I see a lot of questions from new CMers along the lines of “Do I really need all these books?? This is getting expensive. I am not sure I can afford to do CM.” Well, a Charlotte Mason education need not be expensive. In fact, it could be virtually free. Personally, I choose to save time by spending a little more money on some things. Below is my analysis of what it costs to do a CM education and some resources for how you can do it most inexpensively. If you are new to CM, check out my easy and quick start guide here.
The cost of a Charlotte Mason education
Language arts – This is one area where many of us are tempted to do more. You may choose to buy and use other materials, but, at least for most of your child’s education, all you really need here is copywork or dictation. For this you need passages. You can find these yourself, perhaps from your child’s other reading; this is more labor-intensive for you. If you choose to use somebody else’s resources, here are some of the options and their costs:
Queen Homeschool – Queen Homeschool has many copywork books available for $9.95. These contain enough for a full year’s work and, if you copy the pages or have your children do their copywork in a separate book (the youngest children might not be able to do so initially), could be used for multiple children.
Spelling Wisdom (Simply Charlotte Mason) – The most expensive options, all five volumes in the printed version, is $87.95. But keep in mind that this is all that you would need for copywork and dictation for all your children for their whole school career. If you get e-books, the cost for all five volumes goes down to $49.95. Of course, you can also buy one volume at a time as you need them.
The Arrow (BraveWriter) – Brave Writer offers a monthly subscription to the Arrow. You can pay $9.95 per month or $79 for a year’s subscription. But keep in mind that you can also save these and reuse them for future children. You may also be able to find old issues at a discount.
Spelling You See – Many CMers use this spelling curriculum from the people behind Math-U-See. It relies heavily on copywork. I don’t know how much of it is reusable, but a set (a year’s curriculum, I believe) will run you $51.
With a little googling, you may find free samples and cheap downloads online as well (BraveWriter tends to have a few issues available as free downloads). There are also sites which will take passages you provide and turn them into copywork pages.
Because I know many of you will want to do some grammar, one of my favorite grammar curricula – KISS Grammar—is actually free online (it takes a little figuring out but then it is quite workable). For writing I love this free book.
Math – There is one free, living math curriculum I know of – Mathematics Enhancement Programme (MEP). There are practice books one can order, but you need not do so. Personally, I looked at this program at one point and found it way too teacher-intensive for me. (That is usually the trade off – cheaper = more work.)
Our favorite, also living, math curriculum is Life of Fred. It is not cheap, but, since you don’t write in the books, each volume can be reused so if you have multiple kids, you will only need to buy each level once. The complete elementary series is almost $160; the intermediate series is $48; the pre-algebra set (which includes Fractions and Decimals and Percents as well as their three volumes of Pre-algebra) is $125; and the two high school sets are $136 and $78. Altogether that is $547, but if you use LOF all the way through and for multiple kids, that’s all you ever pay for math.
Personally, I wasn’t comfortable using just LOF in the early years. We use Math-U-See for a number of years. The teacher’s materials and manipulatives are reusable. You will likely want to buy new workbooks for each child. The cost for the first year’s curriculum (called Alpha) with everything in it is $153. For future kids, you’d only need a student pack for $40. For teacher and student materials in future years if you already have the manipulatives, you are looking at about $85. By my calculations, your first child’s math curriculum for 12 years of schooling will run you a little over $1,000, but your subsequent children will only be $40 per year or $480 each.
My older daughter is currently using Teaching Textbooks, a CD-Rom based curriculum. We got ours used from another homeschooler. New, TT will run you $120-$185 for the whole set for a year, depending on what level you are using.
Many CM homeschoolers like Right Start Math. This is a manipulative-based curriculum. Their manipulative bundle will cost you a little over $200. Each year’s curriculum is a little less than $90.
Saxon is another popular curriculum. There are a number of sellers you can get it from. I did a quick check and saw prices for a year’s bundle from $65-115. Of course, as with most of these, with subsequent children, there will be less to buy.
Lastly, with Singapore Math you can get a year’s curriculum bundle from $45.
History – History is the backbone of our homeschool. Our approach is simple: read and narrate, read and narrate. The first step, then, is to figure out what books you’ll need. Simply Charlotte Mason (SCM) and Ambleside Online (AO) both provide free curriculum guides online. If you choose to use one of their approaches, then you have to obtain books, but there is no inherent cost (SCM will sell you things like their planner, but you can use their curriculum guide without buying anything from them).
If you don’t like their book choices or need more guidance, Truthquest has some of the most thorough bibliographies you will ever see. Their print volumes go for $25-35 and PDF versions for $20-28. For the few extra dollars you spend, I recommend getting the print versions. Each book gives thousands of books suggestions in the period it covers (eg. Ancient Rome, the Age of Revolution). Tip: the older student volumes still contain the booklists for younger kids so if you plan to stick with them you can go ahead and get the older kids’ versions and save some money in the long run.
While not as thorough as Truthquest, Christine Miller’s All Through the Ages is a one volume bibliography with lots of resources listed. I have seen it in print for $30 or as an e-book for $20.
Once you know what you want to read, how much should you expect to spend on books? With a little (digital) footwork, you need not spend a lot. Personally, I get all my library system has to offer first and then get anything else I need used on Amazon. If you are willing to use older books (and many are better anyway; AO in particular uses a lot of older books), many can be found free or very cheaply online. Some good sources for digital versions of older books are Project Gutenberg, Forgotten Books (they charge for books but also have a free book of the day, many of which are useful for homeschooling), the Baldwin Project, Yesterday’s Classics (e-books from $1.99), and Heritage History. Heritage History sells CD-Roms with curriculum guides and all the (older) books you need for a range of ages for $19-24. If you are on Facebook, check out the group Public Domain Homeschool for lots of links to free resources.
After exhausting the free resources, how much can you expect to spend on books a year? I looked back at Amazon, which I use for 99% of my book purchases, and estimated that I spent a little under $200 on books for homeschool in 2015. So far in 2016, which is 5/6 done as I write this, I have spent about $260. Even if I make it to $300 this year, that is $75 per child for books. This includes all subjects, not just history. Actually, history is the minority; most of the books I have bought this year are for my 11th grader’s political science and physics. Many of these books will be used again by subsequent children.
Science – I am anti-science curriculum. I don’t think you need anything formal until high school and even then I like to keep living books as the core of our curriculum. If you are doing nature journaling (and you should), you will want to get each child a decent journal and some colored pencils. I looked at a homeschool company – Miller Pads and Paper – and saw journals for $6-18. A good set of colored pencils starts at $5.
You’ll also need some living books to read with your children. One of my favorites, The Storybook of Science, will last you most of a year. It is currently going for $15 on Amazon. It will likely take you all year to read. You can also find many great living science books as e-books or at your library (see above on e-book resources).
As I mentioned above, I have bought a lot of books this year for my high schooler’s physics course. I didn’t look at exact numbers but even if half of what I have spent this year was on his physics, that is $150 for a science course. I like to add labs. Though he is not using Landry Labs for physics this year, their 2-day lab courses will run you $280 (look for deals though; we got a great deal after he did his first lab with them which made future labs only $99).
Geography – CM geography has two main parts: living books (again!) and map drill. As always, there are resources and guides that will tell you how to go about things but you need not spend a lot, or anything. We use the apps Stack the States and Stack the Countries (there are free versions but I think to go anything length you need to pay) and the website Sheppard Software (free!) for map drill. We have then just read books about different places or about travel. You should be able to find a number of these at your library or free/cheap online if you are discerning. One of our favorites, and it may last you a couple of years, is Richard Halliburton’s Book of Marvels. Sadly, it is $60 on Amazon so you might want to check your library though I think the price is well worth it. For younger kids, I like Hillyer’s Child’s Geography of the World. Used copies are expensive but the Kindle book is quite affordable (about $5).
Literature, Shakespeare, Plutarch, Bible, Poetry, etc. – I am lumping a number of subjects together here. They could all fit under the broadly defined heading “literature.” The beauty of most of these subjects is that they deal with older materials. That means you can find them free, either at our library or online. On the other hand, many of these are books that I like to spread out over the year(s) so I like to have them on hand and not to have to renew them. Many of you, I suspect, are also like me in that there are some things for which you just want a hard copy. Here are some of the current prices (from Amazon) for some of the books I consider essential:
How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare $12.60
Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare $4.99
Nesbit’s Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare $6.99 (but free for Kindle!)
A good poetry anthology such as 100 Best Loved Poems $3 or A Child’s Garden of Verses $9.95 (but cheaper used)
Plutarch’s Lives $11 each for 2 volumes (but again free for Kindle)
The Arts – Artist and music study can be done for free. All you really need to do is pick someone, find some of their work, and spend some time immersed in it. There are many articles and resources to help you figure out how to do this. Of course, there are also packets that have been put together which you can buy so there is less legwork for you. Harmony Fine Arts is a wonderful resource. Her e-books are about $17 but you can also find a few free downloads on the site. SCM has picture study portfolios for $12-17. One of my favorite resources for music is Classics for Kids, a radio show whose episodes you can listen to for free online or through the WGUC app. If you want to read about art, Hillyer’s books are wonderful. You can find them as a one volume set or individually (with titles like “The Child’s History of Art: Painting” or “… Architecture”). Though these are also not cheap, they are worth the investment.
Other possibilities: Foreign Language, Civics, Music lessons, PE, handicrafts – If you are getting started with a CM education, I recommend starting slowly and working subjects in one or two at a time. But eventually, you may want to cover each of these. Some, like physical education, need not involve any expense, though of course depending on your child’s interests, you may end up paying for lessons or teams of various sorts. FYI, if you are interested in how CM did PE, check out Brandy at Afterthoughts Blog; she has a series on “Swedish Drill.”
Music lessons are another outside expense that you may want to pay for at some point (unless you are capable of teaching them yourself).
Handicrafts will vary a lot. Some can be done for free or cheaply; others will require more supplies. It really depends where you end up going with them and how much you want to devote to them.
We do civics (government and economics mostly) in high school. Others spread it out a little more. There are various resources and books available. I know one popular series is the Uncle Eric series (though actually I don’t like this series and don’t recommend it). The whole series will run you $162 but you don’t necessarily need all the books. The two books we have used are The Everything American Government Book (recommended by AO) $13 new or about $3 used and Lessons for the Young Economist $25 or $3 for the Kindle edition.
CM is pro-foreign language, both Latin and a modern language. I will admit we have not done Latin (until high school when my oldest chose it as his language) so I don’t really know what resources there are for younger kids studying it. My son has used the Cambridge Latin Course. Their website is wonderful and complete and you can do the first unit (which I think is the whole first book) for free online.
When it comes to other languages, the CM-ish resource I hear about these days is Cherrydale Press which has French, Spanish, and German Curricula. I have not used these as they weren’t available when my kids were little. It looks like they are $50 for a year’s curriculum that can be used with multiple children. Less CM but DuoLingo has free curricula. Check out your local library too; they often have language learning resources.
Miscellaneous Supplies — A lot of the costs are not curriculum per se but all the other things one needs: pens and pencils, paper and notebooks, toner and ink, library fines (!), etc. One bigger purchase to contemplate is a Kindle or other e-reader. Consider it a one-time investment that will allow you to save in the future by taking advantage of all those free and nearly free e-books. With four older kids, I actually have 2 Kindles now; one is quite old and the other I bought used. You can also get the Kindle app for your Apple device or computer (I’m not sure of all the availability; I know we have Kindle on iphones and ipads and a Windows laptop).
What can we say then about the cost of a CM education? If you want to do it cheaply, you can. There is nothing you can’t do for free if you want to. The trade-off is usually more work and prep for you, the teacher, and having to rely more on older books (which might not be a negative).
You should also, when viewing your credit card bill, consider the long-term. Many purchases are good for multiple years and/or multiple kids. In other words, there are more start up costs but expenses should go down each year and with each subsequent child. Caveat: there may be more you want to buy when it comes to high school.
I am sure I have missed many great resources? What are your free or cheap CM resources? Tell me in the comments and I’ll add them to my list.