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Free and low-cost help for home-schoolers

Home-schooling parents have more free and low-cost resources than ever at their disposal, both online and in their communities.

By MSN Money Partner Aug 24, 2012 4:13PM

This guest post comes from Jody Mace at Living on the Cheap.


Living on the Cheap on MSN MoneyHome schooling is said to be the most rapidly growing educational segment in the U.S. An estimated 2 million students were home-schooled in 2010, and their numbers continue to rise. With such a large number of families home-schooling, it's no surprise that home-school resources is a growing industry. Online courses, group classes and boxed curricula are readily available.


Image: Counting coins (© Burke/Triolo Productions/Brand X/Corbis/Corbis)However, costs quickly add up and can be out of reach for many families. Read on to learn how some home-schooling families have found inexpensive ways to meet their children's educational needs. Even if you don't home-school, read on because some of these tips apply to all families with children.


Discounted books and software

Many software companies, including Microsoft and Adobe, offer substantial discounts to students. These discounts are available to kids in school as well as home-school students. Journey Ed collects these deals in one place, making it possible to buy very expensive software at a low price. (Microsoft is the publisher of MSN Money.)


For example, Photoshop CS6 Extended Student and Teacher Edition, retailing for $999, is sold for $228.95, and Acrobat X Pro Student and Teacher Edition, retailing for $449, is sold for $98.95.


Homeschool Buyers Co-op negotiates volume discounts with suppliers of books, software and curricula for home-schooling families. (Post continues below.)


Your public library may offer more than you think. Mara Winders from Levelland, Texas, says, "We use all of the resources our library offers: books, books on CD, inter-library loans, educational and recreational DVDs, and digital downloads of books and audiobooks." Also, some libraries host story times, performances, workshops and cultural activities.


Community field trips

Think beyond the typical field trip. What is your child interested in? If he's into art, ask a local artist if you can visit the studio. The possibilities are limitless: Mechanics, woodworkers, researchers and musicians all might be willing to spend some time with an interested child, and the "field trip" probably won't cost a dime. Government services like water treatment plants, fire stations and recycling centers often offer tours.


Educators' discounts

Whenever a business offers an educators' discount, ask if it applies to home-schoolers. Living on the Cheap recently posted an article that featured a number of teachers' discounts.  You might also find educators' discounts at museums and zoos.


Used-book stores

Many have textbook and curriculum sections, but think beyond those. The best resources are often found in the fiction and nonfiction sections. Also, trade in your old books for store credit. You might find that you can get a steady stream of reading material without spending much, if any, money.


Online courses

The number of free online resources is growing quickly. The most well-known is Khan Academy, which offers video lessons and exercises in math, science, economics, computer science and many other topics.


Colleges and universities are starting to provide free online classes that can be audited. Harvard, MIT and University of California Berkeley have joined forces to create edX, which will provide free online classes. Students will have tests and projects and will receive a certificate of completion if they demonstrate mastery of the subject. For kids not quite ready for Harvard, check out websites such as Superkids, which you can use to create math worksheets, and Starfall, which offers games and activities for kids learning to read.


Concurrent enrollment

Home-schooled high school students have more resources than ever, as many community colleges offer concurrent, or dual, enrollment. High school students can take classes at a community college, often free, and may even earn an associate's degree by the time they graduate from high school. Ask at your own community college about this option.


Museum memberships

Museums are often part of associations that provide reciprocal memberships. That means you can join one museum and visit hundreds of others free. See if your local museum (or even a nonlocal one) is a member of Association of Science-Technology Centers, North American Reciprocal Museum Program or Association of Children's Museums. Pat Robinson, a home-schooling mom from North Carolina, is traveling to 48 states with her son, and her museum memberships are allowing them to visit countless museums along the way.



One of the best things about home schooling is that you don't have to strictly follow any education curriculum. (But make sure you know the laws in your state.) Learning doesn't have to be broken down into subjects like math, English and science. You'll find learning opportunities all around you: adult mentors, friends, conversations in the car, TV documentaries, observing the weather, and grocery shopping. The world is your classroom.


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