How to spend your Home-School Dollars wisely
by Mary Pride
Have you ever asked yourself questions like these about your home-schooling purchases? What if I make a mistake and waste $60? Or what if this phonics program turns out not to be the very best after all? Those "what ifs" can create needless guilt and confusion. Here's help.
RULE #1: Major on the Majors
The worst guilt-spawning purchasing decisions are those where you spend megabucks on something that just sits in your closet. Why don't you ever get around to either using or returning such mistakes? You never have time to figure out and teach the silly things, that's why! And why don't you have time for this? Because (listen carefully now) you purchased
something that was not a major curriculum item. Few of us stick math workbooks or phonics programs in the closet without even trying them. That's because math and phonics are basics. When push comes to shove and precious home schooling hours start getting eaten up by housework and other urgent matters, the nonbasics end up in the closet. If we're smart, that is. Some of us are wearing ourselves out trying to cover 11 subjects every day. Here's how to extract yourself from that situation. Major on the majors. Cut back your home school program to Bible, the basic language arts--reading, writing, and grammar--and math. When that's under control, then start adding in the science and social studies. In the meantime, just take good children's historical biographies and children's science books out of the library and read them aloud to the children for a half-hour or so every day. Alternatively, if your children are good readers, just bring home a pile of these books and have them read them. By doing this, you will be providing the ray, data that will help later history and science classes make sense. I know this is hard advice to follow. If you're like I was, you've read all the home schooling success stories and can't wait until your children are writing their own operatic arias and creating nuclear fusion devices in the backyard. And let's face it, grammar drills aren't as thrilling as oil painting. But in home schooling, as in all of life, faithfulness in the little things has to come before success in the showier things. eaching the basics doesn't take that long when you're concentrating on it. After the basics are under control, your children will have lots of time to learn chess, oil painting, engineering, typing, etc.
RULE #2: "Wasting" Money Is Part of Your Education
Many of us are paralyzed in our homeschool purchasing by the fear of wasting money. For families living on a single income, $20 can represent a major purchase. Wives, especially, are afraid of wasting their husbands' hard earned money. I understand this. When we started home schooling, Bill was going to seminary. We and our two small children were all living on Bill's half-time salary... out of which we had to pay for seminary tuition! Like others living in that situation, l had developed a scrimping, saving, penny-pinching mindset in which I hated to spend money. Any purchase that was not an obvious necessity brought with it clouds of self-doubt. Was I really being frugal enough and not wasting the Lord's money? I thought I was being a good steward, and in some ways I was. But the Lord showed me that when it came to the children's education, a penny-pinching attitude was foolish. Bill and I came to the conclusion that investing in our family's spiritual growth and education was the most important use of our money, after tithing. This insight changed our lives. Formerly, I had been afraid to spend money on good Christian books. Now we started buying those books by the dozen. We were willing to eat pea soup and homemade bread for weeks in exchange for a shopping spree at the teacher's store. Instead of being afraid of making purchasing mistakes, we came around to the attitude that those mistakes were part of the normal cost of my education as a home teacher.
Think of it this way. If you want to be a credentialed public school teacher, it will cost you years of your life and thousands, maybe even ten thousands, of dollars. After all that, you won't have learned some of the most important things you need in order to teach your children, such as how to integrate Bible with academic subjects. By contrast, for the relatively low cost of a few purchasing slip-ups and some hours spent in thinking through why certain things don't work well for you while other ones do, you will have gained a custom made education perfectly designed to prepare you for teaching your kids! I am of the opinion that purchasing slip-ups are inevitable. It takes some experience to know your children's learning styles and ability levels, not to mention your teaching style. It takes even more experience to figure out how much help you need with each subject area. While you are getting that experience, you are bound to travel down a few blind alleys. Relax. Quit kicking your self about it. It's part of the process . . . a relatively inexpensive way of earning a lot of lessons fast.
RULE #3: Don't Quest for the Best
As someone who has spent years of my life searching for and promoting the best home school products, the following advice might sound a little strange. Bear with me. I don't think you ought to spend a lot of time and energy worrying about getting the absolute best resource available. Avoid this "grass is greener" syndrome if; you possibly can.
Here's how it works:
After reading all the reviews, sending away for umptillion brochures, and consulting the ladies of the support group, you buy Product X. For a while, you are happy with Product X. Then you hear about Product Y. Product Y does everything Product X does, plus a few more things. It's got prettier packaging. And it costs less! Devastated, you moan, "If only I hadn't wasted my money on Product X!" Now, is Product X any worse because Product Y has come along? No! It's still a good program, and furthermore, you own it. You've had the use of it all this time, too; if you had held out for Product Y, you would have wasted half the school year. Yet fear of missing out on the elusive Product Y paralyzes a lot of home schoolers.
The Lord was in control of the factors that went into your original decision. He could have arranged for you to find out about that other program. It might be a good idea to just make the most of what you have, unless it really isn't working at all.
Home schoolers are still pioneers. After decades of educational slippage, we are starting to find out what educational philosophies and resources really work. We are traveling to the right destination, but we have not yet arrived. Those who learn to accept the bumps in the road and who are willing to lighten the load, when necessary, by tossing unusable resources out of the wagon, will arrive more quickly . . . and have more fun on the way!
Bill and Mary Pride home school their seven children in Missouri. She is the author of the newly revised, four-volume set of the Big Books of Home Learning.