In April, I introduced a series of blog posts that shared some of my favorite Charlotte Mason homeschool resources broken down by subject. These are the ones we’ve tried and have been so helpful in making our days run more smoothly. They have also engaged my kids in whatever subject we’re covering. In some cases, they’re resources that have been made by other homeschooling moms or are from reputable homeschooling companies, and sometimes they’re just different items that have been helpful to us in a specific subject.
Over the last few months, I’ve shared resources ranging from history to math and everything in between, but today I’m getting back to the basics and listing some of our favorite supplies for homeschooling in general. I have a post with a tour of our homeschool room here that includes a few things from this list, but I thought I’d go into more detail and share some of the essential things that make our days run more efficiently.
Printer. At the very top of my list of things I use almost daily in our homeschool is our printer. I have waxed poetic about it before, but it’s been such a reliable printer that offers excellent printing that I can’t help but want to advertise it to the world. As both my husband and I are small business owners, that, along with homeschooling, means we print a LOT and have gone through quite a few printers over the years. We got this particular one (an Epson EcoTank 3700) back in 2017, and because it’s an EcoTank, in the 4+ years that we’ve been using it, we’ve only had to buy ink a handful of times despite the large amount of printing we do. It prints color so well, but if you want just a black and white printer, we also have an Epson EcoTank M3170, which also prints beautifully. (Also, Costco often carries models of EcoTank printers as well!)
Paper. This is obviously a must for any type of classroom, and I like to keep ours in a letter tray in our school cabinet. Usually, I have different kinds depending on what we’re doing that year. Perpetually available is pre-punched, lined notebook paper for many of our language arts subjects (copywork, dictation, grammar exercises, etc.) as well as math scrap paper. In the past, I also kept cardstock for lessons from What to Draw and How to Draw It.
Pencils and pencil sharpener. We have tried wooden and mechanical pencils, but we always return to the trusty Dixon Ticonderogas. The kids like to sharpen a big batch of these at a time, and we keep them in a jar next to our pencil sharpener. The kids also have the bad habit of breaking off the erasers, so these also come in handy.
Pens and highlighters. The kids usually stick to pencils, but I use pens in my homeschool planner, and all three of us like these erasable pens. I also have a nice set of Microns and highlighters that I use in my planner as well.
Sketchpad and watercolor paints. Each of the kids and I have our own nature notebooks that we use every week. I started them both with Strathmore mixed media notebooks, and when my son got to Form II, I got him a nicer Leda sketchbook. We also have our own sets of watercolor paints and watercolor brush pens that we have taken on hikes (C prefers to use the little brush that came with her watercolor set).
Timer. When we first began homeschooling, I had this pretty little kitchen timer that I thought would be perfect for letting us know when to switch subjects. Unfortunately, it was so loud and obnoxious that the aesthetics of the piece were quickly forgotten when the panic-inducing buzzer went off. I then decided we didn’t need a timer, and I could just look at the clock to see when we needed to end! This did not work. So I bought this timer, and even though it was more than I wanted to spend on a timer (it was actually cheaper than it is now when I bought it), it has been very worth it. I have used it not only in our homeschool but also at co-op and when I have spoken at our retreat.
Maps and globe. One of the first things I ever bought for our homeschool were enormous wall maps at Costco. They took up one wall of our basement as that’s where I originally planned to homeschool. I later learned that taking up that much wall space wasn’t ideal, so I traded them in for a smaller wall map that we framed and hung above our couch when we moved our school area from the basement to the family room. We also have two smaller laminated maps that live on a tabletop easel on the coffee table in our school area. I can pull them out whenever a location is mentioned during our readings. We also have a globe that is taken out during our geography lessons.
Reference books. In this day and age, when we can ask Siri pretty much anything, it doesn’t make sense to have reference books, but I like to choose the path less taken in most things. On our mantel, I have the dictionary gifted to me when I graduated from high school, as well as a book containing several documents related to the founding of the United States, including the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. On the top of our homeschool cabinet, I have a complete encyclopedia set I picked up at the library used book sale a few years ago. These have come in handy to look things up randomly (instead of asking Siri) and when we’re reading a book that is descriptive but doesn’t have many pictures. For instance, when we were reading Peeps at Many Lands: Ancient Greece, we could see pictures of Greek Triremes that fit the book’s descriptions exactly.
Science supplies. This is more of a general category, but we have a few supplies that we’ve used for multiple subjects, like our human skeleton model (which resides permanently on our school table) and our rocks and minerals sets. In particular, the rocks and minerals have been handy for comparing rocks we’ve found during hikes to see which ones match. We get the majority of our science supplies from Home Science Tools.
Laminator. Okay, so a laminator isn’t an absolutely essential item, but it sure does come in handy. I picked this up at Costco for about $20 years ago, and it has been so helpful. I use it to laminate maps for specific subjects (mainly Plutarch right now), so I can use them over several years. I also use it to laminate covers of ebooks that I print out and bind (see below).
Coil binding machine. And on that note, I also have a coil binding machine, which I originally bought for my business but no longer use for that purpose. This is another not-completely-essential item to have, but I love having it. I can purchase ebooks, print them out, laminate the covers, and bind them, which makes them durable ands I don’t have to get on my computer every time I do a lesson from one of these ebooks.
So many things can fall under this category, and having a place for everything makes homeschooling life much easier!
Dividers and sheet protectors. When we begin our school year, I prepare a new homeschool archive binder for that year for each of my kids. I get two 3-inch, 3-ring binders (blue for my son and purple for my daughter) and insert dividers (I especially love these because a pack of five lasts a long time, and they’re plastic and highly durable) and sheet protectors, so everything is in place. This way, I can put papers in them as we go through the school year and don’t have to worry about doing it all at the end.
Folders. I use folders in the kids’ carts to organize their map drills and extra math sheets, and they also keep a supply of lined paper for copywork in them as well. I also have them in our homeschool cabinet to keep our monthly calendar sheets (I print them all on cardstock at the beginning of the year) and the picture study art prints we’ve already looked at organized. I am partial to the Rifle Paper Co and Cavallini Papers & Co folders.
Carts. Speaking of the kids’ carts….carts have also been essential for us. I bought my first Raskog cart at Ikea in 2013 or 2014 and filled it with craft supplies along with grand plans to use them. Sadly, the supplies and the plans gathered dust in a closet, and I regretted the purchase until the night before we started kindergarten. While my husband assembled a last-minute-purchase table for us (another essential item for our homeschool that I almost didn’t buy), I remembered that cart and thought it might come in handy for school. We have been using it for that purpose ever since, and when my daughter started grade school in 2020, I got her one too. In my homeschool room tour post, I talk a little more in detail about how I organize them.
Baskets and other containers. As I said, having a place for everything really does help our homeschool mornings run more smoothly, so I try to have a container for everything we might need. Many of our regularly-used items are stored in large baskets in the bottom of our coffee table. I have one for our geometry panels, another for more math-related items (geometry tools, abacus, etc.), and another for my planner, my homeschool 3-ring binder, and other books used for school. I also keep smaller containers, like wooden prep bowls or palm plates, in each of the kids’ carts that hold whatever math manipulatives we are currently using.
Jars. I use old ghee jars and mason jars for a few different things in our school area, including keeping a jar of pencils on our school table, displaying some nature items, and holding all of our bookmarks (we have a lot of bookmarks).
Parts organizer. My husband had several parts organizers left over from a project for his business a few years ago, so I commandeered one for school. In it, I have all of our extra RightStart manipulatives organized, so I don’t have to dig through drawers or boxes to find what we’ll need for a lesson. Everything except the balance, geometric panels, and geometry tools fit in the parts organizer. I store this under the coffee table in our school area, so it’s easy to access.
I firmly believe in Charlotte Mason’s adage that education is an atmosphere. We keep our homeschool area cozy while also encouraging learning. I don’t try to re-create a traditional classroom but instead, take advantage of the fact that we HOMEschool and can make the area whatever we want it to be.
Glass domes and holders. From nearly every hike, nature walk, or outdoor excursion, my kids inevitably come home with some “treasure” they want to keep. More often than not, this is rocks, but sometimes they come back with other things like cocoons, grasshopper wings, or butterflies that died fully intact. For these things, I picked up some little glass display holders from Ikea that they no longer sell, and for the extensive collection of feathers we’ve found in the wild over the years, I got a larger glass dome. I know other homeschoolers have also used printer trays to display their nature finds, but we don’t have wall space for this, so we’ve made due with the glass holders.
Wall grid (with clips). Our wall grid is another place where we display some of our nature finds along with an inspirational quote, random things the kids have made, and pictures of our current artist and composer. I use small black bull clips to attach these to the wall grid and for our picture study prints below it.
Tabletop easels. I bought a tabletop easel on a whim back when we started kindergarten as a way to display our picture study prints. Little did I know how handy they would become. We use these for just about everything, including holding up maps, whiteboards (more on those below), Shakespeare character sheets, our calendar, and, of course, picture study prints. I have one on our school coffee table and one for each of the kids that sit on our school table.
Small whiteboards (and dry-erase markers). In Year 1, when we switched to RightStart for math, I ordered the full manipulatives set, which included a lap-sized dry-erase board. We, of course, used it for math, but I discovered that it was also handy for other subjects. I ended up buying a few more, and we now use them for everything from whiteboard Shakespeare to writing down names to help with narrations.
Magnetic poster frames. I’m a huge fan of the Cavallini Papers & Co posters and try to get at least one new one each year to go along with one of our subjects (this year it’s the periodic table and birds). I love displaying them with these magnetic poster frames which are strong, keep them from curling, don’t require punching holes in the poster, are easy to switch out, and are much cheaper than having them framed. I also like the overall aesthetic. I have these in a few different sizes for both landscape- and portrait-oriented posters, and another small one for the quote on our wire grid.
So these are most of the things we use on a regular basis in our homeschool, though I’m sure I’m forgetting a few! What are some essential items for homeschooling that you’d add to this list?