33 School Essentials Most People Forget to Buy
We searched high and low for these under-the-radar but totally necessary school essentials—because you'll need a lot more than three-ring binders and pencils to kick off the school year right.
Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links.
A back-to-school shopping list unlike any other
Going back to school this year will be a whole new experience even for seasoned parents and older kids. Schools are changing the way they teach students thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, and most American schools will be introducing far more e-learning and distance-education opportunities than ever before. As a result, back-to-school shopping lists have changed significantly to reflect the new landscape. You’ll want to make sure to add these important items to your list for the most prepared, and hopefully safest, year yet. While you’re at it, check out the 10 things you may not see in schools after coronavirus.
Note: Prices listed were accurate as of press time; pricing fluctuations may occur.
The newest medical must-have
Many schools will require temperature checks at the start of the day, but you can gauge the health of your little ones before heading out the door, too. Double-check temperatures with this Tru+Med Touch-Free Infrared Thermometer. It’s as easy as pointing it and clicking a button, and it helps forecast your own family’s health before leaving home. Here’s what a second wave of coronavirus could look like—and why officials are desperate to avoid it.
Happiness-inducing tech accessories
Spruce up your one-room schoolhouse, home office, or anywhere work gets done with cheerful pops of happiness and upbeat colors to keep the mood good and the learning flowing. This VicTsing RGB Mechanical Gaming Keyboard is USB-wired, brightly lit, and about the same price as typical hum-drum keyboards that are hardly as much fun. If your student ends up using it for group-led video games after his or her work is finished, consider it social time. Before you check out, make sure also you have these 12 tech tools kids can’t learn without this fall.
Instruments with easy-to-follow instructions
Keep the creative juices flowing by bringing music instruction home, even if choir, band, and glee club practices are canceled until further notice. Invest in an instrument that pairs seamlessly with a teaching app, like this Fender Player Duo-Sonic, which is just the right size for teen music enthusiasts, college students, and a few sneaky jam sessions by Mom and Dad. It has a 24-inch scale length, Duo-Sonic single-coil pickups, and volume and tone controls that will make you believe the future is finally here. Better yet, it’s one of the easiest electric guitars to set up at home and works with the digital-learning Fender Play app.
After you buy an entire forest of loose-leaf paper and binders, you’ll want to stock up on Yoobi pencil cases and organizers. Your A+ student will enjoy staying organized like Marie Kondo with ease with bright, joy-sparking designs. This year may be bananas, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be memorable and positive.
Lots (and lots) of hand sanitizer
Make sure backpacks, purses, desk drawers, and just about everywhere else you can think of are loaded with hand sanitizer this year. These little germ-busting bottles from Green Goo come in a 12-pack, and each bottle contains two fluid ounces of unscented, easy-to-dispense hand sanitizer. That’s enough for you to load all your favorite spaces and bags, as well as the car. Here are more things you should always keep in your car during the pandemic.
Skip hard-to-clean fabrics and dry-clean-only jackets this year. Prompt and frequent cleaning will be the name of this year’s back-to-school fashion game. As a result, staples like washing-machine-friendly hoodies, tees, and cotton leggings will be more essential than less-frequently-washed staples from prior school years like denim, faux fur, and heavily adorned pieces. These Tea Collection girls’ leggings come in a range of sizes, are easily washed and cared for, and are just as cute when paired with a tunic as they are layered with skirts, shirts, and uniform cardigans.
With COVID’s ripple effect on the economy, penny-pinching is more important than ever and keeping your student’s existing wardrobe in tip-top shape is suddenly a renewed priority. Instead of fretting over spaghetti-sauce splatters on their favorite sweatshirt or grass stains on this year’s new pants, stock up on Carbona Oxy Powered Laundry Soaker sachets. Use them to soak old, ground-in stains right off clothes without any added chlorine bleach or scrubbing. Better yet, you won’t have to order new clothes. Find out which secret ingredients you should be adding to your laundry.
Storage solutions for your messy house
Even if schools reopen, students and makeshift homeschool teachers will likely be doing more DIY e-learning this year, which makes keeping an organized desk space key to maintaining whatever sanity you have left. These three-drawer Sterilite storage containers are compact enough to sit on most desks, tables, and counter spaces to keep things like writing utensils, paperclips, tape, markers, and other must-haves in perfect order. They’re also less than the price of the latte you used to buy for the carpool line.
Reading apps for little learners
From $7.99 per month
Early, intermediate, and even advanced elementary-school readers learn to love books with ReadingIQ, the smartphone app for budding readers that looks and feels like screen time but actually gets your little ones reading thousands of popular titles. After taking a short reading assessment to find the best level for them to start at, they’ll browse Disney and other popular titles, never rip a page, get a game-like trophy for hitting their 20-minutes-a-day goal, and wow you with their continued progress. A one-year subscription covers up to three children under separate profiles and costs less than a single hardcover book. Don’t miss these 100 children’s books everyone should read in their lifetime.
Lunch bags they’ll love
Forget the usual woes of not knowing who to sit with in the cafeteria—many school districts are opting for socially distanced lunchtimes for students returning to buildings. That means no more cafeteria line, and in terms of eating, either schools will provide prepackaged lunches or students will be expected to pack their own and eat at their desks. If you’re in the latter camp, this PackIt Freezable Lunch Bag is about to become your child’s new best friend, thanks to all-day cooling, roomy compartments, and an easy carrying strap.
Since we’re being more hygiene-conscious than ever, now is as good a time as any to start students off on the right oral-hygiene foot, too. These Quip electric toothbrushes, with their kid-friendly ergonomic handles and heads, offer the powerful cleaning of more expensive brushes—but at a more parent-friendly price point. Don’t skip that dentist appointment during the pandemic, by the way. It turns out that good oral hygiene and regular dentist visits can actually help prevent pneumonia.
A backpack upgrade
Many students will be carrying their own laptops and Chromebooks to and from school this year, which means they’ll need much more than the typical nylon backpack to get through the year. This eBags Slim Laptop Backpack fits up to 17-inch laptops and protects them in a specially padded sleeve, offers anti-theft protection, and is one of the best tech gifts for teens and older students this year.
Adapters for every device
Everyone’s minds and spirits are adapting to a new way of life and learning, and that concept applies to our favorite tech devices in an even more literal way. This Apple Lightning to 4.5mm headphone jack adapter is just what the iPad and iPhone users in your home will need to continue their e-learning more quietly, and it’s an affordable find from Staples.
A flexible wall organizer
With so much uncertainty as to how the school year will unfold, one thing is for sure: you need to stay flexible. This 1Thrive Casey command center helps you stay nimble with interchangeable configurations including cups and hooks to hold your essentials like your house keys and a clean mask. We particularly love the blackboard calendar that can be easily wiped clean as your plans change…again.
An easel to encourage their creativity
Drawing and painting on an easel does more than help your child express their creative side, when kids do it at an upright angle, it adds a challenge to their developing fine motor skills. The Delta Children Chelsea Double-Sided Storage Easel is two-sided (one side is a chalkboard, the other is a magnetic, dry erase whiteboard) and there’s a pull down paper roll for them to draw or paint on, storage bins, and alphabet magnets.
A splash of color
These OOLY Switer-eroo markers are double-sided art fun that have perfectly beautiful colors on one end and a magic color-changing dose on the other. They’re a space-saving dose of fun when school lockers are possibly a thing of the past and home-office real estate is limited at best. They come in a set of 12, so you’ll eliminate those “I lost my highlighter” panic moments that you usually get a few weeks into the school year.
The touch-screen they’ll use for everything this year
Taking this HP 11.6″ Chromebook X360 to and from those staggered classes will be easy-peasy. It weighs a comfortable three pounds, and the 360 touch-screen design with optional keyboard makes everything from apps to school projects a breeze. Bonus: It comes with a one-year warranty, so you’ll get through the entire school year without incurring extra costs, no matter what happens. The extended-life battery offers 47 hours of power, which means that one charge will last for a good portion of the school day…in case your favorite pupil forgets their charger at home. Here are more back-to-school essentials every kid will need during the pandemic.
Something to calm little minds
Stress levels are higher than ever, kids are unsure of what the road ahead has in store for them, and parents are completely overworked. With many in-person outlets like yoga classes and art activities currently off-limits, parents are turning to calm-inducing apps to keep students (and themselves) at peace. The Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, led by neuroscientist Dr. Richard Davidson, has spent years researching the neuroscience of well-being and how meditation training can help the mind become more focused, calm, and resilient. That’s good news for the students in your life, especially because the Center’s non-profit, Healthy Minds Innovations, has developed a free meditation app available to anyone with an Apple or Android device.
Never meditated before? Read how one woman started meditating in quarantine—and will never give it up.
Insect repellents for pesky “classmates”
Some school districts are opting for more time teaching outdoors, with activities like socially distanced horticulture, nature walks, and physical education on the school lawn. While coronavirus is still a threat, bug bites and tick-borne diseases don’t have to be. Load up on DEET-free Natrapel Picaridin Insect Repellent Wipes, and stash them in your kids’ bags and in your car. The best part of these is that they’re single-use, which means there’s no hey-pass-me-that-bottle talk that leads to shared surfaces and germs.
Sunscreen is always an essential
While you’re at it, load up on the sunscreen, too. Like grown-ups, kids need to wear it every day—yep, even in the winter, too—and it’s especially important if your school will be holding lessons or lunchtime outdoors. They won’t complain when you slather on the Coppertone Kids Clear Blue SPF 50. It glides on clear and leaves behind no sticky residue.
If your kids are heading back to in-person classes this year, sending them with easily identifiable gear will be more important than ever to cut down on shared surfaces. If everyone carries the same blue backpack, after all, there’s a chance that several little hands will touch your student’s bag before realizing it’s not theirs. Opt for playful, easy-to-spot takes on old classics like this Fjallraven Kanken Backpack with brightly adorned rainbow handles and trim. Just take care not to fill it to the brim. Here’s what happens to your body when you wear a heavy backpack every day.
Virtual preschool lessons
School closures and e-learning could have a disastrous impact on the earliest learners, with nursery and preschool students being all but left out of the distance-learning loop. Supplement the basics of colors, shapes, counting, letters, and beginner phonics with the Aila Sit & Play Intelligent Monitor. Designed for children 12 months or older, it keeps toddlers and beginner learners immersed in the kind of content they would actually choose to see but has the added bonus of teaching them through stories, songs, and smile-worthy imagery. Bonus: It’s ad-free. Parents and caregivers can also monitor screen time, keep track of curriculum milestones, and breathe easy knowing their children aren’t falling behind. Not a techie? Don’t worry—it updates automatically and requires no major effort or know-how from adults.
Rewards for a job well done
Skip the unhealthy treats and bonuses like candy and TV time and head straight for positive emotional reinforcement to reward children with self-esteem, pride, and a feeling of accomplishment. The Goodtimer is designed for students ages three to ten, and it keeps them happily on track doing homework, getting to sleep, reading, and setting up other essential healthy habits. No more yelling, time-outs, or stress, because this flippable timer glows, plays positive sounds, and tracks the amount of “good” time—encouraging kids to see healthy, happy behaviors as the ultimate goal.
A different mask for every day
The new normal student experience will be mask-inclusive in most areas, but that doesn’t mean the school year has to be drab or depressing. Opt for affordable, printed masks that make it easy to identify whose mask is coming out of the laundry. These Azazie printed face masks are cheap, chic, and easy to wear all day long. Even the most discerning fashion lovers will find one they’re eager to coordinate with their back-to-school ensembles. Could a face shield be an equally good way to keep kids safe? We asked the experts.
Comfy solutions to modern problems
Skip last spring’s uncomfortable makeshift work and study scenarios and upgrade to a more comfortable way to learn with this LapGear Commuter Laptop Stand. It’s a padded lap-desk stand that offers 20 adjustable angles and fits up to 15.6-inch laptops and tablets. It makes hours-long distance-learning sessions that much more comfortable and working from the dining room table a breeze, and most school-issued Chromebooks fit on it marvelously.
Whether you’re the parent wearing 100 new hats this year or an adult student trying to stay healthy on the go, these Swisse Ultiboost Immune Support Jelly Sticks are a fun, portable way to boost your immune system with zinc, selenium, elderberry, and manuka honey. They’re plant-based and easy to stash in a purse, backpack, or desk drawer. While they’re certainly not a cure for COVID, keeping your immune system in good shape can help fend off other unwelcome seasonal woes. You can add these to care packagesv for friends stuck at home, too.
Hydrating hand cream
Hydrating hand creams will be the unsung heroes of the upcoming school year. With more-than-average handwashing, frequent hand-sanitizing with skin-drying alcohol, and temperatures dropping, hands are going to be cracked, dry, and thirsty for hydration. Load bags, desks, and bathroom vanities with soothing creams like Sebamed Hand and Nail Balm. The formula includes doses of keratin and panthenol to keep nails strong, too. By the way, this is the most hygienic way to dry your hands.
A safer way to stay online
Beyond the threat of infectious disease, parents have other things to worry about, of course. The Internet is still the Wild West in terms of child safety. Investing a few bucks in these Nanobloc Universal Webcam Covers provides protection against webcam hacking, inappropriate Zoom crashers, or just a lack of desire to appear in the group chat. We all have those days, don’t we?
Sweatshirts they’ll put on without arguing
Every parent knows getting school-age kids to actually wear hoodies and jackets when the temperature dips can be near-impossible. Skip the arguments and backtalk with Cubcoats 2-in-1 Transforming Hoodies in designs they’ll actually get excited to wear. They transform almost instantly from plush toys into playground-perfect zip-up hoodies and come in a variety of animal and character designs.
Contacts for kids
Yes, contact lenses for kids are a thing—and they’re more helpful than you might think. MiSight 1 Day is the only FDA-approved soft contact lens that corrects vision and is clinically proven to slow the progression of myopia when initially prescribed for children ages eight to 12 years old. That means your budding genius will feel confident in his or her new glasses-free look, and you’ll be thrilled to know you’re slowing down the progression of their nearsightedness. To learn more, make an appointment with your eye doctor.
Protein power that actually tastes great
Skip the chalky protein bars and sugar-filled granola you typically find on grocery store shelves. Opt for easy social distancing with these individually wrapped plant-based REDD bars that ship directly to your door from Amazon. They’re high in fiber, low in sugar, vegan, gluten-free, and packed with real probiotics to keep bellies full even when the day seems endlessly packed with Zoom meetings and homework. The sampler pack comes loaded with eight bars in best-selling flavors.
The perfect pair
Add a pair (or a few pairs) of new glasses from Zenni Optical to your back-to-school shopping list, because every parent knows that kids tend to lose, break, or damage at least one pair a year. These frames happen to be less than the cost of a sandwich, too. You might also want to pick up a pair of affordable but stylish sunglasses with your prescription while you’re at it.
Organic, vegan, and affordable vitamins
We know—this sounds like one of those “circle the word that doesn’t belong” homework assignments, but it’s not. Hello Bello Organic Kids Multi-Vitamin Gummies are tasty, vegan, and shockingly affordable. It’s the easy way to make sure your little ones are getting all their A’s, B’s, C’s, and other important vitamins and minerals. The brand also offers a newly released and kid-specific melatonin supplement to help encourage healthy sleep patterns for growing minds. If you could use a little help in the sleep department, too, check out these Amazon sleep products shoppers can’t get enough of.
Want more deals and product picks sent directly to your inbox? Sign up for the Stuff We Love newsletter!