Courtesy of the familyStretching one income to meet rising expenses, Scott and Jennifer Ward find that cost-cutting measures can double as educational experiences.
Just as the United States’ flailing economy has forced the public school education establishment to make hard choices, so it is forcing homeschooling families to reevaluate how they can deliver the best possible education to their students with fewer resources.1
“My husband hasn’t received an increase in his salary or a bonus in the last four years despite rising expenses,” says Jennifer Wand of Cottageville, South Carolina. “We are truly grateful he still has a job.”
Like many homeschooling families, Jennifer and her husband, Scott, have chosen to live on one income so that she can be a stay-at-home mom and homeschool their five children, ages 5–15. “I had previously been a public school teacher, and when I came home to stay with the children, our income was cut by more than half,” Jennifer says. Scott now works an additional part-time job to supplement his income, and Jennifer juggles homeschooling, managing the household, and stretching the family dollars.
Ideas to Get You Started
Miserly Moms: Living Well on Less in a Tough Economy by Jonni McCoy
Homeschooling on a Shoestring: A Jam-packed Guide by Melissa L. Morgan and Judith Waite Allee
Homeschool Your Child for Free: More Than 1,400 Smart, Effective, and Practical Resources for Educating Your Family at Home by LauraMaery Gold and Joan M. Zielinski
The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn
The Ultimate Book of Homeschooling Ideas: 500+ Fun and Creative Learning Activities for Kids Ages 3–12 by Linda Dobson
www.homeschoolfreestuff.com/index.asp (free e-newsletter highlighting free homeschooling resources)
www.hslda.org/docs/hshb/88/hshbwk2.asp (radio interview)
It’s a tall order, but Jennifer is motivated. She pinches pennies and calls herself the “coupon queen.” She stocks up on bargain items and produce from the family garden, then uses canning and dehydration to store them long-term. Her cost-cutting measures double as educational experiences for her children. “My children have learned about budgeting, gardening, and even food preservation,” she says. “My 15-year-old daughter successfully grew a small crop of peanuts this year and has learned how to sew patches on jeans. We find it amusing when others compliment her on her ‘cool jeans.’ ” The family’s creative enthusiasm has also resulted in an herb garden and in home building projects using recycled materials.
Making ends meet can still be a formidable task. “The holiday season is always a challenge with the extra expenses,” comments Jennifer. “It seems as though we are always struggling to come up with the house or van payment.” Nonetheless, homeschooling is non-negotiable. “After all these years, I am convinced it is the absolute best thing for our children,” Jennifer states. “Even if I could afford private school, I would still homeschool.”
How to homeschool
in a recession
OF CREATIVITY, COOPERATION,
THAT HAVE AIDED THE
OVER THE PAST 30 YEARS
Now a solid presence on the educational scene, homeschooling has no shortage of information and resources available. Both new and seasoned homeschoolers can tap into a vast store of collective wisdom via the internet, libraries, and organizations. But how do you homeschool when your situation no longer seems to fit the norm?
The ABCs of homeschooling you just read on someone’s blog may suggest that you buy curriculum, join a costly co-op, and schedule a seven-hour school day. In the current economy, many families are finding themselves short on money and time—the two resources they previously depended on to feel confident in home educating their children.
Homeschooling requires resolve and dedication in the best of times. Adding financial upheaval to the mix can make it seem impossible. But the principles of creativity, cooperation, and commitment that have aided the homeschool movement over the past 30 years still apply.
Doing what’s important
Courtesy of the familyThe Bolin family.
Twenty-one years ago, when Chuck and Grace Bolin initially decided to homeschool, they were concerned about their children being exposed to values contrary to their own in the public school system. “We couldn’t afford private schools, and so began our journey,” recalls Grace. “We have continued to revisit the question because it is a sacrifice. It has required us to be a single-income family, and that has brought its own difficulties.”
While Chuck has remained employed, during the last few years the family has been challenged to match their income to rising expenses. In addition to dealing with significant medical expenses not covered by insurance, Chuck and Grace are homeschooling two high schoolers, running a home business, and managing a household that includes adult children and two grandchildren.
Courtesy of the family
The key to continuing to homeschool and making ends meet is balancing priorities, say Chuck and Grace Bolin (above).
The family uses a variety of strategies to make ends meet. They shop more carefully, limit their entertainment expenses, use home remedies when possible, and take advantage of free community resources such as the library. Grace spends more time in the kitchen in order to prepare inexpensive, healthy meals. The lifestyle changes extend to how the family homeschools. The Bolins found a less time-intensive curriculum, allowing Grace more time to run the household frugally and manage the home business.
In addition to adapting their approach to academics, the Bolins have had to choose among priorities in extracurricular activities. “We are studying guitar and piano at home, using free online music instruction sites and low-cost music tutorials,” says Grace. “We’ve joined low-cost community sports teams.” The Bolins balance and rebalance their priorities with an ultimate goal in mind: preparing their children for adulthood—academically, socially, and spiritually.
Grace doesn’t downplay the sacrifices her family is making as they balance cars, schedules, and finances. “We’ve had to rethink everything that we planned, and are asking ourselves, ‘While we would like to do this or that, is it possible?’ The best part about it is that we can actually say that what we’re doing is what’s important.”
Creatively cutting costs
Courtesy of the familyIn the face of increasing fuel costs, medical expenses, and insurance costs, Ryan and Rhonda O’Neal have gone back to basics and carefully selected enrichment activities.
During shaky financial times, many families find themselves evaluating and reevaluating their decision to homeschool. “I assess it every year and pray that things get better every year,” says Rhonda O’Neal, who homeschools two of her three children in the greater Washington, D.C., area. Over the last two years, her family has been hit by increasing medical expenses and insurance costs. A longer commute for Rhonda’s husband, Ryan, has coincided with rising fuel prices and made car repairs more urgent.
So Rhonda is going back to basics—using the internet to find supplemental materials, and regularly visiting the library to pare down her book budget. She also picks and chooses her children’s educational activities. “We don’t do as many field trips as we used to. We used to go to the Kennedy Center several times a year—now we pick one concert to attend. We cut back on everything that’s not essential or free.”
Rhonda misses the hands-on learning experiences that are currently out of her price range, but comments, “I feel like I’m providing a good education. How many operas do my kids really need to see? Sometimes we stress out about a lot of stuff that is really not necessary. They don’t have to have it all, and not all at one time.”
Courtesy of the familyIs it possible to homeschool for free, or nearly free? Yes, says Christy Shipe (above), with internet access, a good public library, and some research and planning.
>> Use the internet and library. Where else can you find materials for free or nearly free? Christy Shipe relies almost entirely on these two resources to homeschool her three daughters. She begins by selecting a scope-and-sequence, such as those in the Making the Grade series or a printout of state standards, and then formulates her own lesson plans. Christy accesses activities and printable worksheets online and uses the library to find books. She says that tests can also be found online, although she writes many of her own.2
Laura Kasko, a Montessori-trained teacher, homeschooled her four sons from the age of 2 through high school. Her history program relied almost exclusively on two methods: filling in a timeline that stretched around her kitchen and borrowing stacks of history books from the library every three weeks. “I hardly ever bought a history book,” she says. Progressing chronologically from ancient to modern times gave her sons a strong grasp of history as a whole.
Rhonda goes online for everything from math activities to literature study guides. “A lot of what we spend our money on, you actually can use the internet for,” she says.
>> Cut back on extracurriculars. “I used to join all the homeschool groups, so we could have a variety of activities and different people to hang out with, but I pretty much didn’t join any this year,” says Rhonda. She and her kids take fewer field trips and her daughter has even dropped guitar lessons. This enables them to stay involved in the activities that mean most to them, such as team sports and swimming at the local rec center.
“Everything is a choice between priorities,” says Laura. She remembers one semester when she saved carefully so that the family could attend two live Shakespeare performances. No matter how tight your budget, you can always aim it at the educational activities you value most.
>> Buy used and reuse. Yes, you will need to obtain some resources—but who says you have to buy them new or even buy them at all? You can purchase used curriculum through venues such as HSLDA’s Curriculum Market. Or connect with a local homeschool group for used-curriculum swaps and sales. Don't overlook borrowing materials from a fellow homeschooling family or arranging a temporary trade.
Once you buy, make your homeschool materials do double duty by reusing them within your family and making “fair use” copies as appropriate. Generally speaking, homeschooling parents can photocopy an unsubstantial portion of the materials they have purchased for their own private educational use. For instance, if you want to be able to reuse a textbook, you might photocopy some of the practice problems or questions so that your child is not writing in the book. Materials that are meant to be consumable, such as workbooks or test booklets, should not be copied. For any type of commercial purpose—even teaching a co-op class and making photocopies for all the students—you will have to obtain the consent of the publisher/copyright holder.
>> Plan. “I know that some homeschoolers feel like planning stifles creativity,” comments Laura. “I have four kids, and I had to make sure none of them missed out on anything because I forgot. I spent a week before every semester planning. I got all my resources together and made all my plans for every week.”
Saving money takes time: scheduling library visits, finding the appropriate online resources, and tracking down that elusive used textbook. Advance planning is also needed to determine priorities, find free or low-cost extracurricular activities, and organize inexpensive educational endeavors with other homeschool families. “Now I need to make sure I’m prepared a couple of days ahead of time so I have everything I need,” says Rhonda. “I’m planning better, and that’s good!”
What about high school?
Is it possible to achieve a high-quality, low-cost education during the high school years as well? “Most definitely,” say HSLDA High School Coordinators Becky Cooke and Diane Kummer.
“One year during high school, I was able to put together an art appreciation course for my children using materials from the public library,” recounts Diane. “I developed some simple quizzes and tests, and voila!—an art elective that was nearly free.” As with the younger years, parents will need to plan carefully and may need to get advice from others who are more knowledgeable in the subjects being studied.
Courtesy of the family
A worthwhile trade off: Although the choice to homeschool included some sacrifices, today Laura Kasko’s four sons (above) are thriving academically and socially. “They're really happy,” she says.
Parents will need to budget more toward their high schoolers and decide whether and how they will obtain special items such as lab equipment. (This is where banding together with other homeschoolers makes a big difference!) It’s wise to consider dual enrollment at a community college; not only will this enhance your current high school program, it will save future college funds and instruction time.
“Being homeschooled has given me a much better opportunity to follow my strengths as a student and greatly exceed what I would have been able to do if I had been in school,” says 17-year-old Sky Kasko, Laura’s youngest son and a high school senior.
Although homeschooling through high school meant that her sons missed out on things like public school sports, expensive lab equipment, and a large peer group, Laura believed the tradeoff was worth the effort: “I really wanted them to be able to develop their own interests and their own individuality and their self-confidence.” Now, her three oldest sons are attending college full time, and Sky is taking community college classes. “They’re all doing really well both academically and socially,” says Laura, and adds, “They’re really happy.”
Adjusting to new challenges
It’s not just money that disappears in a financial lull—so does time. Grace Bolin describes how her household recently doubled when adult children moved back home. “We had to reorganize our schedules and priorities to make it all work at home,” Grace says. “We’re closer, we’re cooperating more, and everybody has a job to do. We all have a part to play to ensure that our family life is peaceful and manageable.”
Just as homeschooling’s flexibility allows families to identify and focus on educational essentials, it also enables them to reorient around life priorities. This could mean following an unconventional school schedule, trying a new style of homeschooling, or adapting one or both parents’ teaching roles. Diane Kummer remembers her husband being out of a job in the early 1990s. “During his brief stay at home, my husband was able to be directly involved in the homeschooling by teaching several subjects to our children. We were sad when he returned to full-time work!”
Courtesy of the familyTemporarily living with Christy’s parents means using plenty of creativity and communication as Wes and Christy Babcock (above) homeschool in a home away from home.
Wes and Christy Babcock, along with their three children, are living temporarily with Christy’s parents. At the beginning of the 2009–10 school year, they withdrew their youngest from school. Now Christy homeschools 10-year-old Megan at the kitchen table.
It’s challenging to homeschool in someone else’s home. “My parents have decided to find a small bookcase to go in the kitchen for my homeschool use,” says Christy. “Until then, we are still moving the materials around the kitchen.” It’s also a struggle for Megan to concentrate amidst all the activity of two busy households. “We usually wait until her studies are finished before doing any housework or any other things that will distract her.”
“It can be easy to get frustrated or discouraged, but remember you are doing this for your children,” encourages Christy. “The best thing to do is to discuss what your homeschooling needs are with the person you are living with.”
If it seems like your changing circumstances can’t accommodate homeschooling, don’t give up. Try adjusting your homeschooling instead!
Keeping it legal
Depending on how families decide to respond to their particular challenges, there are a few legal issues of which they may need to be aware. For the most part, when and how you homeschool is your decision. As long as you are in compliance with your state law, it is your prerogative as a homeschool parent to homeschool in a way that benefits your family—whether that means following an unconventional schedule or tailoring your student’s curriculum to his or her special interests. (See “Permission to do it differently” sidebar.)
What if you move, either temporarily or permanently? Generally you are not required to file a notice of intent with the new jurisdiction if you are in a temporary living situation for a specific amount of time (a month or so). However, to be sure you are aware of all potential issues in your specific circumstance, we encourage you to contact HSLDA and speak with the legal representative for your state.
If you move permanently, then where and when you file depends on where you live and how much of the school year has elapsed. “If there is only a month or two left in the school year, you may not need to do anything,” says HSLDA Staff Attorney Thomas Schmidt. “You might want to continue to report to your old school district or simply notify them that you have left the jurisdiction—it depends on the state.”
If you move towards the beginning or middle of the school year, then you will probably need to notify your new jurisdiction (again, this depends on the state). “While many states don’t require you to notify local officials when you move, some do, and in several other situations it may be in your best interest to notify them that you have,” advises Schmidt. “While I don’t know of any state that requires you to notify the old district where you have gone, it is generally a good idea to let them know that you have moved.” Again, HSLDA members should contact us with any questions.
Cooperation and community
“The only way you can help people is if they tell you what they need,” says Elizabeth Vienneau. She is a member of the same South Carolina homeschool support group as the Wands and the Bolins, and her comment underscores the importance of community for homeschooling families. Whether composed of extended family, church, friends, other homeschoolers, or all four, community is crucial for persevering through difficult times.
“We’re very good at supporting each other, either through meals if somebody’s sick, used-book sales, or book loans (sometimes for years at a time!),” says Grace. “If our kids need a ride, we can email our group and have somebody pick them up.”
“The Lord has blessed us with friendships where no one hesitates to share and no one is ashamed to borrow,” adds Jennifer.
Staying connected with your community is a source not only of practical help and wisdom, but also of motivation. You (and your kids) need to know that others out there are dealing with similar challenges. And when you’re tempted to give up, a supportive community can encourage you to stay the course.
Help is available from the broader homeschool community as well. The Home School Foundation, HSLDA’s charitable arm, provides financial help to families with demonstrated need. HSF’s funds can assist families in purchasing curriculum, obtaining equipment for a child with special needs, and paying for HSLDA membership. To apply for assistance or to donate visit HSF’s website.
In good times and bad, homeschooling is about a community of families helping each other. Don’t go it alone!
Why homeschool when things are tough?
“The public schools are dealing with budget cutbacks and reduced revenue just like homeschooling families are, but public schools are bureaucracies. They can’t readily adapt to changing circumstances, nor can they customize their decisions based on the needs of individual students,” says HSLDA President Mike Smith. “On the other hand, homeschooling parents can be flexible, they can be creative, and they love their children deeply. Those are the ingredients for educational success, no matter how much money there is.”
During unstable times, the importance of enduring values like education, family, and personal character becomes more obvious, values that big public school bureaucracies are unable to make priorities. Despite the sacrifices involved, families are finding unexpected rewards as they stay committed to homeschooling—rewards that might not have become evident if these families had not been impacted by a stumbling economy.
“We spend more time together now. Before, I was always putting them in activities,” comments Rhonda. “I think we have more fun! We’re much more relaxed because we don’t have 90,000 places to go.”
“It’s easy to get caught up in trivial things, but we’ve been forced to focus on what’s really important,” Grace says. “Our relationship with each
other is more important than ever.”
“In the end, even though it’s tough and hard, we’re doing a good thing,” adds Rhonda. “It’s time invested. Like all investments, you don’t get a return right away. Twenty years down the line, it will all be worth it.”
Permission to Do it Differently
“Homeschooling provides added flexibility to allocate limited resources because the family governs control over many of the expenses associated with education,” says High School Coordinator Becky Cooke. “For example, instead of taking a course online, a family may decide instead to teach it themselves. It’s about decisions!”
Decisions, indeed. Between complying with state requirements and making sure their children are well prepared for the future, how can homeschooling parents decide which courses to cut and which to keep?
The blog HomeschoolthroughHighschool.com lists some questions parents can ask themselves to evaluate whether it’s necessary to teach a topic and how to teach those that are essential, including:
- “Is it because some ‘expert’ says you need to?
- “Is it because it’s listed on some scope and sequence?
- “Is it because someone told you your child must learn this subject or they’ll be doomed for life?
- “Is it peer pressure?
- “Is it because you believe your state requires it? Do they really? Check out your state’s law for yourself.”3
HSLDA President Mike Smith agrees with the importance of parents checking out state law for themselves. “Part of providing your children with a good education is protecting your homeschool,” he says. “It’s important for you to know the homeschool regulations in your state so that you can homeschool without interference. This includes sending any required notification or other paperwork, keeping appropriate records, and teaching required subjects.”
“Abiding by basic requirements not only demonstrates to government officials that you are serious about homeschooling,” he adds, “but also ensures that you have the proper documentation down the road when your student applies to colleges, for scholarships, and for jobs.”
If you have any questions about the legal requirements for homeschooling in your state, please contact HSLDA.
2 Home School Heartbeat radio interview, Vol. 88, Prg. 6–10, February 23-27, 2009, http://www.hslda.org/docs/hshb/88/hshbwk2.asp
3 (In sidebar: “Permission to do it differently) http://www.homeschoolthroughhighschool.com/is-homeschooling-too-expensive-in-todays-economy