Wherever you are in the world, and whatever time of year it is, there's always a need for stuff for school.
Bit overwhelming though, isn't it? There are SO MANY pens. And LOTS of pencils. And pencil cases, erasers, sharpeners, rulers... OH NO!! And we haven't even factored in the 'Urgh, I don't want that!' and 'Mum! I'm not FIVE!' bit. Let's not go there. We'll leave that bit to you.
Right... so how can we help? Well, we can narrow down the search a little bit for sure. Everybody looks for different things in a bit of stationery, so we'll try and point out the factors about anything that might help you make a choice. Can't say fairer than that.
Ballpoint, rollerball or fountain pen? Oh my. Ballpoints are probably the simplest pens around. They're good for both right- and left-handers and don't really have a problem with smudging. BIC are brilliant at them. Nothing fancy, just cost-effective, reliable pens. And Staedtler's triangular-profiled triplus range makes for fatigue-free writing. Retractables are probably more practical than those with lids, because they won't leave marks where you don't want them when the lid gets lost. (Because it will, you know). Try Faber-Castell for a great, grippy choice. And if it can be refilled then so much the better.
Rollerballs offer a nice bold line and are probably better in the hand of older kids than their little brothers and sisters. Remember the Pentel R50 of your youth? With the little coloured bit on the pocket clip that you'd pull off with your teeth? Well they're still around. Pentel's JM20 is also worth considering, as is the Air from Uni-ball. For refillable ones, you can't go wrong with a LAMY, and Pentel's EnerGel is also retractable!
Fountain pens... Well, gone are the days when you had to write with one. When permanently blue fingers (and sometimes lips) were de rigueur, and when left-handed pupils despaired of ever producing anything legible. These days fountain pens are a lot more child-friendly. No need to wrestle with ink pots, just a neat packet of short ink cartridges. No necessity for heavy metal barrels: modern technology offers lightweight, ergonomic designs in bright, vivid colours. What would we recommend? How about the Pelikano from Pelikan, or STABILO's EASYbuddy? Or perhaps the LAMY abc - or the safari for older kids?
Then there's the splinter group we know as erasables, the most famous of which is probably Pilot's extensive FriXion range, which includes not just writing pens (retractable as well as capped) but pencils (no! We're joking...) fineliners, highlighters and colouring pens. Legami also do a fun range of erasables - let a llama or a koala accompany you on your error-free expeditions.
No self-respecting pencil case is complete without a pencil. Staedtler's red-liveried Tradition (with or without an eraser tip) and yellow-striped Noris pencils (standard or chunky) have stood the test of time; Faber-Castell's Grip range is award-winning and rightly so; and STABILO's ergonomic EASYgraph collection aimed at both right- and left-handers is second-to-none.
And what about colouring pencils? Faber-Castell have it all. There are school-friendly packs of 12, fat-barrelled pencils for little fingers and brilliant bicolours: 16 colours for the price of 8! And Crayola are kings of the wild frontier that is Key Stage 1.
Pens and pencils are perfect, but all educatees need a few other bits and bobs to round out the arsenal. Take sharpeners. A pencil would be blunt without one. There are lots of pleasingly hefty metal offerings from KUM and M+R, ideal for older kids, and those that come equipped with tubs are brilliant - safer for younger fingers, less likely to get lost and less messy too. And why not try one made from recycled material? Or a Maped one shaped like a bee or a bunny?
There is an astonishingly large number of erasers out there, and they only do one thing! How can there be so many? Who knows? There just are. You can stick to the traditional offerings from Staedtler, Faber-Castell and Tombow MONO, or indulge the Legami beast that is Fashion. Just because it's shaped like Saturn or smells like a unicorn (what do they smell like?) doesn't mean it won't rub stuff out.
Rulers (or 'rules' if we're going to be precise about these things. Which we are, but this is school we're talking about, not engineering) can be problematic. A 30cm one is perfect - Staedtler's a good bet, and Maped have an unbreakable one! - but it won't actually fit in a pencil case (unless you have an extra-large one. And then you'd need an extra-large school bag. Combine that with having to wear your big brother's cast-off uniform and we're looking at a very unwieldy start to the school year). A 15cm one will fit, and for many applications it'll be completely fine. There are some great ones from KUM, including the SoftieFlex and a wavy one (it's got a straight edge too). But the ultimate is a 30cm ruler that folds in half. So you get the best of both worlds.
Highlighters highlight. And some, like Zebra, lowlight (or 'mildlight'). Some - STABILO's BOSS springs to mind - have a traditional chunky look about them, while others are shaped like a normal pen, like those from BIC. Some aren't pens at all - they're pencils! Those from edding are very wee, and some don't look like highlighters at all (that would be Legami). But all of them make individual words or whole passages stand out, so your choice is really based on what it looks like rather than what it does!
Pencil cases are a must. How else are the kids going to stash their stuff? Do they like to be organised, with a place for everything and a everything in its place? Or are they a happy rummager - the junior version of the adult who tips their bag upside down in an effort to find a pen? No matter which way they work, there's plenty of choice. Lihit Lab do a great line in quirky pen storage, and some double as pen pots (which can make for a happy medium between the super-organised and the wing-it brigades). Helix cover all bases, from transparent to camouflage, and there's a huge range of colour choices from Rhodia.
Best pens (and other stuff) for teachers
Schools don't just have children in them though. Oh no. They have teachers too. Because what would a school be without its teachers? A building with kids and dinner ladies in it, that's what. Anarchy. And that's just the dinner ladies. Anyway, teachers need pens too. And different sorts. And different colours! Best for the kids to stick to blue, or maybe black, but the teachers get a slightly more colourful palette. Why? Well, they have to mark things (preferably with a tick and a Good! rather than a cross and No!) and their remarks have to stand out.
Purple and green and orange seem to be the colours of choice. And thankfully there are plenty to choose from. Not so many that it makes brains melt but enough to suit individual writing styles. Schneider are particularly good at offering a wide colour range, and their pens - both ballpoints and rollerballs - are super-smooth. They're also highly environmentally-conscious when it comes to manufacturing. It might be that a fineliner is called for, in which case the colour spectrum is vast! Try the triplus 334 from Staedtler or the point 88 from STABILO.
Whiteboard markers are what the kids would really like to get their hands on - big board, big pen, big scribbles! But no. They're for teachers. And Pilot's V Board Master is top of the class! Not only are the markers made from 91% recycled plastic, they're refillable using cartridges that are made from 100% recycled plastic. Oh, and there are 4 tip sizes to choose from as well.
Sticky notes are useful too. Go for the plain and practical with Post-its, or teachers, too, can liberate their inner odd person with Legami.
And rulers (or rules)? Now that recalcitrant children don't get rapped over the knuckles with them, there's no need.