Shopping: Get kitted out for class

The new school year is here, and for parents that means a whole new games ball, not to mention the Quicksilver backpack, the Gant pencil case and all the latest educational equipment.

The Autumn school term is just beginning, so it's time to find the letter you received from school at the end of last term asking you to make sure your child was equipped with all sorts when they returned in September. Posh preparatory schools have long asked children to arrive with their own scissors and glue sticks, but state schools are fast catching up. Most try to conserve funds by asking parents to supply a pencil case with pencils, pens, crayons, a ruler, a rubber and a pencil sharpener.

Parents may just see this as adding to the bill. American Express has published research on how much parents spend on back-to-school stuff. Clothing only accounts for a little over half, with the remainder being made up by things like school bags and lots of stationery. But parents have more than financial objections. "I don't know why my son has to have his own scissors and glue stick for school," says Diana Monk, whose 7- year-old son attends a preparatory school. "He never gets through a term without losing several glue sticks, and can spend most of an art lesson asking to borrow someone else's." By comparison, our own cut-down washing up bottles, full of scissors, glue sticks or brushes, become a fond recollection.

For children, the stationery race is a chance to mark their place in the class by having the rubber that everyone else wants to borrow. Pencil cases, and their contents, have become the handbags of childhood, in classrooms as far removed from standard issue milk cartons and National Health specs as you and I can imagine.

Choosing what to buy is about balancing the desirable with the practical. Children make no allowances for something that doesn't work, or that falls apart when they've only just bought it. On this basis, rule out pencil tins for younger children: the contents fall out too easily when dropped.

Advertising slogans on cases are unoriginal, and therefore undesirable. For girls, something that is two parts handbag, one part cuddly toy, is perfect. Gant's pencil cases cost pounds 8.95 from Daisy and Tom (shops in London and Manchester 0171 349 0067), would not look out of place under an All Saints arm, and you can play with the rubbery bit on the bottom. Colours are red with black trim or dark navy; no pink, of course.

For boys, pencil cases that do things, or have moving parts, are popular. Hawkin (01986 782536), the mail order catalogue, has a sturdy, double decker wooden pencil box for pounds 5.95. Its layers open out and putting it back together is like fitting a jig-saw.

School bags have just as much credibility hanging on them as pencil cases. Fortunately, this Autumn's bags merge fashion and style with durability and practicality. Concerns about children suffering back problems from carrying heavy loads is probably the reason. Record bags, that have been popular for the last couple of years, have meant children carried heavy loads on one shoulder rather than two. A recent survey by the National Back Pain Association (NBPA) found that children who carried bags on both shoulders had a 7 per cent risk of developing back pain, whereas those who carried them on only one shoulder had a 30 per cent risk. On average, children were carrying 17lb, but some were carrying as much as 3 stone.

As a rule, try to limit your child to carrying no more than 10 per cent of his or her body weight. You can help by choosing a bag with padded shoulder straps and back panel. The NBPA launches an ergonomically designed bag in October. Available from school outfitters and nationwide stores such as John Lewis and Tesco (0181 450 0511 for other stockists), it will cost pounds 19.99, and has special lumbar padding so that, when full, it rests on the child's bottom to help take the strain.

Always go for rainproof nylon fabrics: they outlast leather, corduroy or canvas. And it is worth checking stitching before you buy. The point where the top of the back straps are attached to the bag is a real pressure point. If your child is all fingers and thumbs with zips, try a top-loading, drawstring back pack.

There are plenty of back packs that meet practical criteria and have MTV-cool status too. For bags with loads of zippered pockets, mesh compartments, divider panels, straps for helmets, exterior mesh sleeves, quick-release waist belts, bungee cords, water bottle compartments and padded straps and backs, you won't beat Eastpak's bags. Back packs from Quicksilver (0171 836 6352 for stockists) start at pounds 29.40 with larger satchels, priced pounds 46.40 and pencil cases are new this Autumn, priced pounds 9.90.

Whatever you choose, make sure you keep childrens' enthusiasm for swapping things in mind. You don't want to seem too upset when your son comes home and shows you the friend's secret diary from 1997 that's lost its key that he's swapped for the fountain pen that you just spent a fortune on.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

    £16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

    Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

    £13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

    £16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence