These 10 must-haves for homescooling that go beyond curriculum range from simple items to more expensive but after years of homeschooling I feel these are some of my basic tools.
I've written many posts about my favorite curriculums. But I thought I'd change it up this time and write about the non-curriculum goodies that make homeschooling at our house run more smoothly.
I also want to add that although I consider myself a frugal person, I've learned that sometimes I just can't scrimp on quality. So without further ado, here's my top 10 list of must-haves for homeschooling.
1. Post-it® Flags
I abhor bookmarks. They constantly fall out and get lost, and you can never save where on a particular page you stopped reading. That's why I'm entirely in love with Post-it® Flags. We have used these for years to mark workbooks, reading books, teachers' manuals, and any other book we're using. Not only does the flag not fall off, but we can mark a specific place on a page so we can pick right back up where we left off.
I tried using generic flags a few times, but I was always bitterly disappointed at their longevity (or lack thereof). So even though the 3M brand is spendy, they are well worth the money. A single 3M Post-it® flag often makes it through the entire year.
2. Homeschool Tracker Online
For a couple of years, early in our homeschooling journey, I used the Homeschool Tracker computer software. But after our PC died, I couldn't use it any longer; I had to resort to planning out curriculum on a spreadsheet or by hand.
Last year I tried using Planbook for Mac, but while it worked out okay for the first few month, it's not written to be used by homeschoolers, so I ran in to a lot of limitations with the program.
Thankfully this year Homeschool Tracker released their online software, and it's been such a blessing. Although an annual subscription costs $60, it's a worthwhile expenditure for our family. I can sit down at the beginning of the year and spend a few days planning out all our curriculum for the entire school year. Then it only takes a few minutes each Sunday to adjust schedules if needed and print out checklists for each child for the following week.
Homeschool Tracker isn't perfect, but it has met our needs much better than any other curriculum planning software we've ever used.
Each Sunday I print out a checklist of all the upcoming week's assignments. Unfortunately, that printout is easy to misplace, so I've found that the easiest way to keep track of the checklist is to clip it to a clipboard. The kids have a much harder time losing a clipboard than losing a single piece of paper!
4. Boxes for current curriculum
We are book lovers, so that means we own quite a few bookcases (15 the last time I counted). But leaving the kids' school books on the shelves just doesn't work for our family. Inevitably books get misplaced or just left scattered throughout the house.
Being able to put each child's curriculum in a portable box makes life so much easier for us. We used to use milk crates, but they were just too big and curriculum tended to get crushed and bent up. This summer I picked up some 9.5"x11" boxes on clearance at Lowes for less than $2 a piece, and they are the perfect size.
5. High-quality pencils and sharpeners
Homeschoolers can never have too many pencils. Last year we experimented with using erasable pens, but we ended up being pretty disappointed. Erasable pens just don't write very well (that is, unless you spend an arm and a leg on the pens in the first place!); instead of decreasing frustration, they increased it ten-fold.
So we're back to pencils again. And, boy, do I have an opinion on those! Pencils are definitely not all created equal. At the risk of being considered a pencil-snob, I'll admit that I absolutely refuse to purchase cheap-o, off-brand pencils because the lead and erasers just don't work. We use either Ticonderoga pencils (especially the black ones) or mechanical pencils.
Of course, if we use pencils, that means we need a pencil sharpener as well. We've been through several electric sharpeners, and none have lasted very long at all. We finally gave up on the electric versions and bought a manual sharpener like I grew up using in public school, and it's worked perfectly. To keep it accessible, we installed the sharpener on the wall at the end of our bar in the kitchen.
6. A good laser copier/printer/scanner (and lots of paper)
Many eons ago we owned a black and white laser printer (and we loved it!). But alas, once we started homeschooling, we realized we needed a copier too, so we said good-bye to the laser printer and purchased an all-in-one ink jet.
A couple years later—and what seemed like thousands of dollars in ink later—we realized that ink jets aren't the cheap printers they're purported to be. We got fed up with having to buy new ink cartridges every. single. month and started to research an all-in-one laser printer.
We ended up getting an HP all-in-one laser printer at Office Max for only $150 on sale. Thankfully, although we didn't like the idea of spending so much on a printer, we've actually spent much less already since we don't have to spend $20 a month on ink any longer.
7. Colored pencils for correcting work.
When I correct math work, I love to use colored pencils, so I always try to have plenty on hand. I prefer colored pencils over pens since they seem to be so much more reliable and leave a bolder mark.
8. Lap-sized dry erase boards
Many years ago we made our own lap-size dry erase boards, and they've been used and abused ever since. They come in extremely handy for just about any subject.
9. Spiral notebooks
We use single-subject spiral notebooks to keep school work all in one place. Loose-leaf sheets of notebook paper tend to get lost around our house, so instead each child has a spiral notebook for each subject. They are also handy because we can choose different colors for each child to use.
10. Online graphing calculator
While we own a graphing calculator (it was a lost & found item we got for free several years ago), it tends to get misplaced quite often. Additionally, the screen on a graphing calculator is so small it's difficult to use. Lately we've opted to use this online graphing calculator instead. Not only is it much easier to use, the graph is also much larger. Not only that, but we can't misplace a website so it's always accessible.
These are my 10 must-haves for homeschooling but I bet you have some others you consider a necessity for your homeschooling experience.