September-October 2010 Selected Content
Taking Charge - Larry and Susan Kaseman
Save Money and Your Homeschooling Freedoms
Homeschooling curriculum can be very expensive. But determined, ingenious homeschoolers have figured out many ways to get outstanding curriculums and learning resources for very little money, regardless of the approach to homeschooling they have chosen. This column discusses reasons to save money, including the fact that the less we spend, the less likely we are to be tempted by "special offers" from public schools and the government that would undermine our homeschooling freedoms. Also included are general principles and specific suggestions for saving money.
Why Save Money on Homeschooling Curriculum
Among the reasons (in addition to obvious reasons for saving money on anything):
• Identifying choices is smart. One strength of homeschooling is the choices it offers. Looking for ways to save money encourages us to consider options we might otherwise overlook.
• Sharing builds community and confidence. Sharing, loaning, selling materials we don't need to other homeschoolers, and giving others money saving tips help create and strengthen homeschooling communities, give us a sense of satisfaction, and increase our confidence. This strengthens homeschooling and helps maintain our freedoms.
• Doing it ourselves has many benefits. Developing our own curriculum gives us opportunities to be creative and come up with materials that are especially well suited to our children. It demonstrates that learning takes place anytime, anywhere, reducing the hold conventional schools have on learning. Reusing materials is good for the environment.
• Spending less means more freedom. The less we spend on homeschooling without sacrificing the quality of our children's educations, the less tempted we will be to accept money that has strings attached and will undermine our homeschooling freedoms. "There's no such thing as a free lunch." Any money from the government increases the government's control over our homeschooling. Accepting favors from the government, including tax credits or tax deductions, would increase the chances of our being required to meet state standards, take state-mandated tests, etc. Enrolling in our local public school district to get money for curriculum or opportunities to participate in special programs for homeschoolers would immediately put us under the control of the public schools. The more self-sufficient we are in covering the costs of our homeschooling expenses, the more independent and free we will be.
• We set good examples for our children when we shop wisely, explore alternative sources of materials, share with others, etc.
General Principles for Saving Money
Understand what is and is not required by your state's homeschooling statutes and comply only with the minimum required. State statutes vary widely. Some states require little of homeschoolers, half the states require some kind of testing, and others require regular reports to public school officials, review and approval of curriculum, etc. To be sure, such requirements unnecessarily, unfairly, and unjustly limit homeschoolers' curriculum choices in many cases. But it is important to understand that you still have choices, even in states with the most restrictive laws. As far as we (the authors) know:
• No state requires that homeschoolers purchase a curriculum. It's legal to develop your own. It usually costs more to purchase a curriculum than to develop your own.
• Private schools, including homeschools, are not required to use the same curriculum as conventional public schools. In states that do not require testing, review and approval, reports to school officials, etc., homeschoolers can choose the curriculum that works best for their family. Even in states that require tests, approval, and/or reports, homeschoolers are only required to choose a curriculum that is similar enough to conventional public school curriculum that they and their children can meet these requirements.
• Homeschools and other private schools don't have to cover material in the same order or at the same ages or grades as conventional public schools. As long as students are prepared for the required tests, if any, it's legal to cover material at younger or older ages. One big advantage to homeschooling is that children can generally learn at their own pace, when they are ready, without being either pressured or held back by a one-size-fits-all standardized curriculum followed by conventional public schools.
Only report to the state on the minimum that the law requires. Of course, homeschooling families are free to do as much learning as they want. But submitting more curriculum and/or reports or more detailed ones than are required by law encourages the state to increase its regulation of homeschooling and sets precedents that may be difficult for other families to meet and for you in the future.
Of course, families who want to do things that public schools do, including using a purchased curriculum very similar to that used by conventional public schools, are free to make that choice. The important thing is to realize that it is a choice, not something that's required by law. In other words, it is fine to spend money on purchased curriculums or elaborate, expensive learning resources if you want to. However, it is important to realize that the law does NOT require that you do so. Understanding this can save you a lot of money.
Develop attitudes and seek opportunities that save money. Kids learn a lot from the real world. You don't have to purchase things officially labeled "learning resources." Libraries are wonderful sources of free resources; look for more than books. In addition, library materials must be returned, so you don't have to build an addition to store all your stuff. Buying used materials saves a lot. Sources include garage/rummage sales, thrift stores, used book sales (homeschooling and otherwise), online sources like eBay, etc.
Understand and accept the fact that there are many more wonderful learning resources available for homeschoolers than any family could begin to find time to use, even if they could afford to purchase them. As a well-recognized target market, homeschoolers are often bombarded with advertisements for learning resources. Also, listening to other homeschoolers talk about resources they use can be helpful but also intimidating and overwhelming. Many families remember that they can't do everything, they don't have to, and it's a mistake to try since trying to do too much creates tension and frustration and often interferes with children's natural ability to learn.
Expect to miss some topics, including some important ones. That's okay. There is far more information available than anyone could possibly learn. Homeschooled children are good at learning and know how to find out what they don't already know, so when they encounter something they haven't learned yet and want or need to know, either now or when they are adults, they can learn it then. Spending more money on purchased curriculum or fancy learning resources will not ensure that your children learn everything they need to know for the rest of their lives.
Specific Ways to Save Money on Various Types of Curriculum
Save money on purchased curriculum, sometimes referred to as "curriculum in a box." Some families purchase curriculum that has been prepared by one of the many curriculum providers that now serve homeschoolers. The curriculum consists of an outline of the material to be covered and the textbooks, workbooks, and possibly other materials needed to cover the material. Some curriculum providers also offer support services, grading, record keeping, diplomas, etc. for additional fees. Some families purchase the materials needed to cover all the subjects from the same company. Others pick and choose, purchasing a science course from one company, social studies from another, etc.
Among the ways to save money on purchased curriculum:
• Purchase used curriculum from local sales or online. Sell curriculum you are no longer using.
• Use the same materials for more than one child.
• Share curriculums with one or more homeschooling families and split the cost.
• Instead of purchasing a complete curriculum, just buy it for the subject or subjects you find most challenging. Use textbooks and workbooks you purchase individually for subjects you feel more confident about.
Develop a curriculum using Becky Rupp's Home Learning Year by Year and similar books and get most of the books from the public library.
Here is one of the least expensive curriculums that is similar to what's used in conventional schools. Readers of Home Education Magazine are familiar with the great work done by regular columnist Becky Rupp. This book presents a brief description of specific topics frequently covered in a conventional school each year from kindergarten through twelfth grade, often followed by one or more books on the topic (which are usually available through the public library, perhaps using interlibrary loan if necessary) and possibly some learning materials, games, and other resources. For example, for third grade mathematics, Becky Rupp briefly describes some general resources. Under "Number Theory," her list of 16 skills includes advanced counting, understanding Roman numerals and negative numbers, identifying fractions, and graphing. She then goes on to cover operations (multiplying, word problems, etc.), money and measurement, and geometry. Resources are suggested for many of these topics. The chapter on Grade Three includes similar information about skills and resources for Language Arts, History and Geography, Science, Foreign Language, Art, Music, and Health and Physical Education. The book explains things very clearly and is definitely worth purchasing. In addition to helping parents plan curriculum, the book directs anyone who wants to learn more to excellent resources on a wide variety of topics. (After all, you don't need to be officially in high school to want to learn about probability or economics or the Civil War or how plants grow.)
Other similar books are available. For example, Grace Lewellyn's Teenage Liberation Handbook covers subjects that teens study in a conventional high school and lists resources for each subject, many of which are available from the library.
Many families find that using such a curriculum outline has numerous advantages in addition to the low cost.
• This approach gives you flexibility but also keeps you in touch with what children your child's age are studying in conventional schools. Providing an education similar to what the majority of children are receiving is important to some parents, especially if they are planning to enroll their children in a conventional school in the future. (However, many homeschoolers have followed a more flexible homeschooling curriculum and then entered a conventional school and done very well. And of course, many, many homeschoolers have done very well in college regardless of the specific approach to curriculum they used.)
• You can emphasize topics your child is most interested in, which increases motivation and makes "school work" easier for children and parents.
• You can choose different grade levels for different subjects. Your child's interest and ability in science may be at the fifth grade level while his interest in social studies is at the third grade level.
• If you are homeschooling several children, you can cover the same topic (like Ancient Greece or basic chemistry) on different levels at the same time by choosing resources from different chapters.
• This approach is very helpful for parents who want to take conventional grade levels less seriously but aren't sure how to.
Develop your own curriculum by choosing general topics like frogs or Peru or motorcycles and creating your own unit studies. Children learn basic subjects because studying any specific topic inevitably includes one or more basic subjects. Families who choose this approach find that the principles outlined above can be used to save money. These families rely heavily on the library; buy used items; share materials with other families; borrow equipment; build their own; think outside the box to make creative, money-saving substitutions for some things; and similar approaches.
Base part or all of your homeschooling on what your children learn from life experience and from pursuing interests and projects at home and in your community, sometimes supplementing this with unit studies or learning resources or maybe a class. Here again, the principles outlined above for saving money can be applied. In addition, some of the activities that are included in this kind of a homeschooling program end up saving the family money. Examples include cooking; gardening; doing household repairs, remodeling, and building; getting enough exercise and rest that you stay healthier and reduce health care costs; etc. In addition, some projects may lead to earned income, such as when homeschoolers bake bread to sell to neighbors or start their own lawn mowing business.
Developing ways to save money on curriculum benefits families in many ways. It encourages creativity, provides learning opportunities better suited to each individual, reduces financial pressure, increases confidence and community, makes homeschooling less intimidating and more possible, and helps maintain our homeschooling freedoms.
© 2010, Larry and Susan Kaseman