A few days ago in Part 1, I talked about various educational philosophies I particularly like. This time around, let’s talk money.
Home education can be as expensive, or as moderate, as the family chooses it to be. We operate with a frugal budget, so targeting our spending is a big consideration. Here’s how we make the money stretch.
We go eclectic. Because we’re not tied to any particular curriculum or system, we can pick and choose to a huge extent. We also make a choice to not spend money on curriculum as a general rule. I don’t like being fully computer-dependent at all, particularly in the elementary years, when there should be (in my opinion) as little sit-down work as possible, and as much exploration as possible. There are some great freebies on-line our little children have enjoyed, and even more that I enjoy, including:
- Ambleside Online for Charlotte Mason basics and ideas
- Donna Young for printable handwriting sheets and comic book drawing templates
- Starfall Phonics for interactive reading basics
- Backyard Nature (simplified for small kids as needed, but I don’t mind the younger set learning all the real terms from the start!)
We spend money on real books and interesting elements (like bug specimens ordered on-line for a shadow-box project), rather than on books about books.
We use the library. I adore books, but we’re limited on space to store books, so we use the library very heavily, and trade out resources every few weeks. When we’re really into a topic, we may need two library trips a week (our library has a limit of 50 items out on a card; we have very understanding librarians who don’t mind that four people in our family have cards. Also, I bribe them with baked goods on a shockingly regular basis.)
When we do buy books (which we sometimes do, but it’s rare, as I’m short on space and budget), we buy them used, and in hardcover whenever possible. Focusing on durable things means we’re buying them once, not once per child.
We don’t buy things we can make. We don’t need special writing pads; we can use a stapler and make a composition booklet or project book as needed, from plain paper, or paper we print out with lines, whenever we need them (more on those in another post). We don’t buy workbooks, and it’s very rare to buy a color book; plain paper with home-designed or hand-drawn elements work really well for us, and save a lot of money.
We save up for basic equipment. Right now, we own two telescopes; one was a gift (lovely Auntie!), and one was a planned purchase that happened to coincide with an employee discount and a clearance sale. The next big equipment piece we want is a good microscope, scientific-quality, not toy-quality. We don’t add new equipment every year, or even every other year, but only as our own needs dictate. And yes, we teach our elementary-age kids how to use real equipment. I don’t hold with toy-quality stuff, as it generally does not work properly, and nothing is more frustrating to learning than tools that don’t work properly. Take a gander at the Montessori For Small Hands catalog for ideas you can institute on your own, or a one-stop-shop for ordering some very cool child-sized items.
We look for real-world learning opportunities, through household and family stewardships, and community involvement. Even very small people can contribute in real ways, and these opportunities are nearly always entirely free. I’ll write more about those stewardship opportunities in part three. There are always community programs and activities that add to a learning lifestyle, such as farmer’s market, community gardening, civic gardening (we’ve won an actual award for “flower bed design most thwarted by soil and weather conditions.” Really.), community music and cultural events, and just being neighbors with interesting people.
We look for learning through play and other everyday activities. Reading books together as a family is one of the best ways to produce a confident reader, and to me, it’s a basic hallmark of parenthood. I remember my own mother reading books to us every time she sat down to feed the current nursling during the day (which, with at least one of my chow-hound brothers, meant we had story time every two and a half hours, guaranteed! Yet another good reason to max out the library card.) When I’ve done that with our children, we have happy siblings, a more contented Mom, and a well-fed nursling, too.
Childhood is a prime time to model behaviors; children learn very naturally through their imaginative play, when their playthings are as open-ended and creativity-promoting as possible. To that end, we try to collect toys that are multi-purpose and as open-ended as we can find. Simple works! Handmade works! Plastic and batteries can be skipped (or quickly disabled, should you have a loving sister-in-law who finds it hilarious to send battery-operated noisy things for Christmas. I always (facetiously) ask her what I’ve ever done to warrant such meanness, and she always giggles.) More on the toy thing either in part three, or a future post. Or past posts. Really. I mean it.
When it comes right down to it, we spend about $100 to $200 a year on “school”… and the majority of that is for paper, printer ink, art supplies, and books I can’t help but want to own (fiction and non-fiction), on which we have maxed out library renewals more than once. That’s the budget for three kids currently schooling, and one more pre-schooling… between $25 and $50 per child, per year.
Home education, particularly in the elementary grades, can be as spendy, or as totally dirt cheap, as you choose.