Monday, June 18, 2012

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"Must-Have" Homeschooling Items

I've been reading a lot of blog posts on moms' "Top Ten Must-Have Homeschool Items."  Well, I'd like to revise that. I didn't read the posts until the week of that "blog hop" had passed, but I'd already started making my list.  Then, when I looked again at my list, I realized how dependent I am on so many things, and if I look closely enough, I could probably do without most of my Top Ten Items.  To be honest, I could do without all but one, which is listed last below (even though it is the most important).  The rest of them make our lives easier.  The truth is, families have homeschooled without any of the items on my list (yes, even my MUST-HAVE list).  Really, you only NEED books, paper, and pencils/pens, and even that is debatable (just ask unschoolers).  Most of my list, while unnecessary, sure makes homeschooling a LOT easier, so I categorized them into two groups

My Eight "Makes Everything Easier" Homeschooling Items

1.  Laser Printer.  I have Brother multifunction printer that prints, scans, copies, and faxes. It has a duplex function (a must-have feature to save paper and time).  It's about six years old and still works great.  I am extremely frugal when it comes to printing, so I opted for a black-and-white printer with no color option (the color toner prices are not worth the extra cost to me).  We do enough printing from free worksheet sites that a regular inkjet printer will not suffice.  A toner is as cheap as an inkjet cartridge now ($20 on Amazon for my brand), with a much larger output.  Your upfront cost for a laser printer may be slightly higher, but if you do a lot of printing, you'll easily make up that expense in less than a year.

2.  Laminator.  As I mentioned, I try to be frugal with paper and printing.  There are some sheets that I'd rather not have to reprint over and over again.  My laminator (a gift from my aunt who was cleaning out her office), has been a huge blessing to us.  We have so many different things we laminate, but my three favorite uses are artwork, our handwriting worksheets, and graphing paper.  Artwork is preserved from rips, spills, and extra (unwanted) marks from my youngest artist on his sisters' work. My youngest will start using the handwirting worksheets to practice his letters on a smaller scale this year.  My oldest slips the reusable graphing paper in her math notebook to work on problems that require coordinates, and the back is blank, providing a great scratch paper that is reusable, making math work much neater.

3.  Dry erase Materials.  For me, this includes whiteboards, dry erase markers, and page protectors.  We have one standard whiteboard that lost its frame a couple of moves ago, and I plan to get more shower board from Home Depot to use as an extra whiteboard soon... since my budding young artist loves to take over the one we have during school hours.  We use the chisel tip large dry erase markers for the board, and fine-tipped dry erase markers for our page protectors and laminated sheets.  I use the page protectors in our Easy Grammar workbooks (they are the teacher guides with full copy release, so I don't worry that I'm abusing a copyright).  My kids slip the page protector over the student side of the lesson and cover up the teacher/answer side with a piece of cardstock.  When they are finished with the sheet, they remove the cardstock and check their answers.  They count the number of problems, the number they got wrong, and place it on a handy sheet I give them to record their progress for the week.  I'll feature that sheet on another post, but it has saved me so much time (and it only took me SEVEN YEARS to figure it out, haha).

4.  Startwrite Software.  I've used this software for several years.  I have Version 5, but Version 6 is packed with great new features.  I can customize handwriting lessons to meet the needs of my children as they practice their penmanship. I don't buy the elementary tablets with dotted lines. Startwrite does it all for me, and I can make the letters as large or small as I want. Take a look... they offer a FREE 30-day demo trial.  It's saved me literally hundreds of dollars in handwriting curriculum, and my kids can learn whichever style fits our needs and preferences.  (These are the sheets I customize and laminate to use with dry-erase markers.)  Click the link below and try it for 30 days. I highly recommend it.  It will save you money year after year, and is even effective for improving adults' handwriting.

5.  Gradebook+ Spreadsheet.  Joy over at has developed an outstanding Gradebook for Excel and OpenOffice that covers just about every grading dilemma I could think of.  Take a look--you will be wowed by the features, the versatility, and the price (did I mention it's FREE?)!  Click here to go directly to the download page for the software, and while you are there, take a look at the rest of Joy's website.  She has more great (free) tools that I'm using as well.

6.  iPod Touch.  I could devote this entire blog to how we use the iPod Touch for our classroom. I have written about how we've used them. I'm sure I'll be adding more to this topic. The educational apps are so vast that all three of my kids, from preteen to toddler, all use the iPod and LEARN something from them. I love it for the Kindle app and the free books that are offered daily on Kindle. I can also have my Bible in my pocket at all times, not to mention my favorite Pandora station with all my favorite music on it.  My four-year-old uses mine as much as I do. It's been great for memorization, fine motor skills, vocabulary, and more.

7. Kindle Fire. After several years of resisting, we've become more accustomed to the screen size of the Kindle Fire. It's more like a book in page size, and the amount of free books on the Kindle store is ASTOUNDING. I've become a huge fan of our Amazon Prime membership over the years as well, which allows us to listen to music, read books, watch educational shows, and order supplies right from our Kindles seamlessly. All for a great price... it's cable TV, shopping, and the bookstore, all wrapped in one.

7.  Composition Books.  Each year around late summer, these handy notebooks go on sale at large retailers for around forty cents each.  We use them as much as possible (and prefer them over loose leaf notebook paper).  It keeps my kids' work in one place easily, and we enjoy decorating and personalizing the covers.  After years of spiral notebooks, composition books have become my choice. I even use one for my daily journal. Take a look at these from Aesthetic Nest to see one easy way to decorate them.

8.  Electric Pencil Sharpener. Since we moved a few months ago, I've had trouble finding my electric pencil sharpener. I realize now how much I really, REALLY need it around. I'm adding it to my must-have list.

My Three "Essential" Homeschooling Items

9.  Internet.  You aren't reading this without it.  Without the Internet, I would spend a LOT more money on curriculum than I do.  It allows me to find great deals on used homeschool books ( and Amazon are my top two sites), not to mention the ideas and support I get from homeschooling sites (including blogs by other homeschooling moms).

10.  Library Card.  What homeschooling mom is worth her weight in salt without a library card?  That's a given. My kids love the library, and it's one of the first places we search when we move to a new place. It's also our  go-to place for new books we want to read (and possibly buy in the future).  I was able to preview Writing with Ease by Susan Wise Bauer at our library before making the decision to purchase it.  Many libraries have homeschooling materials in their reference section or available for checkout.  Even if your library is too far from your home, check into the ebook and audiobook services your library offers online for its patrons.

ABSOLUTE MUST-HAVE. Bible.  Without the Bible, everything on this list is worthless. As I've stated previously on this blog, homeschooling is a lifestyle choice.  Christianity is no different.  I need to be open to receive the gift of God's grace through His Word every day.  No matter what homeschooling guides I have (The Well-Trained Mind, A Charlotte Mason Companion, Home Learning Year by Year)... I have no greater need for any written word than I do for His Word.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission, but at no additional cost to you. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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