Saturday, August 16, 2008

Back to School

Some bloggers are already talking about when the kids are back in school...yikes! Hold on, I've still got what, two weeks worth of vacation?

Then it sank in.

Wait a sec, only two weeks and then Jake is back in school?

Oops. Guess I need to do some back to school shopping.

This back to school thing can get expensive. There's been more then one year that I've rolled my eyes at the list and thought, "Good God I'm so glad I have only ONE child, if I had more I think I'd want to find the nearest bridge to throw myself off of." Living in a tiny town where there are few stores with school supplies means one thing-shop early, or you'll be going to the city because there will be nothing left.

Thankfully, so far Jake has made it relatively easy. He doesn't really care about the clothes, so there's no "shopping for the perfect outfit". We hit Old Navy and stock up basics, and he's happy. What has often made it hard is the supply lists from the school.

Like in Kindergarten- "14 large UHU glue sticks". Fourteen? You have to be kidding me. Especially when I knew for a fact that all fourteen would be pooled together and most of the kids don't put the lid back on and they end up in the garbage?! What are they going to do with fourteen, eat them at snack time?

Like the obedient parent I am, I forked out the $30 for the glue sticks. Would you believe that they asked for more later in the year?

As Jake has gotten older, and from working in classrooms, I have learned a few things about back to school.

1. School supplies with TV/movie characters are twice as expensive and aren't very good quality. We always have by passed anything movie/TV related in favor of real, quality supplies. When Jake was younger I'd let him pick one item that he really wanted, but that was it. The kids with the fancy supplies may look cool, but almost always ditch those shiny pencils in favor of a pencil that actually works.

2. One item to spend more on to get a quality one: pencil sharpeners. It doesn't have to be fancy, but a good quality pencil sharpener is probably the most coveted (and borrowed!) item with kids. Classroom sharpeners usually just eat the pencils-especially the fancy, character covered ones.

3. Many supplies can be re-used from the year before so take an inventory. Stuff like rulers, scissors, extra pencils, some pencil crayons, etc can be stretched out for longer then just one season, depending on how much they are used. This year, I'll go through our box of leftover pencil crayons and see if I can come up with some good ones for Jake for the school year.

However, I also find that you can build up a stock of supplies at home from the leftovers so that everything is readily available for home work projects throughout the school year.

4. Don't send everything to school at once! One of the biggest problems for teachers is when all these kids have tons of extra supplies. Where do they store them? Do the kids just cram it all in their desks? And...will they really USE all that stuff, or will it just get lost? I always send the basics that I know Jake will need in the beginning, but if the list says something like "six glue sticks", I send three and then ask in a few months if he needs more. Sometimes, he doesn't!

5. Break the shopping into a few trips. The pressure of doing it all in one day can be too much. Going grocery shopping by yourself? Grab some of the basics then and leave the items that you know your child will want to choose for your "back to school" shopping day. Pre-purchasing some of the items without your child helps keep them from being overwhelmed by the amount of stuff they need to buy, as well as the "buy me buy me buy me" tendency.

6. Set the limits before you go for the big shop. Jake and I take a list and only buy what's on the list. For example, he knows that he'll get to pick out 4 shirts at Old Navy, or that we have X dollars to spend on shoes. Anything above and beyond that, he would have to supplement with his allowance. Resist the temptation to "nickel and dime" yourself with accessories or other little things because in the end, they all add up! Keep in mind that it doesn't have to be done all at once, either. Depending on where you live, you can buy that new winter coat in October or more shirts in September.

7. Make it fun. Shopping and the anticipation of school stresses the kids out, too! We designate a "shopping day"and head to the city with a plan of exactly what we need and where we're going. To avoid the crowds we hit the stores early on a weekday (not on weekends!). Jake gets to pick our stop for lunch and he always knows that if we're done early, it means a stop at Indigo/Chapters (his favorite place) to look at books.

When he was little, we designated a "back to school day" and invited friends to join us at the park to play and celebrate with juice and a school bus cake.

8. Shop those sales year round...we're at a disadvantage because we live in a remote community with few stores, but when we got to the USA in the summer, we always shop at the clearance/outlet places! Online shopping is another alternative-hey, did you know that SportMart Canada has a $10 off first online purchase and free shipping special going? AND that you can win a $100 Back-To-School online gift card? Please Mum also had online shopping and fantastic deals, including a contest to win a $500 shopping spree AND a Sony Laptop!
Jake wore nothing but Please Mum clothes when he was little; they stand up to incredible abuse, wash up well, and are just really darn cute! Not just all that but right now, they have a shipping special of $5.95 to the USA and Canada. Wow!

"Hey Jake, what do you like most about back to school shopping?" I expected him to say the new clothes, the shiny supplies, but his answer surprised me.

"Going out for lunch with you for sushi."

It's not even a fancy lunch, just cheap take out sushi and us toasting in the new school year with cold drinks; but the small ritual and time spent together is worth more to him then all the new clothes in the store.

Maybe back to school isn't so bad after all.

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