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What Should I Buy?

by Beverley Paine, Nov 1999

"I've just decided to homeschool my children. What resources and materials should I buy?"

This is a common and vexing question, and being confronted with an enormous range of materials, texts, methodologies, curriculums and other resources generally only adds to the overall confusion. Beginning home education is an exciting time, even though it is extremely intimidating. The temptation to duplicate the school environment is very real, based on our own educational experiences and beliefs about education and learning. It isn't at all necessary to do this - and taking some time to hesitate before rushing out and buying anything at all is a wise idea.

One of the best tips I ever heard in my own early years was "Don't but it until you need it". I must confess - it took me years to really understand the meaning and implication of this short sentence. The temptation to purchase reference books, craft kits, educational aides, text books, all manner of things my children weren't ready for or interest in yet was overwhelming. Perhaps I thought that having those items perched nicely on our shelves made us look more like a 'school'. Sometimes I passed them on to other families with out even using them. The school desks are just one example - these were sold off early in favour of deep, sturdy bookshelves!

Initially we set up a 'school room', really just a corner of the children's common play area. This was seldom used, except as a storage area. The children always gravitiated to where the action was happening, usually in the kitchen and dining area, or outside. Learning at home quickly became such an important part of our everyday lives that secluding it to a special 'schooling' area was impractical and unreasonable. I do know one family that used a separate building as a school room for four years - so every family is different. If you do go for the separate room idea be prepared for extra expense though, in duplicating many of the features from other parts of the house you'd naturally use in helping your children learn and organising your homeschooling.

There are a lot of things that are very useful in setting up your children's learning environment. Whenever possible always chose quality - classrooms and preschools don't do this because they have money to throw around. They've spent years trialling the best quality educational materials - for durability, playability, usefulness, attractiveness, appropriateness and so on. Take a tip from their experience. If necessary budget carefully, waiting on somethings to spend that little extra now in order to get something that will last the distance and be truly useful to your homeschool. If necessary seek out suppliers of commercial grade materials, like office suppliers or school suppliers, rather than automatically buying from the cheap imports store or supermarket. These places do have value though, as do second hand stalls and markets. Keep your eyes open for the odd bargain.

One of the most useful items we have ever owned is the bookshelf - well, about twenty of them. All of my homeschooling friends agree - you can never have enough. We have narrow ones for novels, wide ones for large books and a whole stack for keeping boxes of materials tidy. Toys are stored in boxes, as are maths and science objects, games, art and craft materials, collections - you name, it all resides on shelves. The advantage of shelves over cupboards and drawers is that everything is on display and the children can help themselves, provided the all important rule of "if you got it out you put it away" is followed! I've found having stuff in sight is often a great catalyst for beginning a new activity, sparking creative play and explorations.

While on the subject of storage, invest in a filing cabinet or one or more of those file boxes. Homeschooling generates a lot of paper - your own records, plus interesting ideas and tidbits to store for rainy days, and all of your children's work.

There is still some debate in the community about the necessity of having a home computer, but it really looks like getting a handle on this media is important for young people. The only problem is the temptation for children to spend excessive hours playing computer games. Insist on buying only quality games that extend the children's skills and abilities in some way. This doesn't have to educational or curriculum games - good role playing, simulation, strategy, action, platform and arcade games all have something to offer. Don't let your children take over in deciding quality in this area - you still need to be in control. If you do let your children play computer games invest in a good kitchen timer with a loud ring, and be firm on the rule of finishing up when the bell rings!

Having said that the best use for computers in homeschooling is the flexibility in presenting information - word processing and desktop publishing programs really give school work that extra sparkle. Of course, this means the added expense of a colour printer, and perhaps a scanner, and of course a modem for the internet.

The internet offers such a huge array of information and activities that it is mind boggling. If you wanted to you could now download a complete program of activities covering every conceivable subject.... not advisable, of course, but a great place to get ideas. The internet also offers a fantastic homeschooling community, just waiting to chat to you on ICQ, 'chatrooms' or email. I finally found my own homeschooling social niche on the internet, and absolutely enjoy talking to like minded homeschoolers each day. It doesn't replace a face to face social life, simply enriches it.

The computer can offer a good encyclopedia if you don't already have a set of books. The advantage of the online encyclopedias is that they are linked to an amazing number of web sites and are continually up dated. There are even free ones available now. We supplement our electronic set with an ancient row of books we find handy for just looking up information while at the dinner table, lounging around in the living room, or during conversations. It is often too much hassle to turn the computer on and sometimes the computer itself distracts us from our purpose!

Along with the encyclopedia invest in a good atlas - on line ones are okay, but kids just love leafing through maps too. We tend to collect maps for some reason - road maps, country maps (from National Geographic magazine), old school atlases we cut up, maps of the stars - any old map! We also have two globes, a solid one and a blow up one. With three children I have often found a sudden interest in a place means each child wants to look it up at the same time. The more atlases, globes and maps the better!

Don't forget the dictionary and thesaurus. We bought a child's set, but it was never used. We were given an Oxford dictionary and inherited a huge Webster's dictionary that had a spelling and grammar guide in the back as well as all the flags of the world. The children loved comparing all three! The children also had their own spelling books, in which they wrote words they had difficulty spelling in alphabetical order.

The other essential books on the library shelf include field guides - nature, fish, birds, plants, insects, geology - on any subject that interests your family. These books often contain precise information and much more than the encyclopedia would. Being able to access answers as soon as possible after the question is asked is one of the greatest advantages of homeschooling. Of course, if you do have the money and can afford it, buy a decent pair of binoculars and a quality microscope. We began with a selection of magnifying glasses and worked our way up from there.

Educational games are a must. We have about forty or fifty, some we have made ourselves. Mostly they replace the need for television, something we never watch during the day, except perhaps the odd educational program for children. Once again we chose carefully, although there are plenty of games just for fun, like Beetle and Ludo. Card and dice games, and a dart board make up our complement of games.

There are a pile of stationery items that are an absolute must. Exercise books in various sizes come in handy, as do a range of different coloured and sized card and paper. Lots of pencils, textas, crayons, biros, etc help, plus good quality pencil sharpeners, erasers, hole punches, staplers - again, I emphasis buy quality. Nothing frustrates a child than having something that doesn't work well at all. A variety of different sized scissors for different purposes is also a must - but keep your best dressmaking and haircutting scissors well out of reach! Sticky and masking tape are something you just can't have enough of - I believe children would totally bandage themselves up if they could, such is the attraction of this material!

Most of my friends gradually work their way around to having just one calendar on the wall by the phone - a really large one with lots of space to record all kinds of information in on each day. A diary often seems to be a must too - I have one that fits snugly into my bag. Anything larger just doesn't seem to work!

There are many, many more things I could list, but these are probably the most essential. We could add musical instruments, gardening tools, quality building bricks, a range of dolls, dress ups and play props, access to the kitchen, wall space for displays, outside play equipment, sports equipment.... most of which you already have! If you stick to the adage "don't buy it until you need it" you will save yourself a lot of money. A complete list of materials for the homeschool can be found in my book "Getting Started with Home Schooling; Practical Considerations".

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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