I recently met with a couple who’d just received a large donation of textbooks. Among the things we chatted about were ways they could incorporate some of the books into the learning program they were developing for their kids.
Since textbooks sometimes get a bad rap in the homeschooling world, I wanted you to know there is nothing wrong with using textbooks if they fill a need in your family. The textbook stigma is really about not trying to duplicate public school at home, but leveraging the power of homeschooling instead. There are plenty of ways to use textbooks and still reap the rewards of a customized home education. Let me share some of the advice I gave them, in case these ideas could help you too.
First, a rule about textbooks and homeschooling:
There is no rule about textbooks and homeschooling.
Remember, when homeschooling, you can do whatever you want.
Next, some rules of thumb to help you decide which textbooks to keep, and which to donate somewhere else:
- Publication date doesn’t always matter. Unless the subject is something likely to change every couple of years, an older textbook is just as good as a newer one. If you like it, and the information hasn’t changed since it was written, keep it. You might want to watch out for older “modern history” books and world geography books, for instance. You’ll probably also want to steer away from older computer books, too (unless studying the history of computing). It’s really up to you.
- Whether the textbook is a “teacher’s copy” or a “student version” doesn’t always matter. Unless it bothers you when teacher’s notes are written in the margins, or answers to the test questions are in plain sight, a teacher’s copy has all the same text as the student edition. You can block out the answers with sticky notes if you like, or by folding (even cutting up) the pages if you want. But, probably, you’ll allow your student to read it for what it’s worth, no matter the format.
- Even if you don’t have all the supplements that go with the textbook (like the test bank, some of the exercises, or the answer key) it still might be okay. Again, the value of the textbook is in your eyes only. If it’s something you’d like your children to read, maybe it won’t matter if you’re missing all the pieces that traditional classroom teachers use. You’re not a traditional classroom teacher, so there’s that.
- The level or audience for the book doesn’t matter. I don’t care if the book was meant for 6th graders, 11th graders, or college students. If your kids can read it, it’s probably a keeper. Homeschoolers don’t always talk grade levels anyway, so if a textbook can be understood by your unique learners, what the author/publisher intended when they released the book doesn’t matter.
Now, here are some different ways to use textbooks when homeschooling. Remember, there is no right or wrong here, so feel free to use these ideas or any others you come up with on your own:
Using the Whole Book & Taking a School-Like Approach
If you like a certain textbook, and you think your child could learn from it, too, consider using it to teach an entire class. The class could last for a semester, a year, or any length of time, depending on how long the book is. Think of this like traditional school, where you assign chapters and pages, ask the student take notes or highlight important ideas, assign him questions to answer, and so on. Make up tests, assign papers, or other ways to assess learning. Think of completing the entire textbook (or a significant portion of) as finishing the class. When your student finishes the textbook, assign a grade or credit. Textbooks are perfect for this use, since they often contain enough “material” for an entire class in a single subject.
Hopping In and Out of a Textbook
If the trademark of American home education is freedom, that also includes the freedom to use as much or as little of any curriculum resource as we see fit. The notion that students need to “finish the book” is about as silly as forcing a child to eat everything on a dinner plate when he’s already full. Sure, your students may finish the textbook, if it’s best for the education and also best for the child. But there’s nothing wrong with taking a break from the book, using only selected parts of it, coming back to it over and over for several years, or abandoning it when it stops working. Actually, I highly recommend hopping in and out of textbooks as needed.
Using the Table of Contents & Designing Your Own Class
Probably the most valuable part of any textbook is the table of contents. The table of contents is a ready-made list of related topics, already arranged in some logical order, just waiting for you to follow. If you want to teach a class in something, but feeling intimidated trying to figure out what to teach, following the table of contents from a textbook is the perfect solution. The learning itself doesn’t need to come from the chapters of the book itself (though it could). Instead, what you’ll do is follow the table of contents, but fill in the learning in other ways, like with other books, with taking field trips, by using web resources, with workbooks, and so on. In this case, the table of contents is just providing the framework, but you’re in control of the activities you use to teach the actual lessons.
Using Textbooks for Reference
Finally, textbooks can make excellent reference books. They’re even better together, too, as the impact tends to multiply if you own several textbooks about the same thing. There’s nothing better for looking up the rules of grammar or punctuation than a collection of English textbooks on the shelf. Math books are excellent for seeing how different authors explain the same concepts, especially for struggling students who may need to hear it several different ways. History textbooks, in particular the index at the back of the book, are fantastic tools for learning about people or events.
The bottom line is that there are plenty of ways to control textbook use, instead of allowing them to control you. I hope this has given you a new understanding of how textbooks can be used in freedom, for whatever they’re worth in your unique homeschool program.
To your success,
Dr. Marie-Claire Moreau is a college professor who traded in her tenure to become a homeschool mom 20+ years ago. A homeschooling pioneer and the founder of many groups and organizations, she works to advance home education, and is an outspoken supporter of education reform coast to coast. Her book, Suddenly Homeschooling: A Quick Start Guide to Legally Homeschool in Two Weeks, is industry-acclaimed as it illustrates how homeschooling can rescue children and families from the public school system, and how anyone can begin homeschooling within a limited time-frame, with no teaching background whatsoever. A writer, a homeschool leader, and a women’s life coach, Marie-Claire mentors in a variety of areas that impact health, education and lifestyle. A conference speaker, she has appeared at FPEA, H.E.R.I., Home Education Council of America, The Luminous Mind, Vintage Homeschool Moms, iHomeschool Network, and many other events. Her articles have appeared in and on Holistic Parenting, CONNECT,Homefires, Homemaking Cottage, Kiwi, Circle of Moms, and hundreds of sites and blogs nationwide. Marie-Claire can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.