Looking for the rest of this series? Part Two is here. Part Three is here. Part Four is here. Part Five is here.
When our Apprentice (now in university) was small, homeschoolers depended on product descriptions in hard-copy catalogues. They grabbed up printed magazines, and books of reviews, by people who made a specialty out of knowing all there was to know about just about every known homeschooling product. (Mary Pride and Cathy Duffy, to name two.) Fifteen or twenty years ago, undertaking a project like that was actually feasible.
Around the same time, Diane Moos wrote a one-page article about frugal homeschooling, in response to a friend's request for an extremely low-budget sixth-grade curriculum. Aside from a few helpful suggestions of low-cost resources (such as Spectrum Math), Diane's basic approach was "Bible and a library card." You might update that now to "Bible and an app," but it's still good advice.
The difference, though, is that, back then, the new homeschooler could have made the most of what she had, but she wouldn't have been overwhelmed by choice, at least not on fifty dollars. For fifty dollars, you could put together something quite decent, especially using thrift shops and used curriculum. But once you had it, you had it, if that makes sense. The math book, if you didn't like it, wasn't going to transform into something else. Whatever maps and illustrations were in the science or history book, that's what you used, unless you uncovered a stack of National Geographics, or lived near a great library full of books to supplement. Still, that would probably be enough to keep most kids busy. If all else failed, as Diana Waring said, you could take them to the zoo.
However, in the past decade, technology has transformed not only the how of homeschool, but the what. The friend with the fifty-dollar budget would undoubtedly now have at least a computer, and the Internet, if not an e-reader or a phone that does tricks. And on the Internet she would find, at prices ranging from free to moderate to ridiculous, just about everything anyone could need for teaching. I don't mean only online classes, tutors, and math drills for kids, but entire libraries from textbooks to classics; full-length movies; virtual tours; music and paintings to download; forums, groups, reviews, booklists, lesson plans, scope and sequences, rubrics, printables, manipulatives. Stuff that's already online, stuff you can order online, stuff you can put online. The whole magic box. Just add crayons...but of course you can order those too, from cheapo to beeswax. If you have decent Internet service (and hopefully a printer), the educational world is yours, no matter how tiny the budget.
So what's the problem?
The key to frugal homeschooling used to be use-what-you-have. Now it's use-what-you-choose. Like shopping at one of those monster supermarkets with fifty kinds of beef jerky, you can suffer classic middle-of-the-aisle paralysis. You might end up with too much, too little, the wrong thing, You, or your students, might have no idea what to do with it. The lady you talked to at church might even be right when she wonders how homeschoolers can know what they're supposed to teach without someone standing guard over them. Oh, for the good old low-tech days...
Linked from the Carnival of Homeschooling at The Common Room.