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Homeschooling on a Shoestring

If you look at curriculum catalogs long enough, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and throw in the towel. There are options galore, and everything seems to be quite expensive. Homeschooling doesn’t have to be a pricy endeavor. It can be an economical and affordable option for every family – even those with the leanest of budgets.  I know because I’ve homeschooled my three children “on a shoestring” for over five years.

The Three Core Areas: Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic

The core academic areas are usually where homeschoolers spend the bulk of their money on curriculum. I’m here to tell you that it is possible to avoid buying a fancy, expensive curriculum, and instead use what you’ve got on hand.

There’s really only one thing I’d say is necessary for teaching your children reading or any other subject: a library card. That’s it. Library cards are given away almost always for free, yet their value is immeasurable when used frequently.

Children (and adults) learn how to read by… you guessed it—reading. The best way to teach reading comprehension and other skills is to surround your children with good books. If you don’t have a well-stocked public or local library at your disposal, never fear. You can start collecting books for your very own at-home library. Even though we have an excellent local library just a mile from our house, we are also building a home library. I buy many of my books at yard sales, library sales, and community book sales for just pennies on the dollar. When birthdays and holidays come, my children receive books for gifts. And trust me, they love it! A child who is surrounded by good books will learn to love books and love reading in time.

Teaching grammar and writing “on a shoestring” is very similar to the reading approach. We learn language arts skills by reading and writing. Teach your children to write with a purpose. Find good writing in literature and model your craft after it. Allow your children write blog entries, letters to family members, and exciting stories. Younger children can help write the grocery list and other simple writing tasks. All you need to teach language arts is a collection of paper and pencils, and a computer. Odds are you have all of those things already on hand.

Math can be a little trickier. If there’s one area where I totally support buying a good, solid curriculum, it would be mathematics. Even still, this doesn’t have to be an expense that breaks the bank.

Your first step is to do your research and find a math curriculum that meets your needs. Too often curriculum packages are filled with unnecessary items. Find a core math curriculum that will meet your child’s educational needs without the fluff. Try and pick a math curriculum that will last for years, so that you can pass it down through multiple children in your family.

Check and see if it is possible to rent a curriculum rather than buy it outright. Renting textbooks can save you a great deal of money. Now that homeschooling has become so popular, there are more textbook rental companies catering to homeschool families. There’s no real need to purchase overpriced math learning tools. Use buttons, beans, Lego blocks, popsicle sticks, and any other items you have on hand for math manipulatives…the sky is the limit! Graphs, charts, flash cards, and other math learning aids can be made using the paper and art supplies you already have on hand.

Use “real life” to teach all your other subject areas.

For teaching other subjects such as science, history, Bible, art, and health, there’s no better teacher than real life. For our family, our science curriculum is built around nature and God’s creation. My children have a close relationship with the outdoors. We hike, go on nature walks, and keep nature journals. Each child also keeps a bird journal in which they record every bird we spot at our feeders and on our hikes. My children have learned to correctly use field guides for identifying plants, wildflowers, birds, and butterflies. We’re big gardeners, and my children are active participants in the whole process – from planting the seeds all the way to tending to the harvest. I can’t think of a better way to teach science in action!

History is taught through experiences and good literature. The books we check out each week at the library are directly related to what we’re studying in other subjects, like history and social studies. A biography of George Washington can tie in perfectly with a year of studying American history. We’ve also found a treasure trove of documentaries and educational DVDs at our library that are great supplements to what we’re learning. Field trips to historical places of interest are also great ways to teach your children history. Our yearly family vacations are often planned around what we are studying in history.

Here are just a few ways to teach science and social studies on a dime:

  • Learn botany by gardening
  • Raise animals on your homestead
  • Keep a weather notebook and record your local data
  • Study rocks and minerals you find locally
  • Disassemble broken appliances, watches, etc. to figure out how things work
  • Cook! Many science and chemistry concepts can be taught in the kitchen
  • Go camping as a family
  • Use your local extension service, local clubs, and other resources
  • Visit science museums, observatories, botanical gardens, zoos, farms, and aquariums
  • Do family genealogy research
  • Visit local museums and landmarks
  • Ask local historical societies for free publications
  • Enjoy history re-enactments
  • Visit your town and state government buildings

Don’t make education complicated.

Play games together. Regular family game nights playing Scrabble and Monopoly are excellent hands-on ways to teach spelling and math on the sly! For physical education, make it a habit to have family recreation time. Work out together, try your hand at a new sport, go swimming, or go for a walk together.

Encourage your child’s artistic pursuits by having plenty of good, quality art materials on hand. Paints, pastels, colored pencils, drawing paper, and craft supplies only need a child’s imagination to work. Keep a well-stocked art closet that is available to your children whenever the mood hits. Check out books about famous artists from your local library and teach art history and art appreciation together as a family.

Field trips can be a great way to introduce an upcoming topic of study, or give closure to an area you’ve just finished learning about. Many places offer group rates, so invite another family to join you. Historic sites, theme parks, fairs, and other public attractions often host special discount days for homeschoolers.

The beauty of home education is that our children are with us every day. Maximize this opportunity. Doing life together is the best teacher of all.

©2011 Off the Grid News

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