As with so many aspects of parenting, you can spend a whole lot of money on fun and useful homeschooling items. Whether you’re trying to recreate a school setting at home, going into overload from all the options available, or simply just love buying educational books and products (that’s always been my downfall), the fact is it is really easy to overbuy and end up with too much clutter and not enough items your kids will actually use.

I’ve bought way too much, to the point where it has taken over my house at times, and I’ve found that there is very little we truly need for homeschooling. Though your needs will change as your kids age, here’s a list I have found that we always need.

1. A Library Card. I think you could get away with nothing else if you only have a library card. The library offers all the options for classic literature, nonfiction on any subject, and even the fun reading you need. All libraries offer chairs and tables at which to sit and do work with low distraction, and many will even let you use a closed-off study room. Bring your own computer or tablet and take advantage of free wifi, or borrow time on one of their computers. Seriously, everything you really, really need for education is available for free at your library. Just don’t check out a bunch of items then lose them, leave them out so the bunny can eat them, or forget to renew them. Because it can quickly become not free anymore. Don’t ask me how I know, just trust me on this.

2. A chalkboard or whiteboard. We used chalkboard paint to create a chalkboard on one wall of our schoolroom. If I had it to do over, I would probably mount a large whiteboard instead, but we’ve gotten plenty of use out of it regardless. A large, easily erasable board makes lessons so much easier. We can break down sentences, work on math equations, or practice spelling words. Even if you are a laid-back schooler, a board offers your children endless possibilities for drawing pictures, creating giant maps of their own imaginary worlds, or simply scribbling.

3. A laminator. When my kids were younger, I laminated EVERYTHING (at least it felt that way). I laminated tracing worksheets so they could use dry erase markers over and over to practice handwriting. I laminated printable card games I found on the internet so they could be used repeatedly. I created and laminated sorting mats that could be used for math lessons involving M&Ms or Skittles. As they’ve gotten older we’ve used it a bit less, but it still comes in handy for creating and preserving games, and I still use it for certain worksheets that I know we will need to practice over and over, such as multiplication facts or handwriting. Amazon often offers great sales on laminators, and I definitely think you will get your money’s worth from one.

4. A globe. My husband and I make a great team. I’m very lucky he supports homeschooling and contributes to the boys’ education as much as he can. Especially because he seems to be knowledgeable in all the areas where my knowledge fails, specifically science and geography. Absolutely his biggest teaching manipulative is the globe. He uses it for the obvious purpose of pointing out where countries are, but also he will use it to make points about the different sizes of countries, political relations, how the earth moves around the sun, where wars have taken/ are taking place, and so much more. Seriously, for his purposes that globe is the best $20 I ever spent. We have two globes: one desktop globe and one inflatable. The inflatable is great for working with younger kids. It is easier to handle and, really, who doesn’t love a bouncing earth?

5. Board games. My children can play board games all day. They love them. We have a few games specifically created to be “educational” games, we’ve particularly enjoyed Sum Swamp and Money Bags, but most of our education comes from the classics. The kids practice money with Life and Monopoly. Scattergories has helped with letter sounds. I swear Little Man only learned to read so he could keep up in Munchkin. And Labyrinth and Chess help with concentration and strategizing.

What are the items you can’t live without in your homeschool?

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