Back to School: 10 Must-Haves for the Czech School Year

Prague.TV has compiled a list of 10 elementary school must-haves and where to find them

September 1 kicks off the 2016-2017 school year and the time to stock up on back-to-school essentials. Although many Czech teachers send their own supply list during the first week of school, it’s safe to purchase the basics ahead of time, especially since hypermarkets, supermarkets and papírnictví (stationery shops) are well-stocked with optimal choices and good discounts. Plus, lines are shorter now than they will be on September 1.

Czech school starts at 8:00 am sharp. For parents whose children are entering the Czech school system for the first time, be forewarned that the first day of school is only one hour long. It is typical for Czech elementary school students to be taught by the same teacher and to be in a class with the same students from Grade 1 through Grade 5. For students from Grade 2 up, the first day of school is more like a welcome back reunion with students sharing stories and pictures from their summer holidays.

Tradition has it that Czech students, especially prvňáčky (first-graders), are taken to their first day of school by both parents who also attend the first school hour. Afterward, parents typically take their children to a neighborhood cukrárna (sweet shop) for coffee, ice cream or dessert. Walking through the streets mid-morning on September 1, you’re apt to see plenty of children dashing in and out of shopping centers and stationery shops to fill up their new backpacks with the supply list they’ve received from their teacher.

During the first week of school, the children gradually build up to a full day of classes. For elementary school students, class usually ends with lunch hour around noon. Middle and upper school students attend classes after lunch while elementary students either go home or to družina (after-school care within the school) where they play games, attend clubs and go to sports practices. A hot lunch with soup is served in Czech school cafeterias, although some students who live nearby go home for lunch. If your child stays for the after-care program, attending lunch is mandatory. Snacks from home are eaten during ten-minute breaks between hours or during a longer twenty-minute break mid-morning.

If you’re new to the Czech school system or just need a refresher, Prague.TV has compiled a list of 10 elementary school must-haves and where to find them.

10 Must-Have School Supplies

1) School Backpack/Rucksack – A popular brand for healthy, safe backpacks is Top Gal (www.topgal.cz) which offers backpacks specific to grade (1-3, 3-7, middle school, upper school) and gender. Backpacks run about 1500 CZK and come equipped with a rain cover. Some include a pencil case, although pencil cases are also sold separately on the site. Although the site is not in English, you can get by with help from the pictures. Top Gal’s claim is that they provide sturdy backpacks with back support for healthy backs. Another website where you can find multiple brands of school backpacks is www.batohy-skolni.eu. For a hipper image for older students, check out www.skolni-batohy-online.cz where Dakine and Burton brands are sold. Hypermarkets like Tesco, Globus and Hypernova also carry a wide selection of backpacks.

2) Indoor School Shoes (Slippers) – Czech custom mandates that children (and often teachers) wear slippers or indoor shoes during the school day. Traditional Czech slippers can be found at shoe stores like Bata, Humanic and CCC which are located in most of the main shopping centers in Prague. During the back-to-school time, CCC stores usually have a bin of slipper-type shoes with breathable soles at the back of their store. Prices run between 140 CZK to 250 CZK depending on style. Many schools now permit students to wear Croc-type shoes as well. Crocs are sold at Destroy and knock-off Crocs are sold at open-air markets.

3) Snack Packs – Most hypermarkets (Tesco, Globus, Hypernova) offer a variety of sizes, colors and designs of plastic snack packs. You can look for them either in the back-to-school section or in housewares. Similar to a lunch box, but smaller, the snack boxes are usually carried inside a student’s backpack. They are stocked with fruit, vegetables, bread rolls or cookies for quick energy between classes or later during the afternoon družina.

4) Drink Bottles – Although children receive tea, milk or ovocná šťáva (water mixed with fruit syrup) at lunch, they carry drinking bottles in their backpacks. Many classrooms permit students to drink during the teaching hour although eating is forbidden. Trendy bottles range from the famous metal Swiss Sigg brand bottles to Eco-friendly plastic versions. At 229 CZK, the Equa brand bottles are popular among students. A good collection of sports-type bottles can be found at sports and outdoor stores.

5) Gym Shoes, Bags & Sports Clothes – Czech students attend gym class at least twice a week. They are usually required to buy indoor sneakers (white or non-marking soles) and outdoor sneakers. Sports shoes and clothes as well as the mesh bags that students store their gym things in can be purchased at the chain sports stores Sportisimo or Intersport.

6) Art Cases – Czech students have art and manual skills classes at least twice a week. Typically, they store individual art supplies in a hard-paper suitcase, which can be purchased at a local papírnictví as well as in the school section at hypermarkets. These cases usually have colorful, trendy designs like flowers, puppies, Monster High girls or dinosaurs, and they are a way for students show their personality. Specific supplies needed to stock the case are usually specified during the first week of school on a list from the teacher. If you don’t speak much Czech, don’t be afraid to take your list to a local papírnictví and give it to the shop assistant for help.

7) Pencil Cases, Colored Pencils and Ink Pens – If you are not sure exactly what type of pencil or pen you are looking for, the best place to purchase these supplies is your local papírnictví. First-graders write with pencils and use colored pencils for exercise books. Handwriting is still a subject in most Czech schools, and after the first-grade pens are used. While traditional ink pens are still common in the Czech Republic, many students use refillable, erasable ink pens which come in a variety of colors including pink, purple, turquoise, green and red. Teachers don’t seem to mind students using different inks, but ask before buying to be on the safe side. Pencils come graded by a letter (H hard – F firm – B – black) number (2-10) combination. When in doubt, tell the shop assistant what you need the pencil for (i.e. writing, graphics, math).

8) Notebooks & Plastic Covers – Notebooks can be purchased at hypermarkets and papírnictví, although teachers will occasionally buy these items in bulk for the entire class to ensure uniformity. Once you have your child’s notebooks and exercise books, you will be required to purchase clear, plastic covers to protect the books. Taking your notebooks to a papírnictví and asking for help is a lot easier than trying to sort out the sizes and shapes on your own. Some specially shaped covers can be found only at a papírnictví. Along with exercise books, students carry their own official žákovská knížka (a grade book supplied by the school) where all grades and absences are recorded.

9) Hard Folders – The Czech Republic is keen on protecting books, and hard folders are sold in multiple sizes (A4 and A5 are common). While these folders can be vital in keeping exercise books unwrinkled and damage-free, they do add weight to an already heavy backpack, so some parents choose to do without. Folders can be purchased in hypermarkets or at a papírnictví. They also sell special art folders used for carrying and storing art work.

10) Key Chains – Czech students have lockers where they store their outside shoes, jackets and backpacks (during lunch and družina). Many schools use a chip system for school lunches. Locker keys and lunch chips are worn on a key chain around a student's neck during the school day. Key chains can be purchased at hypermarkets, toy stores and papírnictví.

BONUS: Flowers for Teachers – Neighborhood flower shops open early on the first day of school. Supermarkets like Lidl, Albert and Kaufland typically carry fresh flowers. First-graders traditionally bring flowers to their teachers on the first day and some older students do as well.

Did we miss something essential? Email me at emily(at)prague.tv with your own back-to-school must-haves.

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