School Supply Recommendations
Author: Krista Flack, MS OTR/L
It’s almost time for school to start, and I’m sure the back-to-school shopping has begun! Before you go out and buy those sparkly pencils, read on for tips on choosing the right school supplies to help your child succeed at school. Links provided are examples only. Many of these products can be found in various brands, and can be found both online and in local stores, like Staples, Target, Walmart, etc.
Triangular pencils are a great tool to encourage a tripod grasp, which can impact handwriting by reducing fatigue and cramps and increasing control. The triangle shape helps fingers fall just in the right spot, and can be enough to correct subtle inefficient grasps. These come in standard size and thick, and many crayons can even be found in this shape. Some children need more support, which can come from various pencil grips, but talk to your OT before selecting one!
Thick pencils (like these, or crayons and markers, too!) are nice for children that have low tone in their hands, and have trouble stabilizing a thin utensil. Of course, it can sometimes hinder development of those tiny hand and finger muscles, so talk to your child’s OT to decide if this will be a help or a hindrance!
Before you throw away those broken crayons and golf pencils, remember that shorter utensils encourage a more mature grasp pattern. Rather than using your whole hand in a fisted grasp, a short utensil requires you to use your fingers! Markers, crayons, colored pencils, and pencils can be found in mini sizes (or again, keep those golf pencils and broken crayons!). Crayon rocks encourage using a pinching grip, rather than a whole fist!
For some children, mechanical pencils can be a great tool! If you press too hard when using a mechanical pencil, it causes the pencil lead to break, which teaches some students to press more lightly, but just frustrates other students. Different lead thicknesses can make this very customizable to increase or decrease sensitivity. Mechanical pencils can also be a good option for students who are easily distracted by trips to the pencil sharpener. If you’re concerned that mechanical pencils will be too frustrating for your child, consider a small pencil sharpener like this that your child can keep at his or her desk, to minimize distraction.
For many of our kids that are impulsive and rush through work (leading to mistakes that need to be corrected), the small eraser on the end of the pencil is worn away long before the pencil lead is. Picking out some ‘fun’ erasers that can sit on the desktop may provide a visual cue to remind children to correct mistakes, while providing motivation to do so! Kneadable erasers add an extra element by doubling as a fidget!
For children with fine motor weakness, cutting can be a frustrating task. While this is a skill they need to develop, the best time to do that is when you or their OT is there to provide one-on-one support. For classroom time, self-opening scissors like these can reduce frustration and increase independence.
There are numerous styles of lined paper on the market, and some provide more support for your child than you may realize! Skip-a-line paper helps with keeping organized when visual tracking is difficult. Redi-space paper helps teach letter and word spacing. Raised line paper helps to improve sizing and line placement when children have a hard time staying within the lines with visual clues alone. Websites like www.printablepaper.net allow you to print paper from home with various spacing and sizing options, and you can add a raised line with a little Elmer’s glue and patience!
For children with executive functioning deficits and who have trouble staying organized, color-coding supplies can be a simple tool to embrace. From coordinating folders and notebooks to spandex book covers, each subject/class can have its own color, so that the correct supplies make it to the right classroom! Coordinating pouches can help keep needed supplies together, like a calculator and protractor for math, or a highlighter to mark important dates during history.
Encourage and help your child use a planner or agenda, so that he or she can gain independence and confidence in keeping track of important dates and assignments. This is not a skill that comes naturally to everyone, so you may need to take some time to teach him or her how to listen for important dates, where to record, and how often to check what’s coming up.
When picking out a backpack, find the right size by making sure that the backpack does not go above your child’s shoulders or below the top of the hip bones. When packed, the backpack should weigh no more than 10% of your child’s total body weight. Make sure to utilize all compartments and pockets of the backpack to help distribute weight, and keep the heavier items closer to the back center of the backpack. For more information on choosing the right type and weight for your child's backpack, check out last year’s blog about backpack awareness! Next month, we’ll post more information here about Backpack Safety Awareness Day!
I hope this blog helps you choose school supplies that will support your children so that they can have a successful school year! If you have specific questions about which supplies would be best for your child, talk to his or her OT about options.