Cents and Sensibility

Money.  It is a tricky subject, all right, but kids cost money, esp if we don’t tap into the tax dollars spent on public education in our respective countries.

I’ve been reading a lot of blogs.  (I’m sick, and there is a limit to how many Buffy the Vampire Slayer reruns one can watch consecutively before one’s brain *also* turns to dust.  Sorry if this is disjointed.)  Some folks seem to spend most of their homeschooling budget on gas/petrol for ferrying their kids around, others on art supplies, and some on every comprehensive full-color curriculum they stumble across.

Yes, our economic circumstances vary, and widely.  Some parents have a spouse making fabulous money, and would choose to be home even if they DID send their kids to some $15K/year private school, so spending the same on homeschooling doesn’t feel like a big deal.  Some folks have seven kids, so buying a full curriculum *once* is a good investment, especially if it frees them up from prepping lessons to actually parent that many children.  Some couples of more meager means have chosen shift work, and less ‘successful’ careers, so that someone can always be home learning with their children as frugally as possible. 

Regardless of our circumstances though, folks can still fall into one of two ideological camps: the want-mores and the ok-as-we-ares.  I’ve seen folks with plenty of money not spend it on their children, and I’ve seen single mothers working three jobs to buy their kids PS2’s, so it isn’t about how much money we have, but about what we value.

I was raised by older parents.  My Dad lived through the Great Depression, and was in the Navy during WW2.  My mother was a girl in England during the war, and had evacuees and ration books.  We had resources when I was growing up, an only child in a Boston suburb, but my mother, to this day, has a cupboard full of brown paper, string and rubber bands.  My clothes were handmedowns, from church tag sales, or acquired at Bradlees or Sears.  Add to this that I’ve been fighting the less adaptive habits such a packrat upbringing engendered in me, and I’m not a stuff-purchaser, unless I’m at a tag sale.  (Just because something is inexpensive doesn’t make it a value, but still – free?  Sure, I’ll take a look!  >.< )

Don’t get me wrong; I can be seduced by full-color gadgetry as much as the next Gen X geek.  We have a Wii, and three computers get fired up in our home every day, with a couple of other, older systems waiting in the wings for repurposing for our kids.  (My personal vices stray more towards the book end of things, but – hey – the covers tend to be in full-color, so, um, yeah.) 

My relatives probably cringe when they see the wish lists I write up for the kids each year; limited plastic and pink, open ended play, no guns, no non-PBS liscensed characters (esp Princesses, TYVM), collaborative, creative, non-gendered, etc, etc, etc.  Not that we’re all Waldorfy either; no WAY am I paying that kind of money for a doll, folks.  Sheesh.  Each of my kids has a commercial cloth-and-plastic baby doll, and they wear – voila! – my kids’ old baby clothes! 

One place where I DO spend the bucks is on resource books for ME.  I have a degree in secondary science education, but elementary school?  Phonics?  Oi.  Ergo, we have Amazon Prime, and make good use of it.  (Although my inner budget and environmentally minded self cringes when everything arrives in separate packages.)

Anyway, I tried to figure out how much we spend, on average, per month, on homeschooling our kids.  I chose not to divvy out stuff that I’d acquire for them even if they WERE in school, so the number might be somewhat elevated, but since it only came to about $50 a month, I’m not feeling particularly spendthrift.

Where does this money go?  I do a couple of big book buying binges (both teacher resources and student resources) a year, but I’m careful to only buy things that I either can’t get any other way, or which I know my kids will use for years.  (Selected workbooks = yes, storybooks = no.  That is what libraries and tag sales are for.) I also succumb, as I think many of us publicly schooled parents do, to the semi-annual school supply shopping trips.  (The new noteback happy dance!)  Other than that, we spend $8/month on PBSkidsplay.org, and token amounts on extra baking and art supplies, plus an outing or two.  (Yes, my brain is going to need to adapt to the price tags associated with some of our local homeschool group outings.  $40 for bowling?  Ouch.)

And that is really *it*.  The presents they get from folks I have any sway with are things that I know will play into our plans, either formally or in learning-play, and we encourage our kids to use what they have creatively.  We don’t have a slew of costumes, but they play at being whomever they like.  They have an Aunt who finds stellar deals on Playmobiles for them.  And we get things for free from the library, friends who are done with them, and on the internet, which I, natch, adore. 

What my kids need in order to learn is to have their pumps primed with clean mental water.  Not junk, and not in vast quantity.  Not too good, either, or in scarcity, since then they might hesitate to actually USE it, or will use it in precisely the prescribed manner and no other, like it was more precious than they are.  

The trick to it all is then finding the right amount, and thinking about it all clearly.  Some of us have vast reservoirs, and some collect rainwater, but ALL of us can be thoughtful.  I enjoy watching I and my children, and I know, I *trust*, that if I pay good enough attention to us, I’ll know what we need, and when.  Maybe I’ll go out and buy it, or maybe I’ll model creative problem solving to get it for next-to-nothing. 

If you’ll pardon the hokey metaphore, money, like water, is a tool.  Throw too much of it at your children and you make mud and drown them in material values and spoil them for choice.  Dole out too little, or on the wrong things, and your children wilt, and the soil they are planted in fails to nourish them.  Pour on something close to the right amount, though, and in a thoughtful manner, and minds will *bloom*.

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