We've all had to click "buy" without being certain of what we were buying- Would the program do what it claims? Would the company offer a refund? Would the layout be too busy? It's difficult to purchase materials for your child's education when you can't handle the actual book in person. Avoid these four pitfalls: "Company Error," "Parent Error," "Recommendation Error," and the last is called "Paying for Free Error."
One way to avoid the first pitfall, "Company Error," is by establishing a relationship with the company that you are considering buying from. There is a lot of trust involved when you buy a textbook or other school supply based on reviews, without handling the actual product. You can create a relationship with a company by shopping there, calling their support number, or reading a lot of customer responses. Who is writing the reviews? What is their return policy? Do they welcome questions? How in-depth are the product descriptions?
In addition to the risk of buying new curriculum is the pressure of knowing if or when you should even try a new one! Is your student struggling? Or is it simply that YOU bored? Is your student actually learning the material? Is it too remedial, or too advanced? Is it too hands-on and project oriented when you have small children underfoot or a home business?
Frequently the poor experience comes from what I call "Parent Error." For example, I became tired of the repetition found in Saxon's spiraling information method, and I wanted to do something that made math instruction more exciting and involved. I spent $75 on a Miquon Math kit because it seemed more interesting than worksheets. I discarded it the next semester and went running back to Saxon. Many times "flaws" like repetitiveness are felt more on the part of the parent, and not the student who is doing the material for the first time. Another version of Parent Error is when the parent buys projects or supplements that they themselves would have enjoyed when they were a child. The parent fails to take the interests of the child into account.
Another time I changed books I began to understand what I call the "Recommendation Error." I blindly followed the suggestion of my curriculum guide, The Well-Trained Mind, to buy Spelling Workout. This is a consumable, semester-long workbook that sells for $17 each. However, I will soon have four students in spelling, and at an annual cost of over $30 per student for one subject, it became too expensive for us. Now we use Natural Speller, an 8-year nonconsumable text. Although I highly value the opinion and suggestions of our curriculum guide, I need to keep in mind if each recommendation matches my own lifestyle. This is also true when buying based on the recommendations of friends. Do you share similar worldviews? Do you have children in similar age groups?
I learned about the "Paying for Free" error when I bought a Color Unit Study. I paid $15 for it and decided very soon after opening it that it wasn't worth it. After handling it in person, I felt like I could have given the same instruction on color wheels to my children by simply googling it. Be sure to weigh these factors in your mind the next time you find your cursor hovering over the "buy" button!
(Does this seem familiar? I rewrote this post for an online article service. Whaddaya think?)