- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 6, 2001

I stayed home from church two weeks ago to nurse one of my children, who was under the weather. I happened to turn on the television and began watching NBC News' "Meet the Press." The host, Tim Russert, was interviewing Vice President Richard B. Cheney and asked about the slowing U.S. economy.

In the past several weeks, the uncertainty of our nation's financial future has become a hot topic. It seems all I need to do is pick up a newspaper, watch the television or listen to the radio to get the latest on another corporate downsizing. With thousands of workers facing the unemployment lines, Americans seem to be watching their money a little more closely these days.

For me, this trend has been confirmed by the unusual number of e-mail messages I have received recently from parents who are already home-schooling or are looking into beginning it. They want to know how much it costs to home-school. Specifically, they want to know whether they will be able to provide a successful home education program without having a lot of money to spend. I am happy to say they can.

According to a 1998 independent study conducted by Lawrence M. Rudner, director of the ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center) Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation, the amount of money spent on educational materials has had no significant bearing on the scholastic achievement of most home-school students.

For example, the study showed that, on average, fourth-grade home-schooled students whose parents spent $199 or less on educational materials scored only five percentage points lower on their achievement tests than did students whose parents spent $600 or more on educational resources. When eighth-grade home-schooled students were compared using the same expense table, the gap narrowed to three percentage points. The bottom line successful home-schooling does not require a great deal of money.

If you plan to home-school on a shoestring, you can apply the same penny-saving techniques used in running a thrift-minded household to equipping and maintaining your home education program. While you should consider earmarking a portion of your family's budget for your present and future home education program, home-schooling is more a matter of the heart. Remember the old adage, "Where there's a will, there's a way."

But if you need a jump-start to a frugal home-school, here are my top six ideas:

• Be a savvy shopper. Don't buy new when used will do. Shop yard sales, consignment and secondhand shops, and used curriculum sales. You would be surprised at the educational materials you can find. I have found textbooks, chemistry sets, nature guides and tons of educational games for a fraction of what they would have cost new. It's helpful to keep a small notebook listing items you would like to buy for use now and in the future.

When you do need to buy something new, shop around. Compare prices. Talk with other home-schoolers and get their recommendations before making the investment.

• Let others know what you need. Give friends and family members a "home-school" list and have them be on the lookout for bargains. They may even be willing to purchase items new as birthday or holiday gifts. You could also post a list of "wanted" items in your local home-school support group newsletter along with your name and telephone number.

• Look for materials that can be used by more than one child. If your children are close in age, you may be able to use the same materials for everyone by making a few adjustments here and there for an older or younger child. Even if a textbook or resource is not appropriate for a varied age group now, store it away to be handed down to a younger sibling.

• Maintain what you have. Keep games and other home-school supplies in good condition by periodically making sure they have all their pieces, and by repairing books with torn or damaged covers and pages. Keeping your materials in tiptop shape not only makes them last longer, but will increase their resale value.

• Look for free or inexpensive home-school activities and supplies in your own back yard. You can plan field trips, enroll in programs and attend events sponsored by local museums, community groups, and recreational departments. In addition, you may find businesses and organizations that would be willing donate items for educational purposes.

• Use your local public library for curricula materials, research and access to the Internet if you don't have it at home. Over the years, I have learned that if I want to do some serious home-school planning using the library's books and resources, I needed to leave the children at home. They always seem to be ready to leave before I am. Going by myself reduces everyone's frustration level.

If you plan to home-school on a shoestring, you will be trading expense for time. Ask yourself if you will be able devote the hours needed to plan and prepare. But, regardless of your family's financial status, you can do a great job home-schooling if you are willing to commit yourself to the endeavor.

Note: I enjoy hearing from my readers. If you have sent e-mail to me within the past several weeks and have not heard back from me, I apologize. My Internet service provider deleted a number of e-mail messages from my account without my knowledge. If I can still be of help, please write again and I will reply promptly.

Kim Huber, a mother of four children, has been home-schooling for 17 years. She and her husband serve on the Christian Homeschool Association of Pennsylvania's board of directors. She can be reached by e-mail (CHAPKimH@aol.com).

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