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Ask a NextGen Homeschooler: How do you handle household chores while homeschooling?

8 Oct

Welcome to “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler…” It’s your turn to ask the authors of NextGen Homeschool — four formerly homeschooled moms who are now homeschooling our children — to weigh in on your homeschooling questions. From the practical to the personal, all questions are welcome — whether you’re a current homeschooler or just homeschooling curious!

This week’s question is: How do you juggle, balance, and even integrate household chores while homeschooling? Good question! The short answer is, it’s possible to manage your home and stay afloat with the household chores while homeschooling. The long answer is… well, here’s how we each have chosen to tackle it:

NextGen Editor Renée Gotcher
Was homeschooled in 11-12th grade
Began homeschooling in 2010: Three daughters ages 11 1/2, 10 and 5

Household chores and home management have never been an area of “expertise” for me. This is no secret for anyone who knows me well and has popped over to my house unexpectedly.

I grew up as the eldest in a family of eight children, and keeping the house clean was literally a matter of survival. However, our strategy was pretty much “clean up as you go” — and just doing that required nearly constant cleaning. Once we started homeschooling when I was in high school, my mom had more hands on deck to help keep up the house, but we also made a much bigger mess being home together and eating three meals (plus many snacks) at home. All nine of us under one roof all day, and at one point, in one three-bedroom trailer on an under-construction property.

During this time, one of my teen pet peeves was the concept that chores were somehow part of the homeschooling experience: “Learning” to be a homemaker seemed like a fancy label for giving me more work to do because the chores were spinning out of control. If I ever homeschooled my children, I secretly vowed to myself, I would NOT make chores part of our homeschool schedule. School is enrichment time and learning valuable skills, and chores are a necessary drudgery — not an educational experience, my teenage logic told me.

Fast forward more than 25 years, and now I’m the mom homeschooling three daughters with a husband who also works at home. Five of us working and eating all of our meals in the house practically every day. Funny enough, I was still determined to keep my secret vow to myself. My first two years, I tried really hard to save “chores” for the end of the day — after a full day of schoolwork and rushing out to extracurricular or co-op schooling activities outside our home. Trouble is, the last thing anyone wanted to do at the end of a busy day (myself included) is start cleaning up all that was left behind after a day’s download of activity.

So this year I came up with a strategy to keep up with the housework while homeschooling. And yes, we now clean up during the school day! It’s not a perfect plan by any means, but things are much more organized and relatively clean at the end of the day without too much fuss or pulling teeth.

The first idea I decided to implement was chore cards. This is not my genius idea, but I honestly can’t remember where I read/heard about it. Chore cards detail exactly what is expected in each task. For example, the card for “lunch dishes” includes details like, “additional dishes and/or pans handwashed” and “rinse out sink, use scrub brush to remove food, etc. from sink.” I laminated them (which is pretty crafty for me) so they can be checked off daily with erasable markers and reused.

I’ve also assigned each of my girls with a mealtime chore after lunch, a chore in the afternoon (post schoolwork, before free time or neighborhood play, something like cleaning off the school table and sweeping that area), a mealtime chore after dinner, and an evening chore (like straightening up the living room before bed). Then there are once-a-week chores that are done on Saturdays, ideally before free playtime for the day, that include tasks such as “deep” cleaning their bathroom (as deep as 10/11-year-olds can do), and dusting/mopping/wiping down in the living room. Each girl only has two of these chores to accomplish on Saturday, and they should take less than an hour easily. In the end no one should feel like they got stuck cleaning up “all day” — and I’m not left doing all the heavy cleaning myself.

Overall, the chore cards and “divide & conquer” approach has been extremely helpful: It has cut back a lot on the disappointment of discovering a task wasn’t actually done properly once the girls are already outside playing with their friends, and it has kept the chores at a manageable daily/weekly level. I try to be diligent about “signing off” on the chores by going over the checklist with them each time, but sometimes it’s too busy and I don’t have time. Although the follow-through hasn’t been perfect, the chore cards system has still made a huge difference in keeping daily duties under control.

The second step to my plan is using a free online tool called HighScore House so my girls can track their chore completion in an engaging way — and they love using the computer or iPhone to play along. This tool tracks their daily and weekly chores, along with other daily responsibilities (like brushing their teeth twice a day, drinking a full bottle of water, taking their vitamins and making their beds). It’s cute, visual and easy-to-use — even my 5-year-old Elise has mastered it.

The best part is that it also tracks their achievements by converting them into accumulated “stars” that they “bank” and can later cash in for rewards that you predetermine. The rewards I set up include everything from computer time, TV time, and having a friend spend the night, to cash and tangible prizes. I set the values for the rewards, and I made sure there was a balance of things they might want to “cash in” on daily (such as playing on my iPhone or reading on the hammock alone for an hour) as well as save up for (such as cash or a new toy/book).

Both the chore cards and HighScore House have made chores more manageable, easier to delegate, and even fun at times! I remember the first day we used HighScore House, Elise woke me up and started rattling off all she’d already accomplished before I was even out of bed. Now that’s progress!

One thing I am still trying to do is instill a sense of personal pride in keeping their own rooms clean. Although the public side of our house is relatively tidy these days, the bedrooms have been a challenge to maintain. Truthfully, one bedroom in particular — belonging to my two youngest, one who is a collector of many, many things — continues to be a tornado disaster zone. I’ve tried several systems for organizing for them and have personally cleaned rooms from top to bottom myself every few months, hoping that “this time” they would stay clean. My eldest is getting there and can now be counted on to keep up with her room on her own. For my younger girls, it just hasn’t happened yet.

Ideas, anyone?

NextGen Author Rosanna Ward
Was homeschooled since 8th grade
Began homeschooling in 2005: Two homeschool graduate daughters & two sons (7, 2)

This question is hard to answer because it seems that in my home things are constantly changing. And I like to tell people that we are a family that truly lives in our home! We are home most of the time, and we eat most of our meals in. Every room gets used and used well!

When we first started homeschooling almost eight years ago, the girls were 10 and 11 — perfect ages for doing chores. I think we spent the first year of “school” learning how to clean, cook, do laundry, etc. Both girls enjoyed cooking and were competent at laundry but dreaded cleaning.

The second year we were living in a two-bedroom apartment with five (sometimes six) people. There wasn’t much to clean, but it always looked messy. After we moved into our new home, the girls were once again assigned chores, and I think I tried everything — from assigning daily and then weekly chores to just randomly handing out chores, from paying a small allowance to not paying, etc. Keeping their rooms and bathrooms clean was beyond my frustration level.

Now both girls have graduated but still live at home. They both work at least 20 hours per week at our donut shop, and Hannah goes to college. Trying to catch them and make them accountable for cleaning is just too much for me. But they have gotten better at keeping their rooms and bathrooms and laundry done. And I think I have found a way to get them to help out that they actually like. They each plan and cook dinner two nights a week, which frees me up to do other things. And honestly, I would rather clean than cook. I would like to get them to clean up the kitchen after they cook because one of them in particular is a messy chef.

As far as my son Joel goes, well that is an issue I have just begun to deal with. He is seven and fully capable of helping out. He has been trash “taker outer” for a while now, and he takes care of our dog, Daisy. But trying to get him to do any actual housework causes a meltdown. In fact, he has claimed several times that he is a boy and therefore shouldn’t have to do these things. Which is funny because when he was younger, he loved to help out — especially with the laundry.

One thing that has helped this year is the little chore/school card that comes in “The Well Planned Day” planner.  I wrote his chores on one side and his school subjects on the other and then laminated it and every day as he finishes something he marks it. If he marks everything on any given day, he gets 5 points, and if he marks everything all week, he gets 50.

The task we are working on now is cleaning his room and doing his own laundry. Then we will focus on his bathroom. The points he is earning are added to his other school points to be used on toys and treats from the prize bucket.

NextGen Author Elizabeth Thomas
Was homeschooled from K-12
Began homeschooling in 2009: Four daughters ages 13, 12, 10 & 4

Well being pregnant, homeschooling four girls and trying to keep the house clean… Ha ha!

One thing I have done is make a chore chart for each day of the week for each child. The chart includes everything, even the laundry, and at the end of the day, my husband Tony checks that chart to see who did or didn’t do what and handles any necessary discipline. This helps me out a bunch. It’s not a really pretty chart, but it works for now.

Sunday I do the chores (a little more detailed than the girls do), and I have the girls do stuff like wash the dogs, clean the fridge, clean the car, etc. I think now that I’m nesting (I am due with daughter No. 5 in November), chores have been more like bleach water in a bucket and having the girls wash floor boards and ceiling fans, etc.

You would think this means I have a clean house, but most people who come to my house would probably say different. From day to day, it’s a shuffling game with books and piles of laundry on the couch and here and there around the house. Also, the girls’ bathroom is never what I would call clean, but I pick my battles.

My biggest issue is keeping my front yard from looking like a “redneck mess” — LOL! That’s not easy considering my husband was rebuilding his transmission on the front porch last month. And you would be surprised how fast four girls can junk up the front yard with their toys, random tree branches, etc.

We also have two cats and two large dogs, a castle-size dog house in our backyard (the girls painted it lime green), and, to my dismay, a guinea pig who attracts flies when his cage is ignored for longer than one day. So yes, I have full hands. However, I would really like my girls to not only learn to read, write, and do math, but to understand the value of life skills as well. So keeping them involved in the household responsibilities is very important to me.

And really, at the end of the day, if my pillowcase and sheets are clean, that’s all that really matters to me!

NextGen Author Cristina Eklund
Was homeschooled since the 6th grade
Began homeschooling in 2010: Son (6) and daughter (4)

Housework and homeschooling? Is it seriously possible to juggle both? Yes and no.

If you are expecting to have the same house you had or imagined you would have when your kids left the house for six hours a day, you may be striving for the unattainable. However, keeping a home picked up, basically organized and hygienically clean is a more realistic goal when you’re homeschooling.

Before I became a mom — and at homeschooling mom at that — my forte was creating merchandising plans for a large international retailer. So basically, my job was telling the stores where to put stuff and make it all look pretty. I haven’t lost that love, so if you came to my house, you might see shadows of what my vision was under the piles of books, dish-filled sink and dust-caked walls (no, it’s not that bad — but close). However, today I am challenged with a small space (two bedrooms, one bath) and a lot going on in that space every day as I homeschool my young son and daughter.

I’d say on average I get the kitchen floor swept three times a day, other rooms swept once maybe (we have hardwood floors everywhere), “piles” moved from one place to another, trash off the counters, table wiped down for schoolwork, dishes loaded and unloaded, and maybe a pathway cleared from the door to the couch on a daily basis. Then about once a week when my kids are in a good groove of playing outside, I clean the bathroom from top to bottom. And on another day while watching an educational video with the kids, I’ll actually fold clothes. Then in the evening, we all put those piles of clothes away before bedtime. Once a week (or every two weeks), I take a whole morning with the kids just to clean their room and pull it back together. This includes tasks such as dusting, floor mopping, vacuuming couches and even working through their piles of paper to file or throw out.

I save weekends for when my husband and I together can tag team. Then if things really get out of hand around the house, I might ditch our weeknight bible study to stay home alone and just pull the living room back together. You get the idea… Housecleaning tasks are never completed all at once (unless we are preparing for a party, and even then, there a lot of doors that are kept closed).

I’m a list maker, and I’ve made and tried to follow a dozen routines. But just like with homeschooling, housework falls into the moment-by-moment category, asking for God’s help to decide what are the more important tasks to accomplish for the day, versus just being driven by the urgent.

A few tips that have worked for me, as in they help me feel like I’m moving forward in homemaking and not falling behind, are:

  • Less toys — less things in general. Keep only the most precious or educational ones. If it’s not used weekly, store it.
  • Find a place for everything. If it doesn’t have one, give it away or sell it.
  • Use time-saving cleaning supplies such as disinfectant wipes for the bathroom and a Swiffer mop, Swiffer toilet bowl scrubber and Swiffer duster. Yes, making your own cleaners is a beautiful idea, and one day may come to fruition once you have your routine down or the kids move out. But in the meantime, saving time can save your sanity.
  • Talk to your husband about what chores he can help with if he’s willing to.
  • Baskets, baskets, baskets. I think you can never have enough. IKEA is my best friend — I even spend my birthday money there.
  • Consolidate all those piles into one place, that way when you are looking for something before you’ve had time to file it in the RIGHT place, you only have to look in one location — not all over the house.
  • Think small. When you are in a room, try and take at least one, if not more, items with you to drop off in the next room where it belongs. Or clear off one counter-top space of clutter in the 10 minutes you have. Try doing a little in little increments every day, instead of taking on a lot with the non-existent time you will never have while homeschooling.

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How do you handle household chores while homeschooling? Have you developed any helpful or time-saving systems that really work in your home that you would like to share with us? Or are you frustrated and need some encouragement? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this important topic!

We are also taking NEW questions for upcoming “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler” features. Send your questions to nextgenhomeschool@gmail.com or post them as comments to this article (and let us know if it’s OK to quote you if we use your question). We look forward to responding to your homeschooling questions!

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Ask a NextGen Homeschooler: What about “co-op” schooling?

14 Sep

Welcome to “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler…” It’s your turn to ask the authors of NextGen Homeschool — four formerly homeschooled moms who are now homeschooling our children — to weigh in on your homeschooling questions. From the practical to the personal, all questions are welcome — whether you’re a current homeschooler or just homeschooling curious!

This week’s question is: What about cooperative — aka “co-op” — homeschooling? The “co-op” homeschooling landscape has changed significantly since we were all homeschooled. Back then, we were fortunate to have occasional park days and group field trips with other homeschooling families. Today, “co-op” opportunities are more prevalent than ever as the homeschooling community has grown — especially in populated areas. With so much available, what do NextGen Homeschoolers choose to utilize and why?

NextGen Author Cristina Eklund
Was homeschooled since the 6th grade
Began homeschooling in 2010: Son (6) and daughter (4)

After attending two different co-ops in the past two years and learning about how several others work, here are my personal opinions regarding incorporating a “co-op” into your homeschool plans:

1) Decide if you are joining the co-op for social or academic reasons. Ask yourself: Am I joining because I’d like my children to learn how to interact with other kids? Or am I joining because I feel like I could really use some more support in a particular academic area?

If it’s a social reason, be ready to train. There are great Christian moms out there — myself included — who still don’t have their children’s behavior down to a science. Be prepared for many learning experiences alongside your kids in loving, forgiving and saying “no” when necessary.

If it’s an academic reason, just make sure you are aware of the responsibilities and expectations of the group. There be a lot more work than you are ready to take on. Or it might be the push you needed to get some science experiments done!

2) Establish common goals. A co-op can be anything from meeting for a park day once a week to meeting twice a week to cover history and Spanish in a group setting. The most important thing is that you and the other moms are on the same page as to what you’d like (or not like) to accomplish. When more moms start to join your group, be prepared for more ideas — which could help or hinder your co-op. Keep your co-op goals in focus.

3) Lay the foundation first. Whether you are starting a co-op or joining an existing co-op, it’s important to know things like, “will this be a Christian co-op or open to all homeschoolers?” Again, you might think this is a given, but it’s not. And there’s no right answer, only the one that works best for you. Do you want to be a part of a mixed group or do you feel spiritual agreement is important to the education of your child? If these questions aren’t addressed from the beginning, they will likely play a role later when subjects are brought to the table on which you have different worldview perspectives, and this can cause division in the group.

4) Smaller is better. Large co-ops are great, as long as you are breaking up into smaller groups at some point — not more than three or four children per adult for most teaching situations. There should be clear parameters as to how many kids and what ages you’d like to join. Not to be exclusive, but to ensure the time is productive and organized — accomplishing what was expected to be accomplished. I think there has to be a really strong leadership group with a vision to pull off seven or more family groups without details falling through the cracks.

One-on-one groups are still my favorite. Find one family whose kids’ ages are in common with yours and take turns covering subjects such as art, art history, science projects, etc., and meet once a week or every other week. The ideas are endless — and it gives your kids something to look forward to during the week.

5) Seasons in your life change. What was a great idea one year may not be the next. Don’t feel bad about changing course: Do what’s right for you and for your kids.

I am the first to say “yes” to everything. I like meeting new people and getting in on what’s good to get in on. But there comes a point that it truly does more damage than good. You are tired by the end of the week, your kids are tired of you yelling at them to get in the car because you’re late once again, and you find your whole goal of homeschooling — to establish good character, consistent rhythms and routines in your home, and reading all those great books — has gone out the window.

I can say that being a part of a co-op has never failed to allow me to be in touch with other great moms. But once you meet some families that work well with yours, joining a co-op simply to hang out with them is not your only answer, though it might be a good start. Impromptu visits to share curriculum and drink coffee once a month or fun picnics will do just as well — and sometimes save your sanity.

NextGen Editor Renée Gotcher
Was homeschooled in 11-12th grade
Began homeschooling in 2010: Three daughters ages 11 1/2, 10 and 5

Back when my mom started homeschooling in the late 80s, I only had two years left of high school. Most of my college requirements (especially in math and science) were completed already, so I don’t remember my mom looking for co-op educational opportunities as much as social ones. We did attend park days and field trips with other families, and our support group even had a “promotion night” at the end of the year to celebrate graduates at all ages.

When I started homeschooling, I was really excited to learn about the vast opportunities available now. In fact, the support group I joined was offering weekly co-op classes for elementary ages & teens taught at a classroom-like location, covering subjects such as art, language, music, geography and writing. I dove in right away, because in my mind this was the perfect blend between the mostly solo homeschooling I had experienced and the traditional school atmosphere. Even though it was nice to have subjects like art and music covered by parents who excelled in these areas, I was really looking to fill our social needs more than anything.

However, our support group had grown so much that year, the formal weekly co-op wasn’t going to be sustainable for the future without a major shift in the group’s mission and administration. So in our second year of homeschooling, I had to look outside our group for existing co-ops other than the field trips and monthly activities provided by my group. In the end, our only weekly co-op was an organized homeschool PE program, and once a month we did elementary presentation day with our support group. We also did weekly AWANA at our church, and the girls had lots of friends they enjoyed spending time with there.

It was an easier schedule to maintain, for sure, but I found that I really did miss the regular social interaction with the other homeschooling moms. Plus, my eldest two daughters were entering the “tween” phase, and I could tell that they needed more opportunities to develop healthy friendships. The final straw that broke this mama’s back was when the homeschooling family around the corner — who also had three daughters of similar ages to mine, making playdates and impromptu social times a snap — moved to Wyoming in the spring. All three of my girls were losing a close friend, and I was losing a mama friend too!

This year, our homeschool support group decided to hold a co-op workshop over the summer to introduce the idea of establishing small co-ops on our own within the group. We currently have more than 70 families in membership, and the idea was that if we could help connect families with common goals and children of common ages with one another, co-ops could flourish in a more organic way. I knew I really wanted a co-op for myself and my girls, so I was really excited about this idea.

At the same time, I had been feeling a nudge from the Lord to do a tween girls book club, both to give my girls a good social opportunity and turn them on to books with Godly character focus. I shared the idea at our co-op workshop, and before I knew it, I had a handful of moms of tween girls interested in starting the book club with me! God is awesome that way: He really brought a wonderful group of moms and girls together with a common mission and focus. Getting the logistics into place has been a breeze because we’re all on the same page.

The co-op is a little larger than I had planned: We have 13 moms, and more than a few have more than one daughter participating. At our first mixer yesterday, I counted 33 total moms and daughters chatting up a storm in my house — and that wasn’t everyone! We decided to split up the girls into three small discussion groups by age, and every meeting will conclude with at least an hour of social time and snacking. Moms will be taking turns providing snacks, supervising the younger siblings during discussion time, and hosting at their home. We’re reading the “Secret Keeper Girl” fictional series by Dannah Gresh first, and many of the moms will also be doing the group activities from Gresh’s “8 Great Dates for Moms & Daughters” together as well.

I completely agree with the advice my sister Cristina shared. Co-ops can be such a blessing when they meet the needs of your family! But they can also get you off track, keep you too busy, or distract from what you personally want to accomplish as a homeschooling parent. I do think that it’s vital to find some form of support with other homeschoolers in your community, though. Pray about it, and I believe that God will open the right doors for you to find the support you need.

NextGen Author Rosanna Ward
Was homeschooled since 8th grade
Began homeschooling in 2005: Two homeschool graduate daughters & two sons (7, 1)

In the past, I have been a minimal homeschool group participant and never did formal co-ops (unless you count the days we school with my sister and her girls). My girls were middle-school age when we started homeschooling, and they didn’t really like going to new things. They had their neighborhood friends and church friends already, so they didn’t feel the need for anything else.

We did participate in one small support group, but we barely met once a month and did about three field trips a year together. I enjoyed the fellowship with a few other moms, and the girls got to spend some time making new friends. But that group disbanded years ago, and we never bothered to try again. We were busy and hanging out with my sister’s family — along with weekly PE class, a random homeschool skate day and some family field trips —  and that was enough to get us through.

But this year, I felt a major change was in order. Joel is the only one I am schooling at this time. He is in 2nd grade work, and he needs lots of activity to stay busy or else he just wants to play video games and watch cartoons on Netflix. We already meet with my sister’s family twice a week for joint schooling and go to a weekly PE class, but I felt that wasn’t enough this year.

So we signed up for soccer and piano. So far so good. So I decided I’d also join the Victory Homeschool Group and enroll Joel in their Monday co-op classes. He will be taking art and science, as well as participating in a Lego Club, on Mondays. And I must admit, I am feeling isolated and in need of friendship.

Already I am starting to feel too busy. Monday is co-op from 1:00-4:00pm. Tuesday is soccer practice. Wednesday my toddler Leif is at Mother’s Day Out. Thursday Leif is at MDO again, and from 10:00am-2:00pm my sister Liz comes over here, plus we have 2:00pm PE, 4:30pm piano lesson, and a 7:00pm soccer practice. Friday we are at Liz’s house from 10:00am-2:00pm. Saturday there are soccer games. At least soccer is over at the end of October!

Joel is loving it all right now. He has also had a chance to go skating twice since school started. We went to Homeschool Skate Day a couple of weeks ago, and a week ago we went to the Victory Group Kick-off Party at a skating rink inside a large church.

Yeah… So attending that kick-off party reminded me why I didn’t like joining groups in the past. It is excruciatingly painful trying to meet new people — for me anyway. I’m not exactly shy, but I’m not very outgoing and I just felt very awkward all night. The boys played and made new friends, but I just stood on the sidelines watching and trying to find someone I thought I could start a conversation with.

The biggest problem I realized right away was that I was pretty much the only one there without her spouse (and it wasn’t publicized that this was a bring-your-spouse event). Add that to the fact that most of the people already knew each other and had things to talk about. I’m not saying people weren’t nice: They said “hi” and welcome, but then they moved on.

At one point I went to the bathroom and checked the mirror to make sure my clothes were straight and that Leif hadn’t left stains on my clothes, my hair was still in place (somewhat), and that I still had makeup on — so that wasn’t the problem. I tried to smile friendly and I even stepped outside my comfort zone (even more) when at one point I started a conversation with someone who I thought might have a friend in common with me. Nope — that conversation lasted about two minutes.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not judging the people there for not inviting me in or being more friendly. I have been where they are, with all my friends around me and so much to talk about and catch up on that I totally didn’t realize there was a new, nervous person in the room. It is hard to think about drawing new people in when you are in your comfort group. Especially if that new person looks awkward and you aren’t sure how to approach them. I just hope that once Joel starts class and we are around the parents a little more, things will get easier. Because I don’t think I can handle another night like last night.

We attended our first co-op day this past Monday afternoon. I took Leif to the childcare, then found Joel’s art class. After taking care of that, I ran a quick errand. I was back by second hour, when Joel had science class. I had a conversation with a couple of moms about curriculum before I picked up Leif, and that was enjoyable.

During the third hour, there is no childcare available so Leif and I tried hanging out in the cafe. After chasing Leif around for 30 minutes, I finally gave up and went to Joel’s third hour class, which was Lego Club. He was having fun and I discovered there were other moms sitting in the back of the room talking, so Leif and I joined them. I talked for a bit with a mom I somewhat knew. By now, the fact that Leif hadn’t had a nap and had eaten very little lunch was quite apparent so we left as soon as class was over.

Overall a good first day, and I will be better prepared with lunch and activities for Leif next week to help make it a more enjoyable experience.  🙂

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How do you view co-op homeschooling opportunities? What do you utilize and why? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this important topic!

We are also taking NEW questions for upcoming “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler” features. Send your questions to nextgenhomeschool@gmail.com or post them as comments to this article (and let us know if it’s OK to quote you if we use your question). We look forward to responding to your homeschooling questions!

Ask a NextGen Homeschooler: How do you save money on school expenses?

17 Jul

Welcome to “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler…” It’s your turn to ask the authors of NextGen Homeschool — four formerly homeschooled moms who are now homeschooling our children — to weigh in on your homeschooling questions. From the practical to the personal, all questions are welcome — whether you’re a current homeschooler or just homeschooling curious!

This week’s question is probably on every mom’s mind — regardless of whether they homeschool or not — at this time of year (and it seems to get earlier and earlier every summer): How do you save money gearing up for the new school year? Especially as a homeschooling parent, with all the costs of schooling to manage, do you have a strategy for purchasing supplies and curriculum without breaking the bank?

Last school year we addressed the topic of how we choose curriculum in a separate post on curriculum. This post also includes some tips on saving money as well when putting your curriculum together. Here are strategies from the NextGen Homeschool authors about shopping smart during the back-to-school sales and other promotions going on at this time of year:

NextGen Author Rosanna Ward
Was homeschooled since 8th grade
Began homeschooling in 2005: Two homeschool graduate daughters & two sons (7, 1)

“I have a real problem with school supply sales. Even though I already have plenty of stuff after homeschooling for seven years, I just can’t help myself. I can’t pass up 50-cent crayons and markers, etc. I literally have to keep myself from filling my cart with all this “fun” stuff. I still have unopened glue and markers from last August.

I remember when my girls went to public school, I would go pick up the dreaded “school supply list” and then gripe and complain about the odd things on it, such as baby wipes, paper plates and plastic baggies — and the fact that they wanted certain brands (why did they have to be Prang watercolors and Fiskars scissors?). Now that I am a homeschool mom, I have the freedom to just stock up on the items and brands that I want: It’s so much more fun!

The biggest curriculum savings I found when I first started homeschooling was that my girls were able to do history, science and English together because they were so close in age. I saved money because I didn’t have to buy two of everything, but it was also more fun to do their school lessons together.

We are also very blessed, here in Tulsa, to have a used homeschool bookstore called Bibiomania, and a once-a-month free “book blessings,” where we can pick books up for free and also donate the stuff we are done with. I actually splurged this year and bought mostly new or barely used Horizons curriculum and history curriculum (Ancient Civilizations and the Bible, which I will use with my sister Elizabeth’s girls as well as my son Joel).”

NextGen Author Elizabeth Thomas
Was homeschooled from K-12
Began homeschooling in 2009: Four daughters ages 13, 12, 10 & 4

“Take me to the sales — I make a list of what I need and stick to that list the best I can. I try to hit places such as the Dollar Tree and check for the big sales at other stores. Pencils are my big item that I must buy more of this year during these sales. Paper of all kinds, pencils and red pens seem to be the things we run out of most often during the school year, so I will try to stock up this time.

To save money on curriculum, I have used Goodwill, Bibliomania, Craigslist, thrift stores, Amazon.com, and the Free Books trade at a local church. Oklahoma is such a big homeschooling state that finding used books can be pretty easy. For example, I got a Saxon Math book at Goodwill for $1 and picked up the accompanying answer keys for free at the book trade. If you’re resourceful, you can assemble a very complete curriculum for your children without spending thousands.”

NextGen Editor Renée Gotcher
Was homeschooled in 11-12th grade
Began homeschooling in 2010: Three daughters ages 11, 9 and 5

“Last spring I became a full-fledged couponer (see my personal blog for a four-part series on my journey), so spending as little money as possible on school supplies was a must for me utilizing my new couponing skills. I didn’t do a good job of tracking all my expenses and savings, but I do know that I saved LOTS of money by using coupons plus weekly store sales — and I still have unopened packs of notebook paper, pens, pencils and index cards, plus unused spiral notebooks and 3-prong file folders.

One thing I learned from shopping more strategically last year that is helping me save even more money this year is that week to week, at least one store (if not several) will feature a few “penny” and even FREE items, with limits to how many you can purchase at one time. These super deals will vary each week, but they always cover all the basics, such as pens, pencils, paper, folders, glue, crayons, etc. So my plan this year has been to limit my shopping each week to the super deals (and utilize cash rebate programs whenever possible) and trust that by the end of this back-to-school cycle, I will have all the bases covered.

I use helpful Web sites such as the Krazy Coupon Lady, Passion for Savings and Coupon Connections, because they do all the research for you. This makes it quick and easy to identify where I will go each week and what to buy there. You can even print out a shopping list of just the deals you plan to shop for right from their deals lists!

All of this for a net cost of $4.12 using coupons, Staples penny deals of the week, and cash rebates on items purchased!

So far I have passed on a lot of the first week sales that weren’t so great and have spent only a net of $4.12 at Staples, purchasing about $50 worth of items! I now have two plastic shoe box sized tubs filled with enough glue, crayons, pens, pencils, mechanical pencils, markers, new scissors, erasable markers, and more for all three of my girls.

And if I have any holes left to fill by the end of this early sale season, I can pick up what I am still missing during clearance time: Last year I discovered that Target’s clearances seemed to be the best, with lots of necessities still in stock but for 80-90% off. Walgreens also had a pretty decent selection of school items left come clearance time.

When it comes to curriculum, I am still looking for that perfect match between curriculum publishers and my pocketbook. Our first year I bought a multi-age curriculum package for about $400 (however it didn’t include math or language arts) and found that we didn’t use all the books. So last year I tried to save money by purchasing curriculum lesson plans only and then borrowing, buying used or checking out all the necessary books to complete the year’s lesson plan. That was more work than I thought it would be, and sometimes I simply could not locate a book that I needed at the time I wanted to do the lesson. But I only spent about $150 on the lesson plans I purchased, which was a big savings over my first year, and much less on math by purchasing used curriculum and only one new student book.

This year I am searching yet again for the ideal curriculum to fit our family and our budget. I will keep you posted!”

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How do you save money on school supplies, curriculum and other school-related expenses? We’d love to hear your strategies and tips too!

We are also taking NEW questions for upcoming “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler” features. Send your questions to nextgenhomeschool@gmail.com or post them as comments to this article (and let us know if it’s OK to quote you if we use your question). We look forward to responding to your homeschooling questions!

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