Back-to-school time means stocking up on pencils, glue sticks and other traditional supplies that generations of kids have stowed away in desks, cubbies and lockers. In elementary and middle schools, teachers usually provide lists of specific items to pick up; and even in high school, many instructors require certain types of notebook paper, pens and the like.
In addition to the classic supplies -- crayons, notebooks, rulers -- that continually make these back-to-school lists, there are also a number of other ones to keep in mind. Today's student has an arsenal of utensils and gizmos to help him or her manage workloads and enhance the learning experience. Whether it's a fresh spin on a classic or a newfangled gadget, these five cool school tools make the grade to get your son or daughter studying in style.
#5 - Learning Laptops
Even pre-K students can get a head start on their computing know-how with learning laptops. For less than $50, these laptoplike gadgets can reinforce the basic skills being taught in the classroom with fun, educational games and activities. In their brief history, learning laptops now come in handheld sizes with more sophisticated graphics and an extensive range of software that covers subjects including reading, math, foreign language and more. Kids can navigate through many of these models with a keyboard, electronic stylus or control pad with an interface like a video gaming system.
For middle and high school students who need word processing capabilities and Internet access, netbooks are a great option. Priced at a few hundred dollars, these mini-laptops have been grabbing tech headlines for their usefulness and affordability. In fact, some schools are starting to utilize netbooks in the classroom thanks to their budget-friendly assets.
#4 - Back-friendly Backpacks
Finding the perfect backpack is crucial for many school-aged kids. After all, they tote it around with them every day and want it to make a cool impression. Parents are probably more concerned about the toll the pack takes on those young backs. Thankfully, there are alternatives out there to please both parties. Unfortunately, you're probably going to have to spend more cash in exchange for ergonomic quality.
To protect the back and spine, look out for packs with plenty of padding. Padded straps and back panels are good signs. Make sure that the straps fit snugly against the body, and that the backpack comes with a chest strap for added support. When wearing the backpack, it should sit higher on the back rather than straining spine by hanging down at the hips. There are also rolling backpacks to choose from, but some schools don't allow them anymore. And they might detract from that crucial cool factor that your student demands.
#3 - Cutting-edge Calculators
It's important that school kids learn how to add, subtract and so forth in their heads -- with occasional help from their fingers and toes. But when higher math rolls around in junior high and onward, it's time to pull out the big guns.
Calculators have been a routine item in older kids' backpacks for a while now, and they now offer more math and science help than ever before. Texas Instruments, one of the most common brands of calculator manufacturers, offers additional software, memory storage and pre-installed tutorial programs on certain models. Students can also now choose from more aesthetically pleasing calculators, such as bubblegum pink graphing editions and fire engine red beginner models.
#2 - Note-taking Gadgets
Pencil and paper will never go out of style for taking notes. But for the techie students out there who want to get the most out of their note-taking capabilities, Smartpens are neat and relatively inexpensive at around $150. LiveScribe's Pulse Smartpen writes on specialized paper that digitally records what you're writing and where on the page. At the same time, the pen can also capture audio, which means that a student can take notes and record the lecture at the same time. When it comes time for studying, the Smartpen hooks into in a computer to download all of the notes into one source. That way, students can place the Smartpen on notes on the specialized paper to hear the corresponding audio.
If your student doesn't require that much tech magic, the FLY Fusion Pentop Computer from Leap Frog also digitally records what a student writes. The writing device then converts the written notes into digital documents. Like the LiveScribe Smartpen, Pentop also requires specialized paper. Since the Pentop doesn't save audio, there are many discreet mP3 recording devices and audio recording add-ons for iPods that can fulfill that function
#1 - Homework Helpers
Between the note-taking, laptop learning and backpack toting, kids have to do their homework. Whether it's solving a tough math problem, researching a science fair project or creating a bibliography for a term paper, the Web holds a wealth of educational resources. But tracking down the best of those resources can be challenging, and parents may be hesitant about unleashing their children on the Internet.
Fortunately, some companies have developed robust homework helper programs for students of all learning levels. DiscoveryEducation.com, for instance, provides assistance for seven different subject areas, along with interactive games and student-tailored external Web links for additional tutoring. For a monthly fee, Cosmeo by Discovery Education is a one-stop-shop for Discovery videos, scholarly articles, step-by-step academic instruction and more. By utilizing the breadth of valuable information online, kids can enhance their learning experience and continue to make A+ grades.