Not all homeschool essentials can be bought. Some of the most important ingredients in a homeschool have to do with mindsets, attitudes, and lifestyles. There are many wonderful things you can include in your homeschool, but time and money are both limited resources. Knowing what you must have can help you use those limited resources wisely. But many things that every homeschool truly needs come for free. They are not products, but mindsets.
After years of homeschooling and countless hours studying child development and how the brain learns, these are the things I feel are truly essential to having a successful homeschool. What is a successful homeschool? It is a homeschool where both adults and children love learning and are busy growing together.
11 Homeschool Essentials
You are choosing to be the primary example of how and why learning is important. To love learning you need motivation. One of the most universal motivations which can be pulled into the study of any subject is curiosity. Curiosity is also rather contagious and possessing this essential yourself will mean that your kids will quickly catch the curiosity bug as well.
I mean, some people think we can replace all the books with the internet and computer and apps, but I just don’t see it. There is nothing wrong with using those things for learning, but honestly, in many cases, the books available on various subjects are far superior to the websites available. You need books, whether you get them from the library or purchase them is up to you, but don’t just sign up for online learning and forget to give your kid’s actual books.
Anecdotally, my kids can never learn their math facts from computer games or apps, I have tried again and again. But give them some multiplication to work on a page and they get their facts down pretty quickly.
Don’t get me wrong, I love computers (we have 5) and apps and tablets (again; we have 5), but they just can’t replace books and paper and pencils.
3. Yard/Outside Time
If you don’t have a yard you will need to get your kids to the park or take them for a walk every day. Nothing can replace the sensory richness of the great outdoors. Our children’s brains craves a rich sensory environment and there is no indoor environment that can replace the level of detail available to us outdoors.
In addition to the sensory rich environment of the outdoors, being outside often gets kids moving. Moving grows the brain. Learning new things is only one piece of healthy brain growth and development. Physical movement is another important piece.
If that is not enough to get your kids outside, think about the benefits of fresh air and sunshine. Indoor air, whether in our homes or other buildings, is the most polluted air available. And sunlight has many benefits, even beyond what scientists currently understand. First, there is vitamin D which is essential to brain function. Recently scientists have also found that sunshine increases our nitric oxide levels, which lowers blood pressure by creating a nice slick coating on the inside of our blood vessels. Better blood flow means more oxygen travels to the brain, which means the brain can do more work, which means the child has the materials needed to be an quick learner.
The truth is, we don’t know all of the reasons we should be outside and get our daily sunshine, so it’s best just to do it, have fun, relax, and enjoy.
4. Unsupervised Time
I mean, within the reasonable confines of safety for the child’s age. Seriously, free time to explore and process what they have learned is one of the most essential parts of the learning process.
One of my favorite ways of evaluating learning in my children is to observe their play. If they have integrated a concept, it will come up in their imaginary play. This is a much more accurate assessment than testing of any kind. If a concept is deep enough that a child can grab it out of their long-term memory and integrate it into their play, that concept is learned. It will not disappear. It is not going anywhere. It is now a permanent part of their brain structure.
Down time ensures kids have the time to take in all of the rich information we expose them to during times of concentrated study and process those ideas on a deeper level, integrating them into the information web that is being built in their brain.
When we fail to take this time and rush from one information session to the next without taking the time to relax and play, the information often fails to stick. We think our kids are not learning because they forgot everything we ‘taught’ last week. But what is really going on is that we have not given them adequate time to think about the information. If kids don’t spend time thinking about the information and concepts we are introducing them to then they will not integrate them into their long-term memory.
Sometimes slowing down is the most effective way to speed up learning. I encourage you to keep all of this in mind as you plan your homeschool. Too often we lose free time in our rush to ensure that our kids learn all the things. Block out time in your daily schedule that is dedicated to free play time for your kids.
5. Choices/Exploration of Interests
One important life skill that people seem to forget is the ability to make decisions. Giving kids choices and helping them explore their interests helps them learn the art of making choices. It also helps them discover who they are. What they enjoy, and how much they enjoy it. Sometimes as kids explore things they love, they will find their interest fade. Their curiosity for the subject is quenched, and they move on to the next thing.
This is a natural part of childhood. Don’t stress when your kids change their mind about what they want to spend their time doing. This is how kids discover what they really love. So let them wander during their childhood years. It is much better for them to explore the world as children and find the things they want to pursue as adults, before they spend thousands on a college degree only to find out they don’t like any of the professions the degree prepared them for.
When our children are small, their world is also small. It is our job, as parents, to gradually expand that world and introduce them to new things. Sometimes kids fall in love with something because it is on the list of carefully curated subjects we have intentionally introduced them to. Other times they just happen to see or experience something, and deep inside of them something awakens.
So sometimes helping our kids explore their interests means guiding them, and sometimes it means letting them go.
When kids are interested in a subject there is a natural, internal motivation and curiosity to learn. This means they learn faster and dive deeper than when they are just doing ‘learning work’ to check off a box. Yes, kids need to practice skills and check off some boxes, but making sure they also have the opportunity to explore the things they love is the magic that will teach them to love learning itself.
This might seem like a basic, obvious, understatement after all the top level things we have covered so far. But I have come to think of paper as one of the most ultimate and creative toys available. My kids go through it like it is candy and it is used as a medium for all kinds of different creative endeavours. Just to give you an idea, here are some of the things paper gets used for in our house.
- Creating a 3-D model of a preying mantis
- Making a 3-D bouquet of flowers
- All the 3-D shapes, with the help of printable templates from Babbledabbledo
- Paper Airplanes
- Making envelopes to hold treasures
Paper is a blank canvas ready for creative ideas and kids love transforming this medium into something new.
Paper is cheap, so don’t treat it like it is precious. Let your kids do whatever they want with paper, even if it seems pointless or wasteful to you. What they are doing is exploring. Sometimes exploration is messy. Sometimes exploration does not look productive on the surface. But they are producing brain cells as they explore and that is one of the greatest things they can be doing with their free moments of time. So let the paper go.
7. Writing Utensils
Another obvious choice. Pencils, pens, markers, crayons, colored pencils, dry erase markers, and chalk. Writing, drawing, coloring, and doodling are all more fun when you have lots of different tools to use. Fine motor skills are not just about beautiful handwriting, they are about refining the amazing tools of our own hands into machines of creativity. Doing lots of different things with their hands is so good for kid’s brains. And all these great writing utensils make the process more fun.
I think of music as the thing that grows the heart/soul. Music is great for emotional health and is just an all around amazing super-food for the brain. You can be creative with how you work music into your homeschool life, but don’t let it get pushed out.
- Play a song to gather everyone for a read-aloud, or math, or just to get your day started.
- Randomly start music, as it plays encourage your kids to stop what they are doing, get up, and dance out the wiggles.
- Get a lap harp, very easy to play basic melodies.
- Find some fun sing-along YouTube channels.
- You can go a step further and pay for music lessons or join a band/orchestra.
- Explore history through music, listening to songs as you go.
9. Friends and/or Siblings
Humans live in community, we thrive off connection and interaction; we need each other. It does not matter where your kids develop their friendships, but it matters that they have them. These can start at a homeschool park day, an after school activity, a neighborhood pool, or a church community.
If you have more than one child you have two choices, teach your kids to be good friends to each other, or let them turn your house into a war zone. Siblings are one of the best ways for kids to practice relationship skills. When siblings practice those skills on each other, they know how to be friends with people outside of the family as well.
10. Use of Motor Skills, Gross and Fine
Our modern world distracts us from these things. Movement grows the brain. We need to move to form new neural connections. Our children’s brain cannot develop in an optimal manner if we don’t make sure they are spending hours every day moving. In times past, life demanded that children move. They walked to school, ran errands on their feet, helped collect berries or herbs, walked to fetch water, chopped wood, sewed, knitted, carved wood, etc., etc., etc.,. In our modern world children don’t really need to move. Except that they DO NEED TO MOVE. Their brain demands it. And when we demand that they sit still, we stifle the growth of their brain. Children will sit still only after their brain is satisfied with the amount of movement vitamins it has received. If they are wiggling and squirming, that is a sign they have not had enough movement in their day.
Often these skills don’t seem academic, so they don’t seem important. They are getting shoved to the side of life more and more frequently. But they are the foundation kids need in order to grow into teens and adults that have the brain complexity and capacity to engage in high level thinking.
11. Growth Mindset
A growth mindset means that we are ready to try and fail, and try again, until we succeed. It means failure does not stop us. It means we believe can change their level of intelligence through hard work. It means we believe the brain grows. It means when our kids struggle; we acknowledge their struggle and then cheer them on to try again. We tell them it will seem easy, eventually. Just like they used to struggle to get on their bike and ride just a few feet without toppling. And now, they don’t even have to think about how to ride their bike. Long division and every other hairy academic topic will follow the same pattern. It will be hard until it is easy.
What Physical Materials are Homeschool Essentials?
You may still be asking yourself, but what do I need to buy? Can’t I just give you a nice list of items that will ensure you have all the physical materials needed to homeschool? The truth is, homeschools are like people. Each one is unique and different. We all need books. But we all have a different combination of books. We all need paper, but some of us need 24 different kinds of paper and others among us just use the two basic kinds, lined and plain old white. Lots of us love using computers and tablets in our homeschool and other like to stick with just the books and paper.
The only magic list there is, is the one you write for yourself. No one knows your kids like you. No one can truly tell you how to homeschool your kids or what supplies are going to be essential for your journey.
But you might want a map and globe.
One way to help yourself write a list is to explore curriculum kits. Looking at what resources different companies are pulling together can help give you an idea of what things you might like to have in your home.
If you are new to homeschooling, you may be both surprised and overwhelmed by the number of options, resources and products available to you. One of the best ways to narrow your own wish list down to the essentials is by first developing your own homeschool mission statement and exploring what style of homeschool is going to be a natural fit for the lifestyle you already live.
Now make a list, take the time to cross half of it off, and then buy just the stuff you could not bear to cross off your list. Now you have your own essential materials and all you have to do is figure out how to include those things in the rhythms and limitations of your 24 hour day. But while you work to include all the stuff you just bought, don’t forget to carve out time for the most important things. Scroll back up for a reminder.