This post was originally published as the introduction to an issue of TheHomeSchoolMom newsletter. Sign up here and get access to subscriber exclusive resources.
Transitioning from public school? Starting a new homeschool year? Either way, you may be swimming in advertising and store shelves full of school supplies.
Back-to-school is firmly established in the seasonal section of the big discount stores, and the mom and pop shops do their part to stock up on the awesome pens, backpacks and planners families need or want on hand to prepare for school.
Bloggers post lists of essential school supplies for homeschooling, often with gorgeous photos of perfectly outfitted homeschool rooms.
But what does your homeschooling family need? None of the above? All the things?
Surprise! The school supplies question is just like all the other answers to all the other homeschooling questions: it depends!
Every family is different, and that applies to school supplies, too.
Do you need to save money? Do your kids not care much about new pencils and paper? Have you got plenty of markers that already work?
You might not need a big back-to-school shopping list, or your list might look different from what you expect.
After all, homeschoolers aren’t getting on a bus (might not need a new backpack), have their own tissue boxes at home (don’t need to check off a school teacher’s supply list), and might not be doing the same kinds of projects as school kids (more printer ink and less paint, or vice versa!)
On the other hand, do your kids love the potential in a fresh box of crayons, colored pencils or markers? Are the old backpacks cruddy because you actually do use them to carry books and snacks in the car? Do you need to let go of the half-used and junky supplies from last year? Some of us, at least some of the time, really do need to update our supplies.
Some tips on purchasing homeschool supplies:
- Just because the public school kids or teachers need certain items doesn’t mean you and your kids will.
- Higher quality supplies, purchased selectively, may last longer. Our beeswax block crayons lasted years; no kidding! This applies to paintbrushes, too!
- Consider making supply purchases that match curriculum “along the way.” I hate to tell you this, but many people abandon an ill-fitting curriculum within weeks or a few months, so having purchased all the supplies in advance just creates a bigger financial hit.
- Big ticket items like microscopes and telescopes should be something you research carefully. You can sink a lot of money into science tools that lead to a terrible experience for your family.
- Parents count, too: if there is a planner or printer or laminator that will make your job easier and you can afford it, use some of your supply budget for your own homeschooling needs. Caveat: if you didn’t use last year’s planner past the first week, maybe you are not a planner person. (TheHomeSchoolMom offers a free printable homeschool planner and a free digital spreadsheet planner.)
- Check out thrift stores, yard sales, and homeschool stores for used items.
- Save room in your budget for purchases later in the year. Scarfing up mini-staplers and calculators now so each child has their own may not be as important as having money to buy electronics components you don’t know your child is going to request in November.
You may notice that some homeschool families are learning year-round and aren’t hepped up about “back-to-school sales.” You may see others tracking down specific gel pens in custom-requested colors.
You will want to find the balance between providing the inspiration of crisp folders and a working pencil sharpener with responding to actual needs in ways that will be appreciated and useful.
Your approach to your “not-back-to-school” shopping season can be a harbinger of your coming year: make it work for you and your family, regardless of other people’s supply lists!