Back to School Tools

By: Emily Bottegal

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I’m a sensory shopper.  I like to touch, hold, smell, wear, and even try out new items before I purchase them.  When I was younger, I would go into multiple stores to try on different backpacks, zipping and unzipping each pocket just to find the one that fit “just right”.  This ordeal could take a few hours, or a few days, depending on my selection. This strategy was not limited to just backpacks; I could spend hours clicking and unclicking binders, testing out different mechanical pencils, and even smelling the Mr. Sketch Scented Markers.  

My mom dreaded taking me back to school supply shopping (as did my older siblings).  One year she went to the supply store without us and purchased everything on our lists to save time.  Obviously, this did not work for me. How could it? How would she know what would work best for me? How would she know if I wanted folders or binders for my classes this year?  How would she know if I want a large binder or individual small binders for each class? Would I want paperclips or binder clips? What about an agenda book from the store versus my school’s agenda book?  Needless to say, we returned many of the pre-selected supplies and she let me pick out new ones.

Classroom supply lists are helpful but I have learned, these lists are not a one-size-fits-all tool for back to school shopping.  What may work for one child might not be the best system for another child. Below we share some of our must-have supplies selected by our coaches at Lauren Eckert Coaching.  

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Expandable Reinforced Pocket File

There are a number of different variations of this file folder- canvas, plastic, zip close, number of subjects, etc.  Expanding file folders are great for students to keep themselves organized in each class. Students can easily slide handouts or notes into the designated class slot without having to worry about hole punching or cramming into a 2-pocket folder.  The papers stay in the file folder securely to eliminate lost handouts or that “I don’t know where it is” worry, and even removes the “ahh where is my Algebra folder… did I leave it in my locker?” Students can also create a “homework” tab as a designated place to put all completed homework so they remember to turn it in the next day. We recommend the fabric exterior ones with the reinforced slots and colorful tabs.

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Open Top File Boxes

Filing boxes are a great solution to keep your child organized at home.  No more loose papers around the house or crumpled on the bottom of the backpack.  Students can use hanging folders, organized by tabs, to store work they don’t need but want to keep.  This is a great tool to keep work organized from earlier in the semester so your child can easily reference it when studying for semester and final exams.  Conversely, students who sometimes can get overwhelmed or distracted with a lot of papers can file older papers away and tuck the box somewhere out of site. The storage box also works great for students who like to keep work over the years, or for college students to use to create a portfolio.  Filing is a great skill for young people to master- as adults we need it for many of our jobs, to keep our bills organized, and even for special events!

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Smead Cascading Wall Organizer

This wall organizer is another great choice to keep your child and your family organized at home.  Students can file work from each class in different color folders to help eliminate notebook clutter and store work from earlier in the school year.  Another perk to a hanging organizer is it does not add clutter to your desk or counter tops. 

You can also use this organizer to keep your whole family organized.  Use a different color for each student, or a folder for each after-school activity.  Hang it in a high-volume spot in your house, or near your children’s landing zone, so they are constantly seeing the visual reminders and cues.

We Love This One!

Staples Accel Spine Guard 1 Subject Notebook

Some teachers may require your child to have a notebook specific to their class.  This bound notebook is a great option as it includes some extra perks to help your student with note-taking and organization.  This specific notebook includes page flags for your student to use to flag important words, theories, or diagrams, as well as a perpetual calendar in the front for your student to update monthly.  The 1-subject notebooks are a great choice for your student, but encourage your student to practice skills like only taking the notebook out when they need it, or having a checklist of what they need to pack for school each night, so they do not forget to bring it to/from school.

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Mini Dry Erase Board or Double Sided Stand-Up Dry Erase Board + Dry Erase Markers, Assorted Colors

Do you ever have a thought and know if you don’t write it down you won’t remember it in 10 minutes?  Dry-erase boards are a great solution! You can prop it on your desk or table or hang it on the wall- just make sure it is somewhere that you can see it clearly.  Encourage your student to use it to write down reminders, assignments (and what materials they need), to-do lists, or even morning and nighttime routines. Students can even check off each task once they complete it which helps them feel more accomplished.  Feel free to also leave reminders for your child in the morning on the board.

We recommend purchasing different color markers to use for the dry erase board.  The different colors help provide visual cues and stimulate the brain differently.  This is especially true for students who need visual reminders. It is also a great tool to make diagrams or concept maps of school materials.

Single Side! & Double Sided!

90/120 day Dry Erase Calendar

I used a 120-day calendar when I worked in the schools to plan out my semesters and note days off or special events that I would have to work around.  It started as just an organization tool for myself that I kept behind my desk, but noticed my students were constantly referencing it to remind them of the school schedule and even when our units were starting/ending (this was in elementary and middle school).  I realized that so much of the time in the schools, and especially in college, we give our students a “this is what we are doing this semester” and don’t really follow it up with any dates or even a “great, we finished unit 4”. Yes, our students should remember to frequently look at their syllabus or the portal calendar, but this long-term calendar allows your child to write down dates at the beginning of the semester so they know when assignments are due.  

I recommend this tool to all my college students since they get their class syllabi in August and rarely do dates change.  While 30-day calendars are great, unless you are frequently looking ahead, an early month assignment may creep up on a student and not allow him/her to plan successfully in advance.  This 4-month (or 3-month) calendar lays out your entire semester’s deadlines, finals, exams, papers, presentations, activities, projects, holiday breaks, etc.

Check Out This Calendar!

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Weekly Planner Dry-Erase Board

The weekly planner is a great tool for students to organize their after-school activities, appointments, and even remind them what larger project/test is due that day.  Students can also breakdown larger assignments and plan those smaller tasks across the whole week. As with the other mentioned dry-erase boards, put this planner in a high volume and clearly visible space that your child can see and access easily.  Colored dry erase markers are a great addition to this tool to help with the visual prompting. Students may use a green marker to write down they have soccer Monday-Thursday from 3:30-6:00, a red marker for times they have to babysit, a black marker for an assignment they have broken down over the week, and a purple marker to remind them it’s mom’s birthday on Saturday!

You can also add one of these weekly planners to your kitchen or family’s landing pad to keep all your students (and maybe even spouse) organized.  Use a different color for each child (or adult) so each person knows what to expect for the week and what they need to pack or bring with them each day so they are prepared. Another idea is to get two of these calendars so your student can practice planning ahead and identifying important things that are coming up the following week as well.

This One Is Great!

Academic Planner- Lilly Pulitzer or Blue Sky (Weekly and Monthly)

Academic Planners are a must for middle and high school students.  I have noticed recently a number of schools have been providing their own planners to each of their students which is great, especially for schools with block or rotating schedules.  Getting a child to buy-in to using a planner can be extremely challenging, so encourage your child to find the planner that works best for him/her (the Lilly Pulitzer & Blue Sky planners are beautiful and very affordable!).  There are also great apps for your student to use to jot down their homework each day- although this can be an issue because it encourages the young person to unlock and potentially get distracted by all the notifications/alerts that are constantly going off!  

We recommend a weekly and monthly calendar so students can write down longer term assignments but still track shorter term and daily homework.  Even though many schools use their school portal to post homework assignments, many teachers tend to use various methods to let students know what and when things are due: writing in on the board, telling students at the end of class, Google Classroom, class email, school portal, etc.  Different teachers use different methods, so an academic planner is a great central place for students to write it all down and cross it off as they complete each assignment.  

Look At This Style!

Colored Highlighters + Ink Pens, Assorted Colors

We love colored highlighters and colored ink pens.  This helps make notes, annotations, and mind mapping more engaging and better organized.  Using different colors stimulates the creative side of the brain and can help the material come alive.  With the help of colored pens or highlighters, information seems more interesting and stays in your brain longer.  Color also allows you to better find the material at a later date when looking through your notebook.

Assorted Pens and Highlighters! 

Index Cards

This was the first tool I used in middle school that I found helpful.  I created index cards for everything, not just vocabulary words. Index cards are a great strategy for students to use on an ongoing basis.  Encourage your student to use them for each unit so when midterm and exam time comes, they already have the flash cards created.  

If your child has 150 biology note cards, encourage them to review the cards and set aside words or topics they already know.  With the remaining group, break up the number of cards each night so they are not overwhelmed with a large number of topics/vocabulary words to study in one night.  

Writing flash cards is a study skill in itself.  It forces the student to look up the material, write it down, and even say the term out loud.  

An AmazonBasic!

Mechanical Pencils + Erasers

I personally prefer mechanical pencils- they last longer, you don’t need to keep a pencil sharpener close by, and when the tip breaks, you just click twice and there is new lead right there.  How many times have you had to search for a sharpener in your pencil box or around the classroom? Mechanical pencils eliminate that distraction and break in the work and help keep you focused on what you are working on.  

Make sure you also purchase enough erasers- keep your notes organized and clean without crossing out words/pictures.  Throw some in your backpack as well!

Great Bulk Purchase!


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