Homemade School Supplies

Go back to school the smart way with our clever collection of frugal tips and time-saving solutions.

Dreading the end-of-summer shopping sprees that signal school’s back in session? Relax — our cheat sheet’s ready to help everyone make the grade this year!

Don’t lose it — label it!

You don’t need to buy labels or a fancy machine that makes them. Use inexpensive masking tape instead to conveniently mark kids’ schoolbooks and supplies.

See more uses for Masking Tape.

Instant index cards

It’s inevitable — at the eleventh hour your child will say, “I need index cards for school tomorrow.” If you don’t have any, use paper plates and a ruler. Measure out a 3 x 5 or 4 x 6 (A7 or A6) card on the plate and cut. Use the first card as a template for the rest.

See more uses for Paper Plates.

Safeguard supplies

It’s one of the universal truths of parenthood: Kids’ pencil cases, folders, markers, and other school supplies are forever disappearing. You may be able to lessen the losses, however, by affixing address labels with a piece of transparent tape to the contents of your child’s desk and backpack.

Keep supplies organized

Do the kids have trouble keeping track of their school pencils, pens, and rulers? Puncture three holes along the bottom edge of a sealable freezer bag so it will fit in a three-ring binder. Now the young scholars can zip their supplies in and out of the bag.

Make an artist’s palette

Tear off a length of heavy-duty aluminum foil, crimp up the edges, and you’ve got a ready-to-use palette for mixing paints. If you want to get a little fancier, cut a piece of cardboard into the shape of a palette, complete with thumb hole, and cover it with foil. Or if you already have a wooden palette, cover it with foil before each use and then just strip off the foil instead of cleaning the palette.

Organize kids’ sporting goods

Keep a decorated empty wine or liquor carton with partitions, and with the top cut off, in your child’s room and use it for easy storage of tennis rackets, baseball bats, fishing poles, and such.

Untangle knots

Knots in string or shoelaces can be stubborn to undo, but the solution is easy. Sprinkle the knot with a little cornstarch. It will then be easy to work the segments apart.

See more uses for Cornstarch.

Give kids some lunch box variety

As a break from the usual sandwich, put some fruit salad, rice mix, or other interesting fare in one or two recycled margarine tubs for your child’s lunch. The tubs are easy to open and will keep the food from getting crushed.

See more uses for Margarine Tubs.

Cover your kids’ textbooks

Helping your children make book covers for their textbooks isn’t only fun, it’s also a subtle way to teach kids to respect public property. And few materials rival a paper bag when it comes to making a rugged book cover. First, cut the bag along its seams to make it a flat, wide rectangle, then place the book in the center. Fold in the top and bottom edges so the bag is only slightly wider than the book’s height. Next, fold over the sides to form sleeves over the book covers. Cut off the excess, leaving a couple of inches on either side to slide over the front and back covers. Put a piece of masking tape on the top and bottom of each sleeve (over the paper, not the book) to keep it on tight, and you’re done. Lastly, let your child put his or her personal design on each cover.

See more uses for Paper Bags.

Make Frisbee flash cards

Drilling your kids with flash cards can be a drag, but here’s a way to make it fun. Write the numbers, letters, words or shapes you are teaching on paper plates and let the kids toss them like Frisbees across the room when they get a correct answer.

See more uses for Paper Plates.

Clean a dirty thermos

To get a thermos bottle clean, fill it with warm water and 1/4 cup white vinegar. If you see any residue, add some uncooked rice, which will act as an abrasive to scrape it off. Close and shake well. Then rinse and let it air-dry.
See more uses for Vinegar.

Protect schoolbooks

If your child goes through book covers on textbooks on a semi-regular basis, get your hands on some old rolls of wallpaper. Book covers made of wallpaper are typically more rugged than even the traditional brown paper bag sleeves; they can hold their own against pens and pencils, and are much better at handling the elements, especially rain and snow.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest