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Homeschooling on a Budget

You Really Can Do It
Most parents believe educating their children is an expensive proposition. According to The Homeschooling Book of Answers, public schools spend nearly $7,000 per pupil per year. What if I told you there were families providing an excellent education for their homeschooled child for $50 per year? And even for those of us who splurge on a few beautiful books occasionally, we can easily manage to keep our total expenses under $200 a year. Sound impossible? Here's how:

The Library
My family has built our curriculum around library resources. Books and periodicals are supplemented with videos, audiocassettes, discussion groups, lectures, CDs, educational computer games, and foreign language tapes. For older kids, the library has information on the SAT, PSAT, ACT, and other college entrance tests. With inter-library loans, you can access virtually any book in any library. Be sure to visit several libraries. Quality does vary. Check out the library's computer system; it should easily locate the books you want and reserve those currently on loan.

Homeschooling families use the library in two ways: researching items of interest, and discovering topics for further study. After an intense hailstorm, my seven-year-old was full of questions about hail. We visited the library and brought home at least 10 books on weather. Some had great photos; others explained scientific principles very simply. Our favorite contained experiments for recreating weather conditions in the kitchen. We wound up spending months studying weather, water cycles, pollution, and even electricity.

On other visits to the library, we cruise the aisles in the children's section looking to discover anything even mildly interesting. We usually leave with two large shopping bags full of books. I know that shortly after we arrive home I'll hear their excited voices: "Mom! Come see this Komodo Dragon! Did you know they're found on only one tiny island?" Or, "Wow! The Aztecs discovered cocoa and drank 30 cups of cocoa a day!"

Field Trips, Groups, and Educational Television Field Trips
Most state and national parks offer educational programs. Sign up for mailing lists and activity notices. We've learned about maple-sugaring, sheep-shearing, weaving, beach campfires, and seining (net-fishing) for free at our local parks.

Museums make great field trips, as do local businesses. A group trip to a nearby apple orchard taught us every aspect of managing an orchard. We saw trees being grafted to produce different apple varieties, watched apples being made into cider, and tasted the juice. Several weeks later, a local candy-maker gave our group a tour (and some delicious samples!); we watched machines efficiently form, wrap, and package the chocolate.

Groups
Learning with a chosen group is a great benefit of homeschooling. Last year we were part of a homeschool medieval group. Parents took turns helping with crafts, telling stories, and planning a big May Day festival, complete with costumes and a feast. All the kids wanted to be there, learned a lot, and had a great time.

Try forming classes or clubs for different subjects and educational activities. My daughter is currently in a writer's club and two book discussion groups. Families can save money by sharing costs for hiring a teacher or tutor for difficult or challenging subjects. Local homeschool support groups, friends, and neighbors provide opportunities to barter and share—one homeschooling mom exchanges German lessons for music lessons with a local musician.

Educational Television
Most families agree: PBS stations provide excellent learning opportunities for homeschoolers. Besides producing wonderful programs and documentaries, PBS has a teacher's website that offers 1,400 lesson plans and activities, study guides for TV specials, and current events from around the world. www.pbs.org/teachersource

Cyberschooling
FamilyEducation.com has extensive resources for homeschooling families: Activities, curriculum materials, educational games, networking with other homeschoolers, and more. If you haven't already, visit the homeschooling channel.

One book I strongly recommend you buy: Homeschool Your Child For Free by Lauramaery Gold and Joan M. Zielinski. This guide includes "more than 1,200 smart, effective, and practical resources for home education on the Internet and beyond." The authors list, review, and rate the best educational resources on the Internet. They cover everything from reading-readiness activities for preschoolers to science projects for teens. Intelligently written and easy to understand, Homeschool Your Child For Free might just become the most useful book in your homeschool library.

Used Bargains
Thrift shops, yard sales, flea markets, and library book sales are great sources of bargains for homeschoolers. Books, magazines, videos, maps, art and science supplies, costumes for plays, instruments, music—the list is endless.

You can find bargains at curriculum fairs, where homeschoolers preview new curricula and buy and sell their used materials. One homeschooler came late to a used curriculum sale. The sellers wanted to take home as little as possible and gave her cartons of books and curricula for free! Also try looking for used curricula and books online. Homeschooler's Curriculum Swap (theswap.com) is a good source, and The Back Pack (www.thebackpack.com) offers used books and supplemental materials.

Discounts
Educational discounts for homeschoolers are everywhere - just ask! Barnes and Noble gives homeschoolers a 20 percent discount. Zany Brainy offers 10 percent. All stores require an ID stating that you are a homeschooler. My homeschool support group made up an official looking card and I've used it with no problems. Before I had that card, I brought a copy of my "intent to homeschool" letter and the school superintendent's reply to a craft store. I received a 20 percent educator's discount.

All You Need is Love
Homeschooling on a budget is not difficult. Expensive curricula, flashy manipulatives, and books written by the "experts" are nice, but unnecessary. All your child really needs is a loving parent providing learning opportunities on a daily basis. And my family has discovered that—like many things in life—the best learning opportunities are free.

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