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A Tutor's Back-to-School Wish List

You may have braved the aisles of your local big box store already to complete your back-to-school shopping. Or maybe you have an Amazon box with the requisite supplies that your child's teacher listed for this year. However, if you have an upper elementary school-age child at home, I have some additional supply recommendations for you. These are items that, while rarely included in teachers' supply lists, will help make homework and projects go more smoothly. After years of helping children to complete their homework, I have noticed that many kids either do not have these supplies or do not know where to find them in their households. You do not need to rush out to have them on-hand for the first week of school, but I recommend rounding up these supplies during the first grading period.

Large hole punch

By the sixth grade many teachers expect that students will keep their papers in three-ring binders. Yet, they sometimes hand out papers that are not hole punched. (I have been that teacher who is guilty of forgetting to hit the hole punch button on the photocopier.) If you have a desktop hole punch at home, it is much more likely that your child will keep his or her papers organized properly instead of allowing them to accumulate in the binder pockets.

A place to store loose-leaf paper

If your child is using a binder or binders for class, he also needs loose-leaf paper. Yet, he can't fit an entire ream of it into a binder at one time. When I was working in the classroom, I saw many a package of paper meet its untimely demise in a dark corner of a locker. I've also seen more than a few packets go missing or get wadded up in children's works spaces at home. For this reason, I recommend that paper packets be stored at home in a paper tray or in plastic drawers like this set.

Pencil cup

At home its easy to lose track of pencils, pens, and other school supplies. I have found that the students with whom I work who have organizational difficulties fare much better when they can see their supplies out in the open; closed bins and drawers do not tend to function as well for them. A simple pencil cup, which can be a mug or upcycled container, tends to be the best organizational choice.


Whether for measurement or drawing straight lines for homework and projects, your child will eventually need an accurate ruler with both centimeter and inch markings.

Graph paper

This is an optional supply but one I highly recommend for children who have trouble keeping their writing neat and organized. It is one of the best tools for minimizing mathematical errors. Of course, it also comes in handy for math and science graphing.

Scientific calculator

While students usually use mental math and pencil-and-paper computation, they are sometimes permitted to use a calculator for math and science homework or to check their work. Many of the children whom I tutor tend to use a phone or computer for these purposes. Because of the distractions that internet-enabled technology can pose, I recommend a single-purpose solar-powered calculator instead. The TI 30X is a great, inexpensive model. Another benefit of using a scientific calculator is that it will follow the order of operations and provide necessary algebraic functions that can be more challenging to find on cellular phone, computer, and tablet calculators.


Your child will turn in multi-page assignments that need to be stapled and will probably have multi-page packets that need to be re-stapled. Having a stapler and/or binder clips on hand is useful.

Project supplies

Eventually your child is going to have a project for school. There will be small homework assignments that he or she will be expected to completed in just a few days, and there will be larger posters or displays. Not every student does well to plan and communicate about their needs for these projects. Be ready in advance and have the following in your child's work space: poster board, tape or glue stick, scissors, markers or colored pencils.

Storage for old papers

By the end of a grading period, binders or folders are usually bulging with papers that need to be purged. Yet, you might not want to recycle them all. Perhaps your child has end-of-term exams, or maybe you are creating a portfolio as a means of monitoring academic progress. Have an organized way for your child to dump out these old papers. It could be hanging folders, pocket folders, or an accordion file.

A place to keep it all

It's important to have one place to store all of your child's at-home work supplies. That can seem daunting when children often like to switch their homework spots from day to day, but having a home for everything cuts down on time spent searching for supplies as well as on replacement costs if items are misplaced. Rolling carts can be a good solution. (They have the added advantage of not taking up much space.) If you want to design a permanent or semi-permanent work space for your child, I've collected some ideas here.


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