How can I best use online learning in our homeschool with multiple children while on a tight budget?
One Google search will quickly reveal there is no lack of online learning programs. Some of these programs are expensive for one child (let alone multiple children), while some are even free. Some include grading and transcript options, some do not. Some involve much parental planning, while others take pretty much a hands-off approach for parents. Some are multi-dimensional (using a mix of digital textbooks and multimedia and even hands-on learning), while others are more of a “read and answer follow-up questions” type.
It would be difficult to pinpoint any one specific online learning system that would work well for another family as many factors come into play. These include the actual tightness of your budget (what is tight to me may be affordable to you); the ability of your multiple children to use technology sources simultaneously (does each child have his own desktop computer or laptop or iPad to work on?); whether you are looking for one all-inclusive program from a single website or company (perhaps including pre-made lesson plans, and that may even do all the grading and record keeping), or whether you are willing to create (and manage) your own online program by taking an eclectic approach and piecing together online resources from multiple companies or websites; etc.
What I can do is share what has worked for me (and this is coming from one who has tried many different online learning systems throughout the years). Before I do that, I first need to confess that at heart I am an eclectic homeschooler who does not like to be hemmed into any one curriculum company’s resources, and who does enjoy designing and managing my own homeschool program. I find this offers me the greatest level of flexibility, which is important to me. When I have tried all-inclusive programs that are managed for me, I am always drawn back to designing my own program by pulling together my favorite resources (both on-and off-line). All the while, I do like to include a healthy dose of technology-based learning in our homeschool, having consistently incorporated it at some level ever since we bought our first computer when my now 27-year-old son was only 4. (Although, it did take me a number of years after getting our first computer to warm up to the idea of inviting the World Wide Web into our home!)
With all this in mind, I discovered that what has worked best for me is to start with an online planner that allows me to most efficiently design my own homeschool system. Having used various planners through the years, the one that works best for me is called Homeschool Planet and is offered by Homeschool Buyers Co-op. Although the planner does have an annual $65 fee, this is a relatively small investment considering what it accomplishes (and they offer a free 30-day trial). Using this on-line planner, I am able to easily input assignments that can include links to on-line resources. It is like creating my own multimedia based homeschool program with just a few clicks of the mouse. Considering the fact that some online learning programs cost upwards of $20 per month (sometimes per child), an annual investment of $65 (for the whole family, not per person) plus the time it takes to piece together my favorite resources and links is reasonably affordable. (This is probably starting to sound like an infomercial, but I assure you I do not receive any financial benefit from having recommended the product!)
Although an annual investment of $65 is reasonable for my family, I understand it still may be out of reach for other families. In that case, there is a free online program that is worthy of being considered. It is available at Learning.com . I prefer to use this site in conjunction with the Homeschool Planet planner (by me linking to the site for specific assignments), but it can be used on its own to create an online program for your children. There is also another free homeschool program called Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool and Easy Peasy All-in-One High School. Again, you can link to specific lessons using the Homeschool Planet planner, but you could also use the program on its own.
Even though there are free online programs available (in addition to the Learning.com and Easy Peasy) that could be conveniently used on their own, there is one main reason I prefer to use the Homeschool Planet planner to help me lay out my daily lessons. That is, as a Christian homeschooler, I have striven to make Christian discipleship the foundation and focus of our homeschool experience. For me, if I rely on a single company/site (particularly if it is a secular company/site) to lay out my daily lessons for me, my focus starts to get blurry. The last thing I want to do is compromise the vision for our homeschool in the name of convenience. The Homeschool Planet planner helps me keep my focus.