Although there are many books on the library shelf about homeschooling for free, this is not the reality for most families. Most homeschool families incur costs throughout their school year. This means the nasty B word: budget. Establishing your first homeschool budget can be a bit daunting. Your best course of action is to find a veteran mom to help you make realistic expectations.
Your first consideration is the type of homeschooling you wish to engage. An unschooler’s budget will look vastly different from a Charlotte Mason, a Montessori home, or a classical education one. Close your eyes. In an ideal world, what does your schoolroom look like? What are your goals for your little ones: this year, three years out, and five years out? Will they be college track, vocational track, or entrepreneurs? Now, based on those guidelines let’s attach some numbers.
- Choose your umbrella school. Umbrellas have different requirements and standards. Some will require an entrance exam like the CAT/5. Others will ask for an end of the year test that parents may or may not be able to administer such as the SAT 10. Either way, unless you register with Knox County Schools, you will be paying at least enrollment fees, and testing fees. Your umbrella might also have curriculum restrictions. So, ask before you set out.
- Choose a core curriculum. Your umbrella might have given you some guidelines. Other moms have package favorites like Sonlight or A Beka. Yet others pick and choose. In any case, you will need a Language Arts, Science, Math, Social Studies…
- Are you participating in a co-op? New homeschooling families greatly benefit from local co-ops and support groups. There are a great variety of options. You can get your feet wet with a university style school, like Paideia Academy, River’s Edge Christian Academy or Cross Creek, where you go to class two to three days a week and continue at home. Or, choose a program that meets once a week such as Thursday Connections or Masters Monday. Make sure that the program meshes with your curriculum! You might have to use their materials. Classical Conversations requires an annual upgrade. Bottom line: budget for tuition, fees, supplies and books depending on coursework.
- Let’s round out your core. Most of the bases should be covered, but a quick review of your annual goals will let you know if you need to pick up a foreign language, P.E., or fine arts instruction.
- Extra-curriculum activities or clubs any one? There are number of area student clubs that are open to homeschoolers. Does your little one play chess, or is interested in robotics? Maybe, your student would like to try his/her hand at acting or fencing. There is a group for that! Plan accordingly…
- Sports, sports, sports… East Tennesseans love their sports. The good news is that homeschoolers can often take lessons for a discounted rate. The school board is reviewing the practice of letting homeschoolers participate in district school sports. However, you will find homeschool teams for cross county, baseball, football…
- Enrichment opportunities and field trips. Homeschoolers love field trips! Attractions love homeschoolers. Whether you plan to do something big like join a group going to Italy or Disneyland, participating in homeschool days at places like Biltmore, or staying around the area and visiting the Aquarium, you will find discounts for homeschool students as long as you have an id card. If your umbrella doesn’t issue you one, get one free here.
- Play dates. You can join most homeschool support groups for free but be sure to budget for those impromptu lunch dates and outings.
- Summer camps and clinics. A mom could make herself batty with all of the camps and clinic options that are available. Pick and choose and prioritize. The summer is an especially busy time, but did you know that you can take homeschool classes at the zoo, AMSE, or Ripleys? Or, simply drop in on art classes at the Moon Cafe? These classes are usually very reasonable and an amusing sidebar.
- Wish list and miscellaneous stuff. Use this line item to purchase things like online subscriptions, magazines and resources, extra science equipment, or other really cool new stuff that you run across at the curriculum fair or local teacher School Box.
With all that said, never underestimate the resources that you will find at the library, McKays, yard sales and your local veteran homeschooling mom network. You can often pick up things very inexpensively if you keep a running list of what you might need in the future. You an also get local professionals to donate time or materials if you just ask.
So, go ahead and make out a budget for the next school year. It will give you a snapshot of what you have to work with and where you might wish to be a bit more creative. Then, boldly go to the Smokey Mountain Curriculum Fair on June 4th prepared to look for specific bargains and general fun.