Plan ahead when it comes to back-to-school shopping

Teaching Your Child

Teaching Your Child


Editor's note: Lisa Prejean is on vacation. This column originally was published in July 2006.

By now you've probably noticed the abundance of school supplies - and the long lists that accompany them - in area stores. Preparing for the start of school four to six weeks before the children return may seem a bit overzealous, but I think there is a method to this madness.

For one thing, the sales typically start right after Independence Day, so why not buy what you need when the prices are the cheapest? Stores may run out of some items or raise prices on others. August is an expensive month for parents because of the need for school clothes, extracurricular activity fees, etc., etc., etc. If we can spread the expenses over the next couple of weeks, the end result is not as painful to our pocketbooks.

Plus, if we track down the classroom supply list items now, we can tuck them away, enjoy the rest of the summer and not feel so rushed at the end of August.


I like to start by looking at what we have at home. Is there anything that my children used last year that we can use again this year?

For example, if rulers or scissors are on the list, you probably don't have to buy new ones. However, pay close attention to the wording on your list. If your child's teacher specifically requests "art-pointed" scissors, check to see if last year's pair has rounded edges or points.

For rulers, your child's teacher may request metric measurements or a nonbendable or nonfoldable one. Rulers sometimes double as levers in elementary science projects. Foldable rulers are compact, but they don't work well as levers and they also make it difficult for a child to draw a straight line.

A teacher also may ask for a specific brand of crayons or markers. Why do they do that? Do they want you to avoid the store brand and spend more money? I wondered about this when my children first entered school, so I asked a veteran teacher about it. She said that over the years teachers see which products hold up better than others. She also said she feels for students who become frustrated when their crayons easily break, their glue doesn't hold or their watercolors have minimal color. In most cases, the popular brand is just a few pennies more, so why not go with the tried and true?

In addition to paying attention to the types and brands of products specified by teachers, I ask my children what products worked and what didn't work for them.

This could be compared to having the right tools to do your job well. Just as a boss wouldn't expect employees to work with mediocre, broken, dried up materials, we shouldn't expect our children to, either.

My son requested two rows of watercolors this year. He explained that they use watercolors a lot in art class and that last year he didn't have many colors to choose. When he said this, his younger sister nodded her head in agreement.

"Mommy, may I have two rows in my watercolors this year, too?"

I thought that was a reasonable request, and it was one I wouldn't have considered had I not talked to them before I went to the store. I probably would have reached for the nearest two sets of watercolors and then checked that off my list.

My son also had a request for a new type of glue bottle. The glue I bought last year was difficult to get out of the spout. Could he have a smaller, easy-to-pour bottle this year?

Sure. No problem. (Wouldn't that be frustrating to have to fight with your glue bottle each time you had a project to do?)

I try to periodically ask the children if they need to replenish their supplies. It's surprising how quickly pencils shrink, notebook paper is used or markers dry out.

For now, though, the new supplies are safely tucked away in bookbags in the corners of their rooms.

We're ready for school to start, so we can get summer back on our minds.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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