Can you homeschool for free? Well, of course not! There are always going to be expenses for things like paper, printer ink, pencils and glue. Most likely you will need some equipment such as a microscope or a scale.
That does not mean that homeschooling needs to be expensive. In fact, we're learning it can be accomplished extremely inexpensively. All that is needed is a little resourcefulness, and enough discipline to keep yourself from running out and buying the latest great new book or game every time you hit a roadblock.
With so many publishers marketing to the homeschool parent, it can be easy to become seduced by all of the wonderful materials available out there. But remember, just like a cake mix, if it comes in a box with simple, easy to follow instructions, your going to be paying more than if you purchased the ingredients separately and made your cake from scratch. You don't need to buy your curriculum in a box. In fact, you don't need to buy much at all.
If your uncertain where to begin, or afraid of missing something you should be teaching, then get hold of a list of year by year educational guidelines for your state. For many states this can be found right on the website of the department of education. If not, google a local school, and take a look at the web pages for teachers of the particular grade your teaching. We've found Home Learning Year by Year by Rebecca Rupp to be a useful resource (one that is available at our local library too).
Use your state guidelines as just that - guidelines, unless you live in a state with yearly testing requirements, and then it's a good idea to pay a little closer attention to what the state expects. From this jumping off point, you can begin to pull together your curriculum. We use the Internet in place of many textbooks and for the most part in place of workbooks too. When you just have to have a book to hold in your hands, the library should be your first place to visit. Then, the used book store (though again, you really shouldn't need to buy much).
Here is a partial list of free resources by subject. From time to time we use others, but these our the one's we are currently using, so they are fresh in my mind.
Math: http://www.aaamath.com/ - this site is can be sorted by grade or subject. It allows you to print
out a chart for the entire year in which your child can record their scores for the exercises they've completed. Each lesson contains a short explanation, an example problem, and an unlimited number of practice problems, which are corrected as soon as the child enters and answer. Almost all of the lessons can be accessed for free, and if you do decide to purchase the accompanying CD-ROM, it is only $24.95 (including shipping). Since it covers grades 1-8 for as many students as you have, this is still an excellent value. But try it out for a while online, before you make the decision to spend any money.
Spelling: http://www.aaaspell.com/ - a branch of the math site above, this site offers spelling and vocabulary lessons, in a variety of different formats, for grades 1-8.
History: Just google history for children, and go to town. There are countless free sites, videos, games and worksheets available.
http://www.libertyskids.com/ - I mentioned this one in an earlier post, but I'll mention it again. This is an excellent animated series dealing with the revolutionary war.
Also check out the Magic Tree House book series by Mary Pope Osborne, and the Blast to the Past series by Stacia Deutsch and Rhody Cohon. These are written at about a third grade level, but can also be fun for a family reading time.
Visit local museums (especially if the admission price is low), and don't forget to stop and read all of those wonderful historical markers along the way!
Take your Bible off the shelf - it's a great world history book!
Act it out a little. Don't just read about history, try it out. Make your own butter, lye soap, hard tack or whatever else your reading about. The Internet and the library have countless recipes, how-to videos, and instructional manuals for just about anything that has ever been done.
Science: Just read a few a my previous posts on our fun with borax, and you'll get the idea. You don't need a fancy kit or ton of textbooks to learn a lot, and have a lot of fun.
Check out the Magic School Bus books and animated series, as I've mentioned before. They cover almost every scientific topic.
Don't worry if you aren't a science geek - there are plenty of them out there, and they've made a lot of great videos and websites - let them do the talking.
Again, google science for kids, chemistry for children, biology for children, physics for children, science fun or something like that, and have fun!
Make it a challenge to see how many experiments you can preform without purchasing any extra supplies or equipment. Do you really need the dissect your own fetal pig kit, or can you just send the children hunting with your husband? (okay, that's a little icky sounding - but then, so is a dissected pig or frog on the dining room table!).
Don't forget about the children's museums and county fairs - look for discount days, and see what they have to offer.
English: There are many free printable grammar worksheets and games on the Internet.
Check out http://www.superteacherworksheets.com/ and http://www.funbrain.com/ just to get started.
For beginning reading, you can use McGuffey Readers - which can be viewed for free on Google Books, or located at many libraries.
The library really should be your best resource for English materials, from literature to learning aids, it's all there, and it's all free.
Go to plays with your children. This might cost a little, but sometimes, especially in the summer, you can catch some very good performances for children for free. Keep an eye out for these in your local paper, or on your local community calender.
Have your children act out plays of their own. You don't need to send them to an expensive drama camp - believe me, children our dramatic enough on their own. Video tape there plays, and let them compare their own performances to the professionals. (This will also provide you with frugal Christmas gifts for loving grandparents!)
Foreign Language: Again, look to the library. Try out everything they have to offer in the language of your children's choice. Some libraries even offer a story time in a foreign language. They are usually quite nice about letting new language learners sit in on these.
I'll recommend Georgia Public Broadcasting's Salsa again, as one of the best beginning Spanish programs for children, I've ever encountered.
With the Internet, comes access to television channels from many different countries, surf around a little and see if you can't find something interesting.
Make your own vocabulary flashcards. This takes a little effort, but if you make them well, you can use them over and over again. We like to play matching games with ours. We usually pick about ten words a week to practice this way. It doesn't seem like much, but over time, the children can really build up a nice vocabulary.
P.E. - Send them outside to play! This doesn't have to be very complicated.
I think by now your starting to get the idea. Before you buy, take a few minutes to think - Do I really need it? Can I find it at the library? Can I borrow it from a friend? Can I get it used? Can I print it out online? Then return to first question - Do I really need it? Don't be in too big a hurry to buy anything.
As far as supplies go, take advantage of the back to school sales. Buy more than you think you'll need for the year. Paper and pencils don't go bad, if you don't use them this year, there's always next year, and it's better to have too many 25 cent bottles of glue than to run out and have to pay $1.25 later.
It's great to be a homeschooler, even without the box!