What School Supplies Do You Really Need?

back to school supplies
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 Many schools publish a list of school supplies every late summer. Often local retail stores will have copies of the lists available for shoppers before the school year starts. 

But these lists usually aren't the final word on what your child will need for the entire school year. 

If you are trying to be a savvy shopper, getting the best prices on school supplies while ensuring your child has what they need, and maybe even a few fun or special items, you need a complete strategy rather than just buying from the school supply list that comes out during the last months of the old school year.

Before we dive into the full strategy, it's important to understand explain how most school supply lists are created.  Typically, the school administrators, such as the school principal or assistant principal, will survey the grade level departments in elementary or subject departments in secondary schools to come up with supplies that most students will need for the following school year.  

Then, the items that are needed for any student are added to the list.  So the list will then include items like two composition notebooks, three different colored highlighters, a pack of 10 sharpened pencils, a backpack, and one zippered notebook.  This list is hopefully designed so that most students will have the basic items required for school.  What is not included are a specific teacher's class materials list.  

How the List Problem Happens

So, how does the school list become so different than what you actually need?  Remember, the list is created by surveys before the previous school year ends. It is also made to work for any teacher that your child may be assigned. 

Typically, over the summer months, teachers and administrators review new curriculum changes, update lesson plans, and even explore new teaching strategies to try in the new school year. These changes may require students to have a different set of supplies that what was anticipated before summer planning began.

Some schools may offer an updated list in the weeks before the new school year. The thing is, savvy parents have already started collecting supplies by then. 

As if this second list doesn't make you feel defeated in your quest, often teachers will tell students in the first few days school what additional items will be needed for their specific classes. 

The end results of these situations are that the school supply list is often the best guess made by well-meaning schools to help parents shop before school begins. Creating one-size fits all list for each school often does not work because teachers may need to change away from the list or what other teachers do in order to meet the needs of their own classrooms.  

While you may not be able to anticipate every single school supply need before the school year begins, here are some things you can do:

Take Advantage of Known Teacher Assignments  

If you are lucky enough to know which teachers your child will be assigned to before the school year begins, try to find out what your child's teacher will want for their class.  If you have a copy of the school supply list, show it to the teacher and see what the teacher will require or not use in their class.  If your child has more than one teacher try to ask each teacher what they expect their students to have.

Keep Stock of School Basics

There are certain school items that you can count on being needed by any school age child. Here is a general list of items

  • #2 pencils
  • Basic blue or black ink pens
  • Crayons or colored pencils
  • A backpack or book bag
  • Pair of non-marking shoes that can be worn for a PE class
  • Markers
  • Glue
  • Paper
  • Notebooks

The above list is a very general guide, not specific or surefire. Parents should think about the grade level of their child when purchasing supplies. For example, middle and high school student will need college rule lined paper while elementary students would need wide-rule. 

Also stay aware of local requirements for the bookbag. Some schools require all bookbags to be clear plastic, while others limit the size of the backpack.

Talk to Parents of Children One Grade Ahead

Ask parents of children one grade ahead of your child what school supply surprises they encountered when their child was in your grade.  This can be especially useful to find out about supplies that were used up and needed to be replaced often.  This can happen if a teacher is a heavy user of a particular supply in their classroom.  

If highlighters or composition books are used daily, you may want to pick up extras when the price is super low so you have extras on hand when your child uses up their initial supply - and the price has dramatically increased.

Buy Extra Doorbuster Consumables  

If one of your local stores is offering a fantastic special for a school supply that will get used up, go ahead and purchase extra items just in case.  Items like looseleaf paper packs, pens, glue sticks, and composition notebooks are all items that may get used up at school.  If you purchase too many for school you can use them at home or trade them with other parents for needed items.

Attend or Organize a Post Back-to-School Supply Swap  

Freecycle and other groups across the country have been hosting back-to-school supply swaps.  Parents bring new or good condition school supplies to these events and trade with other parents for items they need.  Attending a  second swap held after school begins would allow families to trade their extra items for the missing items they don't have.  

No event in your community?  Talk with your PTA or recycle/reuse groups about organizing such an event.  

Let the School Know of List vs. Actual Need Differences

 Letting your child's school know about the differences between the real school supplies needed versus the ones listed on the school supplies list can help the school troubleshoot the supply list. Some schools may be able to create lists for each teacher with enough time for back to school shopping. This can be difficult for many schools as they may not know what students will be in ​what class until a few days before the school year begins.  Still, politely and briefly mentioning to school staff what differences you ran into will let the school know where parents could use some school supply list improvement. Then the school can make the changes that will be helpful to parents and the school.  

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