Homeschooling in Hard Times: Doing More With Less

Homeschooling on a shoestring budget
The economic downturn has had an impact on virtually every segment of society, and the homeschool community is no exception. In fact, because many homeschooling families rely on a single income, they may even be more susceptible to the effects of unemployment or reduced earnings than the average household. And while we’re generally a pretty frugal crowd anyway, perhaps if we pool our knowledge we can come up with additional ways to trim costs, expand options, and remain faithful to our calling in spite of hardships. With that thought in mind, here are a few of my own random ideas on the matter.

Product Options

Apologia Biology Does textbook edition matter? Sometimes quite a lot, other times, not so much. For instance, the differences between the 1st edition and 2nd edition of Apologia’s Exploring Creation with Biology are largely related to cosmetics and convenience. Our family has used both, and we feel confident that either one would provide comprehensive, up-to-date instruction in the subject.

Conversely, the difference between the 2nd and 3rd editions of Saxon Math 8/7 are drastic. The former basically provided a holding pattern/continuation of the arithmetic found in Math 7/6 for students who were not intellectually prepared to move on to Algebra. The updated 3rd edition has been completely revamped to include significant pre-algebra instruction and greater challenge overall. Either one may fit well with your family’s goals, but it’s important to know the difference.

If a used older edition will work just as well at a fraction of the cost, the money you save can be spent in areas where there’s less flexibility with options. Homeschool message boards are a good place to get the scoop on edition differences. Homeschoolers are notoriously generous with their expertise, so asking for opinions on an active board will likely yield valuable information. Publishers and retailers are also usually willing to share insights. At Finders-Keepers, we often chat with customers who are just trying to get a feel for their options before they make a purchase.

One word of caution about old editions: Try to purchase the essential elements all at once. Otherwise, you may end up with a fabulous textbook for which answer keys or student workbooks are impossible to find.

Vintage materials– Nobody loves a vintage textbook more than me. But let’s face it–if you use an antiquated curriculum for certain subjects, there will be problems later on. Some “heritage” resources provide high quality content that is truly timeless. Others are decidedly obsolete, no matter how charming. Such resources are better reserved for a supplementary glimpse into the past rather than a source of primary instruction. For example, we used and enjoyed A Child’s History of the World by V.M. Hillyer, but our copy of A Child’s Geography of the World by the same author was relegated to novelty status.

Sourcing Options – Purchasing

Buying Used – For most of us, the first line of cost cutting measures is buying used curricula. Online swap boards at sites such as VegSource, The Well Trained Mind, Homeschool Classifieds, HSLDA, and Homeschool Christian, can be a gold mine for bargain hunters. Ebay is still a good option, but is somewhat less lucrative since they outlawed teacher’s manuals. (This policy was recently reversed.) Some regional homeschool groups sponsor used book sales in conjunction with their homeschool conventions, and local associations may provide an avenue for impromptu transactions or newsletter classifieds.

Discount suppliers are the usually the next line of homeschool fiscal defense. Many are quite good, but watch out for shopping surprises like jacked up shipping costs, undisclosed sales tax expenses, shipping delays/inconsistent availability, or non-existent customer service. We’ve been on the buying end of all these issues at one time or another, and we know they can quickly turn a bargain buy into a regrettable fiasco. A special word of caution is in order for Rosetta Stone language software: The marketplace is absolutely flooded with pirated copies. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is! If you’re in doubt about a potential purchase, take a quick look at this Rosetta Stone Safe & Smart Buying Guide.

If buying new is your only option, you can sometimes squeeze out a bit of extra savings by utilizing or even stacking consumer incentives. Rewards credit cards can sometimes be coupled with benefits such as Bing Cashback, Ebates, Big Crumbs, etc. to shave off a few more dollars. Of course, it’s always important to focus on the final delivered price when comparison shopping.

Sourcing Options – Borrowing

Public Library – Yes, this is obvious. But if you’re like me, you may have had previous experience with an under-funded, inconvenient, and poorly stocked library that was more trouble than it was worth. I recently became reacquainted with our county library and was pleasantly surprised at how far it had come. The entire catalog is available online, books can be perused, reserved, or renewed online, and the interlibrary and intralibrary loan procedures have been streamlined. Furthermore, the shelves have been stocked up, so quality materials are always readily available.

Homeschool Lending Library – Many homeschool groups have lending libraries that offer curricula to members free of charge. Though our own association is of modest size, our lending library is impressive, and a family could definitely make do with its resources in a pinch.

Alternating Grade Swaps – Seek out likeminded local homeschooling families who have kids a year older and/or a year younger than yours, and work out an arrangement to swap out materials from one year to the next. Some of our loyal Shurley, Saxon, and Apologia customers do this, and it works out quite well. One family buys the odd grade level kits, the other picks up the evens, and they switch out non-consumable components every year.

Put Out the Word – If you are plugged in to your local homeschool community, let people know that your budget is stretched to its limit and you’d be grateful for the opportunity to borrow materials. You may even be able to work out a bartering arrangement with services such as babysitting or tutoring to help earn used books.

Public School Materials – This would not be a first choice for most of us, and administration hostility toward homeschoolers makes it an impossibility for many, but if you’re in a school district that’s homeschool friendly you may be able to borrow textbooks from the system. Obviously great care is warranted when considering such materials, but some extra effort spent editing and enhancing a public school text may be just the investment that enables you to continue homeschooling when times are lean.

Sourcing Options – Do It Yourself

Unit Study – I’ll never forget the day I figured out that teaching young children isn’t rocket science, and that putting together a unit study could actually be fun. That was many years ago. I’m working on a unit study for my grandkids right now, and though it does require a good bit of time and energy, it allows me to custom-fit a lesson plan that is precisely suited to their needs. And did I mention? It’s cheap!

Borrowing From a Table of Contents – The prospect of striking out on your own may be intimidating because of an over-abundance of material rather than a lack thereof. Borrowing guidelines from a Scope and Sequence or Table of Contents for a quality course can offer a template for appropriate instruction using free online materials. Honing in on what to study and in what order can simplify the planning process and prevent excessive, unfocused rabbit chasing.

4-H as a Spine – 4-H is an outstanding resource, and I don’t know why homeschoolers don’t talk about it more. The cost is absolutely minimal. If you want to join a 4-H club, you’ll have access to guided instruction from the leader as well as group learning opportunities. But I’m more excited about their printed resources than club activities. 4-H Curriculum Publications span a wide variety of subjects and age groups, can be ordered online, and they’re dirt cheap. They don’t include all the direct instruction you’ll need, but they do provide a structured lesson path, some direct instruction, worksheets, and activity/project suggestions. By adding a quality text or two from the library you can have everything you need to study anything from entomology to wind energy.

Exciting Enrichments

Apprenticeships – At a time when labor costs are crushing businesses and education expenses are straining families, the apprenticeship arrangement is more practical than ever. An expert in a particular field can exchange his time spent training for the free labor of a trustworthy student. It can be an informal, short term situation, or something more substantial. Put away your preconceived notions about which trades might be well suited for an apprentice and imagine the possibilities.

Contests –It’s amazing how many student contests are going on at any given time, in virtually every subject area. You could really beef up a school year just by having your students prepare and submit entries. And who knows? They might even win some cash and prizes! Some contests provide lesson plans and teaching scripts for student projects. For instance, last year’s “Invention Dimension” contest offered a complete Educator’s Guide and Workbook, both of which were available to download free online. I was so impressed with these particular resources that I saved copies to adapt for use in future school projects. And of course, the Finders-Keepers Facebook Page has drawings for free homeschool curriculum materials on a regular basis.

BotballBotball is an outstanding opportunity for students who are interested in technology:

“The Botball Educational Robotics Program gives students skills, experience, and opportunities to succeed as they work in teams to design, build and program a pair of autonomous robots for regional and international competitions.”

Our son (who is now a computer programmer) was very active in Botball, and it would be hard to overstate the impact this experience had on him. Under the leadership of a local computer science professor, he learned about project management, time management, proper documentation, the importance of teamwork and good sportsmanship, and, oh yeah…programming.

Website Resources – There seems to be no limit to the number of websites offering quality instruction for students—both in terms of printable resources and online instruction & activities.

Commercial, government, and non-profit organizations all seem to be scrambling to reach this internet-oriented generation, and many of the pages are quite good. Of course, this vast realm of information can be overwhelming, so I prefer to think first about what I need to teach, and then consider what agency or company might be a trustworthy authority on the matter and go from there. For instance, for family preparedness, you could visit the FEMA website and utilize their FEMA for Kids activities. The USDA Youth Resources are helpful for nutrition instruction, as is some of the information in the Kraft Foods Kids’ section. The National Digital Science Library is a clearinghouse of information, featuring links to all sorts of science-related websites. (Just watch out for worldview bias.)

Thinking outside the box – Sometimes all you really need is some time to think about how to teach a particular concept creatively. I was recently trying to come up with a good way for my grandson to learn about the different types of rooster combs. After a great deal of fruitless searching online, I decided to step away from my computer and just think about it for a few minutes. Within moments the idea of “Mr. Egg Head” came to mind, in which he could mold the various comb shapes using an egg as his model chicken head. It was a minor thing, but it reminded me how important a bit of intentional contemplation can be to the creative process.

Concurrent Enrollment – This is only an option if you are located near a homeschool-friendly college or university, and it can be very expensive. However, some institutions—including the one nearest our family—offer partial scholarships for concurrent enrollment students. The cost isn’t exactly peanuts, but for a mature student it’s a more economical option for studying subjects that would otherwise require a major investment in specialized equipment and instructional materials.

Cooperative Extension Service – These ”county agent” offices provide instructional publications on subjects related to health & nutrition, home & garden, natural resources, agriculture, and more. While the content is geared toward adults, it would be appropriate for use with upper level students, and would be practical preparation for running their own households someday.

Master Gardener Course – This is actually part of the Cooperative Extension Service, but it’s such a great opportunity that it deserves a mention of its own. In exchange for a reasonable notebook fee and 40 hours of volunteer gardening labor (still more training!) over the course of the subsequent year, you can gain access to intensive horticultural instruction that’s taught by experts and specifically geared toward your climate. My youngest daughter and I completed Master Gardener training when she was in 11th grade, and I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of the program.

This is just a handful of ideas to consider. Hopefully as families discover new ways to achieve their goals without breaking their banks, the homeschool community will be marked by insightful exchanges, heartfelt encouragement, and a victorious view of the future.

www.finders-keepers.net

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Win a FREE Second Form Latin Set! Entering is EASY!

Most of us have settled into the new semester and are busy pressing forward to finish on schedule, so we figured it’s the perfect time to liven things up with another curriculum contest. Since we know so many of you have had success with First Form Latin and plan to continue with Second Form, we’re giving away a Second Form Latin Set.

I just got off the phone with a customer in the Virgin Islands. We’ve gotten about 9″ of snow today, with more on the way this evening.  I do love a good snow day, but as I gazed out my office window and saw yet another vehicle slide off the road, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of day he was having in that tropical location.

So the question for this contest is a just-for-fun poll. If you could be anywhere else in the world today, where would you go?  To enter simply write your answer as a “Comment” to the contest post on the Finders-Keepers Facebook page. The winner will receive a free Second Form Latin Set.

All entries must be received by Noon CST on Wednesday, February 16th, and the drawing will be that afternoon. One winner will be selected randomly from the number of responses received. The winner will be announced on Facebook, and he or she will receive a message from Finders-Keepers requesting shipping information. Please feel free to repost the contest information on other Facebook pages, and to share it with friends and family. However, we do request that responses be limited to one per person.

And don’t forget, the Finders-Keepers website offers fantastic prices on Memoria Press Latin materials with FREE shipping on all orders of $50 or more.

www.finders-keepers.net

Win a FREE Apologia Biology Set (Student Text, Solutions & Tests Manual, Extra Test Booklet). Entering is EASY!

contest post on the Finders-Keepers Facebook page.  The winner will receive a free

For our Apologia Biology contest, we had originally planned to touch upon biodiversity and the interdependence of life.  However, the oil crisis in the Gulf—which is, of course, upsetting the balance of nature—is such a sensitive and/or grievous subject for so many that we thought it best to go in a different direction for now.  Having said that…

Since Biology is the study of life,  for this week’s contest we’d like you to name a song that has some form of the word “life” in the title.  It can be any genre (hymns, country, pop, etc.) , from any era, and in any language.

To enter simply write your answer as a “Comment” to the appropriateApologia Biology Set.

All entries must be received by Noon CST on Wednesday, June 16th, and the drawing will be that afternoon. One winner will be selected randomly from the number of responses received. The winner will be announced on Facebook, and he or she will receive a message from Finders-Keepers requesting shipping information. Please feel free to share the contest information with friends and family, but we do request that responses be limited to one per person.

And don’t forget, the Finders-Keepers website offers free Apologia Notebook Pages and Sample Modules, as well as fantastic prices on Apologia Science materials with FREE shipping on orders of $50 or more.

www.finders-keepers.net