Few of us have unlimited budgets and need to keep an eye on our spending. So how do you afford Roadschooling when you are on a budget? Get tips on where to cut costs and keep your Roadschool journey free or low cost. After nearly 4 years on the road, we have found out how to afford Roadschooling and keep the kids happy and learning.
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Big Budget Items
There are some places where you might not be able to cut the budget. If you are Roadschooling, you will probably need reliable internet, books and ebooks, tablets, and computers. These are probably going to be the big-ticket items. I definitely think this is an area not to skimp.
Generally speaking, if your child is enrolled in an online school you will need to have reliable internet beyond what your cell phone can offer. This means getting a separate hotspot.
For this reason, we currently have an unlimited Verizon hotspot plan that runs us $65 each month and an unlimited AT&T hotspot that runs us another $20 each month. That’s probably our biggest recurring Roadschooling expense. The computers and tablets were one time purchases and we bought them on sale. While these items are not critical to Roadschooling, they play a big role in our lives and may play a big role in yours as well.
Free Roadschooling Activities
Classes or Courses
- Kindergarten to 12th Grade
- My best recommendation is Khan Academy. Our 10 year old loves this, he asked for it and he can use it at his own pace. We don’t arbitrarily require him to use it. In the past, we tried different online classes and strategies for him, but Khan Academy has been his favorite so far. It is self-paced and easy to follow.
- College Level Classes
- Yep, you can attend free, online classes from accredited universities and colleges such as Columbia, MIT, Stanford, Georgia Tech, John’s Hopkins and others!. Click here for a list of 600 free online classes. Many of these MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses) though, will not count for college credit unless you are enrolled and paying tuition. However, in many cases, the knowledge and information taught is the exact class/course that is assigned for credit. It’s a fantastic option for those that are not interested or ready for a degree, but want to learn or are up for a good challenge.
I mention libraries every time I talk about Roadschooling. They always have free activities for children of all ages and are easy to find. Think beyond storytime. Many have after-school programs open to homeschoolers/Roadschoolers.
Let’s not forget about weekend presentations and free movie nights/days. Some are traditionally educational and others are not. If you are concerned about it not being educational, think outside the box. Talk about how the movie was made. Where was it filmed? Find out interesting things about the place they chose. Maybe research why it made a good place for filming, etc. The world is your school!
You can take a nature walk almost anywhere. Got some trees and naturally occurring vegetation or rocks – bam! You are on a nature walk. Nature walks are a great way for family bonding, or if you have a lot of kids, maybe this is a special time for one of them to go on a walk with just mom or dad. Have a plan to talk about what you see. For example, stop and take mental notes (or whip out your smartphone and take notes there) on things that are interesting and that you want to research later. Or maybe you take a camera with you and do an impromptu photo shoot. Hand the camera over and let the kids decide what to photograph. You won’t get a better insight into what interests them other than by what they capture on “film”. Get creative.
Ok, so this is a fancy word for a nature walk, but if you are on an official hiking trail or off the beaten path, you’re on a hike. You can do many of the same things I mentioned in the Nature Walks section. Additionally, you can take your map with you and track where you are or maybe create your own map that includes your own points of reference: at ¼ of a mile, or at a bend, or a drop off, note seeing a patch of cacti or a bunch of mushrooms. When you get back to your RV, add it on your map. Depending on your child’s age, you might describe the area according to the scientific name of the cacti or mushrooms you found.
You can create and complete scavenger hunts anywhere! We like to use them whenever we go on a nature walk or hike. Our kids thought it was going to be “boring”, so we started making scavenger hunts for them. It completely changed everything for them (and us). Now they are excited about going and really look forward to the lists I create. When our youngest wasn’t reading, I would draw pictures for her. Now they both get written lists and our oldest has more specific items – rock becomes igneous rock, metamorphic rock, or sedimentary rock. These are really great because they can be scaled for your child’s level. So even if you have teens, you can create them for what they are learning or are interested in.
If you are traveling for the day, how about a roadway scavenger hunt? Have everyone look out the window and find something as simple as a particular car or a Tesla X in black. Again, scalable based on age and reading abilities. You can even have your older kids make them for the younger ones or have them each make their own. The possibilities are endless!
Free trial or Free Days
A wide variety of places have free days or free trial periods you can participate in. Back when our kids were preschoolers, there was a gymnastic place that had free tumble and play on Fridays. Bank of America has Museums on Us. Art museums and zoos also have free days. There is no fast and hard rule on finding these though. I would suggest researching “free events” or “free things to do” wherever you are visiting and see what comes up. Some will be awesome and some will suck bigtime, but hey, it was free right?
Local Art Studios and/or Galleries
I’m not talking about art museums here. I am talking about art studios and galleries owned and operated by local artists. They are often located in historic downtowns and are open for the public to visit for free. They always have artwork for sale and sometimes they even have affordable items (prints, cards, postcards, buttons, etc) available for purchase if you are interested in supporting the artist(s). It’s one of our favorite ways to explore art without having to deal with art museums. There are no security guards and you don’t have to be quiet to appreciate the artwork. You can excitedly talk about the artwork and on rare occasion, you might actually be able to meet the artist in person and ask questions.
Community History Centers
Historic downtowns are going to have history centers. They are free and help you learn the story of the local area. Most of them are fairly small but offer a bit of interesting and unique information about the town. It could get your Roadschooler interested in the local history and might trigger research after you leave. Ask the folks running the center questions if there are other historical markers or sites around town that you and your Roadschooler might be interested in.
Low Cost Roadschooling Activities
You all know about these from your own local community. Now that you are on the road, you will be able to participate in community events wherever you are. Whether it’s The Georgia Apple Festival, Florida SpringFest, Annual National Shrimp Festival, World Championship Punkin Chunkin or the Scarecrow Fest, you are bound to find one that your family will enjoy and that you can learn about the local community and the history of the festival.
There are many free nature centers, but some of them have a small entrance fee. Our family loves nature centers, they tend to have an indoor interactive museum or display area and have outdoor hiking and nature walks. They address general environmental concerns, but also focus on specific concerns in the immediate area. While the indoor areas are more geared to elementary school-aged children, the outdoor hiking areas are for all ages and provide plenty of opportunities for learning.
ASTC Travel Passport Program
If you and your family really enjoy touring more traditional museums around the country but hate paying the high entry fees, I strongly recommend that you consider purchasing a museum membership from a museum that is part of ASTC Travel Passport Program. This program will allow you to visit other ASTC Travel Passport Program participants at no additional fee (in some cases there is a small fee, you have to read the fine print). These include:
- Museums (art, history, nature)
- Children’s Museums
You don’t have to be a part of a local homeschool co-op to participate in homeschool classes for your Roadschooler. Many of the places I have already listed offer some sort of homeschool class. Some offer a series of classes and others offer a la carte classes.
If you are on the move often, you will need to research the a la carte offers.
More of a stationary RVing family? You will probably be able to sign up for classes or camps in your local area.
The biggest thing with homeschool classes is that you need to plan. There is a homeschooling boom these days and classes fill up quickly. It’s rare that you will be able to join a class at the last minute, although if you do arrive in town and find something starting the following week, call and see if there are any last minute cancellations or see if you can get on the waitlist – you might be able to get in the class!!
So, find out where you are going to be heading and research homeschool classes in the following establishments:
- Science Centers
- Nature Centers
- Art Museums
State Parks/National Parks
Not only are there a bunch of opportunities for outdoor discoveries, but many state parks and national parks have visitor centers full of educational materials and displays. Staff and rangers are also there to help answer your questions or take you on guided hikes and other cool family-friendly activities. Kids of all ages can find something of interest here. National Parks, of course, have the Junior Ranger Program and anyone can participate. In our experience, rangers and staff are excited to speak to Roadschooled kids. They often get atypical questions from Roadschoolers, and can be surprised by the level of detail kids can get down to.
Kind of the same, but kind of unrelated… Do you have a teen that you think would make a great junior ranger, but think this program is not advanced enough for them and you will be somewhere long-term? See if there are other programs around the country like the Junior Ranger program in Boulder, CO.
While homeschool groups are free, some of their activities are not. Maybe you will be sticking around an area for a few months, you might be able to join the local 4-H homeschooling group for a project. Or maybe you join a group just to go on one of their field trips. These won’t be free, but definitely offered at a discounted rate.
Whether the symphony orchestra is having a concert the weekend you are in town or there is a music festival, you can help your musically inclined (or not) Roadschooler experience music that they may not usually have access to. Learning about various local artists or different types of music is a great experience for kids of all ages.
Events at Universities
If you are traveling through cities with universities, go ahead and see if they have any upcoming activities for families. My alma mater has summer camps for “gifted” students and an instrument petting zoo.
Not only do universities have these local events, but they have concerts, on-site museums and galleries, and beautiful architecture and walking paths. All fantastic ways to spend a thrifty afternoon learning in a very natural way.
You Made it!
Yeah, that was a lot of information, but I think it will really help know how to afford Roadschooling.
Aside from everything I just shared, I would really like to encourage you to get creative with your Roadschool journey. Find ways to learn what work for your family. If you aren’t sure, ask your kids or just watch them and see what really makes them light up. Follow their interests and weave those activities, discussions, and other things into your everyday life. Need a little help getting started? Read “Roadschooling – It’s easier than you think”
Lastly, I would like to encourage you to use other things at your disposal – documentaries on YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, PBS, etc. Learn through board games and video or online games. It’s you and your kids, find the right path and enjoy it!!