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Volume 3 Issue 6

Buying Used Curriculum

When to do it.
How to find it. Why do they do that? What to avoid.

By Maryellen Tedrow,

So you’ve decided to take your children out of school and teach them yourself.

Or you have children who are just now school age and want to educate them at home. You are about to enter the ranks of the homeschooler.

You say “whew” that was a major decision! Now you realize you need the material to begin the job. You start by gathering your thoughts, looking through all the wonderful catalogs you have picked up, sent away for, or been given by your friends. You have a list, a very long list. You decide that you are going to provide a quality education and you say cost is not an issue. Then, reality hits. You can’t afford the things on your list. What should you do? Give up? No, no, absolutely not. There is always a way. Don’t feel defeated. Don’t even feel depressed. If you had all the money in the world, and you could buy everything on the market, you wouldn’t be able to use it all. So, start by doing these things.

First, take your wish list. A wish list is everything you think you would like to have. Then prioritize. Use colored highlighters, one color for things you want, no matter what. Use another color for second choice items, and a third color for things you would like but could do without if necessary. Mark the things you wouldn’t mind getting in used condition (we will talk about this later), perhaps with an asterisk. Then talk with your spouse. What kind of budget can you realistically afford? An additional way to prioritize is buying over a period of time. You don’t have to buy it all today. You may be able to buy some items part of the way through the school year. Decide which things you need right away and which things could wait a few months.

So you have figured your budget, your wants and needs. You have prioritized. Now what? There are numerous ways to cut down on your spending. First, check with any home school friends you have. They may have materials that they are storing on a shelf either because they are done with them or because they are not schooling in that grade this year. Your friends have been there, they may be willing to lend you some of their shelved items. If you do borrow things, make sure you are both in agreement on some terms. First, how long may you borrow them? Make sure you have permission to use them for the whole school year. You don’t want to get through December and find out she needs them back. Second, would your friend like to be compensated for the use of the items? Many homeschoolers will barter, some expect to be paid, and others will just lend them out of the kindness of their hearts. You may find that your friend just wants to get rid of things and will give them to you. Whatever the case, it is better to make sure everyone is comfortable with the terms of the agreement. Also if borrowing is taking place, it is wise to write an index card for each of you listing the items and date you are expected to return them.

Another idea for finding inexpensive books and curricula is to search for used materials which are being sold. You can find used books in many places. These include friends, as we spoke about in the paragraph above, support groups, online searches, used book dealers, yard sales, second hand shops and even library sales. Sometimes support groups will have their own used book sale. These are great. You might find just the book you are looking for. Or you may find a substitute that you are quite happy about. Keep your list handy while you shop. It doesn’t hurt to keep that list in your purse. Making a duplicate list is a good idea. That way should you lose one, you will have a backup. I can’t tell you how many moms have lost their only list “somewhere” on the convention floor, never to be seen again. A backup copy saves the day. You may find textbooks at all of these places, but you must be willing to keep your eyes open. You might have to search through boxes, or under tables. While you are searching, remember you will also need lots of readers. Many second hand shops, yard sales and library sales will have lots of classics for really cheap prices. It doesn’t hurt to keep a list of classics that you want and/or find so you don’t duplicate your purchases, thereby messing with the budget you’re trying so hard to keep. Another option which some used book dealers offer is the opportunity to rent books. You will have to ask if they offer this, as not all of them do. How can you rent a school book? You are able to rent many books such as teacher editions, student editions which are not consumable and even some classics. It doesn’t hurt to ask!

Last but not least is purchasing materials new. Okay, so you exhausted all efforts and the item you really want cannot be found through any of the other methods. So, you decide you will buy it new. Before you do, make sure you ask yourself one last time. “Do I really want this?” If it has supplementary parts, “Do I need all of them?” For example, if it has tests, quizzes, activities and possibly other pieces, “Will I really use them all?” If you get the greatest deal in the world but don’t use it, it wasn’t a good deal for you!

While you are doing all this searching, there are some things to look out for. What do you avoid? Used books can be great, but if someone had them in a wet basement, they can be moldy. If someone was a smoker, they can smell smoky. So, do yourself and your children a favor—smell the book before you buy it. Moldy books are not only unpleasant, but the mold can spread to your other books. Smoky books hold the smell for what seems like forever.

Now here is a tricky part of this discussion. How do you figure out the problem of editions? What do I mean by this? On many books, you will see the words “Second edition” or “Third edition.” If you don’t see any edition, it usually means it is the first edition. How do you know if the books you are purchasing match? Matching simply means getting a student, teacher, test and other supplemental parts of a particular book that go with each other. You don’t want to end up with an answer key that doesn’t match your student book. It is worthless. So, is it okay to buy older editions? How DO you know if things match? When in doubt, ask. Ask what? Ask if the items match each other. If you are buying a textbook, a teacher edition, a test key, a solution manual or whatever, they need to match each other. If you are at a yard sale, second hand shop or library sale, it will be hard to find out. The person in charge may not know the answer. So this is where you need to be smart. It is not always the case, but usually inside on the title page, there is a notation of the edition. If you are buying a second edition World History, you also want the teacher edition to be a second edition. The same goes for the test and the test key. Now sometimes these things don’t hold true. You probably won’t be able to tell for a while but as you get more savvy you will. A used book dealer gets to look through many, many books and can usually tell you if something matches. Don’t be afraid to ask. This is another reason to have a list. As you find and make your purchases, make notes on your list. If you are happy with and buy a first edition student book, that means you need to look for a first edition teacher book. If you want the most current edition, then your search must be for matching pieces. Keep in mind, the current edition is usually much harder to find in used condition than an older edition. Why? Simply because people are not done with them and they have not hit the used market yet.

So the question begs to be asked: why do publishers keep making new editions? Here are some of the reasons:
· Correcting errors
· Making more money
· Updating graphics
· New information has come to light
· Replacing cover for better appeal
· Copyright date
· Legal problems

Some of these reasons make more sense than others. Correcting errors seems like a good reason to most of us. In these cases, usually the editions are so alike you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. In some cases, putting a new copyright on simply makes schools buy new copies which sadly makes them throw away older editions. In some cases it appears to be simply a money making issue. In other cases, there are school districts, which do not allow their schools to use books which have a copyright older than a certain amount of years old. Again, sadly, books are thrown away. In some cases the new and the old are identical. If the books are such that they are used in the public school and the homeschool market, the homeschooler is affected by this. New editions almost always cost more than the older version. The point is, you don’t have to use a newer edition unless you want to do so.

Updating graphics can change the appearance of a book. Sometimes it changes the entire book, but many times only the pictures are changed. If pictures don’t matter to you, you may be able to save big bucks buying older editions. However, sometimes information changes. For example, we are now told that Pluto is no longer a planet. There are many science books, which have the old information. Depending on the extent of the changes, you could use the old and simply tell your children the updated information. When covers change, usually there is not a change inside the book. Many publishers change covers on the great classics every couple years. The inside hasn’t changed. The exception to this is if a title says “Redone by” or “With revision by.” Lastly, on rare occasions, a publisher has a legal issue to deal with. They may not have given credit where credit is/was due. The book must be reissued with proper credit and a new ISBN. Just for information sake, ISBN stands for international standard book number. This is the number on the back cover or inside on the title page.

What if a book has highlighting or writing in it? Should you buy it? This is really a personal decision. Some people don’t care. They are looking for the best deal they can find. Usually a book with writing or highlighting will be considerably lower priced. Some parents want their used book to look as new as possible. Some of these decisions may have to be made with your budget in mind.

Whether using new or used, whole curricula packages or partials, renting, buying or borrowing, you can find a way to get your materials. There are many used book dealers specializing in homeschool material. One such place is Laurelwood Books. Whatever your need, Laurelwood Books wants to help you stretch your dollars. You will reach a friendly voice and a willing heart at 540-554-2670. You can also check out their web site or send them an email at The folks at Laurelwood have been homeschoolers for almost 25 years. Should you reach their voice mail, leave information where you can be reached and what your needs are. You will receive a return call and if something can be found, they will find it. MET ■