As we enter the final months of this school year, which always makes me antsy for the freedom of summer, I am starting to evaluate our school methods, curriculums, plans, goals and more importantly now, costs. In April, all four kids will go through evaluation testing as a means of “proof of progress” which is what our state requires from homeschoolers. The cost for this testing for all four will be right around $100 and give me a pretty clear picture of where they stand on all state mandated (requirements for graduation) courses, but of course, does not evaluate all the extras we do…gymnastics, dance, Navy Sea Cadets, Teen Pact, music, etc.
Next to my rent, our education costs are my next biggest chunk (since we have no car payment – yeah!) I am completely confident that my children are getting a very well rounded education, focusing on things they enjoy and are good up and shoring up their challenge areas. And this year for the first time, I let them all choose their subjects completely independently. (Of course, I had some strong suggestions.) But I have to say, the cost of our homeschool co op stands out to me, especially since I just had to pay it this week.
During the Fall semester, the complete courseload for all four kids was right around $2000. Remember, I was able to barter for about of quarter of that. This amount included a full load (all the classes he needed for the semester) for History Buff, a good portion of them for Sea Cadet, a well balanced load of LOVEs and must haves but enjoys for Princess, and 3 supplementary classes for Gymnast.
For this Spring semester, my cost is slightly less because I chose not to pay for classes that my children decided to slack off in…natural consequences! (The children will then have to pick up additional courses here at home or move on to another course. It doesn’t mean they are not doing school, just that I’m not paying for someone else to teach them and them not fully participating…not wasting my money or the teacher’s time.) Total I had to pay was about $1300 (still have bartered classes going on.)
So based on those numbers, I am paying approximately $600 a month for 6 months, while our homeschool co op operates. Almost a car payment for those 6 months. There are lots of positives to this arrangement:
- I get three hours a week when all the kids are at class at the same time. It’s my only kid free time EVER.
- The teachers are these classes are dedicated, they are not doing this for money and most of them teach in their area of expertise. We have actual working scientist teaching sciences, military personnel teaching unmanned aerial vehicles courses, certified Montessori teachers teaching younger children, recent college graduates teaching music and drama, fabulous artists teaching art…ok, you get the point. These are QUALITY classes. AP certified classes are offered, high school classes can be taken as regular or honors, there are labs.
- There are just somethings I don’t want to, know how to, couldn’t tolerate to teach here at home…ie high school sciences. Now granted I could buy a stand alone curriculum ($$) and let them self teach with my guidance, but I am sure how you can see that this might now be as effective.
- The classes are kept pretty small, same 12 kids. Last year, the twins Algebra I class had them and one other boy in there. It’s like private tutoring all year without the expense.
- Friends…probably one of their favorite parts of co op is the chance to hang with friends between classes or be in classes with friends…kind of like a traditional school setting except the free time is not formally monitored.
Then there are negatives:
- It does cost quite a bit more than me just teaching them at home. In addition to the the tuition, there are nominal supply fees per class per semester (normally about $10 per class,) books (widely varies but for high school classes books typically run $40ish,) and other supplies (Biology dissection kit and 4 specimens just cost $70.) So it does add up.
- While the co op does have enforceable rules and in our now 6 years of attending there haven’t been any major incidents, there are isolated incidents that can leave you as a parent frustrated (ie unsupervised younger children being mean or inappropriate, parents who have a hard time accepting their child just might have done something wrong, etc.)
- It does tie us down on the co op days. One of the great things about homeschooling is the flexibility of schedule. Being regulated pretty much all day 2 days a week, goes against the grain.
So with all that being said, I am now starting to review what I did this year and what I will change for next year, especially in light of my singular desire to be out of debt…and the freedom to pursue other goals.
There are very obvious conclusions in some cases to me:
- There are some required HS classes that I just won’t teach, either for cost or competence, and the money for a experienced, dedicated teacher for those subjects is money well spent.
- I truly NEED the break I get from having all my kids in classes at the same time for at least a couple of hours a week. It makes a HUGE difference to my mental health. So paying for an extra class here or there to get that time frame is worth is to me, but if push came to shove, I could sacrifice it especially with a specific financial goal achievable within a semester or two, rather a temporary sacrifice.
- For those subjects which a particular child find challenging, I think getting it kind of as a double serving can be a positive thing. Sometimes, they just need to hear it from a different perspective or different format for it to click. This was exemplified to me with Gymnast. I tried every method, every curriculum, every suggestion to teach him to read, but it was only after finding a tutor that really worked with him that he got it. What I tried for 4 years, she achieved with him in 6 months and now he’s about at grade level (and this was just last spring.) I know they say when they get it, they get it, but it is certainly scary for a mom to watch her son struggle and feel like a failure in helping him.
And then some not obvious ones:
- My kids LOVE drama, just love it. The drama teacher is a young, college graduate who’s taught at the co op for the last several years and my little ones first experience with her was in a music theory class (where they were the only two students.) I, on the other hand, well, I have a hard time stomaching paying for drama, especially since it is one of the more expensive classes.
- I held out for years in paying for art classes. We always did art, crafty stuff at home, so the $100 per class tuition was hard for me to swallow. But it to is one of their favorite classes and I do have to say, the projects they come home with are PHENOMENAL, like truly display worthy. Luckily, this year, I was able to barter for all the art classes (elementary art, high school art, yearbook and drawing) so not a big deal this year, but next year?
- Like this year…classes that you just don’t see your class performing well in or that you see they are getting much out of. This year I was fed up with it enough, compounded with my financial goals, that I hard lined it and just made them drop them completely. But I’m not sure this is the best solution typically.
So I’ve definitely got a lot more thinking to do. But I wanted you to know what was on my mind right now as far as more cost cutting on a long term basis. But I also wanted to ask a question to those of you with older/grown children…at what age would you say your child really settled into their strengths. Everything I read says “shore up” the weaknesses and focus on the strengths, but frankly, I’m not sure when those are solid. And I think my twins are an exception to the tradition because they missed out on so much in their early years, they are still experiencing lots of firsts so I hate to pin hole them into what I think are/will be their strengths/weaknesses when they haven’t really even gotten to try things. Make sense?