Do your children have the "right" pens and pencils to show off and swap this school year? Although schools in the UAE are staggering their return dates, some not commencing until after Eid, many children have already started back and will be busily comparing kits. Most likely, they'll also be arriving home to plead with Mum and Dad for that missing accessory they desperately need.
A child's appetite for new school gear is a recession-proof monster, and it can be exhausting trying to get to the bottom of their myriad requests. That said, our mole in the playground has compiled an extensive list of this year's back-to-school must-haves, which comprises everything from Hannah Montana school bags via Vanessa Hudgens singing pens and blingy calculators to trainers with a toy hidden in the heel. Are they entirely necessary? Of course not. Nevertheless, these are the products that all parents should at least be aware of before the clamouring starts. Forewarned, after all, is forearmed.
Most parents will be fully aware of Disney's continued ability to touch our children's lives with films such as Hannah Montana: The Movie and High School Musical, as well as the teenage pop stars the Jonas Brothers. For younger children, there is the enduring appeal of Hello Kitty and the Cartoon Network hero Ben 10. Disney has taken film merchandising to a new level: a parent could pretty much buy everything their child will need for the school year within the same branding. As Sharpay would say: "I want it all!"
The most obvious piece of kit is the good old school bag. Forget weathered leather satchels. For most children, the ultimate in school bags is one emblazoned with the faces of film heroes. Magrudy's, Virgin, Gulf Greetings and most large supermarkets stock a range of backpacks branded with the pictures and names of the latest films, from Hannah Montana to Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. Expect to pay between Dh39 and Dh92 for one of these.
Alternatively, if you wish to break away from the crowd, Magrudy's stocks a large range of JanSport backpacks (Dh289 for a 30-litre pack) and some pretty satchels by Busquets (Dh122). For the sports-mad, the Nike store has plain and patterned backpacks from Dh115 to Dh140. If it's a new pencil case you are after, look no further than the innovative Clippy pencil cases available in Virgin (Dh 50). These transparent cases, large enough to hold a 30cm ruler, have three pockets on each side that you can fill with a photo, a badge, a swatch of pretty fabric or stickers made to go in the pockets. The stickers are sold in packets called Clippy Kits (Dh25 each), and each packet contains six or seven stickers on a theme, allowing children to personalise their pencil cases and make them easily identifiable on the playground. Bring back memories of the summer with a shell in one pocket, a picture of your child playing on the beach in another and a portion of a postcard in another.
Virgin also stocks a similarly gorgeous range of school-size bags, A4 files and a bag for toiletries, each for up to Dh87. Alternatively, if only Zac Efron or Miley Cyrus on a pencil case will really cut it, then Magrudy's, Virgin and Gulf Greetings all stock Disney-branded pencil cases in various sizes, from Dh15 to Dh30. Budding surfers will love the Animal brand of pencil cases, again large enough for a 30cm ruler, available in Magrudy's for Dh39.
Filling the pencil case with fabulous fun things is easy. If your child really can't shake their High School Musical or Hannah Montana obsession, then go for the singing pens in Claire's Accessories (Dh65). Just press a button and Hudgens will sing Right Here, Right Now right here, right now. Or there are the voice-recordable, Talknology ventriloquist pens stocked by Virgin (Dh65). Children will doubtless love them but parents beware: the possibilities for troublemaking with this pen are huge.
My mole in the playground informs me that hot property this autumn includes the Sharpie range of colouring pens (Dh10 to Dh20) and the mini Stabilo highlighters with monsters on the side, apparently dubbed "shissels" by those in the know. They cost Dh24 for a pack of three. Both can be bought at Carrefour. Virgin also stocks an enormous range of erasers, pencils, crayons and scissors branded with Camp Rock, Jonas Brothers, Ben 10, Transformers and High School Musical from Dh7 to Dh15.
The Swiss-made Sigg water bottles remain the perennial favourites of mothers and children. The aluminium bottles offer a taste-free and hygienic way to carry water. Small bottles (0.3 litres) cost around Dh80 and larger ones (0.4 litres) cost Dh90. They come in a variety of colourful designs and can be found in the uniform shop above Spinneys in Khalidiya, or at Lifestyle Nutrition in Al Wahda Mall. Other manufacturers also produce aluminium bottles branded with those familiar chirpy Disney stars. Expect to pay between Dh37 and Dh50 for one in Magrudy's, Carrefour or Sun and Sand Sports.
Remember when school shoes were just shoes? You complained that they were clumpy and your mum insisted they were good for your feet so you had to wear them. That is so yesterday. Today's must-have footwear is the Clarks YoToy range with a toy hidden in the heel (Dh250). A sensible shoe with something fun for the wearer. Just peel back the insole to find a Daisy Pets toy for girls or a Mutronix car for boys.
No desk would be complete without a little bit of bling. Girls will appreciate the calculator from Accessorize (Dh27) covered with pink and silver diamanté. Something so pretty shouldn't have to stay indoors. Happily, the handy pink cord attached to it is long enough that kids can wear it. Diaries should be for writing secret stuff in and Claire's Accessories and Virgin have a range of lockable journals branded with the Disney films or with other fun and colourful designs (Dh56).
Another amusing yet educational item to keep on a desk is a Grow-A-Head toy, which comes in a variety of styles, from a cheerleader to a dolphin. Simply add water and the brown head, made from coconut fibre, will start to sprout grass. Available from Virgin for between Dh25 and Dh59. If children log on to the website, www.growahead.com, they can read a simple, scientific explanation of what is happening in their toy's head, from germination to photosynthesis.
Keeping an eye on the clock to note when playtime is due is an important factor in the school day. Must-haves for watches are the Flik Flak range from Swatch. These watches have easily readable faces and are shock- and water-resistant. Happily for parents, they (priced from Dh110 to Dh265) can even be washed in the machine. Happily for the children, they come in a variety of cool styles. Of course, it's not all work. Playing at break time is important, too. Yo-yos have made a comeback, according to Magrudy's. The yo-yos of 2009 have light-up bodies or collectable counterweights. Prices range from Dh45 to Dh99. All would-be skater boys and girls will want to get their hands on the Tech Deck range of mini-skateboards (Virgin and Magrudy's, Dh29 to Dh69). These skateboards, about 10cm long, can be personalised with stickers and different wheels. You can also buy various ramps that can be joined together for skaters to do tricks with their fingers rather than their feet.
A much-coveted toy on the playground this autumn is actually an old Victorian invention called the diabolo, essentially a spinning top that can be juggled and spun in the air between two pieces of cord. It's available online from Amazon, with prices ranging from Dh60 to Dh90, excluding delivery. Get this and your child will be very cool (after a little practice, of course). If your children do manage to con you into buying lots of new kit, you will be keen to ensure they do not lose it. The personalised vinyl stickers from Stuck on You are perfect for school, and with an agent in Dubai, they won't take too long to arrive. The best way to order, as many choices need to be made about colour, font type and icons, is online with your child at your side (www.stuckonyou.biz). The label pack costs Dh199 and includes 25 small vinyl labels (which are dishwasher and microwave safe), 20 shoe labels, 25 clothing labels and two bag tags, all personalised with your child's name. They also do a personalised pencil case set with 12 colouring pencils, two HB pencils, 12 felt tip markers, an eraser, a pencil sharpener, a ruler and scissors (all labelled) for Dh150.
If the thought of parting with precious dirhams on these latest accessories leaves you feeling considerably poorer, console yourself with the thought that you have done much good for the economy and that, surely, none of this will need replacing for at least another year. In any event, sending children to school with a skip in their step, well, that's priceless, isn't it?