By Barbara Frank , homeschool author
Every profession requires tools, and homeschooling is no exception. While it’s possible to homeschool your children with paper, pencil and a few good books, we homeschoolers tend to be a curious lot, always on the lookout for fun new products to add to our homeschool.
That’s why this list does not include curriculum. There are so many great products out there that I could come up with a list a mile long. Instead, I’m looking back on our family’s homeschooling experience in order to list the top ten tools that made life easier for me as a homeschooling parent.
Let’s do this chronologically. We began homeschooling with some books, paper and pencils, and craft supplies. Each day we worked at our kitchen table; we finished our work after an hour or so, and then stacked our books and papers on a little three-shelf unit in our dining room. As you probably know from your own experience, that didn’t last long. Soon our little individual stacks began tipping over, and I got tired of picking up and sorting the mess that resulted. So I bought three plastic boxes with lids; one for me, one for my daughter, and one for my son. They decorated theirs with stickers. Today, we still use “school boxes,” as we call them, at our house. They’re big enough to hold a stack of books and papers, plus pencils and pens.
All homeschoolers learn that books reproduce like rabbits; soon we were surrounded by books, and it became obvious that we needed bookshelves. We began with one simple wooden bookshelf built by my husband, but it eventually became clear that we required something much larger. So we bought an entire wall of bookshelves. With open shelves on the top, and doors covering the bottom two rows of shelves, I could put books on the top shelves and school boxes, games, manipulatives and craft supplies on the shelves behind the doors; our room looked much neater as a result.
The very best part of this major purchase was that we were able to include a lateral file in the bookshelf system. It was a great blessing to finally be able to file everything instead of digging around for it. Teacher’s keys, achievement test results, invoices for book/curriculum purchases, the children’s completed work----all of these had been the object of frantic searches in the past, but that ended once I had a filing system right in our schoolroom. (The details of my homeschool filing system can be found in The Imperfect Homeschooler’s Guide to Homeschooling.) (LINK)
Throughout our homeschool ‘career’, some form of plan book kept us on track. At first I merely recorded what we did each day in a simple datebook. For many years, I bought a teachers’ plan book and made lesson plans ahead of time (that’s what I did when I was homeschooling all four of my children at one time). These days I use Donna Young’s free planning sheets (http://forms.donnayoung.org/) for my high schooler, and use a planning sheet I designed specifically for my son, one which includes the goals on his Individual Education Plan (IEP). Even if you’re a freewheeling unschooler, keeping a record of what your kids have been doing will be very helpful someday when you’re assembling transcripts for them.
Two tools that made our school day easier were the answering machine and the calculator. The phone always seemed to ring right in the middle of a tough math problem or when someone was reading aloud to me. The answering machine (and later voice mail) allowed us to stay on track. Keeping a calculator at our school table made it easy for me to grade problems and figure out GPA’s once my children were older.
A VCR (and later on, a DVD player) was essential to our success in homeschooling. When my younger children were little, educational videotapes kept them occupied while I worked with the older children. In addition, we were able to tap into the wealth of educational videos at our local library for the older children because we had a VCR. Just recently, my 14-year-old daughter and I watched a series on DVD about the Revolutionary War that had been originally produced for cable television (which we do not have). That series came from our public library.
The computer has been part of our homeschooling effort for the past 12 years. At first we used it for educational games, such as “Oregon Trail” and “Dr. Brain.” As the children got older, they wrote their term papers and essays on the computer, which is good practice for college and future jobs. My youngest son, who has developmental delays, learned so much from games that used repetition to help him practice the basics, such as counting and the alphabet. I used the computer to design my teens’ high school transcripts, and to make customized worksheets and sight word cards for my youngest.
My most recent acquisition is something I should have bought a long time ago: a copying machine. When I think of all the hours I spent over the years collecting dimes and driving to the public library so I could photocopy reproducible worksheets and maps, I can’t believe I waited so long. What a blessing it is to have a copier in the house! These days they’ve come down so much in price that they’re irresistible; mine (LINK http://www.officedepot.com/ddSKU.do?level=SK&id=811016&&An=text ) cost me less than $200 and it is also my printer.
To summarize, here are nine of my top ten tools for homeschoolers:
- school boxes
- a wall of bookshelves
- a lateral file
- a plan book
- an answering machine or voice mail
- a calculator
- a VCR or DVD player
- a computer
- a copying machine
As for the tenth tool, I’ve saved the best for last. It’s prayer. We would not be homeschooling today if it weren’t for prayer. Panicked prayers, hopeful prayers, and prayers for patience (lots of those prayers) -----I’ve prayed for guidance before buying curriculum, before joining homeschool groups and before teaching hormonal teens. All ten tools have been blessings to me as a homeschooling parent, but the most important one by far is prayer!
Barbara Frank is the mother of four homeschooled-from-birth children ages 12-22, a freelance writer/editor, and the author of “Life Prep for Homeschooled Teenagers”. To visit her Web site, “The Imperfect Homeschooler”, go to www.cardamompublishers.com.