If Lisa Tash had her way, all students would have their own computers.
But Tash, a first-grade teacher at Thomas Jefferson Charter School in Wilmington, Del., understands this is unrealistic. "Many parents are pushing the budget just to give their children the essentials," she says.
Not sure what those essentials are? Here's our list of the top 10 basics for heading back to school.
1. Backpack. Consider this purchase an investment. If you go cheap, the zippers may break or the straps rip outand you'll be buying another one before Christmas. A backpack with wheels may be a smart choice to lessen back and shoulder strain.
2. Jeans. The time-tested backbone of a back-to-school wardrobe still is a pair of jeans. They're comfortable, appropriate almost anywhere, and come in a variety of styles, colors, cuts and washes. Better yet, they go with almost anything, from T-shirts to button-down shirts to classic fall sweaters.
3. Pens and pencils. Even in this age of computers, No. 2 pencils and blue ballpoints are high on the list of must-have school supplies. Still, there are new kids on the block. Gel pens don't leave telltale ink marks on the hands, and the liquid lead pencil looks, writes and erases like those we remember, but never needs sharpening.
4. Notebooks. There are lots of choices, but the trick is to learn what your child's teacher prefers.
5. A take-home organization system. This could be as high-tech as your college student's Blackberry or as simple as a pocket folder for your kindergartner's artwork. In either case, a way to organize each day's work and make sure assignments and important notices get home is essential to your child's success in school. Choose a system that's age-appropriate and reinforce its importance by checking it daily.
6. Comfortable shoes/gym shoes. When it comes to footwear, don't forgo fit for fashion. Invest in your child's comfort by visiting a shoe store and having a trained salesperson measure the foot. Make that feet. The right and left can be different, so both should be measured. Then go with the larger size.
7. Calculator. Once upon a time, we did math in our heads. But most teachers today allowand even encourageusing a calculator for some math assignments. Find out what your child needs before you buy. Most teachers are very specific, and calculators can be expensive.
8. Insulated lunch bag. Use a washable insulated bag and you won't worry about running out of brown paper sacks. Plus, you'll get satisfaction in being environmentally friendly.
9. Tissues and a hand sanitizer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22 million school days are lost to colds or influenza each year. You may not be able to ward off germs completely, but the best offense during cold and flu season is a good defense. Since most germs are spread through touch, make sure your kids know the proper way to cover a sneeze and the importance of hand washing. Then arm them with the proper toolstissues and a small bottle of hand sanitizerand keep your fingers crossed.
10. A support system. This one you can't buy in a store, but it's a priceless benefit. Let your children know that education is important, and prove it through your support. Make sure they have what they need, not only for the first day, but when they require help with homework, are participating in an extracurricular school activity or just could use an "attaboy" for bringing home a good grade. Invest in more than back-to-school merchandise, and your child will reap the benefits.