If you have kids starting a new school year, chances are the district has provided a list of essential items. Pens and pencils. Notebooks. Loose-leaf paper. Rulers. Art materials. Locker locks. Perhaps school uniforms and equipment for extracurricular activities. And probably some things that were never on your back-to-school shopping lists: flash drives, computer-friendly headphones, hand sanitizer.
Even “free” public education puts a dent in the family budget. And besides trying to convince the impressionable generation their lives won’t end if they’re seen with inexpensive-but-practical alternatives to the best-known brands, you’ll probably have some arguments with yourself over whether those prominently displayed lunch containers and individual pencil sharpeners will really prove their worth in “field testing.” On the bright side, the age of portable multi-app telephones means you can probably skip the calculators and paper reference books.
There are, however, a few important back-to-school items that are frequently overlooked even by conscientious parents and educators. (Not all of them are sold in Target.)
Belt/Backpack Clips or Fanny Packs
Wearing a house key around the neck is out of fashion (partly because potential troublemakers found it easier to spot the kids who were going home alone), so especially if your students’ clothes lack roomy pockets, they’ll need a way to keep small essential items from sliding to the bottom of a backpack and becoming nuisances to dig for.
In case anything does get lost completely, it’s a good idea to mark items with a name and phone number (preferably not a home or e-mail address, for security reasons). If you use the family surname and household number, you can even make an item serve hand-me-down duty through multiple users. Do give your children input when choosing and placing labels: if the item’s end user finds a label babyish or ugly, things may start to get lost accidentally-on-purpose.
Practical, Durable Clothes
Of course you don’t have to buy your kids everything “everybody else” is wearing, but admit it—even you wouldn’t go out in clothes that stuck out too radically or were obviously chosen for hand-me-down convenience. And even where “shabby” is “in,” no one wants clothes so cheap they literally come apart without warning. Even if your school has official uniforms and your budget is limited, I’d suggest giving every kid in your family at least one smart new wearable item to start the year in—it helps them feel special.
A Healthy Self-Image
This no-money-required item may save you a fortune in “trendy” clothes and gadgets; children who are confident in their personal value don’t need to “prove” it to anyone through exterior trimmings. Know your kids’ positive assets and natural talents, and encourage them to develop these attributes through daily use. Don’t focus on what they achieve thereof, but on the satisfaction of learning and of challenging themselves to reach new heights.
Your Unconditional Support
Never let your children doubt that, whatever they achieve or don’t achieve in school and whatever anyone else says, you’ll always find them lovable and capable and someone to be proud of.