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Back to School Supply Sanity: For Parents and Students

Rachel Sokol
Back to School Supply Sanity: For Parents and Students

This year is like no other, with thousands of kids worldwide now homeschooled due to the pandemic. Have no fear, parents–school supply shopping can still be enjoyable, even if “school” is now at home.

I was raised in Long Island, a typical suburban childhood…there wasn’t much excitement in my hometown, but one thing that I did love–and I mean, love–was shopping for my back-to-school supplies. I grew up in the 80s/90s, so it was the Lisa Frank, Trapper Keeper, colorful folders, pencils with a little Troll doll at the end of it era. And I won’t lie–I thought I was so darn cool because my mom bought me a 10-color (!!!) pen from the flea market in 5th grade that I proudly showed off on the first day of school.

Going to Genovese (rest in peace…) and Staples for my school supplies was the BEST–even though I found out later it wasn’t exactly my mom’s idea of fun…(thanks for your patience, Mami!)

Today’s parent

Fast forward, I’m a mom myself, parent to two little girls. My older one loves school supplies so much, she spent hours pouring over bookbags and pencil cases to decide which one she wanted. Gee, I wonder where she got this interest from? Last year, when school started in September, by December she begged for a trip to Five Below and Walgreens to update her classroom school supplies.

But this year, school is different. Like other kids nationwide, schools immediately closed in March 2020 due to the pandemic, and my older daughter was 1st grade homeschooled through June. (My second daughter was/is just a toddler.) Adjusting to her new circumstances was stressful for all of us, and you bet my daughter kept asking when she could return to school and pick up her beloved eraser shaped like a crayon that was still sitting in her old desk.

Second grade starts for us–at press time–any day now, and my child will now be going (physically) into school once or twice a week, adorned in a mask with a mini hand sanitizer in her bookbag.

In the middle of an already stressful pandemic, I wondered how I could still make school supply shopping fun for my spirited 2nd grader, and consulted with two experts who gave me sage advice on ways to keep school supply shopping entertaining and engaging–even though most of these supplies will be used right at home.

Create a school supply BINGO game with ‘pod’ kids

Many parents have grouped their kids into a pod for homeschooling, meaning a small group of kids attend school together in someone’s home or office, and a teacher or tutor (COVID-symptom free, of course) is privately hired to lead the group. It’s all contingent on how comfortable families feel with others due to COVID-19 concerns, of course. But student ‘pods’ are popping up like crazy from Maine to Alaska to provide kids with social interaction as well as an education while schools remain closed or partially open.

Tiffany Pierce, an NYC mom, has homeschooled her son for years, even pre-pandemic. She leads a home-school co-op group and recommends creating a school supply BINGO game with kids in your learning pod.

“Create a BINGO card with supplies marked on the card,” says Pierce, stressing that this activity involves a physical pod trip to CVS or Staples.  “These can be words or images for emergent readers. Whoever finds and collects all of the materials in a row, column, or diagonal wins a supply or book of their choice!”

Parents, jump in

And parents, you can have some fun going back to school shopping as well. “Have your own parent planner,” says Pierce. “I enjoy creating planners out of dot journals. This helps me keep up with my child’s activities and lessons.”

Embrace the word MORE

“Give your children MORE control during a time when they might feel out of control.  I love the word ‘yes,’ says LaNesha Tabb, mom of two and founder of Education with An Apron. “When my children ask to do something, wear something, or play something…if it’s in my power to say “yes,” then I do! I want them to feel like they have some control when the world seems to be changing daily.”

(This is great advice, and let’s not forget–being armed with a way to keep your kids calm and happy is indeed a school supply!)

 Tabb adds: “For me, that means letting them select their own clothes or even giving them a little more control in their daily schedule. My children also learned how to pack their own lunches during quarantine so they can keep this up whether they are at home for distance learning or back in the classroom. We decided to put their lunch items, snacks, and Juicy Juice 100% juice boxes in places that are accessible for their tiny hands!”

Keep snacks handy–they’re definitely a school supply

 Kids seem to constantly want snacks, right? There are tons of internet memes joking about this, but it seems so true! (“What? You’re hungry?! I just gave you a cookie!… Fine, you can have one more, but you better eat your full healthy dinner.”)

“Kids may also need a little more help staying focused during the school days,” says Tabb. “To help, I suggest taking multiple, 15-minute breaks to catch up with the kids, make a tasty snack or just listen to music! It helps break up the day and keep the creativity flowing for little ones.”

Remind your students that they’re still “going” to school, it’s just going to be a different kind of school–that doesn’t mean they still can’t school supply shop and even use a backpack. If they’re still missing traditional school–let’s not forget how jarring this year was emotionally for many kids, especially those with special needs–they may feel better with a well-organized workspace, such as the one this New York mom, Donna, created for her kiddos. You can make even a small workspace in an apartment really creative for kids. Just go for it–and involve them in the whole process.

Here are some practical and fun school supplies I just love:

Creative and useful subscription boxes for teachers and students from Cratejoy are really popular. Basically, my daughters love getting mail. Since we had so many items shipped to us at the start of the pandemic, from medicines to academic supplies, for my kids every package was a toy for them. (Fine, a few were…) When I heard about Cratejoy, I realized this was a package my mail-loving second grader would really enjoy. They have niche, themed monthly subscription boxes for kids of all ages, interests, and skill levels, which contain tons of stickers, colorful socks, unicorn-themed toys, snacks you can bake with mama, mini science experiments, crafts, and more–they even have boxes for YOU. Just go to  https://www.cratejoy.com/ and click KIDS to learn more, and place an order.

Back to School Supply Sanity: For Parents and Students

The cutest sanitizer

Hand sanitizer usually comes in a little tube, and while they have cute themed ones such as Princess or Minnie Mouse sanitizer, my daughter just loves this one from OLIKA. With such a cute sanitizer, your kids may be more apt to sanitize both in and out of school. This bird-shaped clip-on is small for on-the-go sanitization but packs a punch with 300+ mists per package. Made with natural aloe, glycerin, essential oils, and 65% ethyl alcohol, the OLIKA signature hydrating formula kills 99.9% of germs and provides long lasting hand moisture. Available at OlikaLife.com in various fragrances. (There’s also a fragrance-free one, don’t worry!)

Back to School Supply Sanity: For Parents and Students


Shoes that spell

I had shoes like these as a kid where you could swap out the design on the side of each shoe for a new one. I just ordered a pair of these particular kicks for my toddler and I cannot wait for her Sticker-Sneakers to arrive! She’s non-verbal, and they’re a great way for her to learn Left and Right, her initials, and also how to recognize letters, and, of course, spell. These cute, personalized sneakers come with velcro alphabet letters (“stickers”) to decorate them; and you can also use the letters to teach your little ones the alphabet. They even have other sticker themes such as dinosaurs, hearts, and flowers. Really, they’re too cute to resist. Order a pair today, here

Back to School Supply Sanity: For Parents and Students

Rachel Sokol
Rachel Sokol

Rachel Sokol is a professional writer and editor with over 20 years of editorial experience in a variety of genres from higher education to holistic health to celebrity. She’s been published in Piccolo Universe (formerly Ricky Martin’s blog), Univision, Reader’s Digest, SHAPE, Hispanic Career World, Health.com, Parenting.com, REDBOOK, Real Simple, and more, and was an entertainment columnist for amNew York. A half-Boricua who has been to Puerto Rico numerous times, she lives on the East Coast with her family and is a mother of two.

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