The start of a new school year ushers in a flurry of activity as kids get ready for a year of new challenges and growth. Back-to-School shopping is a ritual most families partake in at this time of year: new supplies, bags, clothes, and technology are just some of the things kids will push their parents to replace. 

Get your kids ready with all the best school supplies! Source: Pexels

Many parents will have a hard time resisting their kids’ back-to-school requests: we can all remember how exciting it was to have a brand new pair of shoes, a cute pencil case full of new pens, a slick new backpack or a fresh box of markers. Of course, budgets count and we don’t want to throw all of last year’s stuff. Our advice? Prioritize what your child needs most, choose higher quality when it makes a difference, set a budget, and involve your kids every step of the way.

Of course, with so many changes to schooling caused by COVID-19, there are a few items on our school supply list that may surprise you. Let's take a look at our back-to-school list - happy shopping!

Learn more about going Back-to-School in 2020.

Basic School Supplies

Once your kids hit grade 4, they will need to start packing ‘big kid’ supplies in their backpack. Though a lot of work may be assigned on the internet, their teachers will still be passing out photocopies of tasks and readings, so your child will need a safe place to store them. Invest in a high quality zipper binder from Five Star (Staples, $24.98), and your child will have a sturdy way to file papers, tuck away folders, and even store pens, pencils, and erasers. 

If a zipper binder is too clunky, get a cool and fashionable 3-ring binder. Well-known brands like Avery, Hilroy, and Pep Rally sell fashionable binders at very reasonable prices ($3.78 & up, Staples). Loose leaf paper, graph paper, and spiral notebooks are also good to have on hand for taking notes or creating charts, and a pack of dividers will be needed to keep subjects separate: colourful options are available at any office supply store like Staples or WalMart. For teenagers, pocket folders, duo-tangs and paper clips are handy for submitting reports and essays.

Don’t forget about pens and pencils - yes, writing still happens at school! Having a nice set of pens and pencils will make school more fun, and if your child likes to doodle they will appreciate a nice set of gel pens. Highlighters in different colours will also be useful for marking up texts. Brands like Muji, Sharpie, Bic, and Paper Mate have a range of options on Amazon, WalMart, and Staples, or check out your local Dollar Store for some basic budget options. 

Math supplies are also required for school. A ruler showing metric and imperial units is essential, and depending on your child's age, a protractor and geometry set may be needed. A calculator for checking math answers will be helpful, and a scientific calculator or graphic calculator will likely be on the supply list for teens.

A great pencil pouch or pencil box will be essential to keeping all the supplies organized. Be creative and check out art supply stores, boutiques, and even hiking stores for cool options. Let your kids personalize their supplies by grabbing some stickers that they will love.

Finally, don't forget a combination lock if your kids' school is using lockers this year.

Parents: read our 10 tips for getting your kids ready for back to school!

Invest in Learning Technology

Computers, laptops, tablets, and even smartphones are essential to learning in school today, and if your child is attending virtual school technology is the most important item on your supplies list. So much learning happens on the internet, from math practice on apps like Sumdog and IXL to drafting and submitting reports on Google Docs. Your child’s teacher will likely set up a virtual classroom to post assignments, share resources, and remind students of upcoming events.

technology is a priority item for back to school
Technology is an essential school supply this year. Source: Pexels

The kind of device you get for your child will depend on their age: younger students in the elementary grades will do well with a Chromebook or tablet, high schoolers will certainly benefit from having a laptop plus a phone. 

Technology can be pricey, so keep an eye out for sales or check trusted second hand sellers. If you plan ahead, look for great Black Friday and Boxing Day deals or back to school sales at Best Buy or Future Shop, or purchase straight from brands like Dell, Apple, or Hewlett Packard. 

Pandemic Essentials

With the COVID-19 pandemic on everyone's mind, it's important you keep your child and the school community safe. Make sure you equip your child with masks that fits properly; you'll also want to make sure they will want to wear them. Shops like Gap and Old Navy sell kid-friendly masks at a great price, or buy in bulk from sites like Amazon. A small battle of hand sanitizer will also help your child practice hand hygiene, and wipes will come in handy in case your child needs to wipe something down. For more info on national and provincial COVID-19 protocols in schools, check out this article.

Get The Best Lunch Gear

Nutrition is a critical element of your child’s day, so nice lunch gear will definitely be in order if they are not coming home every day. With so many schools opting for litterless lunches, keep an eye out for high quality containers that are space efficient, easy to wash and leak-proof. Of course, what you get will often depend on the age and style of your child: younger kids love seeing their favourite cartoon characters and animals, while older kids gravitate toward trendy or non-descript designs.

For the little ones, check out bento boxes and stackable containers from brands like Skip Hop, Crocodile Creek, and Yumbox. Skip Hop and Crocodile Creek have design themes so you can coordinate your child’s water bottle, bento box, and lunch bags: you can find their products (prices vary) at retailers like Indigo. Yumbox boasts a high quality, leak-proof option ($47.99) with various compartments for all the food groups. Kids love opening up these boxes and seeing all their favourite healthy snacks.

Find out more about going back to school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Older kids will love lunch bags by Herschel: their classic ‘Pop Quiz’ lunch box comes in a range of colours and designs and is a cafeteria staple. You can always trust national brands like Coleman, Thermos and Rubbermaid to create great packable options: visit Canadian Tire online or Amazon to see some great options your teens will love. Don’t forget to pick up a thermos that will keep food warm: your kids will want a break from sandwiches and cold pizza!

Art Supplies

Art supplies are the most fun supplies to shop for because they are colourful and enable students to be creative. In elementary school, art is integrated into subjects like language, science, and social studies, so make sure your younger kids and adolescents are stocked up with lots of colours. Enable your child to unleash their creative spirit through coloured pencils, markers, Sharpies, crayons, sketchbooks, and paints. Crayola makes washable markers that are perfect for younger children - even stores like Dollarama carry their products so you don't have to spend a fortune.

Art departments, kindergarten, and primary classrooms typically consume art supplies quickly, so if you want to help your kids' school out consider purchasing in bulk and donating them to the school.

art supplies
Art supplies are used in many subjects. Source: Unsplash

Splurge on Backpacks 

One back-to-school item we recommend investing in is the backpack. Backpacks are something your kids use everyday and will likely carry a lot of stuff: get the right one and your child will have something they can use for years to come.

You will find tons of backpacks on the market but what you want for your kids is something that is durable and stylish. For little ones, check out MEC for cute packs designed for kids of all sizes ($27 and up). They are perfect for carrying lunch and an extra set of clothes, which is pretty much what preschoolers and kindies require for the school day. Jansport carries plenty of backpacks popular with all kids and perfect for toting textbooks and binders, and come in a vast range of fabrics to suit your child’s style. They are ranked highly by users, are lightweight, and very reasonably priced.

Brands like Fjallraven, and North Face ($80 and up) also offer high quality options that will also fit a laptop. They are trendy, long-lasting, and are great bags to keep as a backup or pass along to younger siblings. While they start at a higher price, they will last for years.

If you are more budget minded, you can find some great, high quality backpacks second hand or simply wait for an end of season sale to get a great deal. Make sure the zippers work, throw the bag in the wash or send it to the drycleaners, and your child will be styling on that first day.

READ: Advice for students returning to school in COVID-19.

Invest in Tutoring

When we think of back-to-school shopping we don’t always think of investing in a tutor. However, getting a tutor can be one of the best choices you can make for your family. A tutor will work with your child regularly to check their understanding of new concepts, help them stay organized, and help them get their homework done. A tutor can come to your home or work with your child remotely at a time that works for you, and focus on your child’s specific needs and interests.

Where do you find a great tutor? Sites like Superprof have plenty of listings for tutors near you: simply explore different profiles and reach out the teachers you think might be a good fit. Check out Superprof today to find an amazing tutor near you!

For more information about starting school read out article Back to School in 2020

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Colleen is a Toronto-based educator, mom and freelance writer who believes in lifelong learning and strong coffee.