…or “No, not everyone can afford to homeschool.”
I just said something that you are not likely read in your homeschool magazine or book of homeschool encouragement.
There are a lot of articles on the web on “Yes, you can afford to homeschool. It’s not expensive. Not Really. You can even do it for free!”
I feel that the homeschool community as a whole is not completely honest when this topic comes up. I understand. We don’t want to give families who are considering home education the idea that there are insurmountable costs involved. We don’t want to turn anyone away.
But when folks are thinking about bringing their kids home from school, they look for real answers. They have genuine concerns about whether or not this is an affordable endeavor for their family and they deserve real answers to their questions, not vague assertions and wishful flights of fancy.
This series is about the real costs associated with education.
And there are real costs, regardless of how you choose to educate your kids.
Today I’m going to begin talking about the dollars and cents part of homeschooling (which can be real and substantial).
Later in this series, I’ll focus on the less tangible costs of homeschooling.
You’ve seen this everywhere and I’ve even posted some “homeschool for free” resources here on the old blog. But can you, really?
Can you homeschool for free?
You don’t, for instance, have use a “homeschool curriculum”!
You don’t have to buy “homeschool kits” that cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Yes, this is true.
You can use quality resources that are freely available on the internet and at your local library. Is your library a bit lacking? Try interlibrary loan.
Try any of the free online courses available from universities across the country.
Homeschoolers around the world have created free reading schedules, study questions, and printables and you can download them to use with your kids.
Many companies even offer older editions of their texts for free (and complete) online.
You can find virtual field trips, videos, and all sorts of good stuff!
And if you don’t find exactly what you want, there are many low cost options as well, including nearly free real physical books from PaperBackSwap and very cheap used books from the Amazon Marketplace.
But, and this is a big but.
Don’t settle for something just because it’s cheap or free.
Not all free resources are created equal (not all pay resources are, either, for that matter). Make sure you put in the time to research what you plan to use, whether you are paying for it or it is free.
And be prepared to spend some of your time organizing it all. There’s no comprehensive checklist to refer to when you are cobbling together your program from freebies. There is work involved. You’ll need to find stuff that goes together, collect it, and schedule it.
But the advantages of putting together a one of a kind course of study with free and nearly free resources can be great: you can have a fully customized course of study and you can save a ton of money.
You will spend a fair amount of time (possibly a lot of time) researching things to see if they are even worthwhile and then you’ll have to work up how you will use them and so on…
This is really important, so I’m going to bold it:
NEVER underestimate the value of your time!
When you don’t spend money you will, undoubtedly, spend more time. This is true in all things, whether it’s feeding your kids dinner or feeding them knowledge.
Part of the reason that “planned” educational materials cost more is because they are planned. An open-and-go resource can be a blessing depending upon your circumstances.
The key is to find the right balance between your time and money. This balance is going to be different for every homeschooler.
If you are educating one child, this may not be a big issue. But if you have multiple children, or you have work obligations, or you are a single parent, I think you are going to find that often time restraints are going to trump all else.
There is just only so much of you to go around. You will find that you need to make some compromises---you may need to spend more money on a less labor intensive way of doing things. Or you may need readjust your expectations and do less.
There was a time when I built my entire course of study for the kids from the ground up…but then I had 4 kids all working at very different levels, with different strengths and weaknesses…and different interests…I got tired of living and dreaming learning plans 24/7 and realized that it’s ok to use some pre-planned resources. It’s also ok to pay real money to save myself some time.
So, yes, you can educate your kids for almost free. But there are trade-offs.
I say almost free, because here is some expense involved in everything we do, even if it’s as simple as flipping on a light switch.
Your electricity bill may be higher because you are home more.
You may spend more money on gas from taking extra trips to the library.
You may spend more money on internet access because you find that your slower service is insufficient for all the freebies you can find there.
You may have higher library fines because you’re checking out more books and keeping them out longer (ahem).
It is a fact that my utility costs are probably higher than those of my neighbors. And it’s not because I’m being wasteful. It’s because I’m at home most days and using those utilities while they are at work.
It costs money to do stuff. Period.
Now, many people will find that the school expenses they no longer have will help to balance out these costs of homeschooling. If you pajama school, you may spend less money on clothes, for instance. Or you may spend less money on “school” lunches. Or you may be able to save money on school supplies if you don’t have to follow a specific list.
But, there are costs to even free curricula.
Beyond the time factor. While you can find quality resources and materials for free (and nearly free) on the internet to teach your kids, there’s a cost involved even in that---you will need to access those materials either on your computer, a mobile device (iPad or tablet) or by printing them out on paper and using lots of ink or toner.
Our family has: a desktop computer, a laptop, a tablet, cable high speed internet, a wireless network, and 2 printers (both a color inkjet and a b&w laser printer). We use all of these for our educational needs, though we homeschooled just fine before we had the tablet or the laptop (we did use more paper and ink, though). As our kids get older and need to do things like independent research and courses online, it is much easier to have more than one computer.
The internet alone costs us a pretty penny (no cheap DSL in our area). Then there’s the cost of the actual equipment and the supplies. Our desktop is not the newest model, our tablet is not an iPad, and the laptop was a gift from my Mom (thanks Mom!).
We go through reams of paper and buy new ink and toner every 4 months or so. Fortunately, the kids’ grandparents give us a lot of paper (love the deals Staples has sometimes) and we buy off-brand ink, or we would be spending a few hundred dollars on printer supplies and paper alone each year.
Yes, it is possible to use online resources without printing them out.
You could read them from your computer or mobile device (we do this with a lot of things). Kids can copy problems onto a chalkboard or dry-erase board. Math can be done verbally.
But, do not underestimate the value of convenience!
It’s that time factor, again.
For instance---how much time will it take me to hand write out several word problems vs. printing them? And do that for 4 different kids who are all on different levels? In everything?
So two main points here:
Yes, you can homeschool for nearly free.
But there are trade-offs to doing it that way.
Which brings us to…how much does it cost to homeschool if I don’t go the free route?
And what if I just buy the cheapest workbooks I can find and plop my kids down at the table?
We’ll talk about that next time in part 2 of The Real Cost of Homeschooling.
Don’t miss it!