Written by Simple Homeschool contributor Renee Tougas of FIMBY.
At the start of our family’s homeschool experience I felt uncertain about this journey. I questioned my skills as a mother and teacher, wondered how my children could learn “all they needed to know” at home and how we could possibly afford to give them an excellent education. (I still feel this way somedays).
Around this time I read a strategy for home education that seemed doable for me. I wish I could remember where I read it or who wrote it, but it went something like this:
All you really need to homeschool is love and a library card.
I’ve hung my educational hat on these principles during my kids’ early years.
Love will lead you to seek what’s best for your child and motivate you to find the resources you need. And with a library card and good library system you can provide the books to form the foundation of an excellent education.
Our family uses library resources as the core of our children’s elementary aged curriculum. As such, we have been making weekly treks to our local library for years.
Here are the reasons we’ve done that and how we’ve made it work.
Benefits of Using the Library
The low cost factor alone makes libraries an attractive option for homeschooling families. Many of us are giving up second incomes to stay home and money is strictly budgeted. Public libraries are the best deal going to provide reading (& listening) material for your family.
Our city offers an excellent inter-libary loan system and free membership to the local branch. We decided to maximize this great resource and for now keep our home library to a minimum of loved classics and quality reference materials.
Photo by Renee Tougas
This allows us to save money to pay for dance or art classes, supplies, field trips and a few curriculum items we might need.
I know many homeschoolers swear by building large home libaries. If a family has the funds or limited library access I can understand that view point. But I want to advocate that with a good library system parents can give their young children quality education for a minimum cost.
Modern libraries are about so much more than books. They are a place where your family can connect with the community.
The children’s department of a library may host a variety of educational opportunities. Reading programs, arts and crafts, artist and author talks might all be featured (for free) at your local library. Our favorite library activity this summer was the visiting magician.
Community bulletin boards at the library can be a wealth of information and good source for field trip ideas for your homeschool.
On any given week at our library the posted announcements might include a community play, garden tour, nutrition club meeting, and art gallery reception.
Bulletin boards and children’s department programs can also be a good resource for some of those harder to teach subjects such as art and music.
Photo by Renee Tougas
Making it Work
Using the library as a primary resource for homeschool materials takes time. But there are ways to make it more simple. Even if you use the library only casually these tips might help you avoid late fees and make the most of your visits.
Schedule a library day
Choose a specific day and time to visit the library. This makes it easier not to miss due dates for checked out books and pick up dates for requested materials.
Set aside time to plan for upcoming library visits. I have three kids with different interests and reading abilities. This could make library visits insane without advance planning.
I keep a written list of books (the quality living books that form our curriculum) I want to check out and always have in mind what the kids are interested in studying at the time. During library planning I will search and request these books from the comfort of home (see point below) and write down call numbers for our upcoming visit.
Photo by Renee Tougas
I do much of my library planning with pen and paper but I make good use of the library’s on-line search, request and renewal features. By doing this at home our library time is well spent locating titles and perusing the shelves for new books.
If you are tech savvy you might like Lora Lynn’s Google Calendar idea for keeping track of library books.
It’s wise to keep a separate shelf or box for library books. This keeps lost books to a minimum.
Since we don’t own many of the books we read I like to keep track of what we’ve read in goodreads. I create “shelves” according to subject and then print this list at the end of the year for our assessment. This is a very easy way to record and share what we’ve read (hundreds of titles in a year) and is essentially our year’s curriculum.
How do you make the most of the library?
Samantha @ Mama Notes
Great post. I love the library and I can’t wait until my son is old enough to love and appreciate it, too. 🙂 Right now he is too interested in walking around and I’m like, ” Look! Don’t you want to look at these books! How fun!” ha, 🙂 He has too much energy to sit still inside a library right now.
Samantha @ Mama Notes’s latest post: I really should have a no crackers in the car rule
We consider library day to be one of our school days! Storytime, books, social interaction, and we usually end with a trip to the park for a picnic. There is absolutely no way we could homeschool without using our library… it is essential! We often check out books over and over again, and I do accrue some fines, but it’s all worth it. Use your library! Love it! And yes, it counts as a “school day.” 🙂
Tori’s latest post: a new thing
Good post. However, my library has recently implemented a charge for requesting (aka-holding) items. It is 25 cents per book. This could get expensive. While I’m not homeschooling yet (my son is only 6 months old), I will probably homeschool in the future and the library is a great resource.
Mary – That’s horrible! I have at least 3 books on hold at a time and can’t imagine not having this resource available.
Shannon’s latest post: Four Reasons to Switch to Loose Leaf Teas and My Favorite Brewing Equipment
Bummer! That would cost me a pretty penny. We fill up our reserve limit 5 books/person on a regular basis.
Hearing this makes me appreciate my library even more! Not only do we not have fines of any kind (not even overdue fines,) we also never have any limits on borrowed books or requests. I will keep writing my donation checks and try to help my library by donating books so as to do my part to keep it that way.
Jen’s latest post: The Way Life Should Be
Yes. What a good recommendation. We love our library and use it weekly, going out with arms full. It is a lovely resource, and you have also spoken to those who are struggling in this economy. Thanks.
Thanks for the nice appreciation piece about the value of libraries to homeschoolers. We enjoy working with homeschooling parents and try to acquire appropriate materials, when possible, for our homeschooling community.
Anne’s latest post: The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian
Thank you for your librarian’s perspective. We love our librarians and appreciate all their help in sourcing us quality materials and the programs they organize.
Have you thanked your librarian today??
In my earlier years of homeschooling, I didn’t have access to inter-library loans. I saved money to buy special books, classical music and audio sets, in particular. Now, with I.L.loan we buy much less and have to stop at the library at least twice/wk because of the speed at which my kids read. When they were younger we lived close and walked over once/wk and then to the park across from the building; lots of fun. We each have a card (kids cards are free) which allow us 25 holds each at a time (yipee!!!). As our library is tiny we mostly order everything online and do our pickups at the local branch but here and there also do a walk through to check out anything interesting we notice. I do love books but don’t like the idea of building more and more shelves to accommodate purchases that will, most likely, just sit collecting dust.
As a bit of an aside: my husband, who grew up in West Africa, says that through his entire childhood his family only had ONE BOOK IN THE HOUSE – an old Tintin. He is not a reader as an adult although he is pushing himself to try reading more in English (his third language). We are so blessed with easy access to quality books in our country!
That is so interesting. My children LOVE tintin and it is one of the few book sets we own. They read and re-read those stories. They would have something in common with your west African born husband!
I hear you on bookshelves.
Hurray for the library! There are so many good tips in this post that I don’t know where to start, but this was exactly what I needed today — specifically a reminder that a good education doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars!! Thank you!
Trevor @ Tootlee
I like the idea of the library as a place to find out what is happening in the area. A great place to find things the kids can do and learn from.
We are going to schedule a library day, though our local library is not that big. At least the kids can learn how the library works. We have used them before in another place we lived but haven’t check out the new one yet.
Great tips, thanks.
Trevor @ Tootlee’s latest post: ADHD Drugs- Torture or Necessity
Libraries are a huge part of our homeschooling. We also visit libraries in all the neighboring towns. Our card works for them all since it’s the same library system, and each library has its own special strengths. One library has a really fun nonfiction section, another has lots of nontraditional items (even shaped cake pans!) for lending, another has puppets to lend…
We have a giant basket where we keep our library books and it’s such a good source of fun and education. 🙂
Alicia’s latest post: Can you give your kids a happy homeschool life during a financial crisis
renee @ FIMBY
That sounds like a great libary system you have.
I have often wished my library would loan games or toys. I’d heard of toy lending library in Montreal and I’ve never been able to get it out of my mind. I imagine it is difficult with small pieces, etc… buy maybe I will inquire about this and see if it is possible to get that started. I love the idea!
Jen’s latest post: The Way Life Should Be
beth aka confusedhomemaker
We love the library & have been making good use of it forever. It’s wonderful to see my children now moving to having their own lists (especially my oldest) of topics & books they want to read (like my oldest had a list for Ancient Egyptian Rulers last time). We are also able to check out at different libraries with our card, which is nice.
Although if we had to pay a fee to put books on hold that would a real bummer (even though we usually don’t have to right now for the kids, I did when I was in grad school).
beth aka confusedhomemaker’s latest post: Nature Walk
Great post! I am not very good at planning ahead, so I make a note on my calendar for “reservation time.” Then, I go to our library’s web site and reserve videos and reference books that relate to topics I am teaching for science and social studies. I leave the reference books (all with lots of pictures) on the coffee table, and we play a video for science or history a couple of times each week. Both are very appreciated by my girls, who are visual learners.
Jennifer @ Milk & Honey Mommy
Since reading is so important to my children and me and I don’t have the “bucks” to support our reading habit, we spend many hours at the library (ah, make that many libraries). We live in a small town and our library is rather small, but we try to make the best out of the book selections for the children. Unfortunately, as they are getting older, we have needed to visit other larger, out of county libraries that also come w/an annual out of county fee. I’m not used to this. So much for library usage being FREE. Despite this, we decided on one out of county library and purchased a card. It still is more affordable than purchasing a book, but I will say that I still love hanging out in a bookstore every once in a while.
Thanks for the good read. I worked library days into our school schedule this year.
Jennifer @ Milk & Honey Mommy’s latest post: Stop! Wait a Minute Mr Postman
renee @ FIMBY
Library days are just as important as math lessons and writing practice, wouldn’t you say?
Technology is amazing in that we can make up our book and video list and have the stack waiting for us at the front desk. It’s nice to wander around the library, but with 2 littles, it would be more like running around
Great post! We love our local library; we are blessed to have a librarian who is very flexible with due dates and fines. We use Sonlight curriculum and would absolutely love to buy all our books to have a big home library, but it’s just not possible. So we borrow many of them, and use Homeschool Tracker Plus to keep track of which library we got them from so we’ll know when we need them later. It’s a working system; not quite as convenient perhaps but a heck of a lot cheaper.
Krystal’s latest post: 10 Tips for Battling Homeschool BurnoutPart 5
We also follow Sonlight’s reading list, though somewhat loosely and find most of those books at the library. Wish we could find more of the missionary biographies though, which we are not available through our library system.
Oh, Renee, you’ll LOVE this. We had a librarian (and homeschool mom) present to my group just this month.
My library has databases and online resources that are so numerous, you couldn’t even use them all if you tried.
WorldCat- interlibrary loan on steroids
WorldBook- Yes, those old encyclopedias, in an online version. Plus, WorldBook Kids has games and activities that correlate with the entries.
Consumer Reports Online, full access!
ABC-CLIO, a social studies resource
Kids Search, a card catalog for kids
Learning Express- Standardized test prep programs! FREE!
FULL TEXT language programs, many languages
Science Online, with experiments to try and such
Searchasaurus, basically a full resource library for kids
There’s lots of stuff for adults, too, like home and car repair, hobby guides and ancestry research. It’s all available from home, with my library card.
Great post Rene’!
We have home-schooled our two children from the beginning too. When they were very young we made weekly treks to our local library. I distinctly remember when our son was 4 his ( not so original) interest in dinosaurs. The photo of the boy sitting on the floor totally engaged in his book sure takes me back! When we went to the library I would tell both children they could choose as many books as they liked. Neither of them were reading by 4 but they were soaking in all they could in those books. I got a kick out of hearing him pronounce paleontologist or, tyrannosaurus and so on. Not only are libraries the place for budget minded home scholar,they are a wonderful place to hold homeschooling classes such as a Lego club, science and computer classes etc. All you need to do is check with the librarian for a schedule then plan you classes or events accordingly! We have been lucky to have the support of our local libraries.
Love and Libraries… a perfect match!
Yes, absolutely! We make heavy use of our library, and my 3-year-old always looks forward to our weekly trip. One of the best parenting tips I ever received was to put books on hold before we go. We still browse the picture book stacks, but I don’t need to look up titles on the computer or try to find something on a specific topic or venture into the adult section while we’re there. This allows me to get in and out with my toddler, preschooler, and dignity still intact! I love your idea of keeping track of what we’ve read on goodreads.
Kelly’s latest post: Blogging Break
The other advantage to using the library as opposed to buying all your books is that you then have less books to store, organize and maintain. Bookshelves are expensive.
My library is charging for reserving books. I don’t mind paying since 25cents is cheaper than buying the books. I also like reserving books because then I am free to help my younger kids find books and to make sure they are behaving properly
I hear you. We have 2 bookshelves and an apple boxe/crate and hope to not have to add many more.
Love this post. We, too, love the library. (I’d heard that quote, too, but can’t tell you where.) It’s rare that I buy many books except for specific curriculums like Math or Science. All the supplemental stuff comes from the library.
FishMama’s latest post: Mentors- Chocolate- & A Giveaway
Thanks for the great post!
I just wanted to recommend a website that has very detailed book reviews: the literate mother (dot) org
I use it regularly, especially with teens & pre-teens in the house. I’m not familiar with many of the newer authors, and want to approve what my children are reading. I’ve actually gotten “hooked”on some of the new YA novels (Shannon Hale & Jessica Day George are my favs) .
Just had to share!
Thank you for this recommendation. My daughter likes Shannon Hale novels. Which are sometimes categorized juvenile and others are YA. I will check this resource out I am always looking for good reviews as my daughter gets into young adult fiction.
I’m just getting started on GoodReads. How can I friend you there? Can I import your lists? Thank you so much for your help!
Amy, you have to become a member to “friend” me but using this link you should at the very least see my bookshelves:
Please attach a message, if possible, stating who you are so I know to approve you.
I don’t know about importing lists. You’d have to snoop around goodreads to find out the answer to that question.
I’d add “Get to know the librarians” to your list. Children’s librarians are experts on searching and finding materials on the topics you’re interested in. As they get to know you, they can find materials that suit your preferences. Let them know what you want in materials and programs. They want to serve you!
Our library has regular homeschool meetings where parents can meet with library staff and other homeschool parents to discuss common interests, ideas and concerns. This would be easy to arrange in most libraries.
Also, “Explore online databases your library offers.” Our library subscribes to over 70 online databases, most are too expensive for individuals to afford but with your library card you can use them for free, often from home.
Can you tell I work at a library? Great post!
We are on a first name basis with our librarians and value the work they do. Thanks for adding your librarian’s perspective.
No kids yet, but I know keeping book clutter to a minimum will be a problem for us, so we are planning on getting really familiar with the library. We already have 5 or 6 big bookshelves and the overflow shelf in the closet, because we both have an incredibly hard time parting with books. If they come from the library we have no choice but to bring them back, so that its helpful.
Rebecca C’s latest post: Unpossible