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How Much Does Homeschooling Cost?

by Beverley Paine

FAQ May 07, Jenny asked: "I'm wanting to homeschool my boys aged 8, 7 and 6 but the cost of materials seems expensive."

I found during the years that we home educated our now young adult children that homeschooling cost whatever we wanted it to. Some years we spent thousands of dollars: excursions, educational holidays, art and craft material, equipment such as telescope, chemistry and electronic sets, etc. Other years we spent very little, either living off the consumerables, books and equipment we'd purchased earlier or simply being inventive and ingenious, creating learning materials from whatever we had on hand, especially using recycled materials, and making good use of free resources readily available in the community. Most of the time how much we spent was directly related to how much money we had spare each week...

I know how much I saved each year by not sending my children to school. Savings were made on school fees and uniforms - for our family this amounted to nearly $1000 each year. That's a lot of money to spend on educational books, games, excursions, etc. Back then I didn't think about it this way though - most people don't consider the money saved by not doing something like going to school. We usually only worry about how much things are going to cost us...

In the same way most families don't consider the money they spend on their children - books, educational games and toys, hobbies, excursions and camps - as educational expenses. I guess if we did most of us would be shocked! I know we were when we kept a family budget for two years. But that's how it is in our family - education is really important and was a high priority so we were happy to dedicate a fair amount of income to that purpose.

Chosing to spend the money wisely where we got the best return was also important. This meant being very selective about activities and toys, books and so on. I prefered to buy things that had continuity of use built in - such as construction toys that could be used for a variety of games, or sequential books (eg maths, spelling, etc). Handing toys, books and games down to the next child ready to use them was important, as was buying quality materials that would last multiple uses.

In the first year of homeschooling I think we spent about $300 - half of it on teaching manuals that were rarely used, but they at least gave me an insight on why approaching homeschool as though I was a school teacher wouldn't work! They also gave me the confidence to realise that most of what occurs in the early years of schooling is busywork, at best teaching children how to operate efficiently within a classroom environment (learning how to play the 'school game'); at worst duplicating in clumsy ways skills and knowledge attained naturally by simply living in the home environment (dental hygiene, recognising colours, learning about what people do, simple safety rules, etc).

For April (age 6) we purchased workbooks at year 1 and year 2 level for spelling, grammar and maths. These cost $6 each. They were fill-in-the-blank books and had they been more expensive I would have encouraged her to write her answers in an exercise book, the way I had when at school 30 years earlier.

For the other subjects April did 'projects'. Lap books and scrap booking are the modern version of doing projects - a quick google search will bring up dozens of excellent informative sites telling you how to use either method with your children. I prepared activities, worksheets and lessons on themes or topics related to what I wanted April to know. We did art most days - that's very simple - just supply a few art materials and a space to be creative! For craft I organised enough materials (including a junk box of recycled materials) for April to build dolls' furniture, houses, cars, props for her pretend games, play with clay (including real clay, play doh, etc), wool, sewing materials - anything and everything that would encourage her to use her hands and her mind to create and produce.

I encouraged her to help me with the chores - cooking, cleaning, gardening and looking after her baby brother. We spent time each day reading together, she read to her brothers, and spent time reading to herself. We had a small collection of largely secondhand books and also went to the library and toy library every week.

If April had been at school this year we would have spent all but the money for the teacher manuals (not needed) and the workbooks (well used) anyway. So, in reality, I think I could say that homeschooling really only cost us about $40 for that year...

There is no need to spend a fortune on school books and materials. Have a look through The Educating Parent Resource Directory for a comprehensive list of providers of educational resources.

Buy frugally at first - start with one or two books in one or two subject areas and see if you child is inclined to do 'bookwork' at home. Think carefully about different ways to approach topics rather than working from and in books. For example, it's easier to learn about pets by looking after them rather than doing a 'school project' on them... It's easier to learn about cleaning teeth by having someone show you night after night the best way to do it and help you master the technique of flossing and visiting the dentist for a chat and show around the dental surgery (before you actually need to visit the dentist for real!) than filling in blanks or colouring some page in a health work book!

Some children love workbooks, others hate them. Get to know your child's learning style before you spend a lot of money on curriculum supplies.

"I know that there is plenty of printables off the net but then that brings into the cost of paper and printing. Is that usually the most budget conscious way to help with the learning?"

When we began homeschooling (pre-personal computer and internet days!) I designed my own pages in an exercise book for each child. I mostly made it up as I went along for a month or two and then a friend gave me some student workbooks. So I copied out pages or parts of pages into my daughter's exercise books. This would take me a fair amount of time and eventually I succumbed to buying student work books in spelling, grammar and maths (for about $6 each - they don't cost a lot mroe than that now, probably around the $10 mark). Each book was designed to last a year level but my daughter raced through them, at the rate of three a year. We switched to unschooling (learning naturally) at about the fourth year of homeschooling. We also did a lot of unit studies (which I called 'projects' back then).

Have you looked at the any of the Aussie homeschool buy/sell/swap groups Aussie secondhand resources? There are a few listed in The Educating Parent Support Groups Resource Directory.

"The student workbooks last a year? How is that possible, when there are only a few pages to each level? Does this mean you only spend about 10mins on it?"

That's about right... only the children would sometimes work a lot slower, and how long also depends on how much there in on each page. For the first couple of grades that's not a lot, but handwriting skills are imperfect and it takes a fair bit of time for the child to get a whole word written! By grade six the pages were packed full, the writing a lot smaller and it took a bit longer. A lot more to read too!

We used workbooks as a kind of 'skeleton' learning program and fleshed out learning in those areas with lots of activities that reinforced or added to the skills and content covered in the books. You'll find a description of the kinds of things we did for reading and writing in my two practical homeschooling series booklets, and I cover spelling, writing, reading and maths for that period of homeschooling in my Learning in the Absence of Education book (http://alwayslearningbooks.com.au)

Most of the children's writing and handwriting arose from activities generated by other subjects, such as social studies and science. Whenever the children wrote anything I'd be looking to see how their skills were developing and improving. This would give me clues on what sort of reinforcement they needed. Sometimes it might mean I'd ask them to do a particular page in their workbooks, if I thought they needed to learn that skill or content now. For instance, Thomas was keen on apostrophes before he knew about fullstops and commas, so I taught him about apostrophes.

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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