16 products teachers suggest for distance learning success

A few wise investments can make it easier for everyone.

Computer mouse and pretend money Credit: Jelly Comb / Learning Resources

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As a teacher and mother of a 6-year-old, I’ve been on the frontlines of the distance learning revolution from both sides. We were all scrambling in March! After all, there were no “Pandemic 101” courses in teacher training programs or in parenting classes. But as the 2020-21 school year begins we have a chance to be (at least a little bit) more prepared. I spoke with teachers from both public and private schools and from across the K-12 spectrum about what products parents can use to make learning from home as smooth as possible

For students of all ages

1. A dedicated workstation

Desk and chair
Credit: VIVO / Ikea

A dedicated work station is a must.

Lolling on the sofa just doesn’t get kids into school mode. Whether they are 5 or 15, students need an “office” (er...nook) to transition into an academic mindset. Set them up for success with a dedicated workspace. This desk is mobile, length- and height-adjustable (some kids prefer standing), and even has a cool cup holder and tilting top. Pair it with this comfy ergonomic chair from Ikea and they’ll be ready for their morning meeting. Add a framed picture of fluffy as a finishing touch.

2. A WiFi extender to keep your kid connected

Wireless Extender
Credit: T-Link

Avoid Zoom connection problems with a wireless extender.

We’ve all logged enough Zoom time to know that there is absolutely nothing more frustrating than a person’s screen freezing up while on the verge of making a great point—usually in an unflattering pose. Teachers are forced to move on to the next student. This compact WiFi extender will give your signal a boost.

Get the TP-link WiFi Extender on Amazon for $16.99

3. A digital camera brings work into focus

Digital camera
Credit: WOWGO

A digital camera is great for documenting creative projects.

For kids without a phone, a digital camera is absolutely necessary for distance learning, especially when it comes to hands-on projects, like in science and art. The cameras built into computers seem like they’ll do the trick, but the angles can be awkward. Use this cute point-and-shoot to capture their hard work. Bonus: It comes with stickers.

Get the WowGo Kids Digital Camera on Amazon for $39.99

4. Headphones with microphone

Credit: Mpow

Headphones with a built-in microphone make it easier to communicate.

Comfy headphones stay securely on a kids’ noggins while the microphone allows their comments to be clearly heard. The earphones do a better job than earbuds of blocking out distractions. Teachers recommended these for their durability and foldability.

Get the MPow Kids Headphones with Built-in Microphone on Amazon for $16.99

5. Stylus pens

Stylus pens
Credit: Libberway

A pack of stylus pens makes it much easier to work on tablets.

Have you ever found yourself pounding on the back-of-the-seat airplane screen to order a ginger ale? Then you understand the frustrations of operating touch screens with nothing but your bare hands. A stylus pen provides more accuracy than even the most slender and dexterous fingers—not to mention chubby kindergarten digits. Just the way a pleasing, well-functioning ink pen coaxes expression, a stylus pen makes the thought-to-screen process more natural and fluid. This colorful 10-pack will ensure you have plenty to spare.

Get a 10-pack of Stylus Pens on Amazon for $7.99

6. A mouse (or peacock)

Credit: Jelly Comb

A colorful and fun wireless mouse can help inspire them.

Mastering a trackpad is tricky! Just like some of our favorite students, a trackpad is sensitive, hard to control, and small. A mouse, on the other hand, is straightforward and simpler to manipulate, especially for younger kids. Also, a mouse is easier on everyone’s wrists. This rather lovely mouse, available in other “animals,” is appealing and practical.

Get a Jelly Comb mouse on Amazon for $16.99

7. A printer with a scanner

Credit: HP

A good quality printer is ideal for printing worksheets.

As hard as teachers are working on creating a lively digital experience, printables keep lessons dynamic and give growing brains a rest from the screen. Whether it’s coloring a map, scanning completed worksheets, or simply printing the daily schedule and hanging it by their workspace, you’ll be glad to have a printer with a scanner, like this slim but solid model from HP.

Get the HP Envy Wireless Ink Jet Printer at Office Depot for $129.99

8. A whiteboard

Credit: Quartet

A whiteboard is great for staying organized.

The wonders of a whiteboard never cease. Here are just a few reasons teachers think students should have them: completing math equations (“show your work!”), “brave spelling” words, planning essays with word webs, and storyboarding creative writing work. Important detail: Hang at the appropriate height.

Get a Magnetic Whiteboard on Amazon for $17.99

9. A digital timer

Credit: Time Timer

A countdown timer helps younger kids with transitions.

A digital countdown timer like this one displays the amount of time left to complete a task. With no annoying ticking sound, this easy-to-set visual helper will assist everyone from the littles, the teens, and those in between to manage their independent work time.

Get the Time Timer on Amazon for $25.99

10. A caddy of basic supplies

Supply Caddy
Credit: Lakeshore

A supply caddy keeps everything they need in one spot.

A handy, colorful caddy will keep supplies organized and in one place so no time is wasted searching for an eraser. Schools will most likely provide their own basic supply list, but here is ours just in case: pencils, erasers, colored pencils, scissors, crayons, markers, black Sharpies, a non-bendable ruler, and watercolors.

Get the Neon Classroom Carry-All at Lakeshore for $19.99

For elementary school students

11. Math manipulatives

Math cubes
Credit: Lakeshore

Make math easier for beginners with a set of manipulatives.

Distance learning does not have to mean that kids miss out on hands-on experiences. Pretend money, linking cubes, small objects for counting, and a Rekenrek are all fun and inexpensive tools to help kids make abstract ideas tangible, problem solve, and test their reasoning skills.

12. Elementary lined paper

Credit: Lakeshore

Make writing a breeze with lined paper.

When kids are learning to write, they need a developmentally appropriate canvas. Elementary lined paper is essential for scaffolding this process. I suggest stocking up on both landscape orientation with a space for pictures, as well as portrait style. Having a bunch on hand allows them to take risks, keep trying, and write on.

13. A sensory bin table to help students make sense of learning

Sensory bins
Credit: Ikea

Sensory bins are great for younger learners.

Pre-K, kindergarten, and first-grade teachers love sensory bins because they genuinely appeal to kids’ natural curiosity and can be used in so many ways. Aside from themed play, parents can hide letters, sight words, flash cards, and numbers amongst beads, beans, sand, etc. Follow Instagram mama @coffeeandspitup for creative ideas on how to use sensory bins. I love her table from Ikea!

Get the Flisat table from Ikea for $49.99

For middle and high school students

14. A selfie ring light

Ring light
Credit: UBeesize

They'll look their best with the addition of a ring light.

Teens want to look their best on Zoom (who doesn’t?), and chances are their desk lamp is doing them no favors. Everyone knows that when we feel better, we perform better. So why not give our teens’ confidence a boost with some flattering lighting? This selfie ring light and tripod will make sure they’re ready for their close-ups.

Get a Selfie Ring Light with stand on Amazon for $39.99

15. All the gel pens

Gel pens
Credit: Fine Life

A set of colorful gel pens may help get teens excited for learning.

Yes, kids need school supplies just like they need balanced meals. But who doesn’t crave dessert? The gel pen is the gelato of school supplies. They are inspiring, whimsical, and come in a delicious array of colors. Sweeten up the shopping cart with these well-reviewed gel pens.

Get a 30-piece pack of gel pens at Walmart for $13.52

16. A soft place to land

Credit: Dick's / Pottery Barn

Alternative seating options can help kids stay focused.

Even though a desk is ideal for synchronous time, something more cozy can be a welcome relief when it’s time to switch to asynchonous mode. I like this portable tuck-away camping chair, but whether it’s a pouf, a beanbag chair, or a hammock, flexible seating provides both comfort and a sense of control over their environment. For extra buy-in, try giving them a budget and let them pick a couple options.

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