Back-to-school Backpack Supplies

Young children wearing SoYoung Mother Backpacks

Are you getting ready for school? I just bought school supplies today. Tis’ the season of sharpened pencils, and I have a few suggestions for eco-friendly back-to-school supplies.


First, your child will probably need a backpack.

We love the colorful characters in our Dabbawalla collection of children’s backpacks. This season, we also have a new backpack from SoYoung Mother. The coated linen exterior is PVC-free. The interior is nylon lined with a zippered mesh pocket to keep gear separated. The best part about the SoYoung Mother backpack is the fully detachable, matching lunch box. It fits inside the pack, if the child has little to carry, but it can attach to the outside of the pack to give more carrying room. The pack is small (9″ x 11″ x 5″), so it isn’t overwhelming for a young child.

SoYoung Mother Linen Child’s Backpack
SoYoung Kid's Backpack at


Next, pencils are one of those iconic basics every student needs.

Our favorite pencils are made not from wood but from recycled newspaper. The unpainted pencils are great because you can see the newspaper the pencil is made from. They sharpen easily, and the 12-pack comes with a sharpener. These are premium pencils from Earthzone, a Canadian company. (Pencils are made responsibly in China.)

Earthzone Recycled Newspaper Pencils
Pencils made from newspaper

Water Bottle

Also, it helps to have a water bottle.

Most kids won’t need to carry a lot of water if there are drinking fountains at school, but it helps to have a water bottle in the backpack for the walk to and from school. A small, 12-ounce Klean Kanteen water bottle is the perfect size. On a warm day, you can add ice cubes easily with this wide-mouth bottle. On a cold day, a hot drink will stay warm up to 6 hours. Leakproof and easy to clean.

Klean Kanteen 12oz Reusable Water Bottle
Reusable Water Bottle Klean Kanteen

Snack Bag

Finally, a snack in the pack might leave your child less tempted to ask for the expensive, unhealthy snacks that a lot of schools have in vending machines.

There are a lot of great snack bags available now. Our newest is the Sling Sisters Snack Bag. These zippered snack bags have cute, cotton prints on the outside with nylon (laminated to be waterproof) on the inside. The 4″ x 6″ size is perfect for a cut up apple or a handful of grapes. These bags are also a good size to fit crayons or a cell phone. Clean in the washer on cold.

Sling Sisters Reusable Snack Bag
Zippered Snack Bag at

I’ll come back next week with reusable lunch boxes and lunch bags.

Back to School Supplies

Children with Itzy Ritzy reusable snack bags

Yes, it really is back-to-school time. We’ve been restocking and looking for new products for you. Is there anything special you’ve been looking for? We’ll see if we can help!

Goodbyn Mini Lunch Box

Goodbyn Mini Lunch Box
One of our favorite new products is the Goodbyn Mini. It has three compartments rather than five like the larger Goobyn Lunch Boxes. Includes an 8-oz drinking bottle. If you freeze the drink overnight, that can double as an ice pack. And, of course, it comes with stickers so your child can personalize.

Nature Mom is going to use this for her 3-year old, who is starting preschool several days a week next month.

Itzy Ritzy Snack Bags

Children with Itzy Ritzy Snack Bags

Itzy Ritzy snack bags aren’t new, but they have several new prints. Cotton prints outside with water-resistant laminated fabric inside. This 7″ x 7″ bag fits a sandwich. Zip it in; zip it out; toss in the wash. No more plastic bags.

Itzy Ritzy Monkey Remix Itzy Ritzy Little Miss Zig Zag Itzy Ritzy Peace and Love
Monkey Remix Little Miss Zig Zag Peace Love

Klean Kanteen Kid Kanteen

Klean Kanteen Kid Kanteens

The Kid Kanteen is a non-toxic and BPA-free reusable drink bottle in a smaller size, just 12oz, which works well for juice and other naturally sweet drinks. The sport cap with sippy spout makes it easy to drink from, and the mouth is wide enough to allow ice cubes.

Pick up your back-to-school gear in our new store in Orillia, Ontario. If you can’t make it to the store, remember that we offer free shipping on Canadian orders over $99.

Back to School Supply Lists

Recycled newspaper pencils for school supplies

For the past month, every store I’ve been in that sells any kind of school supplies has a prominent display of supply lists for every grade. I would just think this is another marketing opportunity for the stores themselves, but my friends tell me that they have surprisingly long school supply lists from their children’s schools.

The school supply list has become ubiquitous in August.

I love school supplies. I love office supply stores. I loved going to work with my mother as a child and raiding the office supply closet. I loved having access to the supply closet at every job I’ve ever had. I just love the smell of newly sharpened pencils. School supplies are definitely a big thing for me.

I was curious how much school supply lists can vary. Since my children are homeschooled, we’re basic pencil and notebook people with a side of glue stick. We bought a few things recently, but we haven’t put too much thought into whether we have every little item. I wondered, though, what I might be in for if I had to send my children back to school next week.

So, I surveyed store lists, which I conclude are way overloaded. Skip those. And, I surveyed elementary school supply lists across Canada and the U.S. I’ve listed a few below.

The Basics

You could probably guess most of the basic supplies. Some of the lists were very specific by brand and type—ONLY glue sticks or absolutely NO glue sticks, for example.

  • Backpack
  • Ballpoint pens
  • Binders and folders
  • Colored pencils or markers
  • Construction paper
  • Crayons
  • Dry erase markers
  • Glue or glue sticks
  • Lunch Box
  • Pencils, pencil sharpener, erasers
  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Wide-ruled paper

The Surprises

The biggest surprise to me was cleaning supplies—a lot of them. A New York Times article this month on the evolution of school supply lists mentions a school that asked students to bring garbage bags and cleaning spray. The reason is not mysterious. School budgets have been cut, and schools are no longer able to provide some of the basics. What parents aren’t (and sometimes ARE) paying in taxes is covered directly through the school supply lists.

  • Boxes of antiseptic wipes or baby wipes
  • Boxes of plastic zippered bags
  • Boxes of tissues
  • Braided rug
  • Camp pillow and bath towel
  • Checks to the school for magazine subscriptions
  • Copy paper
  • Paint shirt
  • Rolls of paper towels

Green Your School Supply List

It’s tough to know how to send a lower impact version of zipper plastic bags and antiseptic wipes when schools are specific down to brand. The best chance environmentally conscience parents have is probably working with the teacher, school, or district—whoever generates the school supply list—to come up with options.

You can find green school supplies as more retailers stock recycled and reusable products. If you have some flexibility, you can substitute cloth handkerchiefs for paper tissues, recycled pencils for new-wood pencils, and refillable pencils for throwaway pens.

Back Pack
Dabbawalla Insulated School Backpack

A lot of parents like the Dabbawalla backpack because it is insulated. If your child’s lunch box is not insulated, this is another layer to help keep food cool or warm.

Lunch Box
Goodbyn Lunch Boxes

We covered waste-free lunch boxes last week, since a lot of schools are moving toward waste-free lunches.

Hand Purifier
Clean George Hand Purifier

If you have to provide hand sanitizer, you may as well choose a natural option like Clean George’s Hand Purifier with Tea Tree Oil.

Stockmar Wax Crayons

Beeswax crayons are non-toxic because you know that crayon is going in the child’s mouth.

Clementine Art Natural Markers for Children

Natural markers have no petroleum binding agents and only food-derived colors.

Clementine Art Natural Glue

Traditional glue contains animal and petroleum products, but natural glue uses bio-polymer adhesives.

Colored Pencils
EarthZone colored pencils

EarthZone pencils use 100% post-consumer recycled newspapers and white glue rather than new wood to make their hard bodies.

EarthZone recycled newspaper pencils

EarthZone pencils last up to 3 times as long as wood pencils.

An Unscientific Sampling of Elementary School Supply Lists

I chose only elementary school lists, focusing on Kindergarten when there was a grade-by-grade list.

Central Queens Elementary on Prince Edwards Island

Ottawa-Carleton School District in Ottawa, Ontario

St Frances School in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Adams School in Janesville, Wisconsin

Bentonville Public Schools in Bentonville, Arkansas

Briar Elementary School in Fremont, California

Westgate Elementary in Falls Church, Virginia

Helping a Young Child When an Older Sibling Goes to School

Younger child with parent

Whether your child is just going back to school or going to school for the first time, the sudden departure of an older sibling can be disconcerting to a younger child. Just prepare the child as best you can, and expect a period of transition.

Make sure the younger child understands what is going to happen and when, though very young children may not grasp the idea very well if you warn them too far in advance. Talk about how your daily schedule will be different so he knows what to expect. Both children will need to ease into the new routine.

Visit the school if siblings are invited to open house events. Actually seeing the school can help the younger child as she pictures her sibling in the classroom.

Have your younger child help with back-to-school preparations. If the older child agrees, the younger child could even choose a pencil or notebook or sticker that will remind her sibling of her during the day. Sharing her opinion during the exciting time will help her feel included.

As you buy school supplies, you might want to buy pencils, notebooks, and a few other supplies for the younger child. Toddlers are notorious for their ability to know what belongs to whom (“It’s mine!”). Making sure she has her own supplies can help whether you are going to play school at home, really have lessons, or just encourage her to experiment with writing and drawing.

Have projects or lessons in mind for your younger child. Even if it is something simple like learning to watercolor for the first time or taking a tumbling class, the younger child may need a learning activity he can claim for his own.

If the younger child will be the only child at home, you can create a special one-on-one space for the two of you to do what you like to do together. If you don’t know yet what you like to do together, it’s time to explore!

Encourage your younger child to talk about or draw pictures about her feelings. She may be worried, or she may just be excited to have you to herself. Just help her communicate those feelings so any fears don’t grow unnecessarily.

Ask the older child to spend quality time with the younger child. When my daughter was away all day, every day for five weeks for dance, my son had big plans for her every day when she returned. She was tired and wanted time alone, so I had to convince her that it was important for him to spend time with her—that she was doing it more as a gift to him than because she needed or wanted play time. We found a healthy balance, and the time apart went smoothly.

Remember, too, that you are helping your younger child take a step toward school. A smooth transition for your older child will set the tone for your younger child.

Image © Nyul |

Easing Back into the School Routine

Kid's Morning Routine

Whether your child has been to school before or not, easing back into a scheduled routine after a summer of fun can be a shocking transition. My goal is to keep mornings smooth so my children head into their day calm and ready to learn. Most children want and need routines, so I focus there.


Getting enough sleep is one of the most important elements of your child’s success in school. If he drags himself through the day, he won’t take in or process information efficiently. He just won’t learn. Not every child needs the same amount of sleep, either. Work backward from the time he needs to get up, and stick to a bedtime schedule.

Especially if bedtime is going to be significantly earlier than it has been all summer, start an earlier bedtime a week early. Both you and your children may need to reset your internal clocks.

Before Bedtime

Do as much as you can before bedtime so there is less to do in the morning.

Lay out clothes. If you have a child who likes to try on everything before making a decision, this can be a real time saver. Checking clothes the night before can also reveal flaws in the plan, like dirty jeans that really have to go into the wash now.

Check the backpack. Make sure your child has all of the books, school supplies, and personal items needed in her backpack. This might include a list of supplies from the teacher, a return permission slip, a charged phone, a power snack for mid-afternoon.

For a child going to school for the first time, you might even let a favorite doll or animal travel to school in the pack as long as the doll agrees to stay hidden during school. Just having the familiar item nearby can be comforting.

If you expect a lot of notes and papers to and from school, put a folder in your child’s backpack that will stay there. Don’t take it out. Just remove the papers and left the folder.

Tidy up. This is so important in my house. If we wake up to chaos, it’s harder for us to convince ourselves to get going in the morning. Just a few minutes of putting clothes and toys away can make a big difference to the morning routine.

Chat. Talk about any concerns your child has. Discuss the morning schedule. Tell a bedtime story. Whatever your bedtime routine, make sure that it eases your child into a good night’s sleep in preparation for the next day.

Waking Up

Giving a child, even a very young child, an alarm clock can help instill responsibility. It has taken a long time to work with my children. I like them to wake themselves up. They like to me to wake them with kisses and tickling, but they know they can wake up with their own alarm clocks and, occasionally, they do. With a loose homeschool, there is less urgency to waking up, but they are starting to realize that they miss a lot when they don’t get themselves up. So, initiative begins to kick in.


Plan for enough quick breakfast options that your children don’t get bored of the same old thing every day. Sometimes just putting a familiar breakfast together in a new way can make it interesting. When I introduced my kids to toad in the hole (egg cooked into the middle of a hole in toast), eggs and toast suddenly became more appealing. I always make sure there is cut fruit with breakfast just because it’s so difficult to get enough fruits and vegetables into children.

Whether you need a slow burn (protein) breakfast or a fast burn (fruit and grain) breakfast may depend on when lunch is scheduled. If you child’s school has quite an early lunch, be sure to adjust breakfast accordingly.

Schedules sometimes slip, so make sure you have a quick and nutritious option. Our back-up breakfast is cereal and fruit, though smoothies can be a quick meal as well. Alternating can help you reach nutritional balance over days even if not over one day.

Pack a Lunch

A lot of food for school lunches can be packed the night before. If you are not a morning person, this is important. For us, my daughter’s lunch bag goes into the freezer the night before, food is packed into our glass containers, and morning consists of just pulling everything out of the refrigerator and freezer and packing the lunch bag. The first week or so, everything will be new, so you may not have to try so hard to keep lunch interesting. You may want to add some fun lunch flare as you settle into your school routine.


After me nagging my children to do morning stretches and deep breathing (“Let’s wake ourselves up with more oxygen!”), I gave up. Then, they discovered on their own how much better they feel when they exercise every day. Now that they have invented exercise, they are committed to it, and they have worked together to create their own routine. For about 15 minutes, they watch videos of Shaolin monks doing Kung Fu then they go outside to practice forms and meditate. I love their routine and how energized they are when they return.

It may help a younger child to have you lead a kid-friendly morning yoga, but you may find that your child needs to come up with her own routine in order for it to really work.


The last check before we go out the door, we check that teeth and hair are brushed. A young child will probably need a reminder. I have to convince my son that brushing teeth comes after breakfast for a good reason.

Schedule & Calendar

To make your back-to-school routine work well, keep it organized.

Chore Chart. If there is a lot to do and essentials tend to be left undone, you can make a chart or a check list for your children. My children love to check off items from a list.

Schedule. It helps me to see the typical daily schedule, so I write it out. I don’t go so far as to schedule specific homeschool subjects for specific times, but I like having a good idea when the children are committed to start school. If lunch slips more than 30 minutes, they will remind me. Everyone has their own priorities on the schedule. I put this on a wipe-off calendar on the refrigerator for easy access and frequent reminder. We still leave a lot of room for improvisation during the day, but it helps when everyone shares basic expectations.

Calendar. In addition to the daily routine of a schedule, keep a calendar that the whole family can see and add to. Avoid missing important appointments, play dates with summer friends, or school nights by adding events to your calendar as they come up. Get your children involved in keeping the calendar as well. I find that they pick up the responsibility when I just refuse to pick it up for them. They don’t want to forget, so they add dates to the calendar.

Personal planners. I love planners on paper and on my computer. Everyone needs to find their own groove with planning, though. I have bought children’s planners several times, but my children just don’t use them. They’re great looking and useless to us. My children, without my prompting, have started just listing what they plan to do in a notebook. One started, and the other followed. You may need to experiment with this, but make sure your child has a convenient way to record important personal notes and events.

This Is Fun!

A new routine and a new school may be stressful for your child. Keep it calm and collected. Be positive. Focus on all of the great things your child will learn and do in school.

If this will be the first time your child has gone to school, you might consider a test run right down to the details of setting out clothes, early breakfast, and walking out the door. This can help young children transition from the play of home life to the school schedule.

Image © Arpad Nagy-bagoly |