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$0.99 Feather Duster or $90 Warbonnet?

By Jessica Hulcy
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #28, 1999.

How much does a unit study have to cost?

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Jessica Hulcy

Years ago when I was doing the KONOS Attentiveness Unit with my sons who are now in college, I was co-oping with my friend Margaret. The unit focused on Indians, who were attentive to every overturned twig and leaf for their survival. As we studied the Indians, we practiced being attentive to the many distinctive elements of each tribe. Margaret and I wanted the children to make Indian headresses for one of their crafts. Being an artist, Margaret and her son dove into the headress project, creating an authentic warbonnet for $90. My budget was somewhat limited, so my son, Jordan, fashioned an Indian gustoweah from a plastic milk carton and a 99¢ feather duster! This incident underscores the incredible financial flexibility of homeschooling. Families can choose according to their means, either a 99¢ feather duster or a $90 warbonnet.

Shoestring Teaching

I am often asked the question of how to homeschool on a shoestring, and at the risk of sounding like a commercial, my answer is always the same. Buy a KONOS volume (or your choice of any other unit-study program) to use with all your elementary children as well as individual math programs for each child and then... sign up all your children for library cards, so you can check out piles of books on literature, science, history, art, music, etc. The library provides free textbooks for all your children... if you return the books on time. My librarians have even accused me of having another child just to gain another library card! My company has a saying, "KONOS uses the whole library for our textbooks, and the whole world for our curriculum." This is more than an advertisement slogan. It is the way we who use unit studies feel about homeschooling. Using the library is not only a fiscally sound proposition, but the bonus is that it trains children to be resourceful researchers and readers of many sources. These bonuses are missed when textbooks are simply handed to students.

If You Have a Computer, Join the Internet

Today the Internet provides endless dimention and access to resources that far exceed textbooks and even libraries. For high-schoolers, it is an excellent, extremely cost-effective tool for research for older students if a family already has a computer. Yet I caution its exclusive use over books for young children in particular. Books off the Internet do not provide the cozy, intimate relationship that hardback books provide. No parent's voice reading the story, no cuddling on the couch, no turning the pages, no illustrations, no dialoguing between parent and child about what is going to happen next... in short, no intimate, personal relationship being developed as a bonus to reading real books.

Free Field Trips

Field trips are a terrific way to build family relationships and take advantage of free or inexpensive education. In my poorer years, I scoured the newspaper weekly to learn of free museum exhibits, concerts, or other special events in the metroplex. Next to the Lord as a resource, the local newspaper and Yellow Pages are invaluable for locating related excursions. How incredible God has been to provide the hot air balloon festival as well as a pilot friend to take our children up in his private plane just when we were studying flight and flying in our Trust Unit. Or a once-in-a-lifetime China exhibit featuring Chinese craftsmen doing their crafts in our own city at the very time we were studying China. From the free summer Shakespeare Festival to the Benehana restaurant promotion which featured Japanese warriors fighting, to the Farmers Market, to a nature trail walk, to the Monet exhibit, to a zoo visit... free field trips have enriched my children's education. The bonus to free field trips is that our children learn wherever they are and truly do use the whole world as their curriculum!

Deluxe Homeschooling

If money is no object, the first thing I do is buy real books for my personal library. I actually started my own library long before I had extra money. Many years ago I was doing an all-day seminar. Six o'clock found me collapsed in an easy chair at a friend's home listening to the sounds of dinner preparations. Beside my chair I noticed a box full of print books I referenced in KONOS. When I asked my friend where she got the books, she replied with a teasing tone, "So you like those, do you? Follow me to the garage." There, to my astonishment, were box after box of used books... 5,000 books, to be exact. Beverly had been collecting free used books from public schools that had closed. As she gathered classics, Newbery Award winners, books from our KONOS list as well as other lists, Beverly began to collect not only for herself, but for others; however, since the Oklahoma economy was so depressed, the only buyer she could find was Half-Priced Books, willing to pay only a penny a pound! That night I began my personal library by buying 5,000 children's books. Though I sold the bulk of them to homeschoolers in Dallas, I pulled several hundred books before offering them to anyone else. So began the acquisition of my treasures, which now fill a floor-to-ceiling library.

Hire Tutors and Specialty Teachers

I have hired tutors from the local public schools, seminaries, and colleges for subjects that I lacked expertise in, such as Spanish, calculus, chemistry, and physics as well as specialty teachers for subjects such as piano, violin, ballet, and advanced art. Tutors are more expensive than classes, yet they come to your home instead of you driving to their home. Further, even though I do not feel competent teaching a particular subject, I still have firm ideas about how I want the class taught to my children. Tutors allow for this tailoring. Specialty teachers bring gifting to my children that I do not have.

Deluxe or shoestring teaching - which is best? Each has its benefits and there is a season for each according to the Lord's provision. The one thing we have learned from public education is that more money does not always equal better education. The difference in good, better, and best education lies in the hands, head, and heart of the teacher and her desire to impart knowledge and wisdom to her charges for the Lord. On that count, homeschoolers excel no matter what size their pocketbook.

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