Recommended Summer Reading for 6th and 7th Graders to Enhance ELA Skills

Schooled by Gordon Korman

Not only is the plot of this novel original and layered, the writing is honest and direct. This is one of the few young adult novels that carefully addresses the subject of homeschooling. Korman allows the “fish out of water” theme to play out so that readers consider what education truly is, and its significance. The story and the writing are innovative and inspiring.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

This is a valuable novel not simply because of its award-winning status, but because it’s an excellent and unusual contribution to the genre of science-fiction for young adults. Stead intertwines multiple plot-lines, and the central character is a strong, intelligent girl. The novel’s setting also reflects a time period that is quite different from what young adults experience today, particularly revealing an independence from social media and heavy parental involvement.

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson

This short novel incorporates multiple young adult themes as well as poetic language. Inspired by Emily Dickinson’s line “hope is a thing with feathers,” the young female protagonist reflects on the lack of hope she has in her environment and the people around her. This work examines racial differences, bullying, and socio-economic disadvantages. What sets it apart from other young adult novels is the character’s honest struggle with religion as a means of faith, comfort, and hope.

Holes by Louis Sachar

Sachar’s novel has maintained its popularity among young adult readers, and rightfully so. Though many students may have already seen the movie adaptation or read the book, Holes is an opportunity for all young adult readers to re-discover the beauty of Sachar’s storytelling and the significance of theme. This novel is unique in its portrayal of judgment, prejudice, and the ambiguity of punishment. The characters, both kids and adults, are as flawed as the system that intends to rehabilitate them.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis

The novel is an excellent vehicle of historical fiction for young adults. The story is divided into two: that of an African-American family living in Michigan in 1963, and that of the church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, the same year. Curtis’s prose is gentle in leading the reader to fondness for the narrator and his family with humor and a loving tone. This makes the overt and painful racist act of the subsequent church bombing as jarring for the reader as it is for the book’s characters. Curtis humanizes the fictional African American people through the family for his young adult readers, and then incorporates a non-fiction tragedy to effectively (and in an age-appropriate way) illustrate the senselessness and horror of racial violence.

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Recommended Summer Reading for 6th and 7th Graders to Enhance ELA Skills

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Summer Reading to Enhance ELA Skills and College-Preparedness for 11th and 12th Graders

Summer Reading to Enhance ELA Skills and College-Preparedness for 11th and 12th Graders

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

This novel is frequently recommended for its honest portrayal of European colonialism, the breakdown of African tribal systems, and the rise of apartheid in South Africa. However, Paton was ahead of his time in that the novel also reflects the impact of humans on the environment. Paton’s character development humanizes individuals of all races, yet reveals the de-humanization of prejudice, systematic discrimination, racial violence, and destruction of nature.

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

Though some young adult readers may consider this editorial book to be a “downer,” Carr offers interesting perspectives regarding the effects of the internet and life online. He incorporates both neurology and psychology, which will interest those pursuing biological and social sciences. However, Carr also addresses the everyday and long-term effects of online distraction. This book would be particularly valuable for college and career-bound students as a consideration of how people spend their time, gather information, and develop expertise.

Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons

This novel addresses the themes of child abuse, domestic violence, racism, and the clear failings of the foster care system in America. Through a first-person account, the young narrator immerses the reader in her traumatic yet hopeful experience. The language of the novel, considered by most to be colloquial and “uneducated,” further reinforces the prejudice of the American South, the lack of responsible elementary education, and the upheaval of a displaced child.

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

In his book, Sedaris presents a collection of personal narrative essays that cover a wide range of topics, from his childhood experiences and being gay in Raleigh, North Carolina, to his eventual culture shock and residence in France with his life-partner. Sedaris is considered one of the great American humorists, yet his writing is also inclusive and vulnerable. Though he writes from his own observation and memories, Sedaris gives insight into family dynamics and finding a true self.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

When it comes to dystopian fiction for young adults, there is a long list of choices. The Road, however, distinguishes itself from others in the genre due to the absent pretense of a seemingly utopian setting. Instead, McCarthy presents his characters in an immediate post-apocalyptic world. The novel follows the journey of a father and son who fight to survive in world where life seems to have lost any value or meaning. McCarthy’s poetic language somehow manages to keep alive the themes of faith, love, and redemption.

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Recommended Summer Reading for 6th and 7th Graders to Enhance ELA Skills

Books Recommended for 9th and 10th Graders to Read During Summer to Enhance ELA skills and Cultural Understanding / Empathy

Summer Reading to Enhance ELA Skills and College-Preparedness for 11th and 12th Graders

Books Recommended for 9th and 10th Graders to Read During Summer to Enhance ELA skills and Cultural Understanding / Empathy

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Though some parents may consider aspects of this novel to be “inappropriate,” it is a genuine portrayal of an adolescent boy trying to navigate his Native American / Indian identity along with his duty to family and intellectual dreams. This novel has excellent appeal for young adults, and it provides a window into “reservation” culture about which most American students are unaware. **Alexie certainly has created bad press for himself in the past couple of years, but I think the literary work in this case is greater in value than the alleged flaws of the writer.

Everyday by David Levithan

This novel is a study in empathy, in that the main character inhabits a different person each day and must go through life as someone else for 24 hours. Levithan incorporates a sense of science fiction / fantasy in the novel, however it is incredibly realistic in portraying a spectrum of adolescent lives. The book is also beautifully written.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

There is an excellent body of “Holocaust” fiction for young adults, but Zusak’s novel is unique in its storytelling. His characters are multi-dimensional, and the novel gives deep insight into the difficult choices facing German citizens during the rise of Nazi power. The book is considered lengthy by some, and Zusak demands an intelligent reader. This novel would elevate a young adult’s understanding of history as well as the art of language.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This novel may seem antiquated to teenagers who are used to the ease and accessibility of most young adult fiction. However, the themes of prejudice, poverty, and innocence are as relevant today as they were during the novel’s setting. This novel is also valuable in understanding point of view and the importance of a narrator, as well as geographical diction.

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

This novel is gritty in its urban setting and heartbreaking plot. It’s a reflection of the current African American experience, and it doesn’t shy away from difficult subject matter. The literary value of this novel broadens the scope of how narration can be achieved, in that the story is told both as first-person journal entries and a third-person screenplay. This allows young adult readers to interpret the events of the novel with their own critical thinking.

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Recommended Summer Reading for 6th and 7th Graders to Enhance ELA Skills

Books Recommended for 9th and 10th Graders to Read During Summer to Enhance ELA skills and Cultural Understanding / Empathy

Summer Reading to Enhance ELA Skills and College-Preparedness for 11th and 12th Graders

Multi-age Classrooms For 21st Century Learning

Any family with more than one child experiences what it is like to watch children copy, emulate and mimic their siblings at one time or another. This can happen very early in development, as soon as the child is aware of his/her surroundings. As children grow in a household together, these actions become even more distinct and many times the younger of the sibling hits milestones faster, simply because the older assumes the role of a coach or teacher. We learn by watching, doing and having someone beside us, to share in the shaping of our actions.

When students enter public school, a grade level separates them by age, also naturally putting a wall up between developmental milestones. Most children in a kindergarten classroom cannot read a short story unassisted, nor add two and three-digit numbers. We separate students even further by dividing our schools into buildings: elementary, middle and high school. When we schedule students, we put them in the lunchroom by grade levels, and the same goes for the playground at recess. In our specialty area classes like physical education and arts, we keep them separated as well. Why are our schools determined to keep children from interacting when they are not the same age?


Let’s revisit the idea of developmental milestones, just as mentioned with siblings living under the same roof. A kindergartener and a second grader would be three to four years apart in age, depending on the birthdays and original enrollment into the education sector. A kindergartener can read some letters, possibly even sight words, while the second-grader may be reading 60 to 70 words per minute in a text.  The height and weight of the children may vary in a 10-15 pound, 2-3 inch difference. The kindergartener may be able to share without prompting and the second-grader understands what it feels like to be left out of a peer group. Why would it be a great idea to put these two students together in a classroom, and what would be the negative implications of that decision?


A younger child may begin to share even faster with an older child because the level of competition isn’t the same. Consequently, older children may exude more patience for a younger child than that of a peer because of the identity they are shaping in themselves. How does this support academics? Imagine the level of personalized attention that the teacher can give to small group instruction when projects are put together with various age learners? We know that the greatest determining factor in mastery is when we are savvy enough to teach a lesson ourselves, so by giving opportunities to a child by assuming a teaching role, we give even our weakest the chance to shine for him/herself.

Older Students Can Benefit from Multi-Age Interaction

Multi-Age classrooms can be more tricky in middle school because of curriculum requirements, but it doesn’t have to be. In terms of high school and beyond, a real-life classroom can have an age range of several years. Our specialty area courses can pave the way for these shifts in dynamic as well.  Instead of having a beginning art, advanced art and multimedia class for grades 6, 7 and 8, we can put students of all ages together and let them share the techniques that they have used, mastered and still struggle within various forms. Instead of being worried about what will happen when the older students are around the younger, we create a community of learners and leaders. We build our government, our school projects, and our recreational activities as a team, instead of individual units.

Simulating the Real World for A Better Real World

Students don’t know how to interact unless they have been given the chance to interact. The way that we constantly divide our buildings by grade level and age sends the message that the adults want the students separated. Having mixed grade-level classrooms is a small start, but there are lots of creative ways to build a community of students by bridging projects, special days and traditions. Imagine how different Book Fair Day could be if a third grader and sixth grader partnered to talk about books in a media center and were in charge of helping one another find something that they were interested in purchasing. Why couldn’t International Night combine three ages of students to showcase how to put a project and presentation together? How different would the experience be for a sixth-grader to mentor a second and fourth-grader in their global study?

We are building classrooms to shape our future. We should examine our future workspaces and places to do this. Multi-Age classrooms are a great innovative tool to help strengthen the student body, the school community, and collaborative learning. It is a simple way to hop on the 21st-century learning bandwagon in order to foster an education preparing everyone for their future.

Parents | Tips on How to Get Prepared for the End of the School Year

Summer will be here before you know it.  Are you ready?  Check out these tips in order to have smooth end of the year and transition into summer.

Maintain Routine

Children of all ages thrive under structure and routine.  Spring time can really change our daily routines.  The impact daylight savings has on our families really can alter their schedules.  It gets dark later; therefore, your child wishes to remain up.  The older children may alter their curfew times as well.  It’s really best and recommended by psychologists to keep the routine constant until the remainder of the academic year.  On the other hand, do make sure you allow your child time to get outdoors to get some fresh air.  Daylight savings can wreak havoc on schedules BUT balance the time correctly and the benefits are numerous.

Summer Programs

Do you have ideas for your child this summer? Most summer camps fill up quickly.  It is best to look ahead this spring and see what is available.  Your local Parks and Recreational Centers offer camps for various ages and interests.  They are minimal in fee when compared to most specialty camps.  Generally kids love them because they know other kids that will also be attending.  Field trips are included with the cost of the camp.  That includes trips to local places and local experiences.  If your child is interested in a theater or specialty camp then you need to get moving.  Those camps generally fill up quickly.  Check the local theater department in your town for information.  Time lines are key and you won’t want to delay.  If your child is too young for camp, the local movie theaters do discount or free movies for children during the summer.  They are usually older movies but it keeps you and your child busy.  You will want to look ahead to see times and movies playing.  Check the town’s local parenting magazine or newspaper for information.

Tutor Prep

Please talk with your child’s teacher before the end of the year.  Ask for recommendations of books to read, workbooks or computer programs to review and specific skills your child still needs to master.  Ask if there is any free resources in your town.  Some teachers will even give away extra workbooks that are older or outdated. Teachers get information and fliers about tutoring services.  Many work as tutors during the summer months.  If your child is lagging in some specific skills, it’s worth the time and investment.  Ask your child’ teacher what they recommend.

Are you ready for summer? Maintain your routine and structure as long as you can.  Take advantage of daylight savings time.  Take a few minutes to call the local YMCA or Parks and Rec and get the camp information you need for registration.  And lastly, talk to your child’s teacher one last time before the of the year.  Find out specifics (if any) about the needs of your child so you can correct that during the summer months.  Do all this and you are sure to have an amazing summer time!

Ways to Combat the “Summer Slide” – Stopping Students from Falling Behind over Summer Break

The “summer slide” is when children fall behind on their reading skills over the summer break.

Studies show that most children enter a new grade on a lower reading level than when they left the previous one when they don’t continue to read over the break. Luckily, there are many tips and tricks for beating the summer slide.

Reading as a Chore – Not so Fast

Children may view reading as a chore, but this doesn’t have to be the case. A common issue for families is a lack of reading material in the home. Libraries offer free summer reading programs and book challenges. All it takes is a quick visit to learn about programming and to apply for a library card. Generally, libraries will have a children’s librarian that can suggest books for your child that will interest them and be on their reading level.

When children choose their own books, they will be more invested in what they are reading. This is shown to increase reading levels more effectively than assigned reading. Children are more likely to read books from start to finish if their interest is piqued. This doesn’t only apply to chapter books. Graphic novels, comic books, magazines, and joke books are all great ways for children to apply their reading skills and reinforce the joy of reading.

Books that Interest Students – Let them Pick

It may also help to introduce books that you think will interest your child to them. They may skip over great options just because they don’t know that they will connect with the material. Introducing characters, settings, and problems in the story can get them interested in a book. Once they are interested, stop right there with a cliffhanger. Think of this as the literary version of a movie trailer.

If you live too far away from a library or don’t have the time to visit one, the Overdrive app is a valuable resource that can be downloaded to most tablets. Overdrive lets you download thousands of ebooks, audiobooks, and videos from your local library. All you need is your library card in order to create an account.

Reading to your child every day is a great way to integrate literacy into the home and share the experience as a family. Most children’s books are written above a child’s reading level and are intended for adults to read the books to them. But, don’t simply read to them. Ask your child questions about the characters and help them make connections with their own experiences and the world around them.

Look Around – Words are Everywhere

Literacy is everywhere. It’s not just in books. When cooking, let your child help read recipes and introduce them to new vocabulary words. Allow them to help you make a grocery list and read labels while in the store. Show them that reading is an important part of everyday life, and they will develop more of a joy for reading.

Digital Reading and Educational Gaming – A Summer ‘Cool Down’

In the digital age, gaming is everywhere now and I know the last thing most parents want is their child playing video games over the summer all day. But who would have thought that gaming could actually prevent the reading summer slide? There are websites out there that allow students to review reading while play games and actually learn something at the same time. Sites such as Kahoot, Review Game Zone and ABCmouse provide educational gaming to students. These site should not be used all day, but rather as a way to provide a nice break when students need to ‘cool down’ from being outdoors in the summer.

Do Not Let the Summer Slide Slow Down Your Child

The summer slide can start your child off on the wrong foot at the start of the school year. These tips will help ensure their academic success in the new year and help them become more confident in reading overall.

Combating the Summer Slide with Learning Programs

According to the National Summer Learning Association, nine out of ten teachers spend the first three weeks of the school year re-teaching lessons. That means that students are performing about a month behind where they left off the previous year. This is largely due to what is referred to as the Summer Slide, which is a steady decline of learning and retention in the summer months. Fortunately there are affordable ways teachers, administration, and parents can work to avoid this.

Summer programs are offered through public and private schools, colleges, independent organizations, tutoring services, churches and even online. Programs offered through a child’s school is ideal because it can be more affordable than a private program. Often these district programs include camps in the areas of science, creative arts, athletics, STEM, etc. Sometimes they fill up quickly so forward planning is crucial.

Many districts have a calendar of summer events posted online. If a month-long camp is too much of a commitment for families, they can opt for a day activity now and then. If available, parents should get involved and volunteer at programs of interest. This sets a shining example of the lifelong learner all parents want for their children.

Although many districts do offer these programs, they really should be made more of a priority. Staff can ultimately save resources for the upcoming year, not to mention the potential benefit of increased test scores. The low cost of district-offered programs benefit low-income families who are the main victims of the Summer Slide. Parents can contact local school districts to advocate for summer programs in their neighborhood. Educators can talk to administrators to affirm the important of these programs.

For middle and high school-aged students looking to stay engaged and proactive during summer, nearby community colleges offer a wide selection of courses– albeit at a price. This is a great opportunity for adolescents to expand on their skills or pursue a possible career interest. The Best College Reviews Organization compiled a list of impressive summer programs in various colleges around the United States. Teachers and parents can research to find out what is offered in their area.

If price is a concern, an often cheaper option for summer learning is online programs. Some programs are free and others are offered at a low price. These cater to all age groups, but may be more suitable for older students with a substantial attention span. Online schools and organizations offer credit recovery courses, interest-based courses, foreign language courses and many other choices. For families with busy schedules, this is a more flexible option.

Parents, teachers, and administrators should advocate for and support summer programs that benefit students. These programs can serve as a way to prevent summer learning loss and narrow the achievement gap overall. Come fall, students and teachers alike will benefit from the summer learning.

Movies with a Mission, to Learn over the Summer

As an educator, I am all too familiar with this scene: students drag themselves to school on the first day in August remembering very little of what they learned the previous year. I know their former teachers went over these concepts ad nauseam; why don’t they remember? Many argue that summer is to blame. It seems that summer has become the classroom’s worst enemy. While the two-month break is a great time to relax and let kids be kids, the truth is that it can be a dangerous time for education. Teachers work hard to instill core skills and understanding during the school year and the break seems to wash it away.

Movies, a Fun way to Engage over the Summer

Luckily there is a fun, engaging way parents can promote learning during summer. Educational videos exist for all ages to review and add on to student learning from the previous year. For elementary school, basic song-driven movies can serve as a creative way to remind young students of what they learned. The classic series Schoolhouse Rock comes to mind, but Sesame Street and Little Einsteins have the same benefit. Many young children naturally have a musical learning style and reciting songs or mantras can help them retain information. Plus, a refreshment of basic content is crucial during the long summer months.

To encourage a deep dive into content, many movies can help broaden students’ understanding of a topic. For example, Disney’s Wall-E could pair well with a unit on conservation and sustainability. The goal is for students to take this learning back to the classroom and make connections to new content. The Iron Giant is another film that expands on what elementary students may have learned about history, especially the Cold War.

Example Movies for High School Students Over the Summer

Middle and high school students can also greatly benefit from educational shows and movies over summer. Adolescents can be notorious for neglecting to flex their educational muscles when they have time off. It is especially important for older grade levels to maintain stimulation. For these older students, movies serve as a way to form a deeper understanding of a text or concept. As an English teacher, I am impressed when a student is interested in a film adaptation of a novel we read (after we have read it, of course).  There are countless wonderful book-based films to guide the student including To Kill a Mockingbird, Romeo and Juliet, Frankenstein, and The Great Gatsby.

Watching educational movies can promote multi-lens views of an event or idea. Looking at ideas from several angles before passing judgment is a major element of critical thinking. Any educator will tell you that critical thinking is a skill that is heavily weighted in the Common Core Standards in all states. Movies like The Truman Show can be eye-opening and can encourage students to think critically about the world around them. The Help, a movie that employs African-American and Caucasian narrators to analyze the Civil Rights Movement in the south, falls into the novel-adaptation category. This movie instills a powerful lesson on “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes”.

Movie Worksheets

A great way to keep students on topic during these films is to provide movie worksheets. You can do a google search, but often the worksheets you find are behind a paywall or you must log in first to download. There are some sites out there, but the one that seems to be the best has pre-made Movie Worksheets for free. They have hundreds of worksheets for with no log in required. The only real issue is many of them do not have answer sheets but at least its a start. They have some major films that can be used in the classroom such as: Hidden Figures Worksheet, SuperSize Me Worksheet, What Darwin Never Knew Worksheet to name a few

Teachers consistently encourage parents and students to take an active role in education. The summer months are a great opportunity to do that. The next time you are deciding which movie to watch on a Friday summer evening, choose a movie with a mission: one that will refresh or expand education.

The Real Reasons Why Students Might Need Standardized Test Prep

There is a lot of negative discussion surrounding standardized testing in schools. Administrators use these to score and rate their teachers, schools expend this to improve themselves, while states and districts use these numbers to grade schools and support disconnections in academic performance. Parents use these scores when they are looking to buy houses. Realtors get to know these numbers to help home buyers and political figures recognize need when they connect a failing school and its neighborhood test scores. Are any of these reasons why a child needs to go through a rigorous unit of test preparation? Not exactly, but the need and the results do have some implications that are significant in our educational world of operation and our future.

Why Test Preparation Matters

Creating and designing a test prep unit or Bootcamp is no different than giving everyone a full day to practice swimming before they are expected to take a swim assessment at camp. Every child comes from a different story and by providing children with a level of practice before the state standardized test, you give some of the “have nots” a chance to perform right alongside their “haves.”  Students are bright, and circumstances do not take that away, but testing is a skill that sits beside foundational knowledge.  Some students don’t have the same access as others and if testing isn’t explicitly designed and utilized, it could make school scores plummet.

Test Preparation Can Alleviate Test Taking Anxiety

There are students in this world that can produce any kind of project, argument or paper that shows understanding and application of content knowledge. When it comes to a multiple-choice test, however, they freeze under pressure. Students talk themselves out of correct answers, bubble incorrectly, and even have their first true panic attacks which can set themselves up to fail at their very best subjects. Simply by letting students walk through practice tests out loud and by simulating a testing session, students become more at ease with the actual assessment on test day. Even the brightest student, given the opportunity, star tutor and best school, may still fall victim to testing anxiety, which is why teachers can make it a moment to strengthen each child’s mental health as well as their academic output.

Test Preparation Prepares Students for Adulthood

How do people get driver’s licenses?  They pass a standardized test. How do students earn scholarships or get into college? They score well on standardized tests.  How do doctors and lawyers practice in their fields? Many, many hours of standardized tests. Instead of it being taboo, maybe test-taking preparation is just another facet in our classroom. We are getting better at something that we will use later in life.  Test preparation, testing Bootcamp, testing as a genre, can all be useful elements, starting at a very young age. Our approach as educators should be to separate the actual test and the pressures that it puts on politics and policy in order to show our students how to use the tools we have given them all year to outsmart the wrong answers. Through unique, individualized and well-developed test prep, our supported students will succeed.  Youngsters taking these tests year after year will become stronger and their approach will work in their favor as they understand that they are developing skills needed as soon as they are of driving age.  If teachers can change the delivery of the message then the stigma and results will turn towards the positive and standardized tests will just be another norm in developing and educating the whole child.

How to Go Back To School and Not Go Broke

Going back to school shopping can be stressful and expensive.  Clothes, shoes, supplies…the list goes on and on.  Find out how to shop for this year’s must-haves without going broke this fall season.


If your child goes to a private school you get off easy with having to purchase a few uniform pieces.  Generally these can be bought and resold right at the school.  Parents hold a uniform sales night where they can purchase gently worn uniforms.  This is a great way to save a few bucks.  Those that attend public school have a few more options.  Check out clothing resale shops.  If there is a clothing consignment shop in your town it is worth taking a few moments to investigate.  Mostly all the clothes are designer labels.  They are marked down to a fraction of the original price.  The clothing has been gently worn and in some cases tags are still on them.  One can save hundreds of dollars on jeans, shoes and purses.  A parent knows that these are high ticket items for a student.  A new hand bag alone can run hundreds if not thousands of dollars and let’s not even talk about the cost of designer jeans.  It’s worth the time to investigate this money saving tip.


The list seems to go on and on and on…notebooks, lined paper, and pencils oh my!  Supplies can be costly and they really add up.  Do yourself a favor and scour your home.  Do you have an extra set of ear buds laying around? How about another package of crayons, glue sticks or pencils? Households tend to accumulate these items and they can be forgotten about.  It may be time to look around.  If you can’t locate these items, do yourself a favor and go to the Dollar Store.  That store is a teacher’s paradise.  Nothing is over a dollar and you can be sure to find everything on your list. 


Do yourself a favor and stick to a budget.  Many families have more than one child and the going back to school list can seem like a mile.  Set a budget and stick to it.  Tell your kids NO to the expensive book bag or shoes.  Or better yet, start buying these items little by little.  Don’t overwhelm yourself getting all the shopping done at once.  Break it up in stages and that way your children will have something to look forward too as well! 

Back to school shopping doesn’t have to be stressful or expensive.  Try one of these money saving tips and keep your wallet happy this school year.