From Homeschool

Blowing your homeschool budget? Check out these tips.

Homeschooling a Large Family on a Small Budget

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One question people often ask when they learn we homeschool is, “How can you afford it? That must be really expensive! Especially when you  have so many children!” It does help that my husband is an electrical engineer with a good salary. It doesn’t help that we live in California’s Silicon Valley, which is notoriously expensive, and that we have six children. But that doesn’t mean that educating our children at home has to be incredibly expensive.

Blowing your homeschool budget? Check out these tips.

My oldest son has just started college, and my youngest daughter just turned three, with four more girls in between. My son was the guinea pig, the one for whom I found a path by trial and error, so the expenses for his homeschooling were perhaps more than for the others as we tried and discarded different books and curricula. Of course, with only a couple of children, other expenses in our lives were not as great. Once we figured out a curriculum and books we liked, we had materials and approaches to use as the others got older. And just as in other areas of large families, the younger children got a lot of hand-me-downs!

When we had an idea of how our children learned, and found a curriculum that fit their learning style, we also found other people who had a similar approach to homeschooling and used the same books. So we all saved by swapping books over the years. At the beginnings and ends of school years, emails and phone calls would fly around: “Do you have my history books for third grade? I think I have your fourth grade math book!” This community sharing of resources helps greatly in keeping the expenses down – and saves on storage space!

There’s a catch, though, to this great hand-me-down system: one of my middle children has a very different learning style than my older children. So all the materials I carefully collected didn’t work with her. Now what? Again, my community of homeschoolers was very helpful. Someone was done with a different math program and passed the supplies on to me. I got recommendations for different programs that might work for her, and was able to find them at the library or inexpensively at curriculum swaps or ebay. I did splurge on an expensive reading program for her, and once she learned to read, I was able to re-sell it for a pretty good price.

The library is, of course, a great resource for thrifty homeschoolers! Many times the books we wanted to use were available at the library. Or if we were considering using a different book, we could borrow it from the library and save the expense of buying a totally unsuitable book! The savings in not having to purchase books is tremendous! Our local library also has a used book area as well as regular used book sales where I’ve found useful books, including textbooks, for very little.

Used curriculum swaps are also great. There are always a lot of local sales, as well as bargains online at ebay, Amazon (always using the GHF affiliate link!) or curriculum swap sites. My local homeschool group often has people informally buying and selling curriculum, but many people just bring stuff to give away once they’re done with it. Each week, there’s a blanket to the side of the group gathering covered with books and stuff for our “great exchange.”

Aside from the direct academic expenses, such as books and supplies, the enrichment activities can be very expensive! To control these expenses, I try to put my children in the same activities as much as possible to take advantage of multiple-child discounts. Some places have given extra discounts for my younger children because I’ve been such a loyal customer: “Yes, we can do better than the 20% off for an additional child once your fourth child is in the program!” It never hurts to ask! This can also work if several families inquire together: a class might be started at a less popular time at a discount over the regular prices. Also, once my children are older and have a job I ask them to help contribute to the expenses of their activities. I also try to use smaller, local activities, such as through the community centers as they tend to be less expensive but can be just as rigorous as the “name brands.”  For the most part, my children have participated in extra activities such as soccer, dance, and gymnastics as much as they wanted.

Trying to homeschool on a budget? Check out these great ideas.Our family vacations are always learning times as well. With so many children, flying is not cost effective for us, so our vacations are driving trips. To save on costs we camp when we can, sometimes borrowing my in-laws old motor home. Since we like to visit state and national parks, the costs for this are quite low. And the children always do the Junior Ranger activities, so every vacation continues our learning adventure! This past summer, we drove up the Pacific coast, visiting lighthouses, the Olympic National Park rainforest, and beaches with tide pools with starfish and otters. We all had fun learning new things!

Now that I have one child in college, I can look back over the years and the costs and consider, has it been worth it? And it definitely has been worth the sacrifices along the way. My son has grown to be a fine young man, and my daughters are also growing into lovely, talented young women. And I have also learned many new things. Education may be expensive, but the results of are priceless!


About the Author:

Eleen KamasEleen Kamas is a homeschooling mother of six who lives in the Silicon Valley of California, where the weather is great but we’re all praying for rain. When she’s not driving the kids to activities or guiding their learning, she serves on the board of Gifted Homeschoolers Forum, helps out at the local Catholic homeschool group, and occasionally has time to read, cross-stitch, and try not to trip over her feet in “beginner” ballet lessons.

This poGHFst was written as part of a blog hop hosted by The Gifted Homeschoolers Forum.

Check out other people’s thoughts on Parenting Gifted/2E Kids on a Shoestring.


Our first steps into homeschooling

Homeschool: Into The Great Wide Open

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What is the ideal learning environment for your kids?

Is it the best public school tax dollars can buy? Is it a private school that keeps you broke but your kids engaged? What about a puddle of mud, 4 sticks, and no worries of how dirty you child will get?

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If you’re a parent, then chances are, you’ve stressed about your child’s education. What teacher will my kid get? Will there be a behavior chart? What in the world will I have to deal with to pick up my kids everyday?

We all have our different take on school, that’s why there are so many options, because, let’s face it, kids learn in different ways, so experiences can be quite different, even for 2 kids at the same school.

My wife and I want our kids to have access to nature and lots of it. We want them to have a sense of wonderment attached to their learning, and we want the kids (especially my son) to be encouraged to move and play to learn, and not sit in a chair. And we wanted to see it all from our backyard. So, our answer became clear, we could homeschool, or as my wife prefers to call it: “home based learning and exploration.”

Now, I was homeschooled in high school, and I just needed to finish my reading assignment before an upcoming rerun of Chips, or complete my ethics workbook in time to watch Maury Povich (you laugh, but it’s true). So – not exactly a challenging, or inspiring atmosphere, so you can understand my slight hesitation when my wife proposed the idea of homeschool to me (“What? Why? Are you crazy?”)

But there’s nothing like coming home from work to my kids like this:

 

I am now a believer, seeing how homeschool can look.

We are only providing instruction to our kids based on their interests, so they are always enthused about learning, and any and all learning opportunities are child led. We are constantly challenging ourselves to encourage our kids to extend an idea, or use something in a different way.

As my wife and I are both educators, we understand that teaching children is never a one-size-fits-all situation, and our kids are vastly different and we try to honor that by presenting them each with provocations that learn toward their individual strengths.

For example, our son NEEDS rich sensory experiences like a duck needs water. So in our environment, we provide him with meaningful sensory experiences. Practicing scooping and measuring flour, whisking bubbles, pouring water into different containers, drawing with chalk pastels, painting, manipulating clay all meet his need for in depth tactile experiences while providing practical life applications and creative expression and problem solving. (pictures)

If you are interested in homeschooling, here are some tips:

  1. Designate an area in your home for learning (we renovated our backyard patio into a classroom, but it could be as simple as designating a corner of a dining room – a clearly defined space relaxes the children by letting them know they have a space of their own, where they can have freedom within limits.)
  2. Develop and (continue to) hone your patience. You will need it. Lots of it. Truckloads. I firmly believe that no child will test your patience like your own child; and your kids definitely know this.
  3. Refrain from answering their questions with answers. Answer questions with more questions. Shoot for open-ended questions to bring out their own ideas and their train of thought. There are no wrong answers. Google is here to stay. We are no longer teaching facts and figures to our children, we’re teaching them how to think for themselves.
  4. Plan daily instead of long term, using your observations of what they are into, and let their questions guide where you go next.
  5. Observe, observe, observe. Take notes. Look deeper. Keep asking questions of yourself and how you can better facilitate your child’s experience. This is so, so, so important and should serve as your very own individualized pedagogy for your own children’s education.
  6. Give your child lots of social opportunities. sports, gymnastics, dance, horseback riding!, ice skating!, art classes, these are very important things. Giving your children experiences of their own is important for their confidence and development. Homeschooling takes much less time of the day than traditional school giving plenty of time for unstructured play AND extracurriculars. Win!
  7. Find or create a community of likeminded parents that you can draw upon and share with. Don’t go it alone.
  8. Find experts within the community that can teach classes (authentic art classes, Spanish, etc.)
  9. Be flexible. It may not be for your kid every year. Follow their lead. I do plan on taking my son to my wonderful Pre-K school next year, if I can.  I feel like the whole child philosophy at my school and nature/nurture components are just perfectly in line with our own philosophy, so yes, I do hope to take him to my school next year, provided that is still a good fit for him.
  10. Give up the TV during school time.  Facebook too. And screens, as much as you can. Just be present for your kids.
  11. Extended recess everyday. There’s no such thing as too much outdoor time. Ever.

 

Back to School: Homeschool Style

Homeschooling: The First Day Back

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It’s the first day of our new homeschooling year. The books arrived two months ago. My son [TB] begged to open them and dig in. I’ve held off as long as I could until today. This evening, he’s half-way through the history text and well into high school geometry. To be honest, he got a head start in his online geometry last week. I couldn’t take the begging and whining any longer. While many boys his age read comic books – TB prefers primary source documents and accompanying essays.

Actually, that’s not our real life. It could be the first day for some of our closest homeschooling friends. It’s a first day commonly protrayed in social media with a glossy shine. It’s just not our first day and that’s ok. Homeschooling embraces who our children are and where they are while exploring and discovering where they want to go and who they want to be.

Let’s begin again.

As summer ends and first day of school facebook photos fade, we slowly sneak our way into homeschooling, beginning with a vigorous attempt to finish spring’s leftover Latin lessons.

This year, like others, we’re beginning slowly. We’ll tie up Latin’s loose ends, finish an audible Jane Goodall biography, and the final chapters of The Omnivore’s Dilemma – a book that started summer with high hopes and ended with poor follow-through. We’ve also started memorizing the presidents. (Aren’t we supposed to do that?) I found this cool presidents’ book with pictorial memory techniques. It’s already proven my theory on his learning strengths. I thought he was a visual learner. A 15-minute dentist office wait ended with the first 10 presidents successfully memorized. Validated before Labor Day. Score one for Mom.

Our newly inaugurated teenager misses back-to-public-school-already friends. With homeschool activities beginning after Labor Day, I use this to my advantage. No video games until 3:30pm and the boredom grows, creating space for school (i.e. Latin) to nonchalantly creep in.

Schedules, new books, old books and a dollar bill to find the Latin inscriptions.
Schedules, new books, old books and a dollar bill to find the Latin inscriptions.

 

This year, the biggest part of our “back to school” activities is scheduling. Secluding or protecting our kids is never a goal of our homeschooling. We’re all about experiencing and navigating the world. It’s a good thing, too. Living in Texas affords so many homeschooling opportunities: activities, classes, clubs, etc. Homeschooling is sometimes a misnomer — we’re rarely home. Especially now, baby introvert turned adolescent extrovert keeps me on my toes and at the gas station.

While some lucky ducks buy those aromatic new crayons, join PTA, and sign a million forms, I’m sketching out schedules and Amazon Prime-ing a couple last minute Texas history graphic novels. Oh, all right, they’re comic books – but educational comic books.

We started August by talking about what we should cover this year. We both agree math is important; we’ll do Texas History and some awesome Texas field trips with a friend; there’s grammar; spelling; world history Crash Courses (if you don’t know these, check them out, regardless or where or if you school); co-op classes and introductory Spanish. Technically, we didn’t discuss Spanish. Since he proofread this, el gato fuera de la bolsa. There’s Lego League, Odyssey of the Mind, and, of course, basketball with lots of stops to refuel – vehicles and bodies.

For us, there’s no big actual “first day” of school fanfare. We’ll begin our day a little earlier, feeding horses, dogs and chickens like every other morning. There’ll be homemade waffles – or a trip to Jim’s for breakfast. By the way, Jim’s has excellent wi-fi, roomy booths and they’re pretty cool with what I like to call “Cafe Homeschooling”. The coffee is always hot, fresh, and not too strong. TB swears the chocolate milk is da bomb, too.

In the past 14 years, we’ve had many different first days. When the girls were younger, we celebrated a new school year with pedicures, movies and a drive-by the local public school holding a Sonic Limeade in the air – simultaneously toasting their friends and enjoying their freedom. I knew part of this tradition and sweet memories took hold when I received this text from College Station last weekend:

they remembered...
they remembered…

Our first days morphed and changed through the years. Early on, new books, notebooks, and crayons filled our red Target cart. Ok, the crayons were for me. I love the smell, don’t you? As years progressed, we stopped stockpiling and simply used what we had. Handed down textbooks and the internet soon became part of school.

Homeschooling looked different for each child. The girls approached school uniquely. One needed everything clearly laid out. She completed a few years of Calvert Homeschool, did co-ops, and later chose to attend public high school. Another homeschooled second grade through high school. She particpated in co-ops, dual credit and attacked life in a more unschooling way. Both enjoyed horses and other activities. Today, one is a recent nursing school graduate, while the other works for Texas A&M EMS while attending college.

The last homeschooling child is a mixture with basketball and swimming replacing horses. Video games, Legos and dogs fill his days his dwindling days at home.

We’ve had a total of 15 homeschooling first days. New beginnings, dreams and hopes. Like most first days.

However your first day happened for you, I hope your transitions were gentle and the days ended serenely.  Here’s to a year flying by all too quickly while our children grow way too much for this momma’s heart. I hope your first days bring or brought good things to you and your family. Savor the moments. Make some memories.