Many parents want to homeschool, but feel that they just cannot afford it. After all, the government is no longer paying for books, supplies, and all the rest of the things that usually come with the public school room. The good news is there are lots of ways you can save money with your homeschooling materials to make it more affordable on any budget.
What everyone knows is that public libraries have a lot of books. Obviously as a homeschool family, take advantage of that resource. What a lot of people don’t know are the other things that are available at the library. Keep your eyes open for these:
- Books by request. Libraries are always trying to make decisions about what to buy and when. Often if you request a particular item, they will add it to their buy list.
- Events. From toddler reading time, to computer classes, to special events, libraries often have lots of things going on other than just reading. These may provide great learning opportunities for mom and dad as well as the kids. Usually these events are listed on their website, or a calendar can be obtained from the front desk.
- Local attractions. Perhaps one of the best kept secrets of libraries is the ability to “check out” tickets. For example, the library in our city has tickets to the children’s museum, local hockey games, theater, orchestra, and more. These are on a first-come, first-serve basis and allow you to take a limited number of people to the event or venue for free. It’s a great way to add some field trips without breaking the budget.
- Online resources. Check your library website, or ask your librarian, and you may find that the things you see on the shelves are only the tip of the iceberg. You may be able to get access to magazines, e-books, and even language learning software through your library website using your library card. See what is available at yours.
University Libraries and Resources
In addition to the library down the street, think about what colleges or universities are available in the area. Often they allow members of the general public to sign up for a library card as well as students – either for free or for a small charge. They will have many of the same resources as the public libraries, but will have more direct educational material.
In addition to all the things listed above, check the school calendar to see what events are coming up. Free lecture series, concerts, and art exhibits are just some examples of what many colleges provide. Even if not free, they are often cheaper than their counterparts in art venues. As an additional bonus, material presented by Christian colleges may be more appropriate than the offerings by public groups.
Just because you choose to homeschool your children does not mean that you cannot avail yourself of the resources at the public or private schools in your area. After all, as far as the public schools go anyway, you pay your tax dollars into the system and you should get something out of it. Whether your state allows you to participate in school activities ala carte (as Michigan’s does), you sign your children up for extra-curricular or individual classes, or you just go listen to their free band concert, there may be more opportunities than you would expect. See if you can get the school newsletter, or visit their website regularly to see what is upcoming that may be useful.
School sales (if they are closing, or even just buying new items) can also be a treasure trove of inexpensive items to add to your homeschool. Look in local papers, the school’s publications, or just listen for the word around town.
Depending on the size and location of your church, there may be things you can use to help your homeschooling endeavors. If there are enough homeschool families at the church, you may be able to start a support group. Perhaps your church has a lending library. Or maybe it has a special discount program with the local Christian book store. Keep your eyes and ears open and don’t be afraid to ask around.
Home School Buyers’ Cooperatives
Look on the Internet, in homeschooling magazines, or inquire among your group of homeschool friends, and see if there is a homeschooling buyers’ co-op that you could participate in. Basically these groups attempt to leverage the purchasing power of bulk buys for homeschoolers by pooling their orders. You can get steep discounts on curriculums, software, and other learning products that would be quite expensive to purchase at retail.
The Internet is a wealth of free information. Be careful what you use, since anybody and everybody can (and does) post information, but there is a lot of good stuff too. From coloring pages and activity ideas, to full blown curriculums, you may find just the thing that you need to teach a particular child or subject. Start with the resources right here on the Off the Grid site, such as our unit study for all ages about sprouting.
Also make sure you cruise your local Craig’s List and Freecycle to pick up all kinds of neat stuff from desks to craft supplies.
Build Your Network
Contrary to the popular belief that homeschoolers try to isolate themselves from the rest of the world, homeschoolers need (perhaps even more so) to build a community of people around them. Try to find other local homeschool families and see how you can help each other. Here are some ideas to try:
- Swap materials. If there is a book you are not using or are done with, see if you can trade it for something you need.
- Wholesale orders. Can you find a supplier of school supplies, such as paper, pens, and notebooks, that you could buy from in bulk? Coordinate your orders annually so that everyone gets a discount. Basically, form your own buyers’ co-op.
- Share ideas. Try to schedule regular meetings, or if someone in the group is web savvy, set up an Internet forum, and share ideas and tips. The activity that you think is obvious or boring may provide someone else just the resource in ideas and fun that they need.
- Find great field trips. Not only can networking with other homeschool families help you find great places to go and discover when free days and specials are available, you also may be able to qualify for group rates if enough of you can go at the same time. And local businesses may be able to set up a tour, meet with your group, or provide some other learning and enrichment opportunity that would be difficult to convince them to do for just one family.
Homeschooling is possible on any budget. You just have to be resourceful, imaginative, and creative, and it is amazing what is available right under your fingertips!