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  • Homeschool Must-Have Tools

    There are so many tools and supplies to choose from . . . where does a new homeschooler begin? Here is my list of must-have tools and supplies for homeschooling. These are the things I can't live without!


    Laminator

    My laminator is one of my favorite homeschool tools! I would laminate every paper in my house if I had the time. (Though laminated grocery lists might be taking it a bit far). When purchasing a laminator, be sure you buy one that is decent quality and will do the sizes you will need. Most items that I laminate are no larger than a regular sheet of paper, but I have had occasion to laminate larger sheets, such as pieces of the children's art that I want to turn into place mats, or famous works of art I wanted to show in a homeschool art class. So, I recommend buying one that is 12” across. It also makes laminating smaller items easier, as you don't have to worry so much about feeding the paper through exactly evenly. If it's slightly off, it has room on the sides and won't get wrinkled or jammed.

    I purchased our laminator off of eBay from a dealer. It is good quality (Royal Sovereign) and was a very reasonable price. It came with a set of various sized laminating sheets, but I have not used any of the small sheets, as most things I laminate are either full sheets of paper or put with other smallish things and laminated in one sheet to conserve. I have purchased extra sheets from eBay, also, and find the prices there to be best.


    Paper cutter

    A good paper cutter is another item that cannot be underestimated in its usefulness for the homeschooler! I went several years using a small cutter made for scrapbooking. But, I had no idea what I was missing! Last year, I finally found a large (albeit fairly vintage) paper cutter at a yard sale and snatched it up for $2. Using my new paper cutter was revolutionary. . . like going from a row boat to a yacht. I saved time by being able to cut stacks of 5-6 sheets, rather than one sheet at a time. And when you are homeschooling, you need all the time-savings you can get! Again, I must show restraint with my wonderful new toy and not “even out” every bit of scrap in my house. If you don't happen to have the same “fortuitousness” as I do in running across one for next to nothing at a yard sale, you can check Craigslist or just splurge and buy brand new from an office supply store. It will be worth it for an item you will use in your homeschool for years to come.


    Hole punch

    A 3-ring hole-punch is another item that is useful for homeschooling, but even more so when it is high quality. This was another lesson I learned. I had made due with a standard 3-ring hole-punch until one day, my husband brought home a big, heavy-duty Swingline holepunch with all the “bells and whistles”. (I didn't even know hole-punches could have bells and whistles!) Now I could adjust where the holes punched and how many punched (the middle punch is optional). But, the real benefit was that I could punch through an entire booklet at once! This proved very beneficial when I needed to punch holes in my son's Lego magazines, which we store in a three-ring binder. I could shove the whole thing in there and presto! One punch and it was done. It definitely beats pulling out the staples with my abused finger nails and doing them in sections!


    Electric Pencil Sharpener

    Life before my electric pencil sharpener consisted of spending 30 minutes prior to each school day hunting for a pencil. You see, it was not a matter of no pencils in the house. There were pencils, yes. But, the tragedy was that there were none in a sharpened state. “Pencils, pencils everywhere, but not a one to write.” All were broken or dull, miserably pressing forth to carry out their duties until they could carry on no longer. Plastic pencil sharpeners tried, but despite their hardest effort, they didn't have the muscle or strength to accomplish the task and left only broken lead and broken hearts. Then one day, I found a lone box that had survived the unpacking of our last move. Within it's weathered cardboard walls was a beautiful, shiny, black electric pencil sharpener. It stared up at me, beckoning me to give it a home and a purpose. Thus was this wondrous tool established securely on my desk as an integral part of our homeschool. Loved so much, we added a sister sharpener on my upstairs desk, as well. And in the land of dejected pencils, salvation has come!

    But, enough with the flowery imagery. This is one of my favorite homeschooling items because it truly does save us time and sanity. You, too, may be lucky enough to find one somewhere in the recesses of a desk drawer or forgotten box in the attic. But, if not, you can pick one up for a decent price at any office supply store. I believe our second addition came from Office Depot. I went with the one designed for classroom use, knowing that we would be putting it to the test. It was not too much more expensive and worth the small investment.


    Binder

    This was a recent purchase that my husband made for my birthday. (Yes, I do enjoy such birthday gifts)! We have not used it extensively yet, but I can already tell it is going to become one of my favorite homeschooling tools. We used it to bind my children's summer unit studies, which were purchased in PDF format. And of course, since my kids love to write stories, they are excited to be able to make their own books. Any tool that will encourage them to be creative and explore learning opportunities is a great tool to have, in my opinion!

    It was purchased off Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00006IARY) for around $55 and the binding combs can be bought from either Amazon or eBay in various sizes, depending on the size of books you plan to make. One important note, however: Be sure the binder you buy will bind the number of pages you need to bind. This one can handle up to 90 sheets and a half-inch comb. However, I did not realize how large one of our unit studies was and, forgetting the 90-page limit, I ordered one-inch combs, which my poor binder refused to handle efficiently. There was a bit of creative finagling on my part, but I did get it to work somehow. Nevertheless, I recommend you take the easy route and just buy the one you need in the first place! And going for one that handles more pages might be a good investment.

    As for the plastic covers, you may choose to skip these if you own a laminator. I simply laminate a cover. This way, it can also be printed with the title, a picture, etc. My only complaint about my binder is that it doesn't handle large stacks of paper at once. I can only punch about five at a time and this can be a little tedious with a 130+ page book! It is not a major problem, but something you may take into consideration as you make your decision.


    Scanner

    Before my scanner, it was a choice of either heading 15 minutes to the copy center (after putting on a decent outfit and making sure the kids' outfits matched and that they had actually combed their hair) or asking my dear, over-worked husband to make copies at work (something that took several weeks to actually happen). Either way, it was a chore! So, I was happy when we finally got a scanner here at home. Ours is a bit moody, I'll admit, but still does the job. I've copied drawings the kids have done to make books, as well as worksheets (with permission to copy, of course) and other homeschooling sheets.

    Our scanner was adopted from some miscellaneous place (with a husband in I.T., anything technology-related seems to just appear magically), but if yours doesn't just show up on your computer desk, plugged in and ready to do its job, then here are some tips for purchasing a good one. First, consider how much you will be using it. It may be wise to buy a sheet-feed scanner. They can be pricey, but they are designed for office use and will also make scanning a large batch of papers much easier, as you simply stack them in or on top of the machine and they are automatically fed through. Second, be certain that the scanner you choose will work with your operating system. Just because they claim it will does not necessarily mean it actually will! Read the customer reviews on Amazon, even if you don't plan to buy from them, and do some Google searches to find out if others have had issues with your particular set-up. Finally, it is probably best to avoid all-in-one devices unless you buy a higher-end model. Scanners that also fax, print, copy, make your coffee, cut your toenails, etc. never seem to be able to do all those things really well. Furthermore, the lower-end models often install extraneous software on your computer that will slow it down. So, you will probably want to steer clear of these kinds of machines.


    That's it! Those are the faithful friends in this homeschooling household. For more inspiration, just visit an office supply store and look around at the possibilities. I'm sure you will discover more things to add to the “favorites” list along your homeschooling journey! As for me, I'd love to own a color laser printer! Perhaps in the future. For now, I hope you've found this list helpful in getting you started in the process of setting up your homeschool.
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