There are two kinds of parents: ones who never want summer to end and those who would love year round school (maybe with a few breaks sprinkled in). I’d say I lean toward the second group. I’m not saying I don’t love spending time with my kids but… they are at their best when they have structured things to do. We always pack in as much fun stuff over summer as we can, but I always looking forward to the fall and the start of a new school year. New backpacks, new shoes, and of course, school supplies.
If you know me in person you know I love office supplies. I often wonder if I purposely got a degree as an administrative assistant to guarantee myself a job in which I could organize and order office supplies. Colored pens, new notebooks, highlighters, and anything made for organization brings me joy. Do I need a variety of colored pens? YES. It shouldn’t be a surprise that one of the milestones as a parent I looked forward to the most was buying school supplies.
I’ve become that eager mom rolling through the aisles adding things to my cart with glee.
I realize that there are a lot of parents who dread it and get frustrated with the process. Kids argue over the type of folders they want versus what is on the list, or you gotta make sure you get to the store on a specific week so you save an extra 15 cents on notebooks; it’s stressful. I remember when my daughter was in Kindergarten her list specifically asked for a certain kind of pencil. I wondered what kind of difference it could really make. It’s bad enough I have to buy 48 of them, but it has to be a specific brand? How many pencils are they going to go through? I’m 37 and still have pencils from high school; are these children eating them?!
I don’t know what they do but they do indeed go through 48 pencils a year and it’s astonishing. I’m going to share my process for school supply shopping and hopefully it will help diminish some of the stress of it for you.
Gather the lists
I absolutely understand that this is daunting. I have four kids and all four have very different lists and they are in three different buildings. Every school does it differently, but as soon as you get the lists, make a plan. I start looking for lists in the beginning of July and, while they aren’t usually in stores yet, you can find them on your school’s website or Facebook page (though this year has definitely been different!). You can also find them through our annual Back to School guide here.
See what you already have
I’ll talk a little later about how I save myself in the future, but I always have random supplies in the closet in my office. I go through each list and see what I have, start pulling things out and making piles for each kid. I then highlight or cross off each item as I do it so I know I absolutely do not need to buy the things I’ve already collected from around the house.
I take all four kids with me and we do one kid at a time. I start with my oldest and we go item by item and add things to our cart. Then I move to the next kid, until I get to the end. I might not be able to buy all of it in one swoop so I’ve been known to do one kid per pay day and then it’s never a huge blow to the budget.
Teachers are specific for a reason
Remember when I mentioned wondering why lists came with very specific brands for some items? Yeah, I figured it out as soon as I started volunteering in a classroom. It is CHAOS when you have 15+ first graders unable to glue because they have a subpar glue stick. Do you know how annoying it is to listen to a kid sharpen those pencils with the cute designs on them until they become a nub because it never gets sharp or it keeps breaking? Then multiply that by every kid in the class. Trust the professionals who will be with your children all day because they have enough experience to know what will work best for your child and make seat work run smoothly.
Find the list for their grade next year because the basics–folders, notebooks, markers, crayons, etc.–likely won’t change a whole lot. Once supplies go on super sale (better yet, clearance), or you have an extra $20 you can spend, buy extras. Extra pencils, pens, scissors, tape, etc. Sometimes these items might even need to be replaced before the current school year ends and it’s nice to have things on hand. Even if you can only buy a few things, that’s a few things you won’t need next year (see tip 2 above). Maybe you’ll get so good at it that you won’t need to shop at all next year!
Do you really dislike the idea of leaving your house right now? Maybe the thought of Target in the middle of summer clearance and back to school gives you a panic attack and not even Starbucks can save you. The cool thing about new tech is that a lot of schools are using programs like Schooltoolbox.com where you can order your supplies online and they are waiting on your child’s desk on the first day. Find your school, choose your grade, and it shows you everything on the list. Purchase it through the site and it’s all ready to go on the first day of school.
You don’t have to socialize and give polite, awkward masked smiles at people as they ram their cart into yours at the store AND you don’t have to figure out how to get it all in on the first day or worry about your child leaving half of it in the bus. (Not every school uses sites like this, but it’s definitely worth a search.)
Alternatively, both Target and Walmart let you find your school list online and you can choose to pick up supplies at the store or have them delivered to you. I like all of these options because if you’ve never wandered all 5 aisles of supplies in the back corner of a Target in search of triangle-shaped pencils, a 3-pack of pink erasers, or the elusive orange two-pocket folder, then you really haven’t lived, have you?
Our supply lists may look a little different this year. Some schools/states are recommending masks provided by parents. I’ve been able to successfully find kid-sized masks through Old Navy (online) which come in five or ten packs, so that’s nice. I also ordered some from SchoolMaskPack.com which come in five packs but you also get a bag to wash them in at the end of the week. I’d say those are more for the younger grades, but if you’re an adult who likes crayons, you, too, can have a mask that matches your kids!
You might be juggling a job (or two), child care in addition to school, IEPs or children who need to be academically challenged. It’s normal to feel stressed out. We are living in a bizarre climate and I think every feeling is totally warranted and expected. What we can do is prepare our kids the best we know-how.
August will be over before you know it and we’ll all be posting our first day of school pictures soon. Whether it’s with snazzy new outfits and fresh haircuts or pajamas and bedhead, we are going to get there together. Enjoy the last few weeks of summer and don’t let school supplies stress you out. You can rock this.