One of the best things about homeschool is the flexibility it gives you in catering a curriculum to your child’s needs. If you have a large budget, you can incorporate things like museum visits, travel, and cultural events like the opera or ballet. There are innumerable kits and STEM toys that will enhance your kid’s science and tech education. Once a month subscription boxes are trendy right now too. If you want to spend money, there are plenty of options.
But if you’re like me and you don’t have a huge budget, you can still give your child a world-class education for very little money. I tell people who are considering homeschool that all you need is an internet connection and a library card. Really! That’s it. I’ll tell you how I homeschool for almost no money and give you some ideas for keeping costs down.
First, let me explain how I homeschool. I use an online curriculum called Easy Peasy. The creator of this website was a missionary who needed a way to homeschool her kids when there was no public library (at least in English), and all she had was a laptop with an internet connection. She developed an all online curriculum and put it out there for other families to use. All the reading is done online so you don’t have to buy the books unless you want to. It is Christian based, but not so overtly religious that secular families couldn’t adapt it. I am especially impressed with the history and science portions of Easy Peasy. It teaches history chronologically, which is very important to me.
On most days, all my kids need to do Easy Peasy is a notebook and a pencil. That’s it! Some days you will have the option of doing a science experiment, but the materials are always simple household items. I’m never having to go out and buy supplies. Lee, the creator of Easy Peasy, asks for a $15 donation PER YEAR, not per month. I don’t think there’s a better curriculum out there for the money, and it’s worked very well for my family.
Easy Peasy includes math, but my kids needed a little more help with that subject. I ended up going on Amazon and buying grade level workbooks for them. I really like the School Zone Math Basics workbooks. We work through the books at our own pace and go on to the next grade level when we’re ready. If my kids need more practice on a particular concept, I use a free website called www.math-drills.com to print worksheets. We just keep practicing until we’ve mastered the concept, everything from times tables to long division.
We also go to the library about once a week and check out a ton of books. I choose books that go along with what we’re studying. If we’re doing the ancient world in history, I’ll find a book about the pyramids. Right now it’s summertime and we’ve been focusing on fairy tales and mythology from all over the world. We’ve listened to the Grimm fairy tales on Librivox, read Celtic fairy tales, and I’m reading a children’s version of the Odyssey out loud to them. I keep the library books in a basket so there’s always something for them to read or look at.
And that’s it! That’s how I homeschool for almost no money. I pay $15 a year for curriculum, buy math workbooks on Amazon, and utilize my local library. Homeschool doesn’t have to be expensive. Keep it simple. Here are some additional tips…
- Don’t spend a lot of money on curriculum, especially at first. If you’re new to homeschooling, the last thing you should do is buy a bunch of expensive books or curriculum sets, and this is especially true for elementary aged kids (because most of what they’re going to learn is stuff you can teach them). If you attend any homeschool expo, you will be overwhelmed by the amount of curriculum available and its cost. You don’t yet know what your homeschool style will be like, and choosing a curriculum before you begin is almost certainly going to waste your money. Give yourself a few months to dip your toes in the water of homeschooling before you invest. How will you know what to teach your child? That brings us to tip number two.
- Your kid needs to learn reading, writing, math, history and science. Everything else is a bonus. If I had to pare that down even more for someone just getting started, I would focus on reading, writing and math. Make sure your child is reading high quality literature, the classics for children, and not what Charlotte Mason called “twaddle.” Twaddle is whatever Scholastic is trying to sell your kid at public school this month, things like the Goosebumps series. When I was a kid it was Sweet Valley High and The Babysitters’ Club. Those books aren’t worth your time. Instead, read things like fairy tales, The Chronicles of Narnia, Black Beauty, Swiss Family Robinson, Little House on the Prairie and Treasure Island. Have your child write a few sentences about the book each day and help him or her with grammar and sentence structure. As they get older, the writing assignments can get more complex. If you’re reading classics, your kid will end up learning history as well. For science, you could check out books from the library on whatever topics interest your child, anything from volcanoes to sea life. Everyone thinks they need an expensive curriculum, but there is a free curriculum sitting on the library shelves. Just go through the children’s non-fiction section and learn something about each topic. The books are grouped by topic in the non-fiction section, so just work your way through!
- Curriculum outlines are available for free on the internet, or very cheap at bookstores. When I started homeschooling, I was really afraid of messing it up, and I wanted to make sure I was teaching at least as much as the public school, especially when it came to math. (I needn’t have worried. We have far exceeded the public school curriculum.) To make sure I was covering all the bases, I went to the Department of Education for my state and found outlines of what a child should know in each grade level. This gave me an outline of what I should be teaching. I ended up ditching all of it except math, but the math outlines were helpful. Pinterest is also a great source for this type of outline done by grade level. There are a lot of public school teachers on Pinterest and they are very helpful when figuring out what to teach when. Another option is to buy one of those workbooks that has all the curriculum for a particular grade level. I would not use this exclusively, but for a few bucks you can have a basic outline of what your kid is supposed to know in each grade. Those books aren’t what I consider a high quality education, and I didn’t pull my kid out of public school to have them sit and do worksheets. But they’ll at least give you an idea of what grammar and math concepts your child should know. You can use them as a reference and come up with much more imaginative ways to learn the material.
- Project based learning works really well for some kids. Project based learning is taking one specific topic and learning everything there is to know about it and incorporating all the subjects under that one umbrella. For example, let’s say your kid is into sharks. You read shark books, write the top ten most interesting facts about sharks, make a Power Point presentation about sharks and present it to friends and family members, draw shark anatomy, make a graph of shark populations in different oceans, calculate the statistical probability of being bit by a shark, visit the aquarium, learn about shark conservation efforts all over the world, learn about cultures that use sharks for food and medicinal purposes, and the list goes on. In the activities I’ve just listed, you’ve covered reading, writing, public speaking, research techniques, art, math, history/ social studies, and science. Those activities utilize free resources like the internet and the library. You would just have to buy some supplies now and then. I feel like project based learning works especially well for high schoolers, because they could choose a topic that would give them some real life experience, like how to start a small business, or even begin to learn a trade.
- Recognize that your child may not fit the mold. Kids mature at different ages, and individual kids can be really advanced at one thing and totally behind in another. My son is ahead in math, but his handwriting was atrocious for years. My daughter is very skilled in language arts, but struggles through math. Don’t worry if your kid is “behind” in any subject. Grade levels are an arbitrary construct invented by an institutionalized education system that functions like a factory. Grade levels really don’t matter at all. If your child struggles, just keep plugging away at it and eventually their brain development and maturity level will make it not a big deal. If your child is the brainy type, throw the grade levels out the window and let your child cover material as quickly as she would like. Most importantly, understand that whether your kid struggles or is a tiny genius, it’s okay!
- Use your local thrift store as an educational resource. The thrift store is full of books, games and puzzles for kids, all for very little money! I started buying children’s books at the thrift store before I even had kids, and now I have quite the collection of children’s classics. Start picking up the classics and also look for historical novels that will teach history as well. We have several puzzles that came from the thrift store, and we like to work them in the summer when it’s too blazing hot to play outside. The best one I found was a map of America. Working that puzzle taught my kids geography better than any worksheet.
- High quality literature is SO IMPORTANT and lots of it is FREE. I can’t stress this enough. Your child needs to read the great stories of western civilization and all the “old-timey” books that nobody reads at public school anymore. The good news is, a lot of that literature is in the public domain, which means that the author is dead and is no longer collecting royalties, and the works are available for free. Librivox is a wonderful, free resource where you can listen to the classics for free. You can also read them for free on Kindle. A wonderful book list is available at Ambleside Online. It covers grades K-12 and it’s 27 pages long. If your child reads half of that list by the time they’re 18, they will be smarter and more well read than the vast majority of adults. When your child reads high quality literature, or you read it aloud to them, they are learning the way their language works. They hear complex sentence structure and vocabulary words they may not know but can guess from context. They also spend time contemplating themes like heroism and kindness. I wondered if some of those old books would capture my children’s attention in the age of video games, but I was delighted to find that good stories transcend time. My son is stoked about The Odyssey. My daughter has read every Little House on the Prairie book at least twice. They both love the creepy Grimm fairy tales. Good stories captivate children. They ground them in the good, true and beautiful. They teach moral lessons without the child ever knowing that they’re being taught. If you do one thing in your homeschool, do this. Introduce your children to good books.
You can see that a high quality education does not depend on spending a lot of money. In fact, I spend less money than I did when my kids were in public school and I feel that they’re receiving a far superior educational experience. If you’re thinking of homeschooling and you’re concerned that there’s going to be a lot of expense involved, don’t worry! You can give your kids a world class education on any budget.