The Thriftiness Of Interest-Led Learning
You homeschool? Oh that must be expensive! What curriculum do you use?
I get those comments a lot. Usually they come all in one breath, expressed as more of a statement than a genuine question.
People that don't homeschool are usually surprised when I tell them that we don't spend nearly as much on books and supplies as one would think.
I used to spend more – way more. When we started homeschooling I made up the list of workbooks and resources I planned to use during the year, and made my large curriculum purchase with our tax refund. But over the years, we have moved away from a traditional style of school-at-home learning.
Whether you call us unschoolers, free range learners, or interest-led learners doesn't really matter. I have found that following my children's interests and taking cues from their development and personalities leads to deeper, more productive learning. And it happens to be a very thrifty way to educate as well.
Instead of a broad curriculum
Most multi-subject homeschool curriculums are designed to cover as much of the “basics” as possible in each grade level and topic. This always leaves something to be desired in the interest and depth departments.
If you think about it, a general curriculum is bound up in the idea that every child “needs” a certain set of facts and skills taught to them. And they all need the same stuff, at the same time. I don't think it is wrong to believe a child will need some basic things like the ability to read and comprehend arithmetic, but does every kid really need to know about the Civil War? It is an important part of history, but if a child doesn't get it from a curriculum will they never be exposed to it in real life? (and if they won't – then why is it so important again?)
Also – what is the guarantee that every child is going to be ready and excited about a subject when it is presented to them?
With interest-led learning, you stop spending money on trying to cover a huge amount of information that will probably be forgotten by adulthood. Instead, you focus on what your child is curious about.
Science, math, and more for less than $5
For example, my son is almost 3. Technically, we are not even homeschooling him yet. But his curiosities often coincide and combine with those of my daughters'. Anyways – to keep him busy on our plane trip to Korea I downloaded an app on our tablet that has puzzles on it. Each puzzle shows a different sea animal, and when you complete it the app will tell you the name of the animal.
I also happened to stop by the thrift store and buy some animals books for the kids to read during our travels and in the new apartment until our household goods arrived.
After playing the app repeatedly for a week, he was able to find the ocean animals in one of the books, and tell me most of their names.
So I strewed some more books and a few videos about creatures of the deep for him. The girls got involved at that point and started helping him determine which animals were fish, which were mollusks, and which were mammals. We compared their sizes and shapes, we learned about population numbers, and we watched how different ocean animals move in the water.
Eventually, since we had moved to a country where sea creatures are routinely eaten, we tasted squid and octopus. We counted them in tanks outside restaurants. My son was able to identify and tell the difference between the two.
All I spent money on was a $1.99 puzzle app, some .25 cent books at a thrift shop, and a couple dollars for some street food. Granted, we might have more opportunities to experience sea creatures firsthand than we did in Kansas. But even with just what we did through books and the internet, we probably covered a year's worth of material in just a couple weeks. And we did it for less than $5.
Ocean animals are just a recent example. We've been on many rabbit trails that an outsider would see as frivolous. But to us it constitutes real learning. And through those curious adventures we have covered much more than the curricula ever touch on – for much less cost.