Whether your kids are off to a physical classroom or distance learning at home, back-to-school shopping is going to be a little different this year. From online lessons to sanitizing solutions, here are a few things you’ll want to consider this year.
First, if your school is doing any sort of distance learning, your kid will almost certainly need a laptop. But don’t freak out about the cost just yet: If you can’t afford one of the best laptops around right now, like the Dell XPS 13—hey, you might have three kids to furnish—there are a number of lower-priced models that should fit the bill quite nicely. If Windows is a requirement, check out the Acer Aspire 5, which puts an i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of solid-state storage into a durable $580 package. For an even tighter budget, I’d look at used or refurbished options, especially Chromebooks like the HP Chromebook x360 or Acer Chromebook 14. You can often get more for your money with a Chromebook, especially if most of your work is on the web anyway. Just be careful—if you go too low in price, you’ll end up with a processor that’s too slow, RAM that can’t handle basic multitasking, or smaller 11-inch screens that make schoolwork difficult.
Distance learners will also probably need a headset of some sort. Most laptops come with built-in microphones these days, but they’ll cause an echo if you aren’t using headphones during video conferences. Your standard earbuds will work fine, but for something a bit more comfortable long-term, I can’t speak highly enough of the AKG K361, which double as fantastic headphones for music. Or, if sound quality isn’t a huge concern, you could kill two birds with one stone and grab a budget gaming headset like the SteelSeries Arctis 1, which contains a built-in microphone.
Otherwise, consider all the other work-from-home essentials you’ve probably stocked up on yourself, like an external keyboard and mouse, a laptop stand, an external monitor, a halfway decent printer, and a mesh networking system (if your Wi-Fi is spotty). If you’ve been working from home all this time, hopefully you’ve already furnished your house with some of these things—especially since a few are becoming harder to find.
It’s not all about electronics, of course. Whether you’re learning at home or in the classroom, you’ll need the usual staples, too. Grab a three-pack of individual notebooks for $10 or a five-subject notebook for $8, mechanical pencils by the boatload, and—if they need pens too—I’m a big fan of Paper Mate’s Profile line. Put it all in a zip-up bag, and you’re good to go. Classroom-bound kids may even need their own dry erase markers and other equipment—check the list your school provides, as they are likely trying to avoid as much communal gear as possible. If you don’t have a reusable water bottle, many schools are recommending those as well, and in my opinion, there’s no better option than Klean Kanteen’s insulated bottle.
Backpacks are an incredibly personal choice, so I’ll defer to Megan, the Style Girlfriend, on her favorites—from the $200 Away Backpack to the classic $55 JanSport. If you’re on a super-strict budget, my colleague Lev recommends this MateIn laptop backpack for only $30.
Finally, if you know your kids are going back to the classroom, they’ll need to stock up on pandemic fundamentals as well. They may already have a face mask, for example, but if they’re going to be wearing it all day every day, you may want to invest in a few so you aren’t constantly washing them. You have a number of choices here: disposable face masks are obviously easy, and there are plenty of affordable cloth masks to be had (like this trio from Levi’s). But if you can swing it, I highly recommend spending a bit extra to get one with adjustable elastic and a nose wire for maximum comfort. I’ve been using Hedley Bennett’s Wake Up Fight Mask, which I love, though Tom Bihn’s masks also come highly recommended (if and when you can find them). Just be sure to measure your kid’s face and get the right size—an ill-fitting mask isn’t even fun to wear for an hour, let alone a whole day. It’s well worth spending the extra few bucks.
Schools will probably be well-stocked with hand sanitizer, but it doesn’t hurt to bring your own travel size. The same goes for tissues, disinfecting wipes, and all other germ-killing products. Some of these are tough to find, so use them sparingly—resort to good old-fashioned hand-washing when you can, since sanitizer supply is likely to stay limited for a while to come.