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School Supplies – What to get, and fun ways to use them!

I’ll be the first to admit that I have an unnatural fondness for school supplies.  I’m not sure if this is a common affliction or not, but it gives me great joy to have just the right supplies on hand at any given time.  I also love to find new or creative ways to use those supplies to make life easier!

The following list contains both common items and some not-so-usual ones, as well as tips for finding bargains and for using the supplies in creative ways!

  • whiteboards and dry erase markers – These are great for hanging on the wall, but we also get some smaller ones to use as slates.  My children love to write on these (and I do too!)  We especially use them in math instruction and for spelling.  Over the years we’ve gotten a couple of the sets available at Costco.  For less than $20, these sets include a large magnetic wall-mountable board, with a magnetic eraser, magnets, board cleaner and dry-erase markers.  They’ve held up very well – some poor quality boards stain easily.  We use our wall models for bulletin boards, and our small, “slate” sized boards for working through problems and demonstrating concepts.
  • A scanner/printer or a personal copier, and lots of printer ink and paper – These can be very cost-effective, especially if you are planning to use many of the downloadable curricula or online worksheets, etc.  I personally like to buy printer ink refill kits to cut down on how often I have to buy new cartridges.  I usually buy these online, as they are much less expensive than the ink available in office supply stores.  I also tend to pay a bit more to get partly recycled paper, to assuage my guilt for going through enough pulp products to make several trees!  Also, I recycle our scraps and used paper products, as part of our family’s emphasis on good stewardship.
  • Art supplies like crayons, markers, paintbrushes, watercolor paper, sketch pads, pencils, etc.
  • Save empty yogurt cups, pudding cups, or plastic fruit cups for holding water and paints during art projects.  Also good for holding little beads and things, or for sorting small objects.
  • Sharpies, or other permanent markers – I try to always have at least one or two around to label things.  Keep out of reach of the little ones!
  • Lots of tape!  – I’ve found that you can never have too much tape!  I usually stock up on this at the Dollar Tree.  Their 3-packs of transparent tape work great and are only $1.
  • Glue sticks – These are usually on sale quite inexpensively in late summer, but I like to buy the large container from Costco at any time of the year.  It is very inexpensive, about $5 or $6, and includes a plastic carrying case to keep all the sticks together and organized.  Contains enough glue to last for at least a year or two!)  if you don’t have a Costco, you can stock up on the glue sticks when they are on sale and find a plastic storage box to keep them handy.
  • 3-ring binders – Again, these are available inexpensively in late summer, but those are often the poorer quality, less sturdy ones.  Costco has good prices year-round on multi-packs of very nice quality binders that include the clear pockets on the front and spine, so that you can create cover artwork.  I typically get a pack of 1/2″ binders and a pack of 1″ binders
  • a 3-hole punch (if you are using binders, these are indispensable!)
  • page protectors for 3-ring binders.  There are many great uses for these!  Use them as pockets to store maps, brochures, timeline figures, cut-outs, and other items for your notebooks.  You can also slide a worksheet into one and write on it with a dry-erase marker.  This allows you to reuse your worksheets if your child needs extra practice.  (Check the copyright to be sure it is okay to do this with multiple children.  Some workbooks allow you to reuse/copy workbooks for use in the same family or class, and this method is less expensive than making copies.)
  • tabbed dividers for organizing your notebooks
  • File folders, manilla and colored.  We use the colored ones to make lapbooks, and the manilla ones for organizing household paperwork.  Hanging file folders and a file cabinet are also very helpful.  All of these can be expensive, for some reason, so watch for good sales at your office supply stores.
  • An electric pencil sharpener (or use mechanical pencils).
  • stapler and staples
  • paper clips
  • scissors
  • paper trimmer (like the one shown here: – I think I got mine at Hobby Lobby)  I use this all the time to cut up timeline figures, flashcards or playing cards, lapbooking printables, paper strips and borders, anything that has straight edges.  Great if you are a scrapbooker, too
  • different sizes of construction paper – We like to have a small amount of the large 12″x18″ size on hand for History Pockets style projects, and mounting/framing smaller artwork, or for large art projects, as well as the more standard 9″x12″.
  • card stock – For printing flashcards or playing cards, for art projects, and for cool Papercraft projects.  Also good for making greeting cards.
  • poster board – We like to get the inexpensive stuff from the Dollar Tree (three or four for a dollar or so).  Fold a sheet in half, width-wise, and use clear packing tape to tape together the two short edges that are formed, and you have a huge sturdy portfolio pocket that is wonderful for storing artwork (even huge pieces) and other flat materials.  I also use a piece of poster board for each child as a “placemat” for protecting the table when doing projects.  It keeps paints, markers, stamp pads, glue, etc., off of the table, and a few pieces of this can be reused over and over all year.  You can use a whole piece, or cut it in half, depending on how much coverage you need.  Plus, I guess you could use poster board to make posters. :-)
  • graph paper.  This is one of those things that you’ll need one day when you least expect it, so I usually get some to have on hand if I find a good deal.  In a pinch, you can do a Google search for graph paper and find some to print out, though this is probably not cost-effective if you need to do much of it.
  • index cards (ruled and blank – even colored if you are feeling extravagant, but I’m usually too cheap to spring for that when the plain are so inexpensive!)  These are great for flashcards, outlining, making notes, and so forth.  I probably use them more than my kids, since I’m a writer and they were only first graders last year!  You can get one or two of those inexpensive index card boxes to hold your collection.
  • clipboards – You can often find these on sale for a dollar or two, and they are wonderful to have on hand for nature walks and scavenger hunts, mobile art projects, car travel, and other activities that you do away from a table or desk.  Here’s a tip you can use in a pinch, especially if you have a large number of kids on hand, and not enough clipboards for everyone: Give everyone a hardback picture book and a rubber band.  They can use the rubber band to hold a piece of paper flat on the book.  Obviously you don’t want to use paints or markers in this situation, however!
  • rubber bands – We get those nifty rubber band balls.  They last forever, and are really handy for keeping things organized and properly stored.  Great for keeping flashcards or card games together, as well as neatening long unwieldy cords.  I only thought to get these a couple of years ago, and now we use them so often I wonder how I ever managed without a steady supply of rubber bands!
  • post-it notes – You can often find these inexpensively at a dollar store.  I now use these on a daily basis to make notes for myself.  Great for making notes or marking passages in library books (or your own books!)
  • sticky-tac – This is nice for mounting maps, posters, and artwork on the wall.  The only problem I have found is that some of our construction paper items fall off the wall with this, usually when we start turning down the heat at night.  I think the cold makes it a little less sticky or something.  At least, that’s my current theory!  My maps have stayed up just fine, though, so it seems to depend on the type of material your are hanging.
  • Repositionable glue stick – This is strictly optional, but for certain applications it is really great. You can get this at office supply stores, and it is great for making your own “post-its” or for adhering timeline figures.  The adhesive remains sticky, instead of drying, so that you can reposition your projects if you need to at a later date.

I’m sure that there are lots more great ideas for learning supplies, and I’ll try to periodically update this page as we make new discoveries!

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