The feeling of a new school year was perhaps best captured by Nora Ephron in “You’ve Got Mail.” While extolling the virtues of fall, a sentimental Meg Ryan writes, “I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address” to an anonymous love interest (spoiler alert: it was Tom Hanks).
For parents, sending kids back to school season can stir plenty of warm nostalgia — but it’s also full of errands and extra expenses. Each year, little ones need an assortment of new supplies before they enter the classroom.
Even with a back-to-school supplies list in hand, there are still a lot of decisions to make. Focusing on durable products can save time — and money — in the long run. If you find school supplies that don’t break, you won’t have to worry about replacing them. We talked to three experts in raising, educating, and caring for children to help choose the very best school supplies for elementary-age kids.
Recommendations from Rachel, a Mother of Three in Missouri
With three kids under 10, Rachel has had her fair share of first-day jitters. She’s perfected her supply strategy over the years and recommends investing a little more in the basic school supplies that get daily use, such as backpacks and lunch boxes. For these items, Rachel focuses on high-quality products that can last for years. She loves the timeless, durable design of L.L. Bean backpacks, and prefers insulated or metal lunch boxes.
A Classic Backpack That’s Made to Last
The L.L. Bean Deluxe Book Pack from Staples features a reinforced bottom and padded straps for extra comfort, making it one of the most durable backpacks for school. It’s available in four colors, so kids can choose the one that suits their personal style.
A Durable Lunch Box That Won’t Leak
A leaky lunchbox can be enough to ruin the day. The Bentgo Kids’ bento-style lunchbox snaps shut to form a tight seal, keeping your kid's lunch safe and their backpack mess-free. The latches are designed with kids in mind — they’re easy for small hands to open and close. This model also features soft rubber edges for extra durability. They absorb shock if the lunchbox is dropped and prevent it from sliding across the table. It’s available in eight colors, and kids who don’t like their food to touch will love its individual interior compartments.
Recommendations from Meagan, a Kindergarten Teacher in NYC
As a teacher, Meagan has had the opportunity to field test hundreds of school supplies. Her classroom supplies list includes craft items like construction paper, glue sticks, watercolor paint, and stickers. These items are intended to be used in their entirety, so durability isn’t as important. Instead, she focuses on fun products that help children access their creativity. In her experience, pencil cases are among the things that break most often. To prevent this, she recommends avoiding hard, brittle plastic.
A Drop-Proof Pencil Case
Hard plastic can shatter if it’s knocked off a desk. Soft pouches can rip or tear and don’t offer the same level of protection. For a shatter-proof pencil case that will keep art supplies intact, consider a semi-hard case like the ones from ZIPIT. ZIPIT makes durable pencil cases that come with a lifetime warranty. They’re also machine washable. When the inevitable smudge occurs, it can be tossed right in the laundry. ZIPIT pencil cases are available from Staples in a range of bright colors and patterns that kids will love.
A Crayon Set That Fits any Family
Crayola’s "Color of the World" collection includes crayons, markers, and colored pencils in a variety of skin tones. With this set, every kid can draw a portrait of their friends and family (available at Staples).
Recommendations from Kathleen, a Daycare Owner in Minnesota
Kathleen is used to managing large groups of children. Her goal is to provide a safe environment while also allowing kids space to play and learn on their own. Her daycare supplies are used by multiple children every day, so finding safe materials that won’t break is the best way to keep everyone happy.
Fiskars sells soft grip scissors (order them from Walgreens) with rounded tips that kids over four can use on their own. These are designed with kids in mind; the smaller size makes it easier for little hands to get a firm grip.
When it’s time to store art projects, look for folders that won’t tear or bend easily. Plastic folders (available at Staples) will last much longer than their cardboard counterparts. They’re also less flexible and provide better protection for homework or artwork. With a little care, a simple two-pocket folder can last for years.
Buying the best back-to-school supplies will set your child up for success during the school year. With these well-made, shatter-proof products, the only thing you’ll have to worry about is remembering to pack them.
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