Unschoolers thrive in an environment that is rich with opportunities to explore and create. We can fashion that kind of environment for -or even with- our kids by being intentional about the supplies we make available to them.
In addition to stocking your home with things that tap into your children’s interests and passions, there are some basic supplies that you can always keep on hand. Focus on things that allow for open-ended, self-directed exploration or self-expression (in other words, stuff that kids can use in lots of different ways without needing a lot of help from adults).
My children range in age from 8 years to 2 years. Below is a list of things that we always keep in stock. This list has changed over the years as my kids have grown, and it’s sure to keep changing as they get older. Please keep in mind that these are just ideas. There are lots of other things that could be added to this list. If you’re new to unschooling, please don’t feel like you’ve got to run right out and buy everything on this list! Add to what you’ve already got slowly, taking time to explore and savor one or two new things at a time.
For ease, I’ve divided things into categories, but keep in mind that these items can be used in lots of ways, and in several categories. Also, having been a teacher, I’ve accumulated many “classroom” type items. I’ve linked these items in case you’d like to take a look at them. However, you can easily do without these, or provide similar items that are cheap and easy to find.
Arts & Crafts Supplies
We try to keep it varied and interesting. We usually have some of the following: dried beans, colored macaroni, stickers, foam stickers, pom-poms, buttons, craft sticks, felt, scraps of fabric, wiggly-eyes, craft cups, glitter, glitter glue, shaving cream, straws, pipe cleaners, krazy krinkles, paper bags, colored masking tape, glue sticks and bottles, scissors, staplers, hole punches, cotton bolls, paper towel and toilet paper rolls, various kinds of beads, yarn, all kinds of paint (watercolors, tempera, fingerpaint), paint brushes and tools, stamps and ink pads, play-doh and toys, clay, floam, and nuudles
We keep abundant supplies of all different kinds of paper, including: construction paper, manila paper, colored newsprint, tracing paper, lined paper (several types), finger paint paper, 11X18 drawing paper, easel-size chart paper, various recycled paper, old envelopes, note cards, index cards, post-it notes, cardboard, poster board and graph paper
Kids like to try out all kinds: thin and thick markers, Bingo (dot) markers, finger crayons, regular crayons, colored pencils, fabric markers, window markers, and our VERY favorite: Mr. Sketch scented markers
Hands-on tools such as: large thermometer, balance scale, magnifying glasses, magnets, large clock with movable hands, plastic trays, plastic sorting wheel, pattern blocks, attribute blocks, linking cubes, geoboards and colored elastics, many kinds of dice, tan-grams, large calendar, money, coin sorter, Cuisenaire rods, puzzles, adding machine tape, rulers, geometric solids, and counting bears
Language Arts/Social Studies
We have: story cubes, plastic tracing letters, magnetic letters, Word Whammer, spelling puzzles, alphabet dice, large maps, earth ball globe, and books, books, and more books
Various items such as: white board and markers (a cheaper alternative is to buy chalkboard paint and paint a wall or door), sidewalk chalk, coloring books, paint with water, notebooks, clipboards, dot to dot books, maze books, sticker books, decks of cards, board games, dress up clothes, and blocks of all types, shapes and sizes
Above all, don’t worry about what you can and can’t supply. Unschooled kids are extremely imaginative and resourceful. You’d be amazed at what they create with the simplest of materials, such as a cardboard box, a bathrobe tie, and a blanket! Provide what you can, but leave room for their own creative juices to flow.