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(Family Features) Back-to-school season means it’s time to get back to the business of learning. This year you can ace your back-to-school shopping excursion with these time- and money-saving steps that can make getting the whole family ready for a new school year a breeze.

Start with a list.
Walking into the store without a list is an open invitation for impulse buys and forgotten items that end up costing you more time and money with a return trip. Create a thorough list by categorizing all the items you’ll shop for, such as supplies, electronics and clothing. If you want to take an extra-organized approach, try color coding items by the section of the store where you would expect to find them.

Set a budget.
Knowing what you can afford to spend ahead of time can save regret and returns after you shop. Calculate how much you’ll need to cover all the items your students truly need, then tack on some room for wants. One must-have is a high-quality backpack, like the High Sierra Access Backpack, which includes a dedicated storage area for your child’s laptop, among other features. If your total budgeted expenses exceed your available funds, consider browsing weekly circulars to keep your budget in check.

Explore your inventory.
It may be buried under a summer’s worth of knick-knacks, but digging out the supplies your child cast aside at the end of the last school year may be worth the effort. Items like scissors, rulers and protractors may not need to be replaced every year if they’re still in working condition. Assess what items you have that can be reused and those that need to be replaced for the new school year.

Cut extra stops.
Dashing all over town to find all the items on your supply list is not only time-consuming, it’s unnecessary. At stores like Office Depot and OfficeMax, you can find all the academic tools and supplies your student needs to head back to the classroom. What’s more, a store that specializes in school supplies will have a broad selection and ample stock of the essentials.

Try online shopping.
When you know exactly what you need, shopping online is a great time-saving solution. Online shopping makes it incredibly simple to keep tabs on your budget before you make purchases and easily keep track of the items in your shopping cart. If you need to hand-select a few items in person, you can always take advantage of a “buy online, pick-up in store” option. This service lets you do your shopping from home with just a quick stop in-store to pick-up your purchases.

Buy in bulk.
It may seem counter-intuitive when you’re trying to trim your spending, but if you can swing it, go ahead and buy extra items that you’ll likely need to replace mid-year. The sale prices during the back-to-school season aren’t likely to repeat during the school year, so in the long run you’ll save money and avoid a last-minute shopping trip on a busy school night in the future. Items like Stellar fashion notebooks, which give note-taking a fashionable twist, are great to have on hand throughout the school year.

Research specials and promotions.
For many stores, the back-to-school shopping season is second only to the holidays. This means you can expect widespread sales, promotions and special deals, such as “deals as low as a penny.” Some states also offer tax-free holidays near the beginning of the school year, which are honored at multiple retailers and generally restricted to school-related purchases like clothing, supplies and some technology.

Weigh quality vs. quantity.
When you have a lengthy list of items to purchase for each child, it can be tempting to cut corners and skimp on spending. In some cases, being cost-efficient is smart, but do your research beforehand to avoid selecting items based solely on price. Value and quality don’t always go hand-in-hand and if you buy an item that falls apart or breaks down quickly, you may end up spending more to replace the items later. While it may be simpler for students to use printers and other machines at school, an all-in-one Epson Expression EcoTank Wireless Printer at home can be a convenient solution when late-night homework is bearing down.

Make dollars do double duty.
While most families expect to spend a sizable amount on back-to-school purchases (nearly $700, according to a 2016 survey by the National Retail Federation), making that money go a little further can soften the blow. You can help improve education in your community by shopping at stores that give a percentage of proceeds back to local schools. Programs vary; in some cases, you can even designate proceeds to the school district of your choice.

Take more notes on smart back-to-school shopping ideas and deals at officedepot.com.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images

Office Depot

Levy Special Education Center hosts visitors from China

Visitors from China observe students receiving therapy and exercise in the pool during their tour of Levy Special Education Center.
Visitors from China observe students receiving therapy and exercise in the pool during their tour of Levy Special Education Center.

Levy Special Education Center demonstrated how they support students with significant special needs for parents and educators from China. The parents have created their own programs for students to attend, because students with special needs are not allowed to go to school in China. Through a partnership with Heartspring, parents and educators visit each year to see curriculum, programs, and special services that are provided at Levy.

One of the highlights of the tour was seeing the school’s swimming pool that has a special floor that can lower and raise to allow students easier access into the pool, especially students who are in wheelchairs.

“One of the parents never thought they could allow their child to swim. He was so happy to think that there wasn’t any reason his child couldn’t do what other children do,” said Kimberly Cotton, principal at Levy.

Cotton said she enjoys the yearly visit because she learns a lot from them as well.

K-State Extension hosting ‘Bonding Thru Board Games’ family night on Dec. 18

Santa ClausK-State Research & Extension is opening the doors to the community to participate in the “Bonding Thru Board Games” community family night.

This free event will take place Dec. 18.

Christmas time brings to mind two important things: family and warm memories. For many of us, family includes the blessing of children. And when it comes to those warm memories — well, a lot of those include the blessings of our childhood.

Whether your Christmas focuses on the kids or brings out the kid in you, a family game night is a terrific way to spend a part of the holidays.

Bring your family and friends to this great event! Spend a fun and relaxed evening playing and connecting with each other and with other families in the community.

Santa decided to come to this event too, so don’t forget to bring your wish list!

Marshall’s ‘Shake Off’ focused on communication skills

Marshall Middle School students were tested on their ability to have a conversation during the school’s first “Shake Off.”
Marshall Middle School students were tested on their ability to have a conversation during the school’s first “Shake Off.”

Students at Marshall Middle School were tested on their ability to make a good first impression during the school’s first “Shake Off.” Students have been learning about soft skills, including a firm handshake, speaking clearly and making eye contact, which are skills needed when they enter the workforce. 

Sixty students who were judged to have the best handshakes participated in the Shake Off, facing business professionals and community members who judged them on their communications skills and their ability to carry a conversation for 30 seconds before moving onto the new judge.

The top four students in the Shake Off will be taken to a formal restaurant to learn proper meal etiquette. A local restaurant owner is paying for the meal.

Hands-On Science

By Todd Vogts

WFM_EP02Groups of youngsters herded by doting adults streamed across the expansive stone plaza in front of the building. It was spring break, and a warm breeze blew through the groups. The children laughed, enjoying the day.

Inside, the main lobby a large, geometric sculpture made of wire spun lazily overhead. The clinking of the Wentz Gravitron, a device that moves ball bearings up and down through a series of wire frames by using augers and conveyors, filled the air. Through the expansive windows, the Arkansas River can be seen flowing through the property. A man in a kayak floated by.

There weren’t many people in the lobby, but the sound of children could be heard coming from down a hallway.

Exploration Place — The Sedgwick County Science and Discovery Center — sees nearly 200,000 visitors each year. It is a place of incredible design and functionality, and it is celebrating 15 years of being a place of learning for residents and visitors of Sedgwick County.

“We will be 15 years old on April 1,” Exploration Place President Jan Luth said.

Exploration Place consists of 100,000 square feet sitting on 20 acres. It was designed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie, who used geometry as the basis for the building plan.

“It was a real engineering feat to be able to create his vision and turn it into this amazing, functioning building,” Luth said.

Achieving a milestone of operating for 15 years within the community is something Luth said she is proud of, and the use of geometry in the engineering of the building is indicative of what Exploration Place is all about.

“It’s what’s going on here that matters,” she said.

WFM_EP03A bridge connects the two buildings that make up the Science and Discovery Center. It is a gallery called the Bridging Art and Science.

“The art always has some connection to science,” Luth said.

The art exhibits change three times per year, Luth explained.

The Grand Hall is the first room visitors enter upon crossing the bridge. Director of Marketing Christina Bluml said soon the Grand Hall will become the an area about health.

“In the state of Kansas, that’s really a big initiative right now. To keep people healthy and try to give them different tools to keep themselves in a healthy state,” she said.

Currently there is a large mouth for visitors to explore, and Bluml said they hope to incorporate a big eye, a big brain and a big ear, among others to help people learn about taking care of their bodies.

When children are experiencing such an exhibit, they can touch the displays. There are also digital screens on which they can answer questions in the form of brain teasers about the objects they are looking at.

Being hands-on is a big part of Exploration Place.

“We’re an interactive museum,” Luth said.

There is also a nanotechnology exhibit and a flight exhibit.

“It is really highly interactive and engaging,” Luth said. “You can sit and do some of these activities.”

The flight exhibit is slated to be revamped in the coming years, Bluml said.

Exploration Place also boasts a Creator Space, which is an answer to the maker movement sweeping through the United States. Inside, there is an area for creation, complete with tools such as a 3D printer.

“It’s a wonderful location for children and families to come in and to create and to invent and use their imagination and problem solve,” Luth said. “Every month we change what they can do in it.”

Just passed the Creator Space is an area currently under construction. It will soon host an exhibit on climate and energy, which is being borrowed from a museum in Newton and researched by professors from Kansas State University. Eventually though, it will become the permanent home of Keva, which is a construction exhibit. It allows anyone to come in and create using wooden planks, which are the perfect tool to learn at any age because the planks do not pose a choking hazard.

“We just try to keep mixing things up and doing new things,” Luth said. “You have to continually be doing this. In the coming years, we will be doing one major change every year.”

Continuing to move through the space, a visitor would come to a gallery dedicated to the wildlife and geography of Kansas.

There is then a gallery dedicated to the building itself.

“Being in such a landmark building, people come in and say to the front desk, ‘Tell me about this building,’” Luth said. “Now we can say, ‘Come down here. Go through this exhibit, and you will learn all about this building.’”

One very interesting, though not as interactive, exhibit is the Kansas In Miniature display. It is a depiction of Kansas in the 1950s. It showcases various aspects of the state, such as the Nickerson water tower and the geological formation Castle Rock, all in one area. It is complete with moving parts, such as an active carnival and a train that whistles through the display.

“There are many moving pieces,” Bluml said. “It’s just a favorite of so many people, just because of the nostalgia it brings back for so many people.”

Luth said the display, which took two years to create, gives a peek into what makes Kansas what it is as it showcases airfields and agriculture.

“When you look at this, you can see the foundation of who we are today,” she said. “It seems like nostalgia and history, but it’s really the foundation of science and technology. The framework is there.”

The lighting in the room even changes to simulate day and night.

“It’s a very beloved exhibit,” Luth said.

Bluml said there are plans to make the area more interactive to fit in with the rest of Exploration Place.

Where Kids Rule is another popular exhibit. It is a three-story castle where children can go inside and take part in a variety of activities, such as music and putting on plays.

There is a simulated mote in front of the castle, and children can take part in an activity where they can build a bridge over the mote. If done correctly, Bluml said, an adult could stand on the bridge without it collapsing.

“It’s all about learning science, and you don’t even know you are doing that,” she said.

There are over 60 interactive activities offered by Where Kids Rule, Luth said.

Exploration Place also offers visitors the opportunity to watch science-related films in one of the 160 seats in the 60-foot-tall Boeing Dome Theater and Planetarium. People can also stop off in the museum store to find unique mementos and souvenirs.

A family could easily spend the entire day taking in all the museum offers, and there even is a snack bar available to satiate a snack attack.

Not all of the exhibits in Exploration Place are permanent, though. The museum has an area dedicated to traveling exhibits, which helps keep the museum fresh and continually offer opportunities for visitors regardless of how often the stop by.

Soon Exploration Place will have a new preschool gallery called Kansas Kids Connect. This gallery will be aimed at showing the museum’s youngest visitors the concept of STEM, which is a national educational initiative standing for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

Really, all of Exploration Place is focused on STEM, but Luth said the preschool gallery will help ignite an interest in science at an earlier age.

“Everybody talks about STEM careers and how important STEM careers are for the future of the economy in the United States and in Kansas and in Wichita,” she said. “The reality is, to get people excited to go into those STEM careers, you actually have to build that excitement in preschool. You have to start when they’re really young. That’s where it all begins. That’s the transformational opportunity. Let them become enchanted with the wonder of the world around them. That’s what science is for a preschooler.”

One striking aspect of Exploration Place is you won’t find children running around from exhibit to exhibit. Instead, the children are engaged and focusing on one area at a time.

“They’re really learning,” Luth said. “STEM is throughout, as well as imagination.”

Besides the museum property itself, Exploration Place also offers summer camps.

WFM_EP01“Keep the kids busy because they’re not in school,” Luth said.

Over spring break, this consisted of field expeditions that took bus loads of children to experience different aspects of science, such as Maxwell Wildlife Refuge to see live bison and the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve to look at plants and insects.

Education is an important aspect of what Exploration Place does, especially with its outreach educational programing. The museum offers STEM-orientated, grade-appropriate programs for all levels of students, including home school students. These informal science partnerships with schools are important to the museum and Luth.

“It’s a huge win,” she said. “The results are fantastic. Our methodology is a little bit different, and that methodology resonates with kids.”

During the last fiscal year, Luth said the museum had nearly 50,000 student in their educational programs, and she said she expects the number to be even larger this year.

The focus on STEM, which Luth said is what Exploration Place has always been about just by the nature of the museum, revolves around workforce development. Time will tell, though, how effective the museum’s STEM offerings are in driving children into those STEM careers.

“It’s going to take a little while,” she said.

As part of the celebration of its 15th birthday, Luth said changes are being made to be able to continue to serve the museum’s educational goals and keep the experience “fresh and dynamic.”

Luth said the staff, board and community are all wonderful assets to the museum. Everyone involved supports the museum and wants to see it succeed.

“It’s never a dull moment,” she said. “We feel very blessed and very fortunate.”

A single admission to Exploration Place starts at $9.50. Membership packages range from $20 to $1,000, so a family find just the right fit.

“A larger family saves money over time,” Bluml said.

For more information about Exploration Place, visit www.exploration.org.