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The 12 Most Essential Back-to-School Supplies Your Kids Need for a Great Year

Teacher with students
Thinkstock

Somehow another summer has flown by and the kiddos are headed back to school again. Sure, that means vacations are over, the house will be empty and days at the pool are numbered. But what it also means is that it’s time to shop for supplies.

For some this shopping can be a daunting task, especially with the long lists of needed items that teachers send out. For others, it can be a great way to start off the school year with some retail therapy, while getting the kids geared up to get their minds back on learning. Either way, with Walmart revealing results of a study showing that for the majority of moms, a new school year ranks as high as the beginning of a new calendar year for getting a fresh start, you can be sure that shopping is a big part of that new beginning.

Here are some of our favorite school supplies for this year.

Lunchboxes

Hello Kitty and Batman lunchboxes
Lunchboxes.com

A new lunchbox can be a great and inexpensive way to get kids ready to go back to school. And with so many different options, a lunchbox can be a fun way for a kid to express his personality. There’s even an entire website dedicated to lunchboxes. Plus, if the storage container is cool, maybe your kid will think the food inside is cool and those carrots will finally get eaten. Make sure you pick something that can keep foods cold if your child won’t have access to a refrigerator for storage. And, put a name on the lunch container so there aren’t any mix-ups. There are so many choices for all ages, tastes and storage needs that you’ll probably get one for every member of the family. Including a Scoobie Doo one for yourself so you finally figure out who’s been stealing your lunch at work.

Backpacks

animal backpacks for school
Skiphop.com

What’s even more awesome to shop for than a super cool lunchbox? A super cool backpack. Backpacks are the accessory for back-to-school. You can keep your Donna Karan and Marc Jacobs, the B2S kids will take a hipster backpack, please. If you can imagine it, there is a backpack that looks like it. But backpacks are very functional now, too. They have special pockets for electronics. They are battery powered and have charging stations. In a few years, they’ll probably do the kids’ homework for them on the bus home from school. If you’ve fought over the kinds of clothes your child can wear to school, the backpack can be a very good way to allow her to express herself and to keep the peace at your house.

Laptop Bags

fancy laptop bag for a student
LLBean.com

If your kid has graduated from a backpack to a messenger bag because he’s got a laptop now, you can still enjoy the shopping. The right bag will be easy to carry, protect the laptop, have spaces for all the cords, plugs and peripherals, and most of all will look cool. And, just like with backpacks, you can find battery powered bags that will charge electronics. You can even find a solar bag that uses the sun’s energy to charge your student’s laptop.

Pencil Cases

colorful pencil cases
Amazon.com

Next to paper, pens and pencils are the most basic and key supplies for going back to school. Even in the digital age, kids still have to write things down. But, pens and pencils are small and easily lost. Help your child keep track of her writing utensils by letting her pick out her favorite pencil case. Maybe the case can match the backpack. Maybe you couldn’t find the choice backpack, so the pencil case can represent that particular fave. There are as many choices of pencil cases as there are colors, animals, designs, cartoons and characters for kids to love. There’s even a website for them. And, if you’re tired of shopping, with a little creativity you and your kids can make your own pencil cases.

Calculators

flexible calculators
Staples.com

A calculator seems like a boring school supply, but there’s actually some room for a little fun in this supply category as well. And some of them aren’t that expensive either. Just make sure you know what your student needs for class before you start shopping. On a basic level, you can find them in a rainbow of colors. Or, you can get one with really sweet capabilities and make math suddenly a lot of fun. The masterminds at Staples even came up with this very bendy flexible calculator. A quick search on Amazon led to this awesome cell phone calculator. You can have the fun of shopping for electronics with your kid without dropping a fortune on a gadget that will be outdated as soon as it’s out of its packaging.

Flash Drives

Darth Vader flash drive
Staples.com

Yes, your kids should be improving their own memories while in school, but they’ll also need to have some portable digital memory to take with them. Flash drives are perfect for making files portable without having to carry a computer around. A flash drive seems like something boring to get a kid, but now there are tons of great drives for kids. There are bright colors, animals, prints, skateboards, surfboards, cartoon characters, bracelets, cars and even Darth Vader (if you like your memory on the Dark Side), to name just a small few. Pay close attention to the capacity of the drive you’re buying, as well as its compatibility. You want to get something that will hold lots of schoolwork and be able to plug into any kind of computer. You also want to get something that can hook to a backpack or notebook so it doesn’t get lost.

Portable hard drives

portable hard drive
OfficeMax.com

If a flash drive isn’t enough, you should shop around for larger portable hard drives. As kids get older, their work gets bigger and takes up more space. Papers and projects can be stored on portable hard drives and taken easily back and forth from school to home. Again, you need to pay close attention to capacity and compatibility. And, with a portable drive, you want to make sure there’s a trustworthy brand behind the hardware. Losing a paper because of a bad sector can ruin a semester pretty fast. The designs aren’t as fun as the flash drives and prices can vary, so this is an item you’ll want to shop around for.

Alarm clocks

rolling alarm clock
ClockWay.com

You can’t get to school if you don’t wake up, which means the perfect alarm clock is important. You can get an iPod docking station alarm clock so your student can wake up to her favorite song. Or, if you’ve got a heavy sleeper, you can get an alarm that will shake the bed. And, if your kid really likes to hit the snooze button, you can even get an alarm clock that will roll away, so he has to get up and find the alarm to turn it off. It’s best to find a clock that will work on batteries even if the power goes out so there are no excuses for being late to school.

Desks and Chairs

student work area set-up from Ikea
Ikea.com

There is nothing better you can do for your child’s study habits than to invest in a good desk and chair. It’s much easier to concentrate on homework in a functional and comfortable environment. If your student has to work in the living room where the TV is, they’re more likely to get distracted. Being spread out on the dining room table means they lose concentration and you have to move them when it’s time to eat. A kid’s desk can be her work haven and prepares her to focus on work in the real world. Make sure you find something that fits your child. Pay attention to chair height and how your kid will reach the desktop. Try to find something with a lot of drawers and cubby holes for organizing, as well as something durable that won’t get beat up with use. You’ve probably learned by now that kids can be rough on furniture.

Desk lamps

desk lamp, organizer, mp3 player
Wayfair.com

Now that you’ve gotten your kid the perfect desk, or sent him off to college to study at his dimly lit dorm desk, a fancy desk lamp is in order. This is another one of those fun to shop for study accessories. You can find a desk lamp to go with any desk or personality type. Pay attention to what kind of light they use and how bright they can be. Look for lamps that are easy to turn on and off and won’t get too hot. There are lamps that double as desk organizers and triple as mp3 docking stations. There are lamps that do all kinds of things. The possibilities are endless and the price ranges can fit any budget. A desk lamp is more of a piece of art for your students work area than it is a school supply.

Locks

colored pad locks, perfect for school lockers
OfficeDepot.com

Easily forgotten, but very important, locks are a big deal when shopping for back to school. Your teen or pre-teen probably needs one for his locker. And, if you’ve sent a student away to school, she probably needs one for her bike. Thousands of bicycles get stolen on college campuses every year. You can go to any hardware store and pick up your basic padlock. But why not have a little fun with it? Get your student a lock in her favorite color. Or, go fancy and get a digital lockBicycle locks have come a long way. A chain with a combo still works, but there are many choices out there now and you and your student can figure out what will work best.

Random Supplies

chalkboard room divider, dry erase refrigerator and rolling laptop table
ThisOldOouse.com

There are so many fun things to buy your kid for going back to school, that we kind of wish we were going back to school too. There are dorm room supplies, studying supplies, sweet furniture and desk supplies and any number of actual work supplies that are just plain fun to look at and make stuff with. Back to school shopping is almost as fun as Christmas shopping, except for the part later when the stuff actually has to be used for work. But until then, you can get a dry erase refrigerator. Or a chalkboard room divider. Or this awesome rolling laptop cart. Or an animal print stapler. Or anything you can think of. That’s after you’ve found the world’s coolest backpacks, lunchboxes and flash drives and managed to stay standing after all your back-to-school shopping.

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