Backpack. Lunch gear. Clothes. Shoes.
Beyond that, is there really anything else little kids need to head back to the classroom? Sounds pretty uncomplicated. But after I got schooled in back-to-school prep last year when The K Man went off to JK, I learned that spending time to make the right choices early on saves brain cells later in the school year.
Um, that would be my brain cells.
For instance, I chose a lunch bag last year that ended up being too small. My son’s teacher asked me on parent-teacher interview night how I managed to close the zipper – because she never could. Sheer determination, I thought but didn’t answer. Zip like you’ve never zipped before!, I wanted to tell her.
I also bought several pieces of Tupperware-like containers, most of which required an advanced degree in Tetris to fit into said lunch bag.
Of course, through trial and error, we found a configuration that worked for us, but it sure sucked along the way.
I don’t have all the answers. If you were looking for all the answers, you’ve come to the wrong place. But having lived and learned from a full year of kindergarten, I have some nuggets of wisdom, so if you can tolerate that, please stick around.
Between what I’ve bought during my back-to-school shopping trips and what some companies have been kind enough to send me, here are some favourites I want to share with you as you prepare – both in brain and wallet – to gear up for the impending school year:
The selection at Staples is astonishing. Whether you’re looking for backpacks with your kids’ fave characters on them or something strictly utilitarian, you’ll probably find what you’re looking for at just one store. That might surprise you; I know it surprised me. I think of Staples for things like calculators, printer paper and laptop sleeves. But they have an insane backpack selection, too. Just remember not to overload your wee one – their little backs can’t take it, even if they puff up their chests and tell you in their best superhero voice that they can do it.
If you’ve got a preschooler on your hands, however, my reigning favourite is still the Skip Hop Zoo Pack. It’s just the right size for a three year old and the little animals on them make me want to adopt a pet.
Last year, we bought a selection of lunch containers. Some worked, some didn’t. Part of the problem was the size of the lunch bag we had for The K Man. It seemed big enough but simply wasn’t. I did make it work all year, though, because I refused to believe that with enough manipulation, I couldn’t find some combination that worked as well as I’d hoped. The moral of the story? Try out everything together at least five times before you commit and get oily salami residue all over everything.
Here are two standout lunch bags:
This Pack-It lunch bag is so smart. It folds up small enough to fit in a tiny corner of your freezer overnight. In the morning, unfold and pop your lunch accoutrements in. No need for an ice pack; the lunch bag IS the ice pack. Get it? This lunch bag is also HUGE* and will fit a variety of containers and bottles. And probably lunch items your kid steals from his friends, too.
BuiltNY makes some of the best lunch bags out there. Why? Because the neoprene can stretch and expand and make room for whatever crazy container combo you throw at it. The pink one Miss Q has in her hands in a photo farther down is the perfect size for preschool snacks and drinks. Just nab a larger size for bigger kids. Or for yourself – because you’ll want one, too.
*OK, by “HUGE,” I mean huge for a little kid. This would be average for a teenager; and my husband, who uses a full-sized cooler for his lunch, would laugh at me if I packed anything food-related for him in this.
Containers and stuff
I was a big fan of a Sistema Plastics Lunch Cube to Go container I bought last year because it was a space saver: sandwich on the top, fruits/veg/snacks on the bottom. It was in heavy rotation with the Itzy Ritzy Lunch Happens bento box – though that one’s slightly smaller, it’s got cute design options and works well for the youngest kids.
If you prefer individual containers, these ones from thinkbaby are neat. Lined with stainless steel, some have lock-tight lids that will prevent leakage and others have lids that are great for keeping dry snacks from escaping.
But if you’ve got an SK with a hollow leg on your hands like I do, I suggest checking out Sistema’s Slimline Quaddie. It holds so much (including its own drink container!) and fits easily into the Pack-It lunch bag with room to spare.
Fuel has some of the nicest-designed lunch stuff going. Its stainless steel sport bottle will be heading off to school with The K Man in a couple of weeks. The bottle we used for water last year just wasn’t big enough, but I was inhibited by my crap lunch bag choice to get anything bigger. Now that I’ve found Lunch Bag Freedom-Land, I can only hope this 17-ounce bottle doesn’t cause any, ah-hem, accidents. I also love the portable fork and spoon from Fuel; now to convince Mr. Sandwich to branch out a little.
Last year’s Reeboks were easily some of the best runners my kids have ever worn. Stylish yet rugged, they referred to them as their “fast shoes.” This year, Reebok’s come out with the Junior ATV19 Zoom, an all-terrain shoe with 19 “lugs” that are supposed to provide extra traction. Like the ZigZags of 2012, the Lugs of 2013 are poised to be a big hit. What I can’t get over is how light these runners are. And I have to mention the vibrant colour combinations available, like the awesome purple ones on The K Man (his fave colour!).
When it comes to Crocs, there are really only two camps: you love ’em or you hate ’em. My family falls into the “love ’em” category, with all four of us owning Crocs of one kind or another. Miss Q even sported two styles this summer: the classic clog and a Mary Jane style. They were invaluable for potty training, and I love being able to hose my kids off outside in the summer – shoes and all.
This year, we’re going to take Crocs into fall, which we’ve never done before round these parts. These shoes and rain boots are reasonably priced and I just dare you not to say Awwww.
Clothes & coats
I would rather spend every dime I make playing dress-up with my kids than just about anything else. I know this is problematic, but it’s my thing. I spend hours picking out the cutest clothes for them, and I spend a fortune doing it. But when I ship them off to school, they’re not dressed to impress. Instead, I opt for clothes that can be glued together, glittered and survive safety scissors.
So how do I get my fix during the school year? PICTURE DAY.
Miss Q will definitely be photographed in this Tea Collection dress; ideal because aside from looking great, it’s also comfortable enough for her to play in all day. But, so help me God, if it comes home bedazzled in any way, I’m gonna lose it.
Juniorbeads not only look ultra-cute, but they’re perfect for little girls who are prone to biting/sucking. If you’re about to send your kid off to kindergarten and there’s still a pacifier in the picture, these might be your answer. Made of medical-grade silicone, they are completely non-toxic.
For The K Man’s picture day, I’ll probably nab something cool at H&M – where everything is made for tall kids. It also happens to have some of the best-quality kids’ jeans around.
Every year, I wait for Sail to put its Hatley terrycloth-lined raincoats on sale. It’s probably the most versatile coat for the months leading up to winter, offering good bang for buck because it’s a rain coat that’s neither too warm nor too cool for our fabulously unpredictable Canadian weather. Hint: buy them at least one size too big and roll up the sleeves; there’s usually a fun colour contrast that you won’t mind showing off.
Miss Q is starting dance classes this fall, and I’m as giddy as a school girl now that lululemon’s line for kids is here: ivviva athletica. Think of even cuter versions of what you’d see at your local lulu store and shrink it. The stuff is to die for. Just like the grown-up version, ivviva is a splurge. But the fabrics are the same high-quality you’ve come to expect from lulu over the years, and if you buy a size up whenever possible, you’ll get some great cost per wear. For example, Miss Q is wearing size 4 in both pieces shown, with sleeves rolled three times and leggings scrunched. She will, without a doubt, be wearing these a year from now. (Maybe longer.) And my bet is they’ll look the same as the day this photo was taken.
Let’s not talk winter coats yet, please. I don’t want to have to slit my wrists. I already saw Christmas decorations at a certain retailer and I wanted to vomit. Can’t we get through Halloween first, people?
What are the must-haves on your back-to-school list?
DISCLAIMER: ivviva athletica is one of my firm’s clients; as usual, that does not shape my opinion of a brand or its products and I am in no way expected or encouraged to include our clients in blog posts.