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60+ Back-to-School Supplies Every Student Needs

You’ll need a lot more than three-ring binders and pencils to kick off the school year right—and lucky for you, it’s all right here on this list!

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The ultimate back-to-school checklist

It’s that time of the year again! The kids are heading back to the classroom, in one way or another, which means you’ll need to stock up on back-to-school supplies. But what will that mean this year, with COVID still raging in many parts of the country and children under 12 still unable to get vaccinated? Many students attending school in person will continue to follow pandemic safety measures, and districts are telling parents to prepare for the possibility of hybrid schedules and intermittent remote learning. As a result, items like affordable laptops and laptop backpacks, in addition to regular backpacks and other learning essentials, will be necessary stay ahead of the curve.

“While many classes are returning to in-person learning, the reality is that many are sticking to remote learning,” explains Inbal Levin, a veteran elementary school teacher with a focus on Montessori-style learning. “Even the in-person learning won’t be 100 percent back to regular programming, and students should be prepared for COVID-era modifications even with their back-to-school supplies.”

Sure, some of the items on your list, like masks and hand sanitizers, are expected at this point, but several tech items and even college dorm room essentials have shifted because of this new normal. But here’s a bit of excellent news: You won’t have to spend a fortune on them, because many of the featured products and brands below are running major back-to-school sales right now. Plus, you can have all of them delivered right to your doorstep. Spend your newfound free time enjoying the last few days of summer and these relatable (and hilarious) back-to-school memes.

school supply collage: pens and via (3), via Getty Images

Pens, pencils, and writing materials

While many schools will likely continue to provide basic learning supplies, you may want to supplement your children’s stash if you’d like them to benefit from specialty gear or you don’t want them to share potentially germy items in the middle of a pandemic. “I require all my students to have the basic supplies like binders, clearly labeled folders, pencils, and erasers,” says Levin. “This helps them produce quality work in an organized, independent manner. I also have them purchase basic art supplies like markers, pastels, and colored pencils. This way, they can embellish their work with artistic detail and creativity.” It’s that creativity that Levin says keeps them going through long stretches of social distancing and scaled-back activities.

Here are the basic writing supplies you’ll need to get your kids through their in-person classes—and for any remote-learning stretches at home:

school supply collage: Art via, via (2), via Getty Images

Art supplies

As Levin mentioned above, now is the time to be a little bit extra with the markers, colored pencils, glitter glue, and all the fun art-project supplies kids need to let their creative flags really fly. Giving students an outlet and something to feel excited about is half the battle when it comes to getting them back into the school spirit. Whether they use these colorful back-to-school supplies in the classroom, at home, or a hybrid of both, kids will be excited about finishing their projects, expressing their feelings, and moving ahead. Plus, they can use them on these Halloween crafts soon enough!

school supply collage: via, via, via Getty Images


To be prepared for quarantine and closures, many schools now require kids to schlep all of their stuff from home to school and back again on a daily basis. That means having the right backpack is more important than ever. “Purchasing school backpacks sturdy enough to carry laptops, various USB cords, and notebooks will help your child transport their school gear with comfort,” says Levin. “Also, a trendy backpack is a fashion statement these days, so you’ll earn brownie points with your child.”

Timeless backpacks also double as easy-to-tote carry-on bags for traveling, and they can last several years, so they’re worth picking carefully and spending a little more on. Look for easy-to-clean materials like those used by Fjällräven; Vinylon F., the brand’s signature material, is a dirt-resistant, water-resistant fabric that wipes clean instantly. Most high-quality nylon options will work nicely, too. Choosing easily identifiable colors and prints is also essential, as it helps students spot their own bags quickly. Other major considerations should be whether or not you need lots of built-in compartments, heavy-duty shoulder straps, and room for lunch boxes and water bottles. For smaller bodies, Levin suggests considering a rolling bag.

school supply collage: tech via (3), via Getty Images

Tech gear

Even if there wasn’t a pandemic happening right now, kids would need some serious tech gear to help them keep up with their schoolwork and their classmates. But because there is a pandemic happening right now, tech-based back-to-school supplies are truly necessary. “Good-quality equipment is what enables teachers and students to optimize every moment we have together for learning, instead of troubleshooting technical issues,” says Levin. “I view tech gear as my students’ own personal classrooms.”

In addition to a laptop or tablet (if your school doesn’t supply one), you’ll need headphones, laptop and Chromebook covers and cases, carrying bags, chargers, graphing calculators, blue light glasses, and portable keyboards to convert those much-loved tablets into makeshift remote-learning centers. Some items, like scanners, won’t be necessary for every age group, but they’ll come in handy for teens and college students. Pro tip: All of these items make terrific tech gifts, and many of them will be on sale now, so stock up early for the holidays!

school supply collage: health via (3), via Getty Images

Personal-care essentials

While sending the kids off to school with the Delta variant rearing its ugly head is stressful, there’s one thing you can breathe a sigh of relief about: All of those hand sanitizers, disinfecting wipes, and other COVID-safety essentials that were sold out at the beginning of the pandemic are in stock and easy to find online and in stores. Some schools are even asking parents to also load up on home COVID-19 tests so families can stay ahead of the curve, just in case. Regardless of what your school specifically recommends, with the CDC suggesting that most American kids mask up in classes this fall, germ-focused hygiene products should still be a major part of this year’s back-to-school supplies in addition to the usual stain removers and cleaning products.

school supply collage: via (3), via Getty Images

Notebooks and organizers

As most parents know from running a virtual school from their dining-room tables, your kids’ school stuff can get messy—fast. Of course, this problem isn’t unique to remote schooling. You’ll want them to stay organized wherever they are so they can keep track of their thoughts and assignments and better focus on the business of learning. That’s why you’ll need binders, tab dividers, desk caddies, trays, pencil holders, and the like.

Levin suggests ordering name labels for those always-misplaced items like sweatshirts, headphones, winter coats, and backpacks. You can create your own design with your child’s name from Minted and even coordinate with their favorite colors. Keep the color theme going with notebooks and planners, but buy folders in a variety of colors to separate subjects. While you’re committed to starting the school year right with the best back-to-school supplies, you’ll probably want to brush up on these kids’ closet ideas, too, because tidy rooms help get them (and you) out the door faster in the morning.

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Lunch boxes and water bottles

“Many classes are implementing at-desk eating, and teachers don’t want to grade essays with spaghetti-sauce splashes and yesterday’s leftovers smeared on the corners,” says Levin of the shift away from crowded cafeteria settings. “Your best bet is to buy a lunchbox for your child that is as mess-free and easy to clean as possible. Think bento-style lunch boxes and well-insulated materials.”

Even if your kids won’t be eating exclusively at their desks, they’ll probably benefit from other gear like reusable water bottles and individually packed snacks. If you really want to stand out from the crowd, send your big kid with a smart water bottle like the HidrateSpark, which glows to remind students to hydrate and tracks their water intake. Mom will get an A+ for that one!

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Bryce Gruber
As Home Editor, Bryce Gruber is an expert in gift ideas, shopping, and e-commerce at Reader's Digest. You've likely seen her work across a variety of women's lifestyle and parenting outlets and on TV shows. She lives and works in New York's Hudson Valley with her five small children.