Heather Vogler is a homeschool mom of three, author of the Thrift Schooling blog, and one of our super-duper guest contributors.
I asked Heather if she would share a glimpse of her homeschool (and self-sufficient farm) with us, as well as some tips about schooling on a budget.
Heather, could you tell me a bit about you and your family?
Well, my husband Noah and I both met at Blue Ridge Bible College in Rocky Mount, Virginia. Both originally from the north, we fell in love with each other and the peaceful landscape of the area. So, we ended up buying a home on thirteen acres here in Virginia in hopes to make it a sustainable, self-sufficient farm. One year after we bought our fixer-upper home and property, all ours plans and dreams for renovation were put on hold due to the economic recession that hit our country. The company that my husband worked for went out of business so he took quite a pay cut with his new job. At this point, we began our thrifty living lifestyle! I began teaching myself how to cook on a budget, from scratch most of the time, all while starting to raise a family! We have three children, all birthed at home, Aaron (7), Michael (6) and our little girl Tirzah (4).
Blacksmithing, sustainable living, and homeschooling. How do these three fit together, and what has inspired your family to incorporate these into your life?
There was a moment when my husband and I decided that we would turn any hobby that we had into a way to help support our family. My husband is an artist and enjoys working with metal. Blacksmithing is his hobby but it also was an integral trade throughout history and during the formation of our nation. Blacksmithing is a wonderful way to teach children hard work, history and art at the same time. It’s exciting because my husband has been able to demonstrate this skill with public school kids and homeschoolers alike and my kids have been able to be a part of these events as well. They then are able to not only interact with different types of people but learn at a young age how to be an entrepreneur and work on their math skills!
As for sustainable living, we are trying to get to the point where we grow or raise everything we eat on our property. We have a looong way to go but the journey has certainly been a learning experience for all of us. For ‘fun’ we get soil ready for gardens, plant, weed and harvest vegetables, as a family. Many would consider it work but we would rather spend this time together in the evenings than drive all around town dropping our kids off at sport practices or the like. It keeps the family together, it’s fun (really, it is!) and it teaches powerful life skills!
Was there a moment when you just knew you would homeschool your children?
I was a teenager, in public school and lost in the shuffle. My cousin was homeschooled and I begged her mom to teach me as well. My parents thought I was joking. It never happened but I was always drawn to the homeschoolers in college and wanted that for my kids in the future. Even though I have a Bachelors in Christian Education, I chose not to get a job but to use what God has given me to stay home and teach my own children.
What homeschool approach do you use, and why?
I guess I would call my method of homeschooling “the non-method approach.” Eclectic in a sense. I just don’t want to be tied down to a certain format or style of teaching and feel locked in. I use parts of some boxed curriculums while adding in plenty of unit studies. I incorporate piles of hands on experiences and we go on a lot of field trips (too many, maybe!).
What’s a “typical” homeschool day look like for your family?
Typically, we begin the day with what I call “Morning Watch.” After breakfast the kids and I head outside. Each of them take an age appropriate Bible (picture Bibles for the little ones) and find a place in the grass to sit alone. I tell them to read, pray and enjoy God’s creation. We then go inside pray, sing a few worship songs and do a devotion together.
We then do most of our group activities together such as calendar time, read-alouds and Spanish. My oldest son will work on a computer course while I go over phonics and reading with the younger two. We all then get together and do history and they will all work on their math at the same time. Then, from this point on, I will work with my oldest and after lunch I will finish up with more reading and science. My neighbor always tells everyone that my kids are ALWAYS outside. That is because once the work is done they are outside picking tomatoes in the garden or catching fish in the creek. Educational play, in my opinion!
Any high or low points you’d like to share about your journey?
The high points would be the family field trips by far! Our kids are still young so it’s only been four years or so that we’ve been doing this, but in that time we’ve had some great experiences. We’ve been able to make maple syrup together, go to Capitol Hill for a political rally, and we even took a mission trip to inner city Philly to plant a vegetable garden in the middle of the city!
We’ve also definitely had some bumps in the road. Last year I got a concussion that caused me to stutter often. I had a hard time reading aloud and speaking clearly all of the time. This was a setback but fortunately I was able to supplement with several online programs for several months and am extremely thankful for those resources!
Homeschooling on a farm could yield some interesting times. What’s one of the weirdest things that’s happened because of your lifestyle choice?
As a Christian we hope to reach out and be a light to our community. One day, my neighbor knocked on my door and said, “Excuse me, but your goat is on top of my truck.” My heart sank, I felt terrible. Needless to say, we were eating goat curry the following week, all for the sake of being a good neighbor, haha!
Tell me a bit about your ideas for homeschooling on a tight budget.
My suggestion is to use what you have and wait for what you need. Don’t feel like you need to get everything NOW. When I was a kid we always went back to school shopping and spent hundreds of dollars. I refuse to enter each new year like that! I make a mental note of what I want and need and wait until I can find it used online or at a secondhand shop!
I also encourage parents to teach their children to do things for themselves. If we are going to a blacksmithing demo, rather than picking up fast food, I will schedule the day to make our own. We definitely have to slow down a bit and make time to cut up potatoes to make our own french fries or burgers, but it is worth it! Rather than picking up all our snacks on the road, I’ll have the kids pick a cookie recipe from Pinterest and then make it (with some supervision). It teaches them that they can provide from themselves so hopefully when they are older they will be apt to think before frivolously spending their money!
What’s one of the biggest financial concerns or challenges facing the homeschool community right now, pertaining to providing the materials our children need to have a well-rounded education?
Honestly, the biggest challenge is convincing parents that they CAN do it! If a parent is convinced that they aren’t smart enough or able to teach their children then they may be tempted to spend more money on materials that they don’t need. In our family, we usually set a yearly budget for our homeschool materials in which I will buy the basics. But whenever I get that feeling that many homeschool families get that asks, “am I doing enough?” Rather than act out of fear that I’m not doing enough, I look around and think about what is really important and focus on that (character training, reading, life skills, etc.).
What inspired you to publish your journey on your blog, Thrift Schooling?
One day, while browsing Facebook, I asked myself why I was wasting so much time on that site, with nothing to show for it! So, at that point I left Facebook and started a blog. I figured; why not try to make some money with the time I spend online? I knew other people did, so why couldn’t I? I started out with a ‘deals’ website and quickly realized that there were so many of those out there and I couldn’t compete. My passion at this stage in my life is homeschooling so I changed my mission to something that is close to my heart and that many can relate to. I can’t say I make a whole lot of income but more than I did before!
I receive free curriculum to review throughout the year and am able to provide fun family friendly activities for my family for free. Activities that we wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. But most importantly, I know that other homeschooling families have been encouraged though many posts on the blog. Moms will share with me that there were days they were struggling and they came to the blog and it spoke to their need, that day. My hope is to encourage many more families throughout the years on their journey, especially ones that think they can’t afford to homeschool!
There’s a new homeschool mom out there somewhere who has barely a shoestring budget to teach her children with. What advice would you give her, and what are some resources that would be indispensable for her?
I think some parents get nervous when they are told to simply go to the local library and use the resources there and then go online and find everything else. That is kind of a flighty response that too many parents on a budget receive. It can send people into panic mode thinking that they have to do everything on their own, and since money is tight, they feel like they have to start from scratch and at that point they get overwhelmed and oftentimes want to quit.
To that mom, I will say, don’t quit! There are many who have gone before you who have been in your shoes that you can glean from. Find a local homeschool community or look online and find out about different homeschooling options. Find what you like, and make it work! There are several sites written by homeschooling veterans with complete lessons online:
If you prefer scripted, boxed lessons they may seem expensive new but looking for used items on the Web can help you save hundreds of dollars!
- My Father’s World
To help save ink, I love buying cheap or finding free PDF’s that I can view in Adobe Reader! Some examples include :
- Golden Prairie Press (Hands-On History Lessons)
- YWAM Biographies (Missionary Stories with a Unit Study)
- Homeschool Movie Curriculums (Curriculums based on Family Friendly Movies)
- Write Shop (Lots of writing activities for the week with only one page a week to print out)
- Homeschool In The Woods (Hands-On History Lessons)
I would also say, find out who YOU are as a homeschooling parent. Don’t let others define you or a certain curriculum define you. Figure out what style of teaching works for you and thrive in it! It’s okay to use lesson plans, create your own, or unschool. Research, ask questions and figure out what works for you. Then, make a budget based on the materials you’ll need. Even if your budget seems small, you can make it work, we do!