Over the last few years, I’ve noticed a movement in the homeschooling community that has gained a lot of momentum the school for free method of homeschooling. This approach to learning means families teach their children at home as inexpensively or as close to free as they can.
Now I’m not against free stuff. I love free stuff. I can always use the extra help stretching our hard earned dollars a little further. Homeschoolers who often rely on one income this is a very appealing option.. In fact, since 2008, my family has relied solely on my husband’s income, so I understand the pinch that happens to a family's finances when mom stays home to take the role of caregiver and teacher.
I really do get it. Homeschooling can be very expensive. We all hope to choose wisely when making our purchasing decisions. That doesn’t exactly equal trying to do it all for free, especially if you have older or multiple age students.
Now I'm not talking about using the occasional printable. I love to use free downloads myself for unit studies on special events, specific people in history or a topic that has peaked their interest. The difference is that I’m not trying to replace a subject’s curriculum with freebies that I grab here and there. Instead, I use them as supplements to round out and complement a specific lesson plan.
So, if I understand the need to be frugal and I do use free printables, why wouldn't I try to homeschool for free?
Free Doesn't Always Mean Free
I know. This doesn’t make sense, right? You’re probably saying, “What? Of course it is. I didn’t pay anything, so it’s free.” I would like to challenge you on this point.
Looking for, storing, downloading and printing all of these freebies take time and energy. These are two things that are very important to me and that I never seem have enough of. My time is very valuable with a special needs child whom has multiple therapies a week and a competitive dancer we are booked. Downloading all of those printables that look interesting quickly leads to clutter. Why yes, it’s digital clutter, so it’s easier to push hide, but it’s still clutter that takes up space on my computer. When you go to use a product you’ve saved (sometimes years later), you have to comb through dozens and dozens of files to find what you’re looking for which takes up more of your valuable time. Another side effect to the freebies is that many freebies require an email sign up which typically equates to unwanted messages in your inbox multiple times a day.
Also, printing these freebies costs real money in toner, paper, and electricity. So while yes, these printables were free to download but, are you seeing now the hidden costs. While printing a few pages to supplement your curriculum is one thing, searching for, downloading, printing, cutting out and assembling an entire curriculum is a full time job in itself.
Are You the Product or the Customer?
There's a saying going around that pertains to almost everything: "If you're getting something for free, you aren't the customer. You are the product."
For example, Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram are free to use. Why is that you may ask? It's free because your time and attention is the product that vendors and bloggers are seeking to gain and sometimes even pay to get via ads or offering freebies.
Why do free game sites have tons of ads on them? You get the game for free, yes, but you pay by seeing ads. Typically a paid service is ad-free.
That game site or printable provider probably does not have your child's educational interests foremost in their priorities. Instead, their goal most likely is more traffic, more clicks, more eyes, more subscribers. When you purchase a product, you are more assured that the product can stand on its own feet and isn't a gimmick for increased traffic and clicks.
Can Free Downloads Really Be A Substitute For Curriculum?
The short answer, no not without a ton of time and energy spent scoring websites to piece together a complete unit study. Plus quite a bit of money on ink, toner and paper. Let’s say you do grab a free notebooking study for the 13 American Colonies. Can that be used as a full early American History curriculum? Clearly, the answer is no. That notebooking study was created to be an add-on for a history curriculum and needs to be rounded out with hands-on activities, books, videos or field trips.
Attempting to piece together a subject entirely from freebies you happen to find online is possible, but will be extremely challenging. Although all students emerge from high school with some learning gaps, piecing together a curriculum from freebies means that you are missing a consistent and comprehensive plan that curriculum creators lay out for you. You will most likely also lack teacher guides or an answer sheet for subjects you may not be as proficient in or unsure how to best teach it.
The quality and accuracy of freebies can vary greatly, and who can you really complain to about a sub-par material? It was free after all! You always get what you pay for, right? So when you download something free, you have the added burden of making sure the material is something you truly want to use with your kids.
An Education Is A Worthy And Wise Investment
My children’s schooling is worth a spot in my family’s budget sheet. I don’t have to spend the kind of money that schools do to educate a student, but I want my children to know that I value them and their education.
That doesn’t mean that I will go crazy and buy everything I see. I create a homeschooling budget and I work within it. I spend money when and where it’s needed and I save things to pass down when it makes sense for our family. Often I invest in quality art supplies, living books, games, field trips, and high quality curriculum that builds our home library that benefit both my kids.
With all of that being said, am I really that against freebies in homeschooling? No, not at all. My advice however is to be smart about it. Only download things that you know you will use and can incorporate into a lesson plan instead of letting them sit, unused on your hard drive. Consider them tools that can make a subject fuller and richer or fill in gaps if its a higher interest subject. Look at them with the same critical eye you would use with published curriculum.
I read a quote somewhere that said, "I feel like the prevailing attitude among homeschoolers is that if it isn’t free, you paid too much. Meanwhile, I’m over here congratulating myself on the quality curriculum I bought and which saved me countless hours creating something from scratch". Once your child gets to middle and high school, those freebie worksheets just ain’t gonna cut it.
The homeschooling for free attitude is just one homeschool movement I won’t be joining, homeschooling is about personal preferences. No matter what you spend to educate your kids, we’re all fortunate to be able to do what’s best for our own family.
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