The Honest Homeschooler–Janet Berry on Homeschooling for (Almost) Free

My guest blogger, Janet Berry, is like so many of you multi-tasking Renaissance women: she homeschools, homesteads, writes, blogs, cans…she even makes her own cough drops–check them out here!

Janet actually did a post in my early blogger years about her NaNoWriMo experience: She has a thriving blogspot,, where she shares loads of gluten-free recipes and tips. Here’s a brief bio I pulled from Janet’s blog:

Janet Berry

I love experimenting with recipes (of all types) and herbal concoctions and doing science experiments with my kids, so you might find many posts that lean that way. I also enjoy writing (or rambling, depending on your perspective) so you might find some random thoughts as I feel like sharing them. Pretty much this blog is a creative outlet and a peek into our life as we strive towards an old-fashioned, more sustainable and self-sufficient lifestyle while balancing our love for modern technological advances.

Today is the first in a two-part series about homeschooling on an extremely tight budget. I got a great idea for our homeschool just skim-reading this post tonight. Thank you for sharing, Janet!

Homeschooling for (Almost) Free

by: Janet Berry
When I was young, one of my favorite activities involved the BEST catalog (, a calculator and my comfy red bean bag chair. I would settle myself down, punch a million dollars into the calculator then go through the catalog and “buy” every single thing I wanted in there. When I ran out of imaginary money, I just added more to the calculator.
A few decades later, I found myself married to a building contractor at the height of the glory days of the housing boom. Money wasn’t something I thought about much; it was just always there when I needed it. Much like when I was a child, if the balance in my checkbook ran low, I told my husband and he filled it back up for me.
But then… the housing bubble popped, the world was turned upside down and I had to learn to deal with strict financial limitations for the first time in my adult life. As most of the best life lessons are, it was a somewhat painful process. However, not only did I eventually discover that I’d survive, but I could also thrive on the challenges now presented to me.
These days, our family budget has only two categories: bills and food. Anything extra has to come out of the food category. I don’t know about you, but I like to eat! Therefore, I spend a lot of time figuring out creative ways to get the things we need and want for as little money as possible. Free is even better!
Now that you know a bit about what type of background I’m coming from (and also that I was a weird kid with strange pastimes), let’s talk about how I homeschool with no money to speak of.
Library Day!

The first, and probably most obvious, resource I utilize is the library. My kids are voracious readers and are especially enamored with fantasy fiction. We were discussing ancient Greek and Roman myths the other day and turns out my kids already knew every single thing I was saying and was going to say. They learned it all from reading the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series!
Naturally, I don’t expect that they will absorb everything they need to know from reading entertaining books such as those. For homeschool purposes, I like to hit up thejuvenile non-fiction section. The most colorful and interesting books for science and history can be found there and quite frankly, they beat the socks off of a boring old textbook any day.
To get ideas for books I’d like for us to explore together, I peruse through the websites of all of those wonderful looking literature based curriculums that cost an arm and a leg to purchase outright. I jot down a list of their recommended books that appear interesting then tuck it in my book bag, ready for the next library trip.
Once you arrive at the library, there’s a good chance that they may not have all of the books you seek. If so, just ask a librarian for an inter-library loan form and they will borrow the book(s) for you from a larger library. Make sure first though that they don’t charge a fee for this service. Many libraries won’t, but in these days of budget cuts, some have to in order to cover costs.
Currently, we’re working through Knights & Castles: 50 Hands-On Activities to Experience the Middle Ages (borrowed from the library, of course!) When we came to the brief section about Charlemagne, I happened to mention to the kids that a relative had traced our family tree back to him. This piqued their interest which led to further research about him and the world he lived in. It also leads me to the most valuable homeschool tip I can offer: “Seize the moments of spontaneous learning when you can!” and quite conveniently, brings us to my next major resource for (almost) free school at home: the internet.
For all of its flaws, the internet is an excellent source of information on any topic you can imagine. One thing I find particularly exciting about it, is the sheer amount of free online classes you can take. Currently, both my son and I are enrolled in a Harvard Computer Science class offered through EdX ( are learning the same material that students at one of the finest universities in our country are being taught. We’re individually graded on projects and quizzes and have our various questions answered by the professor or his teaching assistants. Once we pass the course, we get a certificate of completion. And, every bit of it is free! How amazing is that? This post from Lifehacker is a good starting point to find other high caliber classes of this sort:
I can’t wrap up this section about the internet without mentioning the multitude of printables available online. I like the concept of lapbooks, but I prefer that my kids store everything in one easily accessible book for the entire school year. Blank, spiral bound sketch books are perfect for this. I can buy them for just a few dollars at my local Walmart. By utilizing Google’s search engine and the words “lapbook” or “free printable” along with the name of the topic we will be studying, I find all sorts of great little mini-books that they can make and glue in their sketch book. They also copy various math rules or draw diagrams or print and cut out maps and pictures of important people and landmarks throughout history to add to their collection. Using this method, we end up with a visually pleasing scrapbook of sorts at the end of the year filled with interesting things we’ve learned
Working on homeschool notebooks
Homeschool notebook
****Thanks for the tips, Janet–those homeschool notebooks are a brilliant way to save money on high-priced lapbook activities. Looking forward to next week’s post. What ideas have you had to save money on homeschooling? Please share! These are tight financial times!****

7 thoughts on “The Honest Homeschooler–Janet Berry on Homeschooling for (Almost) Free

  1. Heather and Jan!Love this post. What great resources and wonderful tips for making homeschooling more effective and applicable. We use a 3-ring binder for all the work – we incorporate plastic sleeves and pocket-dividers for loose/oddly-shaped stuff, and we take pictures throughout the year of Sam doing school activities, and we essentially have a year-book at the end. Love your point about taking advantage of every opportunity. So TRUE – and not something that can be done easily in a brick-and-mortar setting.And we MUST continue to promote our local libraries – I can't tell you how many times our inter-library loan system has been a life-saver for us. Yay, libraries!Thanks for sharing, Jan,Becky

  2. Thanks Becky & Jill!Yes, we love our libraries and librarians! And, yay that someone else remembers the Best catalogs! I would also use the old ones to make paper dolls and decorate their houses using shoe boxes & some glue… talk about a great free resource for entertaining a kid! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s