I run a minimalist home school, especially when it comes to school supplies. I would much rather spend more of my homeschool budget on books for the kids to read, and field trips, than fancy schmancy school supplies that will mostly end up being clutter.
I think often of people who are admired in our culture, and how little they had by way of “school supplies”. Laura Ingalls, beloved American writer, had a piece of chalk (one piece), a slate that she shared with her sister, and just one or two good books, one being the Bible. Abraham Lincoln read Aesop’s fables over and over because it was the only book he had, and he did math by “writing” sums on a shovel (with what… a piece of coal? An ember? I’m not sure).
My point is that we don’t need a lot of “stuff” in our home school classroom. A few things you don’t need:
- Math manipulatives. School supply stores are full of tubs of doohickeys and tchotchkes you can purchase for use as math manipulatives. Today my 1st grader (and her 2 year old sister) did their addition and subtraction work with … navy beans. For math manipulatives, you can use raisins or nuts (fun because you can eat them after a correct answer), Lego pieces, small toys, pebbles or acorns from outside, or any other small doodads lying around … and I’m sure you have plenty of those!
- Workbooks. You can print endless free math facts and other workbook-type busy work online. I’m not knocking busywork, by the way – sometimes a few printables is just what the doctor ordered when you want to keep someone busy for a few minutes, or as extra practice (or as a negative consequence).
There are a few supplies that are fun and helpful for your homeschool however. Here are some of our favorites:
I prefer these over regular pencils because they don’t need to be sharpened. Pencil points breaking, needing to hunt down a sharpener, the accompanying mess… it’s a distraction. Buy the good ones though, they’re worth the extra pennies. The cheap ones break easily. Also, we love these click-up erasers. Kids always need more eraser than pencil! And a tip: choose from the get-go whether you want .05 or .07 lead and always buy that consistently, that way when you buy refill lead, it will fit all the pencils you have.
I find uses for these every day. The flags are great for keeping your place in teacher’s guides and student workbooks. They don’t rip the paper. They don’t fall out like bookmarks. They don’t damage the spine like shoving a pencil in there would. When you pick up the book, you can turn immediately to the spot you’re starting at that day. (And I love book darts for my own books, but they’re irresistible to little kids, and I worry about babies and toddlers eating them.)
The multiple colors are great for keeping track when you’re teaching two kids out of the same book, or for quickly flipping to a section you need (like instructions, index, or the answer key).
One Homeschool Binder
Some home schooling parents are big binder freaks. To each his own, but I’ve never been big on having a ton of binders. I don’t save schoolwork, for one. I find that it’s immensely satisfying to throw stuff away at the end of the day. It has a finality to it. The kids love ripping pages out and tossing them.
My oldest son has a writing notebook that he uses for Writing With Skill (Susan Wise Bauer’s suggestion), and a history notebook that he writes test answers in (so he doesn’t mark in the book, saving me money when the next kid uses it). He also keeps a Literature notebook (also Susan Wise Bauer’s suggestion, per The Well Educated Mind), where he keeps notes about the books he’s reading.
Some children, however, like to have a binder to keep their work. My oldest daughter is the only child who enjoys doing this, so I let her. She likes to add additional stuff to her binder, like extra material she prints out from the Internet, stories she writes, etc.
I do have a homeschool binder… just one, for myself. I keep stuff in it that I need to have at my fingers each day, all in one place. I wrote about creating a homeschool binder here. It has answer keys, our daily and weekly schedule, and other goodies that I’ll actually use.
Update 2017: I no longer even keep a homeschool binder. As the years have passed, I’ve gotten more and more minimalist about home school supplies! I keep notes about our homeschool, including our yearly plan, in my Bullet Journal.
Notebooks and Composition Books
Of course, we buy these by the caseload when they go on sale super cheap! There is never, ever enough paper in a home school household, it seems. So I stock up when the various stores have them as loss leaders for .01 or .05 each, and buy enough for the whole year.
Colored Pencils, Crayons and other art supplies
My girls especially have loved creating art. I keep plenty of high-quality crayons (the cheap ones are awful), colored pencils, paints and watercolors around. These get used daily.
Emergency Chocolate and Wine
For mom, of course! I get these two cheap at ALDI.
For more about our minimalist home school, see the resources page. We like to get many of our home school supplies, including curriculum, from Educents. They have great deals that run occasionally, and have the best prices on Life of Fred math books. See more here.