When we first started off on our journey to the world of homeschooling, I have to admit, I was pretty intimidated. A good friend of mine mentioned how she felt uncomfortable with her connection to other homeschooling families because she was poor and most homeschooling families weren’t. Homeschooling just isn’t for the poor.
I have to admit, at that point I hadn’t thought much about it. In my mind I’d always thought homeschooling was as simple as teaching your children everything they needed to know and letting them go. No one gave me any hint that it just might be expensive. Sure, I’d imagined there would be some costs. There would be the standards of paper and pencils, add all the art and craft supplies, and it still ranks up to be less expensive than the school supply list and new clothes for school. I’d never thought much about how expensive it must be to homeschool.
When she started talking to me about it I started to get scared. I needed all these things in order to homeschool and I was clearly doing it wrong. I needed to buy a curriculum, which is insanely expensive for my budget, even when used. I’d have to make sure my children made frequent trips to the library. I had to pick a style of homeschooling, and that might mean giving up my whole lifestyle. Waldorf happened to be my style of choice at the time, which would mean giving up recorded music, television, video games, and even reading to my children. We’d have to replace all the toys in the house with more natural counterparts. I was starting to rack up the costs in my mind and I was suddenly feeling how she must have felt, really quite incapable of providing a “proper” education for my children. What was I thinking?
I’d finally started to find my comfort zone when I started going to the local homeschool co-op. I was faced with the shocking reality that I was the poor girl that was playing with the rick kids, or at least richer than I was. I felt really intimidated the first few days there, my children all in hand-me-down clothing and I felt bad about the meager lunches we always brought. They were talking about the curriculums their children were learning from and offered different suggestions for things I could look into for my daughter’s challenges. I appreciated it, but I was embarrassed at the fact that I couldn’t afford any of those things. Maybe my friend was right and it was awkward and uncomfortable to be a part of the homeschooling community if you weren’t middle class.
Last year we decided to have our gingerbread party, as usual. I was really intimidated. These people my children wanted to invite over were all a lot better off than we are, yet they were going to come in and see our home in all of it’s lack of grandeur. They would all see that we were poor, so poor that our three children were sharing a room in a two-bedroom in a run-down little trailer we were renting. They would see all our hand-me-down things. It was intimidating.
Now, when I say my family is poor, I don’t mean that we’re just barely lower class. We live decently below the poverty line for a family of six. Right now we don’t have a car. We didn’t have a washer and dryer at the time, though we do now. We didn’t have a television, game systems, or the luxury of cable or satellite TV. We lost pretty much everything we could lose to pawn in an attempt to keep ourselves afloat when my partner lost his job. All I still managed to keep was my computer and the internet, paid for by the freelance writing I was doing when I could find work.
It was at that party that it hit me, no one really cares what we’ve got. No one really cares if we work from a curriculum or if we wing it. No one cares if we’ve got fancy new clothes for our kids or live off of hand-me-downs. We were even given a car by one of the people from the homeschool co-op to help us out, even though it ended up having a lot of problems, but we were at least able to sell it to help ourselves get into a better position. What’s more important than no one caring that we were in a rough situation, they helped us out. We were given cloth diapers, clothes for my sons and daughter, and that car. I couldn’t be more grateful. Not only did they give us things we needed, but they also helped open my eyes to how incredibly wonderful people can be when they look past the boundaries of class and social standing.
The truth is money doesn’t matter when it comes to homeschooling and unschooling. Sure, it can set you back if you’re looking to work with a curriculum, but it’s really not all that necessary to have a curriculum. I don’t feel like I’m doing my kids any kind of injustice. They may not get to do all the traveling or go on all the cool trips that other kids get to go on all the field trips or see all the same places, but they’ll be on board with helping us decide what we will go see and do. They’ll get to choose all the things they find most important and they won’t have to go on trips that we might think are fun but they aren’t so interested in. They learn the value of a dollar as we’re not going to hide from them our sticky financial situation. It’s kind of hard to hide that when you’re explaining to them why we can’t do something, or why it’s a choice of this or that. It’s just another reality of life.
In many ways I think we’re offering our kids a huge advantage. They may have other advantages if they came from a “more privileged family”, but they have different advantages. They have a chance to see the world from the point of view of a family that has to work for things. On top of that, they’ll learn how good it is to pull yourself up and earn everything you have in life. There’s no reason we can’t all homeschool, no matter how financially advantaged we are.