10 Back to School Supplies That Money Can’t Buy

Here it is again; back to school time. I’ve been teaching for over a decade, but I still get anxious this time of year. There are so many preparations to make.

Parents like to prepare for the new school year too, so I get lots of questions about what supplies their children will need. They dread the long list they expect, and brace themselves for an expensive and frustrating shopping trip. Not to worry, though, there is no list (in my classroom).

For most of my career, I taught in a high poverty school where we were forbidden from asking parents to supply anything for their children. Anything. I learned how to take what little budget I had and make it stretch. I learned how to scrounge and improvise. If your child needs it, I probably already have it.

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Sure, it’s nice to have new notebooks and crayons, but those things don’t really help kids to be successful. The things they truly need can’t be purchased at the discount store. These are the back to school supplies that I would love for  each child to bring every day:

1. A strong sense of self. I see too many children who lack confidence, and others who are overly sure of themselves without really understanding who they are or what their true talents are.

2. A well fed body. We feed kids at school, both breakfast and lunch. If you are unable to provide good food for your child, please take advantage of our food services program. Also, please try to make sure that your elementary schooler isn’t bringing sugary drinks and chips to school for her breakfast or Hot Cheetos with Oreos for his lunch.

3. A rested and exercised body. Too often kids are tired in school because they don’t go to bed. Please create and enforce a reasonable bedtime. If your child isn’t sleeping well think about unplugging him, checking what she’s eating and drinking, and making sure that you are all getting some exercise. Children in particular need to MOVE!

4. Knowledge that someone at home cares. Kids need to know that you not only care about them, but about what they’re doing and how they’re progressing. They need to know that you’ll be proud of them when they do well and you’ll be concerned about them when they struggle. They also need to know that you’ll be disappointed in them when they make poor choices.

5. Time to do what they need to do. Kids are frequently scheduled very tightly. They have scouts, music lessons, sports, religious instruction, and more. Often they are not only participating in their own activities, but sitting through siblings’ activities too. They rush around all over town and get home late. They don’t have time to study their science or complete their math homework or write their paragraph. They end up stressed out and behind. Too much is too much. I don’t give a lot of homework, but what I do give I expect to be done well. Please allow your child the ability to do that.

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6. A sense of humor. Kids are funny. Life is funny. The ability to find humor in everyday life can be cultivated. Lighten up a little and let your kid do the same. Childhood is short. Yes, education is important, but so is having fun. Let’s have a good time with this learning thing, I guarantee you it will be more effective that way.

7. The ability to stick to a task. Human nature makes us want to avoid that which is difficult, hence, I am still overweight. Success comes when we overcome that desire and stick to a task that we may not particularly enjoy. We have a generation of children who are being raised in a digital world, and they spend a lot of time looking at screens that give them instant feedback and constantly changing images and sounds. Many of these same kids have difficulty reading for ten minutes or writing for five minutes. If a math problem is difficult, they often declare defeat within one minute. Literally. They want to quit and do something else. The issue is that all of life isn’t about being entertained, and in order to be productive citizens, they will need to learn to stick to tasks and see them through. This takes practice. Lots of it.

8. A sense of empathy. Children who are able to put themselves in another’s shoes are much nicer people to be around, so in the long run this wonderful trait is not only beneficial to others, but to the child him or herself. These children are sought out, because they make others feel good, and they do it in a way that isn’t manipulative or goal oriented.

9. An understanding that everyone has something to offer. When we are able to see each person’s contribution and to understand our own strengths, we come together as a strong and productive group.

10. A love of life. Some people are dealt a difficult hand. Homes break. Parents die. People hurt you. Kids get sick. Many bad things can happen, and sadly many of my students already know this first hand. Those who have a love of life bounce back far more quickly. Instill that love of life into your child.

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Find and share beauty with him. Let her know how much she is loved. Spend time together. Talk to him or her. Share quiet moments and well as silly ones. Celebrate each day. What a gift that would be for your child.

So yes, parents, pack up the backpacks with the newly sharpened number two pencils and the three ring binders with the latest pop stars on them, but don’t just fill the backpacks, fill your children’s hearts and spirits too. Let them know how mighty they are and how proud you are to be their parent. Let them know how you expect them to be their best and do their best, but also let them know it’s okay if they mess up because you’ll love them anyway. Let them know that school isn’t always easy and it isn’t always fun, but it is a gift and they will come to appreciate it as they grow up. Most of all, let them know that you love them. Always let them know that you love them.

Related post: 10 Ways to Make The Back To School Transition Easier

About the writer

Heidi Weinmann is a middle aged writer, teacher, and mom doing the things that middle aged women do and trying not to beat herself up. She's living the life she chose with the man she loves, the teenage son who impresses her all the time, and the most adorable pup ever rescued from the euthanasia list. She lives in the heat of the Southwest, where she regularly sweats through her Lane Bryant bras and shares her genius through her blog www.bulgingbuttons.wordpress.com

From Around the Web


Mary 3 days ago

I think what this article is saying is be a good parent, love your child, encourage them and don’t expect your teacher to be the teacher and the parent. Every child should be taught to be a good person and unfortunately in today’s society that doesn’t happen. School is only part of your child’s learning, morals, values and sense of self should be taught by parents. My daughter is a fabulous teacher and mother and deals with many children who are the victims of bad parenting. Love your children, teach them to be kind and determined.

Rachel 2 weeks ago

Or how about less homework so they can pursue other interests outside of school? Even just getting enough outside time. My kids don’t get home till 4, and they barely have time to play outside, do homework, and get dinner and a bath before it is bed time. They are already at school all day.

Janice 6 months ago

Wow, I did not realize that teachers are sometimes forbidden to ask for supplies. What a burden that must put on the teachers and schools. At my kid’s school my husband has joked that you can always tell which teachers are single because they send lots of letters home asking for various items. I am always glad to send whatever is needed, I don’t want a teacher to have pay out of pocket for things that benefit my child.

vilaku 1 year ago

I can agree on most point and are thought provoking. #7 on sticking to tasks and how the digital generation is quitting on problems so quickly, I disagree that is the case. Nowadays, kids are solving bigger or complex problems if you watch any talent show on tv or attend some of after school tournaments like Lego league or science fairs.

Patrick Reinhard 1 year ago

Well written and oh so true! (MOM)

teejcee 1 year ago

I think its more of a wish list, I wish every child could everything on the list every day.

Helen Ghosheh 1 year ago

I love this :-)

Jordyn Donnellon 1 year ago

Excellent post!

Tina Powell 1 year ago

You can not expect every article to be about every child/situation. I have one child with learning disabilities and is in “non main streamed” classes but I also have children in regular ed. I appreciate articles for my other 2 as well. If i want articles for my LD kids I look for them. There are many many out there. And when I come across them I don’t bemoan them because they aren’t for my “neurotypical” kids.

Tambra Ewen Mitchell 1 year ago

It would be a wonderful world if all teachers felt this way, or encouraged these things. Unfortunately, this is too few and far between. My question is this: what about the child who struggles with ADD/ADHD or autism, etc.. and has a hard time grasping social norms or keeping up with the academic pace? It seems that public schools these days want every child to fall into the same formation, category, or “box”…if you will. No child is the same, learns the same, or comprehends the same yet there are a lot of teachers/schools that don’t see past their noses on this reality- and unfortunately, it’s the kids who pay the price if they’re “different”. While I’m all for education, following the rules, and raising your child to be the best they can possibly be it has to be pointed out that every child comes with their own quirks, motivations, and challenges. How about we prepare the teachers/school admin for the new school year as well?

Stacy Briggs 1 year ago

Love this!

Sarah Grehan 1 year ago

Right so what does the author suggest for a kid on the autism spectrum? Stick to task? Oh for fucks sake, please just call this a article for neurotypicals

Diana Graff Hodges 1 year ago

I love this!

Pamela 1 year ago

Perfect! I especially love #5 and see it all too often.

Sarah Briggs-Maynard 1 year ago

#1 for sure! Trying to teach my daughter confidence is getting tough! That girl needs a backbone stat

Meaghan Caston 1 year ago

Wow was this your child’s teacher?

Lynette Showers Lehman 1 year ago

“Let them know that school isn’t always easy and it isn’t always fun, but it is a gift and they will come to appreciate it as they grow up.” Very well said!

Melissa Cahill Yonych 1 year ago

This is the best list I have read! Thank you for the post!!

Lauren S. 1 year ago

This is absolutely adorable!!! So important to remember that not all “school supplies” are bought!
Lauren S.

Nom DePlume 1 year ago

Oh yeah, the school lunches were detrimental to my kids’ functioning. All simple starches, no protein or fiber. By the end of recess they were non-functional from a sugar crash. Had to pack our own lunches for nutrition’s sake. And this is a top tier elementary school filled with the kids of doctors, lawyers and engineers. :(

Janeth Becerra 1 year ago

Awesome list!

Vanessa Owens 1 year ago

Except for number 2. Our district offers Poptarts for breakfast, yet doesn’t allow students to bring in cupcakes for their birthdays. What?

Nom DePlume 1 year ago

Bounce back? You want a kid with a dead parent to ‘bounce back?’ Screw you teacher, this is why my child is any home now. She has a dead brother, and no amount of ‘love of life’ is going to make those waves of grief that come into her mostly happy days just disappear for your comfort as a teacher. She was told to only write about ‘happy things’ in school, the year following his death! Yeah, screw you teacher.

Stephanie Ledbetter 1 year ago

What a great article Sara!!

Lynn Dobrowolski Page 1 year ago

The picture

Lynn Dobrowolski Page 1 year ago

Awe love it!

Jennifer Horsley Worrell 1 year ago

Well said!

Katy @ Experienced Bad Mom 1 year ago

I love this! It encouraged me to focus on what really matters as I start to get stressed about sending them back to school. I need to calm down and just love them.

Becky Hantgin-Goldner 1 year ago

This is great!!!

Sarah Baillie 1 year ago

One of the best lists I’ve read in a long time, I love it :)