Homeschool for Less Than $30 a Year, by Kathryn T.

It’s that time again.  Spring, you say?  No, it’s curriculum sale time!  Every spring, homeschooling support groups used book sales and homeschool conventions sprout like tulips.  March, April, and May are the season for planning and obtaining next year’s curricula.

If you have considered homeschooling as an educational alternative for your children or would like to stockpile educational materials for potential hard times ahead (whether or not you homeschool currently), now is the time to be looking.  Homeschooling does not need to be expensive to be effective.  In fact, it is possible to home educate well for under $30 per year, per child.

First, it is important to understand the basics of homeschooling and homeschooling philosophies.  To familiarize yourself with how to approach home education, you can get books from the library, such as The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise or Homeschooling Year by Year by Rebecca Rupp, Ph.D.

You may also want to consider attending a homeschooling convention, which often yields the best value for your time and money.  The most popular ones are listed on the Great Homeschool Conventions web site.  One of the largest is the Cincinnati (Ohio) Homeschool Convention which is April 19th – 21st this year.  It is centrally located and draws hundreds of vendors, speakers, and participants.

However, you can also attend smaller ones near your home.  Ask at the public library or Google “homeschool conventions” and your state.  Homeschool conventions typically cost $10 – $60 in admission, but you can attend for free if you volunteer.  Contact the organizers well in advance.  Volunteers are usually asked to check in participants or do other relatively simple tasks for several hours in exchange for free admission to the conference.  You can also apply for a scholarship from the convention hosts.  Some organizers will extend free admission and give curricula vouchers to low-income participants.  An unemployed friend received $100 in curricula vouchers at a convention last weekend because she applied for assistance.

Once you familiarize yourself with homeschooling and the various educational approaches (eclectic, classical, Charlotte Mason, etc.), you will want to begin accumulating curricula.  If money is tight or you are stockpiling for potential future use, focus on the 3Rs—reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Start with math, as that is usually the easiest subject to purchase.
There are tons of math programs available, but one of the most common, complete, and serviceable is Saxon Math.  You can pick up a used Saxon Math textbook for as little as 99 cents on eBay.  The book does not need to be a recent edition, as mathematics does not change that often, but should be in decent condition with little to no writing inside.  If you are not adept at math yourself, you will also need to purchase an answer key, which will cost about $5 used.  Saxon Math has an unusual numbering system.  For instance, Saxon 6/5 means that it is for an “advanced fifth grader or an average sixth grader.”  It has been my observation that you should go with the second number.  The first 30 lessons are typically review from the previous year, and learning is incremental, so it should not be too hard for even an average fifth grader.  Thus, Saxon 6/5 is for fifth graders.
For older students, you may want to consider books from the Key To series (Key To Decimals, Key to Fractions, Key to Algebra, Key to Geometry, etc.).  These books are excellent, inexpensive ($3 each), and self-teaching.

Next, contemplate writing.  I recommend buying some lined notebooks ($1 each or less during the back to school sales) and a box of pencils ($2).  Use the notebooks to have your child write journals, stories, letters, and essay assignments.  Guide them through proper punctuation, capitalization, and grammar, as well as good writing practices (e.g., outlining and the five-paragraph essay).  If you need help with these skills, pick up a used copy of Writer’s Inc. or a similar edition from this company ($5).  The materials from Andrew Pudewa’s Excellence in Writing are wonderful, but much more costly.  If your children are elementary-school aged, you may want a copy of the appropriate grade level of Handwriting without Tears (about $5) as well.

For additional grammar help, consider Easy Grammar or Daily Grams.  These are expensive new (about $25), but can be picked up cheaply or free (if some pages are missing) at homeschool used book sales.  Even if the book has many pages ripped out, they are still useful because Daily Grams gives 180 days worth of grammar lessons.  Each day the lesson covers capitalization, punctuation, parts of speech, spelling, sentence combining, and other skills.  Many families begin a book and use only the first 15 or 20 days because they get too busy or use other resources, leaving the remaining pages blank.  Don’t overlook these, as you can find them inexpensively.  I find there is little difference between a fifth grade Daily Grams book and an eighth grade book.  The concepts are the same, just repeated in different ways.

For spelling, you can print out grade-appropriate spelling lists for free from the Internet (plan ahead for a grid-down situation).   Or, you can purchase a spelling program.  Spelling Power is an all-inclusive spelling program that has spelling lists and games for K-12  grades in one book.  It is relatively expensive, even used ($20-50), but you would not need to buy any other spelling programs which makes it good for stockpiling.  If spelling is difficult for your child, I recommend All About Spelling and Phonetic Zoo, but these programs are also more costly. is great for reviewing spelling words for free if you still have Internet access.

To teach an elementary child to read, consider using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Siegfried Englemann (about $10 used), Bob Books by Bobby Lynn Maslen (about $7 used), and Pathway Readers ($2 used).  If the public library is available, select some age-appropriate books and have your student begin reading aloud to you every day.  Our favorites included the Frog and Toad books and others by Arnold Lobel.  Another favorite resource for learning to read and write is Explode the Code.  These simple black-and-white line drawn workbooks cost about $5 new, but can often be found cheaply at homeschool used book sales.

In my ten years of home educating, I have taught two children to read.  While it may seem as though teaching the younger grades is easier than teaching the older ones, the opposite is actually true.  Once a child can read, he can teach himself.  Reading is the foundation for every academic skill.  Being able to read well is crucial.  It is important children have reading material that is skill appropriate and interesting to them.  Be patient.  With daily instruction, it will take between two and seven years for a child to learn to read fluently (120 words per minute).
With any remaining funds, stockpile a home library of age-appropriate picture and chapter books.  This is wise, even if you currently have a wonderful public library nearby.  To find good books, look for reading lists, such as the one available from Sonlight Curriculum or Ambleside Online.  Books that have received a Newberry Award or Honor are usually good bets.  Then, troll through public library used book sales with a list.  Used books there typically cost 50 cents to $2 each.  I also recommend joining where you can trade your old books for credits to “purchase” new ones.
Another curriculum to consider, either for reading suggestions or for outright purchase, is The Robinson Curriculum.  While it costs almost $200 (and does not include math books), it covers 12 years worth of educational materials on CD-ROM, making it less than $16 per year.

Include on your reading lists history books, such as A History of US by Joy Hakim, and science books, such as Abeka, Apologia, Usborne, or the Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out-Science series for younger kids.  You may want to obtain books about economics and government, too, such as Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? and Whatever Happened to Justice? by Richard Maybury. 
If you have high schoolers or will soon, you might want to purchase literature anthologies, such as The Norton Anthology of American Literature, to gain the maximum coverage for your dollar.  If your children read an entire anthology and discussed and wrote about the contents, they would have a more thorough literature education than 80 percent of the United States.  I just got an anthology on PaperbackSwap for $3.79. (I purchased a book credit.)

Home education can be much richer with the addition of art, music, foreign language, and other extras, but the most important subjects to cover are the 3Rs, and those can be addressed for $30 per year, per child.  A child who has received a solid foundation in the 3Rs can learn any other subject if necessary.  When you are planning ahead, these are the most logical materials to stockpile.  Whether you homeschool now or think you may choose to or be forced to in the future, it is prudent to stockpile books—atlases, encyclopedia sets, novels, nonfiction books, classics, plays, dictionaries, thesauruses, textbooks, workbooks, blank notebooks, and other tomes.  You never know when you may need to educate or entertain your children for a week, a month, or more with the resources in your home.  It’s best to be prepared.