Apple’s iBooks 2 Gives a Bright Future to Home Schooling

| Editorial

There are two routes to home schooling these days: the traditional home schooling route, where the parent takes on the role of principal, instructional designer, and teacher. For a traditional home schooling parent, the burden of designing a curriculum and lesson plans falls squarely on the parent’s shoulders. The parent has to decide which books, if any, to use, and what types of lessons and homework to give their child/pupil. There are a plethora of choices out there for traditional home schooling, but the cost can sometimes get prohibitive: when my wife and I started home schooling our third grader, we spent close to a thousand dollars for the texts and materials for just that year!

The second route is the virtual academy route. In states that allow charter schools, these virtual academies are often the choice parents turn to for home schooling, because the virtual academies are staffed by licensed teachers. In this route, the parent becomes a learning coach, and the child does the majority of their work online. The virtual academies provide a low-end PC, monitor, and printer for the student’s use, and both parent and student get assignments and instructions through the academy’s Learning Management System. Parents are free to supplement the material provided by the virtual academy with books of their own, or from the library.

Changing Traditional Home Schooling

Traditional home schooling parents seldom have much in the way of “new media” to choose from, unless they purchase additional computer software, scour YouTube and other sources, or supplement with DVDs. The virtual academies offer some forms of new media, through the use of Internet game-based learning on their internal sites. The textbooks for both traditional and virtual academy home schoolers, though, is the same sort of textbook you see in public and private schools: words, pictures, diagrams and charts on paper.

Home schooling with the iPadEnter iBooks 2’s interactive textbook. For traditional home schoolers, this means a $500 initial investment in an iPad 2. After that, though, textbooks are no more than $14.99 each. Could this be cost effective? Let’s take a look at some typical costs:

One of the most popular math resources for home schoolers is a company called Math-U-See. They offer an instruction pack for each level in their program, which costs $40 as of this writing. That $40 gets you an instruction manual and a DVD with lesson-by-lesson video instruction. The student kit, which provides the student worksheets and review pages, a test booklet, and an activity booklet, costs $25. Next, you have a one-time purchase (hopefully) of a manipulative block set, a set of stacking blocks used to teach all aspects of arithmetic. Total cost, for one year of math: $100 plus shipping. Compare that with an iBooks 2 math textbook: you get the interactivity, you get built in activities, and video instruction, for $14.99. You may still need the manipulative blocks, so we’ll call it a $50 cost, instead of $100.

For your home schooler’s history instruction, a popular choice here is The Mystery of History. The Mystery of History, Volume 1, is available as a 496-page paperback textbook with accompanying audio CDs or MP3 downloads. The textbook is available for $42.95, and the MP3 downloads cost $40. Next, you’ll need the pretests, exercises, quizzes, worksheets, etc. Those come on a CD-ROM for $19.95. Total cost for History: $102.90, plus tax. In this case, the traditional home schooling parent could realize a huge cost-savings of at least $87.91, and get better curriculum! For $14.99, they would have an up-to-date history textbook that is complete with video footage, audio notes, and built-in tests and other activities.

In language arts, a well-regarded option is Shurley English. The Shurley English Level 1 kit includes a teacher’s manual, student workbook, and introductory CD for $56. Buying this material as an interactive textbook on the iPad 2 would save the home schooling parent around $41, and offer built-in interactive quizzes and reviews not available in the Shurley English Level 1 kit.

Finally, the Lifepac Science Curriculum for a first-grader costs $70.16, and includes a teacher’s guide and student workbooks for the 10 units of the school year. This is, perhaps, where the interactive textbook can shine well beyond the cost savings: for $55 less, the students gets a science text that the publisher can update as new scientific knowledge becomes available, and a text that includes interactive images, 3D models, video content, and whatever else the publisher can think to do using widgets and HTML5.

The total cost, for just the basics of math, science, history, and language arts, would be $329.06, not counting any supplemental videos or other materials you might purchase for your student. If you choose to add in art, foreign languages, computer literacy, or other materials, you would have to add that cost in, too. Just for the four basics, though, you’d spend over $1,600 for the textbooks alone.

By comparison, you’d spend around $800 for an iPad 2 and a new textbook each year for those four basic courses. You’d get more up-to-date materials, interactive learning, and a smaller footprint in your luggage for those long-distance field trips. And, you’d spend half as much for that learning experience as you would using traditional books.

Changes to Virtual Academies

The virtual academy can also benefit from the interactive textbooks on an iPad. Under most current models, the school ships a PC, monitor, and printer to the student for school use. The PC is a low-end model, so we’ll estimate the cost at around $600 for the PC and monitor, and another $50 for the printer.

Textbooks and materials are shipped separately, often amounting to two or three large, heavy boxes of materials each year. The school uses traditional, paper-based textbooks with accompanying CD-ROMs and DVDs. The virtual academy collects the textbooks, CD-ROMs, and DVDs from the student at the end of the school year, resulting in another large, heavy shipments. Shipping costs are tremendous for these schools, and make up a large part of the school’s annual budget.

Enter iBooks 2: the virtual academy can now send, instead of a larger PC and monitor, an iPad 2. Even without Apple’s educational discount and potential high-volume sales discount, the virtual academy is saving a cool $100 per student. They also save on the shipping costs, since the iPad 2 is smaller and lighter, and costs less for shipping. In fact, if the school has the iPad shipped directly from Apple, shipping costs are eliminated altogether.

For textbooks, the school take advantage of iTunes U for iPad, and put all of their students’ curriculum (including all the assignments and materials needed) right into an iTunes U course. This could eliminate the overhead of the Learning Management System, and make it easy to ship all the textbooks and many of the materials needed “virtually.” If the school wishes to incorporate iBooks 2 content, they purchase redemption codes from Apple for those texts, and email out the redemption codes to their students.

Final Thoughts

I said in an earlier column that I wasn’t sure it was the right time for a revolution in education. While I stand by that comment for public schools, I think the time is ripe for a change in both traditional home schooling and in virtual academies. The cost savings that families could realize in textbook costs over the 5-year lifespan of the iPad 2 more than make up for the cost of the device. Virtual academies, too, could enjoy a complete overhaul not only in how they educate their students, but how they’re positioned financially to offer even more educational opportunities. Overall, both routes to home schooling can be revolutionized by Apple’s iBooks 2 interactive textbook, and I think the potential is great for a better education and educational experience in the home school classroom.

[Some image components courtesy of Shutterstock.]

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Mac Homeschool Dad

My wife has been homeschooling our children for 7 years. We buy a packaged curriculum which covers what to teach on each day. We don’t exactly build a curriculum from scratch. We use Math-U-See. I am very interested in moving to iPad-based materials, as much as possible.

So far, our primary curriculum (Sonlight) seems slow to commit, but they say they are exploring it. The primary printed materials are teacher materials. There are consumable workbooks, which I assume will always be paper. Additionally, we reference read-aloud or self-directed readers, which are normally books largely available from our local library.

We have just gotten an iPad 2 and are exploring what we can do now. I just recently got an Apple TV to project certain resources on our large-screen TV. My wife is actively involved in a local homeschool organization. Most of the textbooks available now are above our children’s grade level. We’re watching this space closely, but I think it’s a little early to tell how quickly this change will happen. I think lots of the homeschool publishers are smaller.

Jeff Butts

I think lots of the homeschool publishers are smaller.

Yes, I’m pretty sure they are smaller, at least compared to publishers such as Cengage and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Honestly, there’s little reason for the consumable workbooks to remain paper-based. iBA could easily accommodate this using widgets and HTML5; it’s really not that difficult to create a form that a child could type their answer in, rather than writing the answers into a workbook. Mathematical problems are a bit different, of course, but your standard fill-in-the-blank reading quiz could lend itself quite nicely to the interactive textbook.


Virtual Charter Schools are public schools in the home.  Home education is home-based, parent-directed, privately-funded.  It’s important to maintain a clear distinction between the two.

Mac Homeschool Dad

Don’t forget handwriting as well. I don’t think we can do away with it for that, but for some things, maybe. I also wouldn’t want my child to have the temptation of automated spelling correction, vocabulary lookup, or calculators if those are the specific skills I’m trying to teach.

Jeff Butts

Virtual Charter Schools are public schools in the home.  Home education is home-based, parent-directed, privately-funded.  It?s important to maintain a clear distinction between the two.

I thought I did, in the second paragraph, but thanks for the comment. Like I said, these virtual charter schools are what many parents turn to first, when deciding to keep their children out of the traditional public schools. I did forget to point out the public funding vs. private funding, true.

Our family has done both, and the distinction between the two isn’t as black & white as some might think. Yes, the virtual charter school has a set curriculum…but the parents are responsible, to a large degree, to determine how that curriculum will actually be implemented, and what supplementary materials will be incorporated.


Home schooling’s main bottle neck is the teacher, not the material or how it’s presented.


The problem I see comes in if you are schooling more than one child.  Three children (at least my 3 children) attempting to share one iPad to complete their assignments would never work and a start up cost of $1500 would be prohibitive for most.


We just recently purchased an ipad to use alongside with our home school curriculum. We use many of the smaller apps, like rocket math or different spelling apps. We had a very hard time though finding any of the mentioned apps in the textbook category in ibooks, especially not for younger children.
But yes, once they are available, they will be nice to have.


I too could not find textbooks for early elementary school.

Josh 1

I finally picked up a Mac so I hope to be experimenting with iBooks author.
I am hopeful that homeschooling publishers will start publishing their books in electronic format.  I believe that My Fathers World is working on an electronic format.  Also Heritage history has numerous eBooks that work on the iPad.
Having only 1 iPad does cause issues when you are homeschooling multiple age groups.  My 16 GB iPad is running out of storage space because of the breadth of apps for all my kids.  My son has started reading a few eBooks on the kindle so mostly the iPad is used for the younger kids reading and for math drills.  I have also started putting the simple education apps on the iPhone instead of the iPad.
I have also used some free videos from Khan academy.  They now offer instructions on topics other than math.

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