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The 50 best back to school buys

Published 19/08/2009

<b>Coloured Pencils </b><br/>
Muji is renowned for its designs: you'll find them in the Museum Of Modern Art shop in NYC, ranking along with other cult design companies. In Britain, we're lucky enough to have a shop on every high street, so it's easy to forget how good their understated, functional products are - and how inexpensive. These 12 coloured pencils - made from cedarwood, non-toxic - are perfect for children. <br/>
<b>Where</b> <br/>
<b>How much</b> £2.95
Coloured Pencils
Muji is renowned for its designs: you'll find them in the Museum Of Modern Art shop in NYC, ranking along with other cult design companies. In Britain, we're lucky enough to have a shop on every high street, so it's easy to forget how good their understated, functional products are - and how inexpensive. These 12 coloured pencils - made from cedarwood, non-toxic - are perfect for children.
How much £2.95
Active BackCare Junior School Backpack
Designed for younger children, this school bag is scaled to the safest amount they should be carrying (5-10 per cent of their bodyweight), so they don't encounter back problems. There's a handy detachable shoe bag inside, and on the outside, safety-conscious reflectors on the shoulder straps, base and piping. Choose a picture to put in the front clear pocket for easy identification too.
Where 08456 444729 ;
How much £20
Horse Lunchbag and Sports Bottle
It's not the most understated design, but since when have you met a child with minimalist pretentions? Carry the horse around by the padded handle, and there's plenty of room in the insulated zipped main section for lunch. The horse's head (less scary than The Godfather) is actually a front pocket. Comes complete with a leak-proof bottle and zipped bottle holder.
Where 08456 049049;
How much £13
Yellow Pen Case
Artbox was founded in Korea, and is now available internationally, which is a good thing if you're a teenager who wants something more unusual within which to carry your supplies. It is - as the literal signage indicates - a yellow case, of that there's no doubt. More than that, it's hard, to protect the contents, and has a sliding lid like a matchbox.
Where 020-8452 7694;
How much £2.45
Prehistoric Fact Finders
They may be extinct, but they're important, so dinosaurs almost always make an appearance in the primary-school curriculum. This handy fact finder will be a winner for young students. With a suitably toothy cover star, the wheel turns to reveal facts about the habits and lives of dinosaurs and their prehistoric friends.
Where 01606 841068;
How much £4.45
Moleskine Notebook
For a teenager who wants to take work more seriously (or likes to look sophisticated). Famously the notebook of choice for artists and intellectuals - Henri Matisse, Ernest Hemingway, Bruce Chatwin - there's a huge range, from blank sketch books to diaries and ruled notebooks that have an expandable inner pocket for keeping inspirational clippings (just as good for hiding notes to pass in class).
How much from around £7
Dunlop Messenger Shoulder Bag
The right size for an A4 file, this is a more grown-up school bag. There are two separate compartments inside, as well as pen holders, slots for cash cards and space for a mobile phone - if your teenager can stop texting long enough to store it. The price reflects that this is leather 'effect' PVC, but it's still a sturdy option.
Where 0845 373 1430;
How much £14.99
Doy Lunch Box - Gerry Grape
Lunchboxes with a difference, and a good choice for older children who have a greater sensibility of what's cool. Made from recycled juice packs by a co-operative in the Philippines, these boxes are traded according to Fair Trade principles. In a variety of colours (depending on what they've been in a former life), they're sturdy, with strong handles and wipe-clean lining.
Where 020-7060 0745;
How much £9.99
Bus Pencil Case
Commuters may not necessarily agree, but there is something indisputably cheery about a pencil case made out of a London bus. And you know the young students will find the novelty appealing. Squishy and plastic, it can be filled to the brim with supplies, and driven across the desk to its destination. It's one bus you'll never have to wait for.
Where 0800 952 0089;
How much £4.88
Magnetic First French Words
Switching around magnets on a fridge is somehow more satisfying for children than writing words down. Exploit this innocent fun by making the words French, hopefully improving their basic language skills while also giving them a head start when they come to learn languages at school. Don't fear: it's a first vocabulary set, so the adults shouldn't get too confused either.
Where 08456 444729;
How much £4.50
Left-handed School Set
School can be difficult enough without having to do everything the opposite way around. This set includes a pair of school scissors designed for left-handed children, a ruler that has the measurements from right to left, and a left-handed plastic pencil sharpener. There?s also a rubber and a pencil (not strictly for either right or left) and it all comes in a see-through pencil case.
How much £8.99
Kidorable Frog Backpack
The frog, complete with eyes and feet, has enough room inside for the needs of a younger schoolgoer, and is washable PVC - which will suit a parent nicely too, as the year progresses. With inside and outside pockets, aswell as a clip-on toy, the bag manages to be practical as well as fun - a combination that shouldn't be underestimated.
Where 01423 340435;
How much £12.95
Bright Prints Lunch Bag
This is a good choice for teenagers who have lots of bags to carry already, or who feel it's a bit junior to walk around with a lunchbox. The top rolls down securely so the contents remain safely inside, and the bag is insulated to ensure food stays cool, meaning it can easily be stuck inside a school bag until lunch.
Where 0845 302 1234;
How much £5
ABC Stationery Set
This cute zip-up oilcloth pencil case from Cath Kidston comes already filled to the brim with essentials: 10 coloured pencils, three pencils, a sharpener, rubber and a ruler. And if there's anything you want to add, there's a fold-out flap with two pockets. Cath Kidston, ever practical, has made it wipe-clean.
Where 08450 262440;
How much £11.99
Blood, Bones and Body Parts The Kit!
Yup, they won't know it, but it's a learning aid. From the Natural History Museum, this kit is gruesome and fun, and a good introduction to biology. Six science experiments involve making a bulging bag of brains, constructing a 'bottom-burp machine' (you read that right), and squirting blood through a heart. Horrible science, indeed, and you know they'll love it.
Where 020-7942 5494;
How much £19.57
Natural History Museum Blue Stationery Set
What child wouldn't want to rub out a mistake with the head of a triceratops dinosaur? As well as the prehistoric-themed eraser, this stationery set comes complete with a notebook that has a plastic (read 'wipe-clean') locking cover, ruler, propelling pencil, a pen and a zipped pencil-case, all of which bear the museum's logo and silhouette of one dinosaur or another.
Where 020-7942 5494 ;
How much £11
SPI Ergo Elite Teen
SPI stands for 'Spinal Protection & Posture Improvement' - so if you're worried about the heavy books your teenager is carting back and forth from school every day, this could be an answer. Designed for ages 12 and up (they also have ranges for younger children), the lightweight ergonomic bag relieves pressure from shoulders and back, and has a contoured back cushion.
Where 01753 655899;
How much £46.99
Thermos Duo Lunch Kit
It may not feature the latest cartoon characters, but with its easy to clean outer fabric and a removable Thermos plastic food container, this is about as practical a lunch box as you can get. It will keep food cold for up to three hours, and the accessible zip closure means you can fit quite a lot into a compact space.
Where 01266 767321;
How much £6.49
Spray Can Pencil Case
Yes, it's a bit silly to have a manufactured 'graffiti' case for holding pens and pencils, but school is when you're supposed to be silly, and for the younger rebel students this will probably appeal. They won't realise what a tame option it really is, and will feel cool. Yes, really, a cool pencil case, what is the world coming to?
Where 0161-839 1500;
How much £2.35
Brainbox All Around the World
A clever memory recall game that helps children (eight+) learn about countries. Every player has 10 seconds to memorise information on a card before they're asked a question - if they get the question right, they keep the card. Whoever has the most cards wins. Simple, but excellent for short attention spans: a lot of information is imparted in a fun way.
Where 08456 049 049;
How much £9.95
Feather Quill Biros
Shakespeare wrote with a quill, so perhaps some of the inspiration will wear off, even if this particular feather quill has a biro at the end. The novelty pen comes in a rainbow of colours, and if your teenager is feeling romantic, will go nicely with the leatherbound A5 journal that has Ophelia's whimsical song inscribed on the cover (£20).
Where 020-7902 1588;
How much £2 each
Appliqué Tote Bag
Good for a younger child who doesn't have to carry much, but doesn't want school to cramp her style. This sturdy canvas tote from the ubiquitous Boden has an appliquéd horse (or dog, if that's the preference), is fastened at the top with a hook and has one zipped pocket inside.
Where 0845 677 5000;
How much £16
Hatley Apple Lunch Tote
Unashamedly girly, this bag zips open completely to reveal a strap that will hold a Thermos flask firmly in place, as well as a separate divider pocket to keep sandwiches. And if the lunch-eater likes to be co-ordinated, there's a whole range - backpacks, raincoats and welly boots - in the same design.
Where 0845 459 9230;
How much £12
Double Zip Maths Set
Every year, it's inevitable that the essentials go missing. This pencil case is, handily, filled with everything you might need for a successful mathematics class, plus more. As well as a protractor, set squares, and a compass, there's a fountain pen, cartridges, pencil, eraser, highlighters, coloured pencils and double-ended highlighters.
Where 0870 444 6444;
How much £9.99
Grow a Bug Bee and Butterfly Garden
London Zoo's online shop is a good place to pick up learning aids that are fun and very hands-on. This kit contains five different species of plants, which as well as teaching your child about how things grow in the earth, also encourage bugs, bees and butterflies to journey to your garden, where they can then be scrutinized by your mini-zoologist.
Where 020-7722 3333;
How much £15
Paperchase Highlighter Pen Pack
You don't know it yet, but cat highlighters surely have to be top of your back to school shopping list. Yes indeed. Very reasonably priced, and with a suitable amount of novelty factor for students about to embark on a lot of revision for important exams, Paperchase certainly knows its audience. Products are now available by mail order or online too.
Where 0161-839 1500;
How much £2.25
Sammies Dipsy 3 Backpack
Having a ladybird to transport school supplies is fun, but despite the novelty, this bag is a good durable choice. Made by Samsonite, the reliable luggage-makers, so the adjustable padded straps are designed with comfort in mind, and there's plenty of space inside (also comes as a children's wheeled suitcase).
Where 0845 459 9230;
How much £15.95
Fruity Faces Inflatable Fruit Cases
You might recognise this idea from Dragons' Den: put the (round) piece of fruit into the case and blow to inflate. The clever device then clips onto a schoolbag, and will ensure the fruit doesn't get bashed around. Stops excuses that the fruit was bruised and they had to buy crisps instead.
Where 01822 611177;
How much £3.50
Beautiful Garden Pencil Case
It reads, 'Happiness comes from within your heart, not from your surroundings' on one side, and on the other, 'Lovely days remind me of you. Each day is as special as you want it to be! Wishing you a garden full of happinessm today and everyday!' It may contain a made-up word, and too many exclamations, but you can't dispute the joy.
Where 020-8452 7694;
How much £5
AnAto Z Treasure Hunt
A'learn your letters' book with a difference by Alice Melvin. Suddenly, the alphabet is a treasure hunt: readers complete tasks for each letter to move on to the next, whether it's finding a teabag tag, making up a joke for the Jolly Jester, or locating a fruit sticker. A very fun way to connect the alphabet with experiences from every-day life.
Where 020-7887 8869;
How much £6.99
The Student Stationery Pack
Ryman has just launched its 'back to school' collection for this academic year, which includes an unfeasibly inexpensive one-stop stationery collection. The set includes a calculator, five exercise books, an A4 refill pad, 10 pens, a pencil set, four highlighters, ruler and a pencil case. Every £5 you spend in will get you a 50p stationery voucher for the teacher, too.
Where 01270 505888;
How much £9.99
Leather Zip Buckle Satchel
It's certainly a bit more pricey than the average school bag, but there are some things a teenage girl is prepared to buy (or persuade her parents to) to avoid having to wear a traditional backpack. This satchel is stylish while fulfilling basic practical needs - it's 100 per cent leather, sturdy, and there's plenty of room in there for books. And make-up.
Where 0844 984 0264;
How much £50
Coolkidz Thermos Funtainer Food Jar
This is a very good idea for winter months if you want your child to eat a warm homecooked meal at lunchtime. It keeps food hot for up to six hours, and the stainless-steel jar (very durable, and comes in pink or blue) is vacuum insulated. The wide top makes it easy to fill up, eat from, and clean.
Where 01822 611177;
How much £19.99
Tyre Pencil Case
Apencil case made from old car tyres. Is it possible to appeal to a child much more? Made by the Remarkable company, it comes with in four different colour graphics, all of which say, 'I used to be? a car tyre'. So as well as the fun element, it's a good way to start a conversation about recycling, should you be so inclined.
Where 020-7060 0745;
How much £4
The Elizabethans Postcard Pack
The pack has been especially designed to support AS and Alevel study of the reign of Elizabeth I, aswell as Key Stage 2 and 3. Each postcard will introduce a famous figure from the time (the likes of Sir Francis Drake, William Shakespeare and SirWalter Raleigh appear), and - literally - puts a face to a name, bringing history to life.
Where 020-7306 0055;
How much £5.99
Orla Kiely Notebooks
For arty types, the Tate does a good selection of designer ranges. If you have an urbane student on your hands, point them in the direction of Orla Kiely's collection of notebooks. The A5 books come ruled, blank or in graph form, and are not too expensive, given that they're exclusive.
Where 020-7887 8869;
How much £6.80
Eastpak Padded Pak'r Backpack
Probably one of the coolest labels in rucksacks, Eastpak does an excellent range. They're simple, with one main compartment, plus a pocket in front, but the comfortable padded back and wide shoulder straps are evidence of their quality. There are plenty of colours to choose from, or teens may be keen on the other designs (skulls and the like, you get the picture).
How much £19.99
Sigg Alu Food Box Maxi
It's not the cheapest option, but if there's such a thing as a chic lunchbox, this must be it. Made from aluminium, it comes in a variety of plain colours, keeping the design minimalist. There's a snap-lock lid to keep everything secure, as well as a rubber seal that will stop leaks. Probably best appreciated by teenagers who have grown out of logos.
Where www.siggaluminium.
How much £24.99
A6 Felt Pencil Case
This is probably one of the chicest and grown-up cases you could have for going back to school. Courtesy of the Tate, in red felt, it's minimalist, well made, and has plenty of room for pencils and pens (and probably hiding a mobile on 'silent', too, if you're a teen). Stitched around the edges, the case is good quality and durable.
Where 020-7887 8869;
How much £4.89
Dr Kawashima's Brain Training
Designed for the Nintendo DS, this game claims to keep the brains of students -young and old - sharp. Eleven games include memorizing words that appear on screen, reading classic literature aloud as fast as possible and speed counting. Fun and probably more helpful educationally than, say, learning how to steal cars or shoot people.
How much £19.99
Recycled Circuit Board Mousemat
So much work is done on the computer now that 'stationery' has to encompass more than it might have done a few years ago. If your techno-geek teen is on the hunt for a mousemat, this looks like a good option: recycled from circuit boards, it's an eco choice that helps the planet while they're hacking into top-secret government websites.
Where 0845 367 7001;
How much £7.95
Pineapple Barrel Bag
Straight from the famous Pineapple Dance Studios, which carry a healthy amount of kudos, especially among teenage girls. This quilted bag in charcoal makes for a stylish gym bag, or could work as a normal school bag. Designed to be carried over the shoulder, the handles wrap all around the body of the bag; padding keeps jazz shoes safe and sound.
Where 08445 616161;
How much £20
Shreds Roald Dahl Insulated Lunch Bag
We won't go so far as to say it will turn your child into a literary genius, but if they're a fan of The Enormous Crocodile, this is a winner of a lunch bag. The Quentin Blake illustrations appear on wipe-clean PVC (always a boon where food is concerned), the rucksack straps are adjustable, and it's insulated, so food stays fresh.
Where 0800 612 7350;
How much £9.50
Pencil Roll
A lovely idea from Sparrowkids, an innovative website that combines craft and education, with children very much in mind. Instead of having a boring old traditional pencil case, this is a rolly-uppy affair - much more interesting. The roll is made from recycled felt, with holes to stick pencils in, and a suede tie holds it all together.
Where 020-8537 3738;
How much £10.99/£14.99 depending on pencils
Future Maps
They're beautifully produced, with a range of colours and formats (paper, gloss, magnetised, framed), and are cutting edge too. Rather than making the UK the centre of the world, each country is represented in its true proportional size; as well as helping your child geographically, it should raise interesting political questions.
Where 020-7538 0456;
How much from £27.50
Rhino Dung Jotter Pads
Come on, you can't say you're not interested - and you know your child is going to love the idea (and not necessarily just because of their contribution to the planet). Made from 100 per cent recycled paper and - yes - the dung from a rhinoceros, these pads are good for quick notes, memos, an awareness of the environment and of course the eugh factor.
Where 0845 094 2181;
How much £3.91
Leather Satchel
You can't beat a classic school satchel. All the bags from the Cambridge Satchel Company are 100 per cent leather, and come in a variety of colours, from vintage brown (chestnut) to bright purple. Choose sizes from 11, 13, 14 or 15 inches depending on need (11' is good for smaller children, while 14' holds A4, and 15' will take a laptop).
Where 01223 294313;
How much from £51.59
EZ Freeze Lunch Boxes
This is a very cunning plan for keeping lunches cool - the lid is freezable and works as an ice pack if you want it to. So you just stick the lid in the freezer the night before, and in the morning it's ready to clip on the lunch box as normal, and no messing around with ice packs. Comes in a pack of three.
Where 0844 848 6000;
How much £10
Hexagon Pencil Case
They may be too young to remember Blockbuster, but even the youth of today will appreciate that there's something strangely pleasing about hexagons fitting so nicely together. No bells or whistles here though: this option from Paperchase is simple, brightly coloured, stores flat, and has a zip to keep everything in - do you really ask for anything else from a pencil case?
Where 0161-839 1500;
How much £3.50
Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition CD Rom
It's expensive, but you're paying for the definitions of over 500,000 words as well as the explanation of how they've been used historically, with the help of over 2.5 million quotations. If you went to a library, this informationwould take up volumes; instead, at the click of a mouse, the knowledge is yours. Great for students, but pretty handy for the parents too.
How much £195.01

From designer notebooks to lovable lunchbags, Clare Dwyer Hogg packs a satchel with everything your children need for a new term

Click the image to the right to launch the 50 best back to school buys >>

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