If you’re going to stores right now, you might have noticed rows of brightly-colored binders, folders, perfectly-sharpened pencils and lots and lots of kid-sized masks. Yep, it’s back-to-school season—with a COVID-19 twist.

The typical rush for backpacks and sneakers looks a little different this year, just like everything else. Here are some essential items to prepare your family for the upcoming school year—whatever it looks like.

Blue banner with text saying "When working from home clashes with homework" and showing a babysitter helping a child with homework.Back-to-School Ideas to Help Stop the Spread

Whether you’re sending a child to school or they’re doing distance learning, keeping things clean and sanitized is more important than ever before. Investing in masks that are kid-friendly (both in style and fit) goes a long way towards getting kids to actually wear them. Consider a lanyard to help them keep track of the mask when it’s not on their face. Not like the one their teacher wears—try one like these from Nike.

Keeping Things Clean at Home

You know anything that goes to school with your child is bound to get dirty. Stock up on sealable, reusable bags to contain soiled masks, clothing, and school supplies. Many families are planning to spend less on apparel this back-to-school season, especially with the possibility of more distance learning.

Save yourself both time and money by choosing versatile basics in a variety of colors—shirts, pants, sweatshirts, and socks. Mix and match to create a range of outfits with fewer overall purchases—and save yourself the headache of remembering which kids’ khakis are clean. (They’re dirty. They’re always all dirty.)

Essentials for Learning at School and Home

Kids love expressing their uniqueness, and the pandemic gives you another reason to embrace individualization: identifying what belongs to whom—and keeping track of what’s clean. Think distinctive pens, pencils, notebooks, etc. If you have multiple kids in school, consider a theme or color for each child. For a budget-friendly approach, have your kids decorate simply designed supplies with stickers and markers to make their materials easily identifiable.

Personal Supplies Students Usually Share

Consider individual versions of items that are typically provided by schools. Getting your child their own handheld pencil sharpener, compact stapler, and tape dispenser can significantly decrease potential contact points with other children. An added benefit: if your school returns to distance learning, your child will already have these commonly-used items.

Erasable Writing Solutions

Dry-erase markers and a personal-sized whiteboard may also be required for in-person learning, and they also make great aids for showing work on math problems at home. Supply savings tip: a sheet of cardstock covered with a simple plastic sheet protector can easily stand-in for a heavier, more expensive portable whiteboard.

Yellow banner with text saying "When you can't drop work to do school pick-ups" and showing a smiling child care provider & child on a scooter.For Learning at Home

You’ve probably picked up on some key themes for school supply shopping in 2020: flexibility and preparedness. As many schools and districts consider or plan for hybrid learning models this upcoming school year, equip your child to adapt and succeed no matter what school looks like. A nice, comfortable set of headphones with a built-in mic makes hours of Zoom or Google Classroom more bearable for them –– while saving you from hearing the noise too.

At-Home Learning Space

Prepare for less distraction during any pandemic-prompted distance learning with a dedicated desk or learning space for your child. This doesn’t mean everyone in your house needs their own cubicle or executive desk. Especially if square footage is at a premium in your home, get creative with what “workspace” looks like. Kids might prefer a lapdesk that lets them work comfortably from a couch or bed, or enjoy a rolling laptop desk that can travel with them to their favorite nook, floor pillow, beanbag chair—whatever.

Distance Learning: Make Your Home More Liveable

Other at-home learning essentials include a wifi-enabled printer (easier to print from multiple devices, cuts down on cords, and even lets you hide the printer out-of-sight), and storage that keeps school supplies separate from your child’s other things. After all, separation between work and personal time has mental health benefits for kids as well. Score a parenting win and replicate an in-school rite of passage with an at-home locker for your child. (We promise not to tell them you really just want to keep their messy papers and notebooks hidden.)


We feel you: uncertainty is out of control in 2020, and plans seem to change every hour. No one knows quite how the rest of the year will unfold, so keep flexibility and preparation at the top of your family’s school supply list. This year, that just might make “house slippers” the hottest back-to-school footwear trend.

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