Thursday, July 11, 2013

School Supply Shopping Advice

I wrote this article in August of 2011. I thought I'd bring it up again since I'm already seeing Back to School sales in the Sunday paper.

My husband just left to take my son out school supply shopping. As I was doling out advice about what he should look for I thought I'd share what I learned from 12 years of teaching middle school. I've seen it all, backpacks with stuck zippers, binders held together with duct tape, dried out markers, and too many broken colored pencils to count. Making good decisions now can save your, and the teacher's, sanity later.

Backpacks: If your child tends to be disorganized get a backpack with as few features as possible. The fewer places a student has to look through to find something the better. Many JanSport backpacks have only one large opening for binders/books and one pocket on the outside for smaller supplies.

Binders: Buy a simple 3 ring binder with a clear cover so the kid can decorate it with photos, pictures, etc. It's best to buy the binder with rings that are located on the back cover, the papers tend to not tear or bunch up as much with opening and closing. Buy a few; there is a high probability that in a few months the binder will need to be replaced.

If your child is going to carry a spiral planner or pencil case in the binder buy the binder at least 1/2" wider than what is required. Larger binders may come with a black "V" shaped insert, that should remain at the back of the binder, it prevents pages in the back from getting wrinkled.

If you have an active or disorganized child do not buy an expensive fabric covered zippered binder. The binder rings will get misaligned in a few months and you'll get upset because you spent $15+ on a fancy binder that is ruined.

Paper: Loose-leaf, standard blue lines with red margins lines on the side is best. Wide ruled for elementary grades and college ruled for middle/high school.

Buy spiral notebooks only upon a teacher's request. When students rip out the pages from a spiral notebook it's often difficult to align several papers when they only have a few seconds at the stapler, or they take a lot of time trying to rip off the page at the perforation to get it perfect. Also, many students tend to undo the metal or plastic spiral on the notebook which can cause a distraction in the classroom.

If a teacher suggests spiral notebooks for note taking, ask if your child can use a composition book as an alternative. Composition books are bound with string, have thick covers, and never fall apart.

Markers: Crayola markers are the best! Roseart markers are fine for a while, but they dry out very quickly. If you are going to buy Roseart markers buy 2 or 3 packs to last the year. If you need more color variety, Pentel can't be beat and are perfect for middle/high school students. If your child wants Sharpies just say no; they are banned in many schools as they are used in most all tagging incidents.

Colored Pencils: Crayola all the way. Only sharpen with a hand held sharpener and twist three times then check to see if the point is good enough to use. If the pencils are sharpened to a fine point, there is a 50% chance that the point will break off. Roseart pencils are second best.

Do not sharpen colored pencils with an automatic pencil sharpener, it loses about 1/2" with each sharpening. Middle school kids use colored pencils.

Crayons: Crayola and Roseart are both equal in quality. Roseart has the name of the color written in large capital letters, making it easier for little kids to read, but Crayola crayons have a wider diameter and tend not to break as easily.

Pencils: Dixon-Ticonderoga are the easiest to sharpen and the points rarely break off. Pencils covered in a decorative plastic wrap or painted in fashion designs are not always the best quality. 

Mechanical pencils are fine, but make sure that your child has plenty of extra lead. First time mechanical pencil users or kids who write with a heavy hand should use 0.7mm or 0.9mm size lead, the thicker lead does not break as easily.

Pencil Sharpener: A 2-hole sharpener is great, if one hole gets clogged with a broken lead, you can sharpen in the other hole. My favorite is the Foray 2-hole sharpener, I've had mine for years and it still works great. Battery operated pencil sharpeners should be left at home.

Pens:  A click pen that does not unscrew is the best option. Many click pens can be unscrewed at the center and when opened the small pieces can get lost or the child will not be able to reassemble the pieces in a timely manner to continue with notes.

Correction Fluid: White Out or Liquid Paper is banned in many schools due to inhalation hazards. Pens are generally not a requirement for everyday use, so there should be little need for correction fluid or correction tape in the classroom. Keep the bottle at home.

Glue: Kids generally will not have to take glue to school every day, but it's a good idea to have some at home. White glue is best for elementary students, a single bottle will probably last the year. Glue sticks are better suited for older students. Some glue sticks are tinted and dry clear, making it easier to see where the glue has been spread, buy several sticks to last the year.

Ruler: My favorite is a totally flat clear plastic 12" ruler with inches and centimeters marked. The transparency makes drawing straight even lines a breeze, and the increment lines are crisp and clear for measuring. Folding rulers often do not have all the increments and are difficult to read.

Scissors: A set of quality scissors can last throughout a child's school career. Fiskars has a great reputation of quality and durability. 5" Rounded or blunt tip scissors are best for smaller kids and can do the job throughout middle school, but kids with larger hands will be more comfortable with a 7" pair.

Locks: Children in middle and high schools may be required to purchase a lock for a locker. Usually the combination locks  are sold only at school The locks are unique to the school and take a master key to open from the back so staff has access. Usually locks can be passed down from older siblings.

"Hey, can I borrow a pencil?"
Have a talk with your child about lending or giving school supplies to other students. Some kids give freely, many chose to share only with friends, some lend supplies begrudgingly, while others refuse all requests. Have the discussion with your child so they know how to respond when asked, "Let me have a piece of paper, yeah?"


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