Jared’s completing 10th grade, so I’ve now been homeschooling for eleven years. Recently, I found one of those programs that I wish had been available back when I started homeschooling. I got to wondering what I’d do differently if I had it to do over again, knowing then what I know now.
So, if I were starting homeschooling over again from scratch… Well, technically, I am, but I have the library I’ve purchased over the past eleven years. If I didn’t have that, and money was short, here’s what I would do. And don’t get me wrong–I’ve read blogs by many frugal homeschoolers over the years, and I’m sure they could do it cheaper. My goal was not to write about the absolute cheapest way to educate children at home. Instead, my goal was to figure out how cheaply I could do it while maintaining my particular educational ideology, and without having to put together everything from scratch myself. Covered here are the basics: Language Arts (including Logic and Rhetoric), History, Science, and Math.
1. Language Arts. I wish I’d started writing the programs that I’ve written, and the ones that I’m currently writing, back then. That sounds arrogant, I’m sure, but consider: I only started writing curricula because I couldn’t find what I wanted. So, my programs, the ones written and the ones in progress, cover language arts until high school with plenty of quality, public domain literature. When I’ve finished all six levels that I have planned, I estimate that a full digital set will run about $150, including workbooks.
For late middle school and high school, for logic and rhetoric, add The Art of Argument, The Discovery of Deduction, How to Read a Book, A Rulebook for Arguments, a book on writing research papers, Essential Literary Terms, Oxford Guide to Writing, Composition in the Classical Tradition, and Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student. $220, making the language arts total $370.
2. History. History is one of the main reasons we always had trouble with free and cheap methods of homeschooling. Libraries? Fuh-get about it, baby. Not for us, not for history. I’d attempt to plan out history based on our local library’s selections, and then we’d move. History reading has also always been rather hit and miss for us at libraries.
I recently found Heritage History. They have approximately five hundred books on eight CDs, complete with study guides for some of them (NOT all), for $140. The books are also online, chapter by chapter, for free. The study guide samples made me think of Tapestry of Grace, with the summaries and timelines. However, ToG always had so much that I knew we’d never, ever use, so I couldn’t justify spending the money. HH has only the history helps, and both Jared and Nikki were excited to see the samples. Plus, ToG, Sonlight, and similar programs all rely on other books either purchased or checked out from the library. With HH, all the books are public domain and included on the CDs and online, and they’re even divided by difficulty to work with multiple age groups. They also come in three formats: PDF, EPUB, and MOBI. The only downside that I see is that they are organized thematically rather than chronologically. However, I can work with that, especially with their handy-dandy timelines. And the big bonus of a steady diet of old books is that old children’s books are more likely to prepare children for old adult books.
To HH, I’d still add Story of the World–not necessary since HH has public domain books which cover the same material, but we like SOTW. We’d also add the award-winning historical fiction books that the library *is* likely to have. The primary sources recommended for high school are also mostly in the public domain.
So, there’s history for all of school for $140, $180 if you add digital copies of SOTW, $220 if you add the student pages from the SOTW Activity Guides. (We’ve never used the Activity Guides, even though I own them. We only use the student pages.) Want SWB’s spines for high school? $50 more for spines through the Renaissance. That gives a grand total of $270 for history through high school.
All you need to add are books for government and economics, and some of that reading can be had for free, too, both online and at the library. The library is sure to have a basic how-the-government-works book. The Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, Bastiat, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and Marx are all in the public domain. Economics in One Lesson is available online for free, and many other titles are available at Mises.org, assuming you want a solid education in Austrian economics, and why wouldn’t you?
I do highly recommend the Richard Maybury books. The boys read them in middle school with a re-read in high school. At a bare minimum, I wish everyone would read Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? We’ll assume two Maybury books, $30, bringing our history total to $300.
3. Science. For elementary age kids, here’s where the library is useful. We’ve never managed to go through all of the biology, astronomy, and earth science books in the children’s section. Chemistry and physics books are in short supply, but that’s just because they don’t actually exist. There are science books in the public domain, too, many of which we did start using years back: Clara Dillingham Pierson, Arabella Buckley, Thornton Burgess, Jean Henri Fabre. Sometimes I have to explain that the knowledge base has changed since an old book was written, but that’s a science lesson in itself. If one considers science and history just content areas that require certain facts to be memorized or studied, then this approach won’t necessarily appeal. I believe the exploration is more important. Vocabulary building is also particularly important for science, with which the more modern science books should help, especially with the occasional help of Ms. Frizzle and Bill Nye. There are certainly a few other books that we like having on hand, but I’m sticking to are bones basics here.
Cost? Free until high school, where things get a little trickier, but I’ll tackle it. Khan Academy? Free, so there’s the start. A spine for each year, digital again. There are the For Dummies books, the Wiley Self-Teaching Guides, and Homework Helpers. Any of these will run about $10, so $40 for all four years. Primary sources should be cheap or free since they’re mostly in the public domain. You might need to buy one or two books a year for additional reading if the library doesn’t have a good selection, books by authors like Sam Kean, Brian Greene, etc. These average $9-13 each. Two books a year at $12.50 each is $25 a year, plus $10 a year for the spine, gives a grand total of $140 for all four years of high school.
4. Math. $136 buys grades 1-6 of Math Mammoth. I’m beginning to think I’m the last homeschooler on the planet to learn about this program. So far, it looks awesome. It has all that I love about Singapore, like the mental math, but with better explanations. We’ve always had to use other programs to close Singapore’s instructional gaps. She also uses some of my favorite explanations and techniques that Steve uses in Math-U-See. It seems I finally have a program that I can recommend to new homeschoolers without reservation. And they’re files which can be re-printed for each child, or the child can even type the answers straight into the workbooks.
I would also buy a set of Miquon. Necessary with Math Mammoth? Probably not, but Miquon is such an incredible program. I would have it laminated and spiral bound. I started to do this a few kids back, but it seemed cost prohibitive since we didn’t think we were having more children. According to my calculations, this would cost about $100: cost of books + cost of laminating pouches + cost of spiral binding, equal to three kids worth of workbooks. Page protectors and a three-ring binder would do the same, but I don’t like binders. However, either would be preferable to buying a new set of Miquon for each child, and we do still love Miquon.
We love Life of Fred from Fractions on up. The set that includes Fractions to Trig is $324. (This does NOT include the Physics book.) I’m glad I don’t have to teach high school math without Fred. We even use Pre-Algebra 2 with Economics as part of our high school economics program.
I have the Elementary and Intermediate sets, and since my boys love them, we’ll continue to use them. And yeah, they teach lots of concepts, even advanced concepts, that prepare children for higher math. But I don’t like the way they teach the basics, to build that foundation that is equally important for higher math. If I had it to do over again, I might very well skip the Elementary and Intermediate series. Might. But I certainly won’t recommend them as “must have” items.
Math through high school, $460 without Miquon or $560 with it.
The total of everything here is only $1370, and it includes all the basics, for a relatively small outlay of cash. That averages out to $115 per year, and nothing has to be repurchased for additional children. And, of course, it’s not like everything needs to be purchased at once.
Do you want to know how much we spent per year? We spent up to $1000 for homeschool books and curricula many years. Many of our homeschooling dollars went towards workbooks, repurchased over and over again, for subjects such as math. When I decided I wanted to give Math Mammoth a try, I did some math myself. To buy MM would cost $136. To buy Singapore workbooks (we already have the texts) for the rest of my children to use would cost $160. Higher quality, or at least equal, for less money? Yeah, I’ll take that.
Many of our other homeschooling dollars went towards a quality home library of history and science books, so I don’t feel like that money was wasted. On the other hand, with public domain history books becoming easier to find, and ereaders making them so easy to read, it’s really not necessary to spend that kind of money to have quality history books on hand. And as C. S. Lewis said in his introduction to On the Incarnation:
Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook–even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united–united with each other and against earlier and later ages–by a great mass of common assumptions.
Though those new history books are easier reading, and seem oh-so-much more modern, those are the very attributes that argue against them.