Before you shop for back-to-school supplies, it’s best to get a list of what’s required from your child’s school or new teacher. If the school list isn’t available yet, you can still take advantage of back-to-school sales by sticking to the basics that you know your child will need.

Basic Writing Supplies

No. 2 pencils (Parents should stick to the basics here, advises Nicola Salvatico, Pennsylvania’s 2005 Teacher of the Year. “When they get fancy pencils, it becomes a ‘that’s mine’ event.”)

Colored pencils

Pencil sharpener (hand held with a top to collect shavings)

Large pink eraser (“These good old ones do the best erasing,” says Salvatico “The fancy ones look good but don’t erase well.”)

Ballpoint pens

Box of crayons (16-pack for younger kids, more for older ones, says Salvatico. “Parents need to think how their child can organize and care for their supplies before buying them the mega box of things.”)

Water-based markers

Spiral bound or composition notebooks

Loose-leaf notebook paper
Note: Teachers can be picky about paper. Schools usually supply specially ruled handwriting paper to help younger children with letter formation. Older children use wide-ruled paper.

Basic Organizational Supplies

3-ring binder

Pocket folders

Box for storing supplies


Index cards, ruled and unruled (for making flash cards)

A sturdy, supportive backpack
Note: Some schools do not permit rolling backpacks because of space considerations, so check with your school before considering this option.

Basic Craft Supplies

Drawing paper

Construction paper

A ruler with English and metric measurements

Glue sticks

4-oz. bottle of white glue

Scotch tape


Scissors (blunt end for younger kids, pointy for older ones)

Water color paints

Basic Supplies for Your Home Computer

Computer printer paper

Printer ink cartridges

Basic Supplies to Donate to the Classroom

Facial tissue

Bottle of hand sanitizer

Shopping Tips

A number of states have “tax-free” days during back-to-school season, when state sales taxes are lifted.

Check our 10 Tips for Smart Shopping for more advice to save your time, money and sanity.

This list is meant as a general guide to get you started. Every teacher’s list is a little different. Some recommend specific brands, such as Fiskars scissors for example, or sizes. Some recommend buying in larger quantities than we’ve listed here. Many will give you a shorter list.

Teachers’ Most Wanted List

What’s the most important item to buy for back to school? We asked some of the award-winning teachers on the GreatSchools panel of experts. Their response:

Tools to help kids get – and stay – organized.

“If your school does not provide a folder for keeping organized, do it yourself,” said Jane Ann Robertson, Arizona’s 2004 Teacher of the Year. More organizing ideas:

  • A school box. Nicola Salvatico, a first-grade teacher who was Pennsylvania’s 2005 Teacher of the Year, recommends a box that’s 8 inches long by 5 inches wide by 2 inches deep to hold pencils, crayons, erasers and scissors.
  • A folder. Robertson recommends a folder with two pockets, one marked “Keep at Home” and another marked “Bring Back to School” to help keep your child organized.

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