Updated June 2021
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Buying guide for best teaching materials

Are you setting up a school classroom? Outfitting a room in your home for homeschooling? To teach successfully, some key elements are needed. Of course, the most important two elements are the student and the teacher. Next is the subject matter: you need a purpose for conducting class, a goal you’re striving for. However, none of this is easily achieved without some very important teaching materials.

In this guide, we use the term “teaching materials” to refer to the supplies that make your job easier. A teacher’s stock of supplies may be divided into four broad categories: furniture, office supplies, instructional supplies, and technology items. 

Many teachers grapple with a limited budget. Under financial constraints, it’s tough to pick and choose between educational items when all items seem necessary. This buying guide can help you visualize your classroom and what you’d most like to put in it.

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If you’re buying an expensive new item for teaching, such as a TV or laptop, opt for one with a solid and reassuring warranty.

Key considerations

Your needs

The age-old “needs” versus “wants” strategy for visualizing a budget is helpful here. As a teacher, you likely have a list of needs (imperative products you can’t do without) and a list of wants (products that would enhance your teaching but aren’t absolutely necessary). 

Needs take precedence when funds are limited. For many teachers, paper, writing utensils, curricula, and furniture sit at the top of the list. However, your personal scenario dictates your need.

Here is a partial list of some of the most important materials used by teachers at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. You will probably see some items you could do without as well as some items you absolutely need.

This list does not exhaust every possible need. If your situation is unique in any way — say you teach a foreign language, physical education, woodworking, home economics, theater, art, or music — you likely have your own take on what’s important. For example, a physical education teacher needs a host of athletic equipment, from jump ropes to balls to soccer nets, in order to provide a well-rounded physical education experience.

Your budget

Outfitting a classroom isn’t cheap, and many schools operate on a limited budget. You’ve undoubtedly heard about schoolteachers paying for materials out of their own pockets to make up for the shortfall. If you’re working with a limited budget, you’ll obviously need to prioritize your purchases. Certainly all of the items we’ve mentioned aren’t absolutely necessary. Carpet may be a luxury you could do without, for example, whereas pencils and a pencil sharpener may be imperatives.

"You don’t have to be a professional grant writer to request funds for your school, but it helps to do some online research before taking the plunge. Fortunately, there are many online tutorials teachers can use to request grant money. "

Types of materials

We’ve touched on the basic materials that school teachers need to run a successful classroom. Now, let’s put each category under a microscope.


A classroom teacher needs a desk and tables or desks for the students. In most cases, the teacher isn’t expected to budget for these essentials because the school already has them. Fortunately for homeschoolers, the furniture you already own may suffice. However, if you wish to update your furniture for any reason, there will likely be a price tag. 


An emerging trend in education is to seat students in ball chairs rather than traditional hard seats. Research suggests that this type of chair, which summons a constant flow of kinesthetic energy from the sitter, helps kids focus. The cheapest of these chairs cost around $40. If you’re interested in buying enough for an entire class, consider all possible funding avenues: grants, PTO money, and so on.

To make a classroom feel like home, some teachers also invest in beanbag chairs and small couches that invite kids to sit down and relax into learning. These cozy pieces may be placed in a “reading corner” for individual and small group activities.


Carpet may not be necessary for older students, but for little ones who sit and play on the floor, you’ll want a floor covering. Some teachers use carpet squares because they help each kid define their personal space. Some teachers invest in colorful area rugs, often called “toy rugs.”  A small area rug for your classroom should last several years and may cost anywhere from $20 to $120.

Shelves and bins

Bookshelves help you keep your classroom neat and tidy. When books and other items are organized, kids know exactly where to find what they need. You could go two routes with shelving: invest in something expensive and sturdy (probably made of metal or solid wood) that lasts an entire teaching career, or invest in something inexpensive (probably made of particle board or plastic) that lasts a few years. The former could cost several hundred dollars, while the latter could be purchased for under $100.

Storage bins are not necessarily furniture, though some ottomans serve double duty as a place for you to stash supplies and a place for kids to sit. If you teach a lower elementary grade, you will probably also want some toy boxes or storage bins for your hands-on items. 

Office supplies

You’ll need office supplies for you and your students, including paper, pencils, scissors, glue, and so forth. Basic office supplies like paper and pencils don’t cost much at first glance, but if you’re buying for an entire class for a year, the numbers add up. Some school districts ask parents to provide specific office supplies at the start of the year, which takes a small bite out of your overall cost.

There are a few larger office-themed investments to consider as well.


Owning your own laminator can save you money over time if you laminate often, but beware of cheap laminators (under $20) that don’t have a big output. 

Cricut machine

Some teachers find a Cricut machine an invaluable resource for making die cuts (letters, labels, signage, name tags); expect to pay a little under $100 for a hand-cranked machine. Or, if you have a larger budget, consider one of our favorites: the Cricut Explore Air 2, which we explore in detail here.

Printer: A printer is an invaluable tool if you’ll be making copies of worksheets, parent letters, permission slips, and the like. Before you invest in a printer for a large group of students, look for features like a large paper tray capacity, duplexing, and collating.


Curricula: If you teach in a public or private school, chances are you’ve been assigned a particular curriculum already, and your school has probably purchased the rights to use it. If you homeschool, you may be shopping for your own curriculum (unless you’re partnering with an institution with an established curriculum, that is). Or you may choose to create your own curriculum.

Buying a curriculum isn’t cheap: expect to spend hundreds of dollars for a comprehensive one. Look for something filled with relevant, meaningful, organized content that propels learning forward. 

Lesson plans: A curriculum will point you in the direction of student learning, but your lesson plans drive that learning. A lesson plan consists of a learning target (a description of what the student will be able to do or explain when the lesson is over), a list of needed materials, and a list of steps. You can buy collections of lesson plans that adhere to a particular curriculum as well as plans that exist outside of a curriculum. 

For teaching ideas, homeschoolers often reach for specific lesson plan collections in the areas of math, language arts, and science. STEM toys are another fun, hands-on way for kids to bolster their science learning. 

Manipulatives: Speaking of STEM toys, there is another sort of “toy” you might find helpful: the manipulative. A manipulative is any tool students engage with visually and physically: Unifix cubes, LEGO, abacus, coins, blocks, and so on. If you’re crafty, you might be able to create your own manipulatives using supplies you already have. You can also buy manipulatives online for a small amount of money. For example, a set of reading guide strips to promote eye focus could cost as little as $6.


Technology is part and parcel of education. Typing, printing out work, and creating slideshows and other online projects are crucial modern skills kids must learn. Therefore, it makes sense that you’d want the latest technology in your classroom.

At the very least, a teacher needs some sort of computer or laptop to send emails, input grades, and perform research. Ideally, each student would have access to a computer and the internet as well as a set of headphones designed for young ears. A smartboard or interactive whiteboard can turn a regular presentation into something extraordinary, but these items cost $800 or more and often must be shared between teachers. For those who can’t afford this type of technology, a mini projector and screen may be an affordable alternative. 

As you can imagine, buying technology supplies for a classroom of students can get expensive. If you’re homeschooling, you may be able to leverage your existing tech items for the purpose of your child’s education. However, you’ll want to make sure all updates are current and your internet connection is strong.

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Did you know?
Today’s students need to develop computer literacy. Computers are so embedded in our society that many state standardized tests are now taken online.

Teaching material prices

Inexpensive: Basic office supplies like pencils and paper are arguably the cheapest expenses for a teacher. You could spend as little as $5 for a notebook and set of pencils for a child or $10 for a simple book of lesson plans. Over time, however, these expenses will snowball, especially if you’re buying for 25 kids or more. We suggest buying stationery supplies in bulk to save money.

Mid-range: A single ball chair may be a reasonable investment of $50 or so. A modest investment like a printer or Cricut machine may cost you several hundred dollars. However, a durable machine will pay you dividends over time.

Expensive: We consider anything over $200 to be a large investment. This includes many of the products we’ve mentioned, from bookshelves to laptop computers to curricula. Again, we reiterate that to avoid spending more money down the road, it’s best to invest in a well-made product from a trusted brand. 

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Expert Tip
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when thinking about all the supplies you need in order to teach. The ability to improvise is key. Often, there is a way to work around a lack of supplies — you just have to find it.


  • Don’t forget cleaning supplies. Frequently touched surfaces like tabletops and keyboards harbor lots of germs and must be disinfected often.

  • Don’t forget first aid supplies. Every school has its own policy on first aid, but at the very least you’ll want to keep some bandages on hand.

  • Don’t forget snacks. Snacks help kids learn. It’s hard to learn with a growling stomach. For this reason, many teachers keep a supply of nibbles for students, such as crackers or pieces of fruit. Don’t forget to find out about any food allergies before offering snacks to students.

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Your teacher newsletter is a great place to ask for parent donations, from snacks to disinfectant wipes to used furniture and electronics donations. Most parents want to help, so don’t be afraid to reach out.


Q. Technology evolves so quickly. How do I know which laptop is best for my student? 
A. Look at the year in which a particular model was made. Laptops, TVs, and other devices made in the current year tend to have the most advanced technology. That said, you might not need that advanced technology (and the advanced price tag) if all the child needs to do is write papers and send emails.

Q. I’ve heard that some businesses donate supplies to schools. How do I find out more?
A. A plethora of businesses “give back” to education by donating books, electronics, and other goods, as well as cash, to schools. You have to ask for these donations; the donor won’t be aware of your need if you don’t. One way to get funding or supplies is to write a grant proposal. Word your request as specifically as possible, focusing heavily on the positive outcomes of the donation you’re asking for. 

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