Sunday, June 21, 2009


A lot of the resources and books used on Ambleside Online and Maple Hill Academy are available for free in an ebook format. Books that are no longer protected by copyright (in the U.S. (and Canada?) this happens when the author has been dead for 75 years) are being put into an electronic format at a very quick rate by volunteers at various websites, including Project Gutenberg.

These ebooks do a lot to allow inexpensive homeschooling. However, very few people want to spend all their time reading on a computer. There is a new generation of eBook readers (like Kindle from Amazon) - however, these eBook readers are hundreds of dollars. There is, fortunately, a less expensive alternative.

PDA's (Personal Digital Assistants) have been around since the 90's. I bought my first Palm Pilot in aproximately 1992 or 1993 - and I found it to be very useful. My current Palm Pilot is quite old, and is certainly not anywhere near as powerful as the latest PDA's - but is still very useful. I bought it used a few years ago for $20. It is a Palm m125 - the first to use an SD card - and about the oldest that I would consider still useful. With the software available, it makes a good eBook reader.

The software you need for a PDA to make it read ebooks are: Mobipocket reader, and Adobe Reader for Palm. There is also Documents to Go (which came with the Palm Pilot) that will read Office files.

You can, of course, also use the PDA for your schedule, to do list, and phone numbers, as well as the many other programs available for a Palm Pilot or PDA.

I like using the Palm Pilot, because I can take a large selection of books with me, for about the same space as a deck of cards.

But - sometimes you just want or need the book on paper. There are options there too. With a Laser Printer, you can print the book for a few pennies per page. We just bought a colour laser printer for $150 (plus tax of course) - but there are monochrome printers for $80. The toner cartridges look pretty expensive in comparison to our Inkjet ink cartridges - until you realize that you should be able to print about 10-20x the number of pages on a cartridge!

You can save paper by printing on both sides - it takes a bit of practice (unless you have a printer that does it automatically) - but it really isn't that hard. If printing on both sides, use a heavier weight of paper - around 22-24lb, otherwise you might see through the paper. Adobe reader, or (sometimes) your printer driver, can print in "booklet" format, which puts 4 pages on a page (2 per side) - in a way that you can fold the paper to make a booklet 5.5"x8.5". This works well if the font was large enough so you can read it this way.... I do not plan to do this for year 1 or 2 but may in future years.

If printing on your printer would be too expensive, you can take the files to a place like Office Depot or Staples for printing. The costs are similar to their copying costs, and they can bind it for you.

You can put your printouts in a binder, take it to a place for spiral or comb binding, or bind it yourself. One method is buying book tape, and taping the edges. I have also successfully bound books using the method in this tutorial.

Occasionally, it is just as inexpensive to buy the book - so do try to figure out the costs.

[Just a little update from 2011.... we do have a Kindle now and would highly recommend it.]
[update Jen 2012 - 64 Bit Windows driver for Palm Pilot may be downloaded here]

1 comment:

  1. Just thought to add - if you are using a Palm Pilot like a m125, make sure you have all the updates!