First posted 2012; edited slightly.
Now that we're a couple of weeks into this fall's homeschool term, and I'm pretty sure of what we're going to keep using this year (vs. things that, like bad sitcoms, disappear after one viewing), I thought I would try adding up what this year's homeschool materials cost us.
I didn't get very far with it. Besides, it would be pretty irrelevant. Most of our stuff came from the thrift shop or was already on the shelf. And the other slightly misleading thing about saying that we're using a thrifted math book, or whatever, is that usually we didn't make the choice based on cheapness, but more because we found something secondhand that looked like it would both meet our goals and fit Dollygirl's learning style and our current homeschool situation (Mom teaching Dollygirl, and Dad usually working in the next room). I wanted to use a more "out of the box" approach to math thinking this year, and if I had had to buy something new to make that work, I would have. But I found Minds on Math 8 already on our bookshelf, and that seems to be a good choice so far.
With all that said, here are some of the frugal ways and means we've found helpful so far this year.
1. Craft materials: we are using up some of our own stashed yarn and fabric, and buying carefully when it seems we can't find what we want. We went looking for "fat quarters" at the mill outlet store, thought they were a bit expensive, but then discovered a huge box of bandannas priced at a dollar apiece. Did you know that bandannas are about the same size as a fat quarter? Dollygirl picked out a few that she thought would make good doll clothes, and she's already made Crissy a bandanna-print blouse.
Dollygirl pulled out her old weaving frame a few days ago, along with some thick, fluffy yarn, and decided to weave her dolls a living room rug. She's almost done.
2. French: Although I did spend money last spring on the next level of the curriculum we were using, I just didn't have the interest (and neither did Dollygirl) in jumping right back into nouns and verbs. I found a school copy of Le Voyage de Monsieur Perrichon at the antiques market, I think for about a dollar, and I also made paper people to go along with the story. We read it, and sometimes I have Dollygirl narrate it or re-read a simple part with me. We are also singing French children's songs out of a library-discard book we've had forever.
3. Poetry: Poetry is not hard to find, and it's not hard to teach, honestly: mostly we just read it. Today I read Robert Frost's "Birches" out loud, and then I had Dollygirl pick out and re-read her favourite pair of lines, and I showed her mine. Dollygirl got a cobweb in her face yesterday when she went outside, so she could relate to that part, about wanting to swing on birches, somewhere up above the ground and not where nasty things hit you in the face. Next time we do poetry, we'll use You-tube to let Mr. Frost read it himself.
4. Literature: Dollygirl tried reading The Hobbit when she was too young for it, and I think she got stopped at about "Out of the Frying-Pan." This time around, she can't get enough, and we are going to be done with it way before the term is over. We have a junior LOTR fan in the making. So what's frugal about that? Just this: for the first time in history, probably, we are in a position where books, books, books are all around us, at the click of a button, at the dropping of a few coins at the thrift store, at the flick of a library card. And the large number of North Americans (and others) who admit that they Don't Read and have No Interest in Reading is appalling. Abraham Lincoln used to walk miles to borrow a book-when you have that much footwork invested in reading something, you make the most of it.
5. History, geography, science, and all that: we bought ONE brand new book in those areas, and that was The Great Motion Mission for science. And two DVDs, about Marie Curie and Albert Einstein. The real key to what we're doing frugally here is not the books we're using, but the variety of ways in which I'm trying to use them. We read out loud, sometimes, often discussing and questioning as we go. (Why was the Kuomintang's idea to get help from the large, powerful Soviet Union probably a bad idea? Because somebody large and powerful can help you at first, but then they just want to take over. Right...) Sometimes Dollygirl reads to herself and reports. Sometimes I have her do something unexpected like re-read a point three times in a row, until it really makes sense. Or make a grapefruit globe. Or go outside and measure a tree (that was for math this morning, but it could have been from the science book). When it's just you, me, and the books, it's important to keep things stirred up a bit. And it also helps when grandpa or somebody asks, "what did you do in school today?"
I could mention other frugal things we've done, like re-using school supplies, but everybody knows that stuff already. The point here isn't what you have. It's what you do with it. It's a clean, re-organized desk space for Dollygirl, and also one for me. (To quote a Mary Engelbreit saying we have posted, everybody needs their own Spot.) It's the routine of starting school mornings with a hymn and Bible verses, but jacked up a bit with the addition of (thrifted) puzzle cards--and the additional motivation of trying to solve them along with Dad. It's the freedom we're trying to achieve this year to take a bit longer on some activities--to throw in a math game or a craft that might take a good part of the morning. (And it's okay, because we don't have other students waiting.) The schedule is there, but it's not bossing us around too much.
Frugal? Yes. But it's not about the money. It's about making sure we keep on caring about what we're doing. Cost of that: priceless.