The beauty of homeschooling is the flexibility of your environment. In this post, we will talk about the tools of the trade, the basic infrastructure of the home classroom. Your philosophy of education, or approach to homeschooling, determines this framework, but common to all are these homeschool basic supplies. Soon you’ll be prepared for any subject!
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School classrooms are set up to be sanitary, but they are not designed for comfort or ease. Please don’t feel like you need to mimic your childhood classroom. Instead, consider your children’s physical needs.
If you have a small child, the desk and chair need to be short. Hopefully they will not spend too much time at a desk at a young age, but when they do copywork and numbers, they should have their feet flat on the floor.
Once they have grown a bit, a small office chair should work. The ideal chair will have a padded seat and back, adjustable height, swivel seat, and casters. As kids grow, their tailbones become sore, especially during the junior high years. Padding is very appreciated. We replaced our dining room chairs with office chairs. They are the most popular chairs in the house.
Is a conventional desk necessary? No. The dining room table and plastic folding tables are terrific for school. Imagine all the space to spread out! Of course, when it is time to eat lunch, the work must be put aside. We did that for a year and it was not a problem. Currently, my desk is a folding table. It is an inexpensive way to get a lot of surface area. Once we moved to a larger house, the kids got college desks we found at a yard sale. While the desks have been sturdy, the kids don’t use the drawers well, so folding tables would have sufficed.
Where on earth would you put a blackboard in your house? (Perhaps the dining room will work if you are ambitious.) Since most “classes” in homeschool have two or fewer students, a blackboard is not necessary. Enter the handy, dandy, super-cheap dry-erase board. We must have 10 or more of these beauties in use. The size of a notebook, these boards are light-weight and portable. We’ve used them for every subject, even music and art. I use them for lists and then pop them on the printer for a permanent copy. Just keep a supply of low-odor markers and clean erasers available too.
Used. If you can, buy used. Now, there will be workbooks and other consumables that will need to be new. In the beginning, I bought just one copy for my two kids, and laboriously, copied every page on my old printer. That is a prime example of false economy. You do not have an endless fount of time. Or ink. Please buy what you need.
Should you buy the teacher’s guide? The answer key? The student notebooks? Yes to “all the above”.
The secret of homeschooling is this: You don’t have to know it to teach it. Buy the supplies to make that happen.
Do they offer a video guide? Seriously consider it. If you feel confident in the subject, skip it. If you are shaky or lack motivation and excitement, it will lift a tremendous burden off your shoulders. For a couple years, I taught Logic to my middle schoolers. Once they were ready for a more advanced course that had a DVD, I sprung for the video. Good thing. Most of it went over my head! You should hear my kids shred radio advertisements.
When my kids were attending our local Christian school, the papers came home like a heavy snowfall. Homeschool has not been much different, except I know there is no busy work. Buy paper in bulk, such as 1/2 box or a full box of 10 reams at Staples or Sam’s Club.
I am amazed at how much lined paper we use. Grab packages when they go on sale in August. Also, no point in getting college rule, unless your kids request it. The larger spacing gives you more room to edit and comment.
In the beginning, I bought a box of brightly colored paper assortment at Sam’s, and 6 years later, we still have some. I use it primarily for assignment sheets and schedules. The color helps to make those important papers stand out from the snowdrift.
We love card stock. I buy it a ream at a time from Staples, and we use about a ream a year. It is great for homemade cards, and for durable, important papers. It is essential that your printer will actually print on card stock and not jam up the works. When the kids were younger, we made lapbooks and used a combination of card stock and colored paper.
For art class and other projects, buy a small stack of large black construction paper. It makes great mats for finished art work. Just cut to size.
It is obvious that staying organized will make your job easier. I like being organized, but, unless someone tapes me to my desk, I won’t put in the time to make it happen. Nevertheless, the tools of the trade are fun-colored file folders, Pendaflex hanging folders, and a filing cabinet or milk crate designed to hold it all. If your kids are young, buy twice as many folders as you think you’ll need. There is nothing like a choice in colors to make a lapbook or file more meaningful to a child who cares.
I am a huge fan of the P-Touch machine. Like Martha Stewart, I’ve labeled dresser drawers, spice and mason jars, light switches, and so much more. Yeah, the tape is pricey, but if you type in enough label names to fill the machine BEFORE hitting print, it becomes more economical. For homeschooling, I mostly label folders, notebooks, and book spines with kids’ names or subjects.
Early in our homeschooling journey, I came across a clearance sale of really good binders. I usually recycle old ones or buy the cheapest, but I bought all they had. These are 2″ D-ring, with a special lever that opens them. With pockets and clear covers, the kids can customize them each year. Old papers get stored in the attic in folders inside banker boxes. Six years later, the kids are still using them everyday.
To make the binders work, get each child their own 3 hole punch and stapler. In addition, they will also need bookends. I recently found this adjustable one and love how I can take books and folders out, and the remaining ones stay upright.
Odds and Ends
Pens and pencils are a given. In the past, we’ve used wooden pencils and an electric sharpener, but they don’t make pencils as well as they used to. The graphite isn’t centered as well, and we broke “leads” right and left; we had a similar problem with the refillable mechanical pencils, and now we prefer disposable mechanical pencils. On the other hand, we love gel ink in varied colors, and buy boxes of different colored refill inks.
If your kids are young, please consider buying glue sticks and scissors in bulk, especially if you like lap books. Older kids can manage the messier liquid glues just fine, and it is fun to peel off your fingers. Still, grab a few sticks of glue for last minute projects.
Finally, if your kids study in the same room regularly, a display board can help them concentrate and keep their eyes on their own paper. Buy one of these, cut it in half and you have shorter privacy boards for two kids. Make it multi-functional and add black construction paper, if you bought a white board, on the inside to create an excellent backdrop for still-life studies for art class.
We have a desktop computer that I refer to as the “Monster”. In the early years, I prefer to keep the kids off the computer, with the exception of learning to type. Now they are in high school, they use it occasionally for Khan Academy or watching school DVD’s. Bottom line, no special features needed except a DVD drive and sometimes internet access. They have iPads and keyboards for typing papers and Veritas Press.
I couldn’t homeschool nearly as easily without my beloved Canon printer. I chose it based on the cheapness of the generic ink refills and I am more than happy with it two years later. In addition, it prints on card stock with ease and scans and prints on both sides of the paper, which is a great time and paper saver. Did I mention the ink is cheap?
To be sure, there are countless ways to run a homeschool. Hopefully you read an idea or two that will help you to run your school, regardless of the subjects studied, more smoothly. I’m still homeschooling myself, so if you have some more to recommend, I would love to read about them.