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As the summer holidays move towards their conclusion, parents’ stress levels are at their peak, exasperated by enduring weeks of child entertainment.
And before you’re able to pack them off to school there’s one more stressful task that needs doing: make sure they have everything they need for the new school term.
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What are the back to school essentials?
A quick measure of how tall they’ve grown will set you up for any new items of uniform that need purchasing, but what about the other essentials that every kid needs?
To help ease the stress we’ve come up with a checklist of ten school essentials, with a product recommendation in each category. Depending on their age, you may need only a few of them. But even kids who have already been in school for a few years are likely to need items replaced due to loss, breakage or, more likely, a change in what is currently cool among their peers.
Before investing, consult with your kids so that each purchase meets with their approval, then get them in early, and at least some of the holiday stress will begin to lift before term time begins.
The back to school checklist, at a glance:
- Best for a water bottle: Smash Sipper
- Best digital accessory for older students and teachers: Rocketbook Reusable Academic Planner
- Best for coolest bag accessory: Lego Star Wars R2D2 Bag Tag
- Best for writing for younger kids: Stabilo EASY Original Right Handed Rollerball Pen
- Best for basic notebooks: Ryman Kraft Notebook Wirebound Ruled A5
- Best for a lunch bag: Thermos X Rachel Ellen Lunch Kit Bag
- Best backpack: Pachee Backpack
- Best for maths class: Helix Oxford Maths Set
- Best for budding artists: Winsor & Newton Sketching Pencil Set
- Best pencil case: Fringoo Silicone Patch Pugicorn Pencil Case
If you’re looking to cool your kids down in the summer heat, check out our list of the best paddling pools for 2022, or head to the beach with one of these fantastic body boards. If they’re a bit more confident in the surf, try them on one of these surfboards, or our best rated SUPs.
Pros: Good, solid 100% BPA free water bottle
Cons: Patterns aren’t especially colourful
We’ve seen lots of businesses claiming to have revolutionized the water bottle with elaborate designs said to make drinking from them easier. But in our experience most of these have flaws which renders them a waste of money.
We like Smash water bottles because they follow a simple design, are cheap and work. Their Small Sippers range is made from Tritan material, a plastic that is BPA-free, food safe, tough and shatterproof.
There’s a choice of child friendly patterns to choose from, although they’re not quite as colourful as other bottles on the market.
The screw top lid has a built-in handle and you drink through a sipper which flips neatly into the cap when not in use. It’s a simple solution that’s perfect for the kids.
Pros: Reusable planner
If you’ve got tech savvy children with their heads in the digital cloud, then Rocketbook’s planners and notebooks could well be a good investment.
Each book has synthetic paper pages that you write on with a special pen (provided) before photographing it with your smartphone.
The QR code on each page will then do its thing and send a neat PDF to the cloud, email or other digital destination. Once safely stored you can wipe the page clean (cloth also provided) and re-use the page.
The Academic Planner is particularly useful for older students, with 13 different page types, including schedules, calendars and blank pages for notes or doodles, and an option to convert your handwriting into text.
You can also add your own subjects to pages and the Rocketbook will help you to organise them into their relevant folders. The planner is not only suitable for older kids, but teachers will find it immensely useful too.
Pros: Looks great and stands out
Cons: More expensive than a simple tag
Kids have an incredible ability to lose things at school so sticking labels with their name on everything is essential.
And when it comes to their school bag, the label isn’t just about displaying the owner’s identity, it’s also about marking them out as the coolest kid in class.
We think few things have such an enduring cool factor as Lego or Star Wars, so are instantly drawn to these Lego Star Wars Labels.
Choose from characters including R2D2, Darth Vader and Yoda, or a Tie Fighter, Millennium Falcon or X-Wing, then fill out your details on the reverse and fasten to your bag with the flexible loop.
They’re made from durable 5mm thick silicone that is non-toxic, odourless and PVC free. If Star Wars isn’t your thing then other Lego tags are available, each one big enough to stand out and help prevent losing those bags to the dark side.
Pros: Ergonomically designed pen
Cons: At £5 a pop, make sure the kids don’t lose it
Leading German pen manufacturer Stabilo set their boffins the task of producing an ergonomically designed pen that helps kids to write, one of the most important things they learn to do.
The result is this EASY Original rollerball, which is available as a left- or right-handed option, besides coming in various bright colours.
It has a moulded grip and contours that have been calculated for tiny hands clasp in the correct manner, thus minimising strain and making writing easier.
The roller ball tip allows ink to flow freely and precisely, further reducing the effort so that children can use it for longer. It’s tough and refillable, with replacement ink coming with a new nib, so although it’s a pricey initial outlay for a pen it should last a long time.
Pros: Cheap notebooks with recycled cover
Cons: Very basic – few marks for style
We think that you can never have too many notebooks. Despite modern technology controlling our lives, a source of paper is always useful for making lists, working out calculations, jotting down moments of inspiration or simply scribbling and doodling.
Whilst some kids will want their notebook to be as trendy as the rest of their kit, it’s also useful to know of a good source of cheap notebooks for those students who use them as much as we do.
Stationery aces Ryman is the place to look. Their A5 Kraft notebooks are just the ticket, with 120 pages of ruled paper, at a decent weight of 120gsm, fixed in a wire binder.
The plain brown cover is 100% recycled and can be customised with ink, pencil, crayon or stickers and it’s all kept together with an elasticated strap.
Pros: Padded, insulated and easily to clean
Cons: Illustrations only aimed at younger kids
Flask masters Thermos have a good range of bags, bottles and food containers suitable for taking to school and, for the youngest kids, they’ve commissioned Rachel Ellen Design to give their products a colourful, illustrative appeal.
Inside their lunch kit bag you’ll find enough room for a drinks bottle and all the food they’ll need, with its insulated lining helping to keep the contents cool.
It’s easy to clean – an all important factor with young children and food – and has a padded carrying handle firmly stitched in place.
The bright colours make it stand out at a distance (which should help it to be found among other lunch bags) with the fun illustrations featuring kid-classic themes such as dinosaurs, unicorns and pirates. Matching bottles and containers are also available.
Pros: Durable two part backpack
Cons: Quite big for smaller kids
A good, durable backpack can last a kid not only through school but for holidays, days out and sports classes too. Pachee’s beltpacks are designed for pretty much any back-packing duties your kid might need thanks to its two-part design, combining a large, twin strapped bag with a smaller, detachable belt bag.
It’s made from strong, water resistant eco-cotton canvas and is well padded for the back and shoulders, and has an additional strap that can be clipped around the waist for further support.
The belt bag has two zipped compartments while the main pack has two side pockets (one with a small popper strap) for extra storage. It comes in four plain, bright colours and is designed to be customised with patches.
Pros: A cheap, standard set for maths classes
Cons: A bit old fashioned for cooler kids
Helix first began producing maths sets in 1912 and ‘The Helix Oxford Set of Mathematical Instruments Complete & Accurate’ (to give it its full title) has been helping kids with their geometrical calculations for generations.
Inside the old-fashioned tin you’ll find instruments that trigger school-days nostalgia as much as bunsen burners, recorders and blackboard erasers.
You’ll get a 15cm ruler, two set squares (45 degree and 60 degree), a protractor, letter stencil, pencil, pencil sharpener, compass and a blank timetable. It may not be the coolest looking kit for the modern kid, but it’s an important item for any young mathematician.
Pros: Professional quality pencils for sketching
Cons: Costs more than your average pencil set
If you’ve got an older child with artistic aspirations then it’s worth investing in professional standard pencils to help fuel their creativity.
Messers Winsor (a chemist) and Newton (an artist) got together in 1832 to start producing improved art materials, and many of the world’s leading creative minds have been using them ever since. So we think this pencil set is more than satisfactory for your budding Picasso.
It comprises three graphite pencils (2B, 6B and 8B) and four charcoal pencils (medium, hard, white and sepia), which are a sketcher and doodler’s dream, along with a blender, eraser and sharpener.
They are all neatly packaged in a tough, slim tin to make them easy to carry around, because you never know when artistic inspiration might strike.
Pros: Fun, colourful pencil case with loads of storage space
Cons: Made of silicone – better than plastic, but still not the best for the environment
To many children, a pencil case is the most important item they will own. Few things will get as much use and, much like a grown up’s handbag or wallet, it will likely expand over the years as more pens, pencils and collected ephemera get crammed inside.
Fringoo’s silicon patch pencil cases can hold a fair amount of such stuff, with 12 elasticated pen slots inside the outer layer, which wraps around a zipped compartment for plenty more trinkets.
It’s made of brightly decorated silicone with eight fun designs to choose from, our favourite being the surreal sight of a pug with a unicorn horn surrounded by rainbow bones. These cases are practical and fun – get the right design and it will be treasured for a good while.