Homefires - The Journal of Homeschooling OnlineHomefires - The Journal of Homeschooling Online

Guest Biography:

Judith Waite Allee started homeschooling in 1984 so her foster son could escape from "Special Ed." She presents workshops on homeschooling, adoption, and "Parenting Without Losing Your Cool," and offers one-on-one telephone consultation. Judith, her husband John, and their daughter Nancy (now 20) have visited homeschoolers in 15 states, while traveling to photograph reunions and conferences.

Visit her website at DreamsOnAShoestring.com.

Guest Biography:

Melissa L. Morgan and her husband homeschool three children. They enjoy field trips, business trips and treks across the country to visit family, always taking advantage of educational opportunities in the real world. Melissa currently writes an online newsletter, Parents Are Teachers, and manages a web site, www.eaglesnesthome.com, to provide a forum and resources for frugal families, writers and Christian homeschoolers.

Homeschooling on a Shoestring

By Judith Waite Allee and Melissa L. Morgan

Judith Waite Allee and Melissa L. Morgan are two unabashed penny-pinchers who co-authored Homeschooling on a Shoestring by Harold Shaw Publishers. Judith and Melissa casually met at a home schooling event and discovered that each of them, separately, had been working on a book with the same title: "Home Schooling on a Shoestring." The discovery led to their collaboration. Both thought their many differences would give the book a wider range of experience, especially since Melissa is part of the Christian home schooling movement, while Judith entered home schooling through a door opened by the late John Holt, father of the secular "unschooling" movement. They answered our List members' questions about how to be penny-wise homeschoolers, and suggested many ways to make, borrow, or buy affordable learning and reference materials.

Q: What do your think are the top 10 necessities for those homeschooling on a "very" tight budget? There seems to be so many nickel and dime costs to homeschooling that I feel overwhelmed sometimes. ~ Kim

A: In my case, we spent very little on homeschooling, relying primarily on the library, youth organizations, and volunteer work as our curriculum. The problem was our living expenses, and making it possible to be at-home parents. But to answer your question, here are my top 10:

  1. An old encyclopedia, preferably World Book ($5-$25 at a yard sale). I liked having sets from different eras.
  2. A good dictionary ($2 each at a yard sale or $5-10 each at a used bookstore), preferably one with big type if you have young readers.
  3. A homeschool magazine (about $20 a year). Review some at your library before picking one out to subscribe to.
  4. Support group dues (about $10 to $30) and homeschool conference ($50-$100)
  5. Art materials (about $25)
  6. Dues for youth club like 4-H or Scouts (about $10-20)
  7. Dues for a hobby club or special interest group that interests your child--in our case, rock club, clown club, and computer club at different times (about $15 to $25 each)
  8. Music lessons or dance lessons, depending on the child's interests (in our case we bartered)
  9. Gas for getting to volunteer work and activities.
  10. Library fines (if you are as disorganized as I am)


Q: Do you know of a book club offering wholesome new and classic books for preschool? ~ Patty

A: I find my best preschool books at library book sales, although I have had to fix a few with heavy duty tape. I tend to go for the sturdiest books possible for that age. I've found quite a few that were virtually brand new at garage sales, too.

Of course, there are various book clubs for Dr. Seuss books, Sesame Street, etc., but I have a feeling that the clubs would be limited, and probably fall pretty short of your requirements. I know I have received fliers for homeschool book clubs, so they are available. However, I have never been a big proponent of book clubs. I think it is because I am so picky about my books, and book clubs can be a pain for me, sending books "on approval" that I would have to send back. However, everybody has different needs, and there may be one that would fit your needs. There are also book publishers that specialize in reprinting classic books. Bethlehem Books, Wall Builders and Vision Forum, for example, but I don't recall if they include much for preschool. To look up a publisher or book club on the Internet, in most cases you can just put in their names as their web addresses.

If you want a look at different homeschool suppliers, you could also try the "Resources" page at my web site. Some of the resources specialize in classic books. Most of the large companies include books for the youngest set, and a few specialize in the six and under age group. If you notice any errors on my pages, by the way, I'd appreciate any suggestions or corrections, as I am currently in the middle of trying to update the site. ~ Melissa

Q: Do you have any suggestions on where to find inexpensive highschool classic literature like Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens? I am also looking to find classic books for my younger son too. ~ Cindy

A: From Judith: I collected a number of classics at yard sales, and what we didn't have I got at the library. Are you thinking the loan times are too short? Some libraries have extended loan times for educators, and some libraries include homeschoolers in that category.

I found a wonderful series of classics at the library that had wide margins with illustrations and definitions in the margin. It also had larger type. We read aloud Swiss Family Robinson and Gulliver's Travels with that series. You can check in the children's library, but I think it would be a good resource for any age. I don't believe the text was watered down, just illustrated with helpful tidbits of info. Adventure books like that (including Jules Verne books, the Little House on the Prairie series, etc.) make wonderful read-alouds. Kids can understand them long before they can read them independently.

If you really want to own the books, how about posting "wanted" signs at the library, Laundromat, or church bulletin board? I also run an ad for things I want to buy and have had good luck with it. If I advertise for 3-5 items , I usually get at least 1 or 2 of them cheap or free. I'd say "classics books" rather than specific titles. I've bought a microscope, cracked aquariums (to use for gerbils), sleeping bags, a rock tumbler (for making polished rocks), and Legos (R) that way.

From Melissa: One way to get books inexpensively, is through the inter-library loan system. We receive numerous educational book catalogs. The catalogs include extensive book lists, but we can only afford to buy a few of the books each year, per child. The rest of the books that we drool over, we order from the library. If the library doesn't own the book, we ask them if they can buy it, or order it from another library in the system. We have borrowed books from libraries all over the country, and it usually only takes a few weeks (although in a very few instances, we have waited months for a book.)

Comments from list members:

From Michelle: Try http://www.infomotions.com/alex/ it has an awful lot of good material in full text, including Shakespeare. I've saved and printed Midsummer Night's Dream, Othello and others. Here's a link for younger kids: http://www.worldwideschool.com/library/catalogs/bysubject-top.html Enjoy!

From Janet: There are a lot of sites that have entire e-books free. Here are some I know of:

Q: Where can I find reading lists and then inexpensive literature discussion groups for my 8th & 9th graders?

A: From Judith: Check your library for reading lists. You might consider forming a book club to discuss a specific book each month. Your library, a church, a bookstore, or a homeschool support group might want to host it.

From Melissa: You can check out Mary Pride's Big Book of Homeschooling for educational book reviews. I use homeschool book catalogs for reading lists. I receive several dozen different ones, and you can find book catalogs that specialize in various educational philosophies, for instance, classical Christian books. One example is Sonlight's catalog--it is very extensive, and includes comprehensive descriptions of the books that it offers. I do order a few new books for each of my children from my favorite catalogs, and then I order the rest through the inter-library loan system. As our resources are limited, I will usually borrow a book from a library or friend before I order.


Q: Do you have any inexpensive resources for biology and botany - in particular getting a good microscope and tools and creatures for dissection? Is it feasible and sanitary to dissect something you find - say a bird or grasshopper the cats have killed? Can we use tools we might already have - Exacto knives, etc., or does this require specialized tools, and if so where can we get them cheaply? ~ Elaine M.

A: I would not recommend dissecting animals that you find, without taking precautions such as rubber gloves, sterile procedures, etc. I know that it is probably being too picky, but in our area we have diseases that can cross from animals to people, and I imagine that is probably true everywhere. I teach my kids, if you aren't sure it is safe, don't touch it. Now, I admit that I have picked up a dead butterfly on our land, mounted it, and survived to tell the tale...and in truth, my kids have dissected, from an early age, dead worms and other dead insects that they find. The most interesting is a lightening bug (firefly). You can study how they light up. For higher forms of life, however, we have left it to the experts, and simply watched. I know the biology of bugs is pretty tame stuff, but you can also dissect a virtual frog on-line.

Do you live near a university? Call and ask if they have a biology department. In most cases, someone at the university can help you. At OSU, when I called, I found out about a "Museum of Biological Diversity," that I had never heard of before. It was free, and open to the public. Another source of free and cheap information is your local parks department, and your Division of Wildlife. For various departments that can help you, look in your telephone directory under state, country, local, and federal government.

Your supplies can be scrounged, or purchased fairly inexpensively, either new or used. You can check our book and my website for resources, but one favorite of mine is the Edmund's Scientific catalog. They will have things you can dissect, if that is a concern. Many, many interesting science books tell you how to do science experiments at home, with materials you probably have around the house. If there is a science kit that you'd love to have, you may want to consider mentioning it to a relative, as they can make great Christmas presents. My son has always been happy to receive them, and I think enjoyed them more than a toy. ~ Melissa


Q: Do you have advice on finding affordable group Art Lessons? ~ Kathleen

A: We bartered for art lessons, in exchange for photography. In one case, the woman specialized in drawing horses and gave my daughter private lessons. The other lessons involved a well-known local painter who had a classroom in his basement. My daughter paid for an art class at a local YWCA but was very discouraged by kids wasting class time with misbehavior. You might see if a local artist would let your son observe the artist at work. That is one way to learn. Is there an art association in your area? That's a good way to meet artists. Also, many art students go to museums and sit there for hours trying to reproduce the works on the walls, as a way of understanding the techniques involved. That's a good way to meet other artists. ~ Judith

Q: Could you tell me more about where to find cheap or free music lessons? ~ D. Bare

A: From Melissa: We use a lot of library videos for lessons such as karate, piano, and ballet. We also get together with other homeschool families for group lessons. For instance, one parent (who has a degree, and work experience in science) will each my kids in science lab, and in exchange, I'll share any knowledge I have in language arts. Another mom with a degree in horticulture is teaching our kids biology. This can also be done in various ways and settings for sports and music lessons. It is a type of barter, barter teaching, among homeschoolers, and within support groups, which goes on all the time. Also, we know several homeschool groups who got together an orchestra, and met in a friendly music store. The music store helped its reputation by showing goodwill to the community, and the homeschool kids had the benefit of playing music in a group.

From Judith: We've had good luck bartering for music lessons (violin and piano) as well as gymnastics and dance classes. Not that we've never paid for lessons, but at one time or another we have bartered for all of those. In our case, my husband is a photographer and we traded for portraits, but I think a lot of teachers would welcome homemaking skills--baking, yard work ad snow shoveling, housework, carpet cleaning, child care--in fact a lot of things a young person could do to trade for his or her own lessons.

When we paid for lessons and were short on money, we arranged to have lessons every other week. While that is not optimal, it sure beats no lessons at all, and it is half the cost.

A friend of mine is a piano teacher and she particularly likes to work with homeschoolers because it fills up her daytime schedule. She will line up four or five families from a particular church or neighborhood and do all their lessons consecutively on location. I think if you approach a teacher with the proposition that you will line up a group like that, he or she would be glad to give you a discount.

One thing we did to get our kids excited about practicing was to host a music recital at a nursing home every other month. (This idea originally came from Growing Without Schooling Magazine.) I called music teachers in the area to locate kids who played various instruments (flute, strings, guitar). The children performed solo pieces, and also one group number. We would get the kids together to work on a joint piece. A violin teacher volunteered to coach the group to give her students a group experience, but even if she hadn't volunteered, group lessons are less expensive than private ones. We had three violin players, my daughter on piano, a flutist, a drummer, and a guitar. When they played Silent Night, it brought tears to my eyes. There is something about playing with other people that brings music to life.

Q: Don't you think that asking to barter may be demeaning to some music and dance instructors? My daughter's piano teacher wouldn't dream of "bartering" her time for piano teaching. She provides her students with a personal professional experience on well-maintained and tuned grand pianos. Students record their pieces on professional recording equipment to keep track of their year-to-year progress. The teacher offers students opportunities to participate in student master classes, local and state recitals and competitions, etc. I think it would be an insult to ask her to barter for this quality of instruction.

A: I don't think asking about barter is demeaning. You might get a "no." In fact you will probably get more "no" answers than "yes" answers -- but, always ask. You don't have to trade hour for hour-you can give 3 hours of work for 1 hour of teaching (or whatever). If you can trade for plumbing, roofing, or other professional skills, you're in a better bargaining position. Our piano teacher has been a full-time professional piano teacher for about 20 years. Her students participate in state contests (and not infrequently win them). In any event, our income at one point was under $10,000 a year. It's not that we didn't think lessons were worth the money, but they were pretty much out of the question if we had to pay cash. You may not, however, be able to barter for lessons with the particular teacher you want. In that case, perhaps you can find other ways to economize (which might include bartering for other things) so that you can afford your lessons. ~ Judith

Comments from List Member…
Yes, I agree...always ask. We have homeschooled for four years on a low income, and many, many people ARE interested in bartering. Several years ago I met a family who bartered their sewing talents to the top ballet company in our area. Their child took lessons in this manner for many years and ended up attending, on full scholarship, the American Ballet Theatre in New York! There is absolutely no shame in bartering. Just think of it as an alternative to cash. You will receive "no" answers, but the "yes" answers DO happen. Our family has bartered our skills for home repairs, babysitting, curriculum, etc... Yvonne

Bartering for Homeschool needs: Anyone in the following areas, you may want to take advantage of "The Barter Authority," office based in Norfolk, Virginia with businesses located in the Hampton Roads area and Richmond Virginia. It is owned by a wonderful pro homeschool couple. You get credit for goods or services you have to offer, then you can choose from an entire catalogue of other products and services or from businesses such as restaurants (including Pizza Hut), lodging, entertainment. I saw skating rinks, science museums, music lessons, children's art studio with a program for homeschoolers starting in the fall, and more. Just click on the "Download Member List" link to get a good overview of what is available. For those who don't live in this area, try an Internet search using the keyword "barter."~ Francie

My parents do this and we are going on vacation this year with their barter points paying for our hotel room in Branson! We did this all my life growing up. At one time my father chopped wood for barter. They have paid for shoes, eyeglasses, hotel rooms, etc.! ~ Robin


Q: How did you set this "teaching" network up? I am relatively new to homeschooling, but this idea was one I initially wanted to pursue, but got a lot of feedback that it is too hard to coordinate homeschoolers in this way. ~ Debbie

A: From Melissa:
In our book, in the chapter titled, "Curriculum Made Easy," we list in detail how to set up and get in touch with support groups, and find expertise through networking. I probably can't go into that much detail here, but I'll try and tell you a little of my own experiences.

I have been a member of Christian Home Educators of Ohio (CHEO)--you can contact your state homeschool support group, and they can help you find any groups in your area.

Through my local homeschool support group, I met homeschool families, and built relationships. I also met homeschool families through church networking. Finally, we have met like-minded homeschoolers through volunteer work.

We have been involved in formal homeschool classes, and informal classes. Informally, we meet with friends, and take turns teaching according to our expertise and interests. Formally, our homeschool support group has set up classes. Homeschool support groups vary; some are Christian, some are not; some are loosely organized, others are highly organized. If you can't find one that meets your needs, you can try to start your own; even if you just meet with a few families once a month, it will be worth your time. Try posting a notice at the local library, as it is usually a popular homeschool family gathering place.

You can also find resources and links at my website, to help you find a support group, which would help you with team teaching.

From Judith: At one point there was no inclusive homeschool group in the area, and I didn't want to take on leadership responsibilities for a group, but I did want to help people network and help set up some field trips. I made up a flier that I posted at the public library called the Homeschool Grapevine. On it I listed some activities I thought would interest homeschoolers-an astronomy open house, for example. I also called some of the homeschoolers I knew and asked them if they would each be willing to set up one field trip and be the contact person for people to register for that trip. We had some interesting experiences and people got a chance to meet each other.

Several times a year I had a potluck dinner at my house, inviting about 3 other families. In one case, I invited 3 families that had boys all about the same age. Another time I might invite families with teens or whatever.

To help the teens network, I set up a first aid class for teens and parents, and later a CPR class. We asked the kids to team up with people they didn't know and it was a great mixer.

I knew some families that met every Friday to do group projects for the Konos Character Curriculum. I think there were six families, and the parents took turns being responsible for designing a project related to the character trait they were studying that month. ~ Judith


Q: Any suggestions for simple, fun, inexpensive things I can have around the house for my bored 5-year-old to do that will keep him occupied when I am busy? ~ Jasmine

A: Good for you for not plopping him in front of the tube! Here are a few ideas:

  1. The "If you are bored, I have chores for you" approach sometimes works.
  2. Keeping certain toys put away for just such occasions, not making them available at other times, such as Lincoln Logs, marbles, or paper dolls.
  3. An easel and paints. Anything REALLY messy will work.
  4. Set a timer and have a consequence for interrupting during that time (start with short times and work your way up). Or have a reward for not interrupting.
  5. Make "quiet time in your room" a part of your everyday routine, whether you have a project to complete or not.
  6. Being bored is a precursor to creative problem solving. Decide that it is not your responsibility to entertain him. Be happy whether he is satisfied at that moment or not.
  7. Let him make a tent with sheets over a table.

From A List Member:
One activity my children enjoyed at this age was playdough. We would create our own in the kitchen and keep it in a freezer bag. This bag would then be placed in a large plastic container (with a lid) along with cookie cutters, an old inexpensive rolling pin, plastic butter knives, a plastic placemat or two, etc. inside the container. The playdough kit was put away and brought out at special times and was always a big hit! When the playdough started to get old and dry, we would just whip up a batch of new dough! Here is one recipe for it:

Playdough Recipe

You will need:

  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • ½ cups salt
  • 1 tablespoon alum
  • 3 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 1 ½ cups hot water
  • food coloring

Combine oil, water, and food coloring. Combine dry ingredients and mix thoroughly and knead.


Q: Do you know of any inexpensive homeschool planners for keeping track of subjects, classes, attendance, that kind of thing? I prefer to use something hand-held that I can take with me to park days. ~ Kris

A: I tried various things, including a teacher's lesson plan book, but I wound up using an inexpensive week-at-a-glance type book (from Odd Lots) that was easy to carry and use in the car. The one I used had a blank area that I could use for things that weren't specific to one day, for example the title of a book that we were reading. Sometimes I kept it in our reading room (the bathroom). <grin> I wanted it somewhere I would see it every day and take a few minutes to jot down what we had done that day. In my case I kept it pretty simple. I had codes for the things we did routinely--RA for reading aloud, etc. SIA meant "self-initiated activity"--which the school system doesn't care about but to me was a good indicator of success. (I started homeschooling with a burned-out kid who felt unsuccessful in school). Mementos like music programs, writing samples, photos of projects, etc., I threw into a file folder for the year. ~ Judith

Comments from List Members:

I got one at Walmart. It is from Day Timer and it is called Day Runner. It looks like a regular notebook, but it has 3 days per page and there is just room to write assignments. I am sure it was under $10. ~ Sherrie

Try a Teacher's Helper store. I used to find a Teacher's Planner every year on sale for under $4.00. But here's one you can print it and customize it for your family and it is free! http://householdnotebook.com/planner.html~ Shannon

There are some GREAT pages for homeschool planners etc. on this site.


Q: Are you familiar with the Robinson Self-Teaching Curriculum, and do you think it's worth $195? It is a 22 CD-Rom curriculum. It says it contains 12 years of education. It seems inexpensive if it does in fact contain all that it claims but that is a large amount of money to spend to find out it's a dud. I'm told you may have to print out entire books on your printer using this curriculum.

A: I don't recommend any specific programs, but I would advise anyone to find out about the return policy before ordering any materials sight unseen. Even if the materials look great, they might not fit your child's individual needs. That's why many homeschoolers buy books or software that ends up gathering dust on a shelf, or worse, causing daily educational torture for kids and parents. I will occasionally order something through the mail that I haven't viewed, but only if it is inexpensive enough (ten dollars or so) that I am willing to take a risk.

Printing out a whole book will be expensive in paper, ink, and wear and tear on your printer. It may cause eyestrain to a child to read extensively on a monitor screen, without a hard copy. My freebies page at my website contains links to help you search for thousands of free electronic books that are available on the web. Printing up limited book excerpts from the web might be worthwhile, and reading out loud from the Internet is another option to help avoid eyestrain, if family members take turns. I own some electronic books that exist on educational CDs I picked up on sale at Microcenter. We might occasionally use them for research (those that include search features). However, they hold no appeal for leisure reading. If I had to choose, I would rather buy one hard copy book for my child. He can carry a real book with him in his backpack, or smuggle it under the covers and read with a flashlight at night. ~ Melissa

Comments From List Members:
From Sherrie: I have seen this curriculum and would never encourage anyone to purchase it. It mainly contains many old books that you have to print out yourself for your kids to use. That means you use a lot of paper and time. Also, they are not interesting books, in my opinion. I was especially put off that they do not accept returns.

From Denise: I have a friend who lives in IA who uses it. She likes it okay, and only has one child. I remember her saying that she had to hunt for some books and then they had to get a printer and print some of them out.

From Elizabeth: We have the original set of Robinson's curriculum. With nothing but a library card and a good math curriculum you could do just what that curriculum does without all the expense and using books tailor-made to your own family.

From Linda: We have used it going on 3 yrs. It works great for us! I have children in 7th & 10th grade. The books are great for history, some science and geography. They recommend using Saxon math which we do. Each book has vocabulary words, I have my children look them up in the dictionary and write them out. We use them for spelling as well. Each day I have them read several chapters from one of the books and they have to write 2 pages of what they read, or a report on a certain subject they are interested in. Each day they have 2 hours of Math, 2 Hours of Reading and an Hour of Writing. Here is the Robinson website where there is a Q & A chat board. Robinson site: http://www.robinsoncurriculum.com/

From Rita: Maybe I'm just a die-hard skeptic, but I believe the Robinson Self-Teaching Curriculum features old books (as opposed to new ones) because the older editions of these works are no longer copyrighted. Once a book is in the public domain (that is, no longer protected under the copyright laws), ANYONE can reproduce and sell the book without paying royalties to the authors of the works or their heirs. With the proper resources, you can start your own curriculum company! Just get a heap of books copyrighted before 1923 (pay pennies for them at garage sales, or borrow them from the library), scan them, put them on disc, and sell them WITHOUT a money back guarantee...

Q: What suggestions would you have for reasonably priced curriculum for my 8th grade son, especially for Math and Science? It's getting more and more important that I keep good records of his schooling too. How would you suggest I go about that?

A: From Judith: Your son is at an exciting age for a homeschooler. As he becomes more independent, he can explore careers through job shadows, internships (formal or informal), volunteer work, or trying his hand at starting a small business. Also, many kids drop out of youth organizations like 4H or Boy Scouts at that age, but that's when a lot of the good stuff starts--state, national and international conventions, meaty projects, and mentoring from experts in their field.

I think if you start by brainstorming with him about what he would really like to learn and work on finding things that really light up his eyes, that everything else will fall into place. For example, if he gets interested in geology, have him meet some geologists and find out what their lives are like, and talk with the geology department heads at some colleges he might want to attend about what he needs to study to get ready for college.

That said, I think different kids do best with different approaches to math. Our foster son had learning disabilities and he did better with constant review, so I made up his math materials myself, with one or two questions for each skill we had worked on over the year. Saxon textbooks made a lot of sense to me when I discovered them, since they work on the same principal. However, I've met kids who HATED Saxon. At that age, I let my daughter pick out her own math book, in the hope that she would pick something that suited her learning style and so that she'd be happier with it. I had a shelf full of math books purchased at yard sales, but by high school I was open to buying one she was interested in. I also purchased used Saxon math books through a homeschool mail-order catalog. They were still expensive, but not as expensive as a new ones.

At your son's age, my daughter volunteered at a hands-on science museum. It was a terrific experience, not only in science, but also in communications and dealing with the public, since she led tours and did demonstrations. She also belonged to a rock and mineral club and went on field trips with them and participated in their shows. She read biographies, including those of scientists, as well as a variety of literature. Some of her 4-H projects were science-oriented, and she got a scholarship to attend a summer camp that specialized in archeology. I hope it doesn't sound like I'm dodging your question, but those activities were the basis of our curriculum. In terms of specific textbooks, maybe other list members will have suggestions. We used very few textbooks for science, and the ones we used were from yard sales. Primarily we used books from the library about specific topics--astronomy, criminal forensics, tornados, etc. She decided to go to high school for her sophomore and junior year and took chemistry and biology during those years, so she had a turn at textbooks. For record-keeping I'd recommend reading Cafi Cohen's book, And What About College.

From Melissa: Again, I try to avoid recommending specific curriculums, but I know what you mean about it being hard to find curriculum at that age. We do list extensive resources in our book, and at my web site; you might want to check into those. Book chapters include: "Homeschooling For the Teen Years," and "Career and College-Bound On a Budget."

I do, however, let my kids recommend their favorite resources, but that might not work out best for you. My kids went with me to the homeschool convention this year, on vendor night, which was free. The kids were able to personally look at different resources, and pick from various ones that I could afford. They both picked math workbooks books from McGraw-Hill. McGraw Hill is economical, programmed according to the minimum you would need to know by grade, and my kids make a game of finding the errors-- they usually find a few at each level. Seriously, although we joke about it at our house, several individuals make a living off of documenting text and workbook errors. It might make an interesting topic for future discussion.

My oldest is also in eighth grade, although he functions at a higher level in language arts, and in some aspects of math. I think of junior and senior high as preparation for college, and would rather pay for resources to help him to be able to test out of college courses (through CLEP or AP tests), than pay for high school curriculum. Rather than asking, "What should he study in math this year?," I think it is more helpful to ask, "What math, or science, will he need to know for his field of study, for his lifetime career?" We plan to study for SAT required material, preparing for testing using computer programs, library books, and Internet resources. My son already has several math books that he studies--they are comprehensive "what you need to know" type books. He says his favorite is called " Mathematics Made Simple." You could probably check it out at the library, and try it.

The kids have always scored well in science, although we have never taught it as a separate subject, with textbooks, workbooks, and the like. We take science field trips, with hands-on activities, and we use a lot of library videos and software on science, and we also read books and magazines; some borrowed and some were gifts.

There are some very interesting resources for science, even upper level physics, that far surpass most textbooks both in interest level and accuracy. You can also find some great "Dummies" and "Idiots" books, that make it simple enough, even for me.

I am encouraging my oldest to keep a planner this year, on his own. He is also helping to prepare the report to the school system, so that he will know what he needs to study. We are learning how to document any informationand experience that he can try to include in his transcript for college credit. (You can also check out Cafi Cohen's web site and books, Mary Pride's books, and books by John Bear, on non-traditional college.)

All this sounds more involved than it really is; and we are really gearing up gradually, doing a little more with him each year. For instance, this year we want him to learn how to get a letter of recommendation from an organization where he volunteered. Hope some of this helps.

Q: We just invested in a computer for our homeschool and I am wondering if you can recommend inexpensive resources for software curriculum - in particular, Math?

A: Hi, Denise. Yes, our chapter "Computing On a Shoestring: Cheapskate Technology Has Arrived!" gives details to help save money on educational computing. You can also check my website, the Freebie page and also the Homeschool Links page list computer software resources. I really like places like Unbeatable Deals, which is online. I also find a lot of software marked down in computer stores--I almost never buy software, unless it is obsolete.

In response to your specific question, about using software for your specific curriculum, say math, I'm going to have to give you a definite--uh--that depends. Seriously, it depends on the kid, and the parent. You will probably not want to do all your math on the computer, however.

Of all the subjects, math is probably best suited for computer learning, and it does seem to be a great motivator for many--maybe even most--kids. Kinethetic kids, that must use their hands or die, can really shine when they do math on a computer.

I would suggest that you might like to try borrowing programs from the library and/or friends, before investing a significant amount of money. You can also read software reviews. The library will have books and computer magazines with software reviews. You can also search on the Internet under "educational math software reviews." Remember that homeschool publications will probably be the best judge of a program's usefulness in the homeschool, however. Friends can give you their favorites; ask around at a homeschool support group.

My three kids range in age from two to thirteen, and they all enjoy doing math on the computer. My son really liked a fairly obsolete program called "Operation Neptune." It had a gripping story line about a submarine, but really taught and required accurate math skills. My oldest daughter liked software from "School Mom," that was actually written by a homeschool dad. My youngest is still at the "Reader Rabbit" stage. None of my children wanted to do ALL their math on the computer; it was more of a supplement, or a review. They preferred working with real life math projects (such as measuring for new carpeting), workbooks, or lessons created by mom, for everyday. ~ Melissa


Q: Do you have suggestions about teaching children to be thrifty, creative (in an economic sense) and aware of how family money is spent and how family economies work? ~ Melanie

A: We have so many "educated" people who don't have a clue how to handle their finances. It interferes with their ability to be good parents and good citizens. It is also an area I struggle with personally, and that I feel I fell short on with my children, who are now grown.

Here are some of my thoughts:

  1. If I had it to do over again, I would not give my children so many possessions. In fact, I would cut down by at least half, and maybe two-thirds. This is not to say we spent a lot of money--most of our stuff was yard sale finds and hand-me-downs. But there was so MUCH of it that I think it interfered with my children's ability to value their belongings and to learn to take care of them. What did it matter if a toy got broken? There were plenty more. I would probably have a rule: no incoming things without an equal amount of outgoing things.
  2. With my foster boys, I had a rule: you must save half of all money you earn or receive as gifts to use for long-term goals rather than whims. I encouraged them to write down anything they wanted but couldn't afford, especially big ticket items, on a wish list posted on the refrigerator. It would be a good idea to ask them to research prices on each item they added to the list. When it came time to spending the saved money, they had to pick something from the list, or add an item and wait a while to buy it. The list gave them a chance to understand prioritizing and making financial choices. The rest of their money went through their fingers like water on the first thing they saw that they wanted. I wanted them to learn from both experiences. I did things differently with my youngest. Since she always saved her money and spent it carefully, I didn't enforce the same rules. I was sorry I hadn't when she became a teenager. If I had it to do over, I would have the same rule, even if she didn't appear to need it.
  3. Some parents turn over the checkbook and family bills to an older child, who writes out the checks and has the parent sign them. If I had it to do over, I would try that. It would teach how a checking account works, what real life expenses are, and how far a paycheck really goes.
  4. In Growing Without Schooling Magazine I read about a family who insisted their daughter pay a portion of the fees for her piano lessons with her own money. It may have been only a dollar or so, but if she spent her money and did not have enough for her lesson, she had to call her teacher, cancel the lesson, and explain. (I would imagine the parents had to pay for the lesson anyway, since it wasn't the teacher's fault.) According to the family, this happened very few times over the years, and their daughter took her lessons very seriously, and valued her practice time. If I had to do it over, I would probably try that.
  5. I would also teach my kids how credit works and try to help them understand what a pit it is, while they are younger and I still have some hope of influencing them.

Maybe that sounds harsh. I don't know, but overall I would try much harder to let kids make mistakes and learn from them, instead of giving them so much guidance and trying to keep them from making mistakes. The consequences of mistakes are so much gentler when they are young than when they are adults. I'm sure other members will have some good ideas and I'm sure some will disagree with the ones I've listed here. ~ Judith

Q: Have you seen homeschooling families successfully run businesses? In principle it sounds great, because of all the kids could learn, but does it take time away from academics? And does it really benefit the business or could Mom and Dad do the work faster if they just did it themselves? And is it really even possible to a) keep house, b) teach your children well, and c) run a business? Is this pie in the sky?...Do the kids end up neglected? ~ Elaine M.

A: My husband is a freelance photographer. Our home business provided lots of learning for our kids, and being homeschoolers gave us more flexibility in our schedule. For example, we didn't have to plan our work schedule around being home for the school bus, and we could travel during the school year. John occasionally got assignments photographing a conference, reunion, or event, so that gave us a paid working vacation. In our case, I was involved with the business, but didn't spend as many hours as John, so I was more available during the day to the kids. One thing I have noticed, both related to the photography business and to being a writer, is that when you are physically present but unavailable, kids do seem to think of it as more of a rejection than if you aren't there at all. I guess it depends on how kid-friendly your business is. John often had a child in the darkroom with him, keeping him company and talking. They had some great conversations in there, and all our kids learned to develop their own film and make prints. They also got experience with business telephone skills, making change, and understanding how profit works.

My feeling is that housework should be a family project, and kids can work alongside you. Notice I said that was my "feeling." In reality, housekeeping has never been my forte. But I think having the business actually helped in that regard, because customers would occasionally come by to pick up their orders. No motivation like fear of humiliation for getting a house back in shape.

It certainly won't take time away from your academics if it IS your academics. Maybe you can invent a business that helps your children develop the skills you want them to have. A business is an ideal "unit study." Homeschooling on a Shoestring has a chapter about home-based businesses
for homeschoolers.


Dear Homefires List Members,
We have enjoyed spending time with you this week, and especially hearing all the great suggestions from members. It is amazing all the resources we can find out about when we pool our information. The Internet has certainly made the world smaller and more accessible.