14 Back-to-School Supplies That Get the Job Done but Are Also Fun (Because, Kids)

published Aug 22, 2023
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Children at modern school facility
Credit: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

The days are still long and hot, and the pool is poppin’ off, but believe it or not, for many kids, the school year starts next week, and you know what that means — it’s time for school supplies! I’ve loved shopping for new school supplies for as long as I can remember, and now that I have two kids to shop for, I get to love it all over again. 

When it comes to buying supplies for my 5 and 11-year-old kids, I try to go for a balance of form and function, with a few surprises and some special goodies just for them. Here are some of the best back-to-school essentials we’ve found.

Credit: skynesher/Getty Images
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If a picture is worth a thousand words, a pencil is worth about 45,000. That’s how many words Ticonderoga estimates you can write with each one of their pencils, and after over 200 years of pencil production, theirs are the best—smooth writing, easy to erase, and with a hexagonal design that keeps them from rolling off your kids’ desk.

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Backpacks are essential gear for hauling kids’ supplies to and from class, but they’re also an essential fashion statement for the ever-important first day. State’s Kane Kids Double Pocket Backpack (recommended for 3rd grade and up) is a standout thanks to thick, supportive straps, a plethora of handy compartments, and designs that are fun yet sophisticated enough to grow with your growing student.

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After years of loving the plastic Yumboxes, we upgraded this year to the stainless steel version, which features more room and a sleek design that’s even easier to clean than the original. As always, both kids tell me the Yumbox compartments make it easy for them to pack their own lunches, and that’s a win for this mom. Take note: These are bigger than the original Yumboxes and require an outer lunchbox, like this one, that can hold them.

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You can say goodbye to ice packs because this lunchbox IS an ice pack. Just flatten and freeze overnight, and the next morning, your child can tuck their lunch and a drink in this bag, which keeps everything inside chilled for hours. The handy zippered pocket on the front is perfect for napkins, hand wipes, and lunch notes.

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was $9.99

Highlighters are great for emphasizing important text so that it’s easier to study from books or hand-written notes, but it’s a bummer when highlighters smudge. These Sharpie Pocket Style Highlights are smear-proof, making them a great choice for upper elementary and beyond. And one pack comes with two of each color, so you can easily split them among siblings.

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At a certain point, all school supplies start to look the same, but these custom name labels, available in a variety of colors and loveable designs, will keep your kids’ pencil boxes, notebooks, and binders out of the lost and found… or at least make them easier to identify if they do wind up in that vortex of lost stuff.

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was $19.99

If your kid’s school allows students to bring their own devices, you’ll want to make sure those tablets have an extra layer of protection. This tablet case, which is available in a variety of sizes, includes a spot for a stylus and provides a cover to protect screens from wear and tear. The cute composition book design is just begging to be personalized with your kiddo’s favorite stickers.

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was $29.99

Digital solo learning time typically requires headphones, and these cat ear headphones are beloved by little kids (especially mine who listed them as a non-negotiable item on her personal school supply list). Little ones will love the padded ear cushions and the LED light-up ears (which can be turned off!), and caregivers will love the 85 dB volume limit for protecting their kids' hearing.

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was $6.99

It’s almost a guarantee that you’ll see notebooks on your school supply list, and you want a notebook that will stand-up to the average erosion of a school year. Enter Mead’s Five Star Wire Bound Notebook with 100 two-sided sheets of bleed-resistant, perforated paper in every uber-durable notebook.

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Binders keep schoolwork and homework in one convenient place, ideally helping kids stay organized and on track, and what better way to give a little silent nod to your own sense of nostalgia than to hook them up with a good old Trapper Keeper. They’re back and just as good as you remember.

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was $32.49

Hydration isn’t just for summer camp. Keep those learning brains hydrated during the school day with the Simple Modern Summit Water Bottle. Ice water will stay perfectly chilled all day, and the 14-ounce size is perfect for backpack cupholders. These smart water bottles are durable, leak-proof, and dishwasher-safe.

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Ditch the plastic bags, and opt for these adorable reusable bags made from recycled and organic materials instead! Fluf makes the cutest designs for stashing Goldfish, pretzels, and sandwiches. These machine-washable bags feature a water-resistant, food-safe lining, a velcro closure to prevent spills, and a spot on the back for kids to write their name.

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Personalization Mall
was $16.99

It’s important that students feel confident at school all day, and a big part of confidence comes from being prepared for life’s little adventures — spills! stains! boo-boos! A small bag with personal items like a Tide To-Go Pen, Wet Ones, Flossers, and Band-Aids will help your little ones feel like you’re right there with them when things feel chaotic, and personalizing the bag with their name makes it feel even more special.

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Office Depot

The school year moves fast, and for many, it’s absolutely jam-packed with activities. A giant wall-mounted dry erase board will help your student visualize what’s to come by the week and month, which gives them a better shot of staying on track; and having them update their own calendar each month helps them share in ownership of their daily tasks so it’s not all on you, the caregiver!