“What do I really need to spend money on? Or how free is free?”
I am entirely certain that it really is possible, if necessary and with internet access, to home educate your kids without spending any money at all in the United States today, especially with a nearby free library. But, it certainly helps if you can at least afford some pencils and notebooks.
You can home educate with nothing more than a library card, but to do that successfully you have to have some good lesson planning skills. I can help you with that. In the section on lesson planning I will (eventually, once I write it) go over exactly how to turn any book or website into easy and understandable lesson plans.
If you don’t have good lesson planning skills and aren’t especially interested in that sort of thing, you are in luck because over the last few years there are so many great, free home education resources online that already have quite a bit of the planning done for you. Really.
Your local public library
Seriously, check out your local library.
Our library even had a microscope available for check-out in the children’s section. Other libraries have season passes to museums and zoos available for checkout to patrons too. My library has a subscription to an online language learning service and it is available for free to library cardholders. Other libraries have subscriptions to online databases and encyclopedias. You’ll never know what resources your library might have until you ask.
Don’t forget to go online and check out the big libraries in the largest cities in your state. Sometimes they will offer a free library card to people who live in that state, and you can get access to ebooks, videos, and online services through that library as well.
This website is written on the premise that you will have some kind of access to the internet, even if it’s only the free access you get at the library. To fully use this website you’ll need some type of computer, phone, or tablet to access the internet and enable you to download or view information online.
I’ve listed notebooks and pencils, but some kids today are already fairly adept at taking notes on the laptop while listening to a lecture and keeping a digital textbook open in another window. It certainly is ‘greener’ to do so.
Save the trees
I have made an effort to save on printer ink (and paper) in our house by not printing out every worksheet. We’ve had the kids look at the worksheet on the screen and work out the problems or answers either in a notebook or on an erasable whiteboard.
Being able to toss a small laptop, a small whiteboard and a few dry erase markers in a bag and do an entire day’s worth of school makes us both ‘lean’ and ‘green’. Are you a minimalist? I am.
There are some supplies that are just nice to have.
The best time to look for school supplies is during the back-to-school sales in the summer when prices on school supplies are at the lowest point of the year. We like to stock up for the whole year at this time and we can usually do that even on a tight budget.
The first item to look for is a decent pencil sharpener. Those little handheld ones aren’t going to cut it for the elementary years. You need a good sturdy pencil sharpener that can handle some heavy use. Some people prefer electric, some prefer the kind that bolts to a hard surface and has a handle. Whichever kind you choose, make sure you read the reviews.
Trust me, nothing is more frustrating than trying to homeschool without a decent pencil sharpener.
Pencils hide. Assuming you plan to use them, your life will be easier if you buy them in bulk. Don’t bother with the sparkly pencils or the ones with cartoon characters. Just get a few boxes of plain pencils. There are on-going debates on some homeschool forums over preferred pencil brands. We don’t have a favorite pencil brand, personally. We’re usually just happy to find one.
Pencil erasers on the end of the pencil die quickly (or get bitten off) so extra erasers are helpful. Mechanical pencils seem to die quickly also so we don’t recommend them. Older kids like pens and you will probably prefer a pen for some things yourself.
Crayons are good for elementary age students, and colored pencils are a good idea for all ages. In fact, using colored pencils to color and draw with has been shown anecdotally to help improve a student’s printing and handwriting skills.
Notebooks are nice. Choose your favorite; either wire bound single subject, multiple subject, and composition book, whatever works best for you. Some people like binders and file folders and pockets too. Clipboards are handy for people who don’t like to be tied down to a table.
Whiteboards with dry erase markers are often recommended by many homeschooling families. Some families like the lap-sized boards and others like the extra-large size boards.
Here is a secret insider tip: you can get plain whiteboard sheets the size of a sheet of paneling inexpensively at most hardware stores. I got mine at Home Depot. They aren’t exactly the same, but the sheets of the type that contractors use to finish showers can be used as inexpensive whiteboards. If you head to your local big box hardware store and ask, they will know what you are talking about. You might even notice they are using that same stuff to make signs for the store.
You can use the sheets as-is or cut it into whatever smaller size you like. We put decorative duct tape around the edges of ours so that they don’t chip or flake. We keep the larger board hidden behind the couch in the living room when it’s not in use. Other families have one mounted on the wall.
I’ve been informed that a good coat of Turtle Wax on the board prior to use makes it easier to wipe clean. If you do have ‘ghosting’ or incomplete erasing you can try the Magic Eraser sold in the cleaning supply section or just some plain old abrasive cleaner like Comet, and elbow grease. Be sure to reapply your Turtle Wax when you get done.
Some families prefer to use blackboards. We’ve seen sheets of that for sale in our local hardware store too. We had at one time one wall in our kitchen painted in chalkboard paint to make a giant chalkboard, but over time that evolved into a family message center instead of being useful for homeschool. I painted over it with whiteboard paint. That seems to work better for homeschooling, but a lot of general family reminders still get scrawled there, and someone keeps drawing stuff on the part near the floor and leaving the caps off of the markers.
The really handy people can choose a flat piece of thin board the size of their choice and paint it over first with magnetic paint so magnets can stick to it, then with either whiteboard paint or blackboard paint. The edges can be finished with molding. These boards can also be used as lapboards to put papers on to color or draw while sitting outside or on the couch.
Some families like to make their own printed workbooks or notebooks. A three-hole punch and a binder is the fastest and easiest way to do this, but there are alternatives. One popular alternative is a personal desktop binding machine that can bind your documents with a plastic coil ring or a plastic comb. You can make your own planner that way and planners for your kids, and workbooks with your own content and designs. It’s a lot of fun and quite addicting. You can also have this binding done for you at an office supply store, but that does cost more than using a small machine of your own.
Another cool toy for the home educator is the laminator. You can laminate some pages to protect them, or to use them as dry erase worksheets. Some folks like to make charts or maps and laminate those to use as placemats. You can laminate the cover of your homemade planner or the covers of your homemade workbooks.
Our personal favorite non-essential is colored printer paper. It just makes me happier to print out my planner on pretty paper. Fortunately, this is one of the least expensive extras!
Graphic Pen and Tablet. This is a cool device that plugs into your laptop or desktop via USB port and can be used to practice handwriting and also used for drawing and artwork. We like the Bamboo Splash, which is relatively inexpensive and a lot of fun. You can also think of it as a way to save paper and stay green!
What you don’t need
Since you have found this website, you don’t need to buy lesson plans, curriculum guides, or a lesson planning book. You don’t need to buy any expensive books, courses, or kits unless you really want them (we love new books) and can afford them. You can afford to educate your kids at home.