Homeschooling Without Textbooks

When most of the public school parents I know think about trying to home school, they say that they imagine their kids sitting at the kitchen table reading expensive textbooks and whining about how bored they are. They tell me that they would love to teach their kids at home, but they can’t afford the curriculum or don’t know how to make their kids learn. My answer? Try teaching without textbooks!

Granted, there are some very well made textbooks out there. If you can find them and afford them, by all means, buy them! The point is, you don’t need them. Give your kids access to exciting and interesting books, full of pictures and written to be enjoyed. Plan activities that will be fun and educational. Our goal is to teach our kids to love to learn, so that’s what we keep in mind for any subject and at all ages.

Educational Resources

There are several ways to teach your child without traditional textbook curriculum.

  1. Used bookstores: Most of our “school books” come from here! Take some time to explore and find some amazing books on different topics. Look for a specific genre, or just see what catches your child’s eye. Don’t forget to check the used DVD area (or store). We found some fabulous travel DVDs from which our daughter is learning a ton!
  2. Library: This is such a great way to go! If you have a good local library or access to a public school library, decide on what topics your child wants to learn about (astronomy? weather? music?) and flip through a few until you find some that your child is excited about. All ages will love high-quality photos, but some books will even have a DVD or CD-ROM in the back, so be sure to check! Also, see what’s in the DVD section on different topics.
  3. Internet: There are so many on-line resources that I honestly believe that you can teach your child anything, from the alphabet to calculus, using just the internet! It can be a bit intimidating trying to find exactly what you need, so look for articles about good homeschooling resources on-line.
  4. Friends and Family: Do you have friends or family that have things that they can teach your child, such as a hobby that they love and your child finds interesting? What about books or DVDs that they’d be willing to swap for some of your books and DVDs, temporarily? Maybe you know somebody who lives on a farm and would let you bring your children to learn about raising animals, growing gardens, building sheds, etc. Try to think outside the box. :-)
  5. Museums and other Educational Institutions: These places are designed to teach all of us! Find out what’s within driving distance and take a trip. I’d recommend learning about things in advance (study fish before going to the aquarium, planets before going to the planetarium, etc.) and then review after your trip. They’ll retain a lot more and have more fun, if they know what’s going on.

Here are some examples of books to have around the house to encourage learning. Although these are for younger children, there are books out there for every age group, including adults. Many parents feel like they are able to teach their younger children, but they are intimidated by the thought of teaching older children. Remember, it’s the same principles, just more advanced content. :-)

Counting Books
Nature and Science Books
Alphabet and Reading Books
Activity Books
Geography and Cultural Studies

That book in the background is one I made from old National Geographic magazines that we got for a few cents each at the local library!

Tips To Remember

  • Don’t limit learning to books. Most things can be learned through activities and the kids (older ones included!) will enjoy it, rather than dread it! I’ve taught a ton of different things to my four-year-old using beads and she has loved every minute of it!
  • Focus on their current interests. You will miss teaching opportunities if you are too focused on what they should be learning, rather than what they want to learn. You will need to discover their interests and nurture their passions.
  • Have fun! The goal is not to torture them into retaining information, it’s to teach them to love to learn and to teach them how to learn. Try to relax and enjoy the process.
Note: Be sure to check on your state’s laws, so that you can work within them.

**This post has been entered in Frugal Days and Sustainable Ways.**

What are your favorite teaching resources?


  1. says

    Love the homemade book! My grandmother did that for me with cats pictures when i was like 10 or so and I still have that book and now show it to my children, it is a treasure!

    I also enjoy magazines for kids, Nat Geo is OK, and Baby Animals (Ranger Rick) and PUzzle Buzz from Highlights are awesome! They can be pricey but make great grandparent gifts!

  2. says

    Thanks for the comment, Lea! I’m so glad you told me about the book your grandmother made for you. I have several other homemade books in the making, and your comment really motivates me to get them done. :-)

    We also have some of the Ranger Rick magazines (yet another steal from the local library!) and they’re a big hit, too. I remember loving Highlights, so we’ll probably do those in a few years, too. Oh, and we do have the preschool National Geographics, too, which are cute. I’ll have to check out the library sale before the kids magazines are so picked over so I can find more, this year.

    Thanks, again!

  3. says

    i spent 40 years teaching public school and raised 3 daughters, sending them to public schools.
    that said, homeschooling is a parents’ choice, but i am truly concerned about students’ social and problem solving experiences. we learned how to solve problems on the playground–without adults dictating rules. it was good, and i am able to relate meaningfully with people of all cultures, professions, and status. i fear homeschool does not recognize or provide this.
    as for teaching without textbooks, that has always been important, but mainly as activities and extra curriculular learning. we really need a core curriculum which all students master and use as a foundation for education. having chosen textbooks for various core courses, i know that is the main criteria used in choosing textbooks.

    • says

      I respect your right to your opinion, however, I don’t believe your fear is well-founded. Perhaps you know some homeschoolers who are not able to relate well with people of other cultures, professions and status, but that does not mean that this holds true for all homeschoolers. I experienced pulbic, private and home school and I grew up with children from all of those educational systems. I did know homeschooled children who were not well-socialized, but they were few and far between. A larger percentage of the public schooled children I knew had social dysfunction and difficulty with problem solving. That being said, I was not trying to dissuade parents from choosing to send their children to public school. That is their choice, as you said. If you’ll take a closer look at the post, I was speaking to parents who want to homeschool and do not want to use standard curriculum. This was not a debate, this was support and ideas for parents who already want to use less traditional books and resources for teaching their children.

      You’ll also notice, if you read more closely, that I did not say “DO NOT” use textbooks, I said that a parent does not have to use them. I also said that there are some good ones and, if a parent is so inclined, use them! I have seen some that look fascinating and I might decide to buy them, at some point. The point of this post is to help parents see that, if they don’t want to use traditional textbooks, there are creative options.

    • Kate Tietje says


      Please understand, as a wife to a man who was homeschooled 3 – 12, and a homeschooling parent, I find the “socialization” argument quite silly. Homeschooled children go to playgrounds, play sports, attend dance and art and music classes, participate in church and homeschool groups, and do lots of other activities, just like public schooled children do. They are by no means sheltered, nor do they spend all their time at home. Many spend quite a bit of their time on the go! In fact, I believe homeschooled children to be MORE socialized than public schooled children, because they receive an authentic experience — coming across people of all ages, races, and in all walks of life, rather than being stuck in a classroom all day with the same 30 kids! I understand that as a strong proponent of public education and a teacher yourself you probably don’t agree, but just understand how different it looks from my perspective.

      We also don’t need textbooks. Homeschooling is re-thinking all aspects of education. We don’t look towards what a school or a textbook author says we “should” know; we look at life and decide what is really most important! I’m not worried about academic skills or grades; I’m worried about how successful and happy my children will be at living their day-to-day lives! We’ve really gotten away from that way of thinking in the public school system, which is just one concern that I have about it. We need to break down the regimented thinking that has gotten us into the poorly performing skills and ill-prepared graduates we now have!

      You might find this post interesting:

  4. says


    What a great article! Both my husband and I went to private and public schools, but we’ve chosen to homeschool our five children and have done so for over nine years – since our oldest started. When we began we had that picture perfect plan in our heads most new homeschooling parents do: to replicate public school at the kitchen table.

    It’s taken a few years for us to realize exactly what you’re saying in your article: our children LOVE to learn through a LOT of reading, exploring topics they’re interested in, and getting away from the idea that we need to have textbooks open in front of them at all times. They learn better, they retain more of what they learn, and the ENJOY learning. That’s not to say we don’t use textbooks – we do! But there’s a lot to be said for learning through other means.

    I also wanted to kindly address Linda’s comment. She mentioned concern about students’ social and problem solving experiences – about learning how to solve problems on the playground – without adults dictating rules. . .I guess my question would be, why would a homeschooled child, with brothers and sisters, friends, and more than likely dozens of other children who are members of a homeschool coop, not know how to solve problems just as well as a child in a public school? They are surrounded by children all the time. Why would we not let our children learn how to solve problems among themselves as well?

    As far as core curriculum, I recently wrote a post about how we’ve started using The Robinson Curriculum. I love that it is structured around the core that all kids, public schooled or homeschooled, need to learn: reading, writing, and arithmetic. As far as I know, most homeschool parents cover those bases. :)

    My comments, Linda are not meant to be disrespectful or argumentative, but to clear up common misconceptions that non-homeschoolers have.

    Thanks again, Justyn!

    • says

      Thanks so much for your comment, Paula!

      I’m not familiar with The Robinson Curriculum, but I’ve seen people speak very highly of it several times these last few weeks. I’ll have to check it out! As I mentioned, if I find a textbook that is engaging and affordable (for our family at that point in time), I’m quite happy to add it to our library. :-)

      You mentioned some of the socialization that most homeschoolers have and I started thinking about my own experience. I had more meaningful social interaction once I was out of public school and had started homeschooling. Not to say that public schooled kids can’t have positive socialization, but for me, the interaction I had was much more purposeful and positive in the activities I took part in while homeschooling than the time I spent in the public school with hundreds of other kids. Maybe that has more to do with my personality than anything else, but it was an interesting realization. :-)

      Thanks again for the comment and for sharing your experience with us.

  5. says

    I was going to say something about making sure that the books you pick up from used bookstores on certain topics (science, mostly) are up-to-date so your children aren’t learning outdated or wrong information, and then I remember that I have that my public middle school finally switched to new social studies books that didn’t include the USSR…in 1998. I think every geography/social studies book I used up until that point included maps of the USSR and East Germany, etc. Heh.

    I definitely second the magazines idea! Especially for older children with a specific interest, try a subscription (or at least some test issues) of trade or science magazines–Astronomy Today for star buffs or Wired for kids interested in computers and technology. Some of the science might above their heads (and, umm, you may need to censor Wired depending on your kids’ ages), but it’s a good way to get little doses of up-to-date information (and lots of pretty pictures of stars). There’s a publication for every interest you can possibly think of–trains, horses, dogs, history, archaeology…everything.

    Even public- or private-schooled kids, or homeschoolers who use a more traditional curriculum, benefit from all those resources you suggested, Justyn! Adults, too–because if we’re looking to foster a life-long love of learning in our children, I hope it’s because we have that ourselves. ^_^

    • says

      Those are excellent points and ideas, Katie! Thanks so much for contributing. It’s so true that we, as adults, also need to put effort into nurturing our own love of life-long learning. That is the key point of Thomas Jefferson Education, which I really like.

      Thanks again for the ideas! :-)


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