The lure of 'free' is nearly irresistible. For homeschoolers who have downsized to live on one income as well as take on the expenses of educating their children, finding free resources is like Christmas. One of the most common search terms related to homeschooling is "free homeschool". Obviously, homeschooling families are looking for ways to save money on curriculum. But is 'free' always a good value?
- Free is good when the resource fills a need. Is it consistent with your child's developmental level, learning style, as well as their interests? Do you need to buy other supplies to make it work? If it doesn't appeal to your students, or you have to 'spend money to save money', free isn't worth it. And, if you don't really need them, free resources become distracting clutter. Be honest with yourself about what you need and how you can use free materials for your homeschool.
- By using free curriculum you are saving money, but are you saving time and energy? You may need to spend time printing and organizing your materials, and finding ways to incorporate them into your student's studies. Decide if the investment of elbow grease is worth the (lack of) price tag.
- Free curriculum may not be of good quality, lacking complete and accurate information about the subject matter. Take the time to look the resource or program over carefully. In the case of free homeschool curriculum, you do need to look the gift horse in the mouth. Carefully consider product claims. We are very careful about our purchases, but when something is free, we think it isn't going to cost anything to try it. But time, energy, and focus are precious commodities - don't spend those things instead of money and think you've made an equitable exchange.
- On the other hand, don't assume that free means low quality. Sometimes we think that if it's free, there are either strings attached that we haven't seen yet, or it just can't be a good value. But the homeschooling community loves to share, and many offer wonderful resources they have created for their own children. If you find some free materials you like from a particular company, consider supporting their continued generosity by purchasing from them in the future.
- Don't forget about the library. While the internet has changed how we find information - at the tips of our fingers while lounging on the couch in our pajamas - the library is not only equipped and stocked with a variety of educational materials, but offers a connection to your community, and is staffed with friendly librarians. It's a great place for your kids to learn how to ask for help, and locate books and research materials.
There are literally hundreds of free resources available, and I've tried a few over the years. Some of them have provided continued value to our homeschool:
- DonnaYoung.org has been my go-to place for printables - calendars, planning pages, handwriting practice, timeline forms. . .
- The Google Art Project - an online art museum.
- Online Music Theory Tutor - lessons from the lines and staff to Neapolitan chords.
- The Motley Fool offers 13 lessons on investing
- Sparknotes provides free study guides for classic and modern literature. We've also found No Fear Shakespeare a great resource.
- Last year we used Charters of Freedom to study America's founding documents.
- Vocabulary.com is a fun spelling and vocabulary building resource.
- MathTV offers video instruction for a variety of math concepts.
- With detailed explanations, videos, blogs, and games, HowStuffWorks.com is a great science resource.
- The Virtual Body is a useful online anatomy resource.
- Academic Earth is a compilation of college opencourseware, which are free college courses and lectures from top universities.
- For Charlotte Mason homeschoolers, Ambleside Online provides a curriculum guide and book list.
This list is only a fraction of the bookmarks I've saved over the years. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments below.