Unschooling Articles from Live Free Learn Free

Home Learning, Expensive? Naaaah!
by Avivah Werner

Marketing experts have discovered the homeschooling market, and it is dizzying how many are eager to help us part with our cash, intent on selling their various services to us in the forms of classes, curriculum, materials, and more. The job of those in marketing is to make us believe that without their services, we will be deficient or lacking in important ways. They play upon our fears and insecurities, upon our desire to provide our children with the best education we can. Unfortunately, their efforts all too frequently succeed with many dedicated and well-intentioned homeschooling parents.

We need to be aware of the underlying assumption in our society that spending more equals giving more.

Last year, I was at a park with another homeschooling mother, and of course the conversation turned to – what else? – home education. Being that I have found just about every aspect of home learning positive (except the speed at which the house gets messy!), I was disappointed to hear her bemoaning how difficult it was. After going on and on about how hard it was to cover all the traditional school subjects with several kids at home, she went on to express her frustration at how much more expensive it is to homeschool than to send one’s kids to school. Being that this person would have sent her children to private school if she weren’t learning with them at home, I was taken aback, to say the least. After all, she no longer had to pay tuition, or worry about buying certain clothes to be part of the in-crowd, school lunches, school trips…. Yet she was weighed down by inordinate internal financial pressure, wanting to provide her children with a rich environment, but convinced that she couldn’t afford it.

At the time we had this discussion, my own family was going through tight financial times. It was due to the dedicated use of a variety of frugal strategies and a commitment to finding a way to make things work that we were able to meet our basic expenses, and it was because we had our six children at home instead of school that we were not pushed beyond our means, limited though they were. I knew that this woman’s income was at least triple ours, with the same size family, yet while I felt that our family’s homeschooling life was abundant, she felt she was depriving her kids.

What was responsible for the disparity between our very dissimilar perspectives? Basically, it came down to what we each perceived as needs and wants. Much of what she considered absolutely necessary, I considered a luxury. She felt every child needed private tutoring for varied academic subjects, music lessons, sports clinics, gymnastics, dance, and expensive field trips. I felt that all of those were nice, but didn’t share her conviction that children who didn’t have all of those things would be deprived of a stimulating home learning experience. Luxuries are nice, but can only enhance one’s life; they don’t totally transform it. People often have commented to me on the many wonderful things my kids are, and have been, involved with. They aren’t concerned with how much I paid for those opportunities; after all, it isn’t how much a parent spends that determines the quality of their children’s experiences, but rather, the quality of the experience itself.

How did we manage to homeschool six kids on a budget that would be considered extremely limiting by just about everyone? First, before making any purchase, I determined beforehand if it was truly necessary. Once I decided that it was, I thought about whether there were ways to acquire it other than purchasing it retail, or whether there was anything I could use instead that wouldn’t require making any purchase at all. Next, I looked for additional ways to get the things I needed, or to go to the places I wanted to go. I wasn’t willing to compromise the quality of our lives simply because there was very little money for extras. This meant I was willing to wait for the opportunity to visit various attractions until the price came down to what I determined I could afford based on my budget. If it was too expensive (expensive often having been defined as having a cost involved), no emotional energy was lost thinking about it – there were plenty of other things to do.

What kinds of things did we do? Once a week, my kids helped out at a sheep farm just a few miles away, a wonderful ongoing learning opportunity for them all. We visited the library frequently and often attended the programs offered there, and we read lots of great books out loud together in the evenings. When the local university offered free gym classes to homeschoolers, we were quick to sign up. I called the zoo (as well as local museums) to find out if there were hours during which admissions were reduced and discovered that once a month, kids who entered during the hours of 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. got in free. Needless to say, that is when we visited! We enjoyed the aquarium with a group of homeschooled families so we could be considered a school group in which students were admitted free; we paid a reduced chaperone rate for the parents. We attended monthly book clubs at a local bookstore. When we attended a performance of the Nutcracker ballet by a local school of the arts, we spent $3 at the students’ performance instead of $10 each for the performance for the public. The performance was followed by the frequent playing of Tchaikovsky’s music from a CD borrowed from the library, in which we identified the points in the music at which each scene had occurred. Once, we received free tickets to the symphony because someone had backed out at the last minute and passed their tickets on to the organizer with the request that they be shared with another family. Because I had called asking about the possibility of last minute seats (for which I had planned to pay), we became the lucky recipients. We attended an outdoor Shakespeare performance and viewed a historical exhibit of WWII. We visited the arboretum and nature centers and took classes there when available. We visited a small airport as part of a private group and were allowed to explore inside and examine small aircraft. We followed this with a visit to a museum documenting the history of aircraft. We went on factory tours of Hershey’s and a potato chip company. The kids participated in 4H and Girl Scouts. The older two girls baked frequently and made clothing and doll quilts using our sewing machine. My oldest son built a clubhouse and started a lawn service business, raking yards, mowing yards, and shoveling snow when the winter came. We volunteered as a family in our community’s neighborhood weatherization day and helped prepare the homes of low-income seniors for the winter.

I sought out thrift stores and found several that regularly had good quality items. I purchased lightly used, and sometimes even new, items, such as science kits, a magnetic set, a solar system exploratorium, lots of great games, and much more for a fraction of their original prices. I discussed with my children the value of a dollar and used my purchases while shopping as examples of how to get the most out of one’s money. My kids became smart shoppers, selective and discriminating about their purchases. They quickly realized that a $1 game in perfect condition without the shrink wrap was a significantly better buy than the same game purchased for $20 retail (and that the game looked the same once it was opened). They looked forward to going to the yard sales at which I sporadically stopped where we found, among other things, some wonderful educational toys, usually sold only in specialty stores or catalogs, costing no more than some loose change. I kept an eye open for inexpensive craft materials, and over time, built up a generous collection of useful items that were put to frequent creative uses.

It is crucial to be aware of the messages of consumerism that often seem to surround us, because when we don’t, we fall prey to the belief that without xyz product, our children are being deprived. It simply isn’t true; many of the best learning opportunities are free, and every locale has its own possibilities. Don’t think that because a homeschooling friend spends a significant amount on store-bought curriculum and outside resources that it is the only way – or the best way – to achieve your aims. Education is an individualized process, and it is essential to think carefully about what education truly means to you and your family to help your children follow their interests most effectively and reach their unique potentials. Once you have taken the time to think independently about the educational process, you will soon begin to find free and low-cost resources that will help you reach your goals. Have fun!

Avivah Werner is the mom of six great kids, with whom every day is a new adventure. In her nonexistent spare time, she has founded a local homeschool support group and moderates a national discussion list for Jewish homeschoolers.



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