In 18 years of home schooling, we’ve probably spent less than $1,000. I’m not counting things like school supplies or field trips because those are things I would spend money on anyway. But for specific school curriculum, we’ve spent less in our entire home schooling career than we spent on one year of our oldest child’s private school tuition. For a one-income family with six children, that is a substantial savings.
In the early days, I used my library card and a few manipulatives. The manipulatives were an investment that has lasted the entire time. Later, I invested in a good math curriculum with teaching CDs (beginning with fifth grade). For the most part, however, we have learned everything we need to know simply by living our lives. And with that, I’ve found that I rarely need to purchase anything extra.
Some folks, however, need a little more structure than our family. But after seeing the prices of curriculum in the catalogs, they decide they cannot afford it after all. If this describes you, follow along as I share eight ways to home school with little or no money.
Networking – You do not want to be the lone ranger in the land of home schooling. If you cannot find a local support group, start one – or at least find a few families to meet with on occasion. Networking is a key to saving money because home schoolers love to share. Other families will share what they know, share materials and will always lead you to the free and cheap.
Use the library – Ask your librarian what resources they might have for teachers or home schoolers. Some city libraries have science equipment for loan - saving you from buying microscopes. All types of special interest groups meet at our library, all welcoming to children. To enhance our study of beekeeping, we recently attended a lecture at a library on native pollinators. Check your library’s calendar of events for lectures or activities that might enhance your home schooling.
Borrow – Large families like to hang on to their home schooling resources so they can hand them down to the next child coming up. But in the interim, most are more than willing to loan out to others. Need a certain algebra book? Ask around your network of home schoolers who might have it to loan.
Buy used – Besides Amazon and eBay, several websites exist for selling used home schooling curriculum. But if you’d like to see what you are buying first, attend a home school convention or fair.
Use the Internet – Believe it or not, websites exist that make it possible to home school for free. Curriculum, e-Books, lapbooks, printable worksheets, educational apps and entire courses are out there free of charge.
Co-op – If you cannot find an established co-op in your area and would like to start your own, get The Only Homeschool Co-op Booklet You Need to Start Your Very Own Best Co-op Ever! by experienced home schooling mom Karen Lange. Co-ops are a great way to take advantage of the expertise of your friends. Join compatible families with children close in age to your own – keeping the size practicable for your home. Meet on a weekly basis for classes taught by the parents. When we did this with our children, one mom taught Spanish, one science and one writing – switching class options each semester.
Trade or barter services – Laurie left an engineering career when she had her first child. As a home schooling mom, she teaches algebra in trade for other services. Heather, a watercolor artist, teaches art classes for children. Micky hosts a chess club for home schoolers. Want your child to learn a foreign language but cannot afford the curriculum? Ask at your support group if someone would be willing to teach your child in exchange for something you can do.
Forget the curriculum – Unschooling, relaxed home schooling, child-led learning, no matter what you call it, learning without textbooks or curriculum is gaining popularity. I like to call it life learning. We like to combine our academics with projects we would be doing anyway. The kitchen is the perfect laboratory for math and science. Kids can learn even more math skills with sewing. My oldest son learned a great deal of science and history when he apprenticed to be a blacksmith. My second son learned math, science and more apprenticing with a cabinet maker. The possibilities are endless.
Take a look at what you do every day. Ask yourself, ‘What can my children learn from this?’ Then do it – with your children by your side.
Freelance writer Carol has been home schooling her children for free or cheap for 18 years.
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