Your Questions Answered: Favorite School Supplies for a Charlotte Mason Home School

Today, we want to tackle a fun topic: school supplies for a Charlotte Mason education. We already talked about what we consider back-to-school essentials for the mom, and those are more the attitudes that set the atmosphere of your home. But today we want to get down and practical with “What are some school supplies?”—some of you asked us that, “Give us some school supplies”—that we like to use in a Charlotte Mason homeschool.

Joining me today are my friends and coworkers, Jenn Faas and Laura Pitney, and we’re going to share some of the school supplies that we consider fun, necessary, and helpful. Who wants to start?

Jenn: Well, what we, Charlotte Mason educators, sometimes think of as fun, maybe not everybody does. Books are so fun.

Sonya: They are!

Jenn: So, when I was thinking about those three divisions, I think the line gets blurred sometime. Because some things maybe some of us will consider necessary, while others just consider them helpful or fun. I think it all kind of runs together somewhat. But I know one thing that Laura and I were talking about, that we both use and have planned together in the past many years ago and it’s evolved, is the idea of our binders that we use. I call it Family Block. What do you guys call it?

Laura: I just call it our Morning Time or Family Time.

Jenn: Right. It’s a binder that contains things like our Scripture memory, our folk songs, our hymns—copies of those things—our poetry. It’s all in one binder. Each of my kids has one, even my smaller ones. Now, my two-year-old doesn’t have one yet, but my five-year-old little guy has one because he wants to feel like he’s part of things. He’ll even open it to the right page, even though he can’t read at all, but it makes him feel like he’s a part of things. So, it’s this really wonderful tool that kind of binds us together. And we put extra things in there that maybe we’re working on as a family, like knowing our address, and mom and dad’s phone numbers, that kind of thing. So that’s been a wonderful tool for us over the years.

Laura: I have one for myself as well, so I definitely would deem that “necessary.” It has our schedule for the day, even for the week. I have a tab for the long-term goals for that school year per kid. So it is my collection of what is supposed to happen for the school year. I even have my personal memory binder. Every day I open that up and, because sometimes my thoughts aren’t clear, I refer to that schedule under the first tab. I just flip it open and it has everything that we’re supposed to do for that day and what kids are supposed to be doing what. So the physical binder is huge. And on the left side, once I open it, I have my dry erase board—that nobody’s allowed to touch because it’s mine—and my dry erase marker and a napkin or something. I just feel like practically, for me, I’m always needing something to grab quick to explain something, or maybe to illustrate something, or just versus using a ton of paper. I have found that using an 8″ x 10″ type size dry erase board is really handy to have. Now, the kids have some too, but I have my own.

Sonya: I use one every day with my daughter. The blank on one side we can use for spelling words. For example, when she transcribes something, then I’ll say, “Okay, now look carefully at these words and then we’re going to close the book and I want you to write them here.” Or, like last time I wanted to show her the relationship between please and pleasant, so I wrote them both on here, or had her write them both, and pointed out how you make one to the other. So we use the blank side all the time. And then the other side with the grid pattern is fabulous for math. It helps us keep our numbers neat and keep everything aligned for place value. I highly recommend one of these, absolutely.

Let me go back to your binders for a moment. Do you empty it out and have a new one every term, every year? Do you just keep adding to it? How does that work?

Laura: Well, for me, the first few tabs are the current year or the current memory work or whatever is applicable to today, whatever we’re using today. And then, kind of like the Scripture Memory System, it graduates to the back and I have like master tabs for all the hymns we’ve learned, all the Bible verses they’ve learned, all the poems they’ve learned. So mine is a combination of both: the front of it is stuff we’re working on now and the back is master copies of all the things they’ve learned.

Sonya: Is that how you do it, Jenn?

Jenn: I do something similar. Mine has just grown. They keep getting fatter and fatter, so at some point I feel like we’re going to have to graduate to a thicker binder. My little guy has not been there for all of the lessons for these different things; but as a part of our family culture, as we keep reviewing the different hymns and the different folk songs and the different Scripture verses, he hears them. And at some point I think they will just become a part of him as well, so I keep it all in there. Mine are all in page protectors, everything is in page protectors. So it was kind of an investment at the beginning, but now I just add to it. At the beginning of each year, I put everything in for the year; and sometimes it doesn’t all get done, but I have my goal for the year. I put all the new things in there, and on mine I just used a Sharpie to give them all page numbers. So behind Scripture, each one has a page number. One day we’ll be practicing our new hymn and then the next day we’ll review something, and I’ll often just let my kids choose. They’ll look through the hymns, and they all have their favorites. So they’ll say, “Hymns, page five,” and we’ll all turn. All of our binders match, so we’ll all turn to Hymns, page five, and sing that one. So yes, mine just grows over time.

Sonya: Those are great ideas. Another thing that I thought of for school supplies is, of course, a bookcase. (I mean, the first thing that came to mind was living books, but those are not technically “supplies.” Those are “curriculum.” So, we’re setting curriculum aside.) A bookcase is where I store everything that we are using—all the books, all of the notebooks, all of the pencils. Another thing I put up there is my bag of coins that we use for math every day. We also have jars of buttons and other everyday objects that we use for math. But it’s all on that one shelf for the one student that I have currently, so I know exactly where it is. We have our weekly schedule there, so when we come to the school room, she looks at the schedule and sees what’s set for that day and then she goes to the shelf and pulls off the resources that we’re going to need and puts them on the table for us. So a bookcase is definitely a huge thing. You can never have too many bookcases.

Laura: You can also never have enough pens and pencils, because they go missing. We were talking about this. There are times when we want our kids to be responsible and have their little pencil box where they keep up with their pen, their pencils, their little scissors, maybe their colored pencils. And that’s great, but ultimately they’re going to get up to go get a sip of water or go to the bathroom, and they’re going to take their pencil with them, and then you’re going to spend 10 minutes looking for the one pencil. So, practically, it helps to have something on our school table that has all of the extra pens and pencils so I don’t have to waste time hunting for that pencil that fell on the ground or got left on the kitchen counter or wherever. So of all the extra supplies that you’re using multiple times during the day, I just keep extra. And then, at the end of the day, we round them up. And a pencil sharpener is super important.

Sonya: Oh, I use mechanical pencils that you can just advance. That way we don’t have to deal with it.

Jenn: I do like mechanical pencils, but some of my kids . . .

Laura: Break the lead every time! Click, click, break. Click, click, break.

Jenn: When we did invest in the electric pencil sharpener, that was a game changer. That was really helpful.

Laura: If only they could make one that was quiet, that didn’t make noise. Because you’re sitting there reading or whatever, and that’s a great background noise.

Jenn: Along the lines of pens and pencils, I asked a couple of my children, “What do you think are the most fun supplies that we have?” And it’s funny, my 15-year-old loves pens. There are these erasable pens that I think are called “friction pens.” I’m sure there are other kinds as well, but these erasable pens have really been helpful and fun. Even with the younger ones, we tend not to want to give them pens, but letting them use the pens for some things and still having it be erasable has been really helpful. So that’s something fun that my little ones like to use sometimes.

Laura: I always feel so much pressure when I borrow a pen from Logan. You have to give it back, because they are so important. That’s awesome.

Jenn: He really does like pens. And he likes to color code things. It’s funny.

Laura: There’s almost a permission that we’re giving them to be creative, even with the type of supplies we give them.

Sonya: Yes. It can reflect their own personalities.

Laura: The way they use it might not be the way we use it or would use it, but it’s neat to see that.

Jenn: When you were showing your board with the blank on one side and the graph on another side, I would say another absolutely necessary supply is your notebooks that go along with your different subjects. For some things we use a blank notebook, for some we use lined. And then for math, we use the graph notebooks. And when we started using the graph paper notebooks for all of their math lessons, from my little ones on up to my high schoolers, that was very, very helpful.

Laura: And having the right type to match the use of it for the subject.

Sonya: For your nature notebook, you’ve got the thick paper, blank, so you can paint if you want to or draw. For your Book of Centuries, it helps to have that graph of a century-at-a-glance. All those different notebooks. We’ve done another post on Charlotte Mason style notebooking.

One other school supply I thought of—well, two—have to do with art and music. First, some way to display the work of art that you’ve studied that week. My father made me a gorgeous adjustable easel that has pride of place in our living room. It can adjust to a regular 8.5″ x 11″ print or it can go up to those big coffee-table art books, open to one page. Some parents use a kind of frame that they can take out the artwork and put in the new one very easily. So, whatever you use, some way to exhibit and display the picture study for the week is one thing. Then the other thing is some way to play your music for your music study, whether it’s—I’m old here—a CD player . . .

Laura: I don’t know what that is.

Sonya: Uh-huh, I’ll show you later, sweetheart. (At least I didn’t say “cassette tape.”) Whether it’s a CD player or a Bluetooth speaker (So there!) that you can hook up with your phone so you can play your music study music. I think those are essential school supplies as well.

Jenn: I agree. Our Bluetooth speaker is very, very helpful. And especially if you have a lot of children. We will often play our music during lunchtime, or when we’re eating, as a background for when we’re just listening to it—just to repeat it. And that Bluetooth speaker is very, very helpful.

When you were talking about your easel, I was reminded of another thing that is really helpful. We have some little book stands that fold up flat and you can pull the legs out; they use it for their copywork or when they’re doing drawing. They can put the book in the stand and do drawing. And that has been really, really helpful, because they fold up really compact and they stick them right in their little basket where they keep their notebooks and things.

Sonya: So it’s easier to see, rather than having it lay flat and then you’re hunched over. That’s a great idea.

Laura: And it holds the pages open. So instead of the pages flopping around . . .

Sonya: Trying to hang onto it and keep it open, yes. Oh I love that idea!

Jenn: That’s been a really helpful tool for us. We have multiple of them.

Sonya: Because you have multiple kids you’re homeschooling.

Of course, maps and globes, we’ll throw that in.

Laura: Years ago when we started, I don’t even remember where we got them, but we found a placemat size poster that was laminated: one side was the map of the world, the other was the map of the United States. Those are so easy to have on the school table or wherever you’re doing school. It has evolved into any time they’re doing arts and crafts, “Go get the map. Make sure the map is under whatever you’re coloring or painting to protect the table.” So those are super necessary in my mind for multiple reasons.

Jenn: Right, I agree. We have some bigger maps in our homeschool room, and then I do keep one of the placemat maps on our kitchen table. That’s been really helpful, because you find yourself talking about different things, maybe at dinner, and if it’s right there . . . . If it’s in another room, you may not take that extra step of, “Let’s go get the map and look at where we’re talking about.” But if it’s right there on the table and you’re sitting there eating, it’s so easy to pull it out.

Sonya: To make geography part of everyday life, which is what it should be. Some friends of ours have a big whiteboard on the wall and then they have maps also that are hung over it. So you can just pull down whatever map you want in front of the whiteboard, then let it up and pull down the next one you want. That’s heavy duty maps, but it’s right by the dining room table too, so when they’re eating, it’s right there.

Jenn: Another thing that has been really helpful for me (and I know I’ve talked about it before, so I apologize) is the timers. The timers are really necessary in my house. And I would say two different things. First, a visual timer. (That’s the one I know I’ve talked about before.) It’s a timer with a clock on it that you can see. If you set it for 30 minutes, it shows 30 minutes of red and then it slowly goes away. So the kids can look at it and see how long they have for a given subject. That’s been really helpful. And then, I also set timers on my phone for different things, kind of those non-negotiables of the day. We have an idea of how we want everything to go, but most of it is not necessarily a crazy strict schedule, like, “Oh, you have one minute and then we’re starting this,” but more of a “This is what comes next.” And trying to keep that principle of the short lessons. But some things are kind of the pegs of the day, that this is what happens at these certain times. So the timer on my phone has been helpful for that.

Sonya: Back when I had all the kids at home, I would do that to remind myself when I needed to go get lunch started. Because otherwise, you know, you’re head-down focused and suddenly it’s one o’clock and everybody’s stomach is growling, and “Oh, I forgot.” So that can be helpful. By the way, after we talked about the visual timers, I saw that you can get an app on your phone that is a visual timer.

Laura: You’re really excited now.

Sonya: Does that make up for CD player?

Jenn: See, necessary and fun.

Sonya: There you go. Perfect.

Jenn: You’ll have to tell me where that is. I will find that.

Sonya: Great. Thanks so much for all of your ideas.

I hope all of these school supplies will be helpful for you (or necessary or fun). And I hope that this conversation will help you prepare your school setting to give your children a Charlotte Mason education and help your days run a little more smoother and easier.