My friend Jessica recently launched her site, We Free School, which focuses exclusively on free and low cost homeschool resources. She really got me thinking about the habits we may form as homeschooling parents, and caused me to engage in some self reflection about how I could be more intentional. More specifically, paying more attention to taking advantage of free resources allowed me to reflect more clearly on the extensive amount of free resources we have available for our homeschools! Without too much of an intensive effort.
This list is not exhaustive, but it serves as a representative example of the resources that you likely have available for free in your homeschool. I bet there’s at least one science museum in your state that offers some kind of free science curriculum. There’s probably also a state park or an art museum that has either articles, curriculum, or a collection that you can view on their website. Once you know what you’re looking for, the free homeschooling resources are everywhere!
Homeschool Resources Likely Offered by Your Library
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many libraries have expanded their digital offerings substantially. The following represents a sampling of the various digital products (as well as the physical services available) that may be available through your local library system. It is unclear how long these extended resources will last, but for now they are still available, so let’s use them!
(Disclaimer: don’t forget you can use the library for plain old books, DVDs, CDs, audiobooks, magazines, and newspapers!!!!!!! As a homeschooler, the library is your friend! Even if you aren’t on a strict budget.)
In order to find what your library offers, click through their website. Oftentimes there will be information on the main home page. Otherwise, click on “services” or “explore” or “other,” etc. Next, you typically need to set up an account with the service you have selected, and you will input your library card information.
Many libraries allow for individuals that do not live within their boundaries to sign up for an account. Check the library systems in your area to see if you can sign up for a library card. We maintain cards for 4 different systems, and the services (as well as typical library materials such as books, DVDs, CDs, etc.) they offer differ slightly.
(The descriptions are from the companies’ websites)
- Kanopy— a video streaming service (see also, Kanopy Kids)
- Hoopla Digital — Hoopla is a web and mobile library media streaming platform for audio books, comics, e-books, movies, music, and TV.
- RB Digital — RBdigital is a state-of-the-art platform and app providing access to the broadest array of digital content services, including audiobooks, eBooks, magazines, newspapers, comics, entertainment, education, health and wellness, and more.
- OverDrive — digital distributor of eBooks, audiobooks, magazines and streaming video titles.
- Freegal — offers access to about 3 million songs, including Sony Music’s catalog of legendary artists. In total the collection is comprised of music from over 10,000 labels with music that originates in over 60 countries. (I used Freegal for files of Jim Weiss recordings as well as other audiobooks.)
- Flipster magazines for kids— instant access to kids’ magazines like Ranger Rick, Sports Illustrated for Kids, Ladybug and more.
- Mango Languages— Choose from 70+ world languages to learn with tools that adapt to how you learn best. Listen to conversations between native speakers, and use Voice Comparison to match your pronunciation with native-speaker audio.
- Alexander Street Press — Alexander Street Press is an electronic academic database publisher.
- enkilibrary.org is the first statewide eBook platform created by libraries for libraries. With over 70,000 ebook titles in the shared collection, enki provides library subscribers with a turnkey, ready-made, librarian-curated collection of popular fiction and nonfiction genres including romance, mysteries, travel, technical, crafts, cooking and more.
- Naxos Music Library — Naxos Music Library is the most comprehensive collection of classical music available online. Currently, it offers over 2,398,613 tracks* of fine recorded music. It includes the complete catalogues of many respectable independent labels such as BIS, Capriccio, Chandos, Hänssler, Hungaroton, Marco Polo, Naxos, Ondine and selected titles of other leading independent labels like Harmonia Mundi, Naïve, Supraphon, VOX as well as major labels including Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, Warner Classics, Warner Classics – Parlophone (ex-EMI catalogue) and Sony Classical. Over 600 albums are added monthly.
- Safari Tech Books — Search, browse and read technical books online. Subject areas include operating systems, programming languages, database technologies and more.
- Link+ — This may be a California only thing. This service allows patrons to check out materials from any participating library in the entire state. However, there is a $125 fee for lost materials!!!!!!!!!
- Newspaper Subscriptions– from the local paper to the New York Times. See what your local library offers.
- Discover & Go — This may also be a California only program. I could not find an example out of state, but that could be because of my browser history. This program allows you to reserve FREE tickets (or sometimes discounted) for local art & science museums. We have visited many local museums through this amazing resource!
- ABC Mouse— an online educational program originally for 2-8 year olds, now has expanded offerings for older children as well.
- Rosetta Stone— Another foreign language learning company, immersion based interface featuring native speakers. (We use Rosetta Stone for French, Mandarin, and Russian.)
- Learning Express Library — Includes online tutorials, practice tests, and eBooks to help students of all ages. Offers job search and workplace skills improvement, skill building in reading, writing, math, and basic science, career certification and licensure exam prep, college and grad school entrance test prep, GED test prep, and more.
- Lynda — Learn job and technology skills at your own pace. Get a certificate upon completion of a course.
- Teaching Books — Explore children’s books, young adult literature, and their authors. Find high quality, ready-to-use instructional resources by book, author, illustrator, subject, series, award, or booklist. Resources include meet-the-author videos and book readings, book discussion guides, and literature lesson plans.
- Britannica School— Age-appropriate encyclopedias for elementary, middle, and high school.
- Explora — Contains the full-text of high-quality articles, covering a wide-range of subjects for research papers, class projects, and homework. Includes biographies, primary sources, newspapers, reference books, and images.
- Points of View Reference Center — Provides students with a series of essays that present multiple sides of a current issue. Hundreds of topics, each with an overview, point, counterpoint, and critical thinking guide.
- ReadyRosie— resource for parents/families of children aged 0-6. Short video content on many topics offer insight on how to best share information and develop early literacy skills in their children.
- Beanstack— a free service designed for families with young readers. Discover our favorite books, matched to your child’s interests, and other tools for building literacy.
- Pronunciator— an online language-learning service that includes 80 languages for beginners and advanced learners, kids and adults, and ESL learners. You can choose to do short, daily lessons, or an extended course with quizzes, flashcards, and more. You can even build a custom language course that focuses on your interests! The American Sign Language course is a great place to start.
- Open Library — I don’t know that you need a library card to use this one. It looks to be free for anyone, it came up during the course of my research. Open Library is an open, editable library catalog, building towards a web page for every book ever published
Sneakier Homeschool Library Resources
Educational Workbooks— In addition to offering the more traditional test prep materials in the adult section, did you know that most libraries also have a collection of various workbooks by grade level? I’m talking Kumon, Brain Quest, Highlights for kids, etc.! They are sitting there waiting to be used by you! Now obviously you can’t write in these books, but you can also have the student work directly into a notebook from the workbook or use tracing paper (such as with math problems) before the title is due again.
Free books— we have received free books from our library twice. The first time was a few weeks after I noticed a nearly complete set of the Childcraft series sitting in the friends of the library book store. The books were priced individually, and were outside of my budget. I would visit them every time that we came, but I gave up hope of acquiring them. Then, a few weeks later, I saw a notice that the library would be having a huge book sale. I showed up with my gajillion kids, and I noticed something remarkable. The Childcraft series, as in the entire thing was sitting in a FREE pile! FREE!!! My beloved books! Nobody else wanted to buy them, so the library was giving them away!!!!!!! You bet I picked them up and somehow managed to get them into my car immediately. Apparently, there aren’t many people who still actually want entire sets of encyclopedias. Then there are homeschoolers. In addition to our Great Books of the Western World nearly complete set (given to me free by a sweet friend for my 30th birthday), and our 1957 Collier’s Encyclopedia Set, I have since acquired a nearly complete set of The Story of Civilization from the library as well, not for free, but for a sweet deal, priced as a set, yasss!!!!!!! Sure we have a lot of encyclopedic sets, but did you know that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor said, in her autobiography, that the set her mother acquired changed her life? Resulted in her attending Princeton & then Yale Law School? Female Puerto Rican Supreme Court Justice? #worthit #itwastotallytheencyclopedias
So, this first way of acquiring free books from the library is usually a result of donations to the library’s book store that they simply cannot accommodate. If you go to your local library often enough, you may get to know the volunteers, and you may be able to convince them to call you if a particular title ever comes in that they plan to donate. Our local library, for example, does not even take encyclopedias anymore! Horrors! Come to mama!
Cancelled Library Books
What happens when books don’t get checked out often? Or some new popular book comes out and they purchase 8 copies, but then nobody wants to put 8 copies on hold anymore? They get canceled. I have no clue what the proper term is, but I know it happens.
A local library system here has an annual book GIVEAWAY! HELLO FREE BOOKS! THOUSANDS OF BOOKS! INCLUDING ENCYCLOPEDIAS OMGGGGGGGGG! Last year we even snagged a copy of Knuffle Bunny, say what! The one where they go to visit her grandparents, not the main one. But I digress.
Many libraries instead have volunteers try to sell the canceled titles through amazon or thriftbooks, or they might donate them to schools or prisons. Get to know your local librarian and find out what the deal is. You will not regret it!
Other Free Homeschool Resources
Little Free Library— h/t to my friend Sarah for reminding me of the utility of this one recently. The Little Free Library is a little bookshelf/house that people put up in their front yard (or wherever the zoning police won’t make them take it down, ahem, ridiculous. Euclid was the beginning of the end.) and they try to keep it stocked with various books. You are free to take books! You are also free to leave books. It’s amazing. The world truly need more Little Free Libraries!
Project Gutenberg — Project Gutenberg is a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works, and to “encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks.” It was founded in 1971 by American writer Michael S. Hart and is the oldest digital library. Most of the items in its collection are the full texts of books in the public domain
Smithsonian Learning Lab — Here, on the Learning Lab, teachers have access to millions of digital resources from across the Smithsonian’s museums, research centers, libraries, archives, and more.
Natural History Museum of Utah — offers various online resources, and had a daily online webinar about various paleontological topics!
California State Park PORTS Home Learning — free online classes taught by park rangers about various topics relating to state parks such as history or science.
California Academy of Sciences— similar to the Natural History Museum of Utah, Cal Academy offers various static online resources as well as occasional webinars and other dynamic offerings.
FREE Admission to museums for school groups — in addition to lower cost tickets, some museums offer free admission to school groups! Simply organize a group of 5-10 families (depending on the attendance requirements) and you too can see works by Monet, Degas, or Rube Goldberg! (3 free museum fieldtrips we attended with a homeschool group.)
Free admission days — many museums and botanical gardens offer free admission on certain days of the month. Sometimes it is only open to residents of the city, but in many cases free admission is available to all.
Free corporate offerings— many companies offer promotional materials for free that are of educational value. Sometimes they are a “bonus” with purchase, such as how my one friend earned free books with cereal purchase. Other times they are outright free while supplies last, such as the Hotwheels physics set, which of course I can’t find a link to— but there are several sites offering various lesson plans.
Free Homeschool Curriculum Providers
Ambleside Online — preK-12 Charlotte Mason curriculum, including weekly plans, book lists, and links to music & art works as well as books available in the public domain. (Eurocentric, may need modification for broader cultural/historical perspective.)
Easy Peasy All in One Homeschool — preK-12 “You’ll need paper, pencil, etc. and some minor supplies if you choose to do the experiments and art projects, but all of the reading materials, etc. are all free and online. We do offer offline courses for math, reading, and language arts, which you can find in our store. You can also find workbooks of Printables, the worksheets used in the online courses so that you don’t have to print. There is a suggested donation for using My EP if you so choose.”
Waldorf Curriculum— preK-12 collection of free resources. They have links to full waldorf books (e.g. Jakob Streit) and even entire lessons from Waldorf educators. Seriously awesome.
Others! I’m sure there are many more. But these are the two main options I’m familiar with!
Free Homeschool Worksheet Type Stuff
You would be surprised at the amount of totally free printables available on the internet. Both google and Pinterest provide a litany of results based on your specific search. This has come in handy when my first grader has wanted connect the dot or color by number of dinosaurs, for example.
If you don’t currently have access to a printer, then you can have your student work problems or write answers on a notebook. You can probably even assign them things in your google classroom if you’re all fancy and tech savvy like that.
- Color by Number Coloring Pages
- Copy Quotes
- Copying Print Handwriting
- Education.com (5 or so free worksheets a month)
- Educational Coloring Pages
- English for Everyone
- Fraction Manipulatives
- Handwriting Worksheet Maker
- Homeschool Strewing
- K12 Reader
- Label Me Printouts
- Latin Handouts
- Latin Phrases & Quotations
- Math Drills
- Phonics Worksheets
- School Express
- Soft Schools
- Song School Latin Coloring Pages
- Spelling List Generator
- Thomas Jefferson Quotations
- TIME Magazine Famous Quotations
- TLS Books
- Worksheet Fun
Other favorites include Starfall, Nat Geo Kids, YouTube, and Khan Academy. However, I previously covered those in Easy Educational Resources (as well as MOOCs and other free online classes), so I won’t list them again here. If you are interested, feel free to jump on the previous post which contains approximately a billion other online resources.
Make your List
The most important strategic move you can make on a budget is to start with a wish list. What exactly are you looking for? What do you already have that could work? Who might have resources that they could let you borrow or perhaps give you?
You’d be surprised the level of generosity people are capable of if they simply know you are on the lookout for something. This goes for friends and family. Try putting the word out, if you are able to in person, or writing up a post on facebook! (or instagram) This is how I received my beloved Great Books of the Western World set! I put it out there that it was all I wanted for my birthday, somewhat jokingly, and can you believe it? My friend happened to have just come into one, and offered to give it to me. Amazing! It still brings a small tear to my eye just thinking about it!
Let your friends know you are that weird lady that’s obsessed with old books, or whatever kind of books it is that you like to use, and I bet over time you will come into some books for free. If you do, come back and tell me about it! I love hearing book based love stories!
The same thing goes for other resources or materials. Looking for letter blocks? A microscope? A skateboard? You never know who may be in the middle of Kon Marie-ing their house, and you taking their stuff may actually be a blessing to them as well!
Additionally, I have found that it’s mutually beneficial to let family in on ideas for educational things your children might like for holidays. For example, in addition to buying a whole curriculum set for us from Beautiful Feet, my parents have also purchased a high quality atlas for the children to use. Other relatives have purchased science and art kids.
Lastly, both goodreads and several publishing houses give away free copies of books. The more you enter, the better chances of winning? Many influencers do book giveaways somewhat frequently. I even did a few over the summer! It was pretty sweet in fact.
If you enjoyed this post, jump on my email list to be the first to hear about new free homeschooling resources and other cool stuff! Especially lists. I like lists. 🙂