One of the biggest myths about alternative education is that it’s expensive.
Parents write it off as inaccessible – sure, it would be nice to start homeschooling/unschooling/microschooing, but public school is free, and “free” is the only price I can afford.
But homeschooling and unschooling don’t have to break the bank.
Because – we live in the 21st century. With the resources available to you and your kid via the internet, you can design a world-class education entirely for free, from your living room.
Online programs like Khan Academy offer instruction on core subjects ranging from math to science to geography. YouTube is filled with instructional videos on any topic you can imagine. More books than your kid could ever have time to read are available online.
All of this is free – and it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
All you really need to curate a state-of-the-art homeschool curriculum for your kids: an internet connection, a set of questions, and a willingness to take time to find the answers – checkbook not required.
Our favorite free homeschool resources for your kid’s education:
The library – a library card is the homeschooling parent’s greatest hack. Library cards are free, they’re accessible nationwide, and they open up an unlimited supply of books for you and your kid (the homeschool family with a library basket stereotype is real). You can use the library to:
- Fill your house with books (so your kid has access when they’re bored, to encourage reading)
- Supply storytime and bedtime reading materials
- Check out books on a specific subject you’re studying (as many books as the library has on volcanoes or knot tying or Ancient Egypt, if you want)
- Access books in other systems (many libraries run inter-library loan programs, sometimes statewide)
Also check out your local library’s additional resources and programs. Many libraries have additional tools available to their patrons – everything from language learning software to subscriptions to printables to online tools.
Project Gutenberg (and its sister project Librivox) – every book over 100 years old is available in the public domain, and Project Gutenberg collects them at your fingertips (and Librivox offers free audio versions of those books recorded by volunteers). Any classic you could want to access or reference is available.
YouTube – almost anything you could want to learn about is available on YouTube. From TED talks and recorded university lectures, to documentaries and tutorials, to talks by the greats like Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman – YouTube has it all. You can find cadaver dissections to supplement an anatomy course, wildlife rescue footage to supplement a zoology lesson, and discussions of classic novels to supplement literature courses.
There are tons of resources a search away. Just a few of the channels that have great content geared towards young learners:
- Free School (covering everything from science basics to a geographical tour of the 50 states)
- TED-Ed (where kids can learn about poems or how to think like a coder or what life was like living in Ancient Rome)
- Kids Learning Tube (filled with videos on topics ranging from astronomy to social studies)
- Crash Course (offering lessons in everything from biology to history, geared towards older kids)
- Minute Physics (a channel geared towards elementary-aged kids, designed to make science fun)
- Veritasium (taking kids on a tour of science, innovation, and places of interest around the world – and using interviews and demonstrations to make the lessons way cooler than anything you could get in school)
Even without any other resources, YouTube alone would be enough to fuel a kid’s entire K-12 grade level education (and their post-secondary education, too!).
Khan Academy – one of the most comprehensive free resources on the internet. Originally just a math YouTube channel, Khan Academy now plays host to a huge number of topics, including:
- K-12 math (and into college-level)
- Language arts (from 2nd-9th grade)
- US and world history
- Science for kids in middle school and high school (including biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science)
- Elective-style courses like art history, economics, and computer programming
Online curricula – there are tons of free apps and programs available beyond Khan Academy. Freckle is a great example of this, offering math and English lessons (all the basics!) online for free. Other great examples:
Educational resources curated by organizations – many organizations (from publications like National Geographic to museums like the Smithsonian and the Met) have online resources for kids. NASA for Kids is a great example of an online resource hub that’s available for free – and full of both educational materials and hands-on activities. Monterey Bay Aquarium is another great site full of content about oceanography and marine life.
Other great resources that deserve a mention:
- Scratch – coding instruction designed for younger grade level kids
- The Old Farmer’s Almanac: Kids – full of great activities and lessons to help kids explore the world around them
- Chrome Music Labs – a place for musically-inclined kids to learn and write music
Specifically for older kids/high schoolers:
There’s no reason why many high schoolers can’t start learning from college-level materials as they advance in various subjects – and there are tons available for free on the internet, from some of the world’s most prestigious universities. As your kid approaches college-level readiness in various topics, these are just a few of the resources they can begin to explore:
- MIT’s Open Courses
- Harvard’s Free Courses
- Yale’s Online Course Recordings
- Hillsdale College’s Open Courses
The Great Courses are another great resource for older kids. Each lecture series is hosted by one of the best college professors in the field. While they do cost to purchase, you can check them out for free at most libraries.
Modern Scholar is another a series of audio lectures by college professors on a wide variety of topics (everything from the Great Books to the French Revolution to human anatomy), and many of their courses are available to download for free.
Coursera hosts live courses (called MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses) with professors and subject matter experts around the world. Some courses are paid, but many are free, and students can engage with everything from real-time assignments to live discussion.
Duolingo offers free, in-app language instruction and practice for learning foreign languages. Duolingo currently offers 40+ languages, and uses a mastery-based approach (advancing to the next topic only when you’ve mastered the current instruction) to teach beginner through intermediate students.
How to decide if you’re covering the right things
Even with free resources available at your fingertips, educating your kid can still be daunting. How do you know what’s most important, or what’s a necessary prerequisite for your kid’s long-term success?
The good news is that it’s harder to mess up than you might think. Much of the standards in traditional school are built around funding, not students’ best interests – and kids can easily catch up on most anything they’ve missed. If anything, the biggest thing standardization accomplishes is crushing kids’ desire to learn.
But having a rough benchmark of expectations can still be helpful.
To find out what milemarkers your kids are generally expected to meet, check out your state’s homeschool laws and grade-level requirements. You’ll be able to find the general public school curriculum for each school year (what math 3rd graders are learning, what history subjects are covered in 5th grade, etc.).
You can also research the home education requirements in your state. Some states (like New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont) are more regulated, and require standardized testing and academic review to ensure kids are learning each year. Other states (like Alaska, Idaho, and Michigan) have very little regulation for homeschooling families.
If you’re hungry for more guidance, you can look at the grade-by-grade curriculum for schools you admire – whether it’s a Waldorf school, an Acton Academy, or a private school on the other side of the country. Many schools offer some overview of what subjects are covered in different years (and schooling movements like Waldorf and Montessori have more detailed books and publications covering their approach). You can treat these as a template or guide for choosing what subjects you’ll focus on.
Or, you can trust your own intuitions (and the interests of your kid) to design a curriculum on their terms – whatever feels right to you.
How to get started
These resources are already enough to supplement a full K-12 education (and beyond), and these are just scratching the surface of what’s out there.
The internet is full of resources to supplement your kid’s education – and most things are easy to find with a quick Google search:
Best YouTube videos on learning to draw
Best free math worksheets for download
Best videos for kids on the Revolutionary War
Even, Lesson plans for my homeschooled high school kid
And this is still just scratching the surface: you can find more ideas here, and even this list only represents a fraction of what’s out there.
You can give your kid an education from the best experts in the world – not just contemporary, but throughout history – from your kitchen table, without paying a dime for anything other than an internet connection.