What’s the smart way to shop for school supplies? Eliminate the guesswork by getting a list from your child’s teacher ahead of time or waiting until school starts to find out what’s actually required. The teacher may recommend specific brands, sizes, or quantities, but even if the list isn’t available, you can still take advantage of back-to-school sales (many states offer “tax-free days” during this season) by sticking to the basics recommended below. And remember, you can’t go wrong with tools that help kids get — and stay — organized.

The basics

No. 2 pencils

Mechanical pencils

Colored pencils

Pencil sharpener (manual with a top to collect shavings)

Large pink eraser

Ballpoint pens (Get a few red, purple or green ink ones, too, because some teachers have students do peer editing.)


Spiral-bound or composition notebooks

Loose-leaf notebook paper (Teachers can be picky about paper. Some middle schools ask that students use the college-ruled variety.)

Ruler with English and metric measurements

Organizational helpers

Several three-ring binders (Some teachers require that a binder be used exclusively for their class.)

A three-hole punch (a regular one or one that fits in a three-ring binder)

A pencil case that fits in a binder

Binder dividers (The kinds with pockets are good for loose papers.)

Pocket folders

Folders that fit in binders

Small notebook to record assignments

Calendar for scheduling assignments

Sturdy, supportive backpack (Some schools do not permit rolling backpacks because of space considerations, so check with your school before considering this option.)

Two combination locks (If the school lockers do not have built-in locks, your child might need one for the hallway and one for the gym.)

Study aids

Index cards, ruled and unruled (These are great for making flash cards.)


Calculator or mobile phone with calculator.  Check with the math teacher first before investing in an expensive calculator. Graphing calculators, for example, are required in some middle and high school math classes. Teachers advise parents not to buy a calculator with more functions than your students will use.  Also check with the teacher to determine their policy on mobile phones that have calculators, and determine whether your child will use it responsibly.

Protractor (Some middle school students will need one, sometimes as early as in sixth grade.)

Craft materials

Drawing paper

Construction paper

Glue sticks

Four-ounce bottle of white glue

Scotch tape



Watercolor paints

Water-based markers

Home computer supplies

Printer paper

Ink cartridges

Nice to have

Stainless steel water bottle (To be extra safe, you might want to avoid plastic bottles that contain bisphenol A, a hormone-disrupting chemical linked to such health problems as heart disease and diabetes.)

Locker organizer (and other locker accessories).


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