A School Supplies List for Every Family

Maybe your child's school doesn't distribute a school supply list until after school starts and you want to get going while the sales are hot. Maybe the school sent it home on the last day of school and you lost the list (You wouldn't be the first parent.)

Whatever ever the reason that you're wondering what your child is going to need this school year, you've come to the right place. Here are back-to-school items every kid needs, along with some tips and tricks any parent can use. 

Though these items are likely on your child’s supply list from school, some of these are things you will need at home too. And because you will usually save money on school supplies, if you buy at the beginning of the school year, it’s a good idea to stock up during the back-to-school season.

Paper Products

School supplies

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 Even in this cyber era, school-age kids go through a lot of paper!

  • Lined paper - Be sure you buy loose leaf or filler paper in the correct rule (college or wide) for your child’s grade requirement or preference. If your child is in preschool through second grade, the wide-lined paper with dotted lines may be needed. Though parents aren't usually required to purchase this kind of paper for use at school, it’s still a good idea to have some at home.
  • Graph paper/graph paper notebook - Doing math problems on graph paper can make lining up problems so much easier for children. If you have a copier, you can copy it when your supply runs low.
  • Notebooks - You may need spiral and/or composition notebooks. Don't buy multiple-subject spiral notebooks, unless required. By the time your child uses more than 70 pages of a notebook, it's probably pretty tattered and needs replacement anyway. Try to buy notebooks in a variety of colors, so kids can easily tell which is for which subject. If you have one, check the teachers’ lists/rules before buying notebooks with pictures on them as these may not be allowed. Don't forget to check if it's college or wide rule.

Organizational items

Chinese boy buying school supplies in store
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With all that paper they will need a place to put it and a way to keep track of it all!

  • Folders - Look for sturdy folders. Also, the same thing applies as with notebooks, buy a variety of colors and check the teacher’s rules about pictures.
  • Binder/accordion folder - In theory these are reusable every year, but since you can run them through the washer like a backpack, they usually need to be tossed. Plus a fresh new binder or accordion folder will inspire kids to stay organized…at least for a while.
  • Homework book/academic planner - The school may sell a specific one it wants kids to use, so check before you buy this school item elsewhere.
  • Storage boxes/pencil case - These are often quite worn after a year of use, but old storage boxes can be used to create a movable homework station at home.

Writing Utensils

Children with markers
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  • Pencils - Buy lots! If your child is in preschool or primary grades, the fat, easy-grip pencils may be required. These are especially hard to come by later in the school year. So stock up.
  • Pencil sharpener - Probably your child's classroom has a pencil sharpener, but he or she may still need a small one to keep in their pencil case. Be sure it fits the size pencil your child uses. A quality pencil sharpener is a handy school supply to have at home.
  • Erasers - The pink erasers usually work better than any of those erasers in cute shapes. Get some eraser caps for the end of pencils too. Though these don't work as well as the pink ones either, they are at least convenient.
  • Pens - Check your child’s supply list to be sure you get the right color (usually red, blue, and/or black) and type (erasable, ballpoint, fine point, etc.).
  • Highlighters - Unless a teacher specifies differently, kids probably only need one or two colors of highlighters, so if you buy a four-pack, keep some at home in case the others get lost.
  • Crayons - You can buy the super-large pack for home, but stick with whatever size pack (usually between 8 and 24) that the teacher requires for school. The large packs don’t fit in pencil cases.
  • Markers/colored pencils - Again, don’t buy large packs than is required; kids only have so much room in their desks.


Mom taking daughter to school
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Kids may want a new backpack every year, but they don’t need one. Buy the right book bag and you won’t need to shop again next year. Buying school backpacks for the long haul will also save the time spent shopping for a new book bag every year.


Mixed race mother handing lunch box to daughter
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Unlike a backpack, lunchboxes are the kind of thing you may want to replace every year, at least if your child uses it daily. Still it is worth it to buy a quality lunchbox that last through the school year and keeps your child's lunch fresh.

Learning Aids

Boy holding rulers in classroom
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  • Ruler - You may have rulers around the house, but be sure they meet the school’s requirements, usually measuring in both inches and centimeters. It’s useful if they have a hole in them so they can be attached to a binder. Buy rulers in wood or flexible plastic so they don't snap easily. We have also found a magnifying ruler useful for our slightly farsighted child, both because it magnifies and keeps her place on the line.
  • Scissors - Check the school's requirements for safety scissors. Typically anything with a sharp point (even in older grades) is not allowed. Schools may provide scissors, but kids still may need a pair for homework.
  • Protractor/compass - When kids begin to study geometry, these are good to have at home, so even if the school provides them in class, buy them to keep at home. If the school doesn't provide them, buy two.

Clothes/School Uniform

Schoolgirls running & having fun in a corridor
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Kids grow—often a lot—during the summer, so for the most part last year’s school uniforms and clothes won’t work for another year. But have the kids try on the old stuff before you start school shopping.

A few items, like sweaters and socks, may be OK for a while. Also, this little fashion show will give you a better sense of what sizes kids will need in the coming year. Save the old uniforms for younger siblings or as back-ups or something to trade in a uniform exchange.


Girl in Math Class
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  • Tablet/laptop - This is something you will want to check the school rules and requirements about whether it is needed or desired at school. If it is something your child will take to and from school, it is imperative that you invest in good, easy-to-use protection for it. 
  • Calculator/graphing calculator - Check the school’s policy on calculators; these may not be allowed in school for children who are still learning math facts. Middle school and high school students may be required to have them. Graphing calculators are significantly more expensive, so be sure they are needed before purchasing.
  • USB or flash drive - Even if this is not among the school stuff your child’s school list, having a flash drive for each child can be handy. Kids can easily find their own files if kept on a flash drive and transport them to and from school. Attach it to a lanyard or string because these are usually pretty small and easily misplaced.
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