Thoughts on Lesson Planning

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I think the hardest part of homeschooling is lesson planning.

It’s really easy to over-plan and it’s really easy to plan too little. I’ve known some homeschool parents who have planned and scheduled every single lesson for a whole quarter, a whole semester, and even a whole year. This might seem like a good thing to do, and something that an organized person would want to do, but trust me it is not a good idea for a homeschool family to plan this way. Teachers who teach in public schools can plan like this, because they have to stick to a schedule to keep everyone in the class moving along at the same pace but the biggest perk of homeschool is that the home educating parent can move at the pace of the student.

Since students are a bit unpredictable, this means that a method to build in some flexibility is crucial.

The trick is to plan just enough.

It really is a skill and it does take practice along with some trial and error. I think of it as being much the same as learning to make bread. Some people just get it right immediately but most of us need a period of trial and error to figure out how to get something more out of the oven than a flat, heavy brick that no one wants to deal with, one that ends up either as a doorstop or in the trash. I don’t want to see you decide to use your lesson planning book for a doorstop!

I’ve tried to use those pre-printed lesson planners that you can find for sale all over the internet but that never worked out well for us. For one thing, I came to hate having to lug around a year’s worth of crossed out, erased, highlighted, and written-over lesson plans as well as months of blank ones. For another thing, the plans never exactly fit how we organized our homeschool. Some have boxes for things I don’t teach and no room to add in other things that I do teach. Some planners even have pages and pages of articles and other material we aren’t interested in and don’t need.

The only solution was to try creating something on my own.

By the way, those homeschool parents who want to plan every daily lesson for a 180 day school year nearly always end up having to scrap the entire plan when their child either learns ‘too fast’ or needs more time on a given subject.

Other homeschool parents, in trying to avoid over-planning, sometimes end up under-planning and wake up on a given school day wondering ‘what do I teach today?’ or ‘Where the heck was I going with this?’.

Lesson planning is what drives most homeschool parents to groan ‘I wish someone else would plan this entire thing out for me!” and even drives some to the internet to purchase (over-priced) curriculum plans that spell out in exhaustive detail what to do each school day. I’ve seen plans that even tell the parent what to say aloud as they explain a concept. Save your money, this isn’t that hard. I can help you. 

The first thing you need to decide is whether you want to use a paper planner or an online planner.

Are you a paper planning person or an online planning person? I was a paper planning person for years, but I really wanted to be an online planning person! I went through a lot of different types of planners!

I still don’t know whether I’m a paper planner or an online planner. This year it seems to be paper.

Currently I’m down to planning in one to two-week increments. I have a general idea of where I’m going beyond that, but life has been busy lately (when is it not?) and about all I can manage to get organized is a week or so at a time. Right now I’m using paper again. I made a plain old grid on my word processor and printed it out. You can have a peek if you like.

Sunshine Homeschool Basic Planner Page

Yeah, it’s pretty basic. Last year I was an online planner and I had all these spiffy plans made up in OneNote, with links to websites and videos and all kinds of things. It was exhausting. I might do that again next year, but this year I’m going with the basic paper planner.

How do you plan your homeschool?

Using Free Material 101

It’s always nice to find a great free curriculum that is laid out in either daily lessons or in an easily managed sequence of study. But not all free resources are that easy to use.

There are a lot of websites out there from well-respected institutions and groups that generously offer lesson plans and amazing related resources on all sorts of topics at all grade levels. But, some homeschoolers can find this type of resource difficult to use.

The biggest problem homeschoolers may have with this type of resource and others like it is that there is no clearly laid out recommended sequence of study to follow along with or no easily implemented plan of daily lessons.

Homeschool parents don’t always know in what order topics in a given subject are generally taught at the various grade levels, and often don’t feel all that confident relying on their own judgment.

What I recommend, when you have a great resource and no “roadmap” of how to use it, is to borrow a roadmap from another resource.

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An example of “borrowing” a roadmap from another resource can be using something as simple as the table of contents in a popular science textbook. You can find the table of contents from just about any science textbook on the publisher’s website. Popular curriculum companies like K12 publish lists of the topics their curriculum covers in each subject at each grade level. You can also usually read the table of contents of just about any published textbook sold by Amazon with the “look inside” feature. Curriculum companies, including homeschool curriculum companies, usually permit access to their course of study documents or their “scope and sequence” documents so potential buyers can determine if the topics they want to be taught are included in the product they are considering.

Well, we can “reverse engineer” this to use these documents to plan our own curriculum using these websites that are primarily just uncategorized groups of lessons on different topics.

I have a page here on this website that talks about scope and sequence and course of study documents in a little more detail and offers links to some popular scope and sequence documents from curriculum you may already be familiar with. If you are like a particular curriculum and wish to use a sequence of study based on that curriculum, it’s pretty easy to find either a scope and sequence for that curriculum or even just a look at the table of contents and use that as a guide to plan your own sequence of study.

Heck, some homeschool parents have gotten so good at it that they have turned their work into a business and created companies that sell their own homemade plans to other homeschoolers. Maybe someday you’ll find that your plan is being sought after by other homeschool families.

Let me walk you through an example from my own homeschool.
Let’s say that I want to plan a science curriculum for my son, who is in fourth grade next year. There are several categories of science topics typically taught in elementary school, including life science, physical science, and earth and space science.  I know that public schools typically teach a couple topics from each category over the course of the year. I know I can choose to do that, or I can follow one topic for the whole year, or one topic for half the year and a different topic for the other half of the year.

I know that a school year for public school is usually 180 days, which is 36 weeks. I know I can do school all year round if I want to, but that if I do I’ll be using different numbers, but for the purposes of this example we’ll stick with a 36 week school year.

A half a year is 18 weeks.

A quarter of a year is 9 weeks.

Next I think about how many times a week I want to do science. In my house we usually do a couple hours of science twice a week. You may decide to do it differently, but bear with me.

So, if I do science twice a week for 36 weeks that means I need 72 science lessons. That seems a bit overwhelming at the moment.

A half a year’s worth of science lessons is 36 lessons.

A quarter of a year’s worth of science lessons is 18 lessons.

I decide I’m going to plan my son’s science curriculum by the quarter, so I need to come up with 18 science lessons.

Now, I COULD get a regular old lesson planner and pencil in 18 science lessons in the correct day and correct week, but as you may have noticed if you have a traditional lesson planner, you really don’t have much room to write.

What I do is I have a special lesson planning form expressly for pulling together information from websites and other places and putting it into lesson format. Then, all I have to write in my nice lesson planner on the day of the week that I want to schedule science is “Do lesson one”.

What is this “special lesson planning form” you ask?

Basically, my special lesson planning form is just a document that I made in Microsoft Word with a table laid out the way I like it. I saved the document as a pdf file. It’s nothing special. You can see what I’m talking about here at this link and please feel free to download it if you think it would be useful to you. Sunshine Homeschool My Lesson Plans

There are six lessons on this page, so to plan lessons for one quarter of the school year I will need three of these sheets.

Not that you care at this point, but I usually keep one quarter’s worth of planning for all of the subjects I plan to teach in a file folder. so I have everything I need for that quarter in one place rather than trying to file it by subject.

Now I get to plan the lessons. I have decided to study just life science this quarter. Of course I have looked over the suggested free science curriculum in this website. I like the look of the Rader’s Biology 4 Kids site, because it’s laid out in a logical progression so I don’t have to bother with finding a scope and sequence document to use as a guide. I’ll just follow the sequence that Rader’s already has planned out, but I might tweak it a bit here and there.

This might be what I plan for the first lesson.

Under “Lesson Plan” I write:

  1. Read the Introduction page to Rader’s Biology.

2. Click on the “next stop”. Read “Reasoning in Science”

Under “Activities/Labs” I write:

Questions to answer
-What is biology?
-Everything that is alive on Earth is made up of what?

-What is the scientific method?
-What is a hypothesis?

Draw a diagram of the scientific method in your notebook

Under “Reminders” I write:

Need a new notebook for science.

Find the colored pencils.

What I did was I went to the page for Rader’s Biology and I looked over the introduction and the beginning page, which happened to be about the scientific method. My usual practice is to have each kid keep a notebook for each subject. Generally I look over the reading and assign some simple questions, definitions, or drawings based on the reading. This is fourth-grade science so the answers are pretty obvious, but if I was doing this for my seventh grader you’d better believe I’d be making sure I was adding in the answers to those questions to make sure I had them handy when I was looking over her completed work.

The lesson above is a pretty straightforward example, but sometimes you end up with something like this one:

Lesson #1  “Lesson”

Rader’s Biology: Microbes
Read “The Littlest Organisms”

Read “Tiny Creatures and Inside Your Insides”. Discuss.

Read “A Guide to the Microbes that Call You Home”. Discuss.

Watch Youtube video “How to use a microscope”

Watch Youtube video “Real Life Microbes”

Do lab with yeast.

Complete assigned questions and write in science notebook

Complete microscope worksheet.

“Activities/Labs”

-What is a microbe?

-Name three examples of microbes

-Who is Anton von Leeuwenhoek

-Complete the parts of the microscope worksheet.

-Practice using the microscope

-Look at slides under the microscope

-Complete lab “Watch yeast blow up a balloon”

“Reminders”

-Reserve the microscope for check out at the library

-Borrow microscope slides set from homeschool group.

-Reserve “Tiny Creatures:The World of Microbes” at library

-Order ” Inside Your Insides: A Guide to the Microbes That Call You Home” from Amazon

-Need balloons, yeast for lab.

In the above example, I took the basic lesson from Rader’s on microbes as a starting point. I scrounged around my local library’s website and found a book on microbes that looked interesting and made a note to check it out for that week. I also found out my library has a microscope for loan in the Children’s section, so I made a note to check it out that week also. The microscope only comes with a few slides, but I knew that my homeschool group had a box of slides to loan out. I found a book on Amazon that looked really interesting, so I just had to order it. I found some Youtube videos on microscopes and microbes that I threw in there, and a lab that uses yeast to give some hands-on stuff to do related to microbes.

I tend to over plan, so this lesson may be a bit much for one two-hour session, but my kids are pretty much used to getting caught up in this kind of thing so that’s no biggie. If we don’t get around to reading the library book or looking at all of the microscope slides, I can always turn this lesson into a double lesson by changing the lesson numbers. In fact, this um, may actually happen quite a lot in my homeschool…Another thing that happens a lot is my other homeschooled kids participating and adding in things like “Hey, remember that great documentary that had those really cool microbes? Can we watch that too? I think he’d really like that one!”.or “I have some blank microscope slides and covers from that project I did last year. Can we all go down to the pond and get some pond water and see if we can see anything in it?” Don’t forget to add this stuff into your lesson plan if you end up doing it, so that you have some kind of record of it and also so that if it turns out to be a really cool idea then you’ll have a way to remember it.

And so it goes. I write the date that lesson is completed under the lesson number, and sometimes I write two dates if the lesson ended up actually taking up two lesson times. Or three dates, or however many dates it took us. You can see why I keep my traditional planner, which I use as more of a scheduler, in pencil.

Anyway, that’s how I turn free online sites full of interesting information but no actual daily lesson plans into a planned out homeschool curriculum that works for us without making me crazy. It takes some trial and error to figure out how long a lesson with be in a given subject with a given child, so that’s where an eraser comes in handy. And let me add that some lessons may have a lot of things added in while other lessons, depending on interest or circumstances, may not. That’s okay. It all works out.

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What is a “Scope and Sequence” and why should I care?

A scope and sequence is a plan or a road map of what topics to teach and the order to teach them in. Basically, it’s a plan. When you think of math, for instance, you know that ‘math’ covers a lot of different topics. The most common question I hear when I talk about planning your own homeschool program is “What should you teach first? What comes next?”

chage-tang-226843A scope and sequence is a plan for the order in which different topics are taught in a particular subject. You could come up with your own, if you wanted to. But, I know I like to have the order of things laid out for me because I’m always worried about what I “should” teach first or about whether I’m missing something critical. A good scope and sequence from a reputable source can be a huge help.

Why do I need to know about this scope and sequence stuff?

Think of it as a roadmap or a plan of attack to help you plan a good sequential study of a subject. None of us want to be ‘that homeschool mom’ who skipped an entire chunk of something in a subject that turned out to be critical. Rather than ‘reinvent the wheel’, why not use a tried and true scope and sequence for the subjects you plan to teach?

Most established curriculum publishers offer their scope and sequence documents on the internet for free, so potential customers can tell if their program is a good fit. Well, folks like us can use those documents as a great shortcut to planning our own home education program.

Basically, you pick a scope and sequence you think would work for your child in whatever subject you want to teach. Then, you print it out and save it for reference. You use the scope and sequence as a guide to what topics to teach and in what order. You pick the free resources and materials of your choice to teach each topic. Just check off each topic as it is mastered. Not only do you have a plan, you have a record!

We have links to some scope and sequence documents that you can find on various websites. Please note that all of these sequences are planned for curriculum that are NOT FREE. You don’t need to buy the curriculum unless you want to. You can use the scope and sequence as a roadmap to create your own.

Don’t forget to check your local school district web page and your state’s department of education website because some of those might list a scope and sequence that you might find useful.

Don’t worry about grade level, look instead at the skills and go from there. Different programs teach different skills in different grade levels, so it isn’t necessarily useful to use grade levels as a way to choose what to teach. It’s better to see what skills have already been mastered and start with the first skill that isn’t!

If you are interested in what scope and sequence I find useful, I use the World Book Encyclopedia Typical Course of Study. Worldbook used to have the suggested course of study for each grade level in a handy pdf form, but that seems to have disappeared from their website. You can still view the “Typical Course of Study” on the link below. 

Typical Course of Study from Worldbook Encyclopedia

Hewitt Homeschooling, a popular homeschool publisher, has put together some “learning objectives” for kindergarten to grade eight that you might find useful. They include all of the academic subjects plus art, music, and character development. Worth a look.

More Scope and Sequence for the win!

If you are interested in looking over a few more of these “scope and sequence” documents, here is a whole list of links to the scope and sequence documents for a whole collection of popular homeschool programs
Time 4 Learning Scope and Sequence
A computer-based curriculum available by subscription. Their scope and sequence covers kindergarten to grade eight.

Singapore Math Scope and Sequence
A popular mastery based math program. This list of scope and sequence documents covers kindergarten to grade eight.

Bookshark Scope and Sequence
Literature-based curriculum with scope and sequence for language arts, science, and social studies for grades k to 8.

Saxon Math
A popular spiral math program. Scroll down to find links to scope and sequence documents for grades k to 12.

Hake Grammar and Writing
Scroll down for the link to this popular grammar and writing curriculum for grades 4 to 8.

Moving Beyond the Page
A popular, unit study based curriculum that includes language arts, science, and social studies. Click on the link, then click on ‘Read More’ for the age level you are interested in, then scroll down and click on “Summary of Skills”.

Core Knowledge Sequence 
This is a scope and sequence for preschool to grade 8.

K12 Grades K to 8
This is a link to the scope and sequence for the popular online program K12 for grades k to 8.

K12 High School
Check out the scope and sequence for high school for the online program K12.

Cambridge International School
Scope and sequence for a rigorous international school.

How do you know what to teach?

alexander-dummer-150646Some parents have told me that they would just love to homeschool, but they don’t know how to figure out what to teach their children.

Other parents have said that they are unsure what their children ‘should’ learn at various ages.

There are many books available to advise parents what their children ‘should’ learn, but there are also many free resources available to give parents the same information. The following resources will help homeschool families ensure that their education program meets current standards. 

There are currently no official national standards for education in the United States. 

There ARE state standards in most states. Remember to check out your state department of education’s website to find out your state’s standards. Some states have rather vague standards while other states have more specific standards. You are responsible for understanding the requirements of your state. 

Okay, so what should you think about teaching? There are eight general areas that you should consider when planning your child’s education.

  • Math
  • Language Arts (includes spelling, composition, grammar, reading, phonics, vocabulary, literature, handwriting)
  • Science
  • Social Studies (includes civics, social studies, history, geography, economics)
  • Health, Safety, and Physical Education
  • Arts (includes art, art history, music, music history, theater, dance, architecture)
  • Languages
  • Technology

Popular Standards 

Common Core Initiative
The Common Core Initiative is about creating common standards in math and language arts for learners in the U.S. and has been adopted by the majority of the states as of this writing. 

The standards for math and language arts education from kindergarten through high school can be found here . Do yourself a favor and actually go and read the standards for yourself so you don’t fall for some of the nonsense that is going around about what the common core standards are supposed to be about.

In light of the misinformation circulating about the Common Core Initiative, I’d like to take a moment to say that the Common Core does NOT specify what books or materials your child should use, it specifies the skills that your child should develop. The Common Core Initiative also does NOT specify how your child should be taught math (there is literally no such thing as the “common core method”), it simply says that children should be taught different methods of solving math problems.

It is up to you (or the teacher in the classroom or your local school board) to decide what materials to use to meet the standards.

Look over the standards for the grade your child would be in according to his or her age. Compare that information with what is taught in the courses or books your child is using. You will likely find that your materials are more advanced than the common core standards. Most homeschooling curriculum products are.

One of the few reasonable objections to the common core standards that I’ve read about is that the writing standards are not age-appropriate. I have to agree with that. Another objection that I think is valid is that kids who are learning to read aren’t going to be much interested in reading if they are given schoolbooks with boring nonfiction passages to read. That is also true. But I also have to add that I don’t think learning different ways to think about and do math problems or having to show your work in math is all that horrible. You are free to disagree.

If you are interested in keeping fairly on track with the common core standards or any standards, really, it’s easy enough to review a list of what your child ought to be learning by grade level. If you find that a topic in the common core standards for your child’s age-related grade is not covered in your plan, just add it in. For example, you can add in a math topic by locating some worksheets or lessons on the topic from another online math resource.

State Requirements
Each state currently has the prerogative of legislating education standards for that state. Ultimately you are responsible for looking over your state’s regulations on education and homeschooling to make sure that you have complied with the law in your area. Take a look at your state’s Department of Education website.

National Preschool standards
There are no common core standards for preschool in the United States at the present time. Some states have identified curriculum standards for preschool, but these differ from state to state. You can find out if your state has standards for preschool education by checking out your state’s Department of Education website.

There is a respected national association that concerned with the education of children from birth to age eight. That organization is NAEYC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

NAEYC’s position statements and standards can be found on their website. The standards are very general and are not very useful for the day to day planning of lessons. Since preschool is not compulsory, there are no reporting requirements for preschool age children in the United States. Most parents, however, have begun to expect to have their children engage in some type of preschool-type education.

Preschools typically range from offering mainly playgroup and social opportunities to more academically oriented preschools that teach intensive phonics and basic math concepts. Most preschools tend to fall somewhere in between, teaching letter sounds, colors, shapes, numbers and counting along with beginning handwriting, cutting and pasting, and coloring and social skills such as following directions and getting along with others.

If anyone is interested in my opinion, I’d say you can’t go wrong offering your child a lot of opportunities for free play, outdoor play, arts and crafts, and that kind of thing. Read stories, bake cookies, take a walk. Have fun. I’m not a believer in pushing academics on young children and I did not do that with my own. So far they seem to have turned out just fine.

Other National Standards

Other ‘national standards’ exist that are also not really enforceable and only exist as ‘voluntary’ national standards or recommendations. This means that you don’t have to follow them. Some organizations offer standards that are so full of ‘teacherese’ that they are barely understandable, some organizations do not publish their standards on the internet and require one to purchase a publication, while other organizations list clear standards in plain English that are easy to understand and implement.

Next Generation Science Standards

There are no common core standards in the United States for science education, so generally the Next Generation Science Standards are used by most states to determine ‘what to teach’ in science at each grade level. The standards are laid out by grade level.


National Social Studies Education Standards

The National Council for Social Studies has put together recommendations for national standards for social studies education. Unfortunately, they do not have the standards listed online. You have to order them. However, what they do have online is a list of ten ‘themes’
1. Culture
2. Time, Continuity, and Change
3. People, Places, and Environments
4. Individual Development and Identity
5. Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
6. Power, Authority, and Governance
7. Production, Distribution, and Consumption
8. Science, Technology, and Society
9. Global Connections
10. Civic Ideals and Practices

Quite frankly, I’m not sure how you would go about using this resource. One hopes that the $29.95 full copy of the standards will be clearer, but we aren’t going to purchase one to find out. I suspect this nonsense is why social studies textbooks in public elementary schools are full of gobbledygook these days.

National Council for History Standards 

The National Center for History in the Schools at the University of California, Los Angeles, working with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Department of Education, developed some history standards under the guidance of the National Council for History Standards.

These standards include standards for historical thinking, U.S. history, world history, and history from kindergarten to fourth grade. The standards for historical thinking, U.S. history and world history apply to grades five through twelve and are neatly listed on the website if you click on the menu to the left of the first web page.

These standards are actually very good and could help families develop objectives for their history curriculum. Look up the standard for the historical time period you choose to study.  Unfortunately, the standards for kindergarten through fourth grade are only available if you order a copy of them from the organization’s catalog in which they are currently listed for sale for $15.00. Though I’m curious, I imagine I can make do without.

National Standards for Civics Education 

From the Center for Civics Education you can look over a free copy of the suggested national standards for civics and government education.  The guide is an excellent resource, actually, for planning civics lessons.  I was quite impressed. It is a very understandable and easy to use guide to planning lessons.

National Standards for Economic Education. 

The Council on Economic Education offers voluntary national standards on economics and financial literacy. While not necessarily a traditional component of high school education in the United States, it is certainly past time that economic and financial topics become an integral part of every high school level curriculum.

National Geography Standards and Skills

Frankly, having long been a fan of the National Geographic Society I had hoped for some really clear, understandable national standards on this website, but what I found was more general and not especially helpful.

National Standards for Technology 

Technology standards proposed by the International Society for Technology in Education are available for review. Basic technological skills will be increasingly important in the workplace and students will be expected to have a thorough understanding of the purpose and use of common hardware and software tools, including online applications, as the modern world increases its dependence on technology. Young elementary age students are now expected to learn and practice technical skills including keyboarding and demonstrate familiarity with common software applications.

National Standards for Arts Education

Be prepared to do some heavy reading as these folks take their arts education standards exhaustively seriously. To say that the standards listed are comprehensive is an understatement. You should definitely find some good material here to design a great arts curriculum.

Putting it all together

When I first began this project I thought that the common core standards were a bit byzantine. I’ve since learned better. The common core standards are among the least byzantine standards and are relatively easily understood.

Please remember that you are still responsible to make certain that your home education plan is in compliance with the laws of your state. 

Basic Costs of Homeschooling

 

“What do I really need to spend money on? Or how free is free?”

I am entirely certain that it really is possible, if necessary and with internet access, to home educate your kids without spending any money at all in the United States today, especially with a nearby free library. But, it certainly helps if you can at least afford some pencils and notebooks.

You can home educate with nothing more than a library card, but to do that successfully you have to have some good lesson planning skills. I can help you with that. In the section on lesson planning I will (eventually, once I write it) go over exactly how to turn any book or website into easy and understandable lesson plans.

If you don’t have good lesson planning skills and aren’t especially interested in that sort of thing, you are in luck because over the last few years there are so many great, free home education resources online that already have quite a bit of the planning done for you. Really.

Your local public library

Seriously, check out your local library.

Our library even had a microscope available for check-out in the children’s section. Other libraries have season passes to museums and zoos available for checkout to patrons too. My library has a subscription to an online language learning service and it is available for free to library cardholders. Other libraries have subscriptions to online databases and encyclopedias. You’ll never know what resources your library might have until you ask.

Don’t forget to go online and check out the big libraries in the largest cities in your state. Sometimes they will offer a free library card to people who live in that state, and you can get access to ebooks, videos, and online services through that library as well.

Internet access

This website is written on the premise that you will have some kind of access to the internet, even if it’s only the free access you get at the library. To fully use this website you’ll need some type of computer, phone, or tablet to access the internet and enable you to download or view information online.

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I’ve listed notebooks and pencils, but some kids today are already fairly adept at taking notes on the laptop while listening to a lecture and keeping a digital textbook open in another window. It certainly is ‘greener’ to do so.

 

Save the trees

I have made an effort to save on printer ink (and paper) in our house by not printing out every worksheet. We’ve had the kids look at the worksheet on the screen and work out the problems or answers either in a notebook or on an erasable whiteboard.

Being able to toss a small laptop, a small whiteboard and a few dry erase markers in a bag and do an entire day’s worth of school makes us both ‘lean’ and ‘green’. Are you a minimalist? I am. 

There are some supplies that are just nice to have.

The best time to look for school supplies is during the back-to-school sales in the summer when prices on school supplies are at the lowest point of the year. We like to stock up for the whole year at this time and we can usually do that even on a tight budget.

The first item to look for is a decent pencil sharpener. Those little handheld ones aren’t going to cut it for the elementary years. You need a good sturdy pencil sharpener that can handle some heavy use. Some people prefer electric, some prefer the kind that bolts to a hard surface and has a handle. Whichever kind you choose, make sure you read the reviews.

Trust me, nothing is more frustrating than trying to homeschool without a decent pencil sharpener.

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Pencils hide. Assuming you plan to use them, your life will be easier if you buy them in bulk. Don’t bother with the sparkly pencils or the ones with cartoon characters. Just get a few boxes of plain pencils. There are on-going debates on some homeschool forums over preferred pencil brands. We don’t have a favorite pencil brand, personally. We’re usually just happy to find one.

Pencil erasers on the end of the pencil die quickly (or get bitten off) so extra erasers are helpful. Mechanical pencils seem to die quickly also so we don’t recommend them. Older kids like pens and you will probably prefer a pen for some things yourself.

Crayons are good for elementary age students, and colored pencils are a good idea for all ages. In fact, using colored pencils to color and draw with has been shown anecdotally to help improve a student’s printing and handwriting skills.

Notebooks are nice. Choose your favorite; either wire bound single subject, multiple subject, and composition book, whatever works best for you. Some people like binders and file folders and pockets too. Clipboards are handy for people who don’t like to be tied down to a table.

Whiteboards with dry erase markers are often recommended by many homeschooling families. Some families like the lap-sized boards and others like the extra-large size boards.

Here is a secret insider tip: you can get plain whiteboard sheets the size of a sheet of paneling inexpensively at most hardware stores. I got mine at Home Depot. They aren’t exactly the same, but the sheets of the type that contractors use to finish showers can be used as inexpensive whiteboards. If you head to your local big box hardware store and ask, they will know what you are talking about. You might even notice they are using that same stuff to make signs for the store.

You can use the sheets as-is or cut it into whatever smaller size you like. We put decorative duct tape around the edges of ours so that they don’t chip or flake. We keep the larger board hidden behind the couch in the living room when it’s not in use. Other families have one mounted on the wall.

I’ve been informed that a good coat of Turtle Wax on the board prior to use makes it easier to wipe clean. If you do have ‘ghosting’ or incomplete erasing you can try the Magic Eraser sold in the cleaning supply section or just some plain old abrasive cleaner like Comet, and elbow grease. Be sure to reapply your Turtle Wax when you get done.

Some families prefer to use blackboards. We’ve seen sheets of that for sale in our local hardware store too. We had at one time one wall in our kitchen painted in chalkboard paint to make a giant chalkboard, but over time that evolved into a family message center instead of being useful for homeschool. I painted over it with whiteboard paint. That seems to work better for homeschooling, but a lot of general family reminders still get scrawled there, and someone keeps drawing stuff on the part near the floor and leaving the caps off of the markers.

The really handy people can choose a flat piece of thin board the size of their choice and paint it over first with magnetic paint so magnets can stick to it, then with either whiteboard paint or blackboard paint. The edges can be finished with molding. These boards can also be used as lapboards to put papers on to color or draw while sitting outside or on the couch.

Some families like to make their own printed workbooks or notebooks. A three-hole punch and a binder is the fastest and easiest way to do this, but there are alternatives. One popular alternative is a personal desktop binding machine that can bind your documents with a plastic coil ring or a plastic comb. You can make your own planner that way and planners for your kids, and workbooks with your own content and designs. It’s a lot of fun and quite addicting. You can also have this binding done for you at an office supply store, but that does cost more than using a small machine of your own.

Another cool toy for the home educator is the laminator. You can laminate some pages to protect them, or to use them as dry erase worksheets. Some folks like to make charts or maps and laminate those to use as placemats. You can laminate the cover of your homemade planner or the covers of your homemade workbooks.

Our personal favorite non-essential is colored printer paper. It just makes me happier to print out my planner on pretty paper. Fortunately, this is one of the least expensive extras!

Graphic Pen and Tablet. This is a cool device that plugs into your laptop or desktop via USB port and can be used to practice handwriting and also used for drawing and artwork. We like the Bamboo Splash, which is relatively inexpensive and a lot of fun. You can also think of it as a way to save paper and stay green!

What you don’t need
Since you have found this website, you don’t need to buy lesson plans, curriculum guides, or a lesson planning book. You don’t need to buy any expensive books, courses, or kits unless you really want them (we love new books) and can afford them. You can afford to educate your kids at home.