When it comes to homeschooling freebies, I’ve discovered over the years that free doesn’t always mean free.
The understood definition of free is that you won't have to spend money to acquire said item. While that is often the case with educational freebies, there are sometimes hidden costs you need to be aware of before you gleefully sign up or download, thinking that you’ve just solved all your homeschooling problems for a pittance.
If you go cruising for freebies online, you will see many, MANY wonderful resources that homeschooling families have created and shared online to help other homeschoolers. This is exciting and fun, and we are grateful for the generosity of those who have chosen to allow others to benefit from their experience and hard work.
However, don’t start driving down the information highway blindly:
Make as specific a list as possible of your homeschool needs and how you want to fill them.
Narrow your search terms so that you won’t be distracted by the amazing butterfly unit study while looking for a printable about types of pronouns.
Questions to ask before you grab that freebie:
- Do I really need this, or am I obsessed with the idea of 'something for nothing'?
- Do I really need this, or is it just so adorable I can’t pass it up?
- Do I really need this right now, or will it add to my mental and physical clutter?
After you have some focus, you still need to consider these other costs associated with freebies:
Elbow Grease - When you download free lesson plans, worksheets, and other printables, you still have to incorporate them into your homeschool. You may need to do some research to make sure that the information being presented is accurate. If your child is going to use a free online program or game, you will both need to set aside time to learn to use it before you are able to incorporate into your homeschool schedule. Choose wisely so your awesome freebies will fit right in, engage your child in learning, and fill a void.
Paper, Ink, Time - Some freebies do not require printing, but those that do can end up being quite costly. Unless you have already invested in a printer that is efficient (such as one that can automatically print on both sides of the paper), and you’ve found a low cost source for ink and paper, printables can eat up a chunk of change. For free online programs or detailed unit studies, there is a time investment in learning how to use it, researching the material for accuracy, finding other needed resources and materials, as well as fitting it into existing lesson plans.
Free Today, Gone Tomorrow - The freebie you have found may be not be available long term. Websites and blogs disappear frequently, so don’t put too many homeschool eggs in any freebie basket. Make sure the resources you depend on will be there as long as you are going to need them.
Free Today, Pricey Tomorrow - It’s a freebie now, but as demand increases, many websites start charging a fee or subscription for continued use. Again, be careful about how much you depend on free online materials for your homeschool.
Freemium - "Free" grabs our attention and convinces us to give the program a try, but eventually we see that all the really cool features are only available if you pay for the premium version. This is not a bad thing because it does allow us to ‘try before you buy’ to a certain extent. However, if you can’t afford premium version, don’t let the free version act as a hook to reel you in. It isn’t free if the free version doesn’t fill the need.
Free With Advertising - How many pop-up ads does it take to drive you completely out of your cotton-pickin’ mind? Not to mention the potential for spyware to clog up your computer so that it runs at the speed of molasses. I use Chrome as my browser, and can recommend these plugins and browser extensions to help you find trustworthy websites and limit the number of distracting ads that appear.
But it’s caveat emptor on the web. Don’t let freebies with advertisement strings turn your computer into an expensive paperweight.
And so, fellow homeschoolers, have a great time finding homeschool freebies, but take a minute before you head out into the internet to consider these questions and suggestions. They will help you squeeze every bit of value out of your search and use of free stuff.