What you really need for back to school

The school sends out a reminder that first-graders are supposed to wear an orange T-shirt tomorrow. Your child doesn’t have an orange T-shirt. You text all your friends and send your child to school in your friend’s husband’s XL T-shirt from college. Sound familiar?

Although schools typically provide a list of supplies to buy before school starts, there are other things that are needed throughout the year. Of course, every school is different, but here is a list of things to consider.

Supplies for home use

If you bought all of the items off the school supply list, then congrats are in order. But, did you remember that they also need supplies to do their homework at home? So, while supplies are still on sale, see if you need any of these to keep at home:

  • Pencils
  • Scissors
  • Glue sticks (if you have primary-aged kids, buy twice as many as you think you’ll need!)
  • Erasers
  • Markers, crayons, colored pencils
  • Stapler and staples
  • Tape (clear and masking)
  • Index cards (to make flashcards)
  • Ruler/yard or meter stick
  • Calculator (sometimes it’s easier to use than the one on the computer or smartphone)

Extra water bottles

You won’t learn your child lost theirs until they’re running out to the bus for school.

A library card

At some point, your child will probably need to use your public library for a project. And, if they really procrastinated, you will end up there as the library’s closing needing to check out books to finish up at home. And of course, having a selection of books to read for those daily assigned minutes is always helpful. Get a library card now so you don’t have to apply for one then.

T-shirts in every color

Many schools celebrate Character Counts or have a spirit day or something requiring a specifically-colored T-shirt. Although I’m not promoting stocking an endless collection of T-shirts, I will suggest holding on to T-shirts in colors that may be needed for school. I know we have old soccer jerseys in many colors and will sometimes get a free T-shirt during registration for events. I hold on to those in colors they don’t have in their everyday collection, such as the dreaded orange.

Chicago sports apparel

Last year it was the Cubs. A couple years before that the Blackhawks. Who knows what team it will be this year. But often schools celebrate a Chicago win by having the kids dress in team wear the next day. If you predict your child will want to be part of it, scope out garage sales and resale shops for things.

Canned goods

Does your child’s school do a canned food drive? Save money and buy when you see a good sale at the grocery store.

A babysitter

There will likely be events where the kids are not able to attend with you: Open House, Parent-teacher conferences, etc.

1. Look through the school calendar now to know dates where a sitter will be needed.

2. Ask sitters in advance. If it’s a school event, many parents will be scoping out the same high school kids.

3. Consider doing a kid swap. For Parent-teacher conferences, a neighbor and I arranged our times far enough apart that I watched her children while she and her husband when to conferences, and then she watched mine while my husband and I went to ours. It was free and the kids had fun.


In our district, kindergarteners dress up as if they’re 100 years old. In third grade, students study and then dress like a famous person. Knowing this, when I find a potential costume piece, I throw it in a box. You never know when you’ll need a gray wig, a Hawaiian lei or 1980s leg warmers.

Lice removal companies

Yep. Another thing you’ll discover on the absolute worst day. At least have the number of a place on hand.

Use seasoned parents as resources

It can also be helpful to ask parents of students a grade or two above yours about what to expect the following year, such as:

  • What big projects will they be doing
  • What field trips they go on
  • What clubs are offered later in the school year that your child may want to join

Chances are, you’ll still be running out to a 24-hour store for something during the school year, but maybe this will buy you a couple of months.

This article was originally published on Aug. 18, 2017. It has been updated with the most recent information.

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