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Welcome to Education Alternative's Series on Homeschooling!

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     One of the things homeschoolers often hear is that it takes a lot of money to home school your child. I’m here to say, it doesn’t have to. The highest cost is time. It takes some ingenuity, planning and research on the parent’s part as you’re designing your own curriculum rather than relying on some pre-made expensive ‘kit’. If you are home, or if your child is older and capable of independent work, homeschooling can be absolutely free, or at least as much or less than buying an entire wardrobe every fall and again when they outgrow it in a few months as well as that ever increasing list of necessary school supplies.  According to the National Retail Federation website, “the National Retail Federation's 2010 Consumer Intentions and Actions Back to School survey, conducted by BIGresearch, found that the average American family will spend $606.40 on clothes, shoes, supplies and electronics” including “$225.47 on jeans, shirts and other types of clothing”. Now obviously a lot of us can’t afford to spend that much, but even buying at Good Will and discount stores we can easily spend $100 or more per child.

    In our household both FloridaSNDad and I are disabled and home anyway, so neither of us had to give up a job to homeschool or worry about leaving the kids home alone. I do know some working single parents who homeschool, often with older children or with family who watch the children during the day and then homeschooling in the evenings.  Our situation, however means we are living well below the poverty level. So how do we manage? Join me beneath the Great Orange Divide and I will divulge my secrets.

Please keep in mind this is not meant to be nor is it possible to make a comprehensive list of all free or low cost curriculum choices out there. If you have different ones that you favor please feel free to voice them in the comments, the more information shared is more information gained! If I’d tried to include all the resources I know this diary would have been five times as long at least.

    First we’re going to look at free resources. These include the Library, the internet (yes, you have to pay for the net, but likely if you are here you’re doing that anyway), video resources, and even some field trips. These are generally available to everyone, unless you live in a very rural area, and even then there are ways to access libraries online and you have many opportunities to study many things in the world itself.

Library resources vary from area to area, but every one includes books, quiet study space, computers, and other media like videos. A simple search on any subject will give a plethora of options covering many grade levels. Most libraries also offer free classes, kids activities, and teen clubs. For example, Orlando Public Library courses, including art, photography, book clubs, and computer courses. It also has kids activities like Angel Paws, a “read to a therapy dog” program designed to increase reading self esteem. There’s a teen club as well with teen specific activities, book clubs, and volunteer opportunities.

The Internet offers a wide variety of educational opportunities. The key to using this resource is preparation and vetting of the material you are going to use. Google, of course is your friend. Many good educational and professional sites can be accessed for free. Wikipedia can be a good starting point, but is not always reliable as a source by itself. Project Gutenberg offers hundreds of free classic literature to choose from in several formats.

 Youtube offers many excellent resources but I strongly suggest you watch the video first and not just depend on what it seems to be.  Many things posted on Youtube are themselves high school project videos and may vary greatly in quality. One Youtube resource we use is MinutePhysics, which are short and comprehensible science and physics lessons on everything from what the color pink actually is to Schrödinger’s Cat and beyond. Is this the entire science curriculum? Of course not, but it is a good way to introduce a concept for further exploration and learning. Those school house rock videos some of us grew up with are available on Youtube, as are many high school and college lectures. Once again, watch them first, so you know whether they are something your child can understand, or are from a school you agree with or can use. Another good resource on Youtube is the HistoryTeacher music videos. I think I like these even more than my kids!

There are also many historical societies online as well as museums offering free virtual tours of exhibits. You can find images of the Hunley, the Civil War era submarine or ancient fossils and artifacts online. Information across a broad spectrum of interests and subjects are available. For example, there’s the Florida Memory Project which includes photos, documents and maps from Florida Civil War battles and the Smithsonian Virtual Exhibits.   Colonial Williamsburg also has many virtual tours, exhibits and information online.

Video is available from many sources online, on TV, and in the library. The History channel, the Science channel, Discovery, Animal Planet, Travel and HGTV can all be excellent resources with a little planning and flexibility. Hulu is another good source for video as is Netflix ( and just streaming Netflix is relatively cheap).

    Now if you’re like me, you do spend some money on curriculum every year, and there are several important things to remember. One, you don’t have to school on a ‘traditional’ schedule. You can often find course materials greatly discounted in the spring. Two, you don’t have to buy curriculum for every subject. History for example is fairly easy to find online and in libraries for free, as are some science subjects. They key here is to know what you’re comfortable teaching and putting together yourself, what your child’s strengths and interests are, and to RESEARCH curriculum you’re going to buy just as much as you do curriculum you create yourself.  This includes exploring what the curriculum includes, what it expects you to provide, what it expects the child to do, how it works, and what resources are there for you. Many sites offer demos or sample materials, use these! Show them to your children and get their opinions, as they are the ones who are going to be learning from them. If the demo can’t hold your child’s interest and attention likely the curriculum won’t either.

     Even once you decide on a certain curriculum there are ways to save money on it. Many newer programs, and even some older ones have special homeschool options, so you don’t have to pay for a whole ‘class’ worth of supplies and materials. There are also buying co-ops in existence, I use the homeschool buyer's co-op myself, membership is free. You definitely have to research curriculum on this site as a lot of it is Bible Based and may not suit your needs, but there are also a lot of good deals. I bought the Colonial Williamsburg package one year, spent $50 instead of $500 for two kids, and that included live podcasts of historical recreations, teacher support materials and activities, and call in question sessions with historians on staff for the kids . That was the core curriculum for history for both kids for the entire year (with additional material and activities on each child's level). They also offer Explode the Code, Intelligo Unit Studies, Rosetta Stone, and even a Driver’s Ed course (not available in all States) at greatly discounted prices.

    There are also many stores that offer Home Educator discounts, such as Barnes and Noble, Jo-Anne’s, Staples, and Borders.  We get the workbooks my daughter prefers at Barnes and Nobles every year. Also, remember, you don’t have to buy everything at once, you can space it out. For 3rd Grade math, for example, we’re focusing on multiplication and division; I didn’t buy the division workbook until January.

    For field trips and hands on projects, there are low cost museums, community events, free parks and hikes, trips to the store; almost anything can be educational if you plan it right. Think about a trip to the park. If you use public transportation you’re teaching an important life skill (how to ride a bus), map reading (geography), scheduling, money and social skills. You can plan, budget and prepare a picnic lunch to take along. You can discuss and role play potential problem situations and safety concerns. You can do simple science experiments; fly a kite, for example or locate and examine habitats and wild life, physics lessons abound on playground equipment, or discuss why it’s not safe to swim in the lake (in Florida in the summer, amoeba risk), meet and socialize with a variety of other children across many ages, and learn new skills (go to a park with skate boarding for example). You can also volunteer at food pantries, soup kitchens, Occupations, attend political events, the options are limited only by what is happening in your area and your creativity.

     Of course you still have to buy clothing and some supplies (notebooks, pencils, paper), but you can spread them out to ease your budget. After all, there’s no school uniform, you don’t have to buy a new wardrobe in August that will be outgrown in November, and you can study history on the internet in whatever clothing you are comfortable in. One of the best things about homeschooling is the flexibility, and that includes flexibility in your budget. There are lots of good programs and curriculum out there for every age group, but with a little creativity and a lot of planning it’s possible to spend very little and still give your child an excellent education.

8:18 AM PT: Once our ride gets here I'll be gone a few hours to do grocery shopping (food stamps come in today, cupboard is nearly bare), but I'll be back later this afternoon to attend to comments again. Thank you all for the support and for the Rescue!

1:48 PM PT: Home again and back at the keys. Thank you all for your comments and support today, as well as additional resources to share!

Originally posted to Education Alternatives on Sat Mar 10, 2012 at 06:00 AM PST.

Also republished by Progressive Friends of the Library Newsletter and Community Spotlight.

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