I don’t usually write about homeschooling on this blog (and it is an irony that I write now as half my student body has started public school this year) but I have been hearing a lot this month from my homeschooling connections about their plans for the year—what curriculum, what programs, what co-ops, what books/classes/materials, and oh how expensive it all is! And I get a bit more than irked. Homeschooling certainly can be expensive but it doesn’t have to be expensive at all. To imply, or believe, that homeschooling is of necessity an expensive endeavor is also to imply that homeschooling is an elitist activity—“look how much we spend on what we value! We must be better than all you who can’t, don’t, or won’t do the same!”
I’ve been facilitating my daughters’ education for ten years and it was the rare year indeed that I spent as much on homeschooling as I have just spent to send my oldest daughter to public high school. Dedicated gym shoes, gym uniforms, two sports physicals (because the school lost the first one), notary fees for band and swim contracts, band uniform fittings and cleanings, swim team suits and caps, two backpacks (because they don’t give the kids hall lockers or athletic lockers anymore), required binders, folders and notebooks of the correct size and color, USB sticks, fees for swim team/band/lab class, activity passes and a yearbook—all above and beyond the pens, pencils, notebook computer, special foods and practice suits for swim, and other supplies we would have bought her anyway. I estimate (because actually adding up the costs would be too depressing) that I’ve forked out over $600 directly related to her attendance at public school.
When I homeschooled both my girls, the most I ever paid was the year we started first grade and I bought an all-inclusive boxed curriculum for $500 (really cheap as boxed curricula go, I’ve seen some that are $500 per subject and not reusable!). Another year more recently, I felt the need to use textbooks and workbooks and spent $300 at Amazon on books that rarely even got their spines cracked. This year, I might spring for a subscription to BrainPOP for another hundred bucks. Other than that, our expenses have been almost entirely what we would pay for regardless of where the girls were educated—satellite television (my first daughter taught herself to read from the closed captioning), high speed internet, Netflix, quality art and craft supplies, music and dance lessons, swim club, and related gear. And, of course, boxes and boxes of books that I slog home from the used bookstore where I buy primarily on book credit.
I bought a few math manipulatives early on but found that the girls learned more quickly with cheap bulk candy, or craft supplies we already owned, than with the base-10 blocks or Cuisenaire rods. The same with phonics activities and dyslexia-remediation materials—free and cheap stuff worked so much better than the pricy specialty stuff (although even then, I bought quite inexpensively compared to what I see available for math or LD instruction). I have no qualms at all about declaring that a library card and an internet connection can provide a quality education that rivals an expensive prep school. Co-ops, special classes, and boxed curricula can add frosting to the cake but are not necessary.
I buy a $35 annual museum membership to a museum in Alabama that gets us into museums all over the world for free (or very cheaply) and for years I paid for a zoo membership that reciprocated all over the country. We have paid for Junior Achievement programs a couple years when some homeschoolers got a group together, maybe $10/student/year. I get an educator discount at all the bookstores (although Amazon is usually still cheaper), the office supply stores, crafting stores, and of course the education supply stores. We get a few magazines—National Geographic, Science, and American Girl—but hardly the thousands of dollars that some homeschool families spend on Cricket subscriptions. I know families whose magazine budget for a single year exceeds my entire expenses for the lifetime of our homeschooling!
The only caveat I might add to my “homeschooling is really cheap” declaration is that I have always lived in urban areas with access to decent (if not outstanding) museums and large free library systems. When I found out that some public library districts make you pay annual fees, sometimes even if you live in-district, I was shocked. I have free cards to five different library systems plus access to several university and college libraries should I want them. If we lived where library-access was limited or there were a dearth of museums and zoos, I might have had to spend more money than I do. If we lived really out in the boonies where there weren’t Costcos or Wal-Marts, I might have spent more on some supplies. And I’d really be hurting if I were somewhere without high-speed internet access.
I am also fortunate to have always lived in towns or cities with a university so there have always been cheap art supply stores, student-rates, and lots of fine arts productions. Because there are so many homeschoolers here (and in the other places I’ve lived), there are always groups who organize field trips and other projects for low or no cost. On the other hand, my children have no idea what it is like to be in a community that lives close to the land and interdependent on neighbors. Those communities have opportunities that my family doesn’t have to learn lessons that I struggle to teach here in the suburbs. Real people doing real work make better teachers than any field trip or manufactured lesson.
What follows, in no particular order, are some of the great free online resources we use:
Free Rice http://www.freerice.com/index.php
Brain Pop Games http://www.brainpop.com/games/
Cool Math http://www.coolmath.com/
National Geographic for Kids http://www.nationalgeographic.com/kids/
How Stuff Works http://www.howstuffworks.com/
Smithsonian Institution http://www.si.edu/
Incredible @rt Department http://www.princetonol.com/groups/iad/lessons/middle/for-kids.htm
National Library of Virtual Manipulatives (visual math manipulations for preschool through high school) http://nlvm.usu.edu/en/nav/vlibrary.html
Time 4 Learning (subscription site for math, language, science and social studies for K-6grade) http://www.time4learning.com/
Steve Spangler Science (videos of experiments to do at home) http://www.stevespanglerscience.com/experiments
Beginning Latin for Homeschoolers (follows the book Getting Started with Latin) http://www.gettingstartedwithlatin.com/
Minimus the Mouse (Latin) http://www.minimus-etc.co.uk/index.shtml
First 1000 Words in French (follows book) http://www.usborne-quicklinks.com/usa/usa_entity_pages/usa_select_page.asp?lvl=1&id=1210
CNN Student News (middle to high school) http://www.cnn.com/studentnews/
Science News for Kids http://www.sciencenewsforkids.org/
Khan Academy (mostly math from basic addition to college math) http://www.khanacademy.org/
Discovery Channel Education (subscription but lots of free teacher resources) http://www.discoveryeducation.com/
LD Online (learning disabilities) http://www.ldonline.org/index.php
iTunes U (free podcasts from world class universities and museums) http://www.apple.com/education/itunes-u/whats-on.html
History Channel Classroom http://www.history.com/shows/classroom