The 50 Best back to school buys

As children across the country get set for a return to the classroom – and parents hit the shops – Kate Hilpern shares her scholastic shopping list

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The Independent Online


DK Big Book of Knowledge, £9.74

Even in a world where surfing the web has become the norm, there’s nothing like a well-illustrated fact book to inspire children. This has more than 200 entries and 3,000 photos.

Easy French, £7.99

Fast track their French with this cheerfully illustrated guide. It’s clear, simple and shows, via little stories, how the language works in everyday life.

Carol Vorderman Maths Made Easy – Extra Tests, £3.99

Utter the words “maths tests” and most children will groan, but these books get kids excited about problem solving and help them reach their potential.

Jolly Phonics Activity Books, £4

Literacy needn’t be dull and repetitive. Jolly Phonics makes it fun, multi-sensory and child-centred with mazes, stickers, puzzles and games.

Collins English Dictionary, £17.28

The 11th edition of this British staple includes all the latest words in the English language, plus biographical entries and helpful notes on context.

Calmer, Easier, Happier Homework, £11.99

It’s no secret that homework can cause stress (for parents as well as pupils). But fear not, this book offers strategies on establishing good after-school habits.

What’s Where in the World, £12.99

Planet Earth as you’ve never seen it. Picture maps showcase nature, geography, history and technology. Homework need never be boring again.

Lucky Wish Mouse: Starting School, £4.79

The Tinies are getting ready for their first day at school, but the Tiny twins would rather stay at home. Bound to become a bedtime favourite.

Bullies, Big Mouths and So-called Friends, £4.99

This book takes account of bullying by texting, MSN and bluejacking. It addresses how children feel about bullying with sensitivity and humour.

The Study Skills Handbook, £14.99

One for A-level students who have lost their way when it comes to time management or haven’t worked out the best methods for studying.


School bags:

Cath Kidston Spot Cotton Tote Bag, £30

For older ones who prefer to carry a small, more grown-up handbag, this simple tote is great for overspill and the perfect size for stowing larger items such as files and books.

Concentrate Chair Pad Bag, £19.99

School chairs aren’t built with comfort in mind, but this bag offers a solution. It hooks over the chair back to make even the hardest seat feel comfy for the most sensitive of posteriors.

Trunki BoostApak, £44.99

This rucksack, which doubles as a booster seat, is a great idea – especially if you have a car-pooling rota with other parents. With the law requiring under-12s to use a booster seat, it’s just the ticket.

The Batchel, £130

The Cambridge Satchel Company brought satchels to the forefront of fashion, and among a wide range of options and colours is this cheerful red one. So hip that mums will want to borrow it too.

Fred Perry Classic Shoulder Bag, £45

This classic PVC shoulder bag smacks of cool, but is also practical and robust. It has an inner zip pocket to keep belongings secure and an adjustable shoulder strap.

L’Oiseau Bateau Embroidered Rucksack, £26.35

Children love anything personalised and these high quality embroidered rucksacks are charming enough to appeal to parents as well.

Concentrate Anti-Smell Sports Bag, £8

People tend to hold their breath when they open a sports bag, but this one, with its active-carbon filter helps prevent those nasty whiffs.

Large Leather Tote Bag, £80

This is a good compromise between a school bag and grown up handbag. It has an internal zip pocket, will take a lot of battering and will also hold a lot of stuff.

Skip Hop Zoo-Let Backpack with Rein Owl, £18.99

Particularly good for visibility when it comes to crossing busy roads, this bag also has a pouch for snacks and a mesh bottle pocket for drinks.

Jack Wolfskin Berkeley S, £30

This has effective weight distribution, extra wide straps and a removable abdominal strap to help bear the load. Plus all the compartments your child will need.



Tumtum Lunch Set, £10

A funky and versatile set that is perfect for encouraging the little cherubs to eat a healthier lunch. It has two compartments and a pot for dips, sauce and dressings.

Thermos FUNtainer, £17.95

Fed up with sandwiches? The extra-wide mouth on this virtually unbreakable stainlesssteel thermos allows you to fill it with anything from macaroni cheese to risotto.

Bon Appetit Lunch Box, £14.29

A sophisticated set that has a box for noodles, salad, pasta or sushi, an inner bowl, a saucedipping area and a pot for dressings. The lid doubles as a plate and there’s a fork, too.

0.4l SIGG Glo Monster Water Bottle, £16.99

Kids can decorate their own water bottle (with felt-tip pens) that glows in the dark with this cool aluminium bottle. Choose from pink, violet, lime or teal.

Aladdin Bento Kids Lunch Box, £12

A cheerful lunch box with double-wall foam insulation to keep cool food cool and hot food hot. For hours. Kids will love the cartoon design.

Bobble Water Bottle, £9.99

This contemporary-looking contraption filters water as you drink, so it’s as good as buying bottled water but at a fraction of the cost. The filter reusable for 150 litres, or about three months.

Babymel Kids’ Explorer Bag, £25

This lunchbox attaches to its matching rucksack, letting kids go hands-free. It comes in three designs with well-padded shoulder straps and wipe-clean linings.

Joules Lunch Box, £14.95

Girls will love this patterned lunch box from Joules, while mums will love the fact that it’s wipe-clean. There’s an insulated interior which will keep sandwiches and fruit fresh until lunchtime.

Good Food: 101 Picnics and Packed Lunches, £4.99

Too many parents get their kids the latest lunchbox, but don’t have a clue what to put in it. Here, the cooks at Good Food magazine offer ideas for hassle-free and tasty dishes.

Glugg Water Bottle, £11.95

Bring a bit of wit to the table with this water bottle that looks like a fire extinguisher. Available in red or silver, it comes with a flip-up mouth and carry-loop and holds 600ml. 50p goes to WaterAid.



Crayola Twistables Crayons, £2.99

These give you all the benefits of crayons without having to peel or sharpen. Simply twist the end of the plastic barrel and you’re ready to go.

GLTC Personalised Pencils, £10

No child (or adult, for that matter) will be able to resist this posh box of personalised pencils with built-in erasers. Available in red, pink or blue.

The BIG Family School Year Diary, £16.95

It’s hard for parents to keep track of everything. This is a big help, with its different columns for different family members plus general space.

Casio FX-991ES Plus Scientific Calculator, £14.39

All the bells and whistles you could need from Keystage Three upwards plus extras that mean it can stay with your offspring up until uni.

Paperchase 10 Subject Project Notebook, £8

Even the most disorganised pupil shouldn’t go too far wrong with this ruled notebook divided into 10 sections. That’s the theory anyway...

Doodle Pencil Case, £9.95

Use this pencil case as a blank canvas. Printed on one side as graph paper and the other as file paper, you can scribble away with the wash-out pens.

Post-it Hearts, £4.39

Sticky notes serve a multitude of purposes for children. These heart-shaped ones put a girly spin on things and there are three colour tones to choose from.

Wild & Wolf Pencil Case, £6.95

A lot of parents secretly think their child could actually be a genius but this witty/ironic case is also a practical addition to any school bag.

Filofax Back to School Compact Files, £20

Many parents will recognise this exercise book from their own school days. But this one is actually a Filofax, with plenty of sections and note paper too.

Paperchase Black Gel Pens Pack of 5, £3.75

These fountain pens, which come in blue or black, have a firm grip on the page without gliding all over the place and are also reasonably priced.


Study aids:

C-Pen Digital Highlighter, £108

A revision and learning godsend. Use the pen to scan any bits of printed text you need, and store it all in your smartphone, tablet or notebook. Better still, you can have it spoken out loud.

Multibandz, £4.22

These skinny wristbands are designed as fashion accessories, but also help memorise the times tables. Great for the subliminal learning of essential maths skills while looking cool into the bargain.

Fraction Tower Cubes, £11

Fractions can be hellishly difficult to get to grips with for some youngsters. These colourful cubes bring them to life and are a great visual study aid for children and indeed for rusty adults.

Rory’s Story Cubes, £9.99

Sure to get the creative juices flowing. Each game contains nine cubes, with 54 images, creating 10 million narrative permutations. Start each turn with “Once upon a time” and let the imagination run wild.

Leapfrog Tag World Map Activity Board, £19.24

An interactive world map that’s great for bringing geography alive. You’ll need to buy the Tag Reader (£26.40) too, but kids can learn about continents, capitals and culture.



Dell Inspiron 15R, from £429

If they’re going to carry a computer around all day, it needs to be portable and robust. This one is both and also has touchscreen support for Windows 8.

Apple MacBook Air, £849

The all-day battery life alone will be a major pull for school kids. You also get powerful graphics and a huge amount of storage. Best of all, it’s unbelievably thin and light.

Epson XP-XP-605 All-in-one Wireless Printer, £89.99

This small printer allows you to print wirelessly from your smartphone or tablet (handy if you don’t have a PC) and it’s easy to use as well.

Brother PT-H105, £35.99

A handy little machine that prints durable labels of various sizes. It’s also got a built-in cutter, an easy-to-use ABC keyboard and comes with tape for fixing said labels into place.

Maths Whiz, £19.99

Few children can resist a video game, so you should have no trouble persuading them to get their mitts around this portable gizmo that tests their maths skills.

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