculum, what items or materials complimented it well, and what they have moved on to now. It is in this deeper way that curriculum swaps are such positive cycles for each participant, as the seller/donator gets the satisfaction of having shared their experience and wisdom, knowing that another homeschool family will reap even more benefits from their used supplies. Homeschoolers are true recyclers, in many ways. :)
We have obtained a treasure-load of items at curriculum swaps over the years. We found Story of the World history curriculum sets and CD packages for half-off, barely used. We lucked out on great deals for brand new cursive workbooks from Handwriting Without Tears, vintage Little House on the Prairie book sets, massive Magic Tree House book sets. We discovered the series, A History of US books from the purchase of one at curriculum swap. We also discovered that we love math color by number coloring books by picking one up for $.50 at a curriculum swap! We found owl pellet kits from Home Science Tools (someone bought a bulk order for a co-op and sold their extras!) before we knew that was a resource we could easily purchase on Amazon (Amazon is another amazing homeschool resource that can easily comprise another blog post).
In addition to the various curriculum programs and components, we have continually adorned our homeschool environs with a buffet of books, many of which we have purchased used at curriculum swaps. Both fiction and nonfiction, from all eras, and authors, and in various mediums. From Harry Potter Audio Books to graphic novels of Edgar Allan Poe's poems, from Shakespeare in a Box kits to Fandex Family Field Guides, books have served as a primary source of curriculum in our homeschool lives. Audio books are often played in the car, on our way to outings, park days and field trips. Graphic novels of classic works were enjoyed by my pre-adolescent readers with vivid imaginations, and truly helped make the classic works more accessible and exciting for them (and helped them understand cultural references they had previously missed until they were exposed to the original source). Kits based on Shakespeare were used by our homeschool park group to bring Shakespeare to life and were often followed up by outings to free community Shakespeare performances at local parks, during the summer. Creatively designed field guides helped make facts fun, and easier to memorize. They were also ergonomic enough to bring in a backpack, or keep in the car, so they were ready to be paired with a field trip or outing at a moment’s notice, which often occurred, when we discovered a field trip we had to attend last minute. Homeschoolers are professionally adept at finding resources last minute and they not afraid to brave traffic and long distances to tie a field trip into their homeschool studies. :)
(On the left; Shakespeare in a Box kit; On the right; Fandex Field Guides)
I’ve found things for myself, to help me in my parenting/homeschool journey at curriculum swaps, as well. Most homeschool swaps and sales have sections of books for parents, often full of classic homeschool parenting primers like, The First Year of Homeschooling Your Child: Your Complete Guide to Getting Off to the Right Start, by Linda Dobson, and the Unschooling Handbook: How to Use the Whole World As Your Classroom, by Mary Griffith, as well as classic books on child development, like the Continuum Concept, by Jean Liedloff, and the Gesell Institute’s series of child development books, based on the age of your child. So many books, so many choices. And not just books either!
Time4Learning.com, a popular online education program for homeschoolers, has a helpful Homeschool Glossary, which defines curriculum as, “The materials used for a course, which can include a textbook, a teacher and grading guide, lesson plans, tests, and worksheets. In an online curriculum, some of these elements can be integrated and automated.” As a veteran homeschooler and unschooler myself, I can attest to the fact that the “materials” used for a course can vary from child to child, based on their preferences, interests and aptitudes. They will also vary from year to year, based on the developmental growth of your children. Many experienced homeschoolers (and unschoolers in particular) will tend to interpret “curriculum materials” in a very organic, holistic way. “Curriculum materials” truly consists of whatever items the homeschool family has deemed necessary to cover the breadth and depth of a subject.
Beyond books, the “curriculum materials” list is too long and eccentric to mention or keep track of. I will share that one of our more memorably unique “curriculum materials for our “math curriculum” included the combination of Khan Academy videos, doodling supplies and pinecones, to assist us in our study of the Fibonacci sequence. This was followed up with a camping trip in the Western Sierras, where pinecones and other ordered patterns in nature were prevalent, all in a wondrously, immersive experience. My children were able to look at nature, and math, with a renewed appreciation and respect for both, understanding that the natural world and the modern world are not so far apart at times. Math is not this unnatural, disconnected and isolated system, the way it can appear to children who have only learned about it via the one dimensional realm of a textbook. Finding ways to reaffirm for our students that math is something that surrounds us, and can start with the fun process of pattern recognition, is a great way to help make the world of math accessible for younger students. As I write this blog post, I realize that this is a theme with all of the subjects for my homeschool kids; we were always looking for unique and exciting supplies that could turn learning about a subject into an engaging process, utilizing materials we found inexpensively in various places, including, and especially, curriculum swaps.
My favorite curriculum swaps are the ones hosted by the two state-wide, secular, volunteer-run homeschool support organizations, HSC and CHN, at their annual homeschool conferences (HSC’s Conference is coming up at the end of July, and CHN’s Family Expo is in early September). I spent a few weeks before each of these conferences planning what I would bring for the swap. I painstakingly set aside items to turn into the swap organizer at the HSC conference (when it was run by an organizer, it is now called a Bazaar and is just as awesome, and allows parents to sell their used items, along with any handmade items to others directly, by setting aside a space at the Bazaar). I savored the entire swap experience, itself. I spent hours shopping, talking, filling bags and exchanging materials and information with homeschool parents. These curriculum swaps inspired me to try and host one for our school, in the county I serve; Orange County. I was able to partner with one of our wonderful Inspire Regional Coordinators to plan this event. We welcomed enrichment's involvement and they arranged to bring used and new items from the Duarte office down to the park on the day of our swap. Next, we set this event up on Inspiration Station to take reservations and marketed this event! We were excited and thrilled to be able to offer this to our families. And it was a success - even for a first event! Families brought items, swapped and shopped, from donated supplies as well as the items brought from the Duarte office. They also talked and shared stories, experience and tips; what worked and what didn’t this school year and what they hope to make work for the next school year. Families shared information, motivation and Inspiration at our Orange County Inspiration Park Day and Curriculum Swap. I look forward to doing it all again next year -- bigger and better -- with wonderful families joining us again!
(On the left: HSC’S Recycled Resource Room; On the right: CHN’s Used Curriculum Sale)
Happy summer, Inspire families, and happy homeschool curriculum planning and shopping.
Paige McKinney is an Inspire Family Liaison serving the Orange County area.