There are so many awesome supplies to choose from when it comes to teaching elementary-age children. It’s also incredibly easy to get lost amongst it all. I really love having hands-on supplies for them to use. Kids thrive on stimulation, and providing the proper tools and supplies can really help keep them engaged and learning. You also don’t want to forget about yourself–make sure that you have what you need in order to stay on track, as well. I have both a second grader and a preschooler to keep interested here as we learn at home. Unprepared for the costs of teaching at home, I had to find the most bang for my buck–but I had no prior experience whatsoever. I researched and considered my children’s unique needs when choosing classroom supplies. Admittedly, some purchases turned out to be not as useful as others. I’m going to share a list of the supplies that we have found to be the most useful, effective, and fun.
1. Construction Paper: Art projects, paper chains, and nearly everything in between–if you can name it, construction paper can probably do it. A quick Google search of construction paper projects will provide what seems to be a never-ending list of fun activities. Definitely grab a pack or two of this stuff for your little ones.
2. Cardstock Paper: So obviously, you can make cards with cardstock, but it’s uses aren’t just limited to card making. I really like making flash cards with this paper. More durable and attractive than construction paper, it does cost a little more, so if you get it, I wouldn’t let them use it for everyday drawing. I printed pattern block mats on ours. While you can survive without cardstock paper, I certainly recommend the purchase.
3. Copy Printer Paper: Plain ol’ white printer paper…and lots of it! It can be used in so many ways. Lately, I’ve been printing a lot of worksheets and lessons. My preschooler, who loves having different activities to do while her brother is learning, goes through this stuff like crazy. Some of her favorite worksheets are those that require cutting. This paper is also great for creating alphabet books (and other things of that nature) for multiple grade levels.
4. Dot Markers: Not essential, but they are really fun! The kids love making art with these things. They can make some really neat, creative pictures. I will definitely be buying more of them in the future.
5. Glue: You are going to want to keep glue on hand. It’s great for art, and other learning activities, such as cutting out book titles to glue in alphabetical order. I personally prefer glue sticks (way less messy), but traditional glue is necessary for certain crafts. I’d recommend having both available.
6. Crayons, Markers & Colored Pencils: The quintessential elementary school supplies for sure! Actually, do we ever really grow out of these? I defienitly consider these to be must-have-items.
7. Scissors: You likely already have a set or two lying around the house, but tiny hands will find a set of children’s scissors to be more comfortable–especially early on. These are safer for them to use, as well. Scissor activities can help your child practice and develop motor skills. Also, if a lesson involves cutting, they are probably going to be more interested in participating. You will need a good set of scissors for yourself, too, if you don’t have them already.
8. Pencils & Sharpener : It’s just not school without pencils. I know classrooms have gone more computer-based, but I still believe that students should be getting tons of handwriting work in during these early years. Even if they are doing virtual classes, make sure that you are having them practice their writing. At this age, the traditional wooden pencil is going to be easier to write with, but just make sure that you have a sharpener on hand.
9. Planner or Journal: You will need a way to organize all of your ideas, lessons, and activities. In our state, we are required to keep notes on what we teach as a home school family. Some people prefer to keep these notes in journal form–especially if you are more relaxed about schooling. A journal makes it easier to change plans, too–simply jot down a couple details about schooling each day. I prefer a planner at this point (I’m a type-A personality). I like to plan ahead and stick to a routine and/or plan as much as possible.
10. File Folders: You may think that these aren’t essential, but you’re really going to want to be organized when teaching at home–especially if you have more than one student under your wing. This is really going to simplify your job. File them in whichever way works best for you. Bonus if you have a filing system to store your folders in…nothing elaborate, it can be a small and simple rack.
11. Labels: Simply put, labeled items are easier to find. These enable everyone to know where everything is, and where everything goes back. They are going to help all of you. Label in anyway that works for you–even using picture labels for non-readers. Feel free to color-code for visual learners.
12. Textbooks & Workbooks: Whether you purchased a curriculum or are developing your own, textbooks and workbooks will be involved. While you aren’t required to rely on them for all of your work, they do provide easy-to-follow plans and lessons. The workbooks help students work through these lessons, and enables you to assess their skills. If you purchase a curriculum, you will likely receive pre-selected textbooks. Because I made my own curriculum, I did my best to figure out what I needed, but I will also tell you that we’ve done away with or changed aspects of these book lessons. Recently, we stopped using our social studies books because we found more interesting resources. I still utilize the chapters within the book to develop my lessons. We also did away with most of our spelling books, revising the lessons to something more effective for us. You may find that it’s easier to find some lesson ideas elsewhere. I do like having a language arts textbook that provides various genres of short stories to discuss. Having a grammar textbook assists with the order and steps of teaching early, fundamental writing skills. In my opinion, science text and workbooks are very useful, though, we still supplement with videos and other activities. This will probably take some experimenting on your part to figure out what works for you, but I do consider the math text and workbook to be absolutely essential.
13. Geoboard: A geoboard isn’t essential to have, but it assists with motor skills, and encourages imagination and problem solving. I will admit that we haven’t used ours for any lessons, yet. Mostly, my daughter loves tinkering with it while her brother completes assignments. I’m sure we will use the board in the future. Alternatively, you may opt to use a geoboard digitally, but I don’t think it offers quite the same benefits as a physical board.
14. Alphabet & Number Magnets: These are especially beneficial for the youngest students. My preschooler loves to learn her letters and numbers with them. My second grader gets to use them to put words and sentences together in a way that feels more like play. You can make due without them, but we have enjoyed them.
15. Dry Erase Boards & Markers: We love our dry erase boards. We made our own large acrylic dry erase board to hang on the wall. Most often, though, we are using the mini dry erase boards. A big perk is that they save paper. Another perk is that they are fun to use. The ones that I bought came in a convenient 2-pack, along with markers. I recommend purchasing a mini board with handwriting lines on one side.
16. Clear Math Counters: Really, you can work your way around purchasing these counters if you’re short on cash, but they are used frequently in classrooms, and many workbooks will ask you to use them in the lessons. They can be very useful in early math.
17. Connecting Math Cubes: I love these. They are the perfect way to teach many early math concepts. You can stack them in different ways, take them apart, group them, etc. These cubes can demonstrate related equations and fact families, bar graphs, simple addition and subtraction, just to name a few of the uses. The kids love working with them. They translate the numbers in the problems into a physical form that the students can see and touch.
18. Curriculum or State Standards: There are so many curriculums out there to chose from. Do your research and choose what works best for you. Some are free, public school curriculums, some are bible-based, some come with all of the books and supplies you need, some are more structured, and so on. Prices vary and can be very expensive. We chose to teach without purchasing a curriculum. With the state standards in hand, I researched and developed my own lesson plan, and purchased the books and supplies that I felt we needed. At this point, it works for us, and I wouldn’t choose to do it any other way.
19. Various Crafting Supplies: Crafting supplies such as watercolor paints, paintbrushes, buttons, sequins, feathers, beads, glitter, tissue paper, pom poms, buttons, pipe cleaners, yarn, popsicle sticks are wonderful to have available. Kids love to express their creativity, so don’t forget to give their minds a rest from all of the work and simply enjoy the freedom of creating. Most of these supplies can serve multiple other teaching purposes, as well.
20. Hole Punch: Yes, you will survive without a hole punch, but I definitely prefer having one. They can be helpful in creating and keeping together books and flashcards, just to name a few uses. You don’t even need a big 3-punch, a single 1-punch will do just fine.
21. Flash Cards (or a way to make your own flash cards): Memory can be a wonderful way to familiarize themselves with some of the more basic concepts (such as early sight words, sums of ten, vocab words, and doubles), it will be easier to build more advanced concepts on top. They also just provide good practice in reviewing nearly anything that they’ve learned. Flashcards can also make learning feel less tedious, and more like a game. You can use cards for lots of other purposes, as well. You can compose sentences, and have them select the word that is in the proper tense, compose word families, practice punctuation, and so on.
22. Printer & Ink: As I mentioned in the beginning, you’ll likely be printing tons of things. Even if you will only need to print occassionally, a printer is never a bad thing to have (if possible). I came across very cheap ink that I prefer to use, which is incredibly helpful for our budget.
23. Appropriate Subscription Services, Apps & Websites: I don’t like relying on computer programs to teach my kids, but I do think that these programs can compliment lessons beautifully. Check out programs like Epic, Education.com, ImagineForest.com, Brainpop Jr. There’s a lot out there that can really supplement your teachings, so experiment and see what works. Some of these programs will offer free trials. Don’t forget to save useful YouTube channels, as well.
24. Plastic Pattern Blocks: These can be used to learn various shapes, create patterns, or to figure out pattern block mats. Both of my kids enjoy getting them out. Using cardstock, I printed various pattern block mats. For my second grader, I printed advanced mats, while my preschooler has much more simple patterns, though, she generally prefers to just stack them–but hey, it’s still developing a skill.
25. Base Ten Set: These are useful when teaching math in the earlier years. Kids are very visual and hands-on, and if you can demonstrate what you are teaching, they will comprehend much more easily. These are great for teaching concepts like number place values or grouping and simplifying math problems. Truthfully, I have not had to pull our base ten set out for a lesson, yet, so the verdict is still out as to whether I can qualify them as “essential.”
26. Organized Storage: Storing all of your supplies in an orderly fashion is going to minimize your stress, and make teaching easier. You don’t need to spend tons on creating a magazine-worthy classroom–just make it practical. I have a cube organizer to store most of our school items in. Beyond just being organized for your own sake, this is also a great skill to implement with your little students. Kids (believe it or not) respond really well to organized environments. They actually enjoy knowing that everything has “a home,” and exactly where things should be. Take advantage of labels and/or clear bins where you can. Caddies for supplies such as pencils, markers, crayons, etc. are also really useful. If everything is easily accessible, they are more likely to take the initiative to be “classroom helpers.” Being organized is not beyond their skill level–they are expected to put things back in designated spaces when they are at school; therefore, they can certainly do it at home. As long as they know what is expected and where things go, they will take to it rather quickly.
27. Rewards: Ok, so classroom rewards aren’t technically mandatory, but I wouldn’t want to teach without them. We use two simple and fairly inexpensive techniques. One thing that we do is fill a jar with “fuzzies ” for superb behavior and participation. Once the jar is filled, they get to choose either a pizza or ice cream party. The second reward system is our “Friday Reward.” If they complete all of their weekly work and maintain (mostly) positive attitudes, they get to end their school week by choosing a toy from their “Friday Box.” I bought a party favor box of 120 assorted toys for under $20. There are lots of other creative ways to come up with your own reward system, such as earning “money” for purchasing goodies from the “school store,” or offering certificates. Not only do rewards offer incentive, but they enable students to take pride in their work–rewards show them the fruits of their labor in a more short-term, tangible way.
28. Visible Alphabet: Whether this is a poster, individually printed letters of the alphabet, or whatever else you can come up with, make it visible for the student(s). They tend to use these alphabet cues more than you might think. My seven year old, despite knowing his ABC’s uses it a lot while learning alphabetical order. I have 2 alphabet posters hanging on the wall: one in print (or manuscript), and one in cursive. They are laminated and hanging low for both children to access, and trace with dry erase markers as they please.
29. Clock: Remember those little cardboard clocks with the simple mechanical hands we used in grade school? This was one of the items that I was most nostalgic to purchase (I don’t know why). These are great because it can be difficult to teach time without a clock for students to hold and tinker with (and toys are just fun). You won’t need one of these until around second grade.
30. Books: This one should be at the top of the list. Books are everything! Give them access however you can: visit the library, purchase books, or use an app. Just read! We use a combination of physical books and books on the computer. And, remember, learning doesn’t happen on a schedule–everything can be an opportunity to learn. You don’t have to cram all of your reading in during school hours. We usually use books as a way to unwind. The kids will often choose a story to read by themselves on Epic, and we read a story or chapter together in bed. I recommend also purchasing them a dictionary and maybe some other readable resources. Call me old school, but I think it helps develop independence.
31. Lined or Wide-Ruled Notebook Paper: Schools have gone away from emphasizing handwriting as computers and technology become more and more the norm, but I believe that this is an important skill that students should be working on developing. They will definitely need lined paper as they master their handwriting abilities.
32. US & World Map: It’s a really good idea to have these maps to hang on the wall for elementary students to be able to see as they begin advancing in their social studies knowledge, mainly geography. You don’t have to purchase these, but my second grader does enjoy seeing the places that we talk about, and comparing them to where we are.
While your school-at-home may have needs different from ours, this should be a good guideline for gathering your own classroom ideas. Keep in mind, too, that some of these supplies (such as the math manipulatives) come in different age-appropriate sets, so make swaps as needed. One of the perks to learning at home is the ability to tailor your plans to best accommodate your student/child. Experiment, if you can, and see find out what is most useful. Don’t forget–the most important part of teaching is being present. Your love, support, patience, and time is the most crucial element to a successful environment of learning.