Homeschooling can be very expensive, especially if you are like me and want everything go just right and you want the perfect program or lessons to teach your children in a way they understand and you can facilitate. Well I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but there is no perfect solution for homeschooling. You will probably spend many hours researching programs and wonder why you can’t find one that everyone agrees is the best.
Actually that is a blessing in disguise because in reality no two families and no two children in the same family are alike. My five year old and one year old look like twins, but already we can tell how different their personalities are. So one way to help keep the costs of homeschooling down and make your child’s learning experience unique is to find and use anything you can that is FREE.
1. Using the internet to find FREE resources (with a twist)
Alright I know what you’re going to say… DUH. I could not even tell you how many hours I’ve spent on the internet searching for free lessons, learning games and materials. I’m surprised the word “free” isn’t burned into the screen where the Google search bar appears. Now, here is the twist. Once your children are old enough, it is time to involve then in their own education.
You have them help out around the house with the chores, right? So instead of searching for a half an hour for ideas on projects to help your child learn about the Revolutionary War, give them an assignment to use the internet to come up with five ideas for a project about the Revolutionary War. Your child gets to participate in her own learning process and the best part is it saves you a half an hour (or more) of precious time.
2. The library: a frugal homeschooler’s best friend.
We all know about the free books and movies offered at our glorious public libraries, but you may not know about the other wonderful things happening there. Libraries offer all kinds of free programs that would benefit both you and your children. Some programs or events include book readings for children sometimes with the author present, courses on using the internet or other computer programs, book clubs where you and your children can discuss books with others, plays or puppet shows, and more. Check your local library’s website or get to know the librarian (especially because events can have limited registration) to find out what else the library offers besides books.
3. University and College libraries are great for finding free lessons.
As a student on my way to becoming a certified teacher I spent a lot of time in the university library. There weren’t many books on education or lesson ideas in the undergraduate library but then one day, on a floor of the education building I had never been to, I found it, the College of Education Library. This library was specifically for students studying education. It was small, but packed with all kinds of resources, workbooks, teacher’s editions of popular textbooks along with all the companion documents and lesson ideas. There were books on making projects, performing experiments, teaching methods, magazines and more. If you have a teaching college nearby it is definitely worth checking out.
4. Local School Districts and teachers don’t have to be your enemy.
Sometimes the relationship between public schools and homeschoolers is viewed as adversarial. After all homeschoolers think they can do a better job than the local district in educating their child (and usually they are right). It is important to understand, however, that by nature most teachers are very generous and warm hearted people. I would suggest taking the view that other teachers are your peers and networking with them can have great benefits. Chances are someone in your family, one of your neighbors, or someone in your church works in a school.
In my classroom I have all kinds of materials that I will never use. I get textbook samples from publishers, materials from conferences and workshops, and more curriculum resources than I could ever read. If someone I worked with said hey a friend/neighbor/family member I know needs some stuff for her child, I would not hesitate to help. Additionally, your district may have a teacher resource area. In my state, local districts belong to an ISD or Intermediate School District at the county level. Our ISD has an awesome library, similar to that of a college, full of textbooks, materials, and lesson books that is open to the public.
5. Departments of Education (state and national) can provide useful FREE resources.
Depending on what state you live in, utilizing the resources of your state’s Department of Education could be an essential part of your home school plan. Some states require that you cover certain content and “standards” while educating your children and require that your children pass certain standardized tests. Understanding these expectations will help you find relevant materials for your state and lead to success on these tests. Even if your state doesn’t require you to follow any guidelines, it can be helpful to at least look over the state and national curriculum expectations to get an idea of what the consensus is on what kids should be learning; especially if you are having hard time figuring out where to start.
6. Homeschool Groups are a must for every homeschooler.
Finding and joining a local home school group or maybe even starting your own can be a fantastic way to find ideas and free materials to help you. Besides you and your children getting to meet some other awesome home school families, you may get lucky and get some hand me downs from people looking to de-clutter. Many groups host swap-meets where you can exchange materials or if people want something else in exchange for their used items, you could propose a barter, like babysitting a few nights in lieu of cash. There are also benefits to joining groups like group discounts at zoos, museums, and nature centers. The benefits of joining a group are huge so go to our “groups” directory to find a homeschool group near you.
7. Discover local educational events in your local newspaper.
Most people don’t realize how much there is to do in their community. There are all kinds of events that are often free to the public that can lead to wonderful learning experiences. Last summer once a month a park near me offered a free star gazing outing led an expert. Many local art and craft shows have free activities for kids. Free concerts are a great way to experience different types of music. Cultural fairs hosted by various ethnic clubs can immerse children in food, music, and art from different countries.
The nature center near me gives free seasonal tours to park members to observe native plant and animal life present during different times of the year. Meet-ups for various shared interests, hobbies or book clubs are also a fun way to learn with your kids. Also, don’t forget about the internet equivalent of the local paper with sites like craigslist that also carry local listings.
8. Everyday problems are a great source of learning for homeschoolers.
My next tip is probably one of the most underrated, but most effective ways for kids to learn. Problem solving skills are tough to teach and even tougher to learn. These skills are not straight forward like learning division or grammar rules because in the real world if you have a problem there may not be a clear cut solution and there is no one to tell you if you are right. So if there is a problem, big or small, try to involve your children in finding a solution.
Obviously the age of the child will determine what kinds of problems you can present them with. For a young child it can be something as simple as letting them have a piece of candy at the store if they can count out the proper amount of coins for the exact cost (also a great way to keep them occupied). Older kids are perfectly capable of helping you plan a budget, make reservations, organize a garage sale, make a resume, or plan meals and go shopping for the week. We make so many decisions big and small everyday but rarely do we stop to involve our children in how we arrive at our solutions.
9. Let your children teach each other and save time as a bonus.
One of the benefits of having more than one child is that the older they get the more helpful they can be. Older children love to play teacher (especially if the teacher is also mom or dad). Allow your older kids to save you some time and money by giving them an assignment to design a lesson for the younger kids. Have you ever realized how much you learn as you research how to teach various topics or find creative ways to explain something to your child?
By giving your child the task of educating her siblings, not only will she learn problem solving skills, but also she will review and deeply process topics that she has already learned about. Enlisting older children can also be a great time saver by allowing them to grade work done by the younger kids and helping them to fix mistakes.
10. Change your perspective on what homeschooling means to you and your children.
Most people have an ingrained idea of what education “looks” like and it comes from their educational experiences usually in public schools. To most when they think of the word “school” they picture a room with thirty small desks in neat rows, a big desk in the corner, a board stretching the length of the wall and kids quietly filling in work sheets. When you are out of your comfort zone you often revert to what you know so the overwhelming temptation is to give your kids something that looks just like “school” only at home and many companies use this to market products (textbooks and worksheets) that look a lot like “school”.
Now of course there needs to be some structured time for practicing certain skills like math, but if your child’s homeschooling experience is not much different than what she would get at a traditional school you are really missing out on the best part of home schooling. Do you know why teachers give a lot of worksheets? Do you have any idea how difficult it is for me to take a field trip as a school teacher? I have to get funding, get permission slips, arrange bussing, coordinate with the location, get background checks on chaperones, you get the idea.
The point is as a homeschooler your home is not the classroom, the WORLD is the classroom, so don’t be confined by tradition. Remember you pulled your kids out because you wanted to give them something better, so don’t be afraid to think outside of the box (you know the one with thirty desks in it).