It’s back-to-school season soon! And that means it’s time for us moms to gather our supplies together and get organized! 🙂 Download your free 9-page printable pdf, print it out and follow along with these photos below to grab lots of ideas for getting organized with “school supplies” in YOUR home!
Growing up in a home of schoolteachers, across the field from grandparents who loved life-long learning, the “Back-to-School” season was so exciting in our family! We’d shop for clothes, for juice boxes and tiny packets of raisins, and of course, for school supplies! Even my grandma would be eager get HER bargains of new exercise books, a new ruler perhaps, pencils, pens, coloured paper, etc.! It came in the midst of our canning season too, but somehow, my mom managed to take a day or so to travel up to the city or around to the towns in our area, to go shopping with us. (For many years, I remember only going to the city about 2x/year – for “back-to-school” shopping and Christmas shopping. These were also times that I could ride an escalator – woohoo!)
OK, enough of that kind of preamble and let’s get right at it. You’re here because you want ideas for school supplies, what to look for in those stores, and more importantly, WHERE to put the stuff when you get back home with it! And you want to know that it is possible to not just have it organized for the first day of school but also for the rest of the months which follow! Homeschooling isn’t like a school with a janitor – we don’t send the kids home for the evening while we clean up after a day of fun learning – we live in it instead! And that means it can get messy. 😉 So here is some help for how to maintain a measure of order regardless….
First, download your printable here if you haven’t already done so.
Now, let’s go through it together with photos from my own years of homeschooling to show you what it can look like. (That equals 2 houses with a woman (me) who likes to change furniture and other stuff around in case you see the same wall with different stuff on it. :-D)
Tip: The typical pencil cases aren’t always very durable. So several years ago, I picked up a few cosmetic bags from the dollar store. We are STILL using the same ones! Otherwise, the kind of pencil case that does work for us, stays open without a hand hanging onto it and tends to have 2 (two) zippers. If it stays open, it is less likely to fall over and spill onto the floor in the midst of a lesson and a person can find what is being searched for more easily.
Tip: Having a pencil case gives a child a sense of personal responsibility and ownership. I don’t put all my supplies in a basket and have kids dive into it constantly because that ends up being a mess and a potential fight (e.g. “He has MY pencil!”). But they do still learn to share some less-used supplies as you will read about below.
Tip: Our kids do NOT store everything for the year in their pencil cases! Just the items needed for most or all subjects everyday. The rest of the items are stored elsewhere, in a less-accessible spot. This is sort of like toys – you know that if you have all boxes of toys “available” in a room, nicely sorted to begin with, normal kids will, over the days, end up with a mixture of toys on the floor, under the furniture, and not matched in the boxes. But if you limit the number of boxes available at a time, your room becomes less cluttered. Same principle here.
Q: What if my kid says, “I don’t remember where I put my pencil, Mommy. I know it’s somewhere but I can’t find it today so I can’t do my lesson”?
A: First, the kid should make a brief but definite effort to find that missing pencil. Then, if it isn’t found, the solution is to quickly find one in “extra pencils” storage so that lesson time isn’t wasted. BUT where your “extras” are located should take a bit more effort to get at (so that reduces the idea of “Oh, I’ll just forget about taking care of my things and just take whatever I like from this big stash of stuff that is so handy and close by…”). In my classroom when I was a student, our teacher kept the “extras” in her desk or perhaps down at the secretary’s office or in the storeroom but we weren’t allowed to just open those drawers so it was motivating to try to take good care of our things. In our home, the best spot for us is to keep the extra supplies in an organized spot in the basement. When our pencils wear down and our ink runs out, we can also get a replacement one there.
Tip: Little kids (kindergarten to end of grade 1 or 2) write/print more confidently with thicker pencils. You can sometimes find these pencils in an office supply store and they are well worth getting. We also enjoy thicker pencil crayons for that age group.
Tip: I allow my kids to have one (non-smelly) glue stick IF they show responsibility to close it properly. Otherwise, we store glue in a shared basket. Same thing with the pencil sharpener.
Tip: Supportive seating… I’m not suggesting expensive ergonomic chairs but I would limit hours on backless benches or plushy sofas and aim for chairs where feet can be firmly on the floor and backs can feel a comfortable support for a growing spine. The work surface should be comfortable for arm levels. Sometimes my kids work together on tables but they also have their own desks. I’ll show you some desk styles later.
Tip: While I allow my littles to use markers or pens at times, these are not items for their ordinary pencil cases until they reach the age of cursive writing. Even for the older students, it is easier to have a separate pencil case or box for markers, to see the colour choices better and to avoid the temptation to use ink in math or on maps or thin paper. We keep our markers on a shelf, above the reach of the toddler too. My kids start using a pen for penmanship in grade 3 and then gradually as they go onto to other grades, once their handwriting is consistently nice, can use a pen for most other subjects. I like to encourage coloured pens (not just blue) because they can be used for underlining or colour-coding vocabulary.
Tip: Yellow ink – the ink that is so hard to read. We don’t tend to use yellow for words but it is a handy colour to trace over where you want a young child to cut (highlight the line). Otherwise, outline letters after using it on a poster or simply colour pictures with it. 🙂
Tip: The “Sharp and Sticky” Shared Container: I like to store this one in our cubby hole (a type of closet space for us – keep reading). Any student can reach it but it reduces the sharp things (e.g. scissors) away from being purposelessly used to drop onto floors and snip dictionaries, etc. by a toddler. And it provides exercise to “go and get” (and later, “put back away”) scissors and glue, etc. for hands-on paperwork. I found a tin basket in a dollar store and glued on a wide strip of fabric to make ours pretty.
Tip: Rather than a pencil case for yourself, consider something pretty like a clay flower pot for YOUR desk area! I like to keep a roll of masking tape around the base too. 🙂
Tip: I like SHALLOW boxes for multi-coloured crayons which can be pulled out for special times such as colouring pictures on Sunday evenings. If I stuffed my kids’ pencil cases with every shade imaginable, it would be overwhelming. But they still need some crayons for regular lessons so they get a smaller pack for their pencil cases and we get the larger variety pack for the shared “puzzle” box.
This is how/where I store most of my “extras” as well as any empty notebooking supplies. Coloured papers and large papers (e.g. for scrapbooking or posters, etc.) are in my “Art Center” cupboard or on shelves by my printer (and my kids tend to ask for permission to get the coloured stuff so that often stays relatively tidy).
- Bookshelves for books and binders (includes a covered-with-greeting-cards cereal box shaped like a magazine holder for little chunky board books), a travel cosmetic bag for supplies for hands-on work (see this post for more info), a blackboard doubling as a bulletin board with a “Bee…honest, kind, etc.” manners theme, a daily schedule posted above that.
- Pocket chart in hall – one column per student – held most of the notebooks/workbooks for the year. Cubby hole shelves (the big hole in the wall, left) held puzzles, math manipulative boxes, and other hands-on items. Green cardboard shelving on bookshelf is handy for keeping thin topically-arranged readers together. Laundry basket under blackboard held outdoor play equipment (phys.ed) and occasionally was slid under our piano bench instead.
- Crate storage – one crate per student (see below) for more details.
- In the basement away from main homeschooling area – see the previous photo for details.
A. This is the type of storage that has worked well in recent years in this house. (I didn’t have space for the pocket chart idea since we had no halls here.) Six painted wooden crates (from Walmart or a craft store) can fit on this metal boot rack we purchased from IKEA. Note: Crates work well for non-heavy binders, exercise books, workbooks, and unit studies. For our French curriculum (click here to see what we like to use), I like my students to keep their workbook, CD, plus the teacher’s manual together and if it goes in the crate, I find that makes things too heavy. So French gets stored on a bookshelf instead.
B. and C. One crate is used to store all pencil cases because some desks don’t have shelves or drawers for such and our toddler needed these items out of her reach. (You can also see that I stored my construction paper in a more accessible spot this year and that still worked great for us.) The crates (if they hold together) are also something that they can take to their own home when they grow up and they look (and smell) much nicer compared to plastic totes.
D. One of the first lessons of the school year was to sew a few dividers for these crates. The children chose some pieces of scrap fabric and learned how to use a sewing machine to sew 3 of the sides and then hand-stitch the 4th side after a piece of a corrugated box was placed inside. Then they used fabric paint to print on the subject title (e.g. Math, Writing, Science, Geography).
There are lots of ideas you can do to include outdoor schooling in your homeschool year! The pictures tell you some and so does the printable list you downloaded!
Also on that free printable are lists for a few specific subjects – items you might want to find in your “back-to-school” shopping ventures. I don’t include shopping for curriculum on the school supplies list but that is also important and you can find lots of helpful ideas here in our online shop!
Especially for the “Littles”… this page in your printable shows that planning for that age is important too, not just thinking about your school-age children’s “supplies”. Check other posts on our website and our online shop for more tips and ideas for pre-kindergarten! 🙂
Teacher’s Desk Area Supplies… below show some ideas to go along with some items on the list in your printable:
- This photo shows my “Art Center” cupboard, inside a wardrobe-like cupboard. I used to put that cupboard in my kitchen. One of my non-homeschooling friends sometimes would shake her head when searching in my kitchen because she just might not find dishes – sometimes it might be a playdough drawer, or puzzles/games on the shelf, or something like this. We put the dishes we only used seasonally (e.g. canner, Christmas, etc.) in our basement so we could use our cupboards for commonly-used dishes and school-related stuff.
- Oops – I forgot I used that photo already. 😉
- Bulletin boards are useful can help to save the paint on the wall from sticking things up and changing the visuals to a new topic. Rob made this one for me (to save on costs) by gluing rolled cork from a hardware store onto a thin board and adding the trim; then he screwed it to the wall for stability. It is approx. 4 feet by 6 feet. (We bought a smaller bulletin board for our “high school” corner and our teens like that space too.)
- Another cubby hole with shelves… Our cubby holes are created from the space above a basement stairway. We choose to not put them the full length so that toddlers can’t just reach up or climb inside. A blind or curtain can cover the shelves. A plug for a CD player or a pencil sharpener is handy there too. (The photo also shows my big hole punch, staplers, a box of homesteading binders, and a basket of a parachute and water balloons!)
- Chart paper – two screws in the wall hang it up, regardless of outdoors or indoors! It is like a movable blackboard to me because I like to write or draw things out for my kids when I teach them something. I use washable, non-smelly markers and indoors, I can store those in a pretty dollar store container on the rod, alongside some plants. When you tear off a page, it can become a poster to display too (e.g. with green painters tape).
Now go and enjoy being with your kids, getting ready for a new season of stuff to learn about!
(P.S. Extra note as of June 2020 – Some of these ideas are shown in my new Art Workshop video. 🙂 )