Special Nonexistent Furniture

by Tan Rutley

Tan Rutley, a teacher/blogger/maker/hugger, is the creator of Squirrelly Minds where she shares DIY creations, recipes, and more to make your life pretty and fun. Her mind never stops thinking, planning, and making (squirrelly mind, get it?) and her projects nearly always leave her covered in glitter or flour. Sometimes both. Tan is an island girl living in Canada's west coast with her husband and overly fluffy kitty Lucy.

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  • It's time to get ready to go back to school which means one thing—school supply shopping. As a kid, I remember this being my favorite part of going back to school. There's something about brand new shiny supplies that gets kids excited about hitting the books.

    While I still get excited to shop for new supplies, as a teacher I have seen which school supplies work and which don't. Each age range has different needs according to their stage of development and what they're learning in school. It's important to cater to that while avoiding gimmicky tools.

    Here's a guide make your back to school shopping smart and practical:
  • k-3 back to school essentials
    Photo: Tan Rutley
  • School Bags:


    In the early years, children aren't carrying much between home and school. In kindergarten it's their lunch kit, a few small books for home reading, and their agenda folder. As they get older a textbook may get added. Third grade students will need a larger backpack (see the below section on grades four to six), but before then, avoid bags wider than your child. These bags can be stuffed to a circumference larger than your child's midsection, which isn't good. It's tempting to pack more than needed, but doing so will result in your child toppling over from the weight or you carry their too-heavy bag every day. This backpack is perfect for your little tyke.

    Lunch Container

    Whenever a child receives a lunch note from their parent, I and the whole class always hear about it. It's so exciting for kids to receive that little extra surprise that reminds them they are loved. That's why I love the chalkboard surface on this lunch kit. Educational bonus: It encourages reading from a young age.

    Reusable Snack Bags

    More and more school are switching to garbage-less lunches. Join this earth-saving practice by using these reusable snack bags.



    Little fingers require bigger tools. Look for triangular crayons and oversized pencils to help them develop their fine motor skills. If they're comfortable with printing you can switch to regular pencils by second grade, but if your child is having difficulties printing neatly by third grade, over-sized or liquid graphite pencils will help.


    You might not think it but children need to learn how to cut with scissors!. You'll often see the 'chicken arm' (a flailing elbow) when kids are cutting. If you notice this, remind your child to mentally 'glue' their elbow to their side.


    In kindergarten, the only book you'll need is a notebook with plain paper and half-ruled half-plain paper. But from first grade on is when the serious printing begins. Avoid loose leaf paper or college rule lined notebooks as it is far too small a space for children to learn how to write. Instead, look for books with skip-line ruling, which offers a space between each line and a red dotted guideline in between the writing space to help guide children. By grades two or three your child may be confident enough to switch to wide ruled.
  • 4-6 back to school essentials
    Photo: Tan Rutley
  • School Bags:


    Now the homework gets serious. Students may be bringing home one to three textbooks at a time, along with their lunch kit, library books, and agenda. That gets heavy, even for an adult, which is why I love these rolling backpacks. For lighter load days, students can wear them on their back as usual. Then on days when they're really weighed down, they can save their back (and posture!) by wheeling around their homework.

    Lunch Containers

    Stick with garbage-less lunches by using these hip stainless steel containers in this simple denim lunch kit.

    Pencil Case

    For the most part desks are a war zone. I have spent a solid three minutes waiting for students to wade through their desks to search under piles of paper for their pencil case. Make it easy to find with this bold patterned pencil case. Another note, avoid pencil cases with too many clasps, snaps, and zippers. Just one clasp or straight zipper is all that's needed. Otherwise, getting to their pencils becomes a daily production.



    I don't know how it happens, but older kids always lose their pencils. Always. It's just a theory, but I think if kids had these colorful pencils, they'd be less likely to lose them since they may be the only students in class not using the standard yellow pencil. Also since they're different, they will know right away if another student has accidentally picked theirs up off of the floor.

    For the most part, students are now old and mature enough to use real scissors. Don't send them to school with safety scissors that don't cut.

    Please, do yourself and your child a favor and stick to the classic white eraser. We all know the pink pearl erasers aren't the best, but the gimmicky scissors with rubberized 'eraser' handles or toy shaped eraser/pencil sharpeners are a waste of money. When it comes to erasers, keep it simple.

    Hand Sanitizer

    Hand washing is a daily routine in primary, but when children reach intermediate they're expected to do it without being asked. I'll tell you right now that most students still will not think to wash their hands before eating. If you're concerned about cleanliness, pick up a pack of hand sanitizer to keep those hands germ-free.


    A lot more writing happens in these grades, and so long as your child isn't having difficulties with printing clearly and smaller, college rule paper is fine. However some notes to keep in mind:
    1. Unless specified, three ring binders and loose leaf paper aren't commonly used in these grades. One to two packs of loose leaf along with duotangs will suffice.
    2. Avoid notebooks with sections for multiple subjects. It will only cause frustration when one subject needs to be handed in while the other subject is homework, but they're all in the same notebook.
    3. Coil-bound notebooks seem like a good idea, but unless your child is super neat, they're not as great as you think. The coils only end up getting squished in your child's desk and become a complete nuisance to use.
    All of the above reasons is why this notebook, with its regular lined rule, no coil, single subject, is the best option.
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