If you think surfing the net and looking at vendors' curriculum choices is fun, you should try going to a REAL curriculum fair. "Fair" warning, though...you need to either walk in with a budgeted amount that you MUST spend (lol) or you might walk out with your wallet uncomfortably lighter (and your charge card burden uncomfortably heavier). This year we are going through a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace Seminar, so we had the foresight to budget for the HEAV Convention ahead of time. The budget wasn't as large as I would have liked, but the money was free and clear, set aside for JUST curriculum. What a wonderful concept that is. It was as if I HAD to spend that money. No worrying about if it was too much, or if I was taking money from somewhere I needed it more (like the dinner table, for example). Just free and clear license to use it all up (and I did!).
In any case, along with my envelope of carefully budgeted money, I also went in armed with my "List." It is a much thought out list of all the things I needed to find at the convention that are much harder to find anywhere else, such as planners and manipulatives and some reading materials our library does not carry. I am all for free (you can check out my site homeschool-for-free if you doubt me), but some things are not made cheaper by getting them off the internet (such as planning pages), more long lasting by buying them at the dollar store (like counting teddies), and some things are just worth having in print (like certain books you will use again and again, especially ones you want to carry out of the house). "The List" made it much easier for me to NOT get too distracted by the many neat booths just filled with loads of cool educational materials GUARANTEED to make my homeschooling year better. I didn't realize how much easier it was until later when I realized that the usual anxiety over not having been to see absolutely EVERYTHING before closing time was missing. I zoomed in, surveyed what was there, made my choices, and I was outta there!
Here's what I accomplished at the REAL Curriculum Fair: I was able to cross a few things off my list of possibilities for next year after having seen them enough to know they would not quite work for me and my family (catalogues are great, but can't tell you the whole story). I was able to choose from several types of planners for next year and get what I really wanted, knowing I had seen almost every possibility. I was able to get a few freebies and to get an evaluation test to administer to one of my students to determine his math level for a later purchase. And finally, I was able to affirm a few choices I had previously made and take advantage of convention prices and no shipping costs. It was a real win-win situation.
Actually, it turned out that my adherence to my list was not only beneficial to my pocketbook and to my health, but as it turns out, my restraint was also rewarded. Can you imagine my excitement, when having walked out of the Used Curriculum Sale (conveniently located next door to the New Curriculum Vending Hall) having made only about forty dollars worth of purchases (and I got a LOT I can use for that much) AND feeling pretty darn good about not spending money I didn't need to spend, I later found out that they had opened the doors after final pick up to allow folks a chance to "glean" from the remaining items (rather than donating them or throwing them away)? AWESOME!! I was in the middle of a conversation when someone told me and believe me, my friend (who IS still my friend) is probably wondering if I have super-speed as a super power because I ran-walked down the hall and started looking for treasures faster than the speed of...something fast. Zooooooooooom! Now you see her, now you...hey, where is she going?
My oldest son thankfully found me immersed in a pile of potential freebie finds and followed me around carrying a box, good-naturedly ribbing me about dragging home more than our sagging bookshleves could hold...but don't think I didn't notice the two or five books he slipped into my box for himself! My number one best find of the day was a box of tapes from previous HEAV conventions and other convention speakers that apparently nobody else wanted (I was in there pretty close to the end of the line), so I grabbed the whole thing up and have been happily listening to the tapes as I drive along ever since. What a fun surprise and a fantastic end to a great convention. God is so good to us in so many ways. All thanks go to Him for that sweet treat!! (and to the organizers of the HEAV Convention Used Curriculum Sale).
Here are my top tips for surviving a REAL Curriculum Fair:
1. Budget ahead of time. It is so much nicer to spend money on what you need (or just want) when you are not causing a shortfall somewhere else. Talk it out with your husband and decide a reasonable amount to invest per child and determine how much you will need to set aside monthly to meet your goals. Find creative places to pull the money from, such as the grocery budget, by using coupons and putting the money you saved in the "Curriculum Account" instead. Sell old stuff you didn't like or use and put that money away, too. Clean a neighbor's guesthouse or watch someone's pet and save your pay. Let the kids start their own fund using money they earn doing jobs you want done around the house or by working for trusted friends and family. They'll have more fun shopping in your wake if they can keep their eyes peeled for a bargain, too.
2. Get informed. Do your primary initial research ahead of time. Do NOT wait until the day of the convention to get ideas on how you want to teach math to your third grader. Ask friends what they use, inquire at co-op or support group meetings, or post a query on a forum online, then take all the suggestions and start looking them up. Many sites offer trial versions, trial periods, or at least sample pages for you to look at. Request catalogues, compare prices, and see how much of any of the supplemental materials you need for any given program are available at your library (the more you can borrow for free, the better). You may wish to visit your local homeschool second-hand store (if you have one) or check out Craig's List or e-bay (or any other online vendor) before deciding to pay full-price at a Curriculum Fair. Swap meets, library sales, yard sales, thrift stores, and sometimes even public school discard boxes are good sources of cheaper (or possibly free) materials that may meet the needs you have.
3. Make a list. After you have compiled a list of "wants" that you haven't found yet, whittle it down to your actual "needs." Don't discard the "want" list. Just keep in mind that every bank account has a limit and even the strongest-willed person in the world can be sorely tempted to go overboard at a Curriculum Fair. It all looks so GOOD! Go to the fair armed with your two lists, shop for the "needs" first, then with what is left, HAVE FUN! I highly recommend taking a suitcase or rolling basket to carry your purchases so you don't break your back (or the back of your teenager). Take a bottle of water...shopping is thirsty work...and PLEASE remember to give your kids a break once in a while by stopping at the booth with the cool science gadgetry. ;-)
Let me know how you made out at your REAL Curriculum Fair this year. I'd really love to know what cool stuff you found. I might want to get one, too.