Homeschooling for Free - Kathryn Frazier
Home Education Magazine
My husband and I received some great advice when we first got married: Two can live as cheaply as one...provided one of you doesn't eat! That's true with kids, too. Raising kids costs. With five children and one income, we have had periods of time in past years that were much too tight for comfort. We've even had a couple of years when we literally had no money for books. But our children's education has never suffered for it. I learned to snoop out free resources wherever they may be hiding in order to provide my children with a quality education while still being able to buy groceries.
First and always, I look for teaching opportunities in everyday experiences. Teaching in everyday situations is more natural, more memorable, and it's free. One of the best science lessons I ever had with my children occurred spontaneously. We were cut off in traffic, and I hit the brakes hard to avoid crashing. Our windows were down, and the stench of burning rubber filled the air. So I asked the kids why there was a bad smell. One child knew that it was from the burning rubber of tires. Why did the tires burn? No one knew. I had the children rub their hands together very fast and hard, and asked them to describe what they felt. Heat. So friction makes what? Heat! And heat melted the rubber. They were excited to figure that out!
A little while later, six-year-old Michael asked me how the microwave worked. I told him I knew that microwaves move the molecules in food around, but I didn't know how that movement actually cooked the food. Michael said, "Oh, the molecules move? It's friction, Mom! Friction produces heat!" I looked it up, and he was absolutely right. That lesson didn't cost a thing.
Private schools have been an excellent source over the years, and have freely given us used textbooks, teaching planners, readers, manipulatives, puzzles, half-used art supplies, flash cards and more. Because parents pay book fees to private schools, they buy all new supplies every year and discard the old ones. They are most likely to have ample supplies in April, but might have textbooks in January from children who transfer schools mid-year. Go to the school's office during the school day and ask to speak with the principal, or at least leave your phone number and a message with the secretary. Be sensitive to their busiest times and don't bother them then. Ask early and pick up on time. They need to get the old supplies out in order to make room for new and generally will not be able to hold anything for you if you don't arrive at a scheduled pick-up time.
They may ask you to take everything. If you can, do it and share the wealth with other homeschoolers. This will encourage them to call you again next year. At the least, you can haul whatever you don't use to your local book exchange or thrift store. Think of it as a barter of service for goods. You can thank the school by saving up aluminum cans, soup can labels or something else the school can use. Always send a thank you note, preferably from your children themselves.
Businesses sometimes throw away materials that are useful for homeschooling. It never hurts to ask. Just tell the manager you homeschool and you can use their throwaways. If he says no or wants you to pay, try someplace else. Only ask for enough for your own family. The company will be more likely to help you if you aren't being greedy, and you will leave resources for other families. And again, send a thank you note. It's just courteous.
Copy shops have scrap paper in various colors and sizes, useful for craft projects. Decorating stores have books of wallpaper, upholstery and carpet samples. Greeting card and party supply stores send back unsold cards to the manufacturers, but usually not the envelopes. Leftover envelopes are good for mailing home-made paper greetings and for storing small manipulatives. Doctor's offices will sometimes give you their old magazines, especially if you offer to exchange them for your own already-read magazines. Shoe stores can donate boxes to be used for shadowboxes or for storage. If you have a friend who works at the phone company, she may be able to save you some colored wire. This is great for the imagination, as well as for electrical projects. Carpenters usually have leftover wood scraps, which can be sanded and used for building blocks, wood carvings or woodworking projects. You get the picture. Keep your eyes open and don't be shy about letting your needs be known.
The list of free resources available on the internet can, and does, fill books. But if you need a computer, used government computers are available for free. These computers may be older models, and it may take some time to get one. They are given out on a "needs" basis--whomever the government thinks needs it most--but homeschoolers are on the list. You just have to comply with your state's homeschooling requirements. You can use a friend's computer to apply at www.computers.fed.gov/school/user.asp
We also take advantage of other free services and classes. Of course, we use our local public library, but we also ask around our area to see what free services might be available. Our local video rental store allows homeschoolers to "rent" educational videos free with proof of homeschooling. Generally, any company that offers freebies to teachers will also give to homeschoolers, if asked. Many homeschoolers I talk to are surprised to find that the YMCA has a policy of not turning down anyone for inability to pay, and offers full and partial scholarships for families. Just ask for a scholarship application at your local Y. Home Depot stores host a free workshop for children ages 5-12 the first Saturday of every month. These workshops include all materials and instruction for your child to build a quality project to take home. Look in your phone book for your local Home Depot store and call to ask when and where the classes are in your area.
Don't discount bartering as something complicated and formal. If you see something someone else can do for you or has that you can use, you can simply ask if he or she would be willing to trade for something you have or something you can do. Be specific about what you have to offer and what you would like in return. We have been able to barter our children's required annual evaluations for painting our evaluator's house. She tests the children and pays for their testing supplies and the painting supplies. My husband does the painting. I also have bartered my talent of making dolls in exchange for books, curricula and clothing for my children.
These days money is not as tight as it used to be, but I still want to make the most of it and not to be wasteful. Never forget that little eyes are watching. If you use your talents, creativity and footwork to provide an education for your children, you not only save money, but you are teaching your children valuable life skills. Your children can see that their education is important to you. They see that money doesn't buy everything. They learn responsibility, creativity and self-sufficiency. You just can't buy that kind of instruction.
© 2007, Kathryn Frazier
HEM's Guide to Homeschooling Resources
Edited by Mary Nix, this great online collection ncludes a section of free learning resources from companies such as Sea World, Montana State University, the National Park System, the Old Farmer's Almanac, the National Science Foundation, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and many, many others! Check it out!