Back to school necessities

Write it

The most common pen used at schools are ballpoint pens that contain black or blue ink. Ballpoint pens dispense ink by channelling it down a plastic reservoir over a small, hard ball which is free to roll on contact with paper. The ink dries almost immediately on contact with paper and is not prone to smudging or leaking, which makes it perfect for use in a school setting. These pens have the advantage of being reliable and affordable. They also last longer than other types of pens.
Retractable pens have a spring-loaded ink cartridge which retracts and extends outside a protective housing. This protects the inside of pencil bags and pockets by ensuring the nib does touch fabric and leak ink onto it. 

Pencils are one of the most-used stationery items, especially in the lower grades. Most commonly available as a graphite core in a casing of wood, they are a classroom staple. Some pencils have an eraser attached to the top.
Pencils have an alpha-numerical grading. The H stands for hardness, while the B stands for blackness. The number refers to the degree of softness or hardness. For school use, HB pencils are recommended and are the writing instruments of choice for children up to Grade 4. This is because work can easily be erased and redone, such as when learning to write.
Pencils are now available in a synthetic resin which resists splintering, breaking and chewing, as well as those made from recycled materials. 
Another type of pencil is the clutch pencil, or mechanical pencils. They are usually made of plastic and contain graphite that can be moved forward down a barrel. T are those that hold the lead and push it forward during use, and those that hold the lead in place and are moved forward with a top or side button, or twist or shake mechanism. The clutch pencil can hold thicker leads (2mm to 5,6mm) while some pencils offer several mechanisms that fit into the same cylinder housing to offer a range of thicknesses (0,3mm to 0,7mm) within one shaft. 
Clutch pencils are useful because they do not require sharpening and they offer a constant line thickness. They are often used by older children in subjects that involve draughtsmanship.

Note it

Exam pads

Exam pads are used all around the world by students and teaches alike. It is available in a standard format of ruled A4 paper with a red margin down the left-hand side, and two regulation punch holes. Generally, exam pads have 80 or 100 pages. They have a soft-cover from and a slightly stiffer back of cardboard, so students are easily able to take notes on the move.

Exercise books
Exercise books are similar to exam pads in that they contain sheets of lined, ruled paper. However, instead of punch holes the pages are stapled together in the form of a book. Exercise books can be soft-cover or hard-cover, and are available in standard sizes of A4 and A5 in 72 pages (or more). Special exercises books also exist for specific subjects like mathematics and accounting. These contain grid or graph paper.

Photocopy paper
Modern classrooms often require each child to print in a ream of white paper for the printer or photocopier. Inkjet and laser printers use cut sheet paper, ranging in size from A5 (148mm x 210mm) up to A0 (841mm x 1 189mm) in speciality printers. Variations are offered in thickness, smoothness or a combination thereof. 
A standard ream of paper has 500 sheets.

Poster board
Ideal for classroom projects, especially in the lower grades, poster board is large, brightly coloured and slightly heavier than standard paper. It makes excellent project posters and is ideal for arts and crafts.

Colour it

Pencil crayons
Pencil crayons are a classroom staple. They consist of narrow, pigmented cores surrounded by a wooden cylindrical case. They are available in a wide range of colours and their pigment cores can be wax- or oil-based. The barrel of a pencil crayon can be round, hexagonal or even twist-up. Standard varieties come in packs of 12s and 24s, but they are also available in comprehensive art packs of 100 or more colours. 

Felt-tip pens
These pens, colloquially known as kokis, have a porous tip of fibrous material and are available in a wide variety of colours. The smallest, finest-tipped markers are used for writing on paper, while medium-tip markers are often used by children for colouring and drawing. The larger markers are used for writing on boxes or files. Highlighters also fall into the felt-tip pen category. These pens contain fluorescent inks that can be used to mark up other text. They are available in a wide variety of colours, with the most popular being blue, green, pink and yellow.

Gel pens
A gel pen uses ink in which the pigment is suspended in a water-based gel. This makes the ink thick and opaque, allowing it to show up clearly on dark surfaces. Gel ink does not bleed through most papers. However, these pens are prone to smudge more, due to the ink being wetter. They also skip occasionally, as the ball is less evenly coated with ink, and they are more likely to leak. Gel pens use more ink than other types of pens, and therefore require frequent refills or replacements.  Because gel pens come in a wide range of colours, including metallic and pastel shades, they are well suited to art or colouring project. They are not ideal for everyday writing in the classroom setting. 

Wax crayons and oil pastels
Affordable and available in a vast array of colours, wax crayons are a favourite among school children. Crayons are made primarily of white clay called kaolin, wax or fatty acids, and dyes. They are harder than oil pastels because they contain more fillers. They can be sharpened and they do not smudge as easily. Wax crayons are available in boxes of different quantities, and cover all the colours of the rainbow. 
Oil pastels differ from wax crayons by the amount of pure wax they contain. The higher the wax content, the greasier and less chalky the oil pastel will be. Modern oil pastels are made with pigment dissolved in fossil wax. Shelf life is improved with the addition of non-drying oil, such as mineral oil. High quality oil pastels contain large amounts of wax. They are available in a wide array of colours. They are not ideal for younger school children as they are very messy and smudge and break easily.

Organise it

Erasers are another back-to-school essential for those that use pencil regularly. Vinyl (or plastic) erasers are the hardest type of erasers. They are ideal as an all-purpose eraser. They erase almost everything and are found in most pencil bags. However, their toughness means that they tear all types of paper very easily. Vinyl’s durability and flexibility result in minimal crumbling. These erasers often come in white and can be found in a variety of shapes. 
Other types of erasers, such as kneaded erasers, might be required by children who take art classes. The erasers found on the end of pencils are often pink in colour, and are used to remove graphite pencil on paper. It does this by shedding itself as it lifts the pencil marks. They are usually made from synthetic rubber. Suggest this type of eraser to customers who need to remove standard pencil marks. If used over-aggressively or on a lightweight paper, such as tracing paper, this type of eraser will cause tears. 

Correction fluid
Correction fluid (or white-out) is an opaque, liquid product that is designed to cover mistakes made while writing in pen, typing or photocopying markings on paper.  Typically, it is applied to paper using a brush but it can be purchased in the form of a tape. This becomes a back-to-school essential in the higher grades where pen is used. It is the neater option for correcting mistakes.

Sharpeners on back-to-school lists are generally the hand-held variety. Sharpeners feature either a single opening for standard pencils or a double opening for larger art pencils, with a blade to shave the wood surrounding the lead to sharpen the point. Many sharpeners come fitted into a case which collects the shavings. They are available in an array of sizes, shapes and colours. Most pencil sharpeners have a blade attached to the body with a screw, which can be tightened, loosened or replaced.

The most popular back-to-school staplers are the small, pocket-size variety that fit easily into a school bag. Many feature a handy built-in staple remover.  They can staple up to 12 sheets of paper at a time. To avoid jams, only the recommended staple type and size for the model in question. Do not staple above the stated sheet capacity; instead, consider a bigger model, such as a standard desktop stapler. These can fasten up to 20 sheets at a time, but they will be bulkier and 
Staplers come in a variety of shapes and colours.

A punch is ideal for binding presentations in a file or folder and allows for organisation and filing in a classroom setting. Generally speaking, school children will only require a two-hole punch. These are used for two-ringed files. Other important aspects of a punch are its sheet capacity, size and ease of use. 

Pencil cases
A pencil case (or pencil box) is a back-to-school essential. Used to store all manner of stationery, such as pencils, sharpeners, pens, glue sticks, erasers, scissors and rulers, pencil cases can be made from a variety of materials such as plastic, wood, cotton, leather or metal. Pencil bags are usually soft and have a zipper. 
Some pencil cases, known as space cases, have a hard and rigid shell which protects the items inside. These often have separate compartments to store different items.
Brightly coloured or decorated pencil cases are popular with schoolchildren, and they are available in a wide range of sizes.

Calendars are an important classroom tool. Desk pad calendars are great for teachers and staff rooms, offering easy viewing and plenty of room for writing. Desk pad calendars are ideal for this are large and sit on the user’s desk, for easy note-taking. They generally provide a full month in view and offer plenty of space on each day for users to schedule appointments or jot down information. After the month has ended, the user can tear away the desk calendar’s current page to reveal the next month’s page. Desk pad calendars are easy to use and tend to be inexpensive as well.
Wall calendars are also good for classrooms as they hang from a hook that is placed on any wall or flat surface. They are often full of inspirational pictures and messages and are large enough to be seen by everyone and be decorative at the same time. 


Academic diaries are aimed at people who attend school or university. They often contain information pages relevant to students, such as semester or term dates. These diaries are often ring-bound and come in an extraordinary variety of styles, sizes and colours, including A4 or A5. A5 is more popular among students who have to carry their bags around with them. They are available in a week-to-view or day-to-page layout. Academic diaries in different parts of the year may run for a period of 12 calendar months, rather than a straight year. For example, American students would use an academic diary running from August of one year to the August of another.  

Measure it

Desk rulers are used to rule straight lines, measure length or act as a guide for cutting with a blade. Standard school rulers are 30cm in length and are made from wood, plastic or metal. Smaller sizes, such as 15cm and 20cm, are also available. Measuring marks are painted onto the surface of the ruler, usually in centimetres and millimetres on one side and inches on the other.
If being used for a specialised functionrulers can also have a raised centre piece with which to hold it in place. Rulers come in many different colours and may have designs or pictures on them. Some rulers even have cut-out shapes which form templates, while are transparent so the user can see what they are doing through them.
Modern rulers are shatterproof meaning they don’t splinter and fragment when broken. This is for safety reasons. 

Maths sets
Math sets form an important part of the school curriculum’s stationery requirements. Standard sets usually include a self-centring compass, 9cm pencil, 30cm folding rule, a mechanical pencil, a metal sharpener, an eraser, protractor and two set squares. Nine- and 15-piece technical drawing sets provide the bespoke tools required for specialise subjects in the higher grades.

Calculators are required by school children as they advance from primary to secondary levels of schooling. They help to solve simple or complex mathematical calculations. Modern, ergonomic designs have angled screens and soft rubber buttons for easy input. They come in a variety of colours and run on batteries. Scientific calculators are required by high school children for maths, science and chemistry. Containing an entire screen, instead of just a display for a row of numbers, scientific calculators are capable of displaying multiple calculations at once. They can be used to calculate sophisticated conversions and statistics. Variable data is held in the calculator’s memory, and can be retrieved at a later date.

Stick it

One key back-to-school item is a glue stick: they’re a classroom staple throughout the world.
They have a number of advantages. They are non-toxic and non-acidic, which means they can be safely used by children and do not yellow over time. They are considered a low bonding adhesive, and are used on various types of paper, such as cardboard, foam board and poster board.  The adhesive in a glue stick dries clear, and is used for applications like labelling, art projects and scrapbooking. Glue sticks are generally made from a range of similar ingredients, although the exact proportions are particular to the manufacturer. This results in the varying quality of each brand. Most ingredients found in glue sticks are fairly safe and act as thickeners, binders and smoothers.
Acrylic polymer is the ingredient which helps the glue stick to dry quickly. It gives the adhesive strength. It is non-toxic and non-explosive, and remains colourless. 
Polyethylene glycol is a binder. It aids lubrication and prevents the adhesive from drying out. 
Sodium stearate is one of the primary ingredients in glue sticks and is responsible for the opaque white colour. 
Glue sticks are easy to use, don’t make a mess, are non-toxic and acid free. For this reason they are ideal for classroom use, especially in lower grades. Craft glue is a white or clear liquid adhesive that is slightly stronger than a glue stick. It is ideal for use in art class or for poster board projects, and can be used on paper, wood, fabric, foam and some types of plastic. Look for craft glue that is non-toxic and quick-drying glue.

Sticky tape 

Also known as adhesive tape or sellotape, this is a clear type of tape with an adhesive coating at the back to make it tacky. Sticky tape is a type of pressure-sensitive tape, meaning that it is sticky without any heat or solvent for activation and adheres with the application of light pressure. Sticky tape is available in a range of different size rolls, as well as in different widths. For use in the classroom, sticky tape on a dispenser is a good idea. The dispenser not only provides protection for the tape, but also has a slightly sharp edge on which the tape can be cut. Some types of sticky tape have perforations for easy tearing.

Carry it 

There are many different types of school bag, and your customers will need some guidance when making a selection. Most importantly, they will need to bear their children in mind when purchasing a bag. Be sure to check with the parents whether or not the school has a set of rules regarding the type of bag that is allowed.  Certain schools may not allow rolling backpacks or messenger bags, and some may have specifications with regards to style or colour. Ask your customer if the person who will be using the bag has a back problem or other medical issues. This is an important point to remember, as certain types of bags may exacerbate the issue.

Backpacks are essentially sacks carried on the back and secured with two straps that go over the shoulders. They are spacious, durable, waterproof and are ideal for heavy items such as school books. Weight can be distributed throughout the bag, and it is easier to carry on the back than in the hand. However, backpacks can be used to carry everything a child needs all the time, leading to an overweight bag that can cause posture problems later on. Experts do recommend buying a backpack rather than a bag that’s carried or slung over one shoulder. A backpack made of canvas or nylon will be lightweight when compared to a proper suitcase. The best backpacks have a moulded frame with a padded back and adjustable straps.

Messenger bags
Messenger bags are worn over one shoulder with a strap that goes across the chest, resting the bag on the lower back. They usually contain organiser pockets, ideal for storing different sized items. They are made of sturdier material than a standard tote bag, making them more durable. They are designed to carry a lot as they were originally used by mailmen and couriers. Messenger bags can be made of waterproof material. Messenger bags are a compromise between tote bags and backpacks. However, carrying all the weight on one shoulder can cause posture problems.

Wheeled bags
Wheeled bags are usually backpacks on castors, and are made from waterproof materials such as nylon. They can be up to 1,5kg heavier than a regular backpack, so it is important that you advise your customer to consider the size of the child who will be using it. It should not be too heavy for the child to pull. They are available in a range of sizes, and their capacities vary. Wheeled bags have telescopic handles, and these need to be durable as they will be used often. The bag needs to have wheels that roll smoothly and don’t stick, and whole thing should be well-balanced so it doesn’t fall over. Many wheeled backpacks have straps for carrying on the back; however, this is not recommended as these bags are heavy and can cause muscle strain. 

Tote bags
A tote bag is a large and often unfastened bag with parallel handles that emerge from the sides of its carrying pouch. Tote bags have evolved over the years, and now there are many different types of tote bags to choose from. The original ones were made of canvas, which is highly durable, but they are now also available in cotton (which is lightweight), polypropylene (which is lightweight and easy to clean), or leather.
Customers will need to consider the size of the tote bag they want to purchase. Sports totes are ideal for children with extra-mural activities. They are often found in school changing rooms and clubhouses. They range in size from small enough to hold a change of clothes to large enough to hold sporting equipment like cricket bats and pads.
Additional pockets to store smaller items are useful too.
Customers will need to decide what they are going to use the tote bags for. They are not recommended to hold school books and things as they become heavy and are hard to carry for a long period of time without causing muscle strain. 


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