Affordable Homeschooling

During summer, we focused on stuff other than school. Beachside Diversions, licensed open edition art print by Steve Henderson at Great Big Canvas.

Maybe you homeschool all year round. We didn’t.

But even if you do, there’s something about the July/August window that gets people thinking about homeschool curriculum, and ordering the next year’s supply for each child. It doesn’t take long with a catalog for numbers to add up quickly, and unlike the public school system, our textbook and curriculum purchases are not covered by the taxes we pay to the state.

We’re on our own here, but that’s the point: as homeschoolers, we blaze a trail that is unique to each family. When we first start out, it seems as if we’ll never achieve the confidence and knowledge it takes to impart a quality education to our kids, but every day, we the parent teachers learn as much as, or more than, our children.

So let’s talk about curriculum, and how to reign in its costs.

The first thing many homeschooling parents ask at the outset of their journey is along these lines:

“What curriculum does everybody use?”

The major difference between curriculum and books is that books are a LOT more engaging and fun. Embrace Each Day poster by Steve Henderson, available at Steve Henderson Fine Art.

Those who are concerned about doing this right and not making any mistakes at all, ever, are more specific, like this:

“We are homeschooling our five-year-old, and I am looking for a complete curriculum that covers every subject: history, Bible study, handwriting, grammar, literature, creative writing, drawing skills, mathematics, basic science, and career choices.”

Regarding statement number one: “Everybody” doesn’t use the same curriculum. Some people don’t use any curriculum at all; others find a publisher and purchase every workbook they produce. Most people are in between, customizing a situation that fits them and their family.

About statement number two: You do realize, don’t you, that we’re talking about a five-year-old?

In 20 years of homeschooling, I have found a common thread among many, many homeschooling parents: they lack the confidence to teach their child basic subjects — like reading, language, math, writing, science — and rely heavily upon a curriculum series, which usually consists of workbooks — to do the job for them.

If you are one of these parents, and you are affected by a sentence like this:

“What makes you think that you can teach your child reading, writing, math, science, basically anything? You don’t have a college degree in teaching,”

Stand tall and straight with confidence in your abilities. Purple Iris, original watercolor available at Steve Henderson Fine Art.

You need to grapple with this concept first, before moving on. As long as you have little or no confidence in your ability to teach a child how to read or do fractions, you will wave in the wind like a weed before any statement questioning your intelligence or your abilities.

My mother, the ninth child of Polish uneducated immigrant sustenance farmers, taught me every significant educational landmark a person needs to know: she opened the world of reading, explained the multiplication table the day before it was introduced in public school (where they spent the next three months slooooooooowwwwwly dancing around the concept), established the groundwork of grammar, spelling, and writing skills, and showed me how to use the library when I had a question about science. In my high school years, she tossed in basic finances, job seeking skills, and logic.

Effectively, she homeschooled me in the hours after public school, and well before a concept was introduced in the classroom, my mother had already taught it to me. No, she was not a secret homeschooler: this was back in a time when homeschooling was an obscure concept and an illegal activity.  She was, however, excited about life and learning, and she spent time interacting with me and passing on what she knew.

Isn’t this what you are doing with homeschooling?

My mother grew up on a farm, where you learn lots of useful things. Homeland 3, licensed open edition art print by Steve Henderson at Great Big Canvas.

So back to the curriculum purchase, and how to save money on it:

1) Don’t buy so much. Use a little to go a long way.

2) Take advantage of the library.

3) Gain confidence in yourself, relying upon books for what they are — resources, not replacements for human interaction.

Let’s talk more about this at Homeschooling: Do Workbooks Work? (Look for my homeschooling articles on Thursdays, and you can see a collection of them by hitting the Homeschooling Page in the top menu.)

You may also be interested in the following articles:

Homeschooling? Yes, You Can Teach Your Child to Write

Writing: The More You Practice the Better You Get

Real Life Writing

20-years worth of writing teaching is packed into this inexpensive, easy-to-read, book. Paperback and digital formats at

And regarding Step 1 in the list above — Use a Little to Go a Long Way — I recommend my book, Grammar Despair: Quick, simple solutions to problems like, “Do I say him and me or he and I?” which draws upon 20-years of teaching writing to my own children, all of whom 1) write intelligently and well and 2) never say “Him and me went to the movies.”

Grammar Despair addresses common issues that everyone faces — “Do I say there, their, or they’re?” “When do I break for paragraphs?” “Is it really a sin to end a sentence with a preposition?” You don’t have to be an expert in grammar to write as if you were, and you don’t have to spend a lot of money for this book.

This article is linked to Memories by the Mile, Growing Home, Walking Redeemed, A Wise Woman, A Little R and R, Deep Roots at Home, Wholehearted Home, Frugally Sustainable, Thriving Thursday, Live Laugh Rowe, Jenny Mullinix, We Are That Family, Natural Living, Graced Simplicity, Hearts for Home, Living Well Spending Less, Family Fun, Rens Family Blog, All Our Days, Bible Love Notes, A Peek into My ParadiseThe Thriftiness Miss, From the Farm, Oh So AmeliaLittle House in the SuburbsA Blossoming LifeButter BelieverThe Prairie HomesteadMoms the WordMama Diane

12 Responses

  1. Bill Kennedy


    I am intrigued by your suggestion to “Take advantage of the library.”

    What do you find most helpful?

    What would like to see the library provide that it doesn’t?

    Do you have a favorite library story?

    Bill Kennedy
    James River Valley Library

    1. Bill — libraries are amazing resources that some people have discovered, and others have not. When our children were younger, we checked out stacks and stacks of picture books — largely about wild animals and places we wanted to visit — and we would sit on the couch together while I read aloud. We have many, many memories of those good days, and I repeat them with the grandchildren.

      On library visits, the younger kids always enjoyed the wooden puzzles — and I did, too, because I couldn’t afford to keep them up in wooden puzzles. Nowadays, the little computer set up in the children’s section is a draw to our granddaughter, even if the machine is not on. Of course, once she’s past the age of five, she may notice that the screen is blank, and care about it. Right now she just likes the colorful keyboard. (So would I, but they don’t make those for grownups.)

      As the kids got older, we took advantage of interlibrary loan, which enabled us to review books in which we thought we might be interested but weren’t sure. Twenty percent of the time, after reading the book in the library, we chose to buy a copy of our own for our home. I still take advantage of this service.

      Another thing I like about libraries is librarians! The ones in our small town are amazingly helpful, and more than once have sat down with me or one of my kids to explain finer points of a computer program, or a blogging site, that we have wanted to learn about, but haven’t known what to do. Each one of our librarians has an expertise in a different area, and they are so friendly and gracious about sharing what they know.

      The public library is a magical place — actually, it’s one of the few publicly funded establishments that fulfills the “public” part — people of all ages and backgrounds and interests can go there and find something that they like. It’s a warm, welcoming, happy place (or it should be — individual libraries are like individual yarn or quilt shops, and how well they are run depends upon the management) — and I reserve a day every two weeks to just go down in the evening, sit in a comfy chair, surround myself with magazines and newspapers, and just read.

      1. Bill Kennedy


        Great description of what a library can provide and how it brings a family together.


    1. Very true, Bill. I have two thoughts —

      One — regarding your conversation with Rob Lech, the Jamestown School Superintendent — I would appreciate both of your looking at my book Grammar Despair and seeing if it can fit into your writing goals somehow. I wrote this specifically, after 20 years of professional writing and homeschooling, to address common problems people have with the writing process — problems that can be solved without having to embark on an extensive grammar course. The book is available wholesale through Baker & Taylor and Ingram Wholesale Publishers, and its isbn number is 978-1481821544. You can find it retail at —

      Secondly, if the library or the school is interested in adding arts education to the mix, my husband, fine artist Steve Henderson, is putting together a DVD/digital tutorial of basic and intermediate painting techniques. The first tutorial will address watercolor, and is suitable for beginners to intermediates. Steve teaches regular workshops to students of all ages, and he is assembling a resource that hits upon the major issues these students have. There are many, many people out there who want to learn to paint and draw, but not many resources for them to do so.

      You can reach me directly at my e-mail —

  2. This blog touched my spirit because I did ask those questions when we first began talking about homeschooling my grandson. My daughter just did not feel confident enough to do it on her own, so I agreed to do it since I am not working any longer. First of all we determined that we could not afford to buy anything and when I say anything, I mean NOTHING could be purchased, so I started my research on the internet and speak many many nights all night long looking for the right mix of worksheets to go along with what I could tell him from my own brain. That worked for a while, then he began to resent the worksheets, (he hates to write), it’s ok, he only just turned 6, but I pressed on in other ways, and he is not as I said just turned 6 and does 3rd grade math (with the exception of multiplication, just starting on that one), 3rd grade grammar and reads at a 5th to 6th grade level. So we use the library a lot, we are allowed to check out 20 books each and he has his own card and I have mine and we use them to their limit and they are generally done within just a few days and we go back for more.

    Wonderful blog, thank you for showing others that there is a way to do this without spending tons of money

    1. Mimi — you are a shining example of how family pulls together to work together. How wonderful and gracious of you to take on your grandson’s schooling, and to work through all the challenges.

      You’re right — he’s 6. The actual mechanics of writing is difficult for a young child, and they can’t write as fast as they can think. He’ll get there — just keep that love of learning alive.

  3. Pingback : Homeschooling: Do Workbooks Work? | This Woman Writes (formerly Middle Aged Plague) by Carolyn Henderson

  4. I seriously love this post! Bestie and I started a FB homeschool support group and what you have written is spot on- I went through those newbie emotions and we’ve seen so many others go through them as well! I’ll be sharing this post in the group! Thanks, as always, for linking up at Thrilling Thursday!

    1. Thank you, Renee — I’m glad that you liked the article, and I thank you for sharing the information with your group. Thursdays are my day to post for homeschooling matters, and you can see a collection of the articles as they grow in the Homeschooling Page in the top menu bar —

      If you or your group members have questions or would like me to address certain topics, please feel free to write me at and let me know.

      Best to you and yours! — Carolyn

  5. This is terrific! We’ve been homeschooling for most of a decade but I still feel so much like a newbie sometimes. Thanks for offering encouragement!! And thank you for linking up with me again at Walking Redeemed!

    1. Kasey — I am glad that you liked the article. We’re always learning, aren’t we? The day we settle down with a glass of iced tea in the chair and say, “That’s it. I know everything I need to know,” well, that won’t be a good thing!

      Thank you for the opportunity to link up at Walking Redeemed!

Comments are closed.