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It’s that time of the year again: time to go to your favorite superstore of choice and load up on notebooks, binders, pens, pencils…basically all the things! I’m headed out to do that very thing later today, but I started thinking about the things that I don’t have to buy and wanted to share my list with you. These are, quite simply, the workhorses of my homeschool and I would be lost without them. They don’t really fall under the supply list, but rather I would call them my favorite homeschool tools.

  1. Printer
    I love this printer and my husband loved the price tag. For under $100 on Amazon, we were able to buy one which would not only allow me to print anything I needed, but also to scan or copy any document. I use it every day for one thing or another. I regularly print on standard copy paper but it does a great job with any kind of specialty paper, too. It’s made by Canon so it prints beautiful photos as long as you use quality photo paper and ink. Speaking of ink, because I print so many things in full color, I use these inexpensive print cartridges and they have worked beautifully. It even comes with a special tray that allows you to print on printable DVDs!
  2. Paper Trimmer
    If you print as many flash cards as I do (!), you need a way to trim them so you don’t kill your hands trying to use scissors. I’ve had my paper trimmer since I was a digital scrapbooking designer/enthusiast and it has stood the test of time ( I’m guessing I’ve had it for at least 10 years–maybe longer). My version is older and a different color, but from what I can tell of the photo, the design is the same. In addition to the standard straight blade that comes with the cutter, you can buy alternative blades that will give you different types of lines: a perforation instead of a cut, a deckled edge, a scored line, or Victorian, which is similar to deckle but even more irregular.
  3. Laminator (or this newer model)
    A laminator can be a thrifty homeschooler’s best friend. It comes in handy so often when I want to make sure that my resources endure the test of time. I have 3 boys so I use mine a lot! I laminate all of their flash cards as well as various homemade game boards that I’ve used over the years for school. I laminate ID cards, checklists, and all sorts of review sheets for different subjects. Of course, it also comes in handy for non-school related things like newspaper clippings or special keepsakes. I found mine at a Sam’s Club 10 or so years ago and it’s still going strong. I generally order these sheets for mine, although you can often find great deals at places like Sam’s or Costco. Note: like my paper trimmer, my laminator is an older model. It looks like this is the newer model of my brand and I would expect it to perform just as beautifully as mine has.

In addition to my “Big 3,” I’ll leave you with two more recommendations that have really helped me. I bought shop ticket holders for the first time when I became a Challenge B director 2 years ago, and I love them! They are essentially portable white boards and the awesome thing is that they are a pocket so you can put any kind of blank paper you want in there to write on. For Challenge B, I take a large piece of white scrapbooking paper and cut it to size (these are 9×12, I believe) for the main writing/drawing side. Additionally, I add sheets of graph paper (a blank one and a coordinate plane), a blank Bingo card, a blank Sudoku grid, and other strand-specific worksheets that can be reused (Latin endings, logic tables, etc.). Depending on what strand we’re in, my students will find the sheet they need, move it to the front, and then begin to write on the ticket holder. They’re lightweight, inexpensive, colorful, and extremely useful!

I’ve saved the very best for last. It’s not a big ticket item, but it’s value has been tremendous to my boys and my sanity. Behold, the world’s perfect pencil sharpener (can you hear the angelic choir?):

pencil sharpener

If you have ever attempted to sharpen a pencil and have ended up minutes later with a stubby nub of wood, cursing under your breath and wishing for the “good old days” when pencil sharpeners actually worked, then this one is for you. It comes with a thingamajig that allows you to affix it to a flat surface but it didn’t work with my tables so we just threw that part away. It’s designed so that when your pencil is securely inserted into the sharpener, you can let go of holding the pencil, hold the pencil sharpener with one hand, and turn the wheel with the other. I have several friends who use this same pencil sharpener and they also swear by it–not because of it like the cheap ones!

What are your favorite homeschool tools?