Must-Have Resources for Our Homeschool

What do you really need to homeschool your elementary-age kids? Honestly, not a lot. Homeschooling need not be complicated nor expensive.

Following are resources we use regularly in our homeschool. (Some may sound corny to you, but I'm laying it all out there.) Many we would use even if the Agents attended public or private school. None would be considered formal curriculum. All can easily be adjusted based on budget. Where applicable I've included approximate costs.

Library card (or three)

Agents E and J and I each have our own library cards, with a 50-item limit per card. We have come super close to our 150-item max several times. In addition to fiction and non-fiction books, we have also found a number of educational DVDs as well, including several from Disney Educational Productions.

We live close enough to two different branches to visit each with some regularity. One is much larger and a better source of non-fiction books, but the other has a small town, personal feel and the librarians take more interest in the kids. So we enjoy both for different reasons. Luckily you can return materials to either location, because just the thought of keeping track of that makes me a little woozy.

Computer and Kindle

I don't personally know of any current homeschoolers who do not own one or more computers or electronic reading devices. While folks in the not-to-distant past clearly got by without them, it's pretty much a necessity now. I have a five-year-old MacBook Pro and a Kindle that I've owned since November 2012. Last year for Christmas we purchased a second Kindle (we paid $159 for it at the time) for the Agents to share. While I would say the laptop is more of a priority than the Kindle, rarely does a day go by that we don't use one or all of these devices for something homeschool-related.

Reliable Internet access

This is probably the most expensive component, because it's a monthly fee, but something we'd have irrespective of schooling choices. We pay approximately $35 a month for "standard" service, which is kind of right in the middle speed-wise and suits our needs well. I know costs will vary considerably depending on where you live, so I have no idea if what we pay is high, low, or just right. All I know is our homeschool could not survive without it.

I use it to research ideas, find free printables, and connect with local (and not-so-local) homeschoolers. The Agents us it to peruse educational websites, practice skills, and play games. We're also able to watch documentaries, movies, and just plain fun stuff on both Amazon Prime (we signed up at $72 a year) and Netflix (at $8 a month). The Agents use their shared Kindle to read books and play games via Free Time Unlimited, which we have for free until the end of this year (normally would run us $7 a month).

Quality printer

An initial upfront investment, but worth every penny. We use a Brother HL2280DW and at the time of purchase it was $150 on Amazon. We found "compatible" toner cartridges (also on Amazon) that sell for $8 to $13. Each toner yields roughly 2600 black and white pages, so a real score. Even with all the printing we do, we're still using the reams of paper I had leftover when I quit my freelance editing job nearly eight years ago.


Dry erase calendar

We bought a 20 x 16 board for about $12 and we use different color dry erase markers (stock up when they're on sale!) to keep track of our activities. We write our school goals for the month in the Notes section, and then fill in the calendar with any activities that pertain to the Agents specifically. This can be anything from field trips to appointments to vacation plans to Daddy's work schedule. We also include everyday activities, such as church and play dates and when library books are due. The Agents like being able to see the whole month laid out, especially Agent E, who is my planning and list-making kindred spirit. The key aspect here is not necessarily the type of calendar or how it's organized, but having something centrally located that both "teacher" and "student" can easily consult for an overview of what's going on.

The Target dollar section

Seem like an odd resource to list? Well, we've found so many fun and useful things here, it had to be its own category. My kids love a good workbook, because they like to have something in front of them. In the past we've picked up states, presidents, dinosaurs, reading comprehension, and math practice books. We also love the flash cards (yeah, my kids enjoy them), quick reference guides, and mini dry erase boards. Also a great source of inexpensive folders/binders for keeping current materials and our portfolios organized. They often have abridged versions of classic stories available here, too.

Amazon

I must give a shout out to my favorite online shopping outlet. Seriously, this website has ruined me for ever wanting to shop for books and workbooks in a brick and mortar store again, as tempting as bargain bins and on-site lattes can be. I have a continually changing wish list for our homeschool, and it even keeps an eye on price fluctuations for me so I know exactly when to order. This is where we get most of our primary workbooks for math and language arts, including these fun Star Wars ones.

Art supplies

The Agents love art time, and we try to do something art-related every day. Mostly it's just simple things like drawing and play doh and chalk and paint. (I am not crafty, although I did make homemade play doh that one time.) I don't think that anything we keep on hand is unique to homeschooling, just your run-of-the-mill random art stuff. We keep it on a shelf of the same cabinet we use to store our other homeschooling supplies.

Spine books to keep us on track

I mentioned in this post about how in spite of our relatively relaxed approach to homeschooling we need something to use as a guideline or simple agenda to follow. This year we are going to try using one primary book per subject as a spine to give us some predetermined structure. We have chosen books for geographyhistoryscience (this one, too), healthart, and music.

While we already own two of these books (purchased last year after our trip to Washington, D.C.), finishing off the collection will be our biggest expense this year. We'll probably spend about $100 (on Amazon, of course) to own the remaining books. I consider that a pretty good investment given that we will use these texts for more than one school year and for all three Agents.

{Note: We don't use a primary text or curriculum for math or language arts, just a variety of written resources and books from the library.}

Evernote, Pages, and Calendar

I have been using the free version of Evernote for years to draft and edit blog posts. Recently I've started using it more for keeping track of homeschooling plans and goals. One huge advantage is that everything is in an online account, so no worries about losing information in the case of a computer crash.

Pages is essentially Word for Macs. (I have an old version that came with the system; the current one runs about $20.) I use it for writing correspondence to the school district (letters of intent, quarterly reports, etc.) as well as keeping track of book lists and other homeschooling notes.

Calendar is the application formerly known as iCal. I use this to keep track (easily updated) of school days vs. holidays or travel days. (We're required to keep attendance here.) I print a copy for our homeschool binder and can simply reprint a month if we have significant changes. I like that I can have several calendars of different colors all connected into one master view.

If this makes me sound super organized, you should know that isn’t true. I am definitely not one of those homeschooling moms who knows at the beginning of the year exactly where she wants to be at the end of the year. Oh, I love a good plan, but I also need lots of wiggle room. We don't alway arrange breaks in advance, so I need to be able to go with the flow. While we like having something like the aforementioned spine books to keep ourselves on track, we also like to leave enough space to follow rabbit holes along the way.

I hate strict schedules but come a bit unglued when I don't have at least some framework. What works for us (me) is to have a flexible plan, to balance structured and independent work time, and to embrace the philosophy of less is more (i.e., take it slow). While I do look at the big picture in terms of yearly and monthly plans, mostly I just bite off one week at a time and break it down from there.

14 comments:

  1. A laminator!!! You can find them on amazon and you can reuse lots of stuff.

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    1. You know, I'm really not sure why we don't have one. I've put one in/out of my Amazon cart a couple of times already. Maybe a purchase in the near future?

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  2. My top 6 would be: Library Card, Computer with Internet, Notebooks, Whiteboards, Vehicle, and Art Supplies.

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    1. I never considered having a car as a necessary component of homeschooling, but I guess it is! Thanks for stopping by, Jessy.

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  3. My items would include a library card, computer with internet, printer/copier, coffee maker, electric pencil sharpener, ??? -- I still have one more item, I will have to ponder that 6th item. we don't have the electric pencil sharpener right now and I am missing it.

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    1. I'm not sure I could count the coffee pot as a homeschooling necessity around here; it's more of a life necessity, LOL.

      I used to have an electric pencil sharpener, but now we have one of the old school silver mounted ones (impulse Amazon purchase) and it's working out well.

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  4. Those would pretty much be my top 6 items but I would have to swap Target (we like in the UK so we don't have one!) for Amazon!

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    1. We spent two years living in Italy, and Amazon was our best friend. :-)

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  5. I laughed when I saw that Target was actually an item! I love Target. I could not live without a whiteboard and my electric pencil sharpener.

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    1. I know! It's so true . . . we lived overseas for two years, and when we first came back that was one of my first stops. Especially if you can stop and get your Starbucks coffee on the way in the door: bonus! But seriously, it's not just the inexpensive school supplies and workbook fun; I spark so many ideas roaming around Target. It's better than Pinterest.

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  6. Love the list. I'd add chocolate. I know it's not really necessary but it sure does help to get through the day. :-)

    Thanks for posting. Hope you are having a great week.

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    1. Yes; chocolate, like coffee, is a staple at our house. Thanks for stopping by.

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  7. Replies
    1. Thanks. I always wonder if I am going to sound crazy when I write out all the stuff we use, but I think it just illustrates how many educational resources are out there and how it doesn't need to be complicated.

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