Children will go from preschool to pre-calc to premed faster
than you think. That passage is marked in many ways -- first
crushes, bad haircuts and at least one blowout fight about tattoos
-- but each August, it's defined by school supplies. As the
years progress, children go from crayons to markers to colored
pencils, from safety scissors to pointed scissors to Exacto
And that first day of school is do-or-die. Choose right and you
are among the cool. Choose wrong and you might as well stay home.
Which backpack is the right one? What clothes are in style? Should
I buy the 24 box of crayons or spring for the 96 count? The Sponge
Bob or Shrek lunchbox?
It's your job to guide your kids through the school supply
minefield, arriving on the other side with enough cool stuff to get
them through the first day unscathed and without having cashed in
the college fund.
Armed with a little knowledge and a good road map, it's easier
than you think.
Know what you need
Wait until you have the list from your child's school before you
hit the stores. Every grade in every school wants something
slightly different, and if there's anything worse than spending an
afternoon scouring the aisles of Wal Mart/Target/Office Max, it's
doing it twice.
Many schools post their lists online and some stores will have
them printed once the summer winds down. Some lists are horribly
precise. (What, exactly, is so special about a No. 2 pencil?).
Others are horribly vague. (A water container? Do they mean water
bottle?) Have your child ask the teacher for clarification if
something isn't specific. It's OK if your child shows up on the
first day of school without every last item on the list. The pocket
pack of Kleenex can wait until Day 2.
Negotiate the extras
Get ready for a child's best offense in the school-supply aisle
showdown: "But Mom, everyone has them." It's OK to cave to his
demands, but at least make him work for it. When your child asks
for the SpongeBob folder, ask him for a detailed description of who
SpongeBob is. This will buy you a few minutes to question your
decision to allow a television in your house -- and quite possibly,
your decision to have kids at all.
(No doubt, this is what my parents did when I begged for the
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles folder back in kindergarten.
Apparently, a gang of bipedal turtles named after Renaissance
artists constantly wolfing down pizza was the early-90s equivalent
of a square-shaped sea sponge with the world's most annoying
Parents, it's not supposed to make sense to you. It makes sense
to kids. That Ninja Turtles folder still sits, crisp and clean, in
my room at home. Which can mean only one thing: I never used it.
But if buying your child the SpongeBob folder makes him just a
little more excited about that first day of school, it's worth
the extra $1.19.
Wipe out the Wite-Out
When sending your child off to middle school, you are well
advised to skip over one item: Wite-Out. It seems like a great
idea. But, rest assured, their big use is doodling, not correcting.
After spending all that money on a calculator and Trapper Keeper,
do you really want them to come home looking like graffiti-tagged
It doesn't need to light up
Protractors now light up. It's true. You press a button and
there's a strip that lights up along the edge. As any persuasive
child would, no doubt, explain, this comes in handly while doing
math homework in low-light situations. They're available in either
Radiant Red, for fire-hearted math students, or Orange Aura, for
the calmer, philosophical learners. Splurge if you feel the urge,
but just make sure the protractor is translucent (clear). It's what
most school want.
The same is true with all bell-and-whistles products. Wite-Out
works just as well in liquid form as the fancy pen-tape contraption
(if you absolutely must buy it, but see above), and
regular old No. 2 pencils work just as well as mechanical ones,
hi-tech click or no click.
The best things are free
After the shopping cart has been loaded and the credit card
swiped make one more at the public library. If your child doesn't
already have a library card, now is the time to get one. Only on a
few lists did I find this crucial item, but it is a tool as
essential to a student as a hammer is to a carpenter. Best of all,
it's the one supply that's free.
The bottom line is simple: Think of school supply shopping as an
investment in your child's future. Spend the extra $50 now, plant
the seeds of knowledge and make your child love learning. The pens,
pencils and crayons will slowly disappear into the black hole of
school. Folders will wear as they are stuffed until they burst. But
the kids will return home for years to come with good grades and
the desire to go back the next day.
Graham is the digital editor for ChicagoParent.com
See more of Graham's stories here.
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