Image description: a woodland scene. A pale blue sky is a backdrop to long pine trees with thin branches. A shrub laden path leads into the woodland.
As part of the Educating Joyfully Book Club we’re reading a well known book all around home education titled ‘The Call of the Wild and Free: Reclaiming Wonder In Your Child’s Education’ by Ainsley Arment. It’s a brilliant read, and is a real manifesto for the wonders of home education as a lifestyle. Yet while reading it, as I shared on a recent Instagram post, one thing particularly struck me. Arment certainly addresses it briefly, but not in great depth. It’s the elephant in the room, and it’s something that I now realise lots of home edders/potential home edders want to be discussed more. It’s the financial side of homeschooling.
One parent largely at home setting up beautiful poetry tea times, wooden resources (more on that here) and endless explorations of the outdoors are the dream, but is it financially possible for everyone? It seems to be the question/discussion rarely seen on social media. As someone who very much wants to home educate, I thought I best look a bit deeper.
There are two main prongs to the argument here. Firstly (and from my perspective most importantly) the cost of having one parent home for a large proportion of their time to facilitate the child/ren’s learning. Second to this is the cost of resourcing a home education environment. While I’m not new to the education world, home education is something I’m exploring more and more, so I felt that it would be important to get perspectives (and lived realities) of current home educators alongside my thoughts around it all.
The financial cost of one parent at home
Before children join the crew, it’s pretty standard for both partners in a relationship to have an income through working, often full time. When children come along and maternity/paternity leave comes to a close, many families still require a dual income. If home education is the hope, this can pose a problem. I reached out to a few different home educators who gave me some great insights into how they work around managing on a single income, or fitting work around schooling, including the contrasting issue of childcare costs making work impossible and actually necessitating home education! I certainly don’t have all the answers, and I doubt any of these lovely folk will claim to either, but I think offering the personal experiences of others all in one post might help those with a big question mark over home education.
@claireynew on single income families and universal basic income
I wish there was more support available for home edders, the fact that I worry that our kids might miss out because we can't afford for them to do all the things or have all the resources genuinely makes me wonder whether home ed would be the best choice. Of course I know everything is relative, we're in the privileged position that we can make ends meet from one salary which is something some people can only dream of, but it does mean there's very little left after food and bills. If there was a home education allowance comparable to the pupil premium I think it would open up the choice for a lot more families. I've heard other people talk about the difference that universal basic income would make.
@ladybirdlibrary on childcare costs and educating a child with a disability
If I was to go back to work I’d earn £120/day after tax/NI/pension/student loan. Take off £72/day nursery (plus extra for meals, plus £60pm forest school supplement), commuting costs, clothes, union fees etc etc. It’s just not worth it for us. I know you’re supposed to look at childcare costs as being halved between two working parents but that doesn’t make any difference to how much money we have in reality! Also, both of us being teachers, even were O to go to mainstream school, one of us would still not be able to work without family support. Deaf children get tired more easily and there is no way O would be able to cope with breakfast club/full school day/after school club at just 4.5y.
So what options does that leave us with where one parent needs a job that can accommodate school drop offs and pick ups? Not one that will make a big difference to family finances. Not one that will accommodate large amounts of leave for endless hospital apts, meetings etc. It’s a different kettle of fish altogether when you have a child with disability or medical needs.
But in terms of practicality, what is making it work at the moment and into the future..we live in a small house that needs a lot doing to it on a not very nice street. We are hoping to move but will have to downsize further to afford a better area. Through a combination of circumstances my husband was given a temporary job as an assistant head at his school that has turned permanent as it turned out he was pretty good! … Also no commuting costs as he walks to work so we can have one car only. Plus we just don’t have loads of things; no fancy tech, no Sky, no gym/swim, takeaways, and no holidays. Before pandemic we only ate out at cafe type places. We organic food so food shop isn’t the cheapest but hey.
But the thought of the state of my pension is just ahh (sic) and that’s where the hit will be - not during these years of home education but after, when I just can’t earn what I would be able to had i kept working and sometimes I do worry a lot about what my personal finances would look like if we were to divorce!
I am constantly trying to think of ways to earn money and home educate; when exams are properly up and running again, I will probably do exam marking and invigilation maybe at our local school (O will go to a forest school one day per week from 5 years).
@tessa_and_the_tiddlers on work and mental health
I struggled with working out how my work, which brings mental health as well as financial benefits would fit around this lifestyle. My children enjoy school but as they go up the system like it less and less.
@sipsofcoffey on the juggle
As for finances, I work as a freelance website designer, so my job is flexible enough to accommodate homeschooling, But trying to squeeze both into the same day, especially when I have a big project going on, is challenging.
@imperfect_earth_mama / Imperfect Earth Mama Blog on making it work
I wanted to share our ideas about making home ed work financially, and how it works for us. We know that we are quite privileged. We own a flat that we rent out and it supplements our income. I do an outdoor education job full time during the day, and my wife works in a restaurant in the evenings. She's on furlough at the moment though and is doing a bit of tutoring at the weekend, mostly to keep her busy and give her a focus. We both used to be primary school teachers and I'm not sure whether that's an advantage or not. We’ve really cut down on non-essential expenses like subscription services, etc. We have a battered old car, we have lots of bank accounts to save through the year for birthdays and Christmas etc and we have a budget for food, petrol and home ed resources.
Resourcing your homeschool
The second issue to contend with is the potential cost of resourcing your home school. Books, equipment, trips and specialist classes can certainly add up. It can feel, from a newbie’s perspective, a bit daunting to see stunning home set ups with shelving and construction toys. A few more thoughts from more seasoned edders came in here:
The cost of home ed is such a tricky subject. A budget that one person considers generous another might feel is quite small, and I think it also comes down tot what you feels is essential and what you’re willing to sacrifice in order to HE. If both parents are working and only just scraping by the home education may well be out of reach :( but for many I imagine it’s quite possible. Financially we’re comfortable right now, but if I need to go back to buying everything secondhand, cutting down on treats, only doing free activities, then I will. I don’t believe HE actually needs to cost much, there are just lots of nice to haves. I used to love shopping secondhand pre Covid, car boot sales, charity shops. I’ve got lots of car boot sale tips but by far the most important one is find the biggest boot sale you can! It’s definitely a numbers game. I’ve picked up a great number of wonderful things since my eldest was born, but so few in the past year sadly. FB marketplace is great for larger items and I’ve even picked up kids furniture from some of our neighbours drives (I knocked first!). If you use eBay don’t be afraid to haggle, and Instagram preluded pages are worth a look.
A couple of thoughts, first you are 100% right about homeschooling often being a choice that is born out of privilege. And this definitely should be talked about more. That said, I think people overestimate how much money the homeschooling actually takes (which is not to a dress the lack of second income that may come with the choice, just that you don’t need ALL the things).
@imperfect_earth_mama / Imperfect Earth Mama blog
We try to do as much stuff that's free as we can. And we try to buy clothes and toys second hand when possible I saw an article recently that said that attending school costs parents something like £1200 per year, which might be worth finding as a comparison. When our daughter attended a school nursery, I was shocked at how expensive uniform is! Then with school trips, charity donations, kit for different lessons etc it all adds up. It just shows that school isn't actually free.
So there we have it. For me, speaking to more seasoned folk around this has helped put the possibility of home Ed more into perspective. It’s clear that for most this looks like sacrifice fuelled by a passion for providing a children with a beautiful childhood and a joyful education. Work has to essentially be based on one more solid income; or be flexible from both sides and not the regular 9-5. Resources aren’t usually coming from a never ending supply but carefully budgeted for and sourced. I’m so grateful to these parents for sharing how they make it work, and I hope it might give you a bit of inspiration for how you (and I) might do the same if it’s the path we’re passionate for!