It’s back-to-school shopping season, and homeschoolers are stocking up, right alongside the, um, regular schoolers. In fact, some of us are downright giddy about it.
As writer and homeschool mom Heather D. Nelson puts it, “Honestly, I get a little thrill at back-to-school time and I tend to go a little crazy on supplies if I’m not careful.”
Whether you homeschool year-round, or follow a more traditional school calendar, this really is a great time to stock up on those must-have items that keep your homeschool humming.
To help you make your list and check it twice, here are some commonly used supplies that many homeschoolers can’t live without (and where to find them), along with a few unique finds that I’ve discovered—with the help from some homeschool experts:
Head to the Dollar Tree
Oh, the Dollar Tree. Love it or hate it, there are just some items that, for $1 or less, you can’t find elsewhere. Perhaps the simplest item in that category is a 200-count pack of white index cards. They are so versatile, whether for planning the year ahead, on various kids projects, or making flashcards. Index cards are a homeschool staple.
The Dollar Tree is also a great place to look for storage solutions for your supplies. While the quality of these items may be exactly what you’d expect for $1, for certain items, it makes sense to replace them frequently when they’re being abused (er, used with enthusiasm) by children day in and day out.
While you’re there, also check out their art supplies. For example, they sell a pack of six small paint palettes for $1. That’s a great deal compared to most art-supply stores.
Their office- and school-supply aisles are also chock-full of unique finds, especially at this time of year. Most items there are a good deal at a dollar, but not all. For example, while composition books—another must-have—are available for $1, they can be found at other stores, such as Staples, for $0.50 each. On the other hand, they’ve got Mead three-subject notebooks for $1, which is a good price.
The Ultimate Staple: Pencils
We all need pencils, and not just any pencil: the best pencil is still the Ticonderoga No. 2. You can find a pack of 96 at Costco and on Amazon for around $10. Some versions come pre-sharpened, which may be a worthwhile time-saver.
Along similar lines, let’s talk erasers. You see those tiny erasers at the top of “the world’s best pencil?” You and I both know that won’t make it to Halloween. You need the big guy—the PaperMate Pink Pearl. A 24-count pack is also available at Costco for about $10.
All the Paper
When it comes to paper, take stock (pun intended) of what you have and make a specific list of what you need. Commonly, you’ll want an abundance of printer paper, loose leaf paper, colorful cardstock, art paper, and perhaps handwriting paper for young students, and graph paper for math.
Since paper tends to be purchased in large quantities, it’s worth checking prices before you buy. If you can combine a store coupon with a back-to-school sale, you’ll probably get a great price.
Another consideration is that paper can be quite heavy. You may choose to shop online and enjoy the convenience of having your paper delivered to your door.
Additionally, for the best variety of fun papers, Hobby Lobby and Michaels carry impressive options.
“The main thing I look for annually are items that are functional, but also fun,” Nelson said. “Since I’m not limited by school lists needing certain colors, I get things geared towards my kids!”
Once the school year has begun, you’ll need an organizational system for finished work as well. Many homeschoolers use binders to organize their teaching records, students’ work in progress, and work divided by subject.
Quality matters a lot with binders that you’ll likely use day in and day out and, perhaps, take with you on field trips and elsewhere. The best binders out there are, unquestionably, Staples Better Binders. They tend to be on the pricey side, although they do go on sale frequently. However, the quality of these binders is head and shoulders above the rest. If you want quality, these are the binders to get.
Within binders, a great way to protect your children’s work is with page protectors. Staples has a great price on a pack of 100 for $6.49 at the time of this writing.
In addition to washable markers for little ones that you can find everywhere this time of year, permanent markers like Sharpies are usually a great buy on Amazon. Sharpie highlighters are also a good choice, as they don’t seem to dry out as quickly as others.
Dry-erase markers are a must-have for individual work and for notes on a wall-mounted dry-erase board. “We write on windows and doors in our house!” RaddishKids founder and homeschool mom Samantha Barnes said.
Another great dry-erase tool is a reusable dry-erase pocket. You can turn any worksheet into a dry-erase sheet, which is great for handwriting practice, math drills, and more.
Printer Ink Refill
Speaking of worksheets, homeschoolers tend to do a lot of printing at home. Printer ink can get used up quickly. An economical way to manage printer cartridges is with cartridge refills. Costco offers this service at a fraction of the cost of buying new cartridges. You simply drop off your cartridges at the photo counter, and they’re usually ready in an hour.
Ready to Go
One of the greatest features of homeschooling is the freedom to head out the door and “school” anywhere. It helps to have the right tools to facilitate that portability.
Nelson recommends the Dexas clip case. “We homeschool “on the go” a lot, she said. “I have one for each kid and it basically lets us have a mobile classroom.”
One tool that has gotten some attention from YouTubers is the Miracle TimeCube. A fun way to manage time, this simple tool is easy to use and may prove motivating when you need the kids to focus or complete something within a limited amount of time.
When in Doubt
Perhaps the most valuable supply of all (not to mention the most economical) is a library card. Make sure you’ve got one of your own and one for each of your kiddos. The library is truly an invaluable resource for any homeschooler.
And lastly, don’t forget coffee. Lots of coffee.
The Dollar Tree
- Index cards
- Supply storage
- Art supplies
- Ink cartridge refills
- Page protectors