DIY or Buy? How to Teach Your Kids Without Going Broke

No room in the budget for fancy school learning tools? 

No problem!

(Even if there IS money available for the latest and greatest educational gizmos, buying more stuff just because you can generally isn’t wise.)

Please don’t feel like you have to OWN every cool-looking manipulative, learning center set and educational toy that exists in order to provide a high-quality education! 

Whether you know it or not, you already own countless items you can repurpose to teach many – if not most – concepts. Or often, a DIY option will get the job done just as well as expensive classroom tools. And, by the time you’re done repurposing and DIY’ing, you’ll have saved enough money to splurge on a few really cool items that you just can’t duplicate at home.

To save your budget, your sanity and your storage space, you’ll need to be intentional. 

It’s tempting to browse through teacher supply catalogs and make lists of all the awesome learning gadgets you just have to have, but that approach quickly leads to discouragement. 

When you’re up to your ears in kinetic sand and you’ve got counting bears overflowing out your bedroom window – well, let’s just say there comes a time when enough is enough. 

Of course we all want the best for our kids, but we can’t possibly recreate the mythical classroom that “has it all” because it doesn’t exist! You’ll run yourself ragged, depleting your bank account and sanity, chasing after the ever-growing list of “must-have, guaranteed-to-make-your-kid-a-genius” educational products.

Instead, start with the end in mind and think through your goals first. Then consider your options and individual circumstances before you invest in a new learning tool.

Step 1 – Get to the Point

What is the goal of your learning activity? What’s the key concept you’re trying to get across to your kids?  

Step 2 – Research the Options

What kind of tools exist that help teach or illustrate your main learning objective?

  • What are the store-bought options and what do they cost?
  • Are there good quality, gently-used alternatives available? 
  • Do your local museums, schools, libraries or community centers lend out the resources you need? Or, could you share resources with another homeschool family?
  • Do you already have anything that teaches a similar concept or that could be used to somehow demonstrate the lesson material?
  • Are there DIY ideas online or in books and, if so, what is the required investment in time and money to make it yourself?
Step 3 – Review Your Circumstances

Are there any other factors that might influence your decision of whether to buy, make or repurpose a learning tool to reach your goal? 

  • Where does your school budget stand? 
  • Is this something you’ll be using a lot in the future or just for a lesson or two?
  • How much space is available in your home to dedicate to storage of school supplies?
  • Would a DIY option provide an added learning opportunity in and of itself? Could the kids even DIT (Do It Themselves) while you DHC (Drink Hot Cocoa)?
  • Do you already have a lot of the materials on hand needed to make it yourself?

Armed with this type of information, you’ll be in a much better place to decide your next steps than if you just drool over learning toys and buy everything you think might be helpful someday!

Keep in mind, this doesn’t have to be a formal procedure that takes up a lot of time. Even just remembering to ask yourself “what am I trying to achieve here?” before you click “add to cart” is a step in the right direction. 

Sometimes, you’ll end up deciding that you DO want to own the Sensory Light Table or the Classroom Magnet Kit or the Base Ten Math Manipulatives set. If you’ve thought it through and it meets your needs and is within budget, then go for it! You can be at peace with the purchase knowing it wasn’t an impulse buy.

Oftentimes, though, you’ll find that a box of buttons or an apple pie works perfectly to illustrate your point. (Personally, I prefer the learning tools you can eat after the lesson).

Repurposed objects are easy to overlook since they seem too simplistic or mundane at times. But, as cheesy as it sounds, there really are learning opportunities all around us! Learning tools don’t need to be fancy to do their job. In fact, basic household manipulatives and object lessons are typically my kids’ favorites and the most memorable. Win-win!

Other times you’ll find a DIY option will work best in your situation. We’ve had great success with homemade learning tools like our giant hundreds chart…

diy homeschool hundreds chart on bedsheet

… our place value flip chart (another great use for reinforcing labels and colored index cards!)…

diy homeschool place value flip chart with index cards

… and even a homemade microscope (yes, it actually works – here’s the tutorial we used)…

diy homeschool wood and plexiglas microscope contraption for iPhone

Kids learn SO MUCH when they’re involved in making the learning tool itself! They take ownership of their DIY creations and are that much more invested in the lesson which promotes better retention.

If you approach your educational purchases intentionally, you’ll be able to rest easy knowing you made a responsible choice, no matter what you decide.

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How to teach your kids without going broke - image of toy cash register and play money