Alarms, sleepy kids, morning bathroom routines, big yellow school busses. It’s the beginning of the school year, and that means getting your kids ready for the upcoming year of learning! It also means preparing them with the necessary tools to be successful this year. So before you rush off to purchase all the school supplies off the shelves, make a plan to shop with smarts. Here are some of my tips for spending wisely (and purposefully) on back to school essentials.

Wait for the Lists!

I know many parents who, before school even starts, stock up on pens, pencils, notebooks, folders — the works! If that’s you, I commend you on your drive to be prepared. However, you may be spending unnecessarily. These days practically every teacher has specific tools they want students to use to be successful in their classes, and they present that to parents or school websites. My first suggestion is to wait until you have those lists, for they are truly the blueprints for your back to school essentials spending.

It may be tempting to give in to the advertised sales that start in June and July, I understand. No one wants to fight crowds for supplies. But no one wants to pay for things that might not be needed, either. Patience will pay off, sometimes literally, when you have a list of specific things your child will need. Don’t assume your child will need single-subject notebooks when their courses may require three- to five-subject notebooks. Younger kids may need folders with pockets or holes to insert into three-ring binders. Save yourself the frustration and unnecessary purchases and get your child’s supplies after you talk to a teacher.

Individualize Their Accessories

In a sea of kids and students, you want your child to stand out. I think about that literally as I consider my kids’ back to school essentials. When it comes to being able to identify them quickly, if not instantly, when I drop them off in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon, I want to make it easy to identify my kid. So I curate colorful accessories that cater to and complement their personalities.

When they’re together with the rest of the kids at school, the most noticeable things about my boys are their bookbags and lunch bags. Knowing that, I looked on Amazon and found some really different choices that I knew other kids wouldn’t likely have. I wanted their accessories to be cool and cute, but I also wanted them to stand out. So, I chose some adult backpacks and made some alterations. I cut off extra strap lengths and tightened the security straps to fit their little bodies. The backpacks look great, and they don’t look oversized because of the alterations.

I think it’s also important to allow your kids to help choose their school accessories. One of the things I work to instill in my kids is an awareness of their own individual preferences. My oldest loves gold colors and hues, so I spent time with him finding a gold lunch bag that he will know is his because of his style. I didn’t want him to choose a Spider-Man lunchbox his friend had. That’s something I definitely I want my boys to appreciate about themselves. I think you can easily work with your kids to do the same when it comes to their school accessories.

Invest in Quality Activewear

Our kids are really active, so make sure your back to school essentials list includes good, quality shoes at the beginning of the year. Make sure you buy them a half size bigger if you have growing kids. That will allow their shoes to grow with their feet over the school months. Also be sure to buy shoes that are comfortable from the beginning! Shoes that need to be “worn in” may hurt and cause your kids pain as they get accustomed to them. That can negatively impact your kids physically and mentally, and that may impact attention needed in the classroom.

Also consider buying good quality socks, which may not be a first thought when it comes to school essentials. Poor quality socks will affect the wear of the insoles, and that will more quickly wear out the support your kids need for that extra time on the playground. Good socks will help protect the ankles and feet during physical activities, and it will help them enjoy active lives inside and outside the classroom.

Prepare for After-school Activities

Many parents may not consider their kids’ after-school activities when buying back to school essentials, but they should. Engaging kids natural talents and abilities for things they do when they get home is as important as what they do during the day.

Your kids have been actively engaged all summer, and the new year will continue to extend their learning. When they get home (and after they finish homework), they may still want to be engaged. Younger kids may want to extend creative practice they learned in school, so it might be a good idea to invest in a small art kit. Stock up on cheap crafts and art supplies like construction paper, scissors, crayons, etc. This will allow them to create something with (or for) mom and dad, and you want to encourage that. It’s not expensive, it supports and emulates school activities, and it continues mental engagement.

For older kids, invest in their personal talents or interests. If you child is into playing the piano, pick up a new songbook for them to practice. For your sports enthusiast, support them by replacing the worn basketball or football. These simple gestures will let your child know you’re interested in their holistic growth, not just their academic growth. It can also be an incentive to work hard during the day and enjoy themselves with their passions after.

This may be a different type of back to school essentials list, but it will definitely help you help your children in personalized ways that support them and also save you money. If you have other suggestions to help our kids have successful school experiences this year, I’d love to hear them! Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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