The end of summer is always a bittersweet time. For me, the sweetness is provided by the promise of back-to-school supply shopping. I could truly spend hours wandering the aisles of office supply stores, so it is no wonder that this is one of my favorite times of year.
When shopping for school supplies, functionality should be the number one concern. And what is most functional for one student might not be the same for another. However, I do have a few favorites that go above and beyond for functionality and can be total game changers.
Customized Learning Solutions is in no way affiliated with any of these products; these are simply recommendations from years of working with students (and a personal passion for office supplies).
We will start with the most controversial and often most hated supply item: binders. The downsides to binders are several: things must be hole-punched, once hole-punched you must take the extra step of putting things in the rings, and somehow the rings never seem to last more than a few months. (If this has you nodding your head, see a binder alternative below).
The upsides are that, when organized, you can easily flip through and see everything you have. Further, they can be sectioned with dividers, and sheets can be put in sheet protectors.
If you choose to go with a binder, there are a few things I look for:
- Stiff binders not the flexible ones — they slide more easily in and out of a stuffed backpack
- Splurge for the nice ones with the one-touch system for opening the rings (the black button in the picture).
- Plastic pockets in the front and back allow for a quick slide of papers that need to be hole punched or were given out at the end of class.
- If you need more than one binder, please get them in different colors. There is nothing worse than a backpack full of white binders and a student who has to pull each one out to see which class it is for. This happens more than you may think.
If you are going the binder route, your divider choice may be even more important than the type of binders you get.
I am a big proponent of plastic, pocket dividers. Paper dividers are prone to tearing and bending while the plastic dividers are much more durable.
The pockets serve to hold papers that aren’t hole punched yet, haven’t had time to be sorted, or are an odd shape or size and won’t fit in the binder. But, because the pocket is in the divider, the paper can still be sorted by class or category. They can be a real organizational life saver.
Binders are not for everyone. If you are looking for an alternative to the classic three ring binder, an accordion file folder might be a great option.
No hole punching or ring opening required. Just slide the paper into the correct pocket within the file and you’re good to go.
If a class is really heavy on paper handouts it may need more than one section or a different system, but otherwise this is a great alternative to the binder.
Plus, they fully enclose, so fewer papers end up at the bottom of the backpack.
Sheet protectors are a great thing to have on hand at home, and to have a few spares in the back of a binder.
Any time there is a piece of paper that needs to last a while or even all year (syllabus, homework passes, assignment calendars), stick it in a sheet protector. For its protection.
But a secondary use for sheet protectors is as makeshift dry erase boards. You can use dry erase markers on sheet protectors and they wipe off no problem. This has so many uses! A checklist that needs to be checked off every day? Put it in a sheet protector. Want to practice filling in a Spanish verb chart over and over to study? Put it in a sheet protector. Blank lined or graph paper can go in there too!
Just buy a box. Once you have them and start using them, you’ll be hooked.
Graph paper sticky notes
Sticky notes are one of the greatest inventions of mankind, and every student should have some of different shapes and sizes on hand. But, for an extra helping hand, graph paper sticky notes are a pretty cool thing to toss in the cart while supply shopping.
There are pretty straightforward – your regular sticky note but with a graph paper background. Keep these tucked in your math binder/folder/accordion file for those moments when you need to show your work.
Graph paper helps many students in math to keep their work organized and aligned. This is particularly true for those with dyscalculia, fine motor challenges, visual-spatial weaknesses, or ADHD.
Even for a student with no math challenges, there are so many worksheets where you are expected to show your work but the space to do so is laughable.
Whatever the reason, work your problem out on the sticky note, and the slap it to the page (just be sure to label the problem you were working on). It is easier for the student to stay organized, and the teacher will not only be able to read their work, but just lift it up to see what is on the worksheet beneath.
Many teachers give out supply lists at the start of the school year or advocate a particular organizational system. If a student has honed a system that works well for them but is different than what the teacher requires, I always advise the same thing:
The student should write a letter or meet with the teacher (parents helping as much as is age appropriate) that explains their system and why it works for them. If a teacher is skeptical, strike a deal to use their own system and a promise that if they seem to be failing, they will switch to the teacher’s.
I sometimes have a hard time keeping my schoolwork organized. I used to lose stuff and forget to turn in homework. Last year I started using an accordion folder instead of binders and it really helped me a lot. I know you want us to use binders, but I was hoping I could start the year off using my system. If it doesn’t work after a few months, I can switch to yours, but I would like the chance to use my system and see how it goes.
Be thoughtful and creative as you pick out your school supplies this year and consider functionality when doing so. I am consistently amazed at how small differences in supplies can make big changes.
Share with us what your favorite supplies are and what has made the difference!