One of the most common homeschooling questions is some variation on what you need, or how much you need. Sometimes it’s concern about cost, other times it’s trying to figure out if you need a curriculum. Sometimes it’s a matter of you’ve found a method and now you’re wondering if you need to buy anything to actually use that method.
As single parents, where money is often a concern and making sure that we don’t break the bank is important, we often wonder just how little we can get away with spending on homeschooling. I thought today I’d share what I feel are my homeschooling essentials – the things that I absolutely need in order to homeschool, the things that I positively cannot do without, no matter how tight money may be. And I’ll also share with you how I would continue to use the ones that cost money if I found myself unable to cover the expense.
- Internet access. I think internet access is absolutely crucial. Internet access is the key to everything – I can print anything, buy anything, research anything, and read anything if I have the internet at my fingertips. I have internet at home, through my cable company, and at a rather high speed. If I found myself in a position where I could no longer afford the speed I currently have, there are several options available to me. First, I would look into lowering my current speed. Second, I would check with the phone company to see if they have a lower price, and I would also let my cable company know about that and see if they would offer a competitive price to keep my business. If all else failed, and I simply could not afford any price, I would then use my local library. They have computers available for public use, and I believe would also provide a password for me to use their internet with my own computer.
- A printer. Much like internet access, a printer opens a world of possibilities. I can print so many things – worksheets, PDF files of books or stories or documents, coloring pages, lists, study guides, and so much more. With the purchase of plain white paper and ink, black and/or color, I can print just about anything I might imagine. I may not be able to afford, or perhaps I simly don’t wish to spend $15 on a workbook that I will only use one or two pages out of it – but I can put some paper in the printer and print out those one or two pages, or ones very similar, and I’ve spent a few cents. As with internet, if I found myself so strapped for cash that I could not afford to supply my printer with ink and paper, I would use the library. Depending on where you live, your library may charge for printing (I think ours might), so this may or may not save you any money.
- A library card. Reading allows you to learn anything you want to learn. Whether it’s a book, a magazine, a newspaper, or a brochure, there’s something written about anything you want to learn – and you can almost always gain access to it through your local library. Library cards are (usually) free, and as long as you make sure to return your books on time or renew them before they’re due back, checking out the books is also free. I also recommend looking into library cards for libraries that aren’t as local. I have one for the library system for the county I live in, as well as the county immediately north of my own, which has a state university. I’ve found that my local library has limited books, and no ebooks anymore (not for Kindle, anyway), so having access to that other library is a huge help. Because of the university in that county, it has MANY more books, and ebooks, available for me to check out, and it also allows me to check out more of them at a time. Both libraries offer a program that allows me to borrow magazines on my Kindle, too, so I can save money on magazine subscriptions. Sometimes you’ll have to pay for a card to another county, unless it offers reciprocal cards with yours, but that expense is fairly nominal – usually less than $10. Libraries also often offer a variety of classes and programs for both kids and adults, give you tons of educational opportunities as well as social ones.
- A Kindle. This is one of my essentials, and here’s why: when I buy a Kindle book, I can access it on all the Kindles on my account. If I want to read a book aloud with my kids, or even at the same time, I’d have to buy multiple copies of a paperback – at $6-12 a book, that adds up fast. Plus, many classic and older novels are available for free, either through Amazon or Project Gutenberg, which is a huge savings over paying for the paperback. It also saves the clutter of having the, literally, thousands of books that we read around here. As a bonus, they’re even more portable than books. Yes, you can fit books in your purse or even your pocket, but you can only fit so many. With our Kindles, we can go on a trip out of state and carry our entire library of books with us, thus allowing us to choose what we want to read when we’re ready to read it, rather than being forced to decide today what we might want to read in a week. It also allows you to look up word definitions, which expands vocabulary, so that’s a huge bonus as well. Kindles can seem like an unnecessary expense, or something that isn’t essential to homeschooling. If you feel it’s something you can afford but you want one anyway, try asking for them for Christmas or birthdays. You can trade in old ones that are still in fairly good shape and get some money back that you can put toward the new one, too. Another option would be to sign up for services like Swagbucks or Innopoll, where you can earn money that can be put on an Amazon gift card – it won’t allow you to make an immediate purchase, but over time, you can manage to get a good chunk of money towards it.
- A good planner. Paper or electronic is up to your personal preference, but I think a good planner is crucial to keeping yourself on track and not feeling like you’re not getting anything accomplished on those days when you get behind. Even if you unschool, or perhaps especially if you do and you’re new to it, you might find yourself feeling like you’re not doing enough. By having a planner where you can write down the things you see the kids doing and learning, you’ll have concrete evidence of how much is getting done even if you don’t see it otherwise. I prefer paper, because I can take that with me anywhere, I don’t need to remember a password, and I can flip back and forth through the pages as needed, and see everything in context, which I don’t feel I can do as easily with an electronic one.
- Games. Scrabble, 20 Questions, Beat the Parents, Headbanz, Yahtzee, Clue, and Monopoly are just a few of the games we love playing around here. And they all have an educational component to them. It might be critical thinking, or spelling, or math, or money, or simply trivia or current events – but they all get us thinking in one way or another. And they’re fun! Fun is something that I believe is essential to homeschooling for us. They could have boring, frustrating, or difficult in public school. Part of hte reason we started homeschooling was that I didn’t like how frustrated they were with school, along with the fact that I didn’t feel like they were learning what they should. Now, they have fun and they get the spelling and math challenges they need without feeling overwhelmed.
What do you consider essential to homeschooling? What did you discover was essential that you wouldn’t have thought would be? What did you find you didn’t need that you would have thought was essential?