Look. I have Marie Kondo’d with the best of them. I have a low tolerance for clutter and want clear surfaces. I have very little sentimental attachment to objects and passed along boxes and boxes of baby clothes with nary a nostalgic tear or longing pain. But I do have a tendency to stumble upon and subsequently purchase homeschool material knowing good and well that I can’t put it to use right away.
Let me give you some concrete examples. We started homeschooling my daughter (who is now 8) when she was 6. I—like most unexpected homeschooling parents, I suspect—panicked and jumped down several research and recommendation rabbit holes. That brought me to a lot of awesome resources that weren’t yet age-appropriate or that I wasn’t yet sure how to incorporate into our lives.
Here are some of the things that have been sitting on the shelf in our “classroom”:
- These beautiful coffee table-style books (from here and here—not affiliate links, just cool books!)
- Latin root word flashcards
- A miniature human skeleton with removable organs
- So. Many. Board games!
The push to buy these things came in lots of different ways. Sometimes they were at a secondhand place at a great rate that we knew we couldn’t pass up. Sometimes they were on sale (the skeleton was found at a Toys R Us in their final days when everything was 70% off). Sometimes I just really liked them and knew I wanted them in my life.
Every time, I could hear all of that home organization advice and those minimalist principles bouncing around my head.
Don’t buy things you can’t use right away. Your home is for living, not storage. What if she outgrows that before you ever use it?
I’m not knocking these ideas. I use them to guide other purchases in my house with good results, but I’ve learned to be more flexible when it comes to homeschooling materials. Here’s why:
Presence Sparks Innovation
I’m not really a “boxed curriculum” kind of gal. Even when I buy boxed curriculum, I tend to use it to either supplement my own thing or as a spine for my own additions. That means that I am always looking for new ideas and projects, and having stuff in the house helps to spark those ideas.
It’s like having a well-stocked pantry when you’re hungry. If you open the doors and see tons of delicious ingredients, it’s a lot easier to throw together a great dinner.
Kids Find Things
I can’t even tell you how many times my daughter has found things I bought “for later” that have been sitting on the shelf for months. When she was younger, she would often bring it to me and ask me to help her use it. Now, she’s pretty independent and often just finds things all on her own. I’ve found her at the kitchen table, having opened a complex art kit, poring over directions and piecing it together all on her own.
The classroom is full of “invitations” (to put the Reggio Emilia term on it). If I wait until my daughter expresses an interest in a particular topic before researching, buying, and stocking supplies and materials, I might miss the phase completely. Instead, she has a room full of possibilities.
Age Suggestions Are (Almost) Meaningless
A lot of the things that have been sitting on shelves were “too old” for my daughter when I bought them, and I knew that. But many of them are still “too old” for her, and she has since found them, loved them, and engaged with them meaningfully. At the same time, she is still getting
If I relied too heavily on age recommendations, I might purge my shelves of things she’s “outgrown” but still loves or avoid buying things that she might really like intended for older kids. Instead, having a range of materials lets us have some things that are just easy and fun, some things that hit the level exactly where she’s at (which is different for each subject), and some things that will really stretch her abilities.
All that to say, it’s okay to buy the thing that makes you feel inspired, the thing that you can picture your kid using someday but not today, the thing that is really cool and on sale. (Warning: If you do this, you’ve got to find a way to store it well and visibly. Don’t let your classroom explode into piles of stuff requiring an archaeology degree to unearth (a mistake I made and had to fix).
What have you bought “for later” that you’ve been really happy to have? Have you had the opposite experience and wish you’d been more minimalist in your homeschool purchases?