When I was a kid, I loved getting all my school supplies for the new year. I’d get my pencils sharpened, organize my pencil case, and fill my binders with paper. I’d put everything in my new backpack and be ready to go weeks before school started. I can’t say my own kids show the same level of excitement as I did for new school supplies. I think they see them as necessary, but not exactly thrilling. I’m pretty sure my son would be fine if I just picked out everything myself and my daughter is easily swayed by anything with glitter or sequins.
From the experiences with my own children and from my perspective as a teacher turned administrator, I’ve learned a few things about back-to-school shopping. First, it’s important to know what your child actually needs, and by this I mean what the teacher has recommended. Some schools send home a supply list at the end of the year or some schools, like ours, post it electronically during the summer. I’ve learned that there’s no point in buying supplies until I know what my kids actually need. Last year, a supply list didn’t come out for my daughter’s class so I bought her what I figured were the essentials for her grade: pencils, an eraser, crayons, markers, scissors, glue, and a pencil case. Everything came home on the first day of school with a note from the teacher explaining that supplies would be shared and students didn’t need to bring their own individual items. Instead, donations of things kids go through quickly, like tissues, would be appreciated. Lesson learned.
When we do have a list of supplies provided by the school, we pay attention to how they word things. For example, many teachers prefer that if students have sharpeners, they are the types that keep the shavings enclosed. Why? So students aren’t constantly taking walks to the garbage can to sharpen their pencils and so fewer shavings end up on the floor. And while we’re on the topic of pencils, although the ones with sparkles or cute designs may catch your child’s eye, they are often far more difficult to sharpen than your standard #2 pencil.
If your child needs markers, it’s likely up to you to decide which type to buy. If marker often ends up on you child’s clothing, then washable is your best bet. Marker sets come in many quantities, so I usually shoot for the middle of the road. A set of 8 might not be enough but a set of 64 is likely unnecessary. Ditto for crayons and colored pencils. If your child needs scissors, consider her age when you’re looking over your choices. Safety scissors, which have a rounded tip, are good options for little ones. If you’re buying glue, check to see if the teacher has requested a bottle or a glue stick. If there’s no preference, glue sticks are by far the less messy option for our youngest budding artists.
Two items we spend lots of time contemplating are the lunch bag and backpack. My criteria for lunch bags are that they’re large enough to fit the food containers and freeze packs we use and that they’re easy to wipe clean. For backpacks, size is a major factor. (Think of putting lunch, a library book, and artwork inside.) But when your kids are small, you also don’t want a backpack that will cause them to tip over when they put it on their shoulders. I like having at least one water bottle holder, for easy access and so there’s a fighting chance the water won’t leak all over the rest of the contents of the backpack. More than one compartment is also a nice option. I pack extra clothes for my kids and place them in a bag inside a spare compartment of their backpacks. And yes, do pack your children spare clothing, at every age. It’s helpful for when there’s a paint incident/mud puddle/juice spill/yogurt explosion/washroom accident. Then check on the spare clothes every so often to see if they still fit and to make sure you don’t still have shorts packed in the middle of winter.
Choosing their lunch bags and backpacks is the part of back-to-school shopping where my kids show the most interest and have definite opinions. As long as they meet my criteria, they’re free to pick out the design. We’ve had great luck with buying higher quality lunch bags and backpacks that the kids can use for more than one year. If you know your kids are going to want new stuff every year though (Dinosaurs might not be all the rage next year!), then you just need bags that are durable enough to last the current school year. These bags will end up on the floor and possibly even be stepped on so keep that in mind when helping your child choose.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this important detail: Label everything. Check out any school’s lost and found area to see the crazy amount of belongings that go missing. It always amazes me to see things like jackets, water bottles, pencil cases, and shoes in our lost and found. Isn’t someone missing those? Whether you buy cute ready-made labels or just use a Sharpie, labeling your child’s belongings will help make sure they make it home.
As much as it saddens me every year to think about summer coming to an end, I do have beautifully sharpened pencils, brand spanking new markers, and a cool lunch bag to look forward to. All I need to do is pack my spare clothing because sometimes, even the adults find themselves in a messy situation!
Written by: Erin Agnello
Edit, Design, & Graphics by: Jamie Schmalenberger
My name is John Haber. I’m a Pediatric Occupational Therapist and the founder of Nogginsland. I became a COTA in 2003, and then went back to school much later, receiving my Master’s Degree in OT from Mercy College in New York in 2016.
Over the years, I’ve worked with a variety of populations in different settings, from school districts, to developmental disability centers, to children’s hospitals.