Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Nickels and Dimes

Depending on your source, public schools spend between $8000 and $11,000 per year to educate each student . . . and they are "underfunded". Private school tuition averages $4500 per year . . . still not cheap.

I wasn't surprised to find that the average homeschooler spends $500 per year per student. Of course, this means many families spend considerably more and some families spend a lot less. I remember one year I challenged myself to do it for free, using the library and resources available on the Internet. It was probably one of our more successful homeschool years.

What are the costs associated with homeschooling? Although most families consider sports programs and music lessons an important part of their educational program, these extracurricular activities are usually not taken into account when calculating homeschool expense. This is probably because it is assumed that students would still participate in such activities even if they were in a more traditional school setting.

When budgeting for "homeschool", most parents are thinking "curriculum". Book publishers encourage families to purchase complete packages, at upwards of a thousand dollars. These packages contain student books, teacher's manuals, and manipulatives for one grade level. Throwing in their optional grading and recordkeeping services usually almost triples the cost. While more affordable than private school, this is still one of the more expensive ways to homeschool.

Eclectic homeschoolers, like myself, prefer to purchase curriculum from a variety of sources. Since paying fifty dollars for a teacher's manual isn't uncommon, you can still end up with a hefty book bill this way.

When I first stumbled upon Time4Learning several years ago, I didn't hesitate to try a month. There was no long term commitment, and I could even cancel completely and get my money back if I decided it wasn't working within the first couple of weeks. Instead, within the month, I had signed up four more children! I had considered $19.95 a month to be a bargain, so I was surprised when the additional kids were discounted at $14.95. This was for math and language arts, with science and social studies thrown in. The program even grades most of my kids' work and keeps detailed records for me.

A school year's worth of Time4Learning is less than $180 for the first student in a family and falls under $135 for each additional child. If you are the average, $500-per-year homeschooler, that leaves quite a bit for extras (or to put in the bank).

I enjoyed the year we homeschooled for free, but it isn't a challenge I'd undertake every year! I just don't have time to track down and organize all those resources, as well as to teach my kids, grade their lessons, and maintain good records. Using an online program like Time4Learning saves time without wreaking havoc on our budget. I like knowing exactly what the cost will be each month. If our budget can handle it, we buy extras, like science kits and foreign language courses. When things are tight, we know we don't have to, because the essentials are covered quite well.

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