Homeschooling on a Shoestring Friday, Jan 29 2010 

HOMESCHOOLING ON A SHOESTRING

Now that we have graduated four students, we have a set of books for every subject through high school. So, our future investment will be very low. At first we spent $500 on textbooks, teacher’s guides, computer software, and supplies each year, now it’s under $50. I’m teaching 6 students, from high school to first grade.

I realized early on that with the money I spent on preschool I could have bought a computer and a ton of art supplies. My change of plans was influenced by the mindset of keeping our money in the house. I’d rather go to free activities with my preschoolers and trade babysitting with a friend to get some free time than to spend money on preschool. Paying for preschool was especially ironic when you consider that I was a Child Development major in college.

The same thinking applies in upper grades. While I am aiming to give my children a quality education, that doesn’t mean I have to spend a lot of money.   How do I keep my homeschool budget low? I use the public library extensively, use a homeschool support group library, borrow science equipment, buy used musical instruments, and buy used books. Some of our text books were free. They were samples offered to the private school where my sister-in-law worked. She passed them on to us. They include a student text, a teacher text and some goodies like cassette tapes, overheads, tests and fun supplemental exercises. I’ve also benefitted from the hand-me-downs of friends who try a curriculum and then move on.  One way I’ve saved money is to not curriculum hop. The first grade readers that my 26 year old used are now being used by my 6 year old. Guess what, they still work. My supplies may not be so fun or modern, but they offer a sound academic education.

If you’re known as people who aren’t proud and will take what’s offered, you can get a lot of stuff free. We’ve gotten loads of paper, envelopes and notebooks from offices that were closing because we let people know that we are willing to use what’s given to us. We’ve also been given computer programs, older video gaming systems and lots of books.

Sticking to the basics can save you a lot of money.  Like what? A Bible for you to read! If you don’t have God’s direction and strength, you can just hang it up now. You’ll need a Bible for each student with age appropriate text. A good dictionary, encyclopedia on CD Rom, a computer. Lots of paper and pencils, good math text books, good grammar textbooks. Then you need lots of time playing with building materials (legos, lincoln logs, erector set), looking at leaves and bugs, writing and rewriting about anything and everything, and reading about history, science and current events. Visit museums and ask for study guides. Take vacations at historical locations. Go to the zoo, then look up your favorite animal when you get home for an extended study. You don’t have to buy packaged curriculum or spend a lot of money. You can learn as you live and collect materials wherever you go. Life is full of learning opportunities.

Literature is a foundation of our school.  It’s great inspiration to foster a love of playing with the language, feeding the imagination, and broadening the mind with stories of heroes, villians, hardship and triumph. About half of my students are avid readers. The other half is dyslexic. Literature is important to all of them though. For those who find reading a chore, we skip it for a long time. They listen to our literature reading at noon and they check out audio classics in different formats from the library. I call it going in the back door. If reading (going in the front door) is something the student hates, don’t do it.  If they love great stories, which is what classic literature is, then go around to the back door and go in through the ears instead of the eyes. The important thing is to get the material into the brain. Use whatever method is peaceful for you and your student. Now that we’ve been homeschooling for 20 years I can say that my fondest times are the times I’ve spent reading classic literature after lunch as we linger at the table. Cost, nothing….investment in our lives, priceless.

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Paying for College….or Not Thursday, Jan 28 2010 

Elementary education is one thing, but what about college? If you just look at the numbers, a carpenter with 10 children can’t afford to send his children to college. But we have a plan and a source of money. The plan is this: we tell our children that we will send them to 2 years of community college and the next 2 years are theirs to pay for if they want a four year degree. They can go into the military, get employer sponsored tuition or enroll in a work/study program. They can save from the time they are little and pay for it, or they can get scholarships and grants. We will discourage loans. That’s the plan. What’s the source? It’s God. He has all the money in the world and can send a child to college if that is what He has planned for that young person. Not everyone needs to go to college either. It’s not a birthright and is not a guaranteed asset in everyone’s life.   So how is that plan working for us? Our oldest daughter graduated from UVA. She entered as a third year at 18 years old because she started community college at 16. She had 2 Associate’s Degrees already. UVA has almost no merit based aid, so her excellent grades didn’t help there. We filled out the FAFSA form which is step one in getting financial aid. Our EFC, or expected family contribution, was very low. She was awarded grants to cover almost all of her needs but did take a loan for $2000 for the year. She will pay back the loan on her own after graduation. A year before she went to UVA my daughter came to me and said she’d decided not to go to a 4 year school this year but would stay home and work. This was not the dream she’d been working toward so I asked what was behind her change of plans. She said she didn’t have the money for college, so she couldn’t go. I said “Oh honey, have I taught you nothing? God has ALL the money!”. She proceded with her dream plan and had her faith strengthened when she saw how little was needed from her for tuition.

Our next 3 daughters have also begun their college years at community college. One got a degree in Hotel & Restaurant Management plus a Culinary Arts certificate. She now has her dream job of working in the bake shop of a resort hotel. She gets to make wedding cakes and lots of other beautiful desserts and has no college debt. Sweet! The next daughter is getting 2 associate’s degrees. One in business, the other in interior design. The fourth daughter did 2 years at community college and transferred to UVA. Her grants and loans have covered all of her university expenses.

So, our plan is working and we will continue with it. We won’t take out a loan to cover our children’s college expenses. Putting our home at risk for the education of one child seems foolish. The financial security of the other 11 members of the family is the greater priority.