When I look at what we use every day in all kinds of ways, these are the ten items that stand out. If I had to downsize, these items would be coming with our family.
The homeschool resources available are plentiful; from science projects to building kits, workbooks and art supplies. It is easy to be overwhelmed and tempting to overbuy. These are multi-use, simple items that encourage a lot of learning in our home. If I had to start again with the knowledge I have now, this is where I would start.
I would recommend all of the items on this list for 2-7 year olds and beyond.
We have a child-friendly Learning Resources stopwatch. The type with a lanyard and three colour-coded buttons to start, stop and clear the timer. Our daughters time jumps, hold their breath, count hula-hooping attempts and record local neighbourhood runs. It’s been a great way to introduce numbers to the concept of time. The stopwatch comes out at all times of the day, for all sorts of life lessons.
We have an atlas and a map of the world puzzle but there’s something special about spinning the globe and exploring the world. We’ll find the countries our storybooks are set in. Follow the trail of adventure in Camilla de la Bédoyère’s two books; Where is the Bear and On the Trail of a Whale. Or, play a simple game of guessing the country that has been covered up by someone’s hand.
Magnet shapes (link)
I’d recommend these as soon as your little one stops putting all the things they can grasp in their mouth. We use the back of a baking tray when we don’t want to be stuck in front of the freezer. Our daughters have both created pictures with their magnet shapes, counted and shape-sorted. I do highly recommend putting them on the freezer if you need a few safe minutes to get dinner ready in the kitchen though!
Bird feeder (link)
My daughter got a DIY window bird feeder last year for her birthday. First we built it together. Now we maintain it, ensuring it’s clean and full of food, and watch the birds come to our window. The excitement the first day we caught sight of a bird feeding at the window was palpable and it’s a wonderful experience to share. It has encouraged a deeper interest in learning about our garden birds.
There are lots of different magnet toys available out there, for an array of budgets. These are a bit of an investment piece as far as toys go. When first looking at all the different options of magnet tiles available, this brand stood out because the magnets are strong and the transparent colour makes a lovely effect when played with against a window.
Really though, my children build zoo’s and cars, houses and boxes for pretend cake. They test the strength of the magnets and line them all up against the wall. Any magnet tiles will do this.
Wooden blocks (link)
We’ve collected lots of different kinds of wooden blocks over the years. Our favourite pieces are some nesting wooden squares and arch pieces that make a rainbow. We keep all the sets together and use them to build, or draw around, create pictures and play sorting games. Anything goes really.
We stick to neutral wooden block options over ones that are designed to build a certain thing. There’s an argument that having one “aim” limits the imaginative use for wooden blocks. I’m not sure my children would agree with this. We keep it this way mostly because we have an abundance of wooden blocks and don’t need more! I would absolutely buy a castle set if I found one though…
We have dice for colours, shapes and numbers and we use them for every kind of game. Lindsay Small has a book dedicated to dice games. We also love active dice games and using them to do sums.
I recommend getting a larger dice if your children like to throw them really far, or popping the dice in a small clear Tupperware. The larger dice don’t get lost as easily as the standard board game options.
Schleich Animals and Figurines (link)
As our first Christmas as a family of three approached, I meticulously researched lasting toys we could introduce to our eldest daughter. Enter Schleich animals. They are realistic, made to scale animal figurines and they are well-loved. We have added to our collection every birthday and Christmas since then, for all our children. They fit in pockets, they are the stars of the playmags zoo and they are regularly lined up on window-sills.
At the other end of the spectrum, we found some miniature postman pat figurines in a book at the garden centre three years ago for less than £5. Pat, Mrs Goggins, Ted, Jess and Bonnie have seen some serious play hours in this house!
Math Manipulatives (link)
We use math cubes and do enjoy the fact that you can click them together to build towers and larger cubes. We also have some blue glass stones in a box and some rainbow counters. It’s about having lots of one small item you can grab to count with. If you love having lots of beautiful things, the possibilities are endless here; glass stones, pretty buttons, Grimm Toys counters, wooden discs or cubes or rings. If you like to keep things simple, I do recommend math cubes as you can connect them and therefore do more with them.
I thought I would print out entire online curriculums, texts for analysis and worksheets. I don’t. We use it mostly to print a colouring sheet to match the topic of interest.
You know what? Every time we do this, they think I’m magic! We’ve printed frog life-cycles, Paddington Bear, a giant birthday cake for a card project, a Pharaoh, a season turtle, a penguin life-cycle. Countless Octonauts. It’s worth it to jump on that child-led interest straight away and see their enthusiasm thrive in the moment.
We do use other toys and resources. We also have a fairly well-stocked art supply cupboard and we read a lot of books. These are the ten items we would buy again to start again; the things that most regularly spark a learning adventure in our home.