School supplies used by students in different countries around the world

Back to school shopping is big business in the US. It’s not uncommon to see back-to-school supplies pop up on store shelves in July – while everyone is still happily relaxing at the pool or on the beach.

It’s just a reminder of what parents need to do before their kids go back to school. And, that’s to go school supply shopping.

For months, my sons’ school supply shopping list has been staring me down, forever reminding me of the need to stock up on notebooks, pens, markers and the like. And, I know I need to do it soon – before I’m stuck standing in the middle of a store, blankly staring at empty, picked-over aisles.

With my sons enrolled in a French international school, I’ve got to buy many of the same supplies you see at stores across the US. But, they use a few other ones more specific to French schools, too.

Those different school supplies made me curious to find out more about school supplies specific to other countries around the world – ones you most likely won’t find on a traditional American school shopping list. To find out more, I asked for insights from some of my fellow bloggers at Multicultural Kid Blogs and ChicagoNow.

Here is a look at school supplies and customs specific to six countries around the world:

1. France: First a bit more about a few school supplies specific to my sons’ French school.

photo 2This year, my older son will be in third grade. That means, this is the year he gets to use a fountain pen in school – for the very first time. Even last, year he excitedly spoke about the sheer opportunity to use a fountain pen. It’s almost like a rite of passage, moving on past the earlier elementary grades, getting closer and closer to middle school.

At their school, my sons use small lined cahiers (or notebooks) for class starting in first grade. Each cahier gets a colored plastic cover to designate the individual subject. It’s nearly impossible to find these notebooks in the US. So, lucky for us, their school orders them directly from France for the

Interestingly, at my sons’ school, students start carrying around small daily planners starting in first grade. Each day, they record their homework in the planners, helping make them independent and responsible for knowing what needs to be completed each night. Last year, my older son’s planner had a purple cover, making it easy to find and consult it each night before diving into the daily homework assignment.

At my sons’ school in Chicago, students need to wear navy blue pants and can wear blue, white and red (or bleu, blanc and rouge) on the top – representative of the French flag.

2. Germany: According to Annabelle of The Piri-Piri Lexicon, most German kids get a schulranzen, a large-square shaped backpack, for school. Some brands offer fluorescent safety strips that reflect sunlight and stand out at dark to help make children visible to drivers. The backpacks can be an expensive purchase – one you hope your children will use for many years.



Adriana of Changing Plate shared that kids in Germany learn to write with a calligraphy pen in second grade, and it’s used through the fourth grade. Students also do their work in little notebooks (or hefts), covered with a plastic protector, with spaced lines for writing and grids for math. Similar to the notebooks used by students at my sons’ French school, the colors of the notebook covers help students know which one is used for each particular subject.



In Germany, it’s also traditional for parents to give children schultüte – or school cones – on the first day of school. The large cardboard cones, filled with candy and toys, help make the transition from summer break to the start of school a little easier.

3. Morocco: Amanda of Maroc Mama and her family live in Morrocco. Her sons use chalk boards and chalk or white boards with markers at their elementary school there. For their French class, they use pens in red, blue and green – but they don’t use pencils at all.

For school, Maroc Mama needs to purchase all of her sons’ books. Since they go to a bilingual school, she needs to buy two sets of books in two languages. But that’s not all, she also needs to buy her sons’ English, art and technology books.

4. Netherlands: Annemarie of Dutch Alien Lands in the US recently told me that elementary and middle schools in the Netherlands provide students with all of the necessary school supplies. Parents don’t have to do the back-to-school shopping sprint from store to store like you do here in the US.

10584393_721915307844180_1634776547_nBut, when it comes to supplies, Dutch students use a few things that you won’t likely find in American schools – like a kladblok or scribbling pad.

Typically, a kladblok is used to take notes, do math problems, or really anything that you don’t need to keep for the long haul. That’s because kladblok paper is thin and transparent, and often thrown away after each use.

5. England: For the scoop on school in England, I turned to Claire of Expat Mamma. Claire, who just recently moved to the US, noted that school supplies weren’t such a big thing in England. Rather, the hot topic is the school uniform.

Starting at age 11, students are required to wear school uniforms. According to Claire, all schools have set colors. Last year, her son wore grey pants, a white or red polo shirt, and a red sweater. Parents can choose to have their children wear plain versions of those items or choose to purchase ones with the school logo on it.

While Claire doesn’t have to buy uniforms for the schools her children will attend in the US this fall, she now has to load up on all of the necessary school supplies.

6. Japan: When my family was in Tokyo, we saw tons of students of all ages walking down the street or riding the train clad in school uniforms. While their school uniforms varied a bit, most seemed to carry the same thing – a randoseru, a firm-sided backpack made of real or synthetic leather.



While students are not required to use a randoseru, it is the most commonly carried and used bag among Japanese students. According to Only in Japan, girls usually carry red bags and boys carry black bags. But, based on changing attitudes towards gender stereotypes in Japan, randoseru are now available in a variety of colors for boys and girls.

Only in Japan also notes that the bags are typically given to students at the start of their first year of elementary school, and are then used throughout their entire elementary years.

The bags are purposely constructed to last for many years – something that’s reflected in the bag’s price of more than 30,000 yen or about $300.

According to Wikipedia, many Japanese communities have begun to distribute yellow plastic covers that drape over the back of the randoseru to make it more visible to drivers – similar to the fluorescent safety strips on the German schulranzen.

Interestingly, the word randoseru comes from the Dutch word, ransel or 1

While my family was in Tokyo, I noticed that a lot of stores sold plastic file folders emblazoned with anime characters, Japanese foods, and major tourist sites – different from the traditional folders you find in American stores, schools and student backpacks. Of course, I had to pick up a few with my sons’ favorite anime characters. I can’t wait to slip these Japanese school supplies in their school bags. Maybe it will make doing homework a little easier this year.

Are there any school supplies that are specific to where you live or where your kids go to school? Please share your thoughts, favorites and experiences in the comments below. I’d love to add additional countries to this post.

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