Homeschoolers are consumers, too

When a new demographic emerges, companies begin to find ways to market their products to this budding audience, and entrepreneurs jump at the chance to fill an unexpected gap in the free market.

Homeschoolers have become such a demographic. In the early days of homeschooling, parents used whatever books they could find, and only a few companies would sell their textbooks to home educating parents. Nowadays, my mailbox and email inbox are regularly stuffed with periodicals, newsletters, and catalogs of homeschooling encouragement, resources, and advice.

Yet I must say Caveat Emptor - "Let the buyer beware". Not every website, textbook, catalog, or umbrella school is legitimate, or offers good quality educational materials and guidance. Parents who feel insecure to the task may depend on those they consider to be 'experts', but many of these experts are self-proclaimed, and do not possess much in the way of homeschooling or business experience. They may be well-intentioned people trying to make some extra money in a tight economy. . . but let's face it; some are outright scams.

Homeschooling parents must apply the same standards of caution and thrift to educational supplies and resources as they do any other major purchase. They must consider if the materials advertised are consistent with their core values, philosophy of life, and worldview; will truly meet the needs of their children and  their educational goals; and if the promised results sound realistic. As important as a quality education is to both parents and children, the household budget does impose certain limits.

If you are in the process of deciding whether or not to home educate, or are in the beginning stages of planning to homeschool, there are some questions you must ask yourself in order to make good choices about methods and curriculum. You must answer for yourself and your child - not your sister's kids, your best friend's kids, or the expectations of friends and family. If you are contemplating home education because you truly believe it is best for your family, then your family is the focal point that will determine every facet of your homeschooling lifestyle.

These questions are not exhaustive, but they can help you make a checklist that will be useful in guiding your curriculum choices:

Research curricula using reputable books and websites, such as Cathy Duffy's Reviews, The Schoolhouse Review Crew, and customer feedback on sites like Christianbook.com, Secular Homeschool Curriculum Reviews, and HomeSchool Reviews.

For help on learning styles and methods, take a look at Homeschooling Methods: Seasoned Advice on Learning Styles, available at Amazon.com, posts like How to Homeschool: Determine Your Child's Learning Style at the Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers blog, Homeschooling on a Shoestring, and  A to Z Home's Cool.

Over the years, information about homeschooling has swollen from a trickle to a flood. Support groups that fit your philosophy or needs, either local or online, are much easier to find. Even local libraries have large collections of homeschool helps. The market has obviously expanded to meet the demand, but now homeschooling parents must exercise just as much wisdom and diligence as ever, if not more, to make wise and frugal educational choices.

What is your greatest challenge as a homeschool consumer? Share how you make choices in the comments below.