Trailer Park Unschoolers

Because you don't need to be rich to unschool!

Unschooling on a Budget: Breaking the Unschool Rules with Curriculum


This is one of those subjects I’d thought I might avoid.  Given unschoolers generally don’t use curriculum, it’s not a topic that seems logical, but bear with me.  If you don’t have access to everything you need to get your kids interested in certain subjects, or if they want to learn things you have no idea about, a curriculum may not be a bad way to go.

In my case, I want to make sure my kids can meet the school standards.  Because of this, I’ve invested in a math program and I’ve gotten some phonics stuff from my aunt.  For the most part this is fun stuff that the kids really like doing, so it really falls into the “unschooling” category, even if it’s not “radical unschooling”.  So if you’re one of those radical types, feel free to check out now.  Otherwise, here’s my take on curriculum.

First off, save your money and teach what you can in other ways as much as possible.  Maybe you don’t need a science curriculum because you do a lot of work in nature, kitchen chemistry, or other sorts of things.  It could be that a lot of your history comes from the library, if you really bother with history at all.  A lot of families do a lot with YouTube.  These can be great ways to cut curriculum costs, and stick to the spirit of unschooling.

When you do feel the need for curriculum, plan carefully.  Opt for things your kids will find fun, but also something that won’t cost an arm and a leg.  You can shop used products as well, which may cut your costs, especially if you decide to use something that requires a teacher’s guide.  This can be a great time to employ friends and family that might be willing to gift part or all of a curriculum to you.

Shopping for curriculum can also involve looking at what you can get inexpensively.  For example, we use Math U See.  The cost of the curriculum as a starter isn’t exactly cheap.  Getting the manipulatives and everything means spending over $100.  However you use those same manipulatives through the entire program.  Because all we really need to buy from year to year is the teacher’s guide and the workbook, the price is much less.  Once we get to repeat years it’s only going to be the workbooks that we need to buy.  That makes it a system that’s not insanely expensive, even with four kids.

Look for stuff that’s offered in inexpensive workbooks.  Some programs offer their work in reasonably priced workbooks, and while they may not have the same amount of work as those expensive curriculums, unschoolers rarely rely on all the work in a curriculum.  This may be enough to supplement the other learning experiences you’re working with.  That might make the curriculum more of an add-on than an actual full curriculum would be.

Most importantly, when you can get away without the curriculum, obviously don’t use it.  It’s meant to be a tool, one of many options you can use for educating your child.  It’s by no means a necessary requirement for unschooling.  In fact, a lot of families do just fine without curriculum at all.  They work independent of all of that, helping their kids learn from nothing but pure life experience.

Coming from a perspective of someone who is low income, having a bit of curriculum at the core of our unschooling means the kids are learning in ways I couldn’t necessarily teach them.  I can’t afford the experiences other people provide for their kids, so this at least gives me a feeling that, at the end of the day, some of the core subjects I feel less capable of teaching are learned by my kids in a way that they particularly enjoy.  That’s what’s important at the root of all this.

At the end of the day, it really comes down to using what works for your family.  If having a little bit of curriculum as a backbone for your unschooling makes you feel more secure, by all means, use it!  If you want to try it with out, go for it!  No matter what you do, feel confident that you know your family, your state laws, and your needs better than anyone else.  You’re doing the right thing for you!


Author: Fox

With four kids, who has time for much? We spend a lot of time together, which translates to a lot of knitting time for me when we hang out. We've been trying to get back to our unschooling roots. We watch a lot of videos, play a lot of games, and pay attention to the things we notice in our everyday life. It's been quite the big adventure!

4 thoughts on “Unschooling on a Budget: Breaking the Unschool Rules with Curriculum

  1. I agree with you here. We unschool, and we try to get our daughter involved in as many educational things as possible – usually in the form of classes taught in the community. But for math, we use Teaching Textbooks. I don’t push it hard, but it does need to be learned. My daughter picks out library books to read on topics she loves. Sometimes it’s a textbook. We just do what WE want and not let others or a label define how we school. 🙂

    • I struggled with the textbook/curriculum thing for a while. Then I realized that my kids weren’t good at math and weren’t getting any better. Sometimes a little bit of curriculum doesn’t hurt. I had to get comfortable with that. I’m glad we’re not alone.

      • Oh I’ve read lots of articles on how to learn math in everyday life. Great if your kids are small and you see the entire world as a math problem. LOL! But mine is in high school. We did 3/4 of a year of algebra and it was painful. We are going at her pace in geometry. I will be teaching her money math and how to take care of her finances. I think that’s good enough. 🙂

      • It’s also hard to see math all around you when you’ve never been good at nor really liked math. Plus now we have to prove we’re meeting grade level for our kids, so that means I’ve got to get them on the level with math. I don’t think I could do that just taking from life, not for my older kids at least.

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