Homeschooling On A Budget

August 17, 2008
Written by:
Guest Author

Children outgrow learning materials as readily as they do clothing and shoes. This is why you’ll often find homeschooling groups swapping or selling resources at bargain basement prices.

A bonus of this approach is that you can get a review of the product directly from someone who has used it. Remember, something that works well for one child doesn’t necessarily work well for the next, so hearing from someone with experience can stop you from purchasing something that might become your home’s newest dust collector.

If you don’t have a support group nearby, don’t despair. Similar previously used homeschooling materials are available through the Internet at sites set up specifically to meet the need for low-cost materials. You can search the web for additional sources, but here are a few to get you started:

Materials are also always popping up on eBay where the auction set-up can result in incredible bargains. Just go to and conduct a search on a few key words. Check often, as what isn’t there today could show up tomorrow.

Keep both school and non-school resources in mind and head out for neighborhood yard sales. Yes, you can often pick up books for nickels and dimes, but also other educational treasures can be had for similar price tags.

Studying Simple Machines For Science?

Take home that old alarm clock, wind it up, remove the back, and watch how the gears work. Pick up that ten cent rain gauge and let it become the center of weather related learning. That box of seashells (that the garage sale proprietor would probably throw in for free) offers hours of sorting and classifying activity.

Children can write literary masterpieces on old typewriters, build a fort with lumber scraps, and turn an old window or door screen into a sifter for a backyard archaeological dig. Join! Many educational organizations offer family memberships for a fee.

Local Musuems, Planetariums, Aquariums…

Check into local museums of all types, historic sites, planetariums, aquariums, science centers and more. While at first glance the fee may seem expensive, say $60 – $75 per year, before you dismiss it, you should ask for a schedule and assess how frequently you and your children would be likely to visit. You may find that if you divide the total cost between enough programs, exhibits, visiting lecturers, and other educational opportunities that each visit emerges as a great bargain.

While you may be fortunate enough to be surrounded by many choices, join just one or two each 8 year. The membership costs of more than two can easily add up. You’re also more likely to take advantage of more offerings at a single venue if you don’t have an overflowing plate to choose from.

With schedule in hand, you’ll know what the organization will offer. It’s easy to plan our own studies around the topics. You can use the field trip to the organization’s facility as anything from an introduction to a specific topic to the grand finale of studies almost completed.

Prior study can lead to lots of unanswered questions, to answers to which form the purpose of your learning visit. Also don’t forget to throw in as many visits as possible just for the fun of it!


Many homeschooling families have saved countless dollars through bartering, the old fashioned exchange of services.

Here’s yet another opportunity to get creative to save some money. You or your child can provide a few evening meals each week for an elderly neighbor who then teaches your child how to garden, knit, or share stories as a veteran of past wars.

An artist neighbor might be willing to nourish your child’s creative talents in exchange for a few hours of babysitting. Or an arrangement might be as simple as a share of your garden produce or your delectable strawberry jam in exchange for foreign language lessons.

Before you approach someone with a talent or information to share, discuss with your child what both of you would be willing to do in return. Then put forth your proposition. The worst anyone can do is say “no, thank you,” but odds are in your favor that someone will welcome the opportunity to share what s/he knows to receive your bartered wares in exchange.


The wisdom, “It is better to give than receive,” holds a lot of truth as far as home educators are concerned. Every community has countless needs for volunteer services, and homeschooling families have discovered that by giving they receive more than they could have imagined.

The rewards of volunteerism are plentiful, when you realize that your child can learn from everyone s/he meets. While volunteers aren’t paid, they often perform the same work as their paid counterparts. This provides priceless experience, available nowhere else, to children and young adults who will learn much from the experience. Volunteerism also teaches the need-and creates the desire-to give back to the community, a habit much needed in today’s world.

If you’re unsure of where your community needs volunteer efforts, just keep an eye on your local paper. Watch for activity announcements such as Meals on Wheels, adult literacy programs, soup kitchens, medical associations, government-run educational facilities, and more.

Even places like your public library and local nature center rely on the donation of volunteer hours. Think about signing up right along with your child, especially if s/he is under fourteen years of age (many organizations will have a problem with an unsupervised child less than fourteen-years-old, but will gladly welcome him/her if you are there as parent).

Without a doubt, volunteering is a gift that keeps on giving for both the recipient and the provider of services.


Apprenticeships are volunteering with a twist. Typically, there is no pay for services rendered, but the volunteer/apprentice learns a useful skill under the tutelage of a knowledgeable individual for his/her time.

Apprenticeships usually focus on the transfer of vocational abilities. A professional devotes time helping the youth-apprentice learn business skills. Not only does the youth build talents s/he will possess for a lifetime, but s/he also gets a taste of a trade or profession s/he’s interested in to help him/her make future life career decisions.

The professional doesn’t charge money for his expertise. Instead, the apprentice performs “real” work in exchange for newfound skills. The arrangement with the apprenticeship provider may be an informal or formal one, but for everyone’s peace of mind it should be in writing so there are no misunderstandings.

A simple document should set forth the total length of the apprenticeship. Most homeschoolers recommend a trial run of four to six weeks. If things go well, it can always be extended. All parties should agree to hours per day, days per week, and briefly outline what they intend to provide to each other.

All parties to the agreement, including you as parent, should sign and keep a copy. Once again, by thinking outside the box, the possibilities of apprenticeships are endless, and a great way to keep down the cost of the learning process.

Do You Need Textbooks and Curriculum? 

Purchasing just a few full-price textbooks could eat up $200 in a hurry, as could most prepared curricula. The good news is that you don’t need to spend money at that rate to provide a superior home education. As mentioned in the previous post on freebies, your public library, computer, and home contain information on any topic you could possibly need or want to address in home study.

Most parents who hesitate to take this different route to learning are hesitant because they feel without a “map” they don’t know where they’re going. “Learning maps” are totally free!

They come in the form of curriculum, or may be called “scope and sequence.” A curriculum outlines what subjects/concepts/skills are to be covered in a specific grade; it maps out a course of study. A scope and sequence is similar to a rough outline of what children of a certain age are expected to know.

As it turns out, the choice of what gets studied when in traditional schools is quite arbitrary. In other words, it doesn’t matter all that much whether your child first studies nouns or verbs, or simple machines, or earth science.

As long as you have a map, or a general idea of where you’d like home study to take your child, you can use free or low cost information sources to get there. Here are two sources of curricula lists to get you started:

For many more curriculum maps, type “homeschool scope and sequence” into google and you’ll see everything you need.

Replacing Textbooks with Common Household Items:

Let’s take a look around your home for learning materials that help teach arithmetic concepts that are either free, or that you can make or buy inexpensively.

First, children love playing with money. You can use bills and coins, real or pretend, to teach: • Money values • Making change • Interest • Tithing • Carrying and borrowing • Decimals • Percentages Kitchen Materials Every home contains food, from dry beans to assorted shaped macaroni, from asparagus spears to a bag of M&M’s.

You can use food to teach: • Sorting • Counting • Graphing • Patterns • Subtraction-by-eating • Standard measurement and fractions through baking and cooking

Go Outside!

Nowhere is it written that learning must take place indoors. On a beautiful sunny morning, you can head outside and play: • Hoppable number lines • Parking lot multiplication • Number hopscotch • Feed the birds using fractions.

The popular “Horse” basketball game with multiplication or division instead of letters.

Grocery Store Curriculum

Everyday chores offer free learning opportunities, too. For example, the next time you head to the grocery store, take the kids along and do some “grocery store math.” Depending on your child’s skill level, you can ask your child: • If two cans cost ninety-nine cents, how much are four cans? Three?

Estimate what a bag of fruit or tomatoes weight and then weigh it to see how close she came to guessing correctly. • Which is a better buy, the name brand using this coupon or the store band without a coupon? •

What is twenty percent of the cost of this box of cereal? How much would it be if it were twenty percent off? • Estimate the total cost of groceries while waiting in the check-out line, or guess how many bags your order will fill.

How many different deli meats would we have to buy to have three pounds if we buy one-quarter pound of each?

Fun Learning Materials to Make Yourself

Like adults, children take pride in creations of their very own, and these will be used for many years. Materials for fun and useful resources are inexpensive and easily available.

Geoboards.  Typically a wooden board with equally spaced nails in rows, 6 x 6, 7 x 7, and so on. Your child uses rubber bands wrapped around different nails to create geometric shapes and to learn about area. •

Tangrams. A tangram is a square of material cut into seven pieces-five triangles, one rhomboid, and one square. These are used as a puzzle to recreate predetermined pictures, always using all seven pieces, and may also be used informally to explore shapes. Search “tangram” on the Internet for a readily available pattern.

Geometric shape.  Use string and a box of straws to create geometric shapes.

Maps. Maps may be drawn, found on the Internet, or purchased inexpensively from office supplies stores. Your child can color her how, make a cookie map, or have fun mapping out the route the wolf took to Little Red Riding Hood’s house.

Books. Children love their own books whether filled with pictures or words. Younger ones can illustrate a favorite story printed by an adult. Every child’s creative writing can become an illustrated book, with only 8 ½” x 10″ paper stapled together full-size or folded in half to more closely resemble a book. Illustrations can be drawn or cut out of old magazines and catalogs.

Ziploc bags can be filled with pictures, dried flowers, family mementos, etc., then connected by yarn or ribbon through holes punched equidistant from the edges on each bag.

The Basics. Artists keep appropriate supplies at hand, and a musician’s instrument is never far away lest inspiration strikes.

A learning child should similarly have some basic materials on hand for easy access. These need not be expensive either, and many of the reference books that formerly needed to be purchased are available online.

Useful reference books include encyclopedias and dictionaries. General ones are great but don’t forget to keep your eyes open at garage and library sales (and online) for the many specialized editions available. A thesaurus is handy, as are Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and Elements of Style, a succinct primer on writing rules for older students.

Atlases and almanacs teem with information for the taking. A desk, cubbyhole, or corner of a room can become the place to study for your child if he can make it his own. Make sure the area is well lit for reading and writing.

Here he can store a calculator, ruler, stapler, paper clips, extra pens and pencils (different colors and media are a lot of fun), paper of all sorts, protractor, and compass (age appropriate-a compass has a very sharp point.)

Not only doesn’t home education need to be expensive, there are many benefits to accepting the challenge to keep down the cost for your family. When you’re on the lookout for educational opportunities, you will begin to look at the world differently, discovering that you’re surrounded by opportunity daily.

This awareness helps you and your family appreciate the world as your ultimate classroom. Thinking about alternatives for expensive materials exercises your imagination and creativity, which makes them grow stronger. These traits will serve you-and your child-well throughout your homeschooling experience, and save you lots of money at the same time.

Remember – Make This Your Best Homeschooling Year Ever!