1) Split page journals
These are like regular notebooks or composition books, but provide a large space for drawing.
I started using them years ago for my oldest daughter's copy work, since she loves drawing and could be compelled to do just about anything if drawing was also involved. Since then we have begun to use the format for nearly every subject - each kid has history, science, and copy work notebooks. I like the narrow ruled Bienfang note sketch books for science and history notebooks (more room to draw) and the Mead primary journals for copy work (more explicit handwriting guides). After reading our daily selections in history and science and hearing narrations, I have them record a response to the day's reading in their notebooks. Often this is just a picture with a sentence (or few, depending on their age). This solved the reporting issue I had with my Charlotte Mason approach - I have provide work samples for subjects that the primary work comes from reading and narration, which is a bit tricky to show. Their notebooks provide an easy, low key way to show what we are doing, and gives my art loving kids a creative outlet built into their days.I also find that if we don't do official art that week, I still have plenty of artwork to show, and its nice to have everything contained in one space. I also love the somewhat Waldorf element it lends to their work - they are in a way creating their own textbooks.
2) Primary Handwriting Dry Erase Boards
Like this. I use it everyday for writing out passages that we do for copywork. The handwriting guide style helps me make sure I'm writing out in (nearly) perfect form, and is easy to reuse everyday. I do like to use wet erase instead of dry erase markers though, since with dry erase my careful printing can come off on little misplaced fingers.I use a second board to write out weekly spelling words to copy out daily, or various other passages we might be memorizing and copying.
3) Singapore Math Videos from Khan Academy
My oldest is using (among other things) Singapore Math 3a right now, and I was thrilled to find that Khan Academy has a series of explanation videos for it. Although the videos don't exactly match up to the workbook sequence (or maybe they do in a way I haven't quite deciphered), they are proving useful, and are free! I hope they continue to add on for more of the series.
4) Play Away Books
These are mp3 player pre-loaded with books and extremely easy to use. Even my 4 year old can work them with a little help. Although I use this more for quiet time entertainment than school work, I have found a few that I could use as a lazy (or exhausted or vocal-resting) mom's helpers for our daily read aloud novels. A few I've gotten I've used for school work from the library have been The Princess and the Goblin, The Jungle Book, and The Hobbit. Even though I also frequently check out traditional books on cd, these just make things easier, as they only require a set of headphones for individual listening. They would be too expensive for me to buy individually, but if your library doesn't offer these, definitely suggest them to your librarians!
4) Home Science Adventures Kits
|Microscope Explorations Unit|
My husband (the physics professor) is extremely into hands-on science activities, to a point where I was overwhelmed with my lack of ability to fit in enough said hands on activities to meet his or my science-devouring children't expectations. My hands, or really my brain, is pretty exhausted after our everyday work, and beyond a weekly experiment (which is more than a lot of people do, right?!?!) I had a hard time providing enough. These kits have come to the rescue! They include really well written guiding worksheets to follow as well as everything you need to do the experiments The best thing (aside from never having to hunt for a length of wire or rubber ball) is that they are (at least for my 6 and 8 year old) able to be done independently. That being the case, they are easy to use as a child supervised science exploration activity. I.e, it can be done with mom in a hammock, reading. Score! Of course you could also probably use it as your main science curriculum - there's lots to do and plenty of opportunity for living book supplementation.
5) A Trampoline
Seriously. Studies have shown that children sitting still for more than 10 minutes start to lose learning capacity. So an easy, centrally located activity-generator is a perfect solution. A mini-trampoline doesn't take up a ton of space, but gets out a ton of energy. We do of course have to have strict rules for its use: one kid at a time and no hanging on the bar! But we have yet to have anyone injured on it, which for my children is saying something. It amuses me that they treat it like a hamster wheel - hopping on through out the day, bouncing happily for a few minutes and going about their business. I think it helps put them more in control of managing their energy and stimulation levels, which I think is a great step toward independence.
What about you? Any kind of weird standards that you wouldn't want to homeschool without? I'd love to hear them!