Working on live equipment is the best thing for learning so seriously think about investing in some home lab equipment. Luckily I was able to get most of my lab gear from work and bought a small $50 dollar networking rack to hold it in.
3 x 1800 Series Series Cisco Routers
3 x 2600XM Cisco Switches
Serial ports WIC or T1 Wics
Get three routers because you'll need to create a hub and spoke network at some point and just one or two cannot accomplish that. Three switches for the same reason, you'll need to create a LAN off each spoke \ router. Network rack to keep it nice and neat and the correct cables and interfaces to connect the devices. Newer routers don't come with serial WICs so you can use T1 Wics if present. Crossover cables are needed to connect like devices, switch to switch etc...
Here is a great article I used