Dollar-store calculators can be loads of fun. In a pinch, having an inexpensive calculator in the car or in your briefcase is never a bad idea.
But there comes a time when your homeschooler needs a better one. That time may come sooner than you think — usually somewhere between 2nd-5th grades, depending on the child and the level of mathematics you teach.
During the elementary years is when your child will need to learn 2 things: how to properly use a calculator, and how to check work. Because dollar-store calculators cannot do everything that kids need to do in math, and they are usually unreliable anyway (expiring at the most inconvenient times), it’s important to have a good calculator ready at home.
Buying a calculator early is a good idea since there is no sense in having to learn twice — have your child learn on the calculator she’ll be using throughout the remainder of her school years.
Families and teachers seem to agree that Texas Instruments (TI) makes a good calculator. With calculators for every application in all price ranges, homeschoolers will always find a TI calculator to meet their needs.
For the lower grades, something in the 30+ range will usually do the trick. A calculator like this one will probably do through most of middle school:
For high schoolers, particularly those who take honors, AP or college dual enrollment math, a more sophisticated model is needed. A graphing calculator in the 80+ range and upwards will probably be sufficient:
Texas Instruments has a chart available on the web site to help you choose the right model for every level math course that homeschoolers are likely to take.
Plan to spend $20+ for lower grades and $100 or more for upper grades. Despite the price, this investment proves to be well worth it as these last a long time and can be used by multiple children for many years.
Finally, keep calculator instructions in a safe place. You’ll never know when you or your student forgets how to input a certain type of equation or cannot locate a function. While the instruction manual isn’t usually needed in lower school, it can be a life-saver once the kids get older.