Homeschooling is the most rapidly growing educational segment in the United States. An estimated 2.5 million students were homeschooled in 2019, the year before the pandemic forced many students to learn from home. A large number of families are choosing the homeschooling option, and online courses, group classes and boxed curricula are readily available.
However, costs quickly add up and can be out of reach for many families. You can be frugal and still offer a great educational experience for your kids by keeping an eye out for deals and discounts.
Read on to learn how some homeschooling families have found inexpensive ways to meet their children’s educational needs. Even if you don’t homeschool, some of these tips apply to all families with children.
Discounts on books, technology and classes
Many software companies offer substantial discounts to students. These discounts are available to kids in school as well as homeschooled students. The Homeschool Buyer’s Co-op negotiates volume discounts with suppliers of books, software and curricula for homeschooling families. Core Knowledge is a nonprofit group founded by E. D. Hirsch, Jr., professor emeritus at the University of Virginia. Many curriculum materials are available for free. Hippo Campus has free educational resources for students from middle-grade to college.
Know your library
Your public library may offer more than you think. Mara Winders from Levelland, Texas, says, “We use all of the resources our library offers: books, books on CD, inter-library loans, educational and recreational DVDs, and digital downloads of books and audiobooks.” Also, some libraries host story times, performances, workshops and cultural activities. Ask your librarian about ordering specific homeschooling resources or creating a homeschooling lending library.
Go on community field trips
Think beyond the typical field trips. What is your child interested in? If he’s into art, ask a local artist if you can visit the studio. The possibilities are limitless: Mechanics, woodworkers, researchers and musicians all might be willing to spend some time with an interested child, and the “field trip” probably won’t cost a dime. Government services like water-treatment plants, fire stations and recycling centers often offer tours. Don’t forget to ask for discounts, as well as educational packets or other materials.
Ask for educators’ discounts
Whenever a business offers an educators’ discount, make sure to ask if it applies to homeschoolers; check our Living on the Cheap list of teachers’ discounts. You might also find educators’ discounts at museums and zoos.
Leverage museum memberships
Museums are often part of associations that provide reciprocal memberships. That means you can join one museum and visit hundreds of others free. See if your local museum (or even a non-local one) is a member of the Association of Science and Technology Centers or the Association of Children’s Museums. Pat Robinson, a homeschooling mom from North Carolina, is traveling to 48 states with her son, and her museum memberships are allowing them to visit countless museums along the way.
Go to used book stores
Used bookstores are a gold mine for homeschooling families. Many have textbook and curriculum sections, but think beyond those. The best resources are often found in the fiction and nonfiction sections. Also, trade in your old books for store credit. You might find that you can get a steady stream of reading material without spending much, if any, money.
Use online courses
The number of free online resources is growing quickly. The most well-known is Khan Academy, which offers video lessons and exercises in math, science, economics, computer science and many other topics. Colleges and universities are starting to provide free online classes that can be audited. Harvard University, MIT and University of California Berkeley have joined forces to create edX, which provides free online classes. Students can receive a certificate of completion if they demonstrate mastery of the subject.
For kids not quite ready for Harvard, check out websites like Superkids, which you can use to create math worksheets, and Starfall, which offers games and activities for kids learning to read. ABCMouse (for kids ages 2-8) and Adventure Academy (for elementary school age kids) both offer free trials of game-based online learning.
Look into concurrent (dual) enrollment: Homeschool high school students have more resources than ever, as many community colleges offer concurrent, or dual, enrollment. High school students can take classes at the community college, often free, and may even earn an associate’s degree by the time they graduate from high school. Ask at your own community college about this option. Some colleges offer free tuition to qualifying students.
Take advantage of free local events
Watch for free events in your area that celebrate or explain local history, or programs that teach science and nature. For example, the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show opens its doors to thousands of schoolchildren for field trips, and they hold a special Junior Education section for kids. Call your local event organizers and ask if they have any programs or events for kids.
Look for used curriculum or supplies
Homeschool Classifieds is an online site for buying and selling homeschool materials and announcing events. Use social media sites and group forums to search for used supplies, computers, or other homeschooling needs.
Use tax-free shopping days to stock up
Some states hold tax-free days or weekends and free you from the cost of state sales tax. Here is a list of those states.
Ask for gifts or supplies that will add to your kids’ homeschooling experiences
Family members may have items of historical value that could be used in a class, or perhaps they could offer a first-hand account of an event in history. They might also have gently-used printer paper with a still-printable side, guidebooks on birds or trees, or they may have a hobby like origami or stamp collecting that can be shared with the kids.
Reach out for help
Homeschooling groups can offer support as well as guide you through the maze of homeschooling problems. Find one that fits your needs and share your wins and groans.
Enjoy a life of learning
One of the best things about homeschooling is that you don’t have to strictly follow any education curriculum. (But make sure you know the laws in your state.) Learning doesn’t have to be broken down into subjects like math, English and science. You’ll find learning opportunities all around you: adult mentors, friends, conversations in the car, TV documentaries, observing the weather and grocery shopping. The world is your classroom.
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- Top tips for distance learning
- Great free educational websites
In addition to the ASTC and ACM reciprocal memberships, don’t forget about the AZA – Association of Zoos & Aquariums. Go here for reciprocity info: http://www.aza.org/reciprocity/
Libraries are generally open to purchasing items for their collections they don’t currently have. I’ve requested my libraries purchase at least 100 items over the 10 years I’ve homeschooled in three cities. Some have restrictions such as no coil-bound or perfect binding, however. Many local homeschooling associations and groups also have lending libraries.
There are a few great places to purchase used curricula online. My favorite is HomeschoolClassifeds.com. There’s also the Well Trained Mind boards and several groups on Yahoo Groups. Check for when your local HS’ing groups have book swaps/sales, too. Don’t forgot to attend HS’ing conventions where you can get special deals like free shipping from vendors.
Always, always, ask for educator materials and discounts when doing field trips and such. One of my best hauls was at the state fair where the state parks department gave out special “under the table” sets of posters and educational materials when teachers asked for them. We had loads of great posters, workbooks, and more.
The National Parks site has lots of educator materials also. You can usually download them from parks’ sites, or ask for them when visiting. When combined with the Junior Ranger programs (online or IRL), they are excellent free, or very low cost, learning opportunities.
Volunteering is also a great way to learn for free! Families can volunteer together, or kids as young as 13 can volunteer alone at the zoo, library, hospitals, etc.
Jody Mace says
Thanks for those great suggestions, Julie!