15 must-have school supplies your kids need, by grade
Make sure they have what they need for in-person learning.
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Kids are finally headed back to school (in person!) in just a few weeks. Chances are that any school supplies they have left over from pre-pandemic times are looking pretty tired, which means it's time to stock up on everything they need to go back to school in style. We polled seasoned parents of kids of all ages for the must-have back to school items that their kids love—and use—over and over again.
1. A backpack that's just their size
Standard-sized backpacks tend to be too big for kids under 4, especially when fully packed. Instead of weighing your wee one down with a pack that weighs more than she does, opt for Fjallraven's mini version of its classic Kanken backpack. The petite bag comes in a huge variety of colors, and it's just the right size for holding a change of clothes, a favorite stuffed animal, and a small lunchbox.
2. A lightweight reusable lunchbox
Reusable lunchboxes are all the rage these days, but many of the stainless steel versions tend to be too heavy for preschoolers to carry. Yumbox offers a lightweight alternative that's designed just for little kids: The BPA and phthalate-free plastic bento-style lunchbox has five small compartments sized specifically for preschool portions. It's easy for little kids to open, and both the removable food tray and the outer box are dishwasher-safe.
3. A nap mat
For preschoolers whose days include an afternoon snooze, a nap mat—a sort of sleeping bag with a built-in pillow—is a must. Wildkin's nap mats roll-up easily and secure with Velcro for easy transport, and the vibrant colors don't fade in the wash. The attached blanket is lined with 100% cotton flannel to keep your child warm and toasty, and the mats are sized to fit perfectly on a preschool cot.
4. Name labels
Don't even think about sending your child to preschool without labeling every single item he plans to bring along. Kids are prone to leaving items behind—specifically sweatshirts and water bottles—and it will streamline your lost-and-found searches if everything is clearly labeled. Mabel's Labels' Preschool Clothing Label Pack includes every type of label you need to keep track of your child's belongings, and the shoe labels help kids put their kicks on the correct feet.
5. Our top-rated water bottle
Your preschooler can sip from our favorite water bottle for kids thanks to its child-friendly 12-ounce size and straw lid. The powder-coated exterior keeps condensation from forming on the outside so you don't have to worry about your child handling a slippery water bottle, plus it keeps liquids cold for 24 hours.
For grade school
1. A comfortable face mask
If your child's school plans to require masks in the fall, you'll want to have a selection of masks that your kids like, and that are comfortable for all-day wear. Our testers rated the Vistaprint kids' masks best for a long day because they have an adjustable fit and they're lightweight. Plus they come in a huge selection of patterns and colors, so there's sure to be a design that appeals to every kid.
2. A clothing stamp
A friend of mine turned me on to the Camp Stamp from Starlight Labels. The self-inking stamps easily mark your child's clothing with their name in bold, black, doesn't-wash-off letters. Unlike iron-on or stick-on labels that kids often find scratchy, the stamp prints directly onto the fabric of a shirt without leaving any sharp edges. The only drawback is that it doesn't work on dark-colored clothing, so you'll still need a few traditional name labels for those pieces.
3. A cool backpack
Grade-schoolers may still be little, but they need a backpack that's big enough to carry folders and notebooks. The Mackenzie backpack from Pottery Barn Kids is our favorite backpack for kids, thanks to its sturdy construction and ergonomic design. The Mackenzie backpack comes in a wide array of patterns and colors, and can be personalized with your child's name in the font of his or her choice.
4. A lunchbox for growing kids
The LunchBots Bento Stainless Steel Food Container holds just the right amount of food for older kids who use up lots of energy at school—and it's our favorite lunch box for kids. The five sections keep different lunch items separated, but you can also purchase coordinating condiment containers as well.
- Get a LunchBots Bento Stainless Steel Food Container at Amazon for $40.99
- Get a set of three LunchBots Condiment Containers at Amazon for $25.99
5. A compact thermos
If you have a child who doesn't like eating cold pasta (hello, me), or you want to send hot soup for lunch during the coldest days of winter, the LunchBots insulated thermos is just what you need. The 12-ounce thermos is big enough to fit a decent portion of pasta, but the compact size means that it's not too unwieldy for smaller kids to carry.
6. Colorful pencils
Take some of the sting out of the end of summer by sending your child back to school with fun school pencils. Bic Xtra-Fun Stripes Graphite Pencils are bright and colorful on the outside, but contain standard, break-resistant #2 lead on the inside. We give these pencils extra credit for the latex-free erasers.
For high school
1. The best laptop for students
A great laptop is a must for students who need to take notes or write a lot of papers. Our favorite laptop for students is the Apple MacBook Air. With an almost 13-hour battery life, this lightweight laptop will take them through the school day—and beyond.
2. A big water bottle
Keep your teenager hydrated with the CamelBak Eddy water bottle. The durable water bottle holds three-quarters of a liter of water, and comes with a straw top so kids can drink out of it without having to tip it up at an awkward angle. The bottles are leak-proof, spill-proof, and are sold in a pack of two, making this a super-affordable back-to-school purchase.
3. A lunch bag that's not juvenile
If your kid is planning to bring his lunch from home, keep him—and his lunch—cool with Fulton Bag Co.'s Upright Lunch Bag. The unassuming handled lunch bag is crush-resistant, insulated, and the interior has an adjustable divider to separate lunch ingredients. The handle also features a swing clip so that it can be attached to a child's backpack.
If your child prefers to listen to music while she studies, invest in a pair of our favorite headphones for kids, the Puro Sound Labs PuroQuiet Kids Headphones. The PuroQuiet Kids headphones offer two great features: They're volume-limiting, and they have noise cancellation. The limited volume keeps kids from potentially damaging their hearing, while the noise cancellation feature can help kids focus.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.