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This Curriculum Will Teach the Kids, Wash the Dishes AND Do the Laundry!
Mary McCarthy

As homeschoolers we have a lot of products and services to choose from. There are a lot of really great companies and individuals marketing homeschooling supplies and services. There are also a few 'bad apples' in our basket. How can you tell the difference, and how can you know whether the products or services are worth what you are paying for them?

When we hear about new products and services on an Internet list where someone is promoting them the first place to look is at the source. Is this person a homeschooler? Do they know the product or service they are promoting? Can they answer your questions? Are they paid to promote this product? Do they use it themselves?

You can also ask other homeschoolers if they've used the product or service and their opinion of it. That's the great thing about the Internet - there is almost always someone who has already purchased the product and can tell you what they thought of it.

When you are at a curriculum fair, you can examine the materials and ask the merchant questions, but when it's on the Internet or comes in the mail that's not so easy.

If you are proud of what you are marketing, you put your name on it.

It's easy to use the Internet to learn more about a product or service. To find the name of the company search the product literature or web site. Google is a wonderful tool to search for more information. I like to start by 'googling' the name of the product or service and seeing what comes up. You can also 'google' the name of the person that owns the company and learn more about them and their background and whether they have homeschool experience. If you can't find it, perhaps this person doesn't want you to know who they are. "Google" the address given for the product. While it's not necessarily a bad thing to find out its a box at the UPS Store, it can give you pause to know there is no real physical address for the company.

Most states put their corporate filings on line. "Google" 'secretary of state' and 'specific state the address is in,' and you should be able to find the corporate records. Most corporate filings include the names of the principle owners and their street address. While you are there search for other companies the individuals have registered. Do they go in and out of business regularly? Want to know if they've ever filed for bankruptcy? Ask Private Eye. Want more personal information? Try Intelius.

If you discovered from the corporate records that the school was incorporated 3 months ago, does it seem reasonable for them to claim thousands of students are enrolled already? A staff of hundreds? If the product claims endorsements from unnamed experts, who are they?

What's in the Box?

Examine carefully the information you have. If, for example, you are looking at a curriculum that costs $600 hard-earned dollars, ask for a complete list of what you will receive. If it's a cyber or virtual school, find out if a computer is included (own? borrow? cost of shipping and returning if borrowed?) Will you have to pay for the Internet connection and possible long distance phone charges? Will you be expected to purchase more supplies, for example, science experiments or gym memberships? Do they tell you specifically what you will be receiving, both in products and services? Is there "assembly required"? Are there any additional fees?

It never hurts to ask the Department of Education if the school is licensed, and you can check the schools accreditation by going to the accreditor's web site and searching the list of schools it has accredited.* [<-See Note at bottom of article for more thoughts on this]. Find out if the school includes written transcripts so if you want to later transfer to another school, there will be a record of you child having completed their grade.

If you go ahead and purchase the materials only to find out they are not suited for your child, is there a return or cancellation policy? Can you get all your money back if you are not satisfied?

If it's a curriculum, does it meet or exceed the requirements for you to legally homeschool in your state? If you state requires testing or a portfolio review, does the school provide those services and are they included in your cost? What about individual states that require state history be included in the curriculum? Is the curriculum compatible with your personal beliefs?

When it's your money and your child's education, you have a responsibility and a right to see that the products and services you need are provided and worth what you are paying for them.

*Note from Editor: I initially had concerns about the remarks regarding accreditation, wondering if I was misunderstanding or missing something. It seemed to me that the last things we, as homeschoolers, want to encourage is the state having to accredit homeschooling programs. When asked about this, Mary responded "You're spot-on. However, parents who are looking for correspondence schools are looking for accreditation. The two go together - if you are assembling your own stuff, you don't care about accreditation, but if you are looking for school-in-box that costs $600 (and up), it's because you want that reassurance that it's 'schooley' and you are getting a lot for your money, right? In other words: 'for that kind of money, I want it to be accredited.' "

For another helpful article Mary McCarthy has written, see Dear New Homeschooler.

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