Homeschoolers are Consumers, Too

Posted with permission from At Home and School.

When a new demographic emerges, companies begin to find ways to market their products to this budding audience, and entrepreneurs jump at the chance to fill an unexpected gap in the free market.

Home schoolers have been such a demographic. In the early days of home schooling, parents used whatever books they could find, and only a few companies would sell their textbooks to home educating parents. Nowadays, my mailbox and email inbox is regularly stuffed with periodicals, newsletters, and catalogs of home schooling encouragement, resources, and advice.

Yet I must say Caveat Emptor—“Let the buyer beware.” Not every website, textbook, catalog, or umbrella school is legitimate, or offers good quality educational materials and guidance. Parents who feel insecure to the task may depend on those they consider to be “experts,” but many of these experts are self-proclaimed, and do not possess much in the way of home schooling or business experience. They may be well-intentioned people trying to make some extra money in a tight economy…but let’s face it—some are outright scams.

Home schooling parents must apply the same standards of caution and thrift to educational supplies and resources as they do any other major purchase. They must consider if the materials advertised are consistent with their core values, philosophy of life, and worldview, will truly meet the needs of their children, their educational goals, and if the promised results sound realistic. As important as a quality education is to both parents and children, the household budget does impose certain limits.

If you are in the process of deciding whether or not to home educate, or are in the beginning stages of planning to home school, there are some questions you must ask yourself in order to make good choices about methods and curriculum. And you must answer for yourself and your child- not your sister’s kids, your best friend’s kids, or the expectations of friends and family. If you are contemplating home education because you truly believe it is best for your family, then your family is the lynch pin that will determine every facet of your home schooling lifestyle.

These questions are not exhaustive, but they can help you form an outline that will be useful in guiding your curriculum choices:

Research curricula using reputable books and websites, such as Cathy Duffy’s reviews, The Schoolhouse Review Crew, and customer feedback on sites like, Secular Homeschool Curriculum Reviews, and HomeSchool Reviews.

For help on learning styles and methods, take a look at , available at; posts like How to Homeschool: Determine Your Child’s Learning Style at the Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers blog; Homeschooling on a Shoestring; and A to Z Home’s Cool.

Over the years, information about homeschooling has swollen from a trickle to a flood. Support groups that fit your philosophy or needs, either local or online, are much easier to find. Even local libraries have large collections of home school helps. The market has obviously expanded to meet the demand, but now home schooling parents must exercise just as much wisdom and diligence as ever, if not more, to make wise and frugal educational choices.

[node:bio/susan-r body]

3282 reads

There are 8 Comments

JD Miller's picture

Our kids are too young to start school yet, but we are planning to homeschool and are trying to sort through all the options.  Next Tuesday we are going to be part of a webinar that tells how to use I-pad apps for schooling.  We have already gotten some for preschool and can see that it has a lot of potential if it is structured right.  My wife was homeschooled back when very few were doing it, and we have far more options available than her parents did.  There is so much to sort through- not just in choosing curriculum, but in considering whether or not to use new technologies as well.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture


Decide what you want to do first, then look for the best way to do it.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Aaron Blumer's picture


Yes.... using iPads might make sense if you already own a couple. If not, that's got to be the least cost-effective way to go about homeschooling. Every major eBook format can be used on a PC for a fraction of the cost and if portability is a must, look into netbooks. The latter are far more versatile for the price than any tablet device.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Susan R's picture


For elementary grades, I recommend going retro- paper, pencils, books. Kids need to develop so many core skills first- fine motor skills, penmanship, etc... I would also be concerned about eye strain from too much screen time during those formative years. 

Tablets are great, and every time I go in Best Buy or Verizon, the reps have to go behind me and sop up drool. But for the money, I'd go with small laptops, especially since so many great programs and educational videos are on DVD. Netbooks are good, and we have one, but they lack a DVD drive, and sometimes ours is a bit slow loading pages or streaming. In any case, in our technological age, it isn't a bad thing to incorporate techy solutions to educational problems. 

Another option, especially if you have kids in the same age range, is to get something like Google TV or an Xbox Live account, so you can search the web, do online programs and games, and stream content on your TV. This works great for us, since home education is a family affair. Even our youngest gathers so much from being part of what the older ones are studying, and my dh and I love science and history, so it never feels like 'school'- it feels much more like family fun.

We don't use 'grade levels' in elementary and middle school years. Most content from year to year is repetitive anyway. I started my kids off in 'first grade' with Saxon 5/4. It worked fine. Then they went straight to '7th grade' math (Math Mammoth), and from there it's Algebra 1 (Foerster's) and Consumer Math (we use Dave Ramsey and a few things from Crown). 

Ditto grammar- you can actually start with a comprehensive middle school grammar resource, or go with something tried and true like Jensen's Grammar and use a scope and sequence to introduce chapters/concepts in the order they would be taught in school. Buying a new grammar resource every year is just not necessary. 

The bottom line is that you can use solid, quality materials without spending big bucks. 

I agree with Bro. Emmerik wholeheartedly- outline your goals first, then look at methods, then look at curriculum and other resources.

As far as cost-effective goes, I have challenged myself a couple of times over the years to homeschool for 'free'. That is, I used the library and the internet, bought paper and pencils, etc... so technically it wasn't free free, but we'd have internet anyway, so I don't count internet fees as an education expense. I was a bit exhausted by the end of the year, creating assignments, lesson plans, tests and such like, as well as corralling and requesting books from the library and bookmarking websites, but it taught me so much about how to put a lesson together, and gave me a lot of confidence about my role as my children's primary teacher. 

A couple of posts at my blog may be helpful- Homeschool Links for March 2012- Attention Newbies, and One Size Fits All... Doesn't.


JD Miller's picture

I'm not going to claim the I-pad is the cheapest option but we went to the big MN homeschooling conf. with all kinds of vendors and choices and the options we saw there were way more expensive than going the I-pad and app route.  You can get returned gen 1 I-pads for under $200 and even if it only lasts for 3 years that is less than $70 year. (check out if interested) Then if you spend a couple hundred a year for apps, you are still a lot cheaper than many of the conventional options (I'm still not sure how much apps for a whole curriculum would cost- I hope to have more info on that after next week).  I think there is also a lot of opportunity for using kindle and nook, especially if you use Robinson or A2 (they have the students do a lot of reading and many of the books are available for free in electronic format).  Right now we are leaning toward finding apps for reading/grammar and math and then using the A2 approach of assigned reading for the other subjects.  From what we have seen, this looks both simple and economical, but as Susan pointed out in the OP, we are not experts.  In fact we are not even homeschoolers yet, we are just another of the many consumers out there who are trying to find the best option available for our particular family, so please do not think I am suggesting that everyone should go the I-pad route.  We might try it and completely ditch the idea (I hear that happens with a lot of the homeschool approaches and curriculums)

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

@ JD,

Another option is to buy used. My wife buys the majority of our stuff each year off Craig's List during the first half of the summer. Then she purchases almost everything else at the homeschool convention to save the shipping costs (and often gets discounts too). She is currently schooling our 11, 7, and  5 year olds on $300-500 a year, though the costs are actually going down each year. That's because once you are sure what you want to do and how you are going to do it, you can purchase repeat materials. The teacher's guides she purchased for our oldest are all reusable for the next two, as are the manipulatives. All of this actually cuts costs over time.


@ Susan,

First, it's just Chip, ok? Thanks for the info on Algebra 1. Our oldest is in 6th grade this fall, but  we have had her working a year ahead in math and reading since the beginning, so we are looking around for Algebra 1 options for next year. We've been using Horizon up to this point, including the 7th grade edition for this year, but will need something else for high school. I've used Saxon (I teach for a living), and it's been a love/hate relationship so I'll be interested to check out Foerster's (never even heard of them before).

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

JD Miller's picture

Thanks for the info Chip.   The A2 curriculum is about $100 for the program for K-12 and then you have to buy books from the recommended reading list, but most of them are available for free in electronic format (older classics) and others can be gotten on interlibrary loan (it is very similar to the Robinson approach for those familiar with that).  Divide that $100 by 12 years and 3-4 kids and it is very economical.  The drawback is that I do not think it emphasizes phonics/grammar and math enough.  I figure we can get the best math and phonics/grammar apps available and still be very cost completive if not cheaper (I really doubt we will have to spend a couple hundred per year on apps). 

It is exciting to hear of all the options available.  What was really neat about the MN conf that we went to (MACHE) is that they had rooms full of used books and curriculum that others were selling.  We have even considered using Saxon math and supplementing with apps for the areas where the kids are not catching on as quickly.  There are a lot of free apps available just for tutoring purposes to help with a student who might learn in a different way.  Again, I am not suggesting this is for everyone, I am just saying this is another option out there that we thought was kind of neat.  I guess we proved Susan's original point that often people with only a limited amount of information on homeschooling options sometimes sound like they think they are experts.  Let me admit that even though I have shared some info, I am not even close to an expert on this subject but am looking to learn more about it.

Susan R's picture


The reason that none of us are experts is that for home education to be a successful option, it must be tailored to fit the particular family. Many HSers start out attempting to re-create a traditional school classroom in their home. It's what they know, and it's been SOP for their entire lifetime. They will require their kids to sit at desks, they lecture or have the kids watch lectures on video/DVD, and are heavily text/workbook dependent.

This approach, in my experience, almost always guarantees burn-out. The classroom method is designed to organize and impart information to a large number of kids at the same level. Most homes have a few kids (few is any number less than the Duggars, ha ha) working at different levels. The classroom is geared toward achieving an average/acceptable level of proficiency, not mastery. Most homeschoolers will not advance their children until they have mastered the skill or concept. What inevitably seems to happen is that parents who push their kids into 'grade levels' and moving forward so they aren't 'behind' end up weary and frustrated. You waste time and money, and what's worse, you'll have kids thinking learning is unpleasant if not miserable. 

That is why knowing your goals and philosophy of education beforehand is so valuable. What does educational success really mean to you? Every parent should ask themselves that question before choosing how/where their child should be educated. After taking the particular needs and interests of your children and family into account, that question will answer nearly all your other questions. 

Chip- I think everyone I've ever talked to has a love/hate relationship with Saxon. A much better math curriculum IMO is Math Mammoth, which just made Cathy Duffy's Top 101 Picks, so it isn't just my opinion. Biggrin And the price for MM is fabulous. Foerster's is considered by many as the best college-prep math curriculum available, and is often used in high schools for Honors math. 

Bro. Miller- using Robinson's or A2 is a great option. Our homeschooling 'method' is very eclectic, and while we don't use their curriculum, I'd say that we use the idea behind their curriculum.  There is enough freedom in their approach that most parents stick with it and just make adjustments as they go along. But trying and ditching isn't a bad idea. Kids can learn from their parents how to make these kinds of decisions, and how to not let pride push you into using something that doesn't work like you thought it would just because you paid money for it. 

While homeschooling 4 kids, I've not spent more than $300 in any one year, and that includes things like subscriptions to websites and magazines. I've purchased (or been given) good quality, non-consummable core curriculum, and use the library or books that I've found/bought over the years for the rest.

A final word- Never drive by a garage sale, Goodwill, or discount/used bookstore without taking a moment to look for buried treasure. ;) 

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.