Once upon a time, there was a homeschool mom who didn’t have a lot of money. She heard about homeschooling cheaply – or even for free – and decided this had to be the way to go…
I like homeschooling on the cheap just like everyone else. In fact, I’ve been able to homeschool very frugally over the years and provide my children a top notch education.
However, before I get into my tips for homeschooling frugally, I really must share a few notes of caution. Over the years, I’ve seen this homeschool-for-free bandwagon head down a bumpy path that has the potential to take homeschoolers to the wrong destination.
What do I mean by the wrong destination? It’s nothing sinister, nor something that can’t be fixed! I simply mean that you might find yourself sitting at the end of 5th grade with a child who can’t read. Or, at the start of 10th grade with a child who can’t spell. Or, going back down the road of 2nd grade math with your 4th grader.
How could this happen? Oh, there are lots of reasons! Legitimate reasons like learning disabilities or starting from scratch with a formerly public schooled student are NOT what I’m talking about in this post. I’m specifically talking about parents who get off track with the notion of homeschooling for free without also having a plan in place to make sure homeschooling is thorough, sequential and appropriate.
- Just because a freebie is posted on an “educational” website or blog doesn’t automatically mean it has great educational value.
- Just because a freebie is oh, so cute doesn’t mean it has educational value.
- Just because someone offers printables for various “themes” doesn’t mean new and important skills are being taught each time. Sometimes your child will just keep practicing the same (already mastered) skills over and over again.
- Just because someone calls something a unit study doesn’t mean it is full or complete or goes into enough depth.
- Oftentimes, freebies are only samples of a complete curriculum or complimentary to the real curriculum.
I know there will be people who disagree with me on this subject! It’s okay. To the freebie user whose typing fingers are ready to leave a rebuttal comment, I know many of you are rocking this homeschooling thing! To the blogger creating freebies to gain email subscribers and is ready to wring my neck, I bet your freebies are fabulous and worthwhile! I’m truly not trying to bash anyone. I’m simply here to caution parents of the potential to get off track academically without at least a general plan in place.
Using Freebies Wisely
If you’re only adding freebies here or there as extras, don’t worry. If you’re using freebies as fun fillers when you need to take breaks from the everyday routine, that’s great.
It’s when freebies become the curriculum that you need to make sure you have a plan for learning in place. There are lots of ways you might do this. A few suggestions:
- Use something like The Checklist by Cindy Downes to keep track of what you’ve studied and what has yet to be studied.
- Follow four or six year cycles for history and science to help you reign in study topics each year.
- Let the What Your __ Grader Needs To Know (affiliate link) books by E. D. Hirsch guide you in deciding whether a particular freebie is worthwhile for your homeschool. *Know that these are just guides. Many students will be working above or below assigned grade levels.
- Search “typical course of study” for your particular grade level and subject level. Searching “scope and sequence” for the particular grade level and subject is sometimes a better search term. Be aware that no two lists will be exactly alike and you may or may not be able to find a definitive list of expectations.
Evaluate everything you use for educational value. If you’ve taken the time to put a plan in place and know the general expectations of things most children the same age are learning, then a quick peek at any curriculum (free or not) should tell you whether it’s “enough.” Here are some key things I look for:
- If my child already knows the concept, there is no need to reteach it (no matter how cute the printable.)
- If the lesson is “fluffy” and only serves as “something to do” rather than something to learn, I don’t waste my children’s time. For example, coloring outlines of frogs during a frog study instead of labeling frog body parts. Not that there’s anything wrong with coloring if your child enjoys it, but when we’re talking curriculum, I need the activity to be educational.
- If the activity expects my children to jump through hoops rather than getting to the point, I don’t waste their time. For instance, when cutting and pasting takes more time than actually teaching the concept of the worksheet. If cutting and pasting practice is part of the lesson, fine. When it’s used to keep kids busy longer (think classroom education), it becomes a waste of our time. (This is a personal preference based on the learning styles of my children.)
Oh, there are so many other things that catch my eye when evaluating curriculum. Rather than continue, I’ll just encourage you to give everything a serious look over. Make sure it fits into your overall plan, works with your children’s learning styles, goes deep enough to really teach, and expects more than just knowledge level learning.
Homeschooling Frugally AND Successfully
Even with all the cautions, it is possible to “safely” homeschool frugally! Here are my best tips.
In subjects where systematic presentation of skills is important, like phonics and math, I don’t skimp on tried and true curriculum. Most of my go-to curriculum choices can be purchased once and used with all my children through the years. I might have to purchase an extra workbook here or there, but the overall cost isn’t much in the long run. (And, it IS frugal to teach something right the first time.)
You can see lists of the curriculum I find to be VERY worth the money in these grade specific posts.
Living literature is a HUGE part of our homeschool and I use the library a lot. Books, books, books and more books can go a long way in a frugal and thorough education!
Unit studies are great tools for learning – especially in science and history. The important thing is to find unit studies that are thorough and go deep enough. Not only are unit studies very frugal curriculum choices, they also utilize a lot of frugal learning tools like living literature, basic household and art supplies, YouTube videos, etc. Plus, it’s very easy to incorporate project-based learning, which is another very frugal and super-effective method of learning.
I’m careful about printing. A printable has to be really, really good for me to use up the liquid gold known as printer ink. It’s very easy to get sucked into the idea that you’re saving lots and lots of money on freebies – only to spend more than you would have on a prepared curriculum in the cost of ink.
I organize e-books and freebies. Now that I’ve just told you I’m careful about using too much printer ink, I’ll contradict myself and say I really do love worthwhile e-books and freebies! There are some things that are very much worth using that liquid gold. Since e-books and downloadable freebies can be easy to forget, I make sure they are super-organized in specific files on my computer.
I keep a computer file for each subject. Within each subject, I make broad subject files and save only the worthwhile e-books and printables to make them easy to find when we begin a new study. And, this visual idea for remembering e-files is great, too!
I utilize expert teachers – often for free. Even if a field trip isn’t completely free (which many of them are), I’ve found the inexpensive fees to be VERY worthwhile in our homeschool. Field trip tour guides are typically full of knowledge which they teach brilliantly. We’ve found many free classes over the years, too, especially through the 4-H program.
And, I have a plan in place. This is the biggie. I have a general idea of what we will cover in each subject over the years. My plan isn’t set in stone by any means. However, by using good phonics and math curricula, following four-year cycles for science and history, keeping good records of what has already been covered, and evaluating everything I use for educational value, I feel confident that my children are getting a really good education.
Update: Homeschooling Frugally Podcast
After reading this post, +Carol Topp of the Dollars and Cents Show asked to talk with me more about the cautions of frugal homeschooling. I heartily agreed and we taped this 30 minute podcast that I think you’ll enjoy!
So, there you have my top tips for homeschooling frugally and “safely.” I would love to hear your best tips! Please share them with me in the comments!
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