As a homeschool mom, I purchase, download, and/or make a lot of school materials. Curricula, books, and art supplies are just some of the things we always go through pretty quickly.
But whether you homeschool or not, there are certain items that every family with school-aged children should have on hand. Here is a short list of items that we find indispensable:
A Children’s (Illustrated) Dictionary • When my daughter began first grade, I bought her this children’s dictionary. During the past year, it has already paid for itself two or three times over. I am comforted knowing that this is a valuable tool that she will use over and over again.
One of the first things we did with this dictionary was sit down and learn how to look up a word. What a great confidence builder for a child! As adults, we take for granted how “easy” it is to look up the definition of a word. But for young learners, doing so requires a very good understanding of the alphabet, as well as letter placement. There are so many great dictionaries for kids available now. Try to find one that will grow with your child and has fewer illustrations.
A Globe/World Map • Give your kids the world! Many schools don’t even offer geography as a subject anymore, but it is mandatory in ours. Starting in kindergarten, your children should be learning about the world. A globe provides them with a model of Earth and can be used from the very beginning to talk about planets, continents, directions (North, South, East, and West), ocean life, land formations, earth science, climate, foreign countries, ecosystems, history, foreign cultures, and much, much more.
You can spend as much (or as little!) as you want on one. I purchased mine a few years ago for $14.99 at Target during our tax-free weekend. If you have little kids, I would strongly suggest going this route, because you might not want to spend a whole lot of money on something that will be used on a regular basis—and often by sticky fingers! Most globes come with a frame to support them. To avoid pinched or smashed fingers, I recommend an inflatable globe for children under 6, with adult supervision.
A Good Pencil Sharpener • As a mom of two young children who are learning to write, I cannot tell you how much money I’ve wasted on pencil sharpeners. I have a dozen or more of those little cheap ones that you can find in the dollar store. I also have a broken down electric one that runs on four AA batteries. I don’t know why the little ones become dull so quickly, but I suspect it has something to do with the round, decorated pencils that kids get at every holiday/birthday party.
Because of this, I decided to buy only No. 2 pencils like the ones we had in school when we were little. That got me to thinking about the sharpeners I had at school in second grade. Do you remember those wonderful little metal contraptions with the handle you turned to sharpen the pencil? Guess what? They still make them. I bought one from X-Acto. It is a vacuum mount (but they have heavier duty, wall- and desk-mountable ones), and we have found it works best on a slightly dampened kitchen counter. My kids will spend all day sharpening pencils now.
Simple Computer • Nowadays, older students don’t have much use for pencils or sharpeners. Instead, they are learning to communicate their thoughts in a more professional and sophisticated manner. With more and more colleges requiring students to submit their work electronically, a great working knowledge of word processing software is a must. And while the emphasis for young children should be learning to write manually, it is also great practice to let them type up stories and such on the computer. Older kids should be assigned book reviews and essays to be completed in a Word document.
In addition, Internet access for older children is extremely beneficial—if not mandatory—for completing research assignments. Parents should closely monitor computer usage for youngsters, and may also want to make use of the many online learning programs for children. There are many available for free, such as ABCya, Knowledge Adventure, PBS Kids and Nick Kids to name just a few.
Bananagrams? • Who knew that a simple word game could be so beneficial? And it doesn’t matter how old you are; everyone from preschoolers to abuelitos will delight in the challenges found inside the big, yellow banana! The letter tiles that make up this game are a great manipulative that will help three- and four-year-olds learn their ABC’s. Students in first through fourth grades can use these to make spelling lessons fun. To make things easier—or harder—you can pick up the Spanish version, which includes Spanish letter combinations like rr, ch, ll, and ñ. For more ideas on the many ways your child can use letter tiles to build reading and spelling fluency, check out this article on Mommy Maestra.