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I Asked 5 Moms With Older Kids What “Back To School” Stuff Their Kids Love/Use And Here’s What They Said

Our kids are still young, going into 1st and 3rd grade at a public school where everything is provided for them (besides a backpack) so I felt like I had zero authority on what “school supplies” or “back to school” stuff kids really love, need, or use. So I asked my three best friends with older pairs of kids and two of my sisters (9 kids amongst those two), and it didn’t stop there – they asked their kids. So this is a real crowdsourced post coming from not just moms, but directly from the kids. We wanted to feature useful, practical stuff, of course, but also what makes kids really excited to go back to school. What are the things that they’ll look forward to using or showing off? When I was in junior high I would have sold my brother’s left sausage pinky for a pair of authentic Keds (the blue sharpie on the back of the Payless white shoe was fooling no one), but what is it now? This isn’t a fashion post though – yet 🙂 Although I’m guessing it’s literally what we wore in the ’90s 🙂 Today is more supplies, necessities, tech, and decor. Let’s go!

Actual School Supplies

1. Pencil Case: These come strangely well reviewed. Kinda makes me want to try one 🙂
2. The Best Pencils: From my friend Megan (and the entire internet) “You just can’t have too many pencils at home and at school. Presharpened is key. These ones are the best and the erasers actually work”.

1. Gingham Notebooks: I mean this is a CUTE notebook and I’m sure Birdie would squeal if she saw it.
2. G2 pens: Two solid recommendations for these boring-looking pens because of how well they flow. I’m listening.
3. Double Ended Highlighter: There are a lot of highlighters on the market these days (including the three below), and I’m a big highlighter person myself so we found more that we loved for you.

1. Mini Highlighter Set: Mini, adorable, looks like you can attach them to a highlighter keychain?
2. Yoobi Highlighters: Also mini but more variety and better if your kid isn’t into cute animals on their highlighters.
3. Flower Highlighter: So cute, a great message for a daily reminder, and you have all your colors in one place.

1. Elliot would LOVE this stacking crayon set (and for $4 I feel like its a sweet little gift)
2. Highlighters: Pastel? I have not tried these but I love the idea of them.
3. Le Pen: Hands down my favorite pen to look at, hold, and write with. It’s not a “fast flower” per se but teens like how they look/feel, too.

School Backpacks

Last year we bought monogrammed from Pottery Barn for both of them and plan on using the same ones. I do appreciate how PB has many different sizes. Birdie has and loves this one (#1) and Charlie loves this one (#2) (both on clearance, by the way)

1. Backpack for Laptop: It looks cool, just utilitarian enough, fits a laptop, and comes in A TON of color options – our friend’s daughter has the pink version.
2. Classic Backpack: Who doesn’t love a good ole JanSport backpack? Big enough for big binders and laptops

Sports Backpacks (That Can Fit A Ball/Cleats)

For sporty kids, getting a backpack that fits their ball is helpful. They can keep track of all their stuff when they go to practice.

1. Nike Elite Pro Basketball Backpack: This fits a basketball and looks super cool.
2. Wunderlust Backpack: A little pricey but does a ton. Has a padded pocket for a large laptop, interior pockets for sweaty clothes, side pockets for water and other accessories, and adjustable straps for a yoga mat. Overall a backpack that will be useful for a long time.
3. Athletico National Soccer Bag: So awesome that their cleats fit in the bottom. This is probably normal but new to me and I’m into it.

Food And Drink Containers

1. Hydroflask Water Bottles: I think this year we’ll splurge on these. We have the grownup ones and they are our favorite.
2. Stanley IceFlow: SO MANY people recommended these. I think they just influenced me into getting one myself.

1. Hydro Flask Lunch Box: A splurge that will last years and years. Two moms recommended it to me.
2. 4 Pack Bento Lunch Box: We have one similar to this – awesome for separating fruits/veggies in lunches.
3. Thermos Food Jar: Soup lunches here we come 🙂

The Fun Stuff – Locker Decorations!

Oh man, would I love to go back in time and decorate my locker again. I would do temporary wallpaper (contact paper), tons of photos of my friends and then a ton of paper or silk flowers and butterflies (below). Also, all the stickers are great for water bottles and gets them excited to mark their own. Besides clothes, I think that the stickers are what is going to get our kids excited this year.

1. Glam Locker Kit: All magnetic and all cute! Just a fun way to keep their locker organized.
2. Checker Peel and Stick Wallpaper: Trendy but classic so I think it’s a great option (especially if you throw some stickers on it:))
3. Locker Oval Mirror: Yes. A mirror is never not helpful for a last-minute face check. Also, this one is pretty stylish if you ask me.

1. Magnetic Rainbow Cork Board: This would absolutely make me smile every time I opened my locker.
2. Hanging Locker Organizer: This is seriously cool and every locker should come with one. To think I could have been so organized back then.
3. Flower-Shaped Cork Board: These crack me up (hey 90s!) but they are also very cute on VERY on-trend.

1. Vinyl Transparent Reusable Flower Stickers: I love these realistic-looking flower stickers that you can reuse. So fun!
2. Peel and Stick Butterflies: I would bet a lot of money that if Birdie had a locker these would be first in.
3. Flower Vinyl Stickers: This pack comes with 200 stickers! Your kid could cover everything they own in these which in my opinion, the more flowers the better:)

1. Fun Stickers: Ha so this is a thing I didn’t know about but OF COURSE it gets them excited. Vinyl stickers (that don’t get ruin things I presume) to decorate lunch boxes, water bottles, and lockers.
2. Motivational Vinyl Stickers: My dad’s motivational posters throughout our ENTIRE HOUSE surely left a mark on my adult love for good versions of these. You can never start too young.

Helpful Tech

1. RocketBook: Seems high tech but everyone is talking about it. Digital notetaking. Less wasteful, super easy, and automatically uploads and stores. Also comes in a bunch of colors and is only $20.
2. Laptop Case: I can’t imagine having a laptop as a teen, but if I did I would surely need a case to protect it.

1. Gizmo: We are wondering if this is the year we get these. We are waiting till the very very last second to get a phone (hopefully 8th grade) but many of my like-minded mom friends have Gizmos for their kids. A great alternative to phones that provide texting and calling to a handful of restricted numbers, GPS, and that’s it. No social media. No games. Just location and some communication. Not sure we need it yet but I’m into it.
2. Sports Watch: Before you have kids you don’t understand why families have clocks everywhere. This is why. We might try the watch this year to give them more responsibility in a fun more grown up techy kind of way (y’all opt away from the watches with games, they are garbage and just suck time, trust me).
3. Apple Watch as a Phone Alternative: For older kids, Apple now has a feature where you pay for a phone service through the watch, but no iPhone. So they can call/text from their own number with their friends without getting a phone. Seems like a lot of junior high kids and even high school are opting for this (and by opting, I mean parents are opting).

1. Portable photo printer (For High School): These can be splurgy but I think it’s a great gift for a tween or teen to be able to print out photos for locker or binders from their phone is pretty darn fun. Two of my mom friends said their teen girls loved these.
2. Portable Power Bank: For the teens who, ahem, forget to charge overnight? Not sure they can even use their phone at school but I was told it’s a good thing to have so we included it here.

Sound off in the comments with recommendations PLEASE. I feel like you can do online research til you want to cry, but really other moms (and kids) give the best advice.

SIX WEEKS LEFT 🙂 (Oregon starts late so we can enjoy a long and well deserved summer :))

xx E

Opening Images Credits: Design by  Pricilla Frost and Emily Henderson | Styled by Emily Henderson | Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: A Teen Bedroom Reveal! + 7 Budget-Friendly Ideas Gen-Z Loves

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Jane
25 days ago

Kindergarten, First and Second Grade Teacher for 30+ years commenting here… Ticonderoga Pencils are the best! I would highly recommend their “tri write” pencils for younger children. They have a triangular shape that encourages correct pencil grip, which makes kids more successful. I personally still use the regular sized triangular grip ones daily just because I find their lead top-quality, and it feels “right” in my hand.

Rachel S
25 days ago
Reply to  Jane

I found this interesting too! My son is little too and we get a list of generic school supplies (including paper towels and tissues!) and everything goes in the cupboard and gets handed out as needed… The only thing they have that is “theirs” is a library bag and their book bag. At the end of the year anything leftover is handed back so you can bring it next year. This is how it is done at all public schools around here.

Suzanne
24 days ago
Reply to  Jane

Their triangular pencils are so comfortable to write with!

Susan
25 days ago

A public school that supplies everything? Mind blown. We had to provide everything. Paper pencils folders scissors glue markers crayons the works.. Heck we even had to bring a box of kleenex and a container of wet wipes to “share”. Kleenex!!! We did it because the teachers are already buying so many extras it would be even more expensive for them. Sad our school district can’t even supply the basics. And our district has a waiting list to get in!

Kj
25 days ago
Reply to  Susan

I’ve never heard of a public school that provides everything. The PTA/PTO probably raises money and provides everything.

Erin
25 days ago
Reply to  Kj

Pre Covid parents in our public school district provided everything. Since Covid, our school district has started providing supplies. Ours is not funded by the PTO/PTA but I’m not sure where the money comes from.

JEM
25 days ago
Reply to  Susan

Seattle Public Schools provides it. We can donate if we are able.

Marisa
25 days ago
Reply to  Susan

My kids are in a low income school in Portland and we get a list of supplies to buy (but of course if you can’t afford it, it’s not required). Fascinating that supplies are provided at a wealthy public school in the same district.

🥰 Rusty
25 days ago
Reply to  Marisa

Very curious indeed.

🥰 Rusty
25 days ago
Reply to  Susan

The way US schools are funded, blows my mind!😳
In Australia, public schools are funded by the state and federal governments. (I’ve taught in both rich and poor socio-economic areas).
The concept of the relative wealth or not of a school district affecting provisions to that extent is against all principles of the right to education.
Ugh.

Tarynkay
25 days ago
Reply to  Susan

Yep- we always had to provide everything, including Kleenex, Clorox wipes, hand sanitizer, and classroom snacks. And then the supplies stay at the school and your particular kid does not end up with the supplies he picked out. The teacher keeps them all in the classroom and redistributes them all as needed. I wish I had known this going into kindergarten bc I definitely leaned on the excitement of picking out the pencil case and scissors, etc. My son was disappointed not to get to use the cool folders etc that he picked out. I just wish I had known, then I wouldn’t have made such a big deal about it!
So heads up to parents of kids starting kindergarten this year- check with your school about their school supply system!

Lane
25 days ago
Reply to  Tarynkay

I can relate to the need and excitement of having my own new school supplies. It’s less waste that way too and children practice being responsible. There could be a fund for those who need, to provide them with one set, but I honestly don’t get the need to buy 8 crayon boxes or 4 packs of erasers. We did so much in school in terms of art, but never needed that many boxes. Kids could draw with short pencils just fine.

Rachel S
25 days ago
Reply to  Tarynkay

What are classroom snacks? Is this like recess? My kids needs to take two lunch boxes to school – one for recess and one for lunch.

Lauren
24 days ago
Reply to  Tarynkay

I’m a kinder teacher and while I do collect a lot of the supplies that kids bring in, I at least label folders and notebooks that kids pick out so they get theirs back. I remember the joy of picking out fun school supplies and I would never want to take that away from a kid. We don’t necessarily use everything they bring in because we don’t get input on the supply lists, but I always give back what we don’t use in hopes that students can reuse the next year.

Erin
25 days ago

Skip the gizmo. We had them for both my boys in starting in second grade as they walked home from school alone. They don’t charge easily. They can’t call or text friends. You have to text them in a special app which has a limit of like 160 characters. If you send an emoji, that takes like 4 of the 160 characters. Also, they have a limit of about 10 contacts. To respond to texts, they can only send preprogrammed responses or record a voice memo. If you don’t have an immediate need, skip and wait until they are old enough for an Apple Watch SE.

That digital notebook is amazing!! I think I need to order one. How cool!

Dena
25 days ago
Reply to  Erin

I second this!! We researched the gizmo and the plan and decided on an Apple Watch instead. Cannot use social media on it.
Our daughter is turning 13 and we call the watch our home phone. She only wears it for bike riding and if she needs it to stay in touch for certain things otherwise it just stays at home and she can use it to stay home alone when we are out. It’s working great so far and will further delay getting a phone, which works for our family but is of course this decision is different for all families and their schedules, etc!

Christina
25 days ago
Reply to  Erin

The Rocketbook looks really cool to me too.

We waited until a few months into grade 8 to get our oldest a phone and I have zero regrets and encourage you to stay strong/hold off on the phone-like watches. I can see him using the GPS of the gizmo now (he uses sometimes uses google maps on his phone when he and his friends go scootering around the neighborhood with increasingly wider range) and I like being able to call him and say it’s time to head home, but I can’t think of any times he needed a phone before, even at the limited Gizmo/Apple Watch level. Some of his friends had phones younger but they only used them for games or sometimes taking photos of notes on the board at school instead of writing them down.

Kate
25 days ago
Reply to  Christina

I’m glad waiting that long worked for you, but I think assuming everyone can wait that long because you could is pretty ignorant. My 10 year old and his best friend walk themselves to baseball practice in the afternoons, and he and his friends often walk the 1/2 mile across our neighborhood to the park. Sure it’s a super safe small town, but I can’t imagine letting him have that independence without a way for us to contact eachother.

Lauren
25 days ago
Reply to  Erin

I have a 9 yo son and Gizmo is perfect for us. We don’t want social media on the device so being able to know when he arrives in safe zones like school on his bike is great. and he can set up his own play dates/let us know whose house he’s going to etc., fits the bill for our needs. Love it. We are holding off on phones till 8th grade (all friend parents are doing this together so there’s min. peer pressure, we hope. Following the “wait till 8” movement. Fingers crossed we stay phone free till then, or later!

Liz
25 days ago

I bought pottery barn backpacks when my twin girls were going into kindergarten and they are still using the same backpacks as they head into 7th grade! Super durable (they’ve also used them to pack for trips and camps) and thank goodness they still like the design. We used planet box lunchboxes every day from pre-k to now, although one twin let me give hers away on buy nothing because she wanted a different shape for her beloved cheese and crackers. Another super long lasting item. Also want to plug some erasers that one of my kids says is THE BEST! they are Ticonderoga brand, come in a 3 pack, and are shaped like chubby little pencils. We already grabbed a pack from the school supply section as they are impossible to find once school supply season ends. Enjoy the last half of summer everyone and here’s wishing all of the families a great, safe school year!

Liz
25 days ago
Reply to  Liz

Forgot to add that we switched from a water bottle like the hydro flask above (which is a nice water bottle, btw) to one with a flip cap covering the entire drinking spout. Although the risk of illness is probably pretty low from what’s on your water bottle straw, once we went back in person during covid we just didn’t want their mouths going on anything that was exposed in any way to the air/floor/other kids. Straws that fold over the lids are fine for other places but for school we think, cover the spout! We got some purple ones at target that work great, stay closed, look awesome with stickers all over 🙂 and are 18 oz which is a great size for the school day – not too heavy when full. Forgot the brand, sorry!

Kristyn
25 days ago

I’ve been an elementary school art teacher for 20 years and I still get excited about school/art supplies. Ticonderoga pencils are the best. I’m constantly sharpening pencils and the cheap ones always ruin any type of sharpener. My school serves low-income families and wonderful school partners step up to make sure that all of our students have everything they need to start the year. Art programs are expensive and underfunded but I knew that when I decided to teach. It still infuriates me that the financial burden for equipping a school with basics falls to teachers, parents and volunteers. There is so much corruption in my school district at the school board and superintendent level, but I digress. If you’re feeling generous, teachers can always use school supplies because so many pencils, glue sticks, kleenex, wipes, copy paper, etc will need replacing by September.

25 days ago

This sistema lunch cube makes packing lunch feel so much easier! It goes in my kids’ lunchbox along with their water bottle. https://www.amazon.com/Sistema-Collection-Storage-Container-Received/dp/B005HNXFRU/ref=mp_s_a_1_3?crid=248B2I104ESSB&keywords=lunch+cube&qid=1658608565&sprefix=lunch+cub%2Caps%2C177&sr=8-3

Julie Pautz
25 days ago

I am here on behalf of the people who pay for the Insiders community. We are a dedicated group of active members who love the community, but the magic that keeps us subscribing is not the interaction with staff, because frankly that’s not the current practice. Instead we subscribe to meet new people and hear their new design ideas. Unfortunately we do not have a good way of communicating initially with new members as the “say hello” to someone new is malfunctioning on the app. The “What do you need help with?” post is where most new people start with the community. They make a comment there, thinking that Caitlin who initially made the post in the summer of 2020 might reply. However, let’s be honest – the staff doesn’t reply to this thread because the staff is not present in the community. So it’s a bad way to start – sending a message into the abyss as it were. It would be much more helpful to have a welcome post pinned to the top of the featured section that instructs people how to make a new post to introduce themselves, and gives them some basic tips on using the… Read more »

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Julie
25 days ago
Reply to  Julie Pautz

Thank you Julie P for starting this conversation. I would like to echo this sentiment. Julie P has been kindly running interference for all the new posts new “insiders” are excitedly writing to Caitlin. Last I checked there were over EIGHT HUNDRED comments on that one post that frequently pops up.

I can only imagine if you’re an infrequent user of the app (which is clunky) you would be disappointed about paying $120 dollars a year simply to write a comment no one replies to. Thankfully there is a strong, interesting, design enthusiastic, kind group of regulars to which this app is appreciated (and we’ve figured out how to best use it). However, the initial promise of this extra mode of communication and engagement sadly falls short. I do think it could be re-branded and re-focused, but we do need EHD engagement. Otherwise I fear that many more people will start canceling their subscriptions, which would be a great loss given the awesome conversations we have on that platform.

Julie Pautz
25 days ago
Reply to  Julie

I hate bringing dirty laundry over here to the main blog, but we really do need some attention and updates. 💗

Sahaja
25 days ago
Reply to  Julie Pautz

Hi Julie! I was on the app much more when it first launched, and I was kinda disillusioned with it. It really was you and others like you that kept me on as long as I was. But I couldn’t really justify it anymore. We even tried to raise our concerns here last year, and that it got a little more active with Key, but then… Miss u guys though!

Julie
24 days ago
Reply to  Sahaja

Hi Sahara, I totally know what you mean and I’m trying to stick out as well! I agree that the involvement of Key was super helpful but she needs help now that she is busy with her first show. I’m trying to make it work simply with the current group of users…but, well we all know it has the potential to be SO much better! Good to hear from you!

BR
24 days ago
Reply to  Julie Pautz

Y’all should just make a free Facebook group and migrate over there. 🙂

LINDA
25 days ago

As a request -especially to support public education’s challenging and very important endeavors to prep students and their families prior to the school year- please research before you post generalities like this. If your children attend a school in the Portland Public School District, there will be a published list (posted well in advance each year, like most public districts nationwide) that is specific per grade level. Just a suggestion!

Kate
25 days ago

We have Gizmos for our older two—now almost 10/12. Our oldest got his when he turned 10, during the first pandemic summer. It really changed how much freedom we could give him to walk to the park and meet friends by himself during his year of remote learning. Same with our daughter, we got her one before 4th grade because she walked to school alone. We live in a city and it is great to allow them to develop independence but also be reachable. We’ve now added a couple friends who have gizmos as well so they can message (set text only) or send voice memos to each other. It’s so cute! Our son is outgrowing it and likely needs an Apple Watch without a phone, as you mentioned; the gizmo isn’t meant for socializing so you can’t text with friends who don’t have one. But I highly recommend it as a bridge step for free range kids in the 8-11 range.

LINDA
25 days ago

I’ll add a ‘gentle’ suggestion’ to support hard-working educators and also to help families in need…If you are able to do so, when you purchase the grade-specific supplies please consider purchasing an ‘extra’ kit of those supplies as a donation for the school to have on hand for children and families who may be stretched thin financially. Your gift of key school supplies will make a big impact on a child who truly needs this support. And it’ll help the school and the teachers create an inclusive way to support all students, without income barriers or otherwise. Thank you for the consideration!

Beth
19 days ago
Reply to  LINDA

Thank you! I’ve taught 5th graders in upstate New York the past 4 years and when a student doesn’t bring in the required supplies, I often end up purchasing them out of my own pocket. Sometimes I can pull certain supplies from my general supplies that the school pays for, but we have a limit on how much we can spend each year, so some of the supplies we ask students to bring aren’t things that have been ordered. So this is definitely a great idea that is truly helpful!

Kate
24 days ago

A note on phones that people might find helpful (or not!)
My kid didn’t have a phone until 8th grade, and at that point I gave them an old iPhone that I had that I set up in a specific way so that the phone was just a tool (i.e. not entertaining or otherwise a time suck). Via the screen time controls, I took Safari off the phone and limited the phone to making calls, receiving texts, playing music, and taking pictures. There were no other apps on it, and apps couldn’t be added. No games, nothing that they would gravitate towards over reading a book or doing anything else.
It also went into downtime between 8pm and 7:50am on weekdays, and opened at 9am on the weekends.

Making the phone a tool really changed how they interacted with it, or rather didn’t interact with it. Helped a lot.

🥰 Rusty
24 days ago
Reply to  Kate

Kate, this is brilliant!!👍

MLL
24 days ago

PlanetBox! It’s basically a tin bento lunch box, which is awesome since it’s not plastic, and easily washed either by hand or the dishwasher. What’s fun is you can pick out magnets to put on the outside of the bento box, which is fun. Trust me – I hate wasting money on these things, but it has been a game changer for those of us who have to make lunch on the daily … It comes with a somewhat insulated bag that has a shoulder strap, and the insulated bag comes in several different colors. The size is nice and slim, so it fits nicely into backpacks. I will say – this is a very expensive option – but we bought our first one six years ago and still use it. The bag got a little gross, so we got a new bag, but the actual bento box is still like new. Think of it this way – every household I know has a child who accidentally leaves their lunch bins/boxes in the car over a day or two … at least if this one gets left somewhere for a time … it’s far easier to clean out than plastic!… Read more »

Dena
24 days ago
Reply to  MLL

I also have a metal flat planet box style with the separations to put different foods and it does clean really well and has been going for 8 years now. She’ll probably take it to college with her!

Suzanne
24 days ago
Reply to  MLL

The Planet Box website seems a bit less expensive than Amazon and is currently offering 30% off.
https://www.planetbox.com/collections/lunchboxes

Andrea
24 days ago

Skip the hydro flask if you have younger kids- they will lose them & hydro flasks don’t end up in the school lost & found. Get cheap ones & by multiples. Even at the High School level they are one of the most stolen items right now.

Suzanne
24 days ago

We love the Takeya insulated water bottles. They have a variety of sizes.
https://www.target.com/s/takeya+water+bottle

I agree that Pottery Barn backpacks are durable, but starting in middle school, my daughter had Jansport, with a lifetime warranty. And since we did have to send it in, we bought two of the same to switch off (also to have time to clean for inevitable spills). She’s off to college now.

As others mentioned, the Tri-Conderoga Triangular pencils are great, especially for students with dysgraphia. Pilot FriXion pens are also great for these kids. Of course, I also love the Pilot G2 pens Emily links to.

In middle school and high school, when binders with dividers are needed, my daughter preferred the Five-Star Flex Binder. Because it’s not rigid, it takes up less space in backpacks.
https://www.target.com/p/1-34-notebinder-flex-quad-rule-black-five-star/-/A-81626550

Generally, my advice is to buy less until you know what your kids really need, but I’ve also found Target wiped out of the “best” supplies by the second week in August. Good luck to all with school age children!

Ashley
23 days ago

I love the Ticonderoga pencils too and these personalized, engraved ones are great to be sure they don’t get “lost” at school! monogramminmom.com/product-page/personalized-pencils

Elysha
20 days ago

So many fun supplies here! As an elementary school teacher, I implore you to label your child’s things! I can never keep track of whose water bottle is left on the counter at the end of the day or whose lunch box was forgotten in our bin. When I pick something up and it’s labeled, I’m so appreciative! (For my own kids, I use Oliver’s Labels and always recommend them to the parents of my students.) I also second everyone who said the Ticonderogas are the best. Every now and then a parent will send in an extra box and that’s always amazing. Lastly, not to be a wet blanket, but as cute as that heart crayon thing is, I’d never let my students have it in class. That’s definitely an item for their at home desk! Oh! And I recommend plastic folders! They come in cute colors and last all year.

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