Category Archives for "Back to School"

Three Ways to Save Big on Back to School Supplies

This post is Part 2 of 2 on a series on Back to School Organizing and School Supplies. View Part 1 (Back to School Supplies Inventory: How to Determine What You Have and What You Need) here

Back to school doesn’t have to break the bank

Here are three huge ways to stay on your homeschool budget when shopping for back to school supplies.

Back to school doesn't have to break the bank! Check out these 3 great ways to get cheap school supplies. Includes a printable dollar store back to school supplies shopping list!

Step One:  Take inventory of what you have! I talked about that in my Back to School Supply Inventory post! The printable associated with this post is no longer available (but will be part of a HUGE, NEW back to school resource coming late August!). Here’s a Periscope broadcast about how I use the “Taking Inventory” list  that will be in the new resource!

Step Two: Create a shopping list. Think about the obvious back to school supplies (folders, paper, pencils) but also those not-so-obvious ones (busy activities for the toddler, supplies for field trip days). I’ve compiled an awesome list of items that you may need for your homeschool! More on that in a minute. Then, once you’re armed with that list, stick to it! You can shop confidently because you know what you have at home (see step one) and what you truly need.

Step Three: Shop at the Dollar Store! I know there are seasonal back to school supplies sales at the big box stores, but honestly? I prefer to get it all at once at the dollar store, and I’ll tell you why:

  • Every thing is in one place at the dollar store (no need to run to multiple stores)
  • No need to wait for a sale at the dollar store (yep, it’s all always a dollar!)
  • You don’t have to deal with the crazy back to school supplies rush at those other stores during those sales (Iast year there was a line to go down the back to school aisles at my local Wal-Mart. No joke.)
  • No need to “hope” that those other stores have what you’re looking for (last year I couldn’t even find what I was looking for because there were literally just piles and piles of stuff all over the back to school supplies section).

I figure that if I pay an extra 50 cents for my crayons this year because I go to the dollar store (instead of waiting for the annual back to school supplies sales) then it is totally worth it!! That 50 cents is worth my sanity, my time and my gasoline!

Get your ultimate Dollar Store Back to School Supplies Shopping List here!


Back to school doesn't have to break the bank! Check out these 3 great ways to get cheap school supplies. Includes a printable dollar store back to school supplies shopping list!


Bonus: Here’s a Periscope broadcast of me demonstrating how to use the Dollar Store Back to School Supplies Shopping List, plus my back to school must-haves (all $1 at the Dollar Store)!

And don’t miss these two other posts on how to homeschool on the cheap:

20 Ways to Stay on Your Homeschool Budget

12 Ways to Bust Your Homeschool Budget

Grab the Dollar Store Back to School Supplies Shopping List today and make back to school supply shopping super easy and cheap!

Time to take inventory: What curriculum, books and school supplies do you really need for back to school? I'm using this awesome printable to discover how to determine what supplies we have, what we can re-use, and what we really need.

Back to School Supplies Inventory: How to Determine What You Have, and What You Really Need

This post is Part 1 of 2 on a series on Back to School Organizing and School Supplies. You can read Part 2: 3 Ways to Save Big on Back to School Supplies (Plus A Printable: The Dollar Store School Supplies Shopping List!)

Ah, back to school. There seems to be a near feeding frenzy that occurs this time of year for us homeschool moms.

Everyone is telling us: You need to get this curriculum! To read this book! To pick up more school supplies!

And we think: Ah!! Oh my goodness, yes I do! Get out of my way! I need to get to the nearest Wal-Mart!

This year, as I felt the back to school frenzy beginning to envelop me, I decided to stop, take a breath, and ask myself:

What does our homeschool really need this year for back to school?

Time to take inventory: What curriculum, books and school supplies do you really need for back to school? Discover how to determine what supplies you have, what you can re-use, and what you really need.

Do we really need more books to read? More curriculum? More paper clips?

The truth was that I had no idea! I mean, I had a good idea of what I we were going to use for each child’s curriculum in each subject.

But, did I use some of those curriculum before and have the teacher’s manuals (for example)? Or did I have a similar curriculum stashed away somewhere that another child didn’t finish that would work as a replacement?

And were our dry-erase pens in good condition? Or how about our construction paper stash? Did we have enough pencils?

The truth was that I really didn’t know about any of this because my homeschooling cabinets and drawers were a mess. 

They were crowded with half-finished workbooks and partially used science kits. These items had been put in there for a “someday” time when that next child might be old enough, or when we might actually need that one test tube for a science experiment.

You know, someday.

The drawers were stuffed with spilled boxes of paper clips, half-used pencils and dried out glue sticks. What school supply basics did we have, and what did we need? I had no clue.

And then there was my computer’s hard drive. I had downloaded all sorts of digital school worksheets, e-books and all sorts of learning materials—some from digital curriculum sales or that I’d downloaded as a free resource. They too were just sitting there, being unused.

It all became very clear: Before I spent one more dime on back to school supplies and curriculum, I desperately needed a good, old-fashioned clean out and organizing session.

Maybe someone else could use some of the stuff languishing in the recesses of my cabinets. Or maybe we could re-use and make do with some of those supplies.

And, for heavens sake, I needed to put all those good electronic resources to work (or I simply needed to delete them). 

That is the spirit in which I’m writing this post.

Ladies, I’m writing this as a homeschool mom that is right there with you: surrounded by all kinds of homeschooling stuff that you aren’t even sure that you have.

I’ve resolved to start this year differently. I want to start back to school fresh, cleaned out and without a ton of baggage (even the baggage of those “someday” items).

Best of all, my guess is that this assessment will also result in less curriculum and less back to school supplies to purchase this year, which makes my homeschool budget very, very happy.

So… I’m writing this as an outline of what I’m going to do as I’m cleaning out, sorting and taking inventory. Ready to get started with me?

Managing Electronic Books and Curriculum

First, let’s talk about managing all those electronic resources.

I’m going to do this in three steps:

  • First, organize the books or curriculum into electronic file folders that make sense.
  • Second, purge what we won’t ever use.
  • Third, print out those e-documents that we’ll be using or give kids access to them on their devices so the info can be viewed electronically.

Back to School Supplies: Organizing and Taking Inventory

For the hands-on, tangible back to school necessities, I’m planning on taking it one drawer or cabinet at a time.

No fancy plans here: Simply, clearing them out, making piles of like items and then throwing what we don’t need (kind of like what this homeschool organization post talks about).

Other Tips for Taking a Back to School Inventory:

1) Be ruthless. This is especially important if space is an issue. Is it worth it to keep a bag full of science supplies if you won’t use any of them this year (especially if it takes up a whole cabinet)?

2) Be practical. At the same time, be willing to consider items from your stash as substitutes for planned (but not yet purchased) school curriculum. But only keep them if you will honestly use them and give them a try. Remember, you can always try it out and get another item later if this one doesn’t work!

3) Be grace-filled. Give yourself time to go through these back to school supplies and to take inventory. It may take several sessions over several days (or weeks!), depending on how many children you have and how much stuff you need to inventory and/or purchase.

Time to Shop!

Once you’ve gone through your stash and know exactly what you (really) need, check out this post for tips on getting homeschool curriculum cheap, and you’ve got to grab the Dollar Store Back to School Shopping List Printable!!

Don't miss this Dollar Store Back to School Supplies Shopping List inventory! What a great resource!


You can watch how I use this amazing resource here (and see my must-have back to school resources too… some I guarantee you haven’t thought of!)

Want more resources for back to school planning? You’ve got to check out the Back to School Survival Manual: A Girlfriend’s Guide to an Organized and Successful Homeschool Year!

No matter if it’s your first or your fourteenth year as a homeschooler, preparing for a new school year can be daunting and overwhelming. What do you do first? Where do you start? That’s why the Back to School Survival Manual: A Girlfriend’s Guide to an Organized & Successful Homeschool Year is such an amazing resource. Full of expert advice from a ten-year homeschool veteran, this casual, conversational book is like chatting with a girlfriend about how to: build self-confidence in your homeschool’s purpose and vision determine what supplies you have (and what you really need); learn practical tips for managing daily homeschool chaos and clutter; discover how to create a realistic learning rhythm; and get powerful tips for daily homeschool success. The book also contains 30 pages of reproducible 8.5 x 11-inch checklists, charts and planning activities to use year-after-year!

Full of expert advice from a ten-year homeschool veteran, this casual, conversational book is like chatting with a girlfriend about how to:
 –build self-confidence in your homeschool’s purpose and vision
 –determine what supplies you have (and what you really need)
 –learn practical tips for managing daily homeschool chaos and clutter
 –discover how to create a realistic learning rhythm
 –get powerful tips for daily homeschool success
The book also contains 30 pages of reproducible 8.5 x 11 inch checklists, charts and planning activities to use year after year!

4 Ways to Plan a Sane, Balanced Homeschool Year

Looking for a sane, balanced approach to homeschool planning? This veteran homeschool mom shares her tips for realistic homeschool planning. Vibrant Homeschooling

As summer ends and fall approaches, the feeling of fresh starts and new opportunities is nearly intoxicating.

And as we begin our homeschool planning for the year, we realize that time away from the books (or at least away from the routine) has hopefully brought some refreshment and new vision. We’re eager to listen to new ideas (and to share the good ones we’ve discovered).

And of course all the new “stuff”—curriculum, workbooks, even normally drab items like dry-erase boards—just add to the festive atmosphere. 

We find room to dream, to hope and to envision what our school could be like. We say things like:

This year we’re going to go on more field trips! Make more time for crafts! Do more experiments! You know—we’re going to really experience school!

Or maybe we make promises to ourselves like:

I’m going to be more cheerful! Be more organized! Have my lessons prepped and ready weeks in advance! 

Things are going to be different, we say. And we mean it.

The plans are big and the goals are great. And that’s super!

But what I see happening year after year (and I fall right into this category too) is a really ugly, disappointing fall-from-grace come late September/early October.

About a month into the school year we notice a few things: the shininess of the new books has rubbed off; the curriculum may not be running as smoothly as we’d thought; and hey—someone gave us the same kids as last year (with all of their same idiosyncrasies)! 

And so we sit, mid-to-late-September, with a lapful of fallen hopes and heavy frustration. Our soul is saddened and crushed as we watch our idyllic homeschool planning crash head-on with our very imperfect and messy realities.

And that, my friends, is why many of us find ourselves entrenched in the same habits and schooling atmospheres year after year. We may dream of a different way of doing things (which is great) and make attempts to change, but so often come early October we find ourselves back where we were last year. 

Who wants to dream, we wonder, when all it leads is to heartbreak, and it seems like nothing ever changes?

I’ve so been there. And it’s not a pretty place.

But There’s Still Hope For Homeschool Planning

First of all, I don’t want to give pat, easy answers because that would just be downright wrong. Often there aren’t easy solutions to these ongoing homeschooling issues, so I’m not going to try to come up with some.

But can I share some mindsets that might be helpful? I feel comfortable in suggesting these here (without risking sounding flippant) because let me tell you—I’m saying them to myself as much as I am sharing them with you.

1) Choose Specific, Achievable Goals for Your Homeschool Planning.

Instead of making blanket statements like “We’re going to do more experiments and crafts this year,” create quantifiable (and achievable) milestones. For example, a better perspective might be to say “let’s plan to do one science experiment with each new lesson” or “When we get home from basketball practice on Thursday afternoons, let’s have a craft time where we each work on an ongoing craft project.” This way, the goals aren’t quite so nebulous and difficult to meet.

2) Consider The Season.

Often I find that I set myself up for disaster when I simply ignore my reality! I learned this lesson last school year when we decided to sell our home and buy a new one. It took an immense amount of mental and physical energy to endure the buying/selling process! As a result, I was forced to lighten our school load some weeks during that season. I realized that something had to give, and in order to keep my sanity, my school visions and plans had to be downshifted slightly. And you know what? We came through it just fine (and the kids caught right back up with their studies after the move).

3) Give Yourself Grace.

Even in the most ideal situations (without any outside drama), school can be challenging. If things don’t work out just as you’d expected, take a deep breath, dust off your knees and keep on trying. Have a “Plan B” in place, and don’t be afraid to use it. Also, instead of looking at the circumstance as a “pass/fail,” celebrate the good progress that has been made toward the goal (even if it’s small).

4) Take It Slowly, One Step At A Time.

Change comes slowly and not in smooth increments. Take small bites out of the goal (instead of shoving the whole thing in). Maybe plan to concentrate on one small change for the first few months, and see how it goes from there. Remember, it’s better to have made small, permanent strides than to have made a giant leap forward (and a giant fall right back).

Most of all, look toward establishing a long-term homeschooling rhythm that works for your family. 

In the past, I’ve found that these perspectives kept me grounded when I was lost mentally in that beautiful but-probably-not-gonna-happen idyllic homeschooling planning world.

And now, with these mindsets in place, I feel like I can dream and plan—in a much healthier way.

How do you approach this careful act of homeschool planning for the new school year? What tips can you share? 

 I’m linking up with A Little Bird Told Me

Tips on hosting your own homeschool co-op. Great benefits and tips here from two moms that have been hosting their own (small) homeschool co-op for years. Vibrant Homeschooling

Must-Read Tips for Hosting Your Own Homeschool Co-Op

Tips on hosting your own homeschool co-op. Great benefits and tips here from two moms that have been hosting their own (small) homeschool co-op for years. Vibrant Homeschooling

Two moms. A gaggle of kids. One living room. And often lots of sharp pointy objects.

At first you might think it sounds like a plot for a horror movie (“Revenge of the Science Students” or something like that).

But no! We’re talking about hosting your own homeschool co-op. This is when at least two moms study a similar curriculum or topic and get together regularly to do experiments and fun crafts.

Alright, maybe that still sounds like A lot. Of. Kids. In. One. Place. (and thus the scary music is still playing in the background).

Well, my friend Eryn and I have been doing it for four years now, and not only have we lived to tell about it, both of us (along with our kids) treasure our little homeschool co-op (AKA “Science Fridays”). In fact, I for one wouldn’t want to homeschool without it!

I sat down with her recently to talk about having our own homeschool co-op works; what advice she has for other homeschool moms who want to “share the load”; and the importance of a really, really great salad during your get together.


Alicia: Eryn, thank you so much for chatting with me today in such a formal manner.

Eryn: (smiling) Of course! AK: I mean, we certainly do a lot of chatting on our Science Fridays.

EB: Oh yes…

AK: But not really in this way… you know, with everyone else listening in.

EB: Right. Except for those eight other little pairs of ears running through the house… pretty sure they pick up on everything we don’t want them to hear.

AK: Yes, exactly. Anyway… let’s start at the beginning. Why did you agree to do this whole co-teaching thing with me four years ago?

EB: Well, I thought it would be more fun to do experiments and projects in a group setting.  After all, homeschool kids really need to be socialized or else they won’t turn out “normal,” right?!  Also, as a homeschool mom I want to socialize!

AK: Yes, socialization is a good thing… for kiddos and moms! I felt the same way. Our families knew each other and got along really well. And I think all of us have grown closer as we’ve added new little ones to the mix and watched our older kids blossom. Did you have any fears or apprehension about doing this together?

EB:  I don’t remember having any fears because I knew you and your kids.  If I was nervous, it would have been about not meeting each others’ expectations about what the kids need to learn, getting work done in time, that sort of thing. But that’s why I think it’s important to choose the right mom to partner with. We share similar values so spending time together is enjoyable for everyone!

2013-09-18 10.24.322013-09-18 10.24.32AK: I also appreciate that we can lean on each other on class days, whether we’re having a rough week or going through a challenging season (such as having a new baby). Sometimes those Friday talks have gotten me through. It’s also been great to share ideas and resources. You know me—I’m the  Tips on hosting your own homeschool co-op. Great benefits and tips here from two moms that have been hosting their own (small) homeschool co-op for years. Vibrant Homeschooling and you always have great ideas for field trips.

EB: (laughing) Yes, two homeschool mom brains are better than one!

AK: Right. But I still feel like we are able to teach the subject throughout the week in the way that works for our individual kids. For example, sometimes we do extra experiments or crafts that your family doesn’t do (or vice versa), or we give different emphases to the lesson. But that’s still OK because we trust each other enough to know that our kids will all have a general understanding of the lesson… at least enough to do the experiment/project together on Friday.

EB: Yes, we have similar goals for our time together. Our kids are around the same ages and we give similar schoolwork loads. Also, we both enjoy doing lots of hands on learning and don’t mind driving and paying for field trips and extras. We’re on the same page, and I think that’s and important trait to have in a homeschool co-op teacher.

AK: And your co-op teacher needs to be slightly Type-A… at least, if you are Type-A like we are…

EB: What, us?! No, but seriously, yes, pick someone that you can count on.  The last thing you need as a busy homeschool mom is your fellow co-op teacher showing up unprepared or flaking out on you!

AK: Oh yes, totally agree with that. It would drive me crazy if my co-op partner was always backing out on me or scheduling other things that day. We plan our week and our workload around our science get together. The accountability of “we have to get this done because we’re meeting this week!” definitely helps keep our science lessons front and center. Alright. Let’s talk about another very important part of our Science Fridays. Food!

EB: Oh yes! What would Fridays be without our salads?!

AK: The salads! Yes! You have not let us eat anything else on Fridays since we started making salads!

EB: (laughing) Well, you are like the crazy salad ninja! I watch you throw all kinds of insane stuff in a bowl and then it turns into a masterpiece. Why would we ever want to make anything else on Fridays?!

AK: Alright, OK… the salads are fun. But seriously, food is an important part of the co-op experience.

EB: Oh definitely. We time it so that we overlap with lunchtime. The kids seem to focus better when they have full bellies.

AK: And we don’t serve them salad.

EB: True. They usually get a kid-friendly lunch, like PB&J and fruit or something else semi-healthy.

AK: Except for those times when the science craft/project involves food, like Sharks in Jello or food in the shape of what we’re studying (like Crab sandwiches).

EB: Yes, those are fun. I think it’s important to mention here though that the family you partner with at the homeschool co-op has similar eating styles and tastes. Both of our families eat fairly healthy food (lots of fruits and veggies) and that helps when it comes to determining what to feed the kids. We don’t have to struggle with one mom who’s serving root beer and French fries while we try to get our kids to finish their apples.

Tips on hosting your own homeschool co-op. Great benefits and tips here from two moms that have been hosting their own (small) homeschool co-op for years. Vibrant Homeschooling

AK: Exactly. That helps. And speaking of having several moms around… share your thoughts on having multiple moms involved in a co-op like this. 2013-09-18 10.24.32

EB: You know, it has been good to have just our two families.  Initially, I thought having more families join us would increase the fun and learning, but now I see that making a co-op too big could easily result in less efficiency and less work getting done.  It could dissolve into chaos pretty quickly. After doing this for a few years, now I realize that our 8 kids are chaos enough for us!

AK: Ha! Ahem…. yes. Any other tips you have?

EB: Plan ahead.  Scheduling is a biggie.  It’s great to get together before school starts and discuss not only meeting dates, but possible field trips, etc. You and I also have similar expectations of what will be accomplished at each meeting, and I’d suggest that moms talk that through too. For us, it works to have a lot of play time for the kids because the moms need a break, and the kids need to get the wiggles out!

AK: I agree. We’ve been upfront and honest with each other about what we want from the co-op days so that there’s no surprises or misunderstandings. That gives us the freedom to just handle that week’s task and to let the learning flow. Anything else you’d like to add?

EB: Yes, overall, doing a homeschool co-op with another family is really fun for both kids and moms.  The kids look forward to our time together and having regular meetings helps us stay on a schedule and get our work done in a timely fashion.

AK: Awesome. Eryn, thank you so much for sharing with us!

EB: No problem!


Is there anything else you’d like to know about hosting your own homeschool co-op day? Post your questions here and Eryn and I will do our best to answer them! Or, if you host a homeschool co-op with another mom, share with us what tips you have!

Need fresh back to school ideas? Here's 10 ways to not sabotage your year. Vibrant Homeschooling

Back To School Ideas: 10 Ways to (Not) Sabotage Your School Year


Need fresh back to school ideas? Here's 10 ways to not sabotage your year. Vibrant Homeschooling

The scene is oh-too-familiar for many of us. It’s August and we homeschool moms are gearing up our “school marm” game.

We’ve spent weeks (or maybe months) planning and thinking through our school year. Now, like finely trained heavyweight boxers, we stand outside the ring—focused on the game plan and ready to make our move. We’ve picked our curriculums, sharpened our pencils and strengthened our resolve to make…it…through…every…single…page…of…the …textbook—no matter the complaining or whining that ensues!

Enter our poor, unsuspecting kids. They’ve spent the last few months thinking about anything but school. They’ve frolicked through the grandness and bliss of summer—the super-fun camps, the pool days and (perhaps) the seemingly-never-ending movie marathons and video game sessions.

Equations? Essays? Being chained to a desk again? These things smack them from their summer reverie like a ton of bricks to the head. And their response to our “super-duper new school curriculum” is… less than ideal.

Of course this makes School Marm’s blood pressure instantly rise, and the “need tos,” “shoulds” and “musts” start flying.

And… the boxing fight-of-the-century begins! Welcome to another school year!

Can I suggest some different back to school ideas? One that e-a-s-e everyone back into the routine… and make school a happy place instead of a battle zone?

Hang with me as we look at ten ways to make this happen. Bottom line–I don’t mean lower your expectations. Instead take a fresh approach to how we view (and “do”) school. It also helps to remove the boxing gloves (and to take some deep breaths).

10 Back To School Ideas That Lower Stress

1) Literally lighten up your schedule. Going back to school can be a shock to the system—for you and the kids! Why not ease into the change, like you’d slowly ease into a frigid pool? Start off with only two-thirds of your subjects (the most critical ones for your kids at this stage) and slowly introduce additional subjects into the mix as the weeks roll by. Just like the seasons gradually change from one to another, a petering in and out of the subject load is a wonderfully natural approach to learning.

2) Redefine what you call “school.” Learning doesn’t just take place at a desk, over a workbook. What can your child learn about while hiking a trail? Or spending the afternoon at the beach? Kids are born with an innate curiosity and can learn so much by simply slowing down to explore the world around us.

3) Focus your school around “being” not “doing.” If a child continually fights you about a certain subject (or even school in general), it may be time to put away the books and back way off to focus just on building lasting connections. Homeschooling’s true treasure is the potential for incredibly deep relationships between family members.

4) Design an organized but flexible schoolplan. Don’t fall into the trap of laying out every detail of how your school year will pan out. In my book Plan to Be Flexible: Designing A Homeschool Rhythm and Curriculum Plan That Works for Your Family I show how to plan out general topics for the whole year (for each subject) but fill in the details only a few weeks before. This allows for a place to collect the names of all those great books, field trips and videos for each upcoming topic, but gives freedom of what to pick once the time comes to teach.

5) Expect bumps in your schedule. If you have been a mom for more than two minutes you know that kids and the unexpected go hand-in-hand. Instead of getting upset when they happen, expect them. And keep things flexible enough to allow room for interruptions.

6) Consolidate subjects whenever possible. Oh, school is much more manageable when everyone learns the same topic! Of course each child can respond to the topic differently (an eighth-grader might write an essay about the causes of the Civil War, while a kindergartner might pretend what it was like to live on a plantation in the South).

7) Don’t forget to include breaks (for you and them). Running around outside or playing with toys for 15 minutes results in fresh, rejuvenated minds that are ready to tackle more learning.

8) Play to your children’s strengths (and likes). What do they enjoy? How can you incorporate their learning styles (and personal likes and dislikes) into their subjects?

9) Make learning more like play. Games, puzzles, outdoor activities: there are so many wonderful non-traditional learning resources! They’re also a great way to ease kids into the school year (or to help kids who are burnt out on traditional schooling methods).

10) Relax and enjoy this time with your kids! Homeschooling is not about getting our kids to “arrive” at a certain point of knowledge or skill. Truly, the “education” (and the joy) happens in embracing life’s daily learning opportunities. Search for the hidden gifts of the everyday (even those difficult “everydays”) and enjoy these wonderful lessons together.